“Democratic Money” and Early Access

The launch of Everquest Next Landmark’s alpha last week has gotten a lot of people talking about games with paid early access.

I’ve already stated that I’m opposed to the practice. I will spare you all the details of why I’m not a fan of early access / pay-to-alpha, but suffice to say that I don’t think we should be encouraging the industry to sell us unfinished games. (I also don’t kickstart things for similar reasons.)

I understand why people buy early or alpha access and I’m glad folks are enjoying the heck out of Landmark, but I just think setting this expectation of buying half-finished content will bite us consumers in the butt in the long run.

Today on Tales of the Aggronaut, Belghast expands on one of the reasons he likes paid early access: it’s a more “democratic” system of letting people into alpha/beta.

“I will admit I have talked to a friend of a friend who got me on that desired friends and family list more than a few times for a game I was extremely interested in. To be honest, the system that existed just is not fair to the gamer, and involved a whole lot of cronyism… did I abuse this fact to get access to what I wanted? Hell yes I did.

For the the concept of buying into a program just seems more just. If you care enough to plunk down your money in support of a game, then by all means you should have access to alpha and beta testing.”

(from the post Democratizing Access)

Like I said, I understand that people want access to a game they’re looking forward to now rather than later, but calling a financial barrier “just” and “democratic” made my head spin!

There are so many people who love video games who do not have a lot of extra income. Maybe they’re a student, maybe they work a minimum wage job, maybe they’re a single-income household so someone can stay home with the kids. Maybe they lost their job in today’s craptacular economy. Maybe they prioritize their budget on things that aren’t video games.

Honestly, I am fortunate enough to have solid employment and I still don’t have the wiggle room in my budget to spend $60 on a free-to-play game that isn’t finished yet and I know nothing about thanks to the NDA (which was lifted shortly after the alpha launch). That’s a week of groceries!

Buy a pay-to-alpha game because you cannot wait another second to play it, buy it because you want to be part of the zeitgeist, buy it because you want to claim your virtual land plot or you like the developers or for whatever reason. Do it! Own it! Enjoy it!

But man, let’s not pretend that a monetary barrier is somehow more fair than random selection, or that having the ability to drop $60 on an unseen, untested game indicates a greater level of fandom or commitment or anything other than having that money to spend.

A Serious Crisis on YouTube
Dec12

A Serious Crisis on YouTube

There are bad things happening to gamers on YouTube this week, and we should all be worried.

YouTube, the site owned by Google, uses a “content ID” system to spot copyrighted material. If these automated content bots identify a misuse of audio or visuals, a claim is placed on the video on behalf of the legal owner and ad revenue is turned over to them.

This system was generally all well and good, but then earlier this week someone at Google decided to run a new, stricter content ID system on all existing videos, and channels about video games were hit the hardest. To be clear, the videos affected were not pirated or even in the “grey area” of Let’s Plays. These were videos with licensed music, clips from officially released trailers, and even official studio interviews!

contentid A Serious Crisis on YouTube

Along with years worth of content being suppressed, some established folks like Angry Joe went from making a living with their channel to no longer earning from any of their popular videos… literally overnight.

Who is to blame?

As the first wave of content claims went out earlier this week, the initial response was to blame the game publishers. Everyone knew that Let’s Plays walked a fine line between fair use and copyright, and maybe publishers had finally had enough?

Although their names were attached to many of the claims, though, it turned out that publishers were just as surprised as the YouTubers. Many big names such as Blizzard, Riot, Valve, and Deep Silver immediately made statements confirming that they had no interest in shutting down video reviews or LPs.

http://twitter.com/riotgames/status/411205532972630016

Additionally, a number of the claims are by little known third party companies like CD Baby, an independent online music distributor, whether the video creator has a license to use the track or not.

A lot about this mess is still unknown, but it’s looking more and more like YouTube decided to unleash a new content ID bot to enforce copyrights even in cases where the content owners didn’t ask for it and don’t care about it or where it doesn’t apply. And, most importantly, they’re still not talking about it.

Why should I care?

I’ve been following this story with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s terrible news for gamers.

First, while the low barrier to entry for making YouTube videos means that there are some terrible videos out there, it also means that independent coverage can flourish. Folks like Angry Joe or Total Biscuit or Adam Sessler can cover game news and reviews and be a whole lot less beholden to publishers. (It also provides a platform for voices from minorities that you probably won’t see on Kotaku or any “establishment” source.)

Stiffling that is terrible for game criticism, terrible for the industry, and terrible for us players.

And while I know a number of people who don’t watch Let’s Plays, we still should not stand by and let them go gently into that good night. LPs are a fundamental part of the marketing plan for any indie game, and pretty important to AAA studios too. They let players “try before they buy” in a market that is increasingly focused on making people pay for early access, and in most cases the LPers are working hard to provide entertainment value above and beyond playing the game.

Arguing about the transformative nature of LPs is really a topic for another article, so I’ll just say that I watch a lot of LPs and while certainly sometimes it’s in lieu of buying a game for the most part LPs either convince me to buy the game or they are hilarious entertainment in their own right.

If a studio wants to put a stop to LPs of their games, fine. (Nintendo has done this, for example.) But that should be up to the studio, and not YouTube.

Really, this debacle is just bad news for both video makers and watchers of YouTube. They’ve shown that they have no problem decimating an entire section of their website without so much as even an email. These content creators have put hours and hours of their time into a product that has made Google plenty of money, and in return they have the rights illegitimately ripped away.

So what can we do?

That’s really the question, isn’t it? I don’t have a good answer.

A lot of people have mentioned moving to Twitch, and while I think Twitch is great at what it does, it’s not good at archiving or playing pre-recorded video. Of course people should also express their dissatisfaction with YouTube appointing itself copyright lord (and the craptacular G+ “integration” too, while we’re at it).

At this point I feel that the best solution is someone laying down the cash to make an alternative to YouTube, honestly. Perhaps it can be game-focused and help arrange blanket copyright deals with studios. YouTube needs to not be the only kid on the block anymore.

That is a rather long term solution though, and not one most of us can help with. In this case, it seems like the best we can do is worry and spread the word.

Want to know more about this? Watch this Adam Sessler interview session from yesterday:

Vague Talk About Character Models in Space
Dec09

Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

Over the weekend there was a beta stress test for an MMO. This MMO takes place in space. People who participated in this beta are not allowed to discuss what they saw under pain of not being invited to any more betas, and also the taint of being unprofessional.

I myself have nothing against a bit of professionalism, even in the more laid back world of blogging. Sometimes, though, I bet someone participates in a beta and finds the whole experience quite good and something they would recommend to friends, except there is one aspect that is so overwhelmingly terrible that it is hard to ignore.

Way back in February I wrote a post titled “Not Feelin’ the WildStar Character Models”. While many months have passed since that post was published (and a lot of people have disagreed with me since then), everything I have recently seen of WildStar has just furthered my concern, particularly with the lady characters.

aurin1 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

See that bunnygirl? That’s one of the official shots of the Aurin, a race of animal people who love nature. Notice how she has a big bust, an irrationally tiny waist, and big hips (and one can assume a booty to match). Also notice how her neck is really really long, which is unrealistic but a legit stylistic choice.

So a bunnygirl race is pretty silly, but diversity and choice are good and that includes having a sex bomb option, right? But what if… the women of every race had the same proportions? What if the zombie ladies, and the robot ladies, and the rock ladies all also had the exaggerated hourglass figure and really long neck? And what if the female version of every single race waggled her butt while she ran? Why, that wouldn’t be very much diversity at all, would it?

I got a bit of pushback about the idea of similar character shapes when I wrote that post back in February, so let me give an example from a game that I am sure most of us have played at some point: WoW.

gnomewow2 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This cute lil’ gnome has a bust-line but is pretty boxy around the waist and has straight hips.

pandalady2 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This pandaren lady has larger hips and a larger bottom, as well as being stockier overall than the gnome.

drannielady 248x500 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This draenei lady has a much larger bust than the other two, proportionally.

A game that seems quite good in both mechanics and lore is a pretty special thing, but that specialness would be severely impacted for me if I had no option but to play a sex bomb lady with a tiny waist who waggles when she runs. Playing such a game might feel as though little thought was put into the character models themselves, even if they have a neat backstory or environment. It certainly might feel as though the game devs had never even considered the lack of diversity in female models.

Those are the kinds of thoughts someone might have after playing a game in beta this past weekend, and I bet they would want to talk about it and maybe even spread the word that this game is really fun but could be a lot more appealing if the models were tweaked before launch.

Maybe.

Where are the Moms of Azeroth?

When Chris Metzen said at Blizzcon that Aggra, Thrall’s space-wife and baby momma, would not be going to Draenor because “that honeymoon is over, it’s more of a boy’s trip,” you could almost hear the cries of thousands of women players shouting “WHAT?”.

I was discussing that comment over some beers yesterday and my drinking companion noted that Azeroth and other WoW worlds are very good at making mothers disappear after they produce an heir or two. Admittedly my knowledge of WoW lore is pretty superficial, coming entirely from WoW itself and none of the books or whatnot, but I suspect that’s the case for the majority of players.

For example, who is Anduin Wrynn’s mother? Amusingly enough, WoWWiki describes him as “the son of King Varian Wrynn” alone, as though he leaped fully formed from Varian’s brain like Athena. In fact Anduin’s mother is someone named Tiffin, who I have never heard of before now, and she died a long time ago.

So who is Arthas’ mother? We know that his father is King Terenas — he was in both the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic and made a special appearance in the final Lich King battle. Looking at WoWWiki again, apparently his mother was someone named Lianne and “her fate remains unknown”. Okay then.

(It’s notable that Arthas has a sister, named Calia, and her fate is also unknown! Apparently the Menethil family has a problem with misplacing its female members…?)

Who is Moira Bronzebeard’s mother? As far as I can tell she didn’t even die, she just never existed.

Finally, who is Thrall’s mother? Surprise, while Draka is the one mother I had even heard of before, she too died suddenly and tragically at a young age.

So as I see it, aside from Aggra we have two living mothers in WoW. One is Moira Thaurissan, who was either mind controlled into having a Dark Iron Dwarf baby or just kind of a bad person who abandoned her family for an evil dwarf lover. The other is… Onyxia. And we kill her in part for trying to protect her whelp babies.

So what’s the deal with mothers, you guys? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because the Blizzard people are running with the trope of mothers being killjoys. (That is also the reason that often the mom is dead in movies where kids go on epic journeys.) “Thrall, you can’t go master lightning powers until you finish your vegetables.” “Arthas, if you’re going to try and conquer the world from an icy tower at least wear a scarf.”

It’s a pretty limited view of the role a mother can play. The Game of Thrones series has something of a similar faux historical context (battling kingdoms, sword fights, moderate technology) and Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark are forces of nature in their own ways, both supporting their children and fighting their own fights.

Adding Aggra to the pantheon of Warcraft women who are merely baby incubators and toddler nannies (bets on her dying suddenly and tragically?) is not only frustrating, it’s just bad storytelling.

Extra-Life Conclusion
Nov05

Extra-Life Conclusion

The Extra Life Marathon is over for another year, and it was great fun for a great cause! Myself and Ellyndrial seemed to handily stay up for the full 25 hours, particularly with the support of friends and guildies who kept us company on Mumble, in games, and in Twitch chat. I also gave out a whole bunch of games for Steam and Origin, which is always really fun for both me and the winners.

As for the highlights of the 25 hours of gaming, top of the list has to be Magica. I don’t even own the game, but it was free on Steam for the weekend and so a bunch of us figured we would give it a shot. It’s a little too twitchy for me to play on a permanent basis, but it was still a lot of fun and the action helped keep me awake.

If nothing else Magica has friendly fire and some amazing ways to “accidentally” explode your team mates, something which I always enjoy. I described the game later as “Diablo meets Typing of the Dead” which is somewhat accurate: there’s lots of click-to-move and strings of letters representing elements that combine to create complicated spells.

I also dropped $4 on arenas in Hearthstone at like 4am, which while fun was probably not the smartest investment. I am terrible at arenas while wide-awake and fully functional! I did get to play a ridiculously amusing combo of Ragnaros followed by Mind Control on the high value minion my opponent played to counter, but my best arena record remains 2-3. Yes, I really am that bad but I enjoy playing a lot (which is what counts) and I figure practice makes perfect.

Also you know you play too much Hearthstone when…. the Pandaria loading screen in WoW makes you automatically think “Mogu’shan Warden, 1/7, substandard taunt card.”.

mogu warrior 243x300 Extra Life Conclusion

Anyway, thanks to everyone who donated and who participated during the marathon in Twitch or Twitter. Overall the Extra Life folks raised over 3.8 million dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network, which is pretty great. I am already in for next year!

Extra-Life Marathon Plans and the Great Games Giveaway
Nov01

Extra-Life Marathon Plans and the Great Games Giveaway

Hey, look over to the right. See that Extra Life donation bar? Gooooooooooooooooooal!

Yesterday I hit my fundraising target! Many many thanks to everyone who donated. Between myself and Ellyndrial, reppin’ as Team Totally Legit Publishing, we raised almost $1000 for the Children’s Hospitals of BC and Oakland. It is downright heartwarming.

To celebrate all this philanthropic joy, during Saturday’s 25 hour gaming marathon I have 25 games to give away! They include the following:

  • Crysis 2
  • Dead Space 3
  • Medal of Honor
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Command & Conquor: Red Alert 3
  • The Sims 3
  • Metro 2033
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Titan Quest
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
  • Fez
  • Assassin’s Creed 3

  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery
  • Dungeon Defenders + all DLC
  • Beat Hazard
  • Super Hexagon
  • Battlefield 3
  • Awesomenauts (+ Cluck Costume)
  • English Country Tune
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Little Inferno
  • Dead Space
  • Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box

(Eagle eyes might notice that yes, I do buy extra copies of good Humble Bundles.)

I’m gonna give some games away over Twitter and some in the Twitch chat. I’ll be streaming all 25 hours, and if you have the time do stop by to make sure I’m still awake. The fun starts at 9am PST on Saturday morning.

And thanks, you guys, for being awesome. :)

I will end off this post with an amazing thing sent to me by Jonas of Foxy Gamer. It’s totally my new desktop, picturing Liore, smasher of things and hero to cats:

lioreblog2 Extra Life Marathon Plans and the Great Games Giveaway

created by Foxy Gamer @ foxygamer.com

No matter what you’re up to this weekend, have a good one!

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