Tag Archives: Journalism

Game good, DRM bad

The furore over SimCity’s always-online DRM has been inescapable over the last few days. EA has joined Activision (via Blizzard) in spectacularly failing at launching a major new game with mandatory online functionality, hopefully casting doubt over the future of the approach when titans with such deep pockets can’t make it work.

People are understandably upset, and it’s led to a predictable outcry aimed at media outlets who haven’t factored such technical issues and consumer-unfriendly DRM into their scores. Reviewers are out of touch, the argument goes, because they get to play these games without paying for them, in conditions where the authentication servers are nowhere near capacity, with a PR team on the other end of the phone who’ll bend over backwards to fix any issues, lest the critic have anything other than a stellar experience.

I’m siding with the reviewers here, though. And I think Polygon was wrong to change the score on its review.

That said, I’m not defending this form of DRM. It’s shit, and it’s a practice that shouldn’t continue. If the rumours about the next Xbox requiring a constant Internet connection and so effectively doing this across the board – and as good as Xbox Live is, it can’t be said that it’s been immune from capacity issues – are true, it’ll put my investment in the console in doubt.

But the quality of the game and the DRM are separate issues. The fact that its DRM is overzealous doesn’t make SimCity a bad game any more than the fact that I can’t rip my Blu-ray to watch the movie on my iPad makes Wreck-It Ralph a bad movie. That argument would be ridiculous in film criticism, but when writing about games it seems to be a common opinion. Maybe, if games are art, we need to separate the reviews of the game from the program, as a DVD review would award separate scores for the movie and the AV quality.

It all comes back to an argument I’ve made before that people want consumer advice, not reviews. A list of features and a number at the end, being careful not to rate it anything that might affect the Metacritic score too negatively.

When all this is ironed out and SimCity becomes reliable and playable, it will be a 8, 9, 10, or whatever score you think it’s worth. And since it’ll be the same game as everyone’s trying to play now, so it should always be.

Back on the Sidelines

Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that, as far as gaming is concerned, a couple of weeks ago I returned to civilian life. I spent a good decade trying to get into the gaming media and, after doing my stint on the fringes, I’ve moved on.

There were a number of reasons, some of which I won’t talk about in public any time soon, but I’d been unhappy for a while and seized the opportunity to move on when it came along. Coinciding with Doritosgate was purely accidental, although that does act as a neat summation of several things I got tired of seeing on a daily basis.

The main problem, though, was that I could see myself rapidly burning out on gaming, especially when I looked at what was – or rather wasn’t – on the horizon for this year and next. If a gamer with as much history, as much investment as me was getting tired of it, a field as under pressure as the print media isn’t the place to be. Since taking a step back from gaming, no longer spending all day surrounded by games at work and struggling to work up the enthusiasm to play them for fun once I got home, I’ve actually found myself wanting to play games, digging out some old favourites, rebuying some long lost classics and generally wallowing in the nostalgia.

It’s amazing what not being forced to read the third breathtakingly dull ‘preview’ based on a single GTA V screenshot of the month does for one’s interest in the medium. Now the prospect of new consoles is something to be excited about rather than the herald of poorly researched speculative news stories and crossed fingers that they’ll hurry up because a magazine is a hard enough sell these days without mere scraps to work with.

So I now spend my days in commercial software development, where I’m at Decoded Solutions in Bournemouth. Things won’t change here, though, as this will remain my primary outlet for talking about gaming, which I hope will once again sit firmly atop the list of my great passions. In fact, I aim to write a lot more on here, as I now have no professional stake in games and am not contracted anywhere.

“Freedom!” and all that.

1UP No More

1UP Yours

It’s not unusual to see companies disappearing in this current financial climate and my thoughts are with anyone whose Christmas bonus included a P45, so it’s quite strange that the casualty that has disappointed me the most is actually one that may now be more financially secure. The 1UP Network will continue after its purchase from the ailing Ziff-Davis, but Hearst hasn’t bought its soul.

Cheesy as that may sound, the closure of EGM is the end of an era. While it may not resonate quite as much outside the US, I used to import it back in the day and would always look forward to the latest issue, late and with an inflated price – just like UK games at the time, then. I remember features like a guide to imports that became my bible in the late 90s, and EGM’s cover feature was the first thing I ever read about the original Xbox, which blew me away with its tales of custom soundtracks and built-in hard drives. I remember the short-format reviews, which I still infinitely prefer to some bloated four-pager from any of the big websites at the moment. It was unfailingly exciting to get the Christmas issues, which were a good centimetre thick.

Of course, it was equally mind-blowing just how many ads were in it relative to the content, but we mustn’t speak ill of the dead.

What I’ll miss more than anything, though, is the podcasts and video shows. 1UP Yours has been a permanent fixture on my iPod since the epic of E3 2006, seeing me through countless walks home from work, and The 1UP Show and Retronauts have been there for almost as long. Continue reading 1UP No More

You Can’t Spell Ignorant Without IGN

IGN UK’s Football Manager 2009 review:

“FM09 is still easily the most in-depth, enjoyable and addictive way to pretend you manage a football team. When you have a formula as compulsively successful as this, one that guarantees you top the PC best-sellers list year on year, it’s churlish to suggest reckless tinkering for the sake of it.”

9.1 – Outstanding

IGN US’s Worldwide Soccer Manager 2009 review:

“I couldn’t imagine why anybody would prefer Worldwide Soccer Manager to FIFA 09 or Pro Evolution Soccer 2009.”

“Yes, the depth of management in this game is impressive. But, it’s not impressive enough to make up for the fact that you aren’t actually playing soccer.”

2.0 – Terrible

[For those who don’t know, Worldwide Soccer Manager is the name of the Football Manager series in the US.]

The above almost doesn’t require any comment, such is its ridiculousness. I admit to being no particularly big fan of the Football Manager series, even as a football fan, but I can still recognise that it’s a great game that fans get a massive amount of enjoyment from. Given my perspective on the series I certainly wouldn’t volunteer myself as a reviewer since it would be impossible for me to give a decent appraisal, but if I found myself forced into it my first task would be to understand the massive popularity of the series and try to review it on that basis.

That US review is just unbelievable, though. You’d think the guy would have twigged during one of the numerous references to how it was for hardcore “soccer” fans that it’s for hardcore “soccer” fans, and yet he still not only reviewed it but went on to give it an incredibly bad score, usually reserved for games that are downright broken. Why would anyone play it over FIFA or PES? Why would anyone play Command & Conquer over Ghost Recon, then? I’m almost tempted to start a campaign for the same guy to review Halo Wars, just to see if he shits out a page of nonsense asking why you’d play it when Halo 3 was on the market.

Seriously, this is reason #264,996 why games ‘journalism’ isn’t taken seriously by anyone except games ‘journalists’. Fuck me…

Proof That the Daily Mail Ruins Everything

I’ve been mystified about how the current controversy over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s comments on the radio have been blown out of all proportion. What started as an admittedly crude but funny joke that was probably always going to provoke an apology somehow escalated into an official comment from the Prime Minister, debate in Parliament, the suspension of the presenters involved, talk of police involvement, and ultimately the resignation of Russell Brand.

But it was when I read this timeline that it became apparent who was responsible: my arch-nemesis, the Daily Mail. As if we needed more proof that it ruins everything…

Daily Mail Nazis

What struck me is that when the controversial call in question was aired there were two complaints out of 400,000 listeners, and those were over the language (exact quote: “He fucked your granddaughter!”). Being that it was late on a Saturday night and also that there’s no fixed watershed for radio anyway, those complaints wouldn’t have been upheld.

But when it was reported in the Mail five days later complaints flood in, eventually reaching 27,000 at the time of writing… eleven days after it was broadcast. Clearly those people didn’t listen to it – the most they could have done is downloaded the podcast episode by choice – so why on earth are they wasting time complaining? Could it be another pile-on when the Mail smells blood in the water after someone on the BBC does something controversial? Hmm…

Daily Mail Aryans

Admittedly there’s the argument about the licence fee and people objecting to ‘their’ money being used on this stuff, but I object to my money being used for assorted BBC shows, for different reasons, to be fair, including Strictly Come Dancing, Last Choir Standing, just about any other talent/singing/music show, Songs of Praise, and more. You know what I do? I don’t watch them and I certainly don’t lodge complaints having not seen them. Crazy, I know.

I heard the prank call in question on the podcast last week and thought it was funny, if possibly a bit tasteless, but you hardly listen to Russell Brand for insightful political discourse, do you? With any luck he’ll find a slot online or on satellite radio where the technological barrier keeps out the busybodies.

Giles Whittell Attacks Gamers, Loses

The Internet never fails to amuse me with its funny way of delivering retribution, from the Xbox 360 thief who ended up with his whole identity posted online to that ongoing battle between Scientology and Anonymous (both as nuts as each other). It’s like it’s a big instrument of karma, capable of great solidarity when it’s not calling you a ‘faggot’ on Xbox Live.

The latest victim is a Times journalist, Giles Whittell. In a recent column, he says:

“I hate video games, on or offline. I hate the way they suck real people into fake worlds and hold on to them for decades at a time. I hate being made to feel hateful for saying so, and I hate being told to immerse myself in them before passing judgment, because it feels like being told to immerse myself in smack and teenage pregnancy before passing judgment on them.

Maybe I’m editorialising, but I think that can be translated as: “I’ve made my mind up, and I shouldn’t have to inform my opinion.” Don’t even get me started on that utterly ridiculous equation that he makes. Good journalism, then.

Thankfully, the wrath of Internet gamers has been both swift and (occasionally) witty. Giles Whittell has written several books, which are available on Amazon (I’m posting some of the reviews below so as to avoid having to publicise the books by linking to them), and Amazon has the handy feature of allowing people to post reviews, whether or not the readers have immersed themselves in the book. Let the games commence:

[On ‘Spitfire Women of World War II’] “Reading this book, it’s clear the author researched this book without immersing himself in the topic. He has clearly never been near a spitfire, World War II or indeed women.”

“I can say that, without a doubt, this is the most colossal waste of time I have ever partaken in. And, in the true style of the author, I didn’t even have to read it to make that judgement. I’ll get back to my smack now.”

“First off, I can’t really claim to have read this book. To be honest I don’t think I need to in order to pass judgement on it. No, let me go further, I find it quite dispicable that Giles Whittel would expect me to read this worthless, time consuming book before expressing my opinions on it. Without reading it I can already tell that Central Asia isn’t worth my time.”

“I tried to read this book, on more than one occasion, but my brain is fried from all the crack, and I’m tired all the time from my teenage pregnancy. I wish I would have involved myself in something safe like video games, I guess it is to late for that now…”

“I’ve never been to Central Asia nor have I read this book, But luckly we dont need to in order to pass judgment on it. This book is full of lies such as Asia being located north of Canada and that all Polar bears are from Asia. If you enjoyed wasting your time with Crack and getting teens pregnant then this is the book for you!”

Given that the reviewers have as much experience with Whittell’s books as he does with games, that must make them just as relevant. Oh, how I love the Internet…