Death spank and odd news

Sorry for the lack of updates. Redesign and a new job makes my time short and the tech buggy as hell. I just saw the first trailer from Deathspank... yeah, thats right! It's Ron Gilbert's (anyone else who has no clue?), accoring to kotaku, "long awaited" episodic RPG/adventure.

Now re-read the previous paragraph a few times and close your mouth.

It's supposed to be a mix between Diablo and Monkey Island, and judging from the trailer I saw they seem to have hit the spot dead on. I'm excited, and not because another good game might be in the works. There are in fact a whole bunch of good games on the horizon. I'm excited because this game looks like it's really, truly, funny.

Not entertaining. Funny.

A sitcom of games if you will. Can anyone say "main-stream hit"? Readers of this blog will know that I love easy fun and that, at least I, find such entertainment really hard to find these days. Go on Guy, make a wonderful game!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGWT6YPu4v4&hl=en&fs=1]

The spectrum of game audiences

Most articles and books about games give a certain skewed image of our audience, the gamers.I can't claim to know what most developers believe but from interviews and articles by some of them I get the feeling that we're looking at a polarized view of game customers from the developer perspective. This could mean serious trouble for games.

By a polarized scale of gamers I mean that in almost all the interviews and articles I read there seem to be exactly two types of gamers. Hard core (or 'gamers') and casual (web games, wii and soduku). Anyone will quickly realize that there must be some space in between these two, but I think most people underestimate the scale of this... eh.. scale.

It's always hard to categorize people, who all have different habits and ideals, but in this case it really isn't that hard because the games industry have spent years defining these two groups. Hardcore gamers are players that spend a lot of money and time on games. They buy the newest consoles and really consume games. Casual gamers are players who would rarely define themselves as gamers. They spend time with really short games with little effort in preparation. Mostly they play games online but for the last year some of them have bought a Wii. Common for them is that they spend very short amounts of time on games and waste little time getting their entertainment, browser based games work better then downloadable and so on. They also spend only small amounts of money on gaming at any one time (micro transactions).

But where are the middle spectrum gamers? Who are they and how many of them are there? Well, statistics provide us with some answers here.

The Playstation 2 became a mainstream machine before the current generation of consoles were announced. Sony's machine has sold something like 120 million units. The current generation consoles, ps3 and xbox360, have together sold something like 40 million units. There is a gap of 80 million possible costumers who've still to adapt to the new technology. Now according to our scale, what kind of games consumers are in this gap? They've chosen NOT to buy the new exiting technology and instead hang on to old and outdated games. These are not hardcore gamers, they are also not casual because they do buy consoles. So who are they? In between gamers?

For another piece of the puzzle lets look at online gaming. Sadly it's hard to find conclusive statistics on players from casual gaming sites. So the closest I've stumbled over is the least casual type of online gaming. Massively Multiplayer Online Games.

World of Warcraft, the most successful MMOG in the western world, currently boasts over 11 million subscribers. It has been online since late 2004 and had over a million players by 2005. It grew really quickly and has had many millions of subscribers for several years. Now we can't know for sure what WoW's churn rate is (churn = players dropping off - new players). But a somewhat safe bet is that it's at least around 5-10%. That's a lot of players. That means that over the years WoW has had at least 20 million players. And most of them never saw end game content. That means that most gamers played the game without reaching hardcore goals, that should make them casual gamers in the polarized scale. But they're hardly casual gamers in the sense of browser based games and non investment if they're playing WoW are they? No, these must also be in between gamers.

These in between gamers are actually an interesting bunch. Because if we do a quick search for games that target this demographic we'll find only a few. One of the most famous, if not the most famous, is Sins of a Solar Empire - a spectacular RTS game by the way - that specifically targets PC gamers that used to play games but don't care to make hardware investments to be continuously shot as cannon fodder for the ruling game elite (hardcore gamers).

An even more surprising move with Sins is that is completely free of DRM. It has no copy protection what so ever. Compared to another current RTS game, World in Conflict, Sins opted for use of 'old' graphics and easy to use installation as well as a really cheap development cycle.

Even without the copy protection Sins has outsold World in Conflict by a longshot. And WiC is a fantastic game.

From the statistics I so lightly touch upon we can deduce that somewhere in the range of 20-80 million "in between" gamers are out there. They are not being actively pursued by the games industry. From my quick look at Sins and World in Conflict we can also see that they are not as prone to piracy as the hardcore demographic. They are in other words; ideal game consumers.

Here the skewed image of our gamers set in. We're not catering to a large part of our target audience. We're simply creating for the top percentage of players and hoping the rest will follow suit. We need to focus on this hard to define group of people, let's hire a marketing company to seek them out. Let's give a million dollar budget to a small studio to make a mainstream game just to see how it turns out at the stores. Let us at least acknowledge that this part of our audience is important.

If we aim for lower specs, go for gameplay that has proved to be fun and make a small but good game. Sell it for a reasonable price and make it as easy to buy as it is to pirate. Not only will we make a game that will sell, we'll probably be more or less alone in a 20-80 million strong demographic part of the gamer spectrum.

This is a huge mistake on the part of our industry. Someone at EA or Acti/Blizz should realize that.

(please comment for improvements or information)

E3 big three rundown

E3 is on it's way and the big three have shown their cards. But who "won"? We can't be sure until E3 is over but I have a few points to share: Microsoft Had a great presentation showing exclusive titles lite Gears of War 2, Banjo & Kazooiey (no I can't spell it) and Fable 2. They also revamped their Xbox live experience with a modern, and this time quite pretty, interface starring customizable characters for players. Much like Mii's but better looking. They also showed that Avatars (official name) will be of use to players unlike Wii's Mii's. Microsoft also launched some rip-offs of Sony games such as Lips (singstar) and some camera interaction game thingie (eyetoy). Overall, Microsoft created a lot of excitement for the platform.

Nintendo Had an irritating speaker on stage making flat jokes about random stuff. Get her away from the stage. But they also unveiled Wii Motion + which is an add on to the Wiimote (more like a Wiimote 2) that allowes for better movement recognition... So now the Wii will work like... it was originally planned? Looked pretty good. They also unveiled some more games, first party of course, each with their own add on. Nintendo, if I hadn't already sold my Wii I would never be able to afford all these add ons. Stop trying to steal my last cents you evil bastards.

Sony Sony had by far the best presentation. No doubt. But they didn't show enough content to wow me. Actually it didn't feel like they showed much new stuff at all. PSN video store is live as of yesterday, very apple of them. Thank god. MAG is a massive online action game. Great. What else? Oh yeah, the games are coming. There seem to be a lot of them, but since we didn't actually see that many it's hard to tell. Home will eventually come, but since what I really wanted from the beginning is Microsoft's Avatars system, Home will probably fall flat.

I want Sony to win this war. Nintendo has proved their point and thats great, we need to focus on a larger market. But the Wii is still a piece of shit and doesn't have any games I'd like to play. Microsoft is giving consumers plastic boxes that scream with whirring fans and crash ever so often. But they are giving developers what they want. And they are delivering on their promises. The playstation 3 really is a superior machine for the consumer. It's quiet, doesn't require add ons and is a smooth entertainment package. But Sony is fucking it's console by not delivering proper support for developers, meaning most games come to the 360. They're slow in delivering systems for the PS3, even though the systems usually are great in the end. And the PS3 is still expensive like gods own nude pictures.

Come on Sony, stop being arrogant and help yourselves. I don't want another Windows monopoly destroying the games industry.

The Long Tail

I just finished the book The Long Tail about how markets are shifting from focusing solely on hits to including the niches that might not sell huge volumes. The interesting thing about this theory is that it means that a lot of people are spending money on products that they wouldn't have bought a few years ago just because they were not available. The same thing is happening in games, the Wii is "expanding the marketplace" by including people who aren't hard core gamers. But expanding is really the wrong word, Nintendo is including people who enjoy games but haven't enjoyed the past few years of hard core focus in games.

So what will this lead our industry to? Will we follow the long tail and Wii in including all types of gaming niches? Of course not.

Developers seem much to inclined to play their own products. Todays casual games developers are actually not focusing on casual gaming. But rather hard core gaming with casual games. Think of Tetris, it's a puzzle game that you play alone and can't win or loose, and as such a casual experience. But most casual games I've seen on Facebook or mobile platforms recently have used this form of casual mechanic.. But rewarded hard core grinding...

So in effect, we're shooting ourselves in our collective developers foot with our own fanboyism.

I want to see games focused on people who play sometimes, for a few minutes, maybe. Don't tell me there is not a market for this type of game, there is. It just might not be worth a $200.000.000 development cycle.

Easy fun games

I think there is a huge drought of easy fun games on the market. Games that are easy to play, simple to understand with short playtimes and a "cozy fun" approach rather then the "arcade adrenaline furious fun" that seems to be the norm in game development today.

Thankfully, along comes Flock and gives me hope, though I'm rather suspicious about the game mechanics...

WiiFit

I just spent an evening with WiiFit and I have to admit that my hype level was way higher then my real life impression.

The WiiFit board is a large chunk of plastic, it feels cheap, it looks cheap and it in all probability is cheap. The games that come with it feel cheap, look cheap and play cheap.
The problem is not the board itself, which I think is a great idea, but the level of quality of the board and it's games. It's just pitiful...
The quality is not in the same room as the Wii and Wii sports, they don't even seem to be related. If the Wii is an ipod then WiiFit is a Soviet world war 2 tank covered in rust. Nintendo just looks like a greedy bully when I look at WiiFit. I hope for Wii's sake that the coming snowboard and skateboard games make a lot better use of the board.
Because even though my impression is not even remotely good, the balance board is a good idea. Especially for games lite SSX and its like.

Zelda phantom hourglass review

"I've finally finished my first Zelda game!" I exclaimed close to tears and threw my DS on the bed.
Not often have I felt so lost after playing a game. ZPH is a strange mix of genuine entertainment and mind boggling boredom... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

People have always told me I should play Zelda. And believe me I've tried, but all the zelda games I've tried (a link to the past, Wind waker) have run the train of enjoyment straight into the great brick wall of irritation and boredom. Mostly because of completely illogical puzzles and confusing control schemes. (Don't get me started on these games...)

But ZPH seemed different, the controls are wonderful and no matter what odd things I'm trying to do with Link (or my case "Lard") I find myself doing it with ease and enjoyment.
Then I run into a few problems...

  • Why the hell am I playing the temple of suck over and over again?
  • Why is the game filled to the brim with puzzles that break the logical boundaries of the game making the puzzles impossible to guess unless your one of those people with enough time and lack of brain that you'll actually try everything until the puzzle is solved.
  • Why can I save the game at all times when it only actually saves at certain stages anyway?
  • No, Nintendo, I don't wanna play through that god damned temple again!
  • Sailing is boring. In ZPH's defense there are golden frogs that let you teleport around the sea, which brings me to my next point...
  • Why the hell is it so hard to hit the damn golden frogs?! To be able to teleport around the sea I have to spend more time sailing around firing at the damn frogs then I would completing the game!

It's not a bad game, just with some major faults that seem unforgivable coming, as they do, from Nintendo. Which is supposed to know how to make fun and accessible games...

I give this game a weak 2/5. Want to spend money on portable entertainment? Buy a comic book or a book. This is just bad value for my money. Hope I wasn't to bitter for you guys, sorry about that.