Friday, 23 July 2010

Bad Journalism

It is a sad state of affairs when a national “newspaper” resorts to inventing stories to fill pages. It’s sadder still when the story in question surrounds a murderer and preys on the emotions of the families involved. On 21st July 2010 The Daily Star, a newspaper with a circulation of over 800,000 (the UK’s 4th largest), published a story reporting that a book, movie and game were to be developed concerning the actions of murderer Raoul Moat. The game to which he refers is a fictional version of the hit series Grand Theft Auto, purportedly set in Rothbury, the scene of Moat’s demise.

The journalist in question, Jerry Lawton, claims in his story that gaming websites were showing pictures of the front cover of such a title. As far as anyone can see the first instance of the image’s publication was in Lawton’s story and games websites have only subsequently published it to underline the ridiculousness of his “journalism”. He has not produced evidence demonstrating that other sites did so first.

What is most reprehensible about the story is that Lawton approached the grandmother of Moat’s ex-girlfriend, who was shot and left for dead, and showed her the image to obtain a reaction for his article. He got what he wanted, an angry response denouncing the game as “beyond belief”. And it is, as it does not exist.

There was, as you would expect, a big backlash from gaming websites denouncing this as gutter journalism. Apparently “baffled” by the reaction, Lawton has hit back by reportedly publishing the following on his Facebook page:

“These are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who’ve today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto!”


“You would think I’d denied the Holocaust!!!”

The post speaks for itself as to the attitude of this journalist and his contempt for the opinions of people rightly affronted by an unprofessional and abhorrent style of reporting. Perhaps they are right as the invention of such an inflammatory title directed the blame at their industry to begin with. The Daily Star has since removed the article from its website.

This incident does highlight an apparent hypocrisy; Video games journalists have long been accused of bad practice and poor or lazy writing, and in some cases this is true. However, a mainstream, albeit tabloid, newspaper allowing its reporters to produce such articles only serves to undermine all journalism and make the general public suspicious of news sources.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

DLC: Elongating gaming experience or simple profiteering?

DLC may now be an institution in gaming, but it is not a universally acclaimed practice. There are complaints about cost, and the deliberate withholding of content by game developers from the release of titles to ensure extra revenue streams shortly after the bulk of initial sales are made. DLC add-ons for games like Fallout 3, GTA IV, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are touted as a great value by developers and gamers alike, as they represent entirely new content created after the game's release.

Other "DLC," however, such as the downloadable costumes for characters in Street Fighter IV were not, in fact, downloads. They already existed on the disk. Players pay for unlocks, not downloads, and therefore many of them feel they are paying twice for content. Many gamers also feel cheated when add-ons are released shortly after the release of the game proper, for example the extra downloadable missions for Assassin’s Creed 2 and Mass Effect 2. If this content was available so close to the release of the game, why wasn't it included to begin with? Capcom faced criticism over Resident Evil 5, which had a downloadable Versus mode. When players paid and downloaded the content the file size was a mere 2 megabytes, leading players to believe that this mode was on the disk already.

When loyal fans discovered that the first batch of content for Bioshock 2 was already on the disk, they felt rightly affronted and expressed their anger on forums and with direct appeals to 2K Games, the developers. But is there a reasonable explanation for 2K’s choice to block content like this? They retorted to criticism in a calm and low-key fashion, explaining in a short post that the decision had been made due to the way that post-release DLC is made. 2K argued that if the extra multiplayer levels were developed separately at a later date then gamers would be separated from their friends in online sessions, if one set had purchased the DLC and the other had not. This is apparently due to how players are grouped in multiplayer. They seem to suggest that if you have downloaded post-release DLC then you will only be grouped with other players that have it, but if the extra content is present on the disk then players can be grouped together when playing the basic multiplayer levels, even if some had the DLC and others don’t.

So this begs the question: why not simply make the maps available for all? The customer had already paid a lot of money for the game, so why don’t they deserve to have access to all of the content? It brings us to the sad conclusion that developers do see DLC primarily as a way of generating cash. Even with 2K’s explanation, which if true could hold for the Street Fighter and Resident Evil examples too, then they are making a conscious choice to charge more for content available at the game’s release. From a business stand point this is understandable, as selling DLC can net vast sums of money. Call of Duty: World at War generated $70 million from its map pack sales alone; but there is a clear line between what people consider to be value for money and what is seen as simply profit generating extras within the realms of DLC.

It is possible that DLC is produced on a separate budget from the main game, and that it is developed in tandem. If this is the case the 2K’s explanation may hold some water, as the development costs would need to be recovered. It also leads to the conclusion that if multiplayer DLC is so difficult to integrate then the future of DLC may be on-disk. That being the case then I would suggest that the DLC tag be dropped and the term “unlockable content” may be a suitable substitute. This doesn’t make the players feel any better about shelling out cash for more game, but it doesn’t wrongly lead them to believe that what they are paying for is being downloaded separately either.

Judging from what is posted in the forums and chatrooms of the gaming world, gamers don’t mind paying for DLC if they deem it value for money. There are many examples of excellent DLC which adds so much to the gaming experience, but the large sums of money created by DLC has made the industry greedy it is now rare to find a game release that doesn’t have some form of DLC attached. Ultimately gamers are the judges in this trial and the only way for their complaints to hold weight would be to boycott the purchase of DLC considered below par, or which is obvious profiteering.

That all said, Xbox LIVE is the biggest online DLC provider and a business model that remains extremely profitable, so as long as we keep downloading it appears that they’ll keep charging. Perhaps players should take a look at what it is they’re paying for though, before they part with their hard earned Microsoft points.

I wrote this article for Game Kudos, a new web publication. It can be viewed in its edited format here.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Gaming, on a jet plane…I don’t know when I’ll be back again

On my recent honeymoon trip to the Caribbean I flew on Virgin Atlantic. Imagine the feeling of joy I experienced when I took my seat and saw the entertainment system control that looked very much like a gaming console control. The shiny black plastic with the familiar yellow/red/blue/green colour coded buttons as well as left and right bumper buttons had my hopes raised high.

I had to wait a while to see what gaming gems were waiting for me as the entertainment system wasn’t switched on until a good 20 minutes into the flight. When I got to grips with it, I was slightly disappointed. I shouldn’t have been really, what did I expect? Xbox? The games available were simple and quite dull by today’s gaming standards. Titles included Backgammon, Blackjack, Chess and Cave Crunch (a maze based “action” game), not quite what I was hoping for. There was a multiplayer option so you could play against other passengers, but it didn’t float my boat. After a quick browse I quickly dismissed it and reverted to my iPhone (in Airplane mode, of course) and enjoyed some serious gaming including Championship Manager 2010 and The Settlers.

This got me thinking, however, that if Virgin Atlantic have an onboard system that allows literally hundreds of passengers to watch, pause, fast-forward and rewind nearly 50 movies at their discretion as well as play some albeit basic games, then it can’t be a large jump to having a next generation gaming console linked to the seat backs. And on a 7-hour flight I can’t think of a better way to pass the time. Considering that the average age of gamers is considered to be between 30 and 40, it’s not like it would be a feature that only kids would use in-flight.

I can but hope at the moment, but you never know, maybe in the future airlines may see that gaming, as an ever growing portion of the entertainment market, is a great way to help passengers forget that they are strapped into 400 tonnes of metal being propelled at 500mph through the air at 37,000 feet. Sobering thought.