Xantiriad's forum posts

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#1 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

    Ben Parfitt, of MCV, wrote an opinion piece on how “2013 [could be] the year that everything changes” [http://bit.ly/SkUrMd]. It was written in response to the recent announcements at CES on the SteamBox(es) and Project Shield from nVidia.

    “Fast forward to 2013 and the industry is barely recognisable. Xbox 360 and PS3 sales continue to drop, the Wii feels like a distant memory. The 3DS, at least, threatens to achieve success although we must all accept that it will never, ever reach the heights of the DS. Our two newest platforms, Vita and Wii U, are struggling to get off the ground.”

    Where it ever thus. The PS2 hardly had a dream start: supply shortages, pre-order chaos, a lack of games and poor reliability stunted its growth for the best part of a year. The Wii U and Vita are barely hitting their stride before the media’s narrative that video game consoles are doomed starts bashing it on the head like game of whack-a-mole. In comparative terms to the 1990 and early 2000s the sales numbers for both the Wii U and Vita are consistent. Most mainstream video game consoles - including the Xbox (original), GameCube, N64 and DreamCast - have sold around 5m units per year, with the market leader - Playstation, PS2, Wii - hitting around 10m per year. The sales of the Wii U and Vita to date, given that they are in the launch year, is consistent with what has gone on before.

    “If you get a Steam Box and buy a game off Steam, it will work. End of. If Valve can achieve that statement, then it has a serious shot at disrupting the entire console model.”

    Valve’s proposed solution to this looks virtually the same as Microsoft’s in 1999. Take existing PC hardware, put it in a box under the TV, remove the bloat of the Windows Operating System, get Windows game developers on board, and plug in a fancy new controller. Microsoft did this in 2001 with the Xbox and the Duke. Everything that has been announced at CES by Valve or its mysterious partners is essentially the same thing. The only real differences are a change in media - disk to digital - and the fact that they are going to attempt it on the cheap by using a licensing/standards model.

    “Steam offers so many advantages over consoles that’ it’s hard to know where to begin. The range of software is colossal. Triple-A hits and obscure indie titles sit happily side-by-side.”

    Take a look at either the Xbox Marketplace, especially the maligned Indie Games area, or the Playstation Store, or even Wiiware. For every Assassins Creed for £40 there is a Fez, Super Create Box, Bit Trip, Limbo, Escape Vektor, etc. Hardly a desert of Indie games and plenty of AAA titles. Whilst Steam offers an easier entry point for self publishing, it hasn’t cornered the market; far from it.

    “Yes, many of us already have our PCs hooked up to our TVs and play PC games on the sofa. The arrival of Big Picture mode, however, marks the beginning of a process that will make the PC’s transition from under the desk to under the TV feel wholly natural, and importantly, very user-friendly.”
    “Consoles and the walled gardens that platform holder build around them look increasingly redundant in an age where people are beginning to expect to be able to consume all their media on a dwindling number of devices.”

    What is the real motivation for Valve to release its own hardware at this time? If it is doing so well, why look to create the walled garden it has often suggested it opposes? On the surface it appears to be Gabe Newell’s distaste of Windows 8, but I suspect there is a lot more to it than this.

    The PC is increasingly becoming marginalised in everyones lives. What used to be the “digital hub” of the home is rapidly becoming redundant. There will always be fantastic gaming enthusiasts who will build their own mega rigs to squeeze out every last framerate they can from bleeding edge technology, and there will always be a market for this group.

    As increasing numbers of people play games on their PC (be it social games on Facebook or competitive MMOs on browsers) their acceptance that gaming should be reserved for that £300 box under the TV is also being weakened.

    For the vast majority of people however, reading emails, surfing the web, watching youtube, and playing social or free-2-play games is not the preserve of the plastic box in the corner anymore. They can lie on their couch and do it all on their smart phone or tablet. It is these devices that have caused the disruption, and it is this trend that Valve can see, and what is forcing them into action.

    A lot of the misconceptions about PC gaming are severely out of date. Anyone who uses Steam will attest to its user-friendliness. It’s a wonderful system that almost entirely eliminates the stereotypical nasty’s that plagued PC gaming for years.

    It’s not about how successful or easy Steam or PC based gaming is today, but what market there will be for it in 5 to 10 years. Steam has no presence in the smartphone or tablet world today, and even less of a future. Steam's games do not serve those platforms. If anything it is not video game consoles that stand on the brink, but the humble family PC. Valve needs to find a way to keep the PC relevant in the face of the smartphone and tablet revolution.

    The digital hub in the home is no longer the family PC, it is “the cloud”. Whilst the smartphone, tablet and TV are how we access and interact with that cloud hosted digital media. Don't be fooled though, this is not about Onlive-style streaming, but about services: accessed, downloaded, streamed, and run on devices in the lounge. Microsoft know this, which is why the Xbox has turned into a Sky TV/Netflix box with Smartglass support; Sony know this; even Nintendo - bless them - know this. Clearly so do Valve. However, for some bizarre reason the video game press do not get it.

    Valve need to move the PC into the living room to stay relevant and in control of their destiny. They need a device that hosts their store, and runs their catalogue of games. They are creating the Xbox again for the same reasons Microsoft did over 10 years ago. This is not about “the idea of consoles falling out of favour”. Quite the opposite. It is about selling a console - the dumb little box under the TV - that can compete with the smartphone or tablet for consuming digital entertainment in the home and from the cloud - Valve's Steam cloud (with a small c).

    The industry was shocked and annoyed when Sony and Microsoft ditched their plans to reveal their next machines in 2012. That came at the cost of a shocking time on the High Street and the worst Christmas for games in a long, long time. But could their delay actually come at a far larger cost – the death of consoles themselves?

    All evidence points to the contrary: Ouya, GameStick and now even nVidia are rolling the dice with the Tegra enabled Project Shield device; all video game consoles. Sure, they are likely to ditch disc-based media for digital downloads, but all these devices - from the Xbox 360 and PS3 to the Wii U, Ouya, and SteamBox(es) - are essentially the same machines: competing devices for the same space...under the TV. In this respect 2013 is likely the year in which very little changes, apart from increasing numbers of platforms and further market fragmentation.

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    #2 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

      With the news that GAME Group have suffered further embarrassment and loss of business today (Game shares crash as it misses out on Mass Effect 3 and Mario Party 9) I thought I share my ten point plan as to how I would try to rescue or restructure the group. I'm no expert, but I'm familiar with GAME group's earnings, reports and strategy.

      1. Sell or close duplicate stores within 10 miles of each other. Close the worst performing stores, and where a GAME and Gamestation exist, prioritise on the Gamestation brand. The GAME brand is tarnished at this point, and their stores look tired and out of date: so rebrand all stores to Gamestation. GAME Group claim they have short leases on their property portfolio which should make things easy. This will bring the group's total number of UK stores down to around 250 from 550.

      2. Have just the one website, game.co.uk, and thus have the two business entities: one as a high street retailer - Gamestation - and the other a webiste - game.co.uk. The current websites have a healthy 19% of the market share.

      3. Dedicate the store space to selling hardware and software demo units. GAME are already doing this in their flagship store in Westfield Stratford City. People want to be able to try before they buy, and selling hardware is where a high street retailer can add value. Augment this with creative and constantly changing bundles with both accessories and games

      4. Introduce a 2 year warranty on all hardware, immediately adding value at the point of sale over online competition. John Lewis have demonstrated how to add value as a high-street retailer. The margin will require prices close to RRP to cover the additional insurance.

      5. Allow customers to browse and order back-catalogue games from within the store (kiosks of some kind), and offer next day home delivery or store pickup for reward card customers. Reduce the need to carry lots of stock - this was something GAME were working on. Have all in-store pre-orders sent to the customers home, or for collection in-store, at no extra cost. So you can pre-order whilst out and about and receive it when the game ships.

      6. Strike a deal with publishers to offer Dual-Play video games that come with both a physical and a digital copy (for a higher price). Much as the DVD and BluRay industry has done. Include formats such as the PS VIta, PS3, and Xbox 360.

      7. Scrap the current suicidal trade-in policy that has so harmed margins on new games. Only allow trade-in on games that are at least 90 days from their release date, and only against the purchase of a new game at full price. Pre-owned games to be located separately from new games. This will help reduce the current pressure on maintaining full price titles' margin, whilst still offering a valuable trade-up route for customers.

      8. Create an online pre-owned store that can be accessed from shops and web, and route traded-in stock to this to create centralised stock-control of used products. This has the benefit of removing less relevant used titles from in-store, whilst still providing customers with the opportunity to pick up older titles, and out-of-print games, second hand.

      9. Space permitting, take a leaf out of board game retailers, and hold competitions and gaming events at weekends, to encourage footfall. Tie in promotions, DLC, etc, and make the store a go-to place. Again, this is something GAME Group started to do in their flagship stores.

      10. Sell off or wind-up the European and Australian stores with the exception of those in Spain and Portugal.

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      #3 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

        I've never been a fan of 2D platformers. I preferred the 2D side scrollers or Isometric games like Head Over Heals or Alien 8.

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        #4 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

          If, like me, you were unable to download the welcome back games on the PSP, it may be you have this problem.

          If you have navigated away from the Welcome Back section of PlayStation Store without choosing your free games, or you exit the store completely, you may need to follow the below steps in order to choose and download your free games:

          1. On your PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Portable navigate to the 'PlayStation Network' icon on the XMB
          2. Log into your PlayStation Network account and choose Account Management > Transaction Management > Services List
          3. Choose “PlayStation Network Promotions” from the list of services displayed
          4. Select either “PS3 Free Games” or “PSP Free Games” and then choose “Select Content”

          You will then be taken to the store to choose your remaining free games.

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          #5 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

            I am a huge fan of both Bioshock games, but the DLC on Bioshock 2 has been a little underwhelming. With no interest in the online multiplayer, only the recent two packs have appealed to me. Thankfully, Minerva's Den, the last pack, was a revelation. Not only is it a huge 5-6 hour story, with new characters, locations, and plasmids. It is also a brilliantly told tale, full of interesting characters and back-story, and with a wonderful bitter-sweet ending. A must purchase for any Bioshock 2 owners. 

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            #6 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

            It could also be Rockstar are using these as a technology proof of concept, so that they can then develop and/or port future titles?

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            #7 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

              I was lucky enough to get my Heavy Rain opinions aired on the wonderful Big Red Potion show last week. Details below...

              It’s been the most anticipated game of this generation for the Big Red Potion boys, but does Heavy Rain deliver on our hopes or is it just all ambition without execution? That’s what Sinan discusses with regular guests and friends of the show Xantiriad, Jeffrey Matulef, and Dits Symeou in a great big post-mortem on the game, looking at its highs, its lows, and how the media and blogosphere has reacted to it so far. Joe’s absent for this week, but he’ll be back along with Eddie Inzauto in a mid-week return of the Co-op Mode show, so look out for that.


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              #8 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -
                1. "Wow! Heavy Rain looks fantastic". So much so that part of the immersion is how "real" the world looks: from the grimy to the sublime. However, the stunning visuals also set expectations on how the virtual work behaves. The more realistic it looks the more we expect it the conform to our reality.
                2. "Wow! Heavy Rain REALLY looks fantastic". However, it has been proven many times before that the seduction of amazing graphics only lasts a brief time. You have to include more substance than just looking good.
                3. "Why am I making the stupid gestures all the time?". Sony are due to launch a revolutionary motion control device later in 2010. Here is a game in which nearly all the interaction is based on the idea of metaphorical motions. Why on earth didn't Quantic Dreams and Sony not join up the dots? Why am I making bizarre stick movements to open doors and close drawers, when I could be swiping, pushing or lifting? To be quite frank: the gestures are a pain in the arse and pull you from the story/world. Why do I hold R2 to walk?I don't clench my fist in order to move? Many o f the action scenes are great to watch, but as a player I don't see them. I'm too busy looking for the next gesture icon!
                4. "Why is this world so inconsistent?" I have to make gestures to open a fridge or a cupboard, but in another room everything is either nailed shut or not working? I get in one car and have to manually perform all the actions. Then I get in another and do nothing? I can hold L2 to see my thoughts...until the last 3rd of the game when I suddenly forget myself?
                5. "Wait! That's not what I wanted to do" In places you are only given a few seconds to choose a dialogue option or act on something. Often the game will default an action if you don't select it in time (so that the scene can play out in real time). I actually managed to just watch entire scenes with the game choosing the options for me. It beggars the question just why do i bother? On other occasions choosing a passive response keyword like "X - Calm" results in the opposite effect, or the choices are obscured by "wobble" so that you pick something incorrectly. I can't see how these qualify as "interactive storytelling" if I'm not able to effectively interact!
                6. "Bah! That was a really underhand and nasty plot device". Only cheap soap operas and pulp novels would establish a mentally disturbed character by killing his son in such a contrived way. Not only did it illustrate lazy character development (dead son = emotional problems), but it starts the game with a low and it never mixes things up from there.
                7. "What a completely inaccurate diagnosis of schizophrenia!". The doctor, shrink, or whatever he is, clearly never went to medical school or studied psychology. The tabloid perception of schizophrenia is actually pretty offensive. Remember, if you are punting for gritty realism you have to be consistent.
                8. "Was Se7en really that good that we have a homage to it?" I actually really disliked Se7en. Visually stunning, it was however nasty rather than dark, and gruesome rather than sinister. Some of the most moving and disturbing films have very little violence, trauma or sadism. Gruesome torture or mutilation are cheap side-show tricks to illicit an immediate response, rather than an unsettling or thought provoking one. As a parent with a young child I actually found some of the content a bit sick, rather than emotional or unsettling.
                9. "Hey? Who? What? How? That can't be right?" I don't know whether the plot was re-written or it is just a mess, but there are holes as big as lunar crater in the story. Character development is virtually non-existent: player character motivations are never explored: How did the GPS get in the car when it hadn't been touched for 2 years? How do the data cards get the video on them when they are stashed in things (like the gun)? (I assumed streamed?). Why does Ethan not just push the glass out of the way? Why does Shelby never "think" killer's thoughts? Why is Shelby sympathetic to the shop-keeper and Lauren? Why did Shelby have a long police career and then start murdering? Who is Madison beside a hack? How come she's fallen for Ethan so easily? I could go on and on...
                10. "Wow! The sound design is brilliant, so why does everyone sound like they are on the phone?" Heavy Rain has superb sound effects and music, yet the cast all sound like they are in a phonebox?
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                #9 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

                  The pro game trading argument goes like this: "Trading is good because it allows players with less money to buy new games on release. Without trading, new games sales would be lower". Most game resellers, like GAME in the UK or Gamestop in the US, use this argument to defend their trade-in policy.

                  Scenario: 10 people buy the latest game on release. 5 people trade in that game every 7 days. 10 more people buy the game each week; repeat for 3 weeks. Assume that 80% of buyers will purchase the cheapest game (either new or used); the game costs 50, and the trade-in value is 25 and resale 45.

                  Week 1: New sales = 500; Trade in = 0; Trade Sales = 0

                  Week 2: New sales = 250; Trade in = 125; Trade Sales = 225

                  Week 3: New Sales = 100; Trade in = 125; Trade Sales = 360

                  Week 4: New Sales = 100; Trade in = 125; Trade Sales = 360

                  New Game Sales = 950 (19)

                  Trade Sales = 940 (21)

                  So basically, as the new game gets traded-in the volume of new games sales decrease. As traded in games can be resold more than once the new sales trail off dramatically after 2 or 3 weeks. So whilst the sales in week 1 are strong, more than 50% of the potential sales have been lost to slightly discounted used-game stock within 4 weeks. Publishers therefore have to make most of their money in the first 1 or 2 weeks.

                   Example distribution of a game that could be completed and traded within 7 days.
                   Example distribution of a game that could be completed and traded within 7 days.

                  This model doesn't always fit: for games that are less likely to be traded, such as popular online games like Modern Warfare 2, the new sales are preserved by the lack of resale stock.

                  So, whilst it is almost certainly true that trading games reduces the overall purchase cost, it doesn't necessarily boost demand for the retail copy; in fact, if anything, it fuels purchases of the resold copies of the game as much as it does the new retail ones. A quick look at any game sales chart shows these trends: games often come in high on the chart and then dramatically drop down after 2 weeks unless there is a reason to boost the retail copy (i.e. lack of used stock).

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                  #10 Posted by Xantiriad (99 posts) -

                    Nice. I'd recommend Kane & Lynch next. I rather enjoyed that.

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