There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.
– Winston Churchill
I realize that online connectivity and console gaming were destined to be intertwined. The XBAND modem, the SEGA Channel, and then the rollout of the Dreamcast in 1999 with its built-in 56K modem were signs that change was going to happen. Console video game players were eventually going to have to accept connectivity, and this current console generation has preached that it’s all but required to have the full intended gaming experience.
I don’t have a problem with online connectivity in that it can serve a purpose. Bugs can be fixed if you’re connected (although this has been overdone, as I mentioned in my last post). Online play can allow players to find opponents (or partners) at any time instead of having to rely on having people over. In its originally intended form, downloadable content can extend the life of a game by adding levels, characters, quests, and more. The change from a purely offline to generally online environment, in and of itself, is not bad.
I do, however, see problems with how intense the change has been. The previous console generation can be thought of as a loose transition to online importance. We saw the birth of Xbox LIVE as a service and the PlayStation 2 had some online functionality, although it wasn’t at all organized. We were taking some steps a generation ago, but we’ve since taken a giant leap and have overlooked the consequences that the change has triggered. We see games launch with bugs, only to be excused because connectivity offers a quick fix instead of shipping the game as bug-free as possible. We see arguments that content is being stripped from retail games, only to be resold as DLC for added expense to the consumer over and above the $60 price point. We see online services and accounts getting hacked with increasing frequency.
Change is fine, but I don’t think that it can be said that it’s entirely in the right direction.
I know that I talked about the problem with patches in my last entry, but it’s disturbing to me how accepting that the community is of this trend. Reviewers, more often than not, seem to give the benefit of the doubt to patches rather than calling out publishers and developers for shipping a game that doesn’t work as well as it should. Skyrim is a great case in point with all of its associated glitches and issues, and yet it stands at a 96 on Metacritic. NINETY-SIX. I understand that online connectivity gives developers and publishers the ability to fix problems, but whatever happened to the goal of getting it right the first time? I appreciate the scope and size of the game, but giving a pass to a game because it tries hard isn’t the point, to me. In cases like this, connectivity has become a crutch instead of an advantage.
The news about Ridge Racer for the PlayStation Vita and its dearth of content in favor of DLC reignites the discussion about how DLC affects retail games. Issues with weak content versus numerous DLC offerings is nothing new for Namco; look at Beautiful Katamari and Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360 for prime examples of content that probably should have been included in the initial purchase. Beautiful Katamari was probably the most egregious example, with more than a few stages locked behind a DLC paywall. I can understand publishers looking to make some extra revenue per user, but in Ridge Racer‘s case on the Vita, three courses and five cars included on the release is an absolute joke. Compare that to the deeper overall package for Ridge Racer 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. There are nearly four times as many cars in Ridge Racer 3D, and four separate courses on the first stage of the Grand Prix alone! Instead of getting loaded with content, we get to pay more for additional content for Ridge Racer on the Vita. It can be argued that connectivity encourages developers and publishers to leave stuff out for post-launch, rather than packing as much content as possible before shipping and then delivering more after a few weeks. It’s change in the wrong direction.
Then we come to hacking. I understand that hacking is a peril of being online. Identity theft happens all the time, not just on the PlayStation Network or Xbox LIVE. The problem that I have is that we are so accepting of this and the best that the industry can do is to remind you to change your passwords and be vigilant. Worse yet, more and more content is becoming online-only, so unless you go out of your way to buy cards at local retailers, you have to chance your credit or debit card to get that DLC or arcade game that you want. GameTrailers and Spike TV gaming personality Geoff Keighley just had his Xbox LIVE account hacked and is offline for almost a month during Microsoft’s “investigation”. It happened to another friend of mine on Twitter recently, too… and I’ve read about it happening to more than a few other people recently as well. We allow connectivity, online commerce, and online delivery to be so instrumental to the console gaming experience, and yet we just accept it when we get hit and lose that ability when criminals attack. Stuff happens, right?
I understand that going backwards isn’t an option. Console gaming has barged through the online door with a battering ram, and constant connectivity is here to stay. Still, it’s hard for someone like me who has been playing console video games for decades to not look back on generations past and consider whether we’re really better off now. Sure, the graphics weren’t 1080p and the sound wasn’t Dolby 7.1. I know that games “back then” were simpler and, at times, not very mature. I also can’t help but to think back to when connectivity wasn’t a requisite. I remember when games were consistently full of content when they shipped rather than skimming a few things in lieu of making a few bucks later. I still can fire up my PlayStation or PlayStation 2 and just play a game, rather than waiting for patches and DLC checks.
I’m not sure what it will take for this change to constant connectivity and online presence to find the right direction, but it’s important to the future of the industry that it is found– and soon.
When I spend $60 on a new game, and go to pick it up during a midnight launch, there isn’t any reason that I shouldn’t get what I pay for. There aren’t any warnings saying, “DO NOT SELL BEFORE NOON ON 9/13/2011″ on my copy of NHL 12, and yet… attempts to redeem my preorder bonus AND my Online Pass failed miserably. The content isn’t working on Xbox LIVE for whatever reason and the service errors out after entering the codes. Worse yet, the codes are now used and don’t show up in my Download History.
Simply put, I now have half a game for $60 and my preorder bonus is lost because someone screwed up. The frustrating part is that, while the preorder bonus is something that I can live without, I’m unable to play the game online and now am faced with the possibility of paying AN ADDITIONAL $10 for something that’s being held for ransom even for consumers who buy new. Why? Why are consumers forced to jump through hoops like this? Do you think that you’re owed something else aside from the money that you’re already making? Why is it my problem that you feel entitled to make money on used game sales, and why are you using me as a pawn in your little war?
I’ve had enough. I’m done. NHL 12 will be the last EA game that I buy new, if at all. I’m sick of the crap. I’m sick of having to enter voucher codes to make my games work properly when they had done that all along with such codes for years. I’m sick of your converting what used to be cheat codes into DLC cash cow opportunities. I fear for the further ransoming of the single-player experience in favor of greedy DLC, like we saw in Tiger 12. I love sports games– I really do– but I have my limits and EA Sports has most certainly reached its limit with me.
I’ve never thought that Online Passes were a good idea, but I accepted them. I don’t like that the other profiles on my Xbox 360 can’t use the pass to go online with, but I deal with that. I’ve taken the other crap in stride up to this point, but when my Online Pass code doesn’t work AND it’s now been used? That’s the end right there. It’s not my responsibility to have to follow up with EA and show multiple proofs of purchase, hoping that I get a replacement code and that everything works all right. This should have been tested and resolved well in advance of the game shipping to stores… and yet here we are. Now the onus is on me to beg for something that, after paying for it, I should have access to and be using already.
I don’t want to hear about technical issues, or “these things happen”, or “EA will fix it.” This is EXACTLY the reason why Online Passes are awful. The used game consumer doesn’t even APPLY here. The game just came out TODAY. It’s the NEW game consumer that gets screwed here and has to jump through even more hoops to play the video game that he (or she) bought outright. You got your money, EA. You got your money a few days ago, at least, when the retailer paid you for the shipment. Why is it too much to ask, apparently, for things to work properly at launch? Am I now “entitled” because I expect my purchases to be fully valid at the time that I pay for them? Without the Online Pass scenario, I’m playing the game online right now and not writing this blog entry. Instead, because of a certain publisher’s own “entitlement” to the second-hand market, I lose… even when I buy the game brand new.
Maybe, when it comes to games with Online Passes, the only winning move is not to play.
We all know about the unfortunate downtime with the PlayStation Network, which has been sporadically offline for parts of this month and has been completely down for nearly a week straight. Playing games online has been impossible, and the timing couldn’t be worse with three major releases hitting just prior to the outage. PlayStation 3 users are now faced with the dilemma of trying to play games alone or via local multiplayer, which is something foreign to many newer game players who have been trained over the course of this console generation that it’s all about online and all about multiplayer. Instead of hours of playing Call of Duty with friends in other states, players must now be satisfied with having people over and playing in split-screen. In the worst-case scenario, they’re left to play the solo campaign, which has been the weakest link of many games within the past year.
You would think that a long-duration outage like this would remind publishers and developers that solo play is important, but it’s very easy to interpret comments from Geoff Keighley after his interview with Valve’s Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson as a dismissal of single-player importance:
Portal 2 will probably be Valve’s last game with an isolated single-player experience.
This is another sign of growing sentiment within the video game industry that the importance of single-player games has been supplanted by a multiplayer focus along with online play. Frank Gibeau, label president for EA Games, echoed such a sentiment last December. While Newell and Gibeau’s comments are the only ones to have gone public, it’s foolhardy to think that the movement is not catching on with other companies. It’s another sign that the industry is setting the trends and consumers are forced to either fall into line or find a new form of entertainment to partake in.
We’re already seeing the decreased effort in single-player modes of play. More and more games are delivering solo campaigns of about four hours in length. We saw it with Kane & Lynch 2. We saw it with Medal of Honor and with Homefront. Some are even talking about Portal 2 taking them between 4-6 hours to complete, although defenders of the game charge that the game isn’t possible to finish that soon. If you’re someone who doesn’t take part in multiplayer or if you don’t play online, doing the math indicates that you’re basically paying $15 an hour for these games. Movies and music are substantially less expensive, in comparison.
We’re also seeing multiplayer modes forced into formerly single-player titles. Bioshock and Dead Space were excellent solo adventures, and yet their sequels had multiplayer thrown in. Resident Evil 5 took the series into the realm of forced co-op, where you couldn’t play alone as you were given a CPU-driven buddy to play with. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair takes the series from its successful solo roots and punishes anyone who plays alone, forcing co-op play onto anyone who actually wants to have fun playing it. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is another, although somewhat more forgiving, example of this trend, too.
Why is the industry so quick to dismiss the single-player experience? When happens when an online service goes down, which happened to Xbox LIVE a few years ago and is currently affecting PSN? What happens when your internet service provider has c0nnectivity issues or goes down completely? If today’s games are more about connectivity and playing with others, wouldn’t the $60 spent on each game be a waste at that point? Defenders of this trend fall back on the same list of excuses:
- It’s only for a few days.
- Why not go outside and do something else?
- Surely you have other games to play.
- Stuff breaks; just deal with it.
I’m working a lot of hours this week at the store, covering for our manager who has been away at a conference. Since my time is limited, I’m condensing a lot of my thoughts into a blog post. Things will hopefully return to something close to normal next week.
I’ve been talking a lot about retail observations on Twitter, and I’m going to start mentioning some of them here as we gear up for what should be a busy holiday season. Working on the front lines in gaming retail gives me decent perspective on trends and customer reactions. Here are a few notable observations that I’d like to attempt to analyze further:
Halo: Reach reservation numbers have surpassed Call of Duty: Black Ops numbers on the Xbox 360.
This took a long while, but with a giant push over the last week or so, Reach is reigning supreme for the moment. Numbers for the base game are outpacing “special” SKUs by about 2:1, with the Legendary SKU being second, followed by the Limited Edition and then the console bundle. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reach will be the best-selling game for the month. What will be more interesting to me will be whether Black Ops reservations will explode much like they did for Reach just prior to release. I’m also a bit surprised that we still haven’t seen news of a multiplayer beta of any sort for Black Ops; both Reach and the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot saw betas which arguably helped to fuel reserves… but Activision and Treyarch have both been mum, even after a rumored September 1st revelation that never materialized. I still believe that Black Ops will outpace Reach by the end of the year on the Xbox 360 platform, but the strength for Reach right now is indisputable.
Metroid: Other M is struggling.
It’s not too often that a first-party Nintendo release is disappointing, but Metroid: Other M is one of those rare titles. It’s been facing adversity on two fronts. The first problem is that the game strayed from Nintendo’s recent trend of releasing first-party titles on Sundays by releasing on a Tuesday. The second problem is that the game has been receiving some criticism from various sources on the internet, ranging from issues with the controls to focusing too much on story to even issues with sexism. Many reviews have been generally positive, but the complaints about the control scheme have prompted actual reserve cancellations– which is a rarity in and of itself. Moving four copies of a major Nintendo release on its launch date is underwhelming, to say the least. I will be curious to see how it fares in NPD charts; sales were better on Day 2, but there were still several more preorder cancellations.
Motion controls could have a rough time this year.
The release of the PlayStation Move is about two weeks away, but interest has been lukewarm at best. Lack of demo software and tangibles, combined with a lack of general knowledge about it for both consumers and retailers, has led to a cautionary “wait and see” approach. Sony isn’t overly bullish on Move for Q4, and that’s probably a good thing. Reviews of the first wave of games have been mixed, which hasn’t helped the situation. As for Microsoft’s Kinect device, interest has again stalled after a brief spike– presumably due to some in-store videos and advertising. Reports from the GameStop conference in San Antonio on Kinect were that there are still some hitches with the hardware and that there weren’t a lot of impressed people. As with Move, Kinect really doesn’t have much in the way of software or tech demonstrations that allow consumers to see what their $150 would be getting them.
Consumers are reacting swiftly to the Xbox LIVE price hike.
Much like people who stock up on batteries, bread, and water before a big storm, consumers are buying up Xbox LIVE subscription cards at their current rate before the price hike takes effect. The general consensus seems to be that consumers don’t want to quit the service, but there are a lot of questions as to why the increase is happening now. The move towards hoarding cards is free profit for Microsoft currently, but the overall effect of the price hike on subscriber numbers may not be felt for up to a year from now.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and R.U.S.E. could be retail disasters while NHL 11 and Kingdom Hearts look strong.
Does anyone even know that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and R.U.S.E. hit retail next week? If reservation numbers are any indication, then the answer is NO. While the situation for R.U.S.E. may be more geared to being a new IP, the fact that Spider-Man is getting such a cool pre-release reception by consumers should make Activision a bit nervous. Not that another Spider-Bomb would be all that surprising, given the track record of recent releases starring the web-crawler, but it seems as if Activision isn’t even trying with Shattered Dimensions. There may be some interest when the game arrives at retail next week, but given the strong pre-release interest for both Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and NHL 11 for next week, it seems clear that Spider-Man will be taking a back seat. Again.
Online Passes are ineffective.
Despite offering Online Passes for pre-owned copies of games like UFC 2010 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, there are very few takers. Sales of Tiger 11 overall have been weak and UFC 2010 just saw another price drop for new and pre-owned copies as sales of the game have been all but dead. There haven’t been, in my observation, many trade-ins (and subsequent sales) of pre-owned copies of NCAA Football 11 and Madden 11, but when they’ve been sold, offerings for the Online Pass have been met by, “I don’t play online, anyway. Why spend the extra $10?” If publishers are looking for ways to gain a significant share of the pre-owned market, it looks like they will have to resort to other means at this point… although the true tests for Online Pass programs will come with Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops.
That’s it for today; I hope you find these trends at least somewhat interesting. I’ll certainly try to post more of these trends and my analysis as we move forward into the busy holiday shopping season and the inevitable crush of new games that come with it.
The increase occurs on November 1st, which is just before the release of Microsoft’s Kinect camera and associated hardware bundles. It’s a blatant attempt to cash in on these new users while raising prices for legacy consumers at the same time. At least Microsoft’s giving legacy consumers a chance to “lock in” one more year of the service before they’re subject to the increase. Speaking in terms of absolute business, it makes sense since Microsoft is expecting (hoping) to attract a ton of new, more casual users with the Kinect launch… so upping the ante means extra profit for Microsoft right away… if the consumers bite. From a consumer standpoint, especially for legacy consumers, questions are sure to be raised. What else are consumers getting for their money to justify the extra $10? Why raise prices now, especially considering that Sony’s competing service is free and the PlayStation 3 has steadily been gaining momentum? Any increase also causes consumers to reconsider their use of a service; how often do users play online, and is it worth the price of a full retail release every year? Each individual’s mileage is going to vary, but it’s going to be tougher for some to justify paying more every year.
What really gets me is the discussion about the increase that’s been going on via Twitter. There are two distinct camps. One side is genuinely frustrated about the increase and openly wonders what the increase is for. The other side uses the same general argument that the Industry Defense Force has been using for their War on Used Games argument: It’s only $10 per year or less than a dollar per month; if you can’t afford that, maybe you shouldn’t be gaming. What’s worse about this is that there are reputable members of the gaming press out there on the Twitter service who are not only siding with this argument– but actually putting it out there. I’m not going to name names or drag anyone into the mud here, but it seems painfully obvious that the industry and its associated press seem to stick together on issues like price increases, used games, and other decisions that adversely affect the consumer.
Let’s look at some of these Twitter arguments, shall we?
You guys are nuts if you think a $10 boost is a problem. Put aside entitlement and realize how much you get for that $.
Again with the entitlement argument. Really? We’re so damned entitled that we’ve been paying the $50 all along, right? Where does this come from? We don’t have to be “entitled” to anything, I suppose, if we just stop paying Microsoft for a service that’s being provided comparably elsewhere for no fee at all. See, if you want to talk entitlement, you can address PSN users who may complain about that service, which is free– although it does have its share of issues. Legacy consumers have been paying Microsoft, so I move that they have a right to complain and even cancel subscriptions if they think that the price hike is not justified.
People need to stop whining so much; it’s just $10.
Indeed. I mean, why would anyone complain about an increase, right? After all, as consumers, we should just lie down and take it. While we’re at it, when game prices go up another $10 or more, let’s send an additional check for $10 to the publisher. After all, games are worth it! In fact, we don’t pay enough. You’re right. I will stop whining immediately. After all, it’s just $10. Along with the extra $10 we pay for new games now, the $10 Online Pass, $15 DLC map packs, and… oh, wait. I’ll stop whining. Really.
Stop bitching about the XBL price increase. Its no big deal. Its not like its $100. $60 is a reasonable price for the service we get.
Yes. $60 is not $100. It’s also not $50, either. If you feel that $60 is a more “reasonable” price, then feel free to send Microsoft the extra $10. The “big deal” is that Microsoft is raising prices in the midst of an economy that’s on the brink of a double-dip recession. If the industry wants to keep console gaming relevant as a source of entertainment, they aren’t going to do well by increasing prices across the board on almost everything from hardware to software to online functionality. They may still keep a decent amount of hardcore gamers, but the general consumer is in the process of being disenchanted– and the fiscal numbers prove it.
You know what? Maybe all of this “bitching” that I’m doing is for nothing. After all, there are still many people who are obviously more than happy to pay more for their video game habit. The industry has become powerful enough where a full-blown crash just won’t happen, so even when the more casual consumer base decides that enough is enough when it comes to raising prices on everything– hardware, software, accessories, online functionality, and DLC– there will still be a small but potent base of potential buyers out there who will keep console gaming from complete life support. The unfortunate reality in this mess is that the casual consumer base is what catapulted console gaming from something you did in your parents’ basement to a legitimate form of entertainment that rivaled movies in terms of revenue. The industry will never get those people back, and, as a consequence, has taken an immeasurable step backwards.
But it’s only $10, right. Keep telling yourselves that.
It’s not all that common for two fairly high-profile demos to be available on the same day, but that’s exactly what we got with today’s simultaneous releases of the NHL 11 and H.A.W.X. 2 demos today via Xbox LIVE.
While it’s easy to generalize that EA’s sports games are mere roster updates every year, NHL 11 is much more than that. In-game, there’s a new faceoff system, bigger hit and hip checks, a better sense of momentum for players on the ice, and tweaks to the presentation that bring the game closer to a television broadcast than ever before. Transitions between breaks in gameplay are now augmented by pertinent stat overlays and better-looking replays of action that occurred on the ice just prior to the play stoppage. Broken sticks occur and players have to decide whether to stay on the ice to try and defend or to quickly skate back to the bench for a stick swap and leave their team briefly shorthanded. Hit animations are better than they’ve ever been. Goal scoring celebrations spotlight the scoring player and the home crowd reacts loudly to each player’s name as they’re read by the (new) PA announcer. Crowd interaction doesn’t stop there, either. Big hits on the ice by the home team bring huge swells from the crowd; the ambient atmosphere has rarely– if ever– been better.
The NHL 11 demo allows players to either play the final period of the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks in Battle For The Cup or grants players a chance to check out one of the game’s big additions: Hockey Ultimate Team. Battle For The Cup, as it did last year, really accentuates the emotion and excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs without having to play through a full season to get there. It’s instant gratification (of sorts), but really lets players see, feel, and experience a playoff atmosphere and that do-or-die feeling. Winning the Cup in the demo lets players in on a rather impressive Stanley Cup celebration, complete with player handshakes, emotional moments, and a team picture for the ages.
Hockey Ultimate Team combines elements of fantasy hockey, a trading card game, and NHL 11 gameplay into a pretty addicting package that looks to keep players into NHL 11 for a long time. Players get an initial deck that contains player cards, training cards, contract cards, and head coach cards. Player cards are individually assigned to positions, filling all of the lines that you would if you were playing an actual game. You’ll need to set up scoring lines, defensive pairings, special team lines for power plays and penalty kills, and more. Since NHL 11 has rosters for the NHL, AHL, and now the Canadian Hockey League, you’ll have a wider selection of player cards… but, at least at first, not all of them are going to be superstars. Line chemistry also comes into play, so expect to do lots of mixing and matching of lines– even in the demo– to tweak your team as much as possible. Training cards can be added to player cards to make them perform better, and contract cards extend the number of games that a player card can be used before the player “retires”. Once your team is set, you participate in tournaments and the results are decided on the ice and your team comes to life and you play actual games with your players and lineups. As you play, you earn “pucks”, which are the equivalent of Madden 11‘s coins. These pucks can be used to buy booster packs for your card deck as well as to buy cards at auction to improve your team. The demo gives players a chance to unlock a special deck upon release if they share the demo with friends on their XBL friends list, which is a nice plus.
The retail version of NHL 11 arrives in a few short weeks, and if the demo is any indication, it has the potential of being the best hockey game that we’ve seen in years.
The H.A.W.X. 2 demo isn’t nearly as positive an experience. The first level of the demo puts you in a plane flying with the Russian military as they attempt to quell a strengthening uprising that threatens the security of the entire country. After some setup, your squadron is ambushed by the insurgents and a battle begins. The good news is that the decent dogfighting from the first game seems to be just as good here. It’s fairly exciting, and some enemies are smart enough to use their own flares and chaff to throw off your missile locks and make missile engagement tough. Sometimes, it feels a little too tough as your plane can’t always seem to get close enough for gun combat and it feels more like a chase than a dogfight… but at least it’s a moderate change of pace from the usual lock-fire-cycle target routine.
After the dogfight ends, a refueling sequence begins shortly thereafter. This is a decent idea, in theory, but the execution is all wrong. Much like in the first H.A.W.X. game, a Superman 64-like ring-flying sequence is initiated in order for you to take the “most efficient path” to the refueling plane… but the catch is that you only have 5 minutes to fly close enough to initiate the sequence, fly through the rings without making too many mistakes, then fly at a limited speed towards the refueling plane and try to dock with it. The first problem is that the ring-flying sequence is just broken here. In order to complete the refueling exercise in the allotted time, you literally have to fly through the rings with your afterburners on… and the trajectory is far from straight. Missing too any rings in a row prompts failure. If you get through that sequence, your speed is then curtailed as you have to “gradually” increase your speed to approach the refueling plane. That would be fine if time wasn’t ticking down from, say, less than a minute to go. Complicating matters is the fuel nozzle, which you have to line up with properly in order to initiate the refueling sequence. Simply put, this refueling sequence makes the frustrating one from Top Gun on the NES seem like child’s play; it’s unnecessary and should have a prompt for auto-refuel in order to maintain the pace of the game. It’s a game-breaker… and not in a good way.
The second stage puts you behind the stick of a stealth bomber in Africa as you are required to bomb a series of strategic targets from 15,000 feet. Players must activate night vision (which is a decent touch) and then take off manually. Once you reach the first waypoint, you’re given your first set of targets. After ascending to 15,000 feet, you switch to Precision mode and drop bombs on set targets from a different perspective. This sequence is a break from the norm and executes pretty well. Once those targets are dispatched, enemy helicopters must be shot down below 15,000 feet, opening your craft up to anti-aircraft and missile fire from the ground below. Bombing select targets at an airfield is your last objective before you’re instructed to return to the carrier… and land your plane.
Yes. In another scenario culled right from Konami’s Top Gun, you have to land your plane. This involves yet another round of flying through rings, as well as skillful throttle control, lowering your landing gear, and landing at the correct angle and speed. Flying through the rings is the toughest part, but not having to fly against the clock makes landing a bit easier than refueling. Once you land, the demo ends.
H.A.W.X. 2 is due to arrive around the same time as NHL 11: September 7th. It’s selling for $10 less than a standard new game, which is a plus, and the dogfighting certainly seems as good as the first game. With the addition of difficult refueling and landing sequences, however, it remains to be seen whether H.A.W.X. 2 can be a great follow-up to a game that surprised a few people last year.
Hey there, everyone! Not that my recent birthday (4/22) was a big holiday or anything, but I’m taking the rest of the week and weekend off to celebrate when I can while also working some extra karaoke events this weekend. The next update will be on Monday, April 26th.
Please feel free to take this time to check on some of my archived work here at Consoleation, as well as to supply feedback to any of the posts here. Some of you are using the 5-star rating system for posts recently, and the more feedback I see, the better I can tune my work to match up what you like to read. Any written feedback is also welcome; my e-mail address is email@example.com and I promise to reply within a day.
As always, thanks for taking the time to check in here at Consoleation, as well as for your comments, ratings, and retweets. Knowing that people are reading my work is the best birthday present I could have asked for– aside from the new PlayStation 3 I got, that is. When I return on Monday, I might have some very exciting news to share!
Lastly, before I go, I wanted to remind those of you with Xbox 360 units or PlayStation 3 units that I still have room for friends on both networks… My Xbox LIVE Gamertag is GameGuyPeter while my PSN ID is GameGuyPete. Feel free to drop me a line or an invite! In the meantime, you can keep up with shorter opinions and other nuggets of wisdom and real life via my feed on Twitter. I usually update my feed every day, touching mostly on gaming but also talk about a range of topics from karaoke to sports to even politics here and there. I’m also on Facebook, too, should you wish to drop in and see me there.
Have a great weekend, and we’ll be back on Monday!
If you’ve seen college basketball games on television, you’ve probably been witness to each team going on a “run” of sorts, when they score consecutive points while the defense shuts down the opposing team. It’s a fascinating aspect of that sport, and part of what makes an event like March Madness so popular every year. All teams go on a run at some point, usually making for exciting outcomes in games.
In the “game” between Microsoft and Sony, it’s pretty clear right now which team is on a run of its own. Sony has seen new life for the PlayStation 3 platform after a long-awaited price cut to $300 and with the runaway success of Uncharted 2, which seems by many accounts to be in the running for overall Game of the Year honors. The latest points scored in Sony’s run have been thanks to Netflix, which announced that online streaming of their Instant Queue library will be coming to the PlayStation 3 in November. This is significant because, aside from the Netflix subscription fee, there will be no additional charge for PlayStation Network users. Compare that with having to pay Microsoft’s yearly subscription fee (which I’m still bullish on seeing an increase in for 2010), and there’s one less advantage for the current HD platform leader.
Granted, there is a small caveat for PS3 owners in that they will have to use what is essentially a boot disc in order to use the streaming Netflix service, but that’s a minor inconvenience when you’re only paying as low as $9 per month and no other fees. Microsoft has gone on the record to say that the Netflix service will continue to be offered only to Gold-level Xbox Live members, while also trying to talk up some of the other “perks” that Gold members have.
Let’s stop right here for a moment.
On a personal level, I’ve been largely satisfied with my Xbox 360 experience. I’ve rarely had any connectivity issues on Xbox Live, I’ve really enjoyed what Xbox Live Arcade has had to offer, and the Netflix streaming feature has been a big plus. I’m not out to pick on Microsoft here or grind some sort of axe with them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a Michael Pachter to see that Microsoft is spinning its wheels– or even going in reverse in some areas– while Sony clearly has the momentum and seems to be making many of the correct decisions as of late. (At least with the PS3. I refuse to comment on the PSP Go “experiment”.)
What’s Microsoft doing wrong? Let’s recap:
- To fee or not to fee? While it’s still free to play and download games, demos, and videos on the PlayStation Network, it’s looking likely that Microsoft is gearing up raise its yearly fees for Xbox Live. In order to get the “full” Xbox experience right now– complete with all of the same bells and whistles that PSN users get now– consumers actually are looking at a list price of $350. That’s $300 for a console and $50 for an Xbox Live Gold subscription. (Note: I don’t want to hear about how you can buy Xbox Live sub cards for less than $50 if you look around or about how the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU is still kicking around, either.) If you consider that Microsoft is likely going to raise the yearly fee from $50, then that total cost is also going to go up in 2010, while Sony’s cost remains the same.
- Where are the big exclusives? Yes, Halo 3: ODST has moved a ton of units so far… but what else is there? Does Microsoft expect that game to have staying power against Uncharted 2 and God of War III? Where’s the big guns? There’s no Gears of War on the horizon, and Halo: Reach isn’t due for another 12 months or so. Microsoft is basically relying on Left 4 Dead 2 and Modern Warfare 2 (which is a multiplatform title) to be the big movers this holiday season. Mass Effect 2 is coming in late January, and Alan Wake and Crackdown 2 are due next spring. There’s no Microsoft answer to Sony’s new Ratchet & Clank title, or to Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. There just seems to be a lot of stagnation on Microsoft’s part, or “Wait ’til next year.”
- Features? Yeah, so? While I’ll admit that it’s something of a novelty to have Twitter and Facebook integration for Xbox Live, neither application is earth-shattering. Without a web browser, the Twitter app is half-broken because so many links are shared. The Facebook app run sluggishly and pictures show up in weird resolutions. I will say that the Last.fm application is great, but certainly doesn’t help to justify paying a yearly fee for Xbox Live Gold membership status… and now that Sony’s getting Netflix streaming, that’s a former exclusive that’s now cheaper on the other side of the fence.
- Perception is everything. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to handle the well-documented hardware failures that Xbox 360 owners constantly deal with, I can almost guarantee that a strong majority of these owners still feel their pulse race a little bit when they turn on their consoles, wondering how much time is left before the seemingly inevitable Red Rings of Death appear. Even with extended warranties and generally painless procedures to replace faulty consoles, it’s still a pretty depressing experience to have to go through and console exchanges usually do not happen overnight… leaving consumers without a console to play their games on. This perception will haunt Microsoft for the rest of the console’s life cycle. On the other side of the fence, Sony’s hardware issues with the PS3 seem minor in comparison. Sure, there is a seemingly endless parade of firmware updates that can possibly wreak havoc with the console, but it’s generally a pretty stable platform.
2010 is shaping up to be interesting for Microsoft, though. There are some solid first-party games coming that we know of already, and more are possibly under wraps. Perhaps those games, and few other features, can help Microsoft build and sustain a run of its own and tip the momentum back into its favor in the high-definition console battle. For now, though, Sony is running Microsoft up and down the court with this run they’re on, and it’s very possible that this run will carry them to a surprising showing over Microsoft for this year’s holiday season.
This year’s Tiger Woods game is set for release in mid-June, just before Father’s Day and coinciding with the US Open. The demo went up on Xbox Live (and PSN) on Thursday and I spent a bit of time with it this morning. Here are a few thoughts that I came away with:
- The Numbers Game: Finally, EA Sports seems to be getting closer to the presentation style that I prefer. Relevant stat overlays now show stats for each hole, plus there are instant updates during holes for leaderboard moves and a nice overall look to the presentation. EA has had a tendency to be lax with the stat overlays in their sports games, which has been a shame. I still use NHL ’98 on the PlayStation as a classic example of good presentation. Cutaways on players during stoppages always had relevant stats or player histories, just like you see on television. Let’s see more of this.
- Precision Putting: There’s going to be a learning curve here. EA has done away with power percentages in favor of one overall meter that you must adjust based on elevation, break, and either wet or dry green conditions. This new addition instantly makes putting more challenging, even though I think it was supposed to make it a bit easier. Perhaps the retail version will have a tutorial for this new feature, but I consistently either left putts short or overshot the hole in the demo, whereas Tiger 09 was a bit easier on the putting side of things for me.
- Tournament Challenge: This seems to be what EA is replacing the Tiger Challenge from Tiger 09 with. As far as the demo is concerned, I’m considerably less than impressed. The demo has you mirroring Woods on the 17th at Sawgrass during the 2001 Players’ Championship. In order to succeed, you must closely copy Tiger’s approach shot from the tee and his birdie putt. Oddly enough, the game does not want you to make a better approach shot than Tiger had, which was a fair distance away from the hole. I get that the Tournament Challenge is supposed to recreate scenarios of big tournaments in PGA Tour history, but I’m not a big fan of playing copycat in this instance. Hopefully the retail version’s Tournament Challenge will have a lot more to it.
- More Than Words: Not that commentary in golf is a dealbreaker, but EA’s latest announcing duo in Kelly Tillman and Scott Van Pelt is weak at best. Their roles are opposite of what they should be; Tillman is more experienced in the field and Van Pelt is a better booth announcer or anchor, yet Van Pelt is on the course and Tillman is in the booth. Why? I know that EA and ESPN have ties, but wouldn’t it be something to get Jim Nantz to do some voice work? Why hasn’t EA brought David Feherty back? Feherty did a great job mixing valid observations with humorous one-liners and made the experience fun, and he and Gary McCord worked pretty well together. I will say that Van Pelt is a step up from Sam Torrance, but who isn’t? At least EA didn’t bring Stuart Scott or Chris Berman into the booth.
- Approach Camera Woes: As part of the new visual presentation, EA has introduced some new camera angles. One that really ticks me off can be seen just after striking an approach shot to the green. Rather than a perspective based on the ball’s trajectory, we get a panned-out shot of the ball going up into the air… so you’re left wondering where the ball is headed, thus adding an element of the unknown as to whether or not to employ spin. I have no problem when this angle is used for a computer-controlled golfer to heighten the presentation value, but it impedes vision for the active player and is just annoying.
- Still The One: The gameplay controls are still largely the same as Tiger 09, which is a good thing. Applying spin and fades or draws to shots remains simple and accessible to players of all skill levels. Experienced Tiger players will likely have no problem jumping right in when the game arrives on June 16th.
- Live Tournaments: This new feature is one of the most intriguing. Play the Pros mode allows virtual duffers to play along with ongoing tournaments to see how they stack up against the actual leaderboards as real play unfolds. Imagine playing the Bethpage Black course during the US Open– with the same weather conditions– and pitting your skills against the PGA Tour… that’s what this mode aims to do. In addition, there will be daily Live Tournaments for all skill levels that challenge players to score the lowest and earn enough cash to be ranked well. It’s a great departure from simultaneous online play and this feature is the one that I’m most excited about. This feature (obviously) wasn’t playable in the demo, but is worth mentioning anyway.
There is a lot to like about what’s playable for Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 10 right now. Nitpicks aside, the new features and presentation seem to complement the solid gameplay. I’ll be looking forward to tearing into this game in a few short weeks. In the meantime, it’s back to Tiger 09 to hone my skills.