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08/12/2007 - 08/18/2007

Online Games Are Bigger Than Online Videos

August 17, 2007

I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. That's the word from a new Parks Associates study, summarized in this Next-Gen story. Only 29% of the survey respondents said that they watched short video clips online, while 34% of adults surveyed said that they played online games. No doubt casual gaming makes up a huge bulk of that traffic. For comparison, only 19% of the people surveyed said they frequent social networking sites like MySpace.

So games are big! And online gaming is growing even bigger, up 79% year-over-year. But online video is growing faster: leaping up by 123% in the same timeframe. Maybe it's me, but I think this whole 'Internet' thing is catching on.

Watching these numbers, I could come to only one conclusion: The perfect project is a video game you play on YouTube. The only problem is that someone beat me to the punch. In case you haven't seen it, allow me to introduce you to Line Rider, a crazy little flash game where you draw a line to be traversed by a teeny-tiny tobogganer.

Go ahead and try it. If you're like me, your first attempts will be either pretty dull or spectacularly violent. A game like this doesn't have a winning condition ... or does it? The unofficial official way the game is scored is by how many hits you get on YouTube. Check out the video above, set to music. Hell, just do a YouTube Search for Line Rider. It's almost hypnotic. I had to pick up my jaw after watching this one. This one is just silly. This one is epic. And you gotta love this.

I'm working on my own Line Rider short film, tentatively titled: "Dude falls off a loop-the-loop and then slams into a wall like he was shot from a rocket." It's still got a few kinks to work out (the beginning, middle, and end) but I'm seeing big things in my future. Have a great weekend!

Posted by at 9:22 AM PDT

BioShock: The Game That Almost Wasn't

August 16, 2007

I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. BioShock is all over the news right now -- PC gamers can reserve the BioShock demo for automatic download here at FilePlanet, and X360 gamers can download it from Marketplace. Console gamers might have already gotten the game thanks to an early retail release, and if you want to be the first to play it on the PC you can pre-order it now from Direct2Drive for direct download.

But this eagerly-anticipated game -- a show award winner every time it was demonstrated at E3 -- almost never happened. For a long time publishers didn't want it. Yes, I'm being serious! In a recent Computer and Videogames interview, senior designer Joe McDonagh talked about how BioShock creator Ken Levine struggled to convince publishers that BioShock was worth their time.

BioShock is coming!

As hardcore PC gamers remember, BioShock is a kind of spiritual successor to System Shock II. Although the shooter was critically-acclaimed and highly-reviewed, it nonetheless didn't sell well. That made potential publishers wary. One publisher reportedly described BioShock as "just another f-ing PC FPS that's going to sell 250,000 units." McDonagh learned a lot about the publishing business during this time, and the mindset of the decision-makers: "You don't get fired for not taking risks," he explained to CVG. "Something I realized very quickly was that as much as your boss won't ever know that you turned down a future game of the year, he will know that you signed up a turkey..." "That kind of mentality is driving the industry into a creative cul-de-sac."

This frustration points out one of the basic problems with the games industry versus other entertainment. Games are an activity, and frequently that activity isn't 'fun' until all the pieces are in place and the final coat of polish is on the title. That's not necessarily true for other forms of entertainment. When authors shop around a novel, they usually send around the first three chapters and a summary of what's to follow -- book publishers can judge the quality of the writing and see the overall story arc and they can come to a pretty solid conclusion about the quality of the final book. Similarly, movie studios line up a script and usually actors before greenlighting a project; it's not fool-proof, as most box office turkeys will attest, but at least they can see exactly what story they're getting.

With games, it's not so easy. Publishers can see an engine demo, although the engine won't run as smoothly as it will years later when the game will be released. Hopefully they can see a piece of the gameplay, but not always (especially for MMOs!). They can read the 'script' -- the game's story and what levels the player will encounter. But will it be fun? How can you judge the quality of an activity by reading a design document? A lot of guesswork is involved.

That's yet another reason why publishers are gun-shy about investing in games that aren't copying off of proven gameplay or being built by teams with proven sales records. It ain't pretty. Although, at least in the case of BioShock, one publisher -- Take2 -- was smart enough to take the risk!

Posted by at 10:46 AM PDT

Today in Games Research: Gamers Get Social, Nintendo to Triumph

August 15, 2007

I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. Today's dive through the headlines brings up two interesting pieces of research. First up, a study from Nottingham Trent University reports that gamers are extremely social. This comes as no surprise to me -- I regularly host LAN parties. In costume. And even I still have friends.

The study polled 1000 gamers from around the world and dug up all kinds of interesting facts and figures...

  • More than 30 percent of participants found themselves attracted to another player.
  • 40 percent choose to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life friends.
  • One in five participants believed that MMORPGs had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player, while more than two-thirds felt they had a positive effect on their relationships with those who did play.
  • Females were significantly more likely than males to be attracted to other players, and were far more likely to go on to date them.
  • Most females gave 'therapeutic refreshment' as their main reason for playing, whereas most males stated 'curiosity, astonishment and interest' as reasons.
  • Roughly one third of gamers reported they could be 'more themselves' in the game than in real life.
Young gnomes in love.
30% of survey participants were attracted to other players online.

So, if you're looking for the hook-ups, I suggest that you start mackin' on your WoW homies. Just be sure to judge people for themselves, and not by the hawtness of their avatar -- if that was the case, I'd hit on my entire Lineage II guild. The complete report will be published in CyberPsychology and Behavior, but you can read more findings.

In other news, French research firm ReportLinker has released an extensive study of the videogame market. A (very) brief summary is available online, and that's where I spotted this little gem:

As a fallout of the changing scenario, it is likely that by the year 2008, video game console market will be evenly divided between the Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony consoles, with Nintendo taking the lead beyond 2008.
Having not read the voluminous report in its entirety, I can't vouch for how accurate their findings might be or how they came to that particular conclusion. I will point out that every month new analysis seems to prematurely crown the winner of this generation of consoles, and it's always shifting. Just a couple of months ago analysts predicted the PS3 would ultimately emerge victorious. In my opinion, this holiday will probably define the rest of the race: all three systems have gotten a chance to strut their stuff. Is the Wii a fad? Can Microsoft maintain momentum? Can Sony shift into high gear? Personally I think no, yes, and maybe. But this will be the defining year.

Posted by at 9:42 AM PDT
Edited on: August 15, 2007 10:01 AM PDT

Miyamoto Wants Us to Have Fun

August 14, 2007

I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. "I think the future is games that are not difficult and yet very fun to play," Shigeru Miyamoto explained to Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. (Thanks to this Next-Gen story for the translation).

Miyamoto is wrestling with the changing tone of the games market. For years console sales have been dominated by what you'd call "hardcore" games, aimed at life-long gamers who enjoy the challenge of mastering progressively difficult titles. But following that trend year after year only ends up shrinking the audience -- and nowhere is that felt more than in Japan, where a low birthrate means that there are less and less kids coming into the marketplace who want to dedicate dozens of hours to mastering a single title.

It was just one jump too many...
It was just one jump too many...

Nintendo's answer to the problem has been to redefine game consoles and how you interact with them. The Wii and the DS are bringing casual players to the videogame market in droves, enjoying simple games or activities like Brain Age or Wii Sports. But what about the 'core' gamers, who love a good Mario game? That's what concerns Miyamoto. And his answer is to focus on the fun. "There is no point in making a difficulty level the fun factor of a game," he told Famitsu. Will this make games too easy to play? Will it turn away the hardcore? Maybe and maybe not. Miyamoto points out that most hardcore gamers are enjoying casual games anyway; he believes that the core gaming audience will embrace games that are easy to play so long as the mechanics are still fun. That's his goal with Mario Galaxy.

I gotta back up Miyamoto from my own personal experience. I rushed out to buy Mario Sunshine on day one. The early levels had the same simple joy of exploration as classics like Mario 64. But before long the worlds got increasingly difficult, twitchy, and unforgiving. One level in particular consisted of nothing but a giant firebird soaring in the sky, made entirely of blocks of sand. As I walked on each block, it dissolved and disappeared, making my job of getting eight coins before the bird dissolved and I fell to my death all the more difficult. While I was busy pulling my hair out over this puzzle, the bird turned, dumping me to my death unless I managed to walk along its side or something. This was insane. After my fortieth or fiftieth death I realized: I'm just not having fun. The game was just too ... difficult. And don't even get me started on Ninja Gaiden.

I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but hearing that Miyamoto is taking the Mario franchise in the direction of simple fun gave me the warm fuzzies. Does that make me weak?

Check out IGN's Hands-on with Super Mario Galaxy or GameSpy's Hands-On. We've also got a whole directory of high-res downloadable videos here at FilePlanet.

Posted by at 10:43 AM PDT

User Created Content: The Latest Wave

August 13, 2007

I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. I probably don't need to be telling you this, because you've been downloading Quake Mods or Battlefield maps for over ten years. But get this: "User-created content" is the wave of the future.

That's the word from Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, speaking as the keynote of the Edinburgh Interactive Festival this week. "The goal is really to make sure our consumers become creators," he says. Guillemot explained that Ubisoft has a secret project in the works to empower gamers to make their own content -- and even port it across platforms.

Of course, those of us who've been downloading user-made content since the DOOM days tend to be pretty hard-core. What makes Ubisoft's message interesting is that it's intended for the mainstream. The idea is for everyone to feel empowered to make game content, and for it to be easy to share. This message is resonating across the whole industry right now, from the easy-to-use creature editor of EA's Spore to the interactive level design of Sony's LittleBigPlanet.

Microsoft has probably invested the most into empowering gamers to create content. And not just levels or mods, but whole games from scratch, stepping stones leading from your garage into a career as a professional game designer. Microsoft has just revealed XNA Game Studio 2.0, which combines the amateur and professional versions of the product into a single toolset, allowing anyone willing to play around with code to create Xbox 360 games. Another nifty feature of 2.0 is that it works with Xbox Live, so amateur developers will be able to try their hand at building voice chat and other features into their titles. 2.0 is expected later this year.

So there you have it. The future is you.

By the way, if you're serious about making games, check out a site we've had in development for some time now: ModCenter.com! IGN has created a set of tools to help you get together with your team and create the ultimate mods or indie games. Expect to hear more in the coming weeks...

Posted by at 12:13 PM PDT
Edited on: August 13, 2007 12:23 PM PDT

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