IGN: A Conflict of Interests?

I’ve been thinking about the recent announcement of IGN’s new software to allow developers to deploy advertising into games as an additional revenue stream (press release), both for the developer and IGN themselves. There’s been a lot said about the implications of this for IGN’s credibility as an independent news source, as if they’re set to make more money on a game with their software in it will the editorial team be encouraged to inflate their scores even more than they sometimes do? I’m not even mentioning the issues with advertising in games becoming increasingly overt to the point of annoyance, and we all know how invidious IGN’s advertising on their site can be.

Advertising, or rather product placement in games is nothing new but what this technology will allow, in addition to Steam-style automatic content serving, is for your year-old game to suddenly start showing ads for the latest Hollywood movie or a new title from the developer. This has good points (more money for developers as costs rise) and bad points (why am I getting advertising in a product I just paid £40 for?) like any advertising system and whether or not IGN will be as overzealous with their in-game advertising remains to be seen, but the implications for them as a source of reputable games journalism can’t be ignored.

I frequent many message boards around the Internet (including IGN’s) and it’s absolutely inevitable that any reference to an IGN review will bring immediate jokes about inflated scores and payoffs from developers for a few extra points. I don’t know about the veracity of the claims although I will say that they do have a tendancy to rate higher than other sources, but it surely can’t help a poor reputation to actually have a financial interest in the success of the games that you’re recommending to people. It’s expected of official magazines but an independent source should remain independent from what they report on. Even if the involvement is purely nominal and the editorial teams are not impacted, there is already evidence that IGN sales have more control than they should. Just look at this post concerning the dismissal of Dave Smith from former IGN PS2 editor Dave Zdyrko:

“I foresaw Smith getting the boot some day because of constant complaining by the sales department with regard to his reviews costing us ad deals. I even overheard a certain executive in sales say in the bathroom that he couldn’t understand why we still had him on staff.”

I’ll certainly be watching the coverage of any games that contain this new advertising technology.

Sweet Irony

We’ve known for a while that the Xbox 360 is running on IBM’s PowerPC architecture, the same as you’ll find in Macs, but I guess the notion that the easiest way for Microsoft to ship some alpha development kits out to developers would be to use Power Mac G5s escaped me. You have to admit that it’s a funny image to see Macs, complete with big Apple logos on the sides, with Microsoft labels and “Xenon” branding (English coverage on Kotaku and Engadget). I’ve heard that Microsoft has been known to lift from Apple but this takes the cake…

How To Make a Good Kids’ Game

I’ve honestly lost count of the number of times that an insipid and distinctly average 3D platformer with a crappy anthropomorphic mascot has tried to excuse itself based on the fact that “it’s a kids’ game”. It’s as if they think kids are too vacuous to play anything that could actually be considered decent and so think it’s better to patronise them with some half-baked tat that only the most moronic would enjoy than to make something that is actually a good game (in that you don’t have to be on Valium enjoy it) but is accessible enough for kids to play.

Arguably Nintendo are the masters of doing that but, once in a while, someone else will manage to press all the right buttons and come out with something fun for all ages. Lego Star Wars is one of those games.

Lego Star Wars

It’s a fairly gimmicky concept and it can spoil much of Revenge of the Sith for you, but the developers haven’t made the mistake of taking themselves too seriously – characters fall into pieces of Lego brick when you kill them and some artistic licence has been taken with certain events to good comic effect, and the simple controls combined with wealth of playable characters with their own attacks and special abilities manage to be simple enough for young children but provide enough variety for the Star Wars buffs who won’t be able to resist it to enjoy. The characters fall into basic categories within which they all control similarly (with the notable exception of Yoda I defy you to spot the differences between the Jedi) but each one has its own animations and idiosyncrasies, and the forced (no pun intended) interaction with different types of character keep things interesting.

The game isn’t long by any means but in an effort to keep players coming back it has the obligatory collectables to encourage replays (unlocking characters and parts of larger Star Wars Lego kits, for example). I can’t really see it bringing most people back far beyond the time it takes to go through the main game but when the game is probably a lot better than the main movie tie-in will be and they’ve infused it with this much charm it’s hard not to like. They’ve put it out for a cheaper price than normal (£29.99) and if you’re looking for some simple fun or something to entertain the kids you can’t go wrong with it.

The Mystery of FIFA Street

Guardian Unlimited is running an excellent article on FIFA Street as a microcosm of EA itself which you can find here. I’ve made my feelings clear about EA on many occasions and Keith Stuart has echoed many of my own feelings in a very insightful article. It possibly shows how the reviewers of games might not have as much influence over whether or not a game succeeds as we like to think we do.

Alienware Does Star Wars

I’m not the biggest fan of the old prebuilt PCs because I think they’ve overpriced and often lock people into proprietary hardware, and Alienware are one of the worst offenders in the first area at least. They also have the most hideous cases that I’ve ever seen, and when you lose on substance (not saying they don’t have power, but not as much as they make out) and have aesthetics against you there’s not a lot going in your favour. Still, they get some nice exclusive technology and are certainly better than the Dell’s of the world.

Anyway, the purpose of this wasn’t to bash Alienware but to draw attention to this, a rare thing of beauty from them. Those monstrosities of cases are horrible, but making anything black and slapping the Death Star on the side of it will improve it infinitely. It still wouldn’t make me buy one but if anyone wants to buy one for me you’re quite welcome.