Archive for the ‘ Opinion ’ Category

Opinion: Saving GameStop

Many are watching GameStop’s decline with anticipation of its demise, eager to see it go out of business once and for all. I personally don’t agree with that position and find it short sighted to do so. Most seem to want GameStop to collapse due to their own discontentment with the company’s policies and treatment of both customers and employees.

While this topic itself may see a lot disagreeing with me, rather than wanting to see GameStop burn to the ground, I’d prefer to see the company turn things around and be better. Better for the employees, better for customers, and better for the industry. The company’s new CEO, George Sherman, has reportedly set out a 3 point plan for the company’s turn around. Personally, I think there’s a lot more to do than just three steps, though some of my opinions might fall under Sherman’s three points of “GameStop Reboot”:

  • Address SG&A [Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses] that’s been allowed to deleverage
  • Execute on opportunities to optimize current business
  • Develop new revenues for future

A lot of this is well and good, and some of my suggestions will fall into these areas, but there are a lot of aspects missing that GameStop needs to work on.

Problem #1: Perception

GameStop’s biggest problem is their perception among gamers. In the past, one could argue that core gamers aren’t crucial compared to the casual gamers and family members that go to GameStop to pick up games as gifts or browse for something new. That is no longer the case. If GameStop wants to be the “local church” of gaming with E3 being the “Vatican”, they need to appeal to core gamers. They need YouTubers and social media talking about what they picked up at GameStop or what they did one afternoon at GameStop.

To accomplish that, GameStop has to do some soul searching because their current image is that of a soulless corporation that doesn’t care about their customers, their employees, or their product.

Proposed Solutions

Executive Level Company Image
Executive level management should take steps to gain back some goodwill with the gaming community, seek feedback, and gather input on what their core customer base is looking for. I would look for opportunities to have CEO Sherman himself be a guest and take face to face criticism from YouTubers and podcasts. During these appearances, there shouldn’t be a hard push to explain or defend policies so much as taking opportunities to take the public lashings and listen to feedback directly. Keep in mind Sherman is new to the position. He’s the top of the chain, so he’s the right guy to get first hand input from the community. Another opportunity for this would be to hold a Reddit “TMA” – Tell Me Anything rather than Ask Me Anything where users can simply vent to the top dog of GameStop.

After gathering feedback, executive management would need to genuinely evaluate the information and determine what actions can be taken to address the issues brought up. Compile a plan and present it in a Letter to the Gaming Community, published on GameStop’s website and in GameInformer (assuming it’s still being published).

Gamer (Consumer) Advocate
I would also create a new position within the executive team akin to what Howard Phillips was for Nintendo. This position would not be interested in the company’s assets and profits, stock performance, or shareholder concerns. This position’s entire purpose would be to advocate for gamers to the executive staff and help guide decisions on what games to pursue for in-store promotions.

This position would also be responsible for analyzing every promotional program at GameStop and competition to evaluate potential for abuse. Believe me, we gamers figure out how to abuse systems and go to multiple sources for our own benefit. To succeed, GameStop needs to have incentive to be a primary source for purchases and trades.

Policies in Action
All executive management should undergo “undercover boss” type training as an assistant manager in store every so often to understand how corporate policy translates to in-store application on a day to day basis.

2. Value Employees
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the first step that won’t make logical retail sense would be to abandon standard retail thinking. Drop the quotas for selling GameStop Pro cards, drop the pressure for reservations, drop the numeric requirements to push these things.

Instead, incentivize these things. Employees should have a bonus structure for selling Pro Memberships, not quota requirements. Don’t push reservations at all. They’re seen with a growing negativity and many describe it as dealing with a “used car salesman.” The only exceptions are Collector’s Editions that typically sell out – but make them cancellable/refundable/returnable with ease (when unopened) as others do.

Consolidate Stores
I know this seems counter intuitive when talking about doing right by employees, but it’s a necessary reality for GameStop’s position. They need to close more stores and consolidate into localized, larger, locations.

Staff these stores with employees from the closed stores who were Managers, Assistant Managers, and Team Leads and pay them all at the team lead or assistant manager level rather than decreasing their pay. Treat your store employees similar to office jobs with more hours and better vacation, offset by lower overall headcount across the company. Employees who feel valued are more productive.

This consolidation factors into a later detail in the “Store as an Experience.”

3. Value Customers

Pre Orders
Core gamers have developed a more negative view of pre-orders. They are seen as a cash grab for a product that may not be worth it. Employees shouldn’t be required to push pre-orders and the pre-orders themselves need to be revised in how they work.

There should be no down payment required for pre-ordering a game. Best Buy doesn’t require a down payment. Amazon doesn’t require a down payment. Gamestop.com does not require the $5 down payment. The stores should not be required to take one either. An exception could be made for Collector’s Editions, but the above sources don’t require one on those either. If a down payment is taken, a full refund should be available in store credit or by method of payment for cancellation at any time or for unopened pre-orders that are returned within a set time frame.

Truly, however, the pre-order process itself should be redesigned. The Kingdom Hearts III PS4 is an excellent example. Pre-orders should be announced with a set window as far in advance as the manufacturer can offer. Partners such as GameStop should then take pre orders within that window – say 90 days of pre-orders – and then report their numbers back to the manufacturer. The total quantity across all retail partners should then determine the manufacturer’s production run. This isn’t entirely on GameStop, obviously, but they and other retailers should be pushing for a redesign of the process with the manufacturers.

Trade Value
GameStop is perceived as having horrible trade value. Some of this is unwarranted, some of it is. Either way, GameStop should make an effort to improve customer perception of their trade values with more transparency on how those values are determined.

Customers should get better trade value for complete games – disc, manual, and case with art for disc games or box, manual, and cartridge for older games. Likewise, disc only or empty cases and manuals should be accepted for lower value and returned to the corporate warehouse to be paired with other loose parts for a complete game.

Improve value wherever possible. Small towns and entrepreneurs at conventions often offer 50% of sell value for trade in. However, many will only take select games. GameStop’s volume should at least allow them to offer more than they currently do outside of promotional deals. Arguably, a solid trade policy should make trade in promotions unnecessary.

Price Value
Current online selling trends should more quickly be reflected in GameStop’s prices. The database GameStop uses needs to become more agile to respond to shifting trends.

Condition should affect the price of games. Managers, and even some employees, should be authorized to adjust prices in their stores, offering discounts based on condition. This is big for retro games and would give an advantage over some retro-focused chain competition.

Price aggressively on retro games. Most collectors and even many core gamers, are now very aware they can check game price values on eBay with sites like Pricecharting and GameValueNow. GameStop should be targeting to undercut these averages by 10% off the shelf. From the buyer’s standpoint, this puts their price on even footing to eBay after sales tax and for GameStop is equal to what a seller would actually net through eBay.

Opened games should be treated as used, even if it was a display copy that never left the store. For every shipment of games, one copy should automatically be written down as a used copy and kept for in-store demos and allowing customers to try a game out and sold as the final copy at used price.

Offer more transparency on pricing and be more sensible about it. A game on clearance should not be $5 or $10 off the original full value price. Likewise, a used game should at least be $10 off even the week of release. Similarly, used prices should never be higher than new prices and if they are, the reason should be clearly understood, such as a publisher mandated reduction on new copies for a limited time.

4. Product Value
This is an area that GameStop is absolutely abhorrent and should not only take great strides to fix, but should also issue a statement and public apology for its undervaluing of its own product.

Retro games have been sorely undervalued by the company historically. Boxes and manuals should never be thrown away, but there are many former employees who report they regularly are for retro games, especially hand held games. This should change immediately. Some retro games have boxes and manuals that are worth more than the game itself and GameStop has thrown away profits in this regard.

An example I’ve seen was the NES game Metal Storm. During a B2G1 free sale, a customer purchased Metal Storm for around $100 and was elated to get it with the manual included. The manual averages $65 on Pricecharting at the time of this writing based on eBay sold auction averages. The box averages $100 by itself.

The website needs to be updated, along with the database, to reflect an improved value of the product. Stock should be identified into categories:

  • Disc/cartridge only
  • Disc with case/cart with box
  • Complete – Disc/cart with manual and box or case with artwork
  • Pricing adjustments should be made based on condition (damage to label/art/box/manual) and noted on the website’s listing.

Problem #2: Competition

Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are no longer simply suppliers, but are now direct competitors and GameStop has to pivot their thinking and perform a very careful dance. They cannot directly attack the big three, but they have to view them as competition that must be outperformed in order to draw customers back to the store for physical games as opposed to downloading from digital store fronts. In addition to these three, you’ve got standard retailers that have always been competition as well as the online behemoth of Amazon.

Value of Physical
GameStop’s lifeblood is physical games and the digital stores are competition. The market may continue to shrink and become more niche, but consolidated stores should offset that. As such, GameStop has to get better at emphasizing the value of physical media.

  • Physical games, even standard copies, will continue to be more likely to become collector’s items, such as has happened with Job Simulator on Playstation VR.
  • Physical discs allow more data to be installed to a console faster for those in areas with slower Internet.
  • Physical discs retain some value of being able to be sold or traded in while digital offers no such benefit (at least for now).

Retro Games
Retro games have an entire collectors market on their own, defying digital versions of old games despite being readily available. Retro gaming will likely maintain a market until approximately 5 years after a console generation goes fully digital as people will feel some nostalgia for the games they grew up with and the trend for retro collecting today will likely continue through console generations that had physical copies.

Physical Retro Games are sought after in local stores, retro focused chain stores, and pull in thousands of attendees at Retro Game Conventions. YouTube channels focus on retro games and content creators become small time YouTube celebrities by celebrating gaming history with these titles. Retro Gaming and physical media is a strong area for GameStop to shift focus as digital becomes bigger with new releases.

“New” Retro Games
In addition to this market of existing games, GameTrust offers GameStop an avenue of currently unexplored potential for “new” retro games. If GameStop can obtain a license for small print runs of games on NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis that were never released in the US, there may be a market for those. Thorough evaluation would be required to evaluate licensing costs, a localization department to translate the games, and the cost of manufacturing chips and cartridges to play on original hardware. However, it’s possible with GameStop’s size and the right spread of acquirements this could create a small, but profitable, market to get into.

Final Fantasy II, III, and V, for example, were never released in the US on their original systems. There are, however, fan translations that have been flashed onto carts and are sold at conventions. A legal, licensed, and official copy with Square Enix, especially with professional box, maps, and manuals, would likely have a market. If print-on-demand were possible, rather than large print runs, there may be more opportunities with lower risk here. Reproductions, basically bootleg versions, regularly sell for up to $60 for just a cartridge at conventions. Cartridges can be 3D printed, basic chip boards can be purchased online for around $4 whereas GameStop would likely be able to find a source for less in bulk and the same goes for chips themselves.

Limited Print Games
Companies such as Limited Run Games and Strictly Limited Games have sprung up in recent years and there are more out there now offering limited print runs of digital only games for PS4, PS Vita, and Nintendo Switch. It’s a major error that GameStop wasn’t the first to this market with GameTrust.

These limited print runs regularly sell out of 5000 copies within minutes. Utilizing the earlier proposed pre-order window resulting in determining a production run’s quantity removes much of the frustration and resentment gamers have towards these companies and the resulting eBay scalping that comes with them. GameStop could pursue their own division of partnering with smaller publishers to create physical runs on digital only releases or partner with existing companies similar to how Limited Run Games has done some limited partnerships with Best Buy.

Problem #3: Traffic to stores

Traffic to stores has decreased, largely attributable to the rise of digital gaming and online shopping. It’s easy to simply click a few buttons and download or order a game. GameStop has to look for ways to make it worthwhile to put in the effort to go to the local store.

Store Services
Hire staff that are capable of doing in-store refurbish and repairs on consoles, allowing customers to pay a down payment for the time to perform the analysis and diagnose the required repair. Once diagnosed, contact the customer with the quoted cost and let them decide to go ahead with the repair or pick up their console. If they choose to proceed, the down payment should go towards the cost of repair and they only owe the balance.

Invest is a high quality disc resurfacing machine and offer disc resurfacing for a reasonable price. 75 cents per disc would beat most other stores that offer the same.

Stores should be more focused on what they’re meant to be – Video Game Stores. Decrease emphasis on ThinkGeek products that aren’t related to video games. For example, Mario, God of War, Zelda t-shirts are a good fit for GameStop stores, as well as Overwatch statues or Sonic the Hedgehog figures. However, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers are not a good fit (unless Capcom announces Rescue Rangers Remastered), nor are anime statues. Board games may be a reasonable avenue to expand to, however.

If ThinkGeek and GameStop must remain more entertwined, the proposed larger store footprint should be divided up so customers know where to go for video games, where to go for anime related merchandise, and where to go for general geek related merchandise.

All of this builds towards a retail store as an experience, but GameStop should go a step further in making the stores an experience that cannot be replicated with online purchases.

A few ideas:

  • Every game in the store should be playable in a demo area much like kiosks used to be available in FuncoLand stores to try out games.
  • Have a classic arcade cabinet in the store. If a customer beats the previous high score, they get a discount on one item
  • Employees should be encouraged to speak their mind about games, but trained to do so without creating a negative experience. If a game is bad, it’s in the company’s best interest to inform customers. If a game simply isn’t the type of game a particular employee enjoys, they should be able to voice that while recommending another employee to speak to about that type of game.
  • Ideally a store would have a team with a variety of genre preferences – the MMO expert, the FPS expert, etc.
  • Stores in rural areas with slower residential Internet should set up LAN areas where Internet can be rented by the hour and allow customers to play online games

The final point I would make about the experience is in regards to competition. GameStop should absolutely evaluate the area for small local shops that offer retro games. If the area has a number of them, do not push retro games in that area’s stores. Retro games are a finite resource and they do get harder and harder to find with time. Don’t compete with local stores and don’t be seen as driving them out of business. In fact, let employees in those areas encourage customers to check out local small businesses. Meanwhile, bring GameStop’s retro game focus to areas with no other alternatives. It’s another decision that seems counter-intuitive to stock investor thinking, but in the long run, it will be better for all parties in the retro market.

PowerUp Rewards
I would suggest some changes to the PowerUp Rewards membership as well. The purpose of the card, from GameStop’s perspective, is to encourage customers to shop at GameStop while the customer’s perspective is to get the best deal.

In May it was announced that the Pro Membership would be changing from a 10% discount on used games to a $5 off coupon once a month, which has to be used in that month along with an increase to $20/year cost. The first thing I would recommend is GameStop freeze all memberships from expiring and announce a new complete rework of the program.

First, with the earlier suggested equipment in place, offer 5 free disc refurbishes a month. That’s ~$5 value per month on its own and costs the company next to nothing.

Evaluate Best Buy’s rewards points system. PowerUp already earns points per dollar spent. Allow those to accumulate for a $5 gift card ever x number of points (Best Buy’s is every 250 points). Customers can bank their points to keep saving up or use them as they are acquired. This ultimately means a customer can spend and bank points for years until they have enough to buy a brand new console on release day completely with points.  Letting customers earn points on used games to build up gift certs to use on new games ultimately means higher profits for GameStop and “free” new releases for customers.

I would also suggest categorizing games for a progressive membership discount. This would let members get larger discounts on some games and potentially help the company clear out older inventory that doesn’t sell. For the right price, many gamers are willing to pick up a random game to give it a try and this could help move slow selling games without going fully to clearance.

Conclusion

While none of these things are a magic answer to GameStop’s problems, some require analysis that can only be done from within the company, and some may prove cost prohibitive to implement, I do think a lot of these would contribute towards turning the company around.

I know a lot of people just want to see GameStop go under, but I truly believe they would simply turn their distaste for GameStop towards other retail locations, including local stores that have no choice but to utilize some of the policies GameStop uses. Many consumers don’t understand the business side of these companies and the realities of their expenses and costs that have to be taken on to keep the stores operating.

However, I do also believe that if GameStop truly put in the effort from the top down to improve itself, make itself the modern store gamers fondly (if sometimes inaccurately) remember FuncoLand to be, and genuinely work to be a better company for its employees, customers, and the industry itself, they would be embraced once again…..eventually.

The question is whether or not they, and the stockholders, are willing to invest the time and effort and if they can reach that point of being accepted by the gaming community again before it’s too late.

E3 Reaction Day 4

Nintendo

Nintendo did their usual E3 Nintendo Direct presentation online rather than the on stage presentation other companies go for. They kicked off their presentation with a rather stylistic looking mech game that, of course, reminded me of a Gundam influence called Daemon x Machina due out in 2019.

Next up, they had a trailer for a Xenoblade Chronicles 2 addition – Torna – The Golden Country. I assume it’s a DLC expansion and still haven’t played the Xeno series. One day…. One day.

Reggie Fils-Aime talked a little about Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let’s Go Evee. The Pokeball Plus was shown and announced that Mew would be included with each controller. Available November this year.

The next new reveal was a Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch called Super Mario Party. Two Switch systems can be set next to each other to create maps at different angles depending on how they touch. Available October of this year.

The next Fire Emblem game was presented, Fire Emblem Three Houses, which will be available Spring of 2019.

Fortnite was given a short trailer and available the same day on the Switch.

They moved to looking at some indie games being spotlighted for the Switch with Overcooked! 2. Fil-Aimes gave an overview as footage played. Killer Queen Black got the same style presentation. Hollow Knight was the third indie game spotlighted in this segment, available same day in the eshop.

Octopath Traveler, a Switch exclusive from Square Enix, got a brief mention with a new demo being available later in the month.

Starlink, Arena of Valor, Minecraft, Mario Rabbids Donkey Kong, Just Dance 2019, Splatoon 2, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Crash N Sane Trilogy, Ninjala, FIFA, Ark, Wasteland 2, Paladins, Fallout Shelter, Dark Souls Remastered, Sing Heroines, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, Wolfenstein II, Mega Man 11, Mario Tennis Aces and a few more were presented in a montage trailer.

The centerpiece of Nintendo’s presentation was the full reveal of the Nintendo Switch’s Super Smash Bros. entry. The big reveal for the presentation was that every single character that has appeared in all the Smash Bros games of the past, from N64 to Wii U, would be included in the new installment. They did a video of all the characters, showing when they were introduced. Link was shown in his Breath of the Wild tunic and Mario’s Odyssey pal Cappy appears with Mario as well. They also spent some time looking at how some characters who haven’t been in the series in a while have changed or been updated. A GameCube style controller with Amiibo support was announced with Switch compatibility for the game’s release. A final reveal was that Ridley (not Ripley as I initially wrote. Watch your typos when you’re trying to get something out quick, though she’d be cool to see teamed up with Samus) from the Metroid series would be making his Super Smash Bros. debut. Rumor is there may be a few more new characters to reveal before launch. It definitely looks like a good entry in the series.

Overall, Nintendo didn’t do what I normally expect in showing me something I didn’t know I wanted, but they did give a decent line up. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a Pokemon gap-fill, Super Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. all by end of this year maintains the momentum for Nintendo’s first party titles on Switch and their much more solid line up of third party games coming to the system suggest they’ll maintain their strong sales going forward.

Grade: B, but some might argue it’s a solid A with that Smash Bros. line up (and others might give if an F for lack of Waluigi).

Games I’m interested in: Starlink, Mega Man 11 (I’m planning to get the Mega Man and X Legacy collections along with this on Switch), Super Smash Bros.

E3 Day 3 Reaction

Square Enix

Square Enix didn’t have a large presentation, lasting only 30 minutes and mostly just showing some videos of games coming out.

Starting off with their closest release, they kicked off with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third game in the rebooted Lara Croft’s origin trilogy. I was happy to see Jonah brought back for the third adventure, though I hope he pulls through the plane crash shown in the trailer. The gameplay footage looks great and Lara looks like she’s become seriously dangerous. No longer fighting for survival, she seems more like a predator in the jungle more than ever. I also really dig the muscular definition they’ve given her. The mud camoflage is a cool thing that gives me a Predator Schwarzenegger vibe. I still wish we’d get the dual pistols, though, and releasing right after Spider-Man is really painful.

The Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood patch trailer didn’t do much for me since I’m already playing Final Fantasy XIV and love it already! However, a Palico in FFXIV with a Monster Hunter World crossover? Heck yeah! I definitely want a Palico buddy in FFXIV! I still need to give Monster Hunter World a try as well.

Another look at The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit didn’t tell me much more than was previously shown, but I do like the idea of them treating the Life Is Strange world as an anthology setting allowing them to tell stories of completely different characters unrelated to one another’s stories. Kind of surprising that the game will be free.

Dragon Quest XI is another series I never got into (but will someday, right?). The trailer doesn’t look too bad, though the graphics style makes it feel a little dated. I think that’s just a matter of maintaining the aesthetic of the series, though, and I’m sure playing the game would settle into them not feeling off at all. Nothing particularly commanding interest, though.

The trailer for Babylon’s Fall told me absolutely nothing, but I want to know absolutely everything about the world’s lore based solely from the trailer. It looks really cool.

Nier Automata Definitive Edition on XBox One was already announced at Microsoft.

Octopath Traveler interests me, but I’m interested in the RPGs Square is developing for Switch as they feel very retro SNES era RPG. It was an extremely brief trailer.

Just Cause 4 isn’t a series I’ve played, but the fourth entry looks as over the top and crazy as the others. I’d love to try it someday.

I have no idea what The Quiet Man is from the teaser trailer.

Kingdom Hearts III, of course, got a little more shown, but mostly I felt like I’d already seen it from the previous trailer. I’m a little disappointed there is not one single glimpse of anything remotely Final Fantasy. Kingdom Hearts has become pretty much entirely a Disney property game and though the series has always been Disney worlds with Disney party members, I would have liked to see a few cameo teases from Final Fantasy cast members.

Overall, the biggest disappointment was not one single glimpse, tease, or hint about the progress on Final Fantasy 7 remake, which I’m starting to think will be shifted to Playstation 5 since there’s no way for 3 episodic entries to release prior to that console. It would, however, be interesting to see the game release on the exact day of the 25th Anniversary. I’m also personally disappointed we’ll never likely see a sequel to Sleeping Dogs.

Mostly, I didn’t feel like Square showed anything we hadn’t already seen, making for an unimpressive presentation, even if there are a few games I’m interested in.

Grade: D+

Games I’m interested in: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Octopath Traveler, Kingdom Hearts III, more info for Babylon’s Fall.


Ubisoft

I liked kicking off with a slight jab at GameStop employee leaking Assassin’s Creed Odyssey with the keychain joke.

A lot of people likely didn’t care for the start of the presentation beginning with the dance routine outside, but I thought it was amusing. It was, up to that point, by far the most entertaining performance of all the presentations. With a mascot panda leading a marching band parade and dancers in colorful and weird costumes making their way from outside into the building and then down through the crowd to the stage, I couldn’t stop watching, all while thinking “wtf is even going on right now” before I finally realized it was their annual Just Dance performance. Major credit to the dancers, who apparently put the whole thing together last minute and are on the E3 floor dancing damn near nonstop all weekend. Sure, it wasn’t showing a game, but it was certainly more entertaining than Andrew WK’s performance for Bethesda. It also got much more of a positive crowd reaction as an opening act than Bethesda’s look of confusion from their crowd.

They went straight into one of their heavily anticipated titles with a long trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2. No game play presented, but the trailer did give a look at the setting and first glimpse of the characters. A friend of mine who knows absolutely nothing about Beyond Good and Evil was intrigued and interested in the game just from half of the trailer, so they certainly accomplished their goal in that regard. I was rather surprised by the ending reveal of Jade. It definitely feels like an HD facelift for the original PS2/GameCube release would be nice to accompany the sequel (actually prequel). After a few words from the developers, they showed a look at pre-alpha footage with the two explaining a few details, such as solo and co-op play. The game looks to be massive.

An interesting addition is the Space Monkey program where fans can create ideas, music, artwork, and original content to be added to the game. Murals, street art, music, radio content, and more can be submitted to be used in the game through a partnership with Hit Record, founded by Joseph Gordan-Levitt. It’s really cool to see celebrities brought into E3 because their projects or companies are actually partnering with the developers rather than just being brought on stage as a celebrity for some stilted pre-scripted dialogue. The cynical will see it as a way to crowd source free assets, but it’s a cool collaborative project for fans to have their creations in game.

After they went off stage, their mics were still hot, and the excited “we nailed it!” back stage was the cutest part of the presentation. That’s genuine excitement.

Rainbow Six Siege holds no interest for me, but it clearly does for 35 million players. They talked about upcoming esports competition tournaments, but didn’t go too long. They gave a first look at a documentary titled “Another Mindset” about Rainbow Six Siege esports gamers. Normally I’d complain about this being a detraction from showing games, but I understand why they showed it when they did. It allowed them to set up the stage for their next presentation.

Coming into the theater in an Evel Knievel suit on a motorcycle sporting the game title for Trials, we had Antti Il Vessuo, creative director of Ubisoft Redlynx, come on stage to “accidentally” trip and crash through a podium with a TV on it, breaking the whole thing to pieces. Getting up with a simple “oops,” he explained: “Trials is all about crashing with style and getting up again.” He also claimed to be the Prime Minister of Finland before presenting the video for Trials Rising. It was brief, but it scored with the crowd. A camera pan showed people laughing at the crash and “oops” and the applause was there for it. I hadn’t heard of Trials, but it looks like an absolute insane and infinitely more hilarious version of a childhood favorite in Excitebike. This is absolutely not my type of game and I still think it looks like it would be fun to play. After the video, the crew was already on stage cleaning up the set up “crashed podium” and he gave a little aside “sorry about that” which scored another noticeable laugh with the audience before talking more about the game.

By this point I had noticed that Ubisoft was doing something the other presentations had not done – it was connecting with their audience in the theater. Jokes were landing, the little performances and shows were entertaining, and they weren’t overly long before showing and talking about the games they had to present.

I wasn’t impressed with The Division 2 footage from Microsoft, but Ubisoft’s presentation sold me on the plot for the sequel. As it gets closer to release, I’ll see what the gameplay additions are like and make a decision on it. I played the first one with friends and might be happy to do so again with a sequel. Ubisoft has a proven track record with Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs of the sequels having vast improvements over the first game, so I hope that’s the case for The Divison 2 and I just haven’t seen it yet with the first release of gameplay footage. The crowd certainly liked the idea of 8 man raids in the game. Frequent, major content updates were promised with 3 DLC episodes with new story, areas, and activities all free in the first year.

I still haven’t found time to play Mario + Rabbids, but the Donkey Kong + Rabbids was fun with live music played over the video.

Skull & Bones looks like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag without the Assassin’s Creed backdrop and polished and refined with better graphics. The gameplay looks like it was taken right out of Black Flag with ship combat and base captures. They’ve added a multiplayer component with other players joining together to take down ships and then potentially fighting each other over the loot as well. I loved Black Flag, one of my favorite in the series, so I’d be interested to see more details on this in the future.

Elijah Wood was brought out for Transference VR as his company is involved in working with Ubisoft on the game. I’m not too clear on the game, but it seems creepy as hell.

The next game, Starlink, did a complete 360 for me. The initial trailer interested me with its sci-fi setting and the ship combat looked interesting, though I wasn’t crazy about the character designs and art style. Then I saw it was a toys to life game and I quickly lost interest. I do think these are the best “toys to life” iteration to date, though. Where Skylanders and Amiibo were mostly just little statue figurines that had a chip in them, Starlink toys actually are space ships that can be changed with different pieces to alter them in game. That also makes them genuine toys for kids to play with after turning off the game. They can run around the house with their toys shooting down imaginary enemies and narrowly dodging enemy fire, recreating epic space battles in their imaginations.

After a brief bit of information on the game, however, it was revealed that the good guys in Starlink would need all the help they can get and the video started again. Pursued by five enemies and taking fire, the pilot says “could use a little help here” and the video cut to a ship console. Then I heard it….

At first, I thought “Tell me I didn’t just hear that.” Then I thought “Did Ubisoft leave placeholder sounds in their trailer!?” Then I saw the green eye, clearly surrounded by fur, and covered by a green lens and I thought “HOLY CRAP WTF WTF WTF!?”

Ubisoft had strengthened their partnership with Nintendo and Star Fox, or at least Fox McCloud, would be in Starlink Battle for Atlas. Multiple arwings were seen as Fox took off, so I’m assuming the full team may be present.

Just like that, they sold me on buying a copy. I’ve wanted a model Arwing to put on the shelf for years, but the only one I’ve ever seen is about $500, so a $75 bundle of a toy version with game included is close enough for me. Shigeru Miyamoto was even on hand and seated in the front row of the audience to see. They gave him a first prototype of the Arwing and Fox McCloud figure for the game. It looked pretty cool on the display stand they had mounted it on.

I was surprised to see the next game, For Honor Marching Fire, as from my understanding the first game hadn’t done that well. Apparently, however, it was enough to warrant a new addition. However, this goes to Ubisoft’s credit of maintaining majority control of their company and the benefit of games like Rainbow Six Siege and Assassin’s Creed being tentpole games that help finance smaller projects throughout the company. They’re not exclusively bound to focus purely on profit, profit, profit.

The Crew 2 got a presentation and open beta announcement before showing the video. I’m not too interested here either. Give me a Smokey and the Bandit game, instead, Ubi (I’m kidding….. or am I?).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the closing presentation and it definitely looks good. Based on the trailer and presentation, the game looks good and they’re moving even more in an RPG direction. I was surprised, perhaps a little disappointed, to see Assassin’s Creed return to an annual release as I was hoping Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs would start taking turns leapfrogging each other in every-other-year releases.

I have the Ezio statue from the Brotherhood Collector’s Edition and have thought the others were cool since then, even sometimes thinking they would have definitely looked cool with every one of them together on a shelf, but with multiple statues in the new one, I’m glad I didn’t go down that path (though they do look awesome). I’m still hoping Ubisoft goes back on their word and ventures to Japan with the series (as they did with Egypt), as well as back to China and into India, at some point.

I also liked their show conclusion bringing the entire team, both presenters and so many who were back stage, back on stage for a final curtain call. The final note of working more with you, the gamers which makes everything better was a great note to conclude Ubisoft’s E3 presentation.

Grade: A

Games I’m interested in: Beyond Good and Evil 2, Starlink, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, possibly The Division 2 and Skull & Bones once I read up on more information.


Sony

Sony had announced ahead of time that this year would not be announcing new games at E3, but focusing on four pillar games with deeper looks and more information.

They started off their presentation in a room that had been built to look like a church to resemble the one they had not yet seen in the upcoming trailer. I saw a number of people didn’t like the banjo performance to start the presentation, but I liked it. I immediately knew it was kicking off the show with The Last of Us 2 just based on the early bit of that performance, though I’m in agreement that the church replica was rather silly and completely unnecessary. It caused a weird intermission right at the start of their presentation and broke the flow of their games being shown.

The Last of Us 2, however, looked absolutely fantastic. The detail in the character models and motion capture, the footage shown for gameplay looked very smooth and even more cinematic than the first game did. The focus of the trailer was on the greater danger in any zombie post-apocalypse: other humans. That always seemed like the more dangerous part of the first game, so I like seeing that aspect as the spotlight in the sequel. Ellie laying down in foliage and sliding under cars adds expanded ways to use the environment than just ducking behind things as well. I also found it interesting that the enemies seem to be calling her “wolf” as if she’s earned a title, possibly from hunting their group in the past? I’m a little disappointed we don’t see Joel at all, only getting a hint of him mentioned.

During the intermission while the crowd moved from the first room to the main theater. It took 13 minutes while they talked about Last of Us part 2, Horizon, God of War, and Detroit: Become Human with Worldwide Studios. New Game + coming to God of War was brought up and confirmed as happening. Black Ops remastered maps were announced for Black Ops IIII. Black Ops III was also announced as a free game for PS+ members.

Tetris Effect for PSVR was shown. A short video for Days Gone. Twin Mirror. Ghost Giant for PSVR, Beat Saber for PSVR. Basically a compilation sizzle reel.

Destiny 2‘s new expansion got a featured trailer.

Finally going back to the main stage, Sony presented another musical performance with Cornelius Boots playing the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute instrument) in front of a screen showing hills of grass while dressed in Japanese clothing. Much like the Andrew WK performance, this would have been more interesting if they had some slow paced game footage to show behind him rather than just the grassy hills. Once he was done, we got our first look at Ghost of Tsushima.

This is one of my most anticipated games that was teased at E3 in 2017 and the new trailer did not disappoint me at all. I’m a sucker for samurai and ninja films, so a game set in this time period grabs my attention and an open world style game in this time period is a must have. I’m hoping, really hoping, the final game is playable with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles, though. I even saw a later comment imagining a black & white mode, which would be ridiculously hard to imagine them pulling off, but would definitely be interesting.

The combat looks interesting. It’s definitely not fast paced hack and slash. There are some very Akira Kurosawa moments with the face off and the sudden draw-strike of the katana killing the opponent before regular combat starts. It looks like it’s focused on reaction, blocks and dodges and counter attacks rather than mindless button mashing.

Between games, there would occasionally be weird things like a CG banana playing electric guitar. It was for Dreams, but that game was never really shown.

I have no idea what the game is about based on the trailer, but Control looks like you basically get to play as Jean Gray/Phoenix (but also with a gun), so that looks pretty cool.

Next up was the surprise trailer that almost managed to steal the show: Resident Evil 2 remake was presented from a rat’s eye view. I liked the added touch of an original Playstation controller next to the pizza near the beginning. As the camera moves around, a struggle is heard, the two people fighting knocking things over and eventually falling on our rodent for the camera to shift to a different view to show the killed rat before moving to a zombie biting the sheriff he was fighting before we get our first look at Leon Kennedy.

Expected to have been a remake much like the Resident Evil REmake on GameCube, the footage is above and beyond that in terms of what I expected graphically. The detail is amazing and the crowd loved it, especially when a Jan 2019 release was revealed.

Squanch Games presented Trover Save the Universe from the creator of Rick and Morty. I’ve never watched the show, but if the humor is like this trailer, I do not remotely see the appeal.

Another look at Kingdom Hearts III showed more gameplay and focused on the Pirates of the Caribbean world before showing a lot of what was seen in the previous presentations. The big addition was the reveal of a Kingdom Hearts III PS4 Pro Limited Edition as well as a 1.5/2.5/2.8/3 all-in-one package for PS4.

Death Stranding gave us a long look at the game and its gameplay while still managing to show almost nothing. We know Redus’ character is essentially a delivery courier, seeing a wide number of terrains being traversed while wearing ridiculously large backpacks. There appears to be acid rain causing burns, hence needing the suits they wear. One of the “packages” appears to be a dead body wrapped up or in a body bag. Others are large crates, sometimes with robots coming with them, other times just carrying everything. Scaling a mountain seemed reminiscent of Breath of the Wild. Though towards the end, we see a village and he pulls out a rifle, so there does seem like there will be combat. It seems like whatever the creatures we’ve seen hinted at have human hand shaped feet, leaving hand prints where they walk. Breathing seems to attract their attention. The woman that meets up with Redus’ character has a suit with FRAGILE on the back (possibly the company they work for). The time fold fast forwards whatever it touches, but the past can never let go. If one of the things eats Redus character, he’ll come back, but the area will be a crater. There are humanoid shapes floating in the air as black smoky clouds, tethered into the sky. They catch Reducs and pull him down into an oil puddle to end the trailer. Ultimately still no clue what the game is about… We probably won’t entirely have an idea when it releases.

Give me your hand in death
Give me your hand in flesh
Give me your hand in spirit

Nioh 2 got an announce trailer, marking the third samurai game for E3 this year!

Finally, Sony wrapped up with an extended look at Spider-Man. The game still looks fantastic visually. Previously, it seemed Mr. Negative was the primary focus of the game, but this kicks off with Electro breaking prisoners out of the Raft and webhead chasing him through fighting low tier super powered criminals in the prison while running into more notable Spider-Man villains Rhino, Scorpion, and Vulture. It’s clear the Sinister Six are featured villains here. The sixth, who masterminded the break out and brought the above five together confronts Spidey at the end, but we’re not shown who it is. Norman Osborn is known to be mayor in this setting, so it could definitely be Green Goblin leading the Sinister Six, but Doc Ock is just as possible. Of course, it could be a surprise rather than an obvious choice.

The game definitely looks amazing. Spectacular even. It even looks Web of. Wait, that last one doesn’t work.

Grade: Absolute A++ on the games themselves, but…. B- for the presentation. I’d even hear out arguments for a grade of C.

However, I feel Sony did what they said they were going to do: showed a closer look at the four big games they wanted to showcase with no muss or fuss. The long intermission was the only real problem I had with their conference. If they had kept everything in the main theater, the shakuhachi before Ghost of Tsushima would have been more of a palette cleanser between the two games rather than feeling like we were stretching on far too long without game footage at a game presentation.

Games I’m looking forward to: Last of Us 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man, Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding, Ghost Giant, Beat Saber, possibly Control once I know more about it.

E3 Day 2 Reaction

Sorry I’m late getting these up as we’re now 5 days past Day 2. I’ll get the final Day’s reactions up tomorrow.

Microsoft

Note: I still hate Microsoft’s E3 approach of “Exclusive” and “World Premiere” announced at the start of every video….

I don’t own an XBox and have never been an XBox gamer, but I do tune in to their E3 presentation to see what they’re up to. With most of their games being on PC and console now, they sometimes have things that pop up I’m interested in.

Their opening trailer looked absolutely gorgeous even before having any idea what it was. Rather short, it wasn’t until the helmet reveal to realize it was a Halo game, Halo Infinite. I’m sure many Halo fans got excited, but anytime I see “infinite” or similar subtitles these days, I feel apprehension for an online quasi-MMO game that’s the big trend these days. It turned out the announcement was more for the engine they’re using and it sounds like Halo Infinite is absolutely nowhere near the horizon. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a 2020 release.

Phil Spencer specifically used “gamers” when speaking to his audience, which I liked after the past few years of the games press acting like that’s a tainted identifier. The crowd was hyped to be there, which says something about XBox’s fan base. Whether that’s good or ill is a debate I’ll leave for others. Spencer briefly touched on Gamers Outreach (a charity that lets kids in children’s hospitals game with friends) being supported by Fanfest ticket sales before giving the absolute best opening speech of the weekend.

It’s absolutely ridiculous that not one games press has written anything about this speech.

“Gaming brings us together. Gaming connects us. It inspires our truest cooperation. It creates some of our fondest memories of competition and our deepest conversations about the stories within games. Most of all, gaming fosters real community. It reaches across age, ability, race, gender, and geography. This is why I’ve always believed and will always believe that gaming is the great unifier. And what unifies us is our shared love of this art form. Legendary characters who captivate us. Not just for 10 hours, but for 10, 20, 30 years. Bold stories that inspire the hero within us. Iconic worlds that are so richly imagined, we feel excitement in the air and danger on the seas. As gamers, we are at a momentous time. Where creative vision and cutting edge technology together are delivering the art form we love.”

50 games, 18 exclusives, and 15 world premieres to be shown set the tone for the show. There wouldn’t be much talking as they showed game after game after game.

They certainly started off with a bang because after that speech they showed the trailer for Ori & The Blind Forest’s sequel. I still haven’t played the first, but I own it and it’s one that’s high on my wishlist to play through. The sequel looks beautiful as well, titled Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and if it plays like the first game was reported, it will be fantastic. No release date announced beyond 2019.

FromSoftware’s new title looked interesting, but I’m a sucker for samurai games. It looked like a new Onimusha game, but it was the previously teased Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Apologies to those who thought the original tease of the game was going to be Bloodborne 2. Release in early 2019.

Todd Howard from Bethesda took the stage to announce Fallout 4 on Xbox Game Pass and give the first look at Fallout 76. I absolutely love the Take Me Home, Country Roads cover they chose for the trailer and from the first look, it felt like a great Fallout game to jump into for those of us like me who never actually got into the series. It’s definitely a cool trailer. (More on the game itself in Bethesda’s review.)

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, a game set in Life is Strange‘s world, doesn’t really interest me. I thought Life is Strange was alright, but nothing amazing, so another one doesn’t really do much for me. However, the premise is pretty neat and for the right price there’s a chance I’d check it out. Much like Life is Strange, the trailer seems like my favorite part about the game would be the music. Available June 25th.

Crackdown 3 is another series I’ve never played, but let’s face it – this game looks interesting for Terry Crews alone. On the other hand, wasn’t it supposed to be a launch title with XBox One? Instead it’s been delayed to 2019.

Metro Exodus had a cool trailer and I’ve heard the games are fun, but they also look like most every FPS game to me, which aren’t really my cup of tea, so there’s that. Release sometime in 2019.

Kingdom Hearts III on Xbox is another first and while Sony later revealed a PlayStation exclusive of 1.5, 2.5, and 3 all-in-one edition, I’d hope the 1.5 and 2.5 releases are released separately on Xbox as jumping into the third game of a trilogy seems like it would be jarring. The main song for Kingdom Hearts games used in trailers is always so oddly out of place. January 29th release.

Sea of Thieves is getting an expansion, but doesn’t particularly interest me. The trailer was fairly amusing, though.

Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t interest me either, but the game looks good graphically. The weather changing effects that alter the world and impact gameplay is pretty cool, though. They actually showed the gameplay as the differences and changes were described.

Phil Spencer returned to the stage to talk about The Initiative, a new studio Microsoft has established as well as Undead Labs, Playground Games, and Ninja Theory as having been acquired by Microsoft. The crowd was certainly excited to hear the last one, but I’m uneasy about studios being purchased by larger platforms. We’ll see how long before Microsoft shuts someone down. Compulsion Games was the last studio announced as having been acquired, citing We Happy Few as their notable title with a trailer shown afterwards.

PlayerUnknown’s Battleground was the next game shown and despite it being popular, I’m still not interested.

Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition was a bit of a surprise, but good to see an RPG on the system, even a HD release of a 360 game. Nier Automata Definitive Edition is available June 26th for another RPG on the system.

The Division 2 was shown next. I enjoyed the first game up to the end of the initial release. I never played the expansions and DLC. The plot for the sequel, set six months later, seems interesting, but the gameplay didn’t look different from the first game, not enough to warrant a full blown sequel. The presentation was fairly bad with the very unnatural dialogue between “gamers” playing. Not only is the script weak and even cheesy, but the voice actors just feel like voice actors. Can’t really fault Microsoft and their conference since this is Ubisoft’s video.

However, they stopped the roll of games to talk about Xbox Game Pass and “Fast Start” though I didn’t really get any impression of what Fast Start does. Game Pass will have games available the same day as global release. I can’t see how this helps the developers and publishers if thousands or millions of people are playing for free through a subscription paid to Microsoft. The segment, from the presenter to the audience reactions, felt almost like it was scripted for Devolver Digital’s presentation.

After that was a montage video of games at the 1 hour mark with a lot of cool looking games in there.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider got its full trailer presented, which looks amazing. As the final game of the origin trilogy, there’s definitely more of the adventuring tomb raiding bad ass in this trailer than she was in the previous games.

Devil May Cry 5 trailer was a surprise to see. At first I was a bit confused if it was a DmC sequel since Dante (turns out that’s not Dante, it’s Nero, but I haven’t played the games in a while) has short hair. But Dante does show up by the end.

Also, what’s up with all the robot hands lately? Battlefield V, Sekiro, and Devil May Cry 5 all have one!

Cuphead was also revealed to be getting a new game.

Tunic was revealed as well, which was first shown last year, but this gave a deeper look at it. It looks like an isometric Legend of Zelda starring a fox, so of course I’m interested in it. This one is a console launch exclusive, aka timed exclusive, so I’ll wait for the PS4 release.

Bandai Namco revealed a Naruto/One Piece/Dragon Ball Z/Death Note set in the real world crossover fighting game called Jump Force.

Dying Light 2, another first person game, didn’t really interest me. The premise and setting looks cool. Maybe I’ll eventually give the first one a try to decide on this one.

A new Battletoads was teased, but nothing shown.

Gears of War POP was teased more than shown. I guess it’ll be a quirky game for fans of the franchise. No release date given.

Gears of War 5 had a decently lengthy trailer, but no hint when it will be released.

As Phil Spencer wrapped up to close the night, he was interrupted by the stage being hacked and taken over for the world premiere of the trailer of CD Project Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. Nothing is really shown, just a trailer showing the premise, but gamers have already analyzed it, particularly all the computer code (and it’s double layered) to decipher a lot of information about the game from the trailer. It’s a cool looking setting, but until there’s more information, it’s hard to say. I know it’s apparently going to be first person perspective, so it’s going to likely be one that doesn’t really interest me too much.

The disappointment for Microsoft’s presentation was how few of their big titles are nowhere near the horizon and the vast majority of what was shown are third party titles that will be not just on PC, but even on PS4 as well. Despite that, their presentation itself was well done with focus on the games, which Microsoft has been needing to do. Only the one break to discuss Game Pass broke their momentum. Still, they did show a lot of games, which is essentially what people tune in to E3 to see.

Grade: B+

Games I’m interested in: Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Sekiro, Tunic, and possibly Devil May Cry 5.

 

Bethesda

Hoo boy, I’m going to get some hate for this one.

Bethesda started with a 2 minute video of the diversity of their employees. I’m not sure if the voice over and the final woman shown was really the receptionist at one of their offices, but if it was, I dig that. I know a lot of gamers were griping that they started off with something not games, but it was 2 minutes. Not that big a deal to kick off a presentation. Unfortunately, the presentation itself followed…

After the Bethesda President talked a bit, we then had to sit through an Andrew WK performance for Rage 2 rather than actually showing Rage 2. If it had been a live performance while crazy footage was showing, it would have been a lot more fun. Camera pans across the audience showed people that just looked confused. It was 10 minutes into the presentation before we started to hear or see anything about video games.

I don’t know anything about Rage, never played it, but it looks like a crazy Mad Max worthy setting kicked up a notch with mutants and monsters. Though it took almost 15 minutes, at least they finally started to show gameplay with this.

Elder Scrolls Legends, a digital card game, is a relaunch with new visuals.

Elder Scrolls Online update detailing some DLC coming in the rest of the year.

Doom Eternal got a teaser announcement, but no footage, no date, and again, “Eternal” is an title I don’t trust to not be a quasi-MMO shared world type of thing like Destiny or Division.

Quake Champions is basically Quake Overwatch.

Prey DLC was announced with a cheesy video and awkward presentation.

Wolfenstein The New Blood was revealed well. Briefly talking about the previous entry and thanking fans for their response as well as the game coming to Switch, then revealed the new game’s trailer featuring BJ’s twin daughters in the 1980s in Paris. They didn’t drag it out and were to the point in their presentation.

Prey and Wolfenstein VR entries announced.

Todd Howard was brought out to present more information about Fall 76. Instead, he talked about E3’s history and then presented Skyrim A Very Special Edition to play on the Amazon Alexa. It was a funny video expected to be a gag, but it turns out it’s actually available. The Etch-a-Sketch, Motorolla Pagers, and Smart Fridge editions are likely just jokes, though. It’s good to see them embrace the Internet meme of Todd releasing Skyrim on everything, though. Nice to see a sense of humor about themselves.

Next they did go into detail of Fallout 76.  I was interested based on the trailer from Microsoft, but as more information was presented and it was shown to be a more multiplayer focused game (you can play solo if you like, but it’s designed for multiplayer to be the intent), likely another quasi-MMO style game, I pretty much lost interest. People point out that gamers only have a limited amount of money, but more than money, I feel that gamers have a limited amount of time. Numerous “games as a service” are not sustainable because you can’t dedicate your time to all of them at once. You’ll have a situation similar to traditional MMOs where WoW took the lion’s share and anyone else in the market shriveled over time until there is very little competition left in the market.

Elder Scrolls Blades was then announced – a mobile game.

And to close their presentation, they announced they’re working on an all new next generation single player game, their first new franchise in 25 years. What they showed was a lens flare behind a planet and a space station seemingly going into hyperspace with a title: Starfield. That’s it. They announced a “next generation” game and showed a title and this is a big deal.

Oh but wait, we can beat that! The ‘the game after that’ was announced with nothing more than a typical pan across a fantasy land with the Elder Scrolls theme showing “The Elder Scrolls VI.” Nothing else. Not even a title.

They literally said “we’re working on Elder Scrolls VI for someday” and people flipped their lids.

I have absolutely no clue why people have declared this to be a killer presentation for the year. They showed:

Three full blown games: Rage 2, Fallout 76, and Quake Champions.
A digital card game relaunch. A mobile game. An MMO DLC/Expansion.
A living meme with Skyrim Alexa.
DLC and a couple of VR announcements.
And they announced, but showed absolutely nothing of the next Doom, Wolfenstein, as well as the big reveal of nothing but a title for Starfield for some time in the future and the Elder Scrolls VI for some time farther in the future!

People are going crazy because they showed a generic fantasy landscape pan with the series title, not even the title of the game itself, which will come out probably around 2025.  You’re quite literally proving Devolver Digital’s 2017 “sell games before development even starts” gag would be a valid business model.

Grade: C, maybe a C+ for bringing a meme to life.

Games I’m interested in: None at the moment.

 

Devolver Digital

I’m not even going to give a full break down of their presentation because one must experience it. Go find it on YouTube.

Grade: A, much fun, would Devolver again. Looking forward to DEvolv3r 2019 to see the next entry in the Devolver E3 Cinematic Universe.

E3 Reaction – Day 1

EA

I had no real expectations from EA with nothing in their catalog being of particular interest to me. After just a trailer to tease Anthem, which they’d talk about later, they kicked off the show with Battlefield V, which is particularly a game I’m not interested in.  Credit to EA for keeping it simple, though. They showed some footage, had the developers talk about some details fans were wanting to know, and concluded in just 10 minutes.

They followed it up with FIFA current year, which I’m equally not interested. Not to say either of these being presented is bad – Battlefield and FIFA have absolutely huge followings who love the series. I was, however, a little confused why they spent the money getting Hans Zimmer to score the music….for the trailer. Just the trailer? After showing off their trophy, they talked about the Champions League. They talked about the importance of gameplay (saying “gameplay” 4 times) and how the bar for said gameplay was raised, but without showing any gameplay. They then talked about the trophy again, as well as the World Cup in their tournament. It was a dull presentation with nothing really shown and felt like a waste of time that offered nothing to FIFA fans.

They burned more time talking about gaming on phones and tablets via the cloud as well as their subscription service with Origin Access Premiere. Nothing of interest for gamers so much as for shareholders and investors. Next to no applause or enthusiasm from the audience here. Even the courtesy applause when he left the stage was muted.

20 minutes into the show and they had only shown a little bit of footage from Battlefield V when they did the very forced, and very awkward “just happen to find a Respawn developer Vince Zampella in the crowd” to announce Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Zampella said they didn’t have anything to show this year, but were ready to talk about it. All they actually did was give the title and when it takes place. The worst part here, for me, was Andrea Rene, the show’s host. After the title is revealed, Zampella awkwardly states, likely intended to be humorous, “that suggests you’ll be playing a Jedi” to which the Rene asks “does that mean I get to hold a lightsaber?” It was a dumb question and I don’t even know what EA was going for (I fully assume Rene’s questions and lines were mostly scripted through the whole presentation, so I don’t actually blame her for the awkwardness).

But that wasn’t the worst part. After Zampella notes that it takes place during “the dark times, when the Jedi are being hunted,” Rene asks “So for all the hardcore nerds out there who want to know like where in the timeline, between which episodes is it?”

“Hardcore Star Wars nerds” already know exactly where it takes place just based on saying it was during the dark times when the Jedi were being hunted! Stop having these forced, painfully awkward scripted dialogue at your presentations! It’s only 2 minutes and I’d forgive you if you were setting something up on stage, but it was just nothing with no purpose and a horrible back and forth.

Star Wars Battlefront II got next to no reaction. Dennis Brännvall was sent out to deliver EA’s official E3 mea culpa for the game, acknowledging the failure at launch and detailing the overhauls that were done after the launch as well as the recent hunt mode (which admittedly I think sounds hilariously great with the Ewoks hunting you). They showed gameplay while he talked about the new additions in their next update, but they had such a short clip it looped through twice and was starting its third round before he announced the addition of Clone Wars content (which did get a positive reaction from the fans).

25 minutes into the show was a surprise reveal for Unravel two. Personally, this was my favorite part of their presentation, with the crowd reaction and even a “Yar-ny, Yar-ny” chant from a couple guys in the audience. Martin Sahlin’s presence on the stage was so much more comfortable and confident this year than when he first introduced us to Yarny. Wasting no time, he talked about the new addition (a blue character) while video played showing Yarny finding said character. Footage played behind while he described the two character experience. The game was described as more friendly, but more challenging, but most of all, more playful. After this 3 minute intro, and showing us info, they jumped right into gameplay in single player approach with Michael, the team’s Producer, playing live on stage. After a bit of this, Sahlin joined him to demonstrate 2 player gameplay. Honestly, it was just well presented with introduction, live single player gameplay, and live 2 player gameplay. No awkward “gamer talk” just communication between them of what they would do/what the other should do. The laughing at close calls felt genuine because it was genuine.

The presentation was only about 7 minutes long from start to finish and gave more impression of the game than the big budget AAA presentations. The big surprise, however, was after thanking his team, the final trailer showed more of the game and turned out to be a launch trailer when it was announced that the game was available immediately. The reaction from the crowd was the most lively with that announcement.

Continuing the tradition of Unravel’s original reveal, another EA Originals title, Sea of Solitude, or S.O.S was shown next. The trailer looks interesting, but the developer talked about it for 5 minutes before showing anything. It would have arguably been better to show the trailer first and then talk about it. I don’t fault her for talking a little long as she seemed just as nervous as Sahlin was when Yarny was first introduced to the world.

I had no interest in EA Sports presenting NBA Live 18 and even less in bringing out two E-sports competitors for Madden. It was almost 10 minutes spent on sports, with a bulk of that being talking to an e-sports player. Even for Madden fans, there seemed very little shown for them to enjoy.

Next up was the return of Command & Conquer… as a mobile game. A simplified mobile game at that, which dragged on far too long with a “professional shoutcaster” over a live match. For 8 minutes, we saw Command & Conquer Rivals – a mobile game – played over uninteresting commentary before seeing a trailer for the game afterwards. After seeing the gameplay and how completely unexciting it was, the trailer just left you realizing how much the game didn’t match the trailer.

During the closing speaking segment, when they were talking about choice – players choosing what,when, where, and how they play. That they feel they’re treated fairly and no one is given an unfair advantage or disadvantage for how they play. That they are given value for their time investment and for games to be fun, for experiences to truly enhance lives. That they want to be better and make great games, but there is something greater. It was basically a lengthy “please forgive us” before they transitioned directly into their Play to Give charity program for social impact benefiting He For She, National Bullying Prevention Center, and Ditch the Label with 1 million dollars in the last Play to Give campaign. To me, it just felt awkward to go from doing better and giving gamers a choice straight to it’s more important to give money to these charities.

They concluded with Anthem and the Bioware team for about 20 minutes. Honestly, it feels like Iron Man suits (even the theme at the end sounds just a teensy bit like the Avengers theme) with Destiny or The Division style gameplay. Feb 22, 2019 will be the launch date for the game, but what was shown didn’t particularly interest me. They talked about the Bioware conversation choices being an element when you go to the base camps that are single player, but all their footage was the multiplayer combat, which was disappointing. I think that’s a bit of the problem with the game feeling like a Destiny clone. They need to focus more on what’s different rather than what looks the same.

Even the closing “are you guys ready to download some games” from Rene got little reaction and little applause to close their show.

Grade: D

Personal Interests: Unravel 2, Sea of Solitude

NYT Gives a Fair Article a Bad Tweet

This past week, Nellie Bowles wrote an article published by the New York Times titled “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games” but the publication’s Twitter account ran with the tweet:

“America’s 150 million gamers want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they aren’t teenagers anymore.”

As one might expect, gamers began mocking the tweet and, by extension, the article itself. Yet there’s a problem with a lot of the responses I saw: They didn’t read the article. If they had, they might have found that Bowles writes a rather positive description of gaming and its future as a centerpiece of American culture. The article goes so far as to comment on Hollywood’s decline during gaming, streaming, and esports’ continued rise. The article’s message is fairly clear: Gaming is no longer a hobby just for kids and teens and is growing exponentially. Not only is it not going anywhere, but it’s going to become even more of a standard staple in entertainment and may even be the savior of some struggling industries.

Let’s evaluate the article itself:

The headline, “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games,” is referring to the meteoric rise and record setting shift witnessed with YouTube and Twitch. No gamer can deny that the old new media – gaming magazines/now gaming sites – has been upended by YouTube reviewers/critics and Let’s Players with streaming on Twitch an even newer factor.

Ninja’s 635,000 consecutive views playing Fortnite with Drake made headlines. Streaming and esports are, essentially, watching others play video games and it’s appeal has proven massive. This is noted further with the sub-headline: “Gamers are the new stars. Esports arenas are the new movie theaters.”

If there was any doubt on the direction this was going, the first sentence should set the stage: “Video games are beginning their takeover of the real world.”

The article describes how malls, movie theaters, stores, parking garages, and more locations are converting to esports arenas and content farms are popping up to generate content with the same level of management as a major studio production.

Football teams are celebrating wins with dances from Fornite, which the article notes has racked up 129 million hours viewed on Twitch in under a year. That calculates out to 2.48 million hours a week. If Fortnite was a weekly television show, that might translate to 2.48 million viewers per week. That’s half of what The Simpsons pulls in. Yet that’s not a valid 1:1 comparison. In February alone, Bowles notes that Fortnite received 2.4 billion views on YouTube.  Billion, with a B.

After establishing all this, the article states a very real fact that ESPN broadcasters were adamantly against just 3 years ago: “Esports are, finally, just like any other sport.”

eSports Saving America! (‘s malls)

 

As the online presence is growing more dominant on the streaming and review side, physical space is being taken up by esports arenas and gaming bars. However, here’s where that tweet quote comes in and even within the article where opinions may diverge.

“Those 150 million gamers in America want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they are not teenagers anymore.”

Commenters are correct – not all gamers are alike and the huge growth of eSports turn outs doesn’t mean all gamers want to squeeze into a room to watch others play games. Some don’t even want to be in a crowded place to play games together.

But I don’t think that’s really the full intent of the article and I think we, as gamers, should be a little more tempered in our reaction. “They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller” isn’t necessarily a literal statement. Nobody literally wants to sit with elbows touching and there’s no logical scenario that controllers would be. It’s more of a gaming iteration of “stand shoulder to shoulder.”

Considering the past number of years have primarily had journalists depicting gamers as anti-social goblins living in shadowy rooms despising human contact, I really think it’s reasonable to accept a claim that gamers are, in fact, normal people who want to gather with friends and enjoy a shared hobby. As the article notes, it’s a natural extension of the already sociable aspect of gaming as we chat on headsets while playing even when we’re not together in the same room.

Breaking down this contentious paragraph, simply think of it as such:

150 million gamers aren’t antisocial, they enjoy interacting with fellow gamers.
There’s a demand for public venues where the hobby can be enjoyed alongside fellow gamers.
They want these venues to have a comfortable atmosphere, not the dark basement stereotype.
The average gamer isn’t a kid anymore.

A Live Example

The article then shifts to describing a new esports arena in Oakland and its pre-opening party. 4000 people inside, a line stretched around the block right in the middle of a tourism hot spot. That’s a good turn out by any stretch and the fact that a game related venue is approved for a major tourism traffic area is more important than the gamers present.

The Co-founder is cited as saying he had to speak at four community meetings to convince the community it would like having the arena present. That means it took effort to get gaming in this location, to have it be present in the community. It also means it was successful. For all the complaints that gamers voice about how politicians, business executives, and everyone calling shots don’t get it, here you have a community that was convinced it was just as beneficial as a grocery store (the cited alternative that was initially desired). That’s a big deal.

Regarding that poorly chosen tweet, some also complained that it suggested gamers were stunted to associate “I’m grown up” exclusively with “I can drink alcohol.” That’s not accurate either, as the article notes the Oakland eSports arena faced challenges with getting a liquor license as the misconception was present that teenagers were the majority demographic when in actuality is cited with 25 being the average age. It’s a fact that most adults want alcoholic beverages as an option in public venues where they congregate.

The article has quotes from gamers in attendance, appreciating a larger venue than the typical back room in a gaming store or commenting on the layout. What caught my interest was that Bowles interviewed 77 year old designer Herb Press who may offer the most positive comment in the article:

”This is an audience involved in this particular time in the computer age, but I’m amazed how critical they are,” he said. “They do have serious concepts and tastes. I heard one come out of the bathroom and say it looked cool in there.”

Actual importance of bathroom ambiance aside, it’s worthwhile to note that it’s a tangible realization that gamers have “serious concepts and tastes” in a major publication like the New York Times. That’s a far cry from the Dorito gremlins we’re frequently written to be in clickbait articles. It suggests that despite the best efforts of certain groups, gaming is growing too big and all-encompassing as a cultural past time to be ignore and dismissed as nonsense that the kids do.

Dorito Gremlin

Even if we still find this amusingly valid in our hearts.

E-Celeb Dread

The next portion of the article is where the real concern should settle. Discussing eSports organizations and the industry that’s growing. As Bowles writes, “Their job is to be cool gamers.” The very notion sounds less like a gamer growing popular for their natural personality and connecting with an audience and more like manufactured gaming celebrities akin to the latest pop idol churned out by American Idol year after year.

It’s noted there are numerous growing eSports teams (perfectly reasonable) and content mills (possibly concerning). That’s where we’re getting into the idea of manufactured gaming. When gaming it about churning out content to mine for something that might go viral, that’s not really gaming so much as it’s trying to find something that will become popular and presenting it for the sole purpose of increasing popularity so that popularity can be translated to followers & subscribers to generate more revenue for corporations that are funding the celebrity in question.

However, it’s noted many have broken away from the entertainment company they were partnered with to pursue their own media companies. That ironically brings them full circle – back to where a content creator on YouTube has replaced the big media conglomerations and has more reach. If gaming can hope to stave off the typical corporate corruption that seems to seep into everything, an ongoing system of direct connection between creators and fans is the way to do it.

Hollywood vs Gaming

Bowles wraps up the article discussing the decline of movie going. Talking to a former Capital Records president who has turned to gamer management (again, think manufactured e-celebs), he says the future is in eSports and gaming, which he believes will surpass movies as an entertainment industry and he acknowledges that a lot of people his age still think gamers must be ‘nerds in their basement’ and says that puts the entertainment industry behind the curve, or “asleep at the switch.”

This entire article is example after example that gaming is, if not THE future of entertainment, at least a major part of it. It’s a shame that so many gamers won’t realize this article is actually in support of their hobby, proclaiming its prominence in the future of culture, based entirely on a poorly chosen tweet.

That’s not entirely at the gamers’ feet, either. They’ve gotten so used to clickbait and disparaging headlines that they do what any gamer would – they don’t play. They don’t click the article, they don’t give the publication click-money. They do what they can to deny the “enemy” points on the board. And while the context of that paragraph in the article isn’t entirely bad by my interpretation, it’s still oddly out of place in the context of the article as a whole.

After all, there’s no mention of Hot Pockets at a single esports arena, gamer bar, or gaming center in the article, nor requested by anyone interviewed, so why suggest gamers want the snacks to be Hot Pockets? That runs contrary to the paragraph’s depiction of gamers as having serious concepts and tastes as well as contrary to the push that the average gamer is an adult, not a teen or kid.

Besides, tendies are the superior choice these days, anyway. At least give a gamer some nugs.

I’d Rather Skip the “Skip Boss” Button

After my recent article, I didn’t expect to so quickly be writing another in response to a game site’s article, but here we are.

Rock Paper Shotgun spurred some Twitter attention this week when they published “Now Ubi’s opened the door, can we have our “Skip Boss Fight” button?” by John Walker. Walker wrote the article in relation to Ubisoft’s “Discovery Tour” mode for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which will remove story, quests, combat, and challenges and allow players to simply wander and explore the game world.

Walker states it’s odd that this addition is a big deal because he feels it shouldn’t be, and that “games should be delighted to include modes that remove all their difficulty and challenge, and players should cheer when they hear about it.”

I find the Discovery Tour an interesting addition to Assassin’s Creed and I can see a lot of value in the idea for some games, maybe even a lot of them (hear me out, dear gamer). The Assassin’s Creed series are set in different historical time periods, where historical fact is blended (though often bent and altered) with fiction to create an alternative what-really-happened-behind-the-scenes version of history. Yet there’s always a kernel of actual history in the games, particularly with Animus entries. You wander past a historical landmark in-game and you can read about that historical landmark with the push of a button. You can learn about Notre Dame by walking up to it. You can learn about devices invented in that time period. Origins seems to be taking another step and including cultural practices in ancient Egypt as well.

The addition of a tourism mode allows players who are interested in history and ancient cultures and practices to simply wander around and learn about these things without being hassled by guards or worrying about getting into fights or walking somewhere they’re not welcome and causing all kinds of trouble. I can see some benefits to the concept.

People interested in history and learning about the time period can do so without having to learn a game. Counterpoint, of course, is they could, and probably should, read a book for a better look at history than any video game is going to provide. But if a game can intrigue a kid or teenager to explore the game world, then move to books and reading for a deeper understanding, there’s a net benefit there.

Stepping away from historical settings, this mode could be interesting in some games that build their own worlds as well. As the protagonist is typically in their teens at the earliest, they have some life experience in their world. Having a non-combat exploration mode allowing you to interact with NPCs and learn about history, culture, and details of the game world would let the player get a ground level knowledge base before the storyline’s initial trigger than sends the proverbial poo to the fan. A tutorial mode could be suggested instead, but those typically get added as a required intro to learn how the game’s combat works.  An exploration mode allows players to try it if they wish and players who want to hop straight to story and gameplay don’t have to bother with a tutorial at all.

So honestly, I’m on board with the “Discovery Tour” idea until we see how it plays out. I do think it’s something that should be more of a focus for studios working with VR right now – allowing players to explore historical and modern landscapes and locations for a virtual vacation get away. Visiting historical places, learning about cultures around the world all from the comfort of your own home. Combine this with Google Maps one day and our VR options for cheap “world” travel becomes quite expansive.

However…(you didn’t think this was all agreements & unicorns, did you?)

Stabby-The-Unicorn-Pink-clean_800x

Okay, maybe there is a unicorn for gamers…

I’m not so sure games and gamers should be delighted and cheering to include modes “that remove all their difficulty and challenge” either.

What is the point of a Mario game where you push the directional pad to the right and hold the button until you get to the end of the stage? After all, you’d have to remove all enemies and all pits. No jumping, just hold a button until Mario reaches the flag. What’s the point?

What is the point of playing a Metal Gear Solid game where you just walk through the corridors of the base without enemies to avoid, without having to employ stealth, and with no bosses? It’s just walking through hallways until you get a cut scene.

What is the point of Ninja Gaiden if you just run through a level with no enemies and no bosses?

What is the point of Call of Duty if you just walk through combat zones where there’s no combat?

What is a puzzle game if you remove all the puzzles?

What is the point of chess if every piece can move anywhere you feel like putting them on the board? Sure, you can do that, but then you’re not actually playing chess, are you?

Walker is taking what I think is a good idea to extremes of absurdity with this notion. Even Assassin’s Creed: Origins isn’t offering up the game itself with no combat. The Discovery Tour mode doesn’t allow you to play through the story or do the assassin’y stuff so much as let you explore the game world as the character might before the Assassin Order begins – before there’s a moment that spurs one to action.

The idea of the no-combat, discovery/exploration mode works fine for open world games, especially if there’s other things to do. I’ve been playing Watch Dogs 2 and before I go off on a crusade to bring down Big Brother, I could easily go around the city and spend time getting familiar with it by doing the Uber- oops, sorry, I mean Lyft- oops, sorry, I mean Driver SF quests. I could do racing on the E-Kart tracks. I could find Scout X locations and take pictures. I could do a number of things before focusing on the story.

It just doesn’t work as well in non-open world games. Instead, I think we’re already in a good place with most games offering different difficulty levels. I started Platinum Games’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan on easy, thinking I’d play through it on easy, then normal, then hard if I was still interested.  I’d use level ups and power ups from lower difficulty to be better equipped for harder difficulties. I wound up playing on easy for two levels and not realizing I was then on normal for the rest of the game (I forgot to change the difficulty on the level select screen after the first two).

I’m assuming because the Discovery Tour idea doesn’t work in non-open world games is why Walker suggests the “skip boss” addition instead, allowing people to play through the levels of normal combat without having to fight a boss. But since you can already play on easy mode in most games where bosses are toned down quite a bit, I’m not entirely clear why it’s necessary to skip them.

I might test this with my mother one day and see if she can get through a few levels of a game on easy mode. She’s never played a video game in her life to my knowledge. Except Spider Solitaire. Don’t challenge her in Spider Solitaire, sucka, she’ll stomp your high score.

Mr T

I pity the fool that challenge my mama to Spider Solitaire!

“Bring on the Riff-Raff!”

While he starts off talking about removing all challenge and difficulty and is suggesting a “skip boss” option, what Walker actually wants is for games to be more welcoming and inviting to more skill levels. To make games more accessible to more people. A noble idea and one that I can’t see how anyone can argue against on its own. It’s been Nintendo’s core value for decades. But more on this idea later.

He then notes his previous articles that argued players should be able to skip ahead in games just as with books or movies, combat should be skippable, and you shouldn’t need to be good to play video games.

What film critic actively suggests movie goers should skip 25% of a film? What book review says to skip every other chapter of a book? Why are only gaming journalists frequently and actively encouraging the product they write about to be ignored in part?

The Lord of the Rings has not been edited to 1/3 of its length with the language altered to be easily digested by a 6th grade reading level (Scholastic lists it at grade 9-12). Oscar winning films for Best Picture aren’t being reworked to appeal to the Michael Bay fan. And really, who spends $20 on a Blu-ray just to skip 25% of it on their first viewing?

The crux of the argument is that simplifying games and removing all challenge would invite a wider range of audience and would ultimately make games better. Or, as the article states, “welcoming the Outsider in is always how society broadens and blooms.” But does it apply to video games?

Pleasing All of the People All of the Time

World of Warcraft started out as an MMORPG, a niche genre growing from popular titles such as Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Final Fantasy XI, but WoW largely removed the grinding aspect from leveling. Some might say they made the MMO concept easier with quests and all classes being more capable of solo combat, but what they really removed was the need to group for every aspect of the game. It was more a shift of design than truly making the genre easier at launch. As WoW became a cultural phenomenon, it drew a much wider crowd. The nerds from high school who played MMORPGs were there, but now they were joined by the jocks that stuffed them in lockers and played Call of Duty or Halo in college. Even casual mobile gamers started playing as well..

As the population grew diverse, so did the demands. Players wanted more raid content on a regular basis. They wanted harder raid content. But also more accessible raid content. They wanted larger 40 man raids back. Only they also wanted small 10 man raids. They also wanted more 5 man dungeons. For that matter, there needed to be more world content outside of dungeons. And how about more mini games? While Blizzard responded in various ways, it’s hard to say the modern World of Warcraft resembles the game that launched, The Burning Crusade expansion, or even the launched Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Blizzard began to develop the game to cater to everyone simultaneously and the game, for better or worse I’ll leave to other debates, changed a great deal and diluted from the focus that made it the most popular MMO of all time.

If WoW vastly improved by drawing in Outsiders by the droves, it hasn’t been reflected in its subscription numbers. As these large changes were implemented and the focus started to shift, even adding in what is unquestionably a blatant Pokemon rip off in Pet Battles, subscription numbers dropped and have never returned to their peak levels for more than an immediate post-expansion launch. Blizzard no longer reports on subscription numbers at all. Granted, it’s not the bulk of their profit anymore and so it’s not as important, but if they were still worth bragging about, I’d wager they would be.

None of the major features in a World of Warcraft expansion that deviated from the original core have been high demands in other MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV. It’s as though a genre has its core components and fans of that genre play the game for them. Bringing in Outsiders can actually dilute the game design as developers try to make people who are not interested in the genre happy, potentially at the alienation of their existing fan base.

Gaming Has Always Been Inclusive

“Gaming has always been inclusive. The idea that there was this Golden Age when all games were cripplingly hard, and only the Chosen were able to play, is bullshit. In fact, back in these imagined halcyon years was when games invariably came with cheat codes, god modes, all sorts of ways to subvert and play differently. And despite the outright terror that articles like this are harming their precious gaming, that the Outsiders are changing games to what the self-identifying Us perceive as “worse”, we’re currently experiencing a heyday for super-high-difficulty, super-challenging, extremely tough games, like we never have before.”

Wait… what was that first line? Gaming has always been what?  Inclusive, you say? Then aren’t we done here? Aren’t we good to go? Gaming’s always been inclusive, so why does gaming need to be changed to draw in a more inclusive range of players?  Checkmate, atheists!

Checkmate chicken

It was either this or a John Cena meme. Suck it.

Walker is right, though. There wasn’t a period where all games were cripplingly hard. The NES era had a lot of hard games, sure, but part of that was how new many of us were to the medium, just learning how to control these little people on the screen with our fingers on a controller. The other part was simply padding the game. Seriously, a lot of games on NES are extremely hard because:

  1. They’re directly taken from arcades which wanted you to die often to feed more quarters
  2. They want you to get more than 4 hours of play out of your $60 purchase. Otherwise, gamers (or more accurately their parents) would have been returning games for not being worth the cost and would stop buying new ones. The high difficulty was there to keep you playing.
  3. Nintendo was doing their part to combat childhood obesity by making kids frustrated enough to get sick of this BS and go outside and play. (Okay, I’m just making this one up…. or AM I?)
Tinfoil hat

#3 is totally true, I just know it! I swear! REALLY!

Walker is also right that there were cheat codes. Some of these were developer codes to test things that were then never taken out of the final product. Others were left intentionally as a reward to discover. And for the rest of the games, all the way up until PS2, there was Game Genie and Game Shark. However, it was always kind of a fringe aspect of gaming. You didn’t have Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nintendo Power telling you why everyone should have a Game Genie or that Game Genie cheat codes should be included with every game purchased, which is essentially where we are now.

Frustrating Boss Fights

 

I understand Walker’s sentiment of frustration with difficult boss fights, but I can’t relate to a desire to have them completely removed. I’m actually more in his camp in the MMO realm of things. I’ve never been a cutting edge content raider, preferring to enjoy the time raiding with friends. So long as we have a good time and make some progress for the night, we can finish a raid weeks, or months, later with a buff to help. In FFXIV, we even tend to spend our raid time farming previous expansion raids for mounts more than work towards tackling the hardest of new raid content.

WoW has Mythic difficulty, normal difficulty, and LFR difficulty for their raids. Mythic is the hardest, normal is a challenge that can be overcome by a group working together with some practice, and LFR is…well, honestly it’s basically just an exercise in the simplest requirements and so long as you’re pushing attack buttons the group will probably win. It’s ridiculously easy and honestly takes all the fun out of raiding. Compared to Final Fantasy XIV‘s 24 man raids that still have some mechanics that can kill everyone, but are easy enough to accomplish with 23 strangers who aren’t in voice chat but mostly know what to do? There’s really no contest which is a more rewarding experience in my mind.

It’s this level of simplicity that I just can’t relate to nor understand. The desire for absolutely no challenge whatsoever, for no gameplay at all, no risk of any fail state. The desire to not even require the most minimal of effort and still be rewarded for it when playing a game. I can understand, and will fully support, multiple difficulties in games. I have no issue with Easy mode. If easy mode allows you to just hit attack a couple dozen times and you need to not get hit by one particular attack and the rest of the fight is negligible, that’s pretty straight forward. For me, easy mode can pretty much be “story mode” with no true challenge to the combat and everything tuned down somewhat akin to the cheat codes of yore. Just kick it to easy mode, kick back, and have a mindless night of fun.

I can certainly understand demands for bosses to be properly tuned. When a boss is “incongruous to the rest of the game” rather than a “comprehension test” of what you’ve learned and acquired, there’s reason to dislike the boss fight and push for, and expect, better design from developers.

But simply wanting a “skip boss” button?  That is the opposite path. That’s telling developers they don’t NEED to design games well. They don’t need to make interesting bosses. They don’t need to balance and fine tune them properly. Because if it’s broken, whatever, the player can skip it and they’ve got a deadline to meet.

It adds a new chorus to a very unfortunate song that’s developed in time:

If the game’s broken, whatever, we can patch it.
If the story’s incomplete, whatever, we can patch it (and charge money for the DLC later).
If the boss is poorly tuned and too hard, whatever, they can skip it.

Though, I suspect publishers (more than studios) will get the idea of an extra verse:
If the player wants to skip everything, whatever, we can charge them tons of money for it and mobile gaming proves that “pay to win” is a massively profitable business model.

I think that, more than anything, may be what gamers push back against, even if they don’t consciously realize it. They don’t want console/PC games to become even more bloated with microtransactions where pay to win is less of an option and more of an encouraged path. Games should not be designed to be so mind numbingly grindy that paying for item boosts becomes the only way to save your sanity.

Gamers, and particularly games journalists, should be holding developers’ feet to the fire for poor design and poor boss battles, not encouraging laziness via an option that tells both gamer and designer neither need really care about it.

Which brings us again to the point of journalists being good at games, and of gamers being good at games. My answer is: No, neither necessarily need to be. Just as there are gamers of all levels of skill, there can be journalists of varying levels of skill. But if a game is difficult, even on easy, that doesn’t mean the game is immediately bad and needs to remove ALL forms of difficulty to cater to every person in the world. It may just mean that game is designed for more skilled players and isn’t for you.

I mentioned in my previous article that I had replayed Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers on SNES recently and it’s pretty easy. If someone struggles with Battletoads, they might like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers instead. After that, they might like TMNT IV. I wouldn’t say that Battletoads should just have no boss battles. I would say someone should try a game more suited to their skill level and come back to the harder one when they’ve improved. With modern games and the multiple difficulties, it’s not even as necessary as it used to be to find another game.

Some games are designed for players who enjoy a serious challenge. It’s a niche and there’s nothing wrong with developers designing that game for that niche. It’s the demographic they’re making the game for and that’s who they want to play their game. That’s perfectly okay.

Games journalists are quick to lambast gamers for being upset over disappointment with games like the ending of Mass Effect 3. They’ll berate gamers for being “entitled” because the game didn’t cater to their wishes or that it wasn’t what they wanted. Yet here we are with games journalists insisting how developers should make their games.

It’s like demanding Hollywood to edit a film to only include what you want and edit out all the parts you don’t. It’s demanding an artist to remove birds from his paintings because you just don’t like birds. It’s telling Stephen King to change his books because the scary parts are too scary for your tastes. There’s always another option: watch a different genre of movie, find an artist you like, or read another book. Likewise, you can play another game that better fits your tastes and skill level.

It’s not as though that’s hard these days. There are more games than any gamer can ever complete (even though we delude ourselves into thinking one day we’ll conquer our backlogs). Even if the popular game is too challenging on easy difficulty, surely there are other games in the genre that are more to the desired skill level to be more enjoyable.

Game room

“I assure you, I’ll play through every one of them eventually!”

Oh No, Gamers, You’re Not Off The Hook Either

Maybe we as gamers, and myself in writing this, are being too literal in our reading of Walker’s words. About 1/5 into the article, he states “‘Skip Boss Fight’ is a totem for my larger point here, and it’s a title under which I’d include Ubi’s recent announcement (despite their rather awkwardly trying to wrap it all up as wanting to be Edumacational). It’s the spirit such an option captures, and it’s one that I think the industry would do well to breathe deeply into their souls.”

Stepping away from the specifics of Walker’s suggestions – skipping content, skipping boss fights, skipping combat, let’s take the spirit of the idea for a moment: Making games more approachable for a wider variety of play styles/skill levels and making a wider variety of playstyle games.

In this regards, I have to say to you, dear gamers, calm the h*ck down.

Calm down

That’s a h*ckin’ cute pupper, so you gotta listen.

There is a rather unnecessary streak of elitism in gaming that we each individually need to get a handle on within ourselves. I play Uncharted on normal. My friend plays on hard his first play through. After we’ve finished the game, we’ve never focused on the difference of difficulty. We usually talk about the story. Sometimes I’ll mention a particular fight that was just brutal for me and I can’t imagine what it was like for him. I acknowledge he’s taken on a greater challenge with these games. He doesn’t think I’m less of a gamer and I don’t see him as more of a gamer. We just like different difficulty levels with Uncharted.

I may play through a Platinum Games game on Easy, Normal, and Hard where he may play through on Normal and be done with the game, despite playing Uncharted on hard. I don’t gain more Gamer points to get better than him as a result.

I’m most exposed to this elitism in MMOs where hard mode raiders look down on anyone else and think anything the developers do that isn’t catered specifically to them is a waste of time and resources. Seriously, guys, let’s not be the elitist jerk raiders of the gaming community.

So if a game designer wants to reach as many potential customers as possible and they decide they want to include varying levels of difficulty, don’t fly off the handle about it. It’s their decision. It can actually be good for the game, and for the community around the game.

Final Fantasy XIV’s team has said they design their raids from the hard mode down. The easier version removes a mechanic and lowers the amount of damage some abilities do until they feel it’s more manageable for a lower, average, skill level of players to do collectively without voice chat and without the familiarity of playing together. The rewards are a bit better for the harder mode and the hard mode raiders do that and don’t need to do anything else. The normal mode players typically supplement their play time with other activities for rewards and remain a bit lower than the hard mode level. It’s two separate lanes on the same road, that’s all.

That’s not to say every game must have multiple difficulties, either. Again, it’s perfectly fine for a developer to design a game aimed at a niche audience. If they want to do so, they have every right to do so. No multiple difficulties, no concessions, no compromise. If that’s not your type of game, you don’t have to play it and nobody should be criticizing the development team for their design vision.

Ghosts & Goblins

“Dark Souls is the me of the modern generation, ya punk kids!”

But gamers then have no right to criticize development teams who choose to add them, or create completely different games, either. “Walking Simulators” have just as much right to exist if that’s what a developer wants to make. If we’re going to say developers should be free to make difficult games, or violent games, or games with sexy women, then developers must be equally free to make games like Gone Home and Her Story without coming under attack for it. Sure, we’re free to debate among ourselves if they qualify as games by definition and we can certainly voice disagreement with them deserving awards, but they have the right to exist if the developer wanted to make them.

Rather than attacking it, or anyone who enjoyed it, we have to take the same stance we demand of others: “This type of game isn’t for me, so I just won’t play it.”

Likewise, if a studio makes a game toned down and easier, that’s acceptable as well. How many Dark Souls fans wish more gamers experienced the game the way they do? What if there was a game similar to Dark Souls, but easier, that they could recommend to their friends? What if those friends beat the easier game and felt ready to step up to Dark Souls and managed to get through the game and love it? Haven’t you just brought a new gamer into the Dark Souls fold, albeit after a detour? Don’t you have someone new to swap stories with?

For that matter, if a friend beats a game on easy and you tell them how much crazier a fight is on normal, hard, or nightmare, isn’t that a fun story to share that they can still appreciate based on their experience and knowing how much is added to the fight in higher difficulty versus what they encountered? It might even make them curious to try harder content. It might make them decide to “git gud.”

A Difficult Conclusion (C wut I did thar?)

I disagree with the idea of adding the option to skip content, skip combat, or skip bosses. I just feel it’s too much of a request for the developers to design their games with the intention of players not playing their games and isn’t ultimately healthy for the industry or the games themselves.

Something about skipping content just doesn’t sit right with me. I know it has no bearing on my experience. I know if someone skips every boss, that won’t impact my experience playing a game. But I do worry about the message it can send to studios and publishers. I worry about people that may buy a game, enable invincibility and play through the easiest difficulty, then blast the game for being too short. And I know that sounds ridiculous, but it happens pretty often in MMOs. We get access to flying, skip all combat, complete quests, and then complain there’s not enough to do.

There’s not enough to do because we actively skipped the gameplay that was designed to be experienced! Yet it doesn’t stop people from complaining about it. That carrot on the stick is a powerful tool and game developers often have some understanding of psychology and how to employ it to get players to try “just one more time.” Giving away the cow for free on easy mode will remove any motivation to try a harder difficulty afterwards. There’s simply no reward, so most people will consider the one play through enough and if it was too short, the game may be dismissed as a bad game. This has a very real impact on the developers.

We don’t have cheat codes, Game Genie, Game Shark, or anything like it, but it’s been a part of gaming for just about as long as there have been games. I don’t see anything inherently evil with them still existing (so long as they’re not bleeding into multiplayer as then you’re starting to impact other players’ experience). Most likely, though, I suspect the idea of invincible armor and instant-kill weapons could become more appealing to add as optional DLC. After all, you had to buy a Game Genie separately back in the day, right?

I much prefer the notion of games having multiple levels of difficulty, with easy mode being very approachable for just about anyone who can pick up a controller. I’m even okay with the idea of modernizing the old cheat codes with that DLC or simply a toggle option to be invincible and just play through the game that way if someone so chooses. Even if they’re storming through the game invincible and able to 1-hit kill every enemy, at least they’re exploring the levels, seeing the enemies, and even experiencing the bosses along with the story more than outright skipping it.

While I may disagree with John Walker on a “skip boss” button, I can certainly understand why multiple difficulties to welcome a larger variety of player skills is admirable. I love video games and I want more people to enjoy them and love them as well, even if they aren’t as good as I am when playing them. I don’t think the multiple difficulties or removal of challenge should be demanded or pressured, but if developers want to explore these options, they should be free to do so.

After all, they’re creating the games. So long as they’re creating them the way they want to, and not because they feel they have to, I’d want to see gamers support them in spirit, if not necessarily with their wallet. Let them make what they want and let everyone voice their opinions on what they’d like to see, but don’t expect all developers to implement all ideas.

Journalists, if a developer doesn’t have a more accessible easy mode or skip boss option, don’t attack them for it. No one has to buy it.

Gamers, if a developer does have a more accessible easy mode or even a skip boss option, don’t attack them for it. No one has to buy it.

Sorry this is such a long article, but there was just a lot to unpack on this topic. If you disagree with me, that’s perfectly fine as this is just my opinion. If you want me to hear your opinion, leave a comment and let’s discuss it!