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Facebook enter the games world with the acquisition of Oculus VR

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It has been announced in the last few minutes via Mark Zuckerberg’s official Facebook page, that they have agreed to the acquisition of Oculus VR. Facebook are forever looking to expand the platforms on which its social network is available and are tipping virtual reality as the next big platform. Of course, Facebook needs to be part of it.

It’s being reported that the acquisition is primed to set Facebook back approximately $2 billion. The breakdown is $400 million in cash and 23.1 million Facebook shares valued at $1.6 billion as of today’s closing market valuation. The agreement goes further to include a ratcheted $300 million based on the performance of Oculus VR so the resultant acquisition could cost a lot more or less than the $2 billion.

Facebook are saying that they aren’t wanting to change the direction of Oculus immediately and instead bolster their games development. With the DNA that’s already in place at Oculus, the cash that the acquisition will bring can surely only mean Sony and Microsoft stand next to no chance of catching, let alone overtaking Oculus in the development race. Zuckerberg had this to say about Oculus’ current game development. “We’re going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.”

Facebook’s long term plans for Oculus and virtual reality is to create a truly immersive and unlimited communication platform. Facebook’s vision is that you can go and do things for real without actually needing to leave the comfort of your own home, a scary thought. “Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Zuckerberg continues to state that he hopes for virtual reality, via the Oculus powered Facebook platform, to become part of daily life for billions around the world. Friends will be able to discover and share new experiences and adventures, all through a set of goggles. “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

It’s a scary thought to think that before long, people will be living their lives entirely through a computer and Facebook. We’ll bring you full analysis and opinion on what this news means. For the immediate future, it’s great news as the games Oculus will be releasing are sure to be exceptional.

Update – 10:45pm: Minecraft’s Markus “Notch” Persson has just tweeted that he’s pulling Minecraft from Oculus Rift following the company’s acquisition by Facebook. “We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal,” the Notch tweeted. “Facebook creeps me out.”

 

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Crowdfunding – The Demise of Indies and Rise of Failures

“Hype, is the greatest asset a games developer can hope to call upon”
Developer at Ultimate Fantasy Studio, creators of Meridian Shard

 

Hype has come to define the entire experience of the indie game development circuit. The parameters of success are enamored on wider social media and digital hype that content can, and does, drown beneath a sea of bloated social media hype. Ultimate Gaming Paradise has contacted small, medium and large developers and surveyed their responses. We have found that crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, are in fact helping multi-million pound developers at the expense of independent developers.

The gaming development sector is heavily influenced by major players – and the crowdfunding platforms are no different. If you are a stalwart of the video game industry like Chris Roberts of Wing Commander, or even InXile’s team of development titans, you’re crowdfunding project is deemed to be a total success. However, if you are a one-man-band with an epic idea in need of funds, what are the chances of crowdfunding success?

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Let’s look at the findings in detail. Between February and March 2014, 15 game developers were contacted. Out of the 15 initially contacted, only 12 decided to participate. The survey was sent to respondents who completed and returned within seven working days. After receiving all the data, we collated the findings and are now ready to blow the indie games scene apart through our rather eye-popping findings.

We contacted developers from around the world, from big names to minnows, and asked three simple questions;

  1. Do you think low-capital crowdfunding avenues for developers are a positive contribution to the gaming industry
  2. Do you believe that the value of your organisation’s reputation and heritage before the crowdfunding appeal is the foundation to your success?
  3. Do you believe your prior organisation/individual heritage is the reason for your success or failure?

Our respondents answered as such:

  • Out of 12 respondents, 12 out of 12 agreed that low-cap crowdfunding was “a positive contribution to the gaming industry”.
  • However, 9 out of 12 said yes to the question “do you believe the value of your organisation before the crowdfunding appeal is the foundation to your success?” When contacting these developers direct, to confirm the survey details, one developer stated that without heritage “the greatest video game idea in history would fail to get a single dollar’s worth of support”.
  • The final question about heritage was the most important. Our middle sized and large developers in unison stated that it was not the case. However, all 6 minnow developers stated that yes, without heritage a project was doomed to failure.

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These details are important in understanding the nuance of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. These platforms are meant to be avenues whereby fan-paid or fan-sponsored projects and new innovative ideas collide. However, our data seems to indicate that larger developers and authors funding spin-offs or products loosely based on legacy titles are gaining a massive foothold over new and innovative titles.

One developer, working on Age of Ascent, told Ultimate Gaming Paradise that their previous title, Illyriad, played a big part in raising income for the current project. However, Managing Developer for “A Hat in Time” argued that raising $300,000 was the most difficult thing he had ever done, “even considering the business was launched with a bank loan and I’ve personally got a mortgage.” The small cap developers, especially smaller teams with no legacy titles or superstar developers, fail to truly ignite popular support. Ultimate Gaming Paradise contacted Kickstarter who stated that “whilst the majority of our funding projects win popular support, we are working with smaller clients to help build up stronger public awareness campaign strategies”. The importance of that statement is backed-up by the developers who have told UGP that if the current trend continues, crowd-funded titles will be the domain of failed major titles being funded by fans and minnow developers will be relegated to funding oblivion – with some developers uncertain of where to take their games next.

After talking with one developer, working on Armikrog, a Pencil Test Studios game, who successfully raised $974,578 (with $200,000 from private backers) only succeeded because of the full support of Doug TenNapel, who was used as a marketing figurehead. The creator of The World’s Biggest Wordsearch Puzzle, SuperSonic Software, argued that their involvement in the crowdfunding platform, whilst unsuccessful in that project, was not taking away from smaller developers. SuperSonic Software Limited has deals with the BBC for creating software like the Top Gear apps and profits of £388,000 in 2012/13. This was the same year they crowd-funded £2,800 to help create The World’s Biggest Wordsearch Puzzle app.

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The muscling-in of more famous and financially powerful developers and authors risks alienating minnow developers. How will the next ‘big game’ get its release if everyone is paying a couple of dollars for a crappy remake of a crappy game that was panned by critics, sold bugger all on Amazon and Game and made only to placate a few hundred ‘die hard’ fans? This is not a positive thing. If this continues, we could see a powerful avenue for creativity steamrollered by studios with big financial clout and media reach. A lot of games are due to the hard work of the little guy (or girl) hammering away on a keyboard and innovating the next stages of games development – just as much as the big R&D labs of software houses. We need to realise that both need support. In one corner we espouse that software piracy is wrong but we must also take a stand against established developers ‘crowding out’ minnow developers on the crowdfunding platforms of the world – otherwise we will lose out as video game aficionados and that will be a massive loss for all of us.

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GTA V at the BAFTAs

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In a move that is seen as innovative for mainstream award ceremonies, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, otherwise known as BAFTA, are due to give a special award to the founders of Rockstar Games for its “…revolutionary approach to games…” and success in bringing the games media to the masses.  The controversial approach comes in recognition of the fact that GTA V has recently entered the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest selling entertainment product ever, and has now topped over 32 million sales since its launch in September 2013, with $800 million made on its first day sales alone.

The BAFTA Fellowship Award is generally bestowed on those who are seen to have accomplished outstanding artistic achievement in the fields of film or television, and has been awarded to such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Sir David Attenborough, and Steven Spielberg in previous years.  For the award to be handed to a games developer is seen as revolutionary and holds far reaching ramifications for games, developers, and publishers of the future.

Inevitably, not everyone is happy with this momentous decision though and the mainstream press are as keen as always to grind their teeth and slaver over the choice.   With sickening predictability, many of the redtops are decrying the judgement of the BAFTA committee and are wheeling out a series of tired and previously refuted clichés aimed at demonstrating to their already angry readership that another nail has been clouted into the coffin of decent society.  It’s all downhill from here, they cry, and of course they back up their flawed arguments with cruelly tortured statistics and comments from essentially unsubstantiated and possibly ill-informed sources outside of the games industry and specialist press.

Witness the wrath vented by Directors from Mediawatch UK – self-appointed keepers of the moral high ground – who take issue with the fact that many children under eighteen are playing the game, though neatly missing the point that they are highlighting poor parenting choices by insinuating that the world has gone to hell in a handcart because of one title.  The fact that many parents allow their children to play unacceptable material doesn’t make the game bad, it just shifts responsibility.  If they are looking for someone to blame, they only need look in the mirror.

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More wailing and gnashing of teeth comes from the Safer Media charity which campaigns against sex, violence, and bad language in the media –they obviously have their work cut out then.  A spokesperson for the charity told the tabloid press that they believed the award was sending out a dangerous message and effectively advocated violence and anti-social behaviour.  With veiled references to the horrific Sandy Hook school shooting, they cited unsubstantiated ‘evidence’ to back up their claims that titles such as GTA V destroy social responsibility and promote pathological behaviour, and all based on one dodgy incident out of 32,000,000 sales.  You do the math.

We at the UGP office are terribly excited and applaud the BAFTA decision as it brings this huge industry into mainstream entertainment where it belongs.  We’re looking forward to future award ceremonies, eagerly watching for the award for “Best Moustache in a Dramatic Context” being laid at the door of a certain Italian plumber, or “Best Use of Ships in a pseudo-historical setting” going to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

As for the award acceptance, we have to ask ourselves “What would Trevor do?” and of course, the answer is swear a lot and pull a gun which would be fitting as, after all, the BAFTA luvvies enjoy a dramatic exit!

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Financial Sun Sinking on Nintendo?

Super Mario may be pretty tough when it comes to beating up assorted Koopa Troopa’s but it seems that he’s fairly redundant when it comes to defeating accountants.  The banes of the boardroom have done what a thousand different tiny animals couldn’t, and brought Mario – or rather Nintendo as a company – to its knees.  But despite severe losses, the executive management at the Kyoto-based corporation maintain that they will not be releasing their products on smartphones and tablets, effectively turning their backs of an estimated 1 billion extra devices and a huge slice of revenue.

Nintendo_supermariobros_iphoneThe main problem with opening the familiar titles up to phones and tablets is that the company would also effectively have to relinquish at least some control on their creations, and allow everyone’s favourite Italian plumber to be played on rivals devices.  That seems like a stretch too far for the senior management and the general consensus is that things would have to get a whole lot worse than they currently are for radical change to occur.

Nintendo briefly lost a whopping fifth of their share value in an ongoing assault that threatens to seriously affect the company before rallying again and recouping some market confidence.  Their projected 100 billion yen (£582 million) profit has been reduced to a 35 billion (£204 million) loss, which is pretty eye-watering for almost any company to weather, and is seen as a consequence of refusing to bow to market forces.  As previously reported on UGP, the Wii U has struggled to attract new customers who are seen to want the functionality of a game device but with all the added extras that come as standard on even the cheapest tablets.  That misunderstanding of consumer needs has punted the company products to something akin to over the neighbour’s fence and it’s going to take some nerve to retrieve them.

nintendo-wii-u-systemThe Wii U sold only three quarters of their projected sales and the 3DS has performed badly outside of Japan.   Rather than analyse the market around them, senior executives made mumbling commitments to secondary considerations such as in-game transactions and subscription based payment models rather than increasing accessibility to the games that people still love to play.

Nintendo has always prided itself on being an innovator rather than following the crowd in a “me too” kind of way, but unfortunately striking out on your own to try to create the next big thing – a situation that Nintendo ironically handled very well with the launch of the Wii – will only happen if your market research is spot on, and Nintendo currently seem to be way off what the market wants and are suffering for it.

Nintendo roughly translates from Japanese to English to mean “Leave Luck To Heaven”; with the way that their revenue is plummeting, maybe they should change the corporate name to “Jinsokuna nanika o suru”  – that’s “Do Something Quick” to you and me.

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FIFA 14 comparison: A generation apart

The difference a generation makes

For years, I put off my growing need to wear spectacles. This was partly due to the fact I resembled a certain infamous wizard when wearing specs, and partly due to my insistence that my eyesight was, in fact, fine. It was only when I started to pose a risk to fellow motorists that I decided to accept that I was blind and needed a pair.

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The difference it made to my life was incredible; everything became clear, not in terms of the meaning of life (I’m still working on that), but visually. This is how I found the transition between FIFA 14 on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

I should start this by saying that the Xbox 360 version is by no means a bad game. It was another excellent continuation of an already excellent franchise, with new features such as precision movement bringing exciting changes to game-play. Such was the impressive nature of the game that I questioned how much the new-gen console could improve upon.

I was aware that EA had made little effort to hide the fact that they had spent the majority of their time developing FIFA 14 for the new-gen consoles, but still my doubts remained. I was wrong. The Grand Canyon is a mere surface crack compared to the chasm between the game on the 360 and the One.

The precision movement feature on the 360 version had rendered the game slower, something which once mastered, could be appreciated. There were drawbacks however. Whilst the players’ movements were more intrinsic, there were occasions in which they seemed to suffer massive brain farts and fall over one another – hilarious but frustrating. These minor flaws were easily ignored, until the new-gen game came to the party. Only now is it apparent how much ‘little brother’ has suffered.

Thanks to EA’s new Ignite system, FIFA 14 on Xbox One is a jaw dropping masterpiece of visual pyrotechnics and incredibly realistic game-play. It now makes sense why the players occasionally act peculiarly on the 360 version, this precision movement was always intended as the glorious centrepiece around which the Xbox One version was to revolve. FIFA aficionados will note that unlike in previous titles, FIFA 14 requires more care and decision making when choosing what to do with your player. Previously, a pre-meditated action would allow your player to execute an outrageous off-balance turn or incredible burst of speed to evade a marker. Now we have to ensure that our player is in the right position at all times, and only if they are balanced when passing or shooting will you get any joy. On the Xbox 360 version, this at times seemed unnecessarily slow and clunky, but on the One it becomes clear that you are dealing with the most advanced sports sim ever created.

When EA announced they would be using the Ignite Engine on FIFA and other sports sims, they told us it would give players “ten times greater animation fidelity” and “human-like intelligence”. It was a bold claim. EA, I am delighted to announce, were true to their word. Once I had played FIFA 14 on the Xbox One I realised I could no longer play it on my faithful 360. It would be akin to having a steamy one-night-stand with Megan Fox only to return home to Susan Boyle.

This game on the One throws you head first into the cauldron that is a top-flight football match. Visually, it is as close to watching a game on the T.V as humanly possible. The Ignite engine brings the entire environment to life from the moment the teams walk on to the field, to the match itself and right to after the final whistle. At the risk of alienating those who do not yet own an Xbox One, the contrast between this and the 360 game is staggering.

 

FIFA14_cut_sceneYou’ve got to enjoy the little things

The most marked difference comes in the fine details of the game. EA’s strap-line “It just got real” is not only very clever, but also entirely accurate. When a goal is scored, the stadium explodes into life. On the 360 version, sections of the crowd suddenly broke out into a mid 90’s rave dance to show their approval for your efforts. On the Xbox One however, you are rewarded with a gloriously realistic crowd reaction and as your player runs to celebrate with his adoring fans, you get the sense of the drama of this game.

On top of all this come sublime cut scenes when the ball goes out of play. Either the goal-keeper will nip behind the goal to pick up the ball and place it on it’s spot, or you will be shown a replay of a goal and then a close up of the ensuing celebration. All this is given a polish by perfectly timed commentary from the team of Tyler and Smith.

Another clever detail is found using the Kinect system for the Xbox One. If, like me, you are prone to occasional foul-mouthed rant at the T.V when playing FIFA, then you may find yourself in hot water. For example, during a particularly close match the referee awarded my opponent a very soft free-kick to which my response was “F**king Hell referee!” What I wasn’t aware of, however, was that the Kinect spotted the mutinous tone in my voice and, when in the post-game menu, I was greeted by an e-mail from the board of directors warning me that any more touchline histrionics would not be tolerated and my position at the club was in jeopardy.

They are little touches, but they make a world of difference.

It is with great satisfaction that I can report to you that FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is not merely a ported version from the previous console, but rather a ground breaking triumph of next generation game play. Games such as Call Of Duty: Ghosts have received criticism for not exploiting the power of these next-gen consoles, instead simply being a ported version of the same game. FIFA 14 is the shining example of next-gen gaming. If you have not yet sampled it, I implore you to do so. You will never look back.

 

 

 

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Violence in Video Games Venerated: Game Gore Glorified

People always seem to get caught up with beginnings.  When did the slippery slope start; what was the one tangible event when everything changed? Whether its socio-political commentary, or declines in education, there are always those who point to moments in history where they say the rot set in.  Usually they are woefully wrong because, in reality, what they see as a sudden change is actually a progression and the slippery slope is somewhat longer and gentler than you may think.

GTA V MichaelVideo games have been a regular target for the mainstream press and media for several years with the muddying of waters rising steadily over the last decade.  The charges are quite simple; video games have become accessible to more – and younger – people, and appear to have seen a significant increase in violence.  But is that actually the case?  While sections of society may point their gnarled digits at the current batch of games and froth at the mouth, is there actually demonstrable evidence that games contribute significantly to social disorder or, indeed, have actually become any more violent? Are games and gaming just an easy target for something far more deep-rooted and disturbing within society?

 

History of Video Game Violence

The history of violence in gaming is almost as old as computer games themselves.  Pong, the Granddaddy of all computer games, first hit the arcades in 1972 but was soon followed by more imaginative – and gory – titles.  1976 witnessed the release of Deathrace, a console game inspired by the 1975 film, “Deathrace2000”, which saw drivers purposely targeting pedestrians to score points.  The game took its major plot device from the film but sweetened it slightly by calling the stick beings ‘gremlins’ and introduced a competitive element by replacing the flattened bodies with tombstones which had to be avoided; GTA V it wasn’t in programming, but all the intent was there.

While gaming flourished over the next few years, and moved from the arcades to the bedrooms of spotty youths, the games remained very low brow and usually depicted alien invasions or sports, until the release of Custer’s Revenge as a cartridge game for the Atari system.  The game, a very low resolution affair based on the popular legend of “General George Custer”, depicted – badly – the rape and murder of native Indian women, and was one of an increasing number of titles made for the Atari by American purveyor of filth, Mystique.  The so called Adult Video Game industry bloomed along with the advent of home computers and while most of its content was concerned with rendering blocky pictures that looked rude if you squinted, as many people happened to be doing while viewing them, it also crossed over into the growing games industry throwing up such charming titles as “Beat ‘em Up, Eat ‘em Up”, and “Batchelor Party” as well as Custer’s Revenge.  The games were sold under the Swedish Erotica banner, even though they were programmed in America and mass-produced in Hong Kong, rather than lovingly crafted in Scandinavia.  Luckily the Internet arrived and treated the world to real pornography, effectively killing the genre before it could assault our tortured eyes any further.

The road onwards is littered with notable titles that pushed the envelope further. From Wolfenstein 3D through to Duke Nukem, video violence seemed to take leaps forward every few years, prompting the popular press to decry them with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  They loved to read too much into the titles hitting the stores and took each one as evidence of the increasing debauchery that mankind was spiralling down into.  Then, in 1996, they really got something to short stroke over.  Grand Theft Auto – usually abbreviated to GTA – was the brainchild of DMA Design, and hit a new niche in the market and grew from a car racing game called Race ‘n Chase to become something more action based. In this game the PS1 or PC player was encouraged to break the law during the many quests central to the story.  Playing as a lowly member of a city crime syndicate, the player completed assigned tasks to earn points and climb the criminal ladder, earning money and respect while doing so.  Stealing vehicles (Grand Theft, Auto in American legal vernacular) and offing pedestrians just helped to increase the characters notoriety and was encouraged.   Had this been a rubbish game, no one would have really noticed and it would have died an embarrassing death on the cheap shelves, but it was both fun to play and engaging and so, much to the horror of Daily Express readers, it became a milestone in gaming history.  Its success amongst the gaming clan was sealed from the first release, and all further editions have sold in increasing amounts with the latest outing – GTA V – scooping a massive $800 million in sales on its first day!   While much of the interest in it has come from its huge open world playable area, but undoubtedly many are drawn by its unbridled violence and the sheer fun of stealing cars and creating mayhem on the beautifully crafted streets of a sunny city.  So is this just another step in the apparent relentless march along the road to anarchy? Do playing violent games make people want to emulate that violence in the real world?

 

Academic Study for Links

So what do the academics say? Can psychologists draw tangible conclusions that demonstrate a link between what we play and what we do?  The simple answer is no as, while there have been marked incidents such as Columbine, computer games have only truly existed for the last thirty years and there simply isn’t enough empirical data to show a definite trend.  Televisions have been readily available since the 1960’s and the debate as to whether people emulate what they see on there is still raging, so there is little hope of proving any link between games and violent behaviour for some time.  More intriguing are the results of experiments on the close-sectioning of animals and how overcrowding affects rats psychologically.

Frostbite 3 Engine showcaseExperiments carried out on rat and mouse populations by the noted ethnologist John B Calhoun demonstrated that animals kept in a restricted area, showed increasingly stressed behaviour as the population in the area rose.  Kept in a restricted area that was essentially “Rat Utopia” since they were given plentiful food and water and had nothing to do all day but pro-create,  while at first content and relaxed, they became increasingly skittish as the population grew and boomed with desperate behaviour becoming normal as the confined area became increasingly over-populated.  The rats began to exhibit increasingly deviant behaviour ranging from infanticide and cannibalism to sexual deviation.  As the population grew, the associated behaviours became severe and increasingly violent. Calhoun coined the phrase Behavioural Sink to describe the socio-psychological effects of overcrowding and, although humans are undeniably more complex than rats, there are definite parallels that can be drawn with human conditions.  Latter day psychologists consider Calhoun’s work too simplistic and argue that people are far more capable of dealing with their overcrowded environments without turning to violence.  Many modern scientists claim that humans are unlikely to follow suit, though investigations into prison overcrowding and the Favela slum regions of Brazil have noted increased tension and a prevalence for violence with in their confines. So, are the charges levelled at computer games simply a smokescreen to divert attention from the one undeniable fact that we cannot escape; the world is becoming increasingly over-populated and there is not a single thing that we can do about it while remaining in the realms of civilisation?

Allied to this is the notion that people simply believe what they see on a TV screen, whether it comes from games or mainstream programming, and may emulate it.  Lots of people are adamant that that an overall deity exists despite there not being a single shred of proof to back it up. Others like to believe that Elvis works in the local chip shop, or plesiosaurs (Nessy for those non-palaeontologists among us!) swim freely in Scotland; given over six billion people on the planet, it is possible to find someone who will say or think anything you can imagine, however outrageous, because we are all individuals and we all have our own views.    So is there any credibility in the notion that people may blindly follow actions onscreen into the real world? There has not been a single recorded case where someone has died or killed themselves in some game-inspired way thinking that they would simply respawn again as their favourite character does in whatever game is their opium.  Surely, if people were that believing in the realism of computer gaming, at least some people would have had to have tried it; it’s statistically unlikely for it not to be the case.

 

Are Games more Violent?

So it appears that it’s not so much a case that videos games have got any more violent, rather the increase in graphics has made what we see all the more appalling?  Imagine Call of Duty: Ghosts but in 8-bit; the intent to show violent death and serious injury is there, but the sheer weakness of the graphics doesn’t allow it to become realistic.  Stepping up to 64-bit and the huge amounts of dedicated graphics applied to both consoles and PCs and suddenly we have the full horror of photo-realistic maiming and death.  Our imagination has to work less because it is all spread before us on the screen in glorious techni-colour.  Doom 95 is often cited as being a prince amongst violent and blood splattered games, but an hour’s play before bedtime is unlikely to have you in screaming nightmare land of shotgun executed demons since what is portrayed as a violent death, is actually a brief burst of red pixels as the shotgun kicks; hardly scenes from the abattoir, is it?

The media makes much of video-game violence and attempts to draw comparisons between what people play out on screen with real-life incidents.  This was no more obvious than in the rage that followed the Columbine shootings in 1999 when Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris went on a rampage through their school, killing thirteen of the twenty people they shot at.  In the aftermath of the shooting, when it became apparent that the two youths had spent much of their time playing computer games such as  Doom, Mortal Kombat and Wolfenstein, the media was quick to try to draw parallels between playing these games and excessively violent behaviour.  The finger was pointed and many took the apparent route from cause to effect as done and dusted; it was obvious that violent computer games would lead adolescents to emulate violent behaviour wasn’t it?  The media assault following Columbine was so swift, forceful and complete that it encouraged the widow of one of the victims to raise a lawsuit against both console manufacturers and game publishers.   The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed with presiding Judge Babcock finding that video game developers and publishers couldn’t realistically be held responsible for the unforeseen actions of others. So sanity won, but little details like that don’t stop the powerful media machine from taking it as evidence of mass mental-corruption of our children.

So computer games may appear more violent than their predecessors but actually aren’t, though a bigger question comes from does all this increased gaming violence make for more violent players?  Does the ability to shoot people in the throat and watch them bleed out translate into the will to do the same down the pub on a Saturday night? In reality our senses have been bombarded with the results of war for the last forty years, and it’s unrealistic to say that everyday violence has got significantly worse; it simply gets reported more and becomes available on multiple platforms.  If you carry out a web-search for iconic war images, you are more likely to find pictures of napalmed-children and burned out villages from Vietnam rather than horrific vistas of death from Helmand Province.  That is not because war is any less brutal or receives less reporting, but more to do with modern war being comprised of precision strikes from drone aircraft and informed troops rather than bloody hand-to-hand fighting amongst the rubble of broken buildings from previous wars.  Precision strikes have also led to a reduction in the kinds of civilian casualties that were a signature of Vietnam.  The wars of today are no less devastating than those of forty years ago, but they are simply played out in a much smaller theatre and one that doesn’t require the carpet bombing of a whole nation in an attempt to simply rid it of a small percentage of the population.  We have been treated to images of violence for almost as long as TV has existed, but we have not become noticeably more aggressive.

 

What it all Means

kunglaofatalitySo there we have it; video games haven’t become more violent, they just seem it because of the level of graphics that they can resolve, compared to their early brethren.  Despite what the press may think, there is also little evidence to suggest that violence for the sake of it has become any more prevalent either, with most of the current titles having spades more story and point than Custer’s Revenge but only equal quantities of violent intent.  However, we should spare a thought for the title generally considered to be the most violent of them all; Mortal Kombat.    This wonder of overstated fighting horror is now in its ninth iteration – with several side editions – and still going stomach-churningly strong.   It started off as a simple one on one arcade fighter which then jumped onto PS1, N64, and the weird Sega Saturn in 1996. It went onto every mainstream platform from there.  Based on a flimsy story involving different realms fighting it out for the some ultimate prize McGuffin, it is just an excuse for a couple of combatants to beat several colours of crap out of each other but again, the increase performance in PC and console graphics has transformed simple beaten-to-a-pulp deaths into something very much sinister.  Instead of just punching and kicking, things have got a little more sadistic; witness “Quan Chi” tearing a limb off his opponent and beating them to death with it, or “Kung Lao” pulling his screaming female opponent through a wailing circular saw.  Sure, Battlefield 4 is violent, but not inventively so to the point of this kind of torture porn.

So what makes Mortal Kombat so different from the current batch of shoot-‘em-up’s?  Its depiction of violence can be encapsulated as simply gratuitous and unnecessary rather than an act completed to further a story. Simply killing people isn’t enough for Mortal Kombat – it has to go the extra mile and create unnecessarily violent deaths, which, when coupled with the standards in graphics available today, becomes something more than fun.

Back in 1976 the National Safety Council called Deathrace “sick and morbid”; can you imagine what they would have made of Mortal Kombat 2011?

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What is the “WAR” mentality in the so-called console ‘debate’?

Okay, since 2000, Sony has shipped nearly quarter of billion PlayStations in the different guises of two, three and now four. Similarly, Microsoft, since 2000, has shipped nearly 110 million Xboxes (360/original). Nintendo, in the meantime, has sold 105 million Wii (both original and U). These numbers don’t include Vitas, DSs or any handheld games consoles. So, obviously PlayStation sold more, around double their nearest competitor. However, there are around 2,8 billion gamers worldwide, the above accounts for only a fraction of that number? It’s not as clear cut as the media like to make out.

Next Gen ConsolesYou just need to type into Google, “Xbox One versus PlayStation 4”. The response is epic! You’ll get articles on ‘Sony and Microsoft, at War’ to ‘Sony destroy Xbox’. The current batch of articles surround the notion that Sony, who shipped 4,3 million PlayStation 4 consoles over the Christmas period trounced Microsoft who “only” shipped 3,2 million units. There are factors that the press seem to be ignoring or unable to comprehend.

According to research by ParentDish, pester power over past five years (since the recession started) has seen economics beat child pester power. Therefore, Xbox could be loosing out because it is ‘so much more expensive’. However, angry PlayStation newbies have been angrily messaging PlayStation community walls with messages of PlayStation Plus membership woes – which by the way adds £40 to the bundle. The PlayStation Eye is another purchase that Microsoft Xboxers don’t have to worry about.

But these issues don’t seem to be evident in the wider reportage. Forbes, for example, has a great headline “Why Sony’s PS4 is Crushing Microsoft’s Xbox One In Sales So Far”. What a great headline. It would make any browser think Microsoft was done for! However, there isn’t a single mention by Paul Tassi, the author, about the fact PlayStation 4 consoles are sold at a loss – he mentions the extra cost of the Kinect. According to leaked memos, Sony needs to sell double the initial quota to even begin to break even. The Microsoft Xbox (including the Kinect sensor) on the other hand, has been priced so that each console has a marginal profit for Microsoft. So if Sony are selling their consoles so cheaply they’re not making any profit, which console is beating who here?

NSA spying and the Kinect has been a big issue. The ‘always-on’ element of the Xbox One has scared off many users. Think about it, a US-made camera in every bedroom or lounge in the world ‘spying’ on you. It’s ridiculous – even if PRISM was spying on me, I can’t for the life of me think why and I feel sorry for the poor analyst who has to look at video footage of me there shouting at Ryse, FIFA or CoD. But that’s for another article. In reality, the price difference and the fact Kinect hasn’t been wholly justified, has dented sales. But we are too early yet to declare winners.

nintendo-wii-u-systemIn fact, there are no ‘real’ winners. People like playing games – there will not be one dominating platform that will take over the gaming world. We like variance and variety and as such some will sell more, others will sell less but they will continue. Microsoft Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are now part of a dynamic of mobile, computer and console gaming that will continue to grow. We need to evaluate user needs and experiences alongside ‘zero sum’ game approaches to initial sales data. There is a large body of academic research that argues Hollywood was destroyed the moment it started publishing box office takings. Once it was about ‘money’ and ‘return on investment’ the artistic verve was lost. We are slowly creeping towards such a period that will see consoles and games destroyed because they ‘didn’t sell enough in the opening weekend’.

Console data is about quarter periods (i.e. three monthly periods) not weekends or months. It takes time to ship, to dispatch and sell consoles. As such, it’s wrong that it hasn’t even been a full quarter yet and we are already stating that consoles are dead and buried. Last year Nintendo was ‘dead’ and ‘buried’ because Wii U hadn’t sold enough. People predicted that Nintendo would have shut down the Wii U by 2014. It’s 2014 and Wii U is, whether you like it or not, still with us. We need to allow diversity within the gaming sector. How boring would life be if the fanboys and fangirls got their way? A beige generation of gamers would be born. I, personally, would hate for that to happen. So let’s stop thinking about wars, destruction and end-games and star thinking about consoles plural. Innovation only happens when companies compete. I know many people don’t like or want to hear this but, Microsoft needs Sony and Sony needs Microsoft – as much as Nintendo needs both Sony and Microsoft. It’s a dynamic that will continue and one that should be applauded. Last thing we want is for games to turn out like movies. “Oh, I didn’t buy Titanfall because it wasn’t in Amazon’s top 10 best seller list?” That would be a horrendous blow to great games development. So let’s try to be a bit more open-minded and help maintain the integrity of the games industry by being proactive in terms of competition.

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