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[News] [Analysis] The F2P Storm: Blizzard, Valve and the sudden rise of microtransaction games June 29, 2011

Posted by Colin in News.
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Says everything you need to know right?

Blizzard seems to be doing its best to enable former (and soon-to-be) World of Warcraft addicts. Starting today, WoW is free to play up to level twenty. The new “World of Warcraft Starter Edition” lets anyone with an internet connection and a Battle.net account log onto the 7-year-old MMORPG, but with a few restrictions. Starter accounts are limited to ten gold, cannot trade in auction houses or join guilds, and take lower priority in login queues than full accounts (full FAQ here).

But Blizzard has not been alone in announcing free-to-play updates for their games. Valve announced last Thursday that their class-based slaughterfest Team Fortress 2 would now be completely free to play. Obviously this move puts more emphasis on Valve’s Steam Wallet, a handy little feature that shipped with last September’s Mann-conomy update that allows players to create a steam-exclusive paypal account. Players can use these funds to purchase games through Steam or, more importantly, for microtransactions.

A trend has developed in which companies are trying the free-to-play and microtransaction business models. Many gamers remember the period following WoW’s initial release, when the MMORPG market opened up and imitators flooded in, trying to cash in on Blizzard’s now-billion dollar model which includes the monthly subscription pay structure. City of Heroes did it, and as of June 20 announced they would be implementing the City of Heroes: Freedom subscription model sometime in 2011. Dungeons and Dragons Online originally charged a monthly subscription, but switched to its unlimited “freemium” version in 2009.

Seven years after WoW’s release and Blizzard is still on top of the market, while the imitators have had to switch. But the funny thing about microtransaction in video games, especially MMOs, is that it’s profitable. No, it’s not as profitable as Blizzard’s addictive cash cow, but it’s enough for studios to stay afloat and offer WoW alternatives. And it’s clear that over the past seven years, companies have learned that as long as WoW still holds millions of subscribers (and growing,) a “WoW alternative” is all they can offer. There are no “WoW Killers” – not even Warhammer Online, which has allowed unlimited free play (until level ten) since 2009.

At the moment, World of Warcraft boasts twelve million subscribers, each paying $11-$15 per month. For that kind of money, Blizzard has been smart enough to deliver the complete MMORPG experience – the type that people lose their free time and spare change to enjoy. Simply put, WoW is an investment in both time and money, an investment that millions of people enjoy on a regular basis. Of course sometimes players burn out and get sick of the grind.

Sometimes they even switch to another game, but most of them end up coming back – if not for the game, then for the community the game has created. And while this community may be laden with spammers and jerks, the guild and party loyalty within the game is so strong that players who leave end up feeling guilty about the people they’re letting down. Check out this old Joystiq article (and the links therein) for examples of players feeling bad for not helping their guilds.

A gaming experience as pervasive as WoW does not leave room for seconds, especially not when a monthly fee is involved. Thus, microtransacions have become more popular and it is here that Valve has really stepped up its game. The week before Team Fortress 2 went free, Valve offered up a hardy selection of five Free-to-Play games on their Steam client. Here is a brief rundown of each:

Spiral Knights – an adorable top-down dungeon crawler from Three Rings and Sega that takes art cues from Ian McConville, whose artwork you might recognize from the webcomic Three Panel Soul.

Forsaken World – A World of Warcraft clone with generic fantasy characters in a generic fantasy setting. However, publisher Perfect World demonstrates some considerable influence from Eastern MMOs in character designs:

This is a Dwarf. Could you tell?

Champions Online: Free for All – The revamped, microtransaction based version of Cryptic Studios’ Champions Online. Cryptic is the same studio that brought us City of Heroes and City of Villains, which was dropped by Atari and more recently acquired by Perfect World. The game itself has added a lot of content since its release in 2009, and offers a large number of options for character and nemesis creation.

Global Agenda: Free Agent – the free-to-play version of the class-based sci-fi third-person shooter that quietly debuted in February of 2010. Like all these titles (except Spiral Knights) it wasn’t free to play at release. The class system in the game pulls heavily from the Team Fortress model of class balance, minus five classes. A full breakdown is available here.

Alliance of Valliant Arms – Another class-based shooter but set in more modern times. A.V.A uses the Unreal Engine 3 and rekindles the East vs. West tensions of the cold war, but with the European Union v. the Neo-Russian Federation. Unlike other class-based shooters, A.V.A. sports only three playable classes, forcing players to think more strategically about class choice in the heat of the moment.

Altogether, these games represent a wide spectrum of play styles (okay, maybe only RPG and Shooter) that have embraced the F2P model for online gaming. Valve has opened the door for its 30 million steam subscribers to browse cheap, free-to-play games and Blizzad has responded in kind. It seems that a bidding war has begun, and as companies continue to lower the pay wall, more people will get online – Just look at Team Fortress 2, which just supplanted Counterstrike as the most played game on Steam.

Of course none of these are “WoW Killers,” although the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Old Republic may loosen Blizzard’s grasp on MMORPGs. But as time goes on it seems more likely the great WoW behemoth will simply die of old age.

[News] [Analysis] Supreme Court knocks out California video game law June 27, 2011

Posted by Colin in News.
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In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court upheld an appeal to California Civil Code sections 1746-1746.5, which banned the sale of violent video games to minors (read the technical version here). The case (now known as Brown v. EMA) has been awaiting resolution since last November, when the State of California and the Entertainment Merchant’s Association presented their arguments.

The discussion, which you can listen to or read here, came down to an argument of definitions: are violent video games obscene? Or, more astutely, does violence qualify as obscenity?

Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the court’s opinion, stating:

“Our cases have been clear that the obscenity exception to the First Amendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of ’sexual conduct.” Under Miller v. California (1973) the Supreme Court ruled that ‘obscenity’ (a particular type of unprotected speech) refers to specifically sexual content – not violent content, as the California law proposed.

This is the seventh such law banning violent video games to be struck down in the United States, but the first to make it all the way to the Supreme Court. The full text of the Supreme Court decision is available here (.pdf)

The decision seems to extend (or at least solidify) First Amendment protection for video games. 2011 has been a banner year for video games: in May, the National Endowment for the Arts rewrote its guidelines for the Arts in Media category, allowing video games to qualify for grants.

Roger Ebert is not pleased

Could it be that video games are gaining ground as a “serious” medium? With increasing publicity and legislation, it is easy to hope so. Plus, consider the facts: Americans spent over 25 billion dollars on video games in 2010. The average age of a gamer is now 37. This could be the start of a bright new future for the medium…

*Sigh* ... Just... NEVER MIND

SEGA Remembers Love! Dreamcast Revival! June 10, 2010

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DreamcastPAL

Something is happening this E3. Companies are seemingly revealing everything before hand. It’s like seeing Christmas presents before “Santa” comes and trespasses into your home when you are sleeping. Anyway, SEGA announced this morning that this Fall, in celebration for the 11th anniversary for the beloved but sadly looked-over Sega Dreamcast console that they will release Dreamcast games on Xbox Live and Playstation Network coming this fall!

www.kotaku.com

www.kotaku.com
Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi are the first games to come out in the Fall followed by many others! The new releases will have enhanced visuals and audio as well as leader boards and everyone’s favorite – Achievements and Trophies.

The official quote is as follows –

“The Dreamcast is fondly remembered by a large community of dedicated fans as a console that was ahead of its time in terms of graphics, quality and online gaming” said Haruki Satomi, VP of Digital Business at SEGA of America and SEGA Europe. “There are few things that are more requested from us than making Dreamcast classics available for download in today’s digital market place. We’re very excited to begin offering gamers our beloved Dreamcast titles again on the current console systems.”

SEGA, Do NOT screw this up!

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chuchu 188533655be774114daeb44697502755-Grandia_II Seaman

Whoa Hey – I’m back with a cool song June 8, 2010

Posted by eboku in News.
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 Game Title Screenshot

Hey Everyone! Sorry about the lack of material over the past few days. BaconSamurai and I have been pre-occupied creating a short movie for New York City’s 48 hour film festival. When the online version is available it is something we want to share with all of you because its something we are very proud of.

Yeah, we make movies.  Life can’t ALL be about gaming right?

Anyway, the big news today is that Apple released all the info on the new upcoming iPhone 4. You can read all about it at Engadget! The guy that wrote Final Fantasy VII is convinced that Apple will begin to takeover the handheld market–Are things about to get real?

The info and pics are out – and it looks sexy. As an 3G owner I’ve been very happy with the device and there and I feel there IS potential as a serious gaming tool from both commercial entities like Capcom/Square and for more indie companies. Games like Zenonia, Chaos Rings, Rolando, Mechowars, Plants Vs Zombies and the recently released Robot Unicorn Attack show the device can provide fun on the go. Now the phone is being upgraded with some serious hardware advancements (960×640 screen, A4 Processer – yes please!) I can see developers having more space to be creative with. Combined with this and the new gaming centric “Xbox Live” feature coming into the iOS4 Apple is making a serious push into the gaming front. Yes, I know. Face buttons. I love them too.

The phone will be out June 24th at $199, this blogger is sold.

Oh, and the Nintendo 3DS gets its official reveal at E3 next week. I love June, it’s when every company announces shiny things that demand money. And games too. Lots of games. I like games.

—-

Anyway, I’ll leave you all with this new OCRemix that was posted, by Halc and chthonic!  This is a remix of the credits music from Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I feel that game had one of the most complete awe-inspiring endings for an epic video game such as this one.

Like it? grab it here!

Here is the original ending. The ending is divided up into two parts, the remix itself is of the credits sequence after all the story parts are wrapped up. It’s beautiful, I feel like game developers today can learn something from this.

A perfect ending to a perfect game.

Alright kids, I’m out.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things May 26, 2010

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KANEDA!!!!

Whoa hey, I come back from work and it looks like the internet is exploding with news! First we get insomniac breaking away from exclusive first party Sony support, Rock Band 3 teaser image (see below!) and then a massive exodus of key Microsoft employees.

Did I miss anything?

I’m enjoying the hell out of Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Seriously if you own a Wii console, you owe it to yourself to own this game. They essentially took every positive gameplay element of the original Super Mario Galaxy, streamlined it and gave it a new level design that essentially speaks to you while making it more challenging. I just made it into world 4 and I’m having a blast with it.

So before I go back to the game, I wanted to share a webcomic I was just introduced to – Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. Its a parody on “tough guy” video game stereotypes trying to function in the real world. I love it, Check it out.

Although nothing will be as manly as Jack’s Jump-Punch on the series finale of LOST.

CONFIRMED: Love Blooms on the Battlefield May 22, 2010

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hideo_kojima

Hideo Kojima. Some people love him, some people hate him, some people love to hate him and others think he’s just completely insane. I love him personally, He brought me Metal Gear, Snatchers and is giving a hand in what may be the first great 3D Castlevania game.

hideo

Well for many of us, he provided some of the most memorable gaming experiences the past decade of giving us quality games that constantly push the envelope on the systems he works on while delivering insane storylines and lovable characters with tear jerking endings that make you feel hollow even days after its over.

GO3-Kojima-pic1

Well you can meet the man behind the curtain if you live or are willing to travel to the New York or LA areas!

New York City – Friday, June 11
Uniqlo SOHO from 12pm-2pm
546 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Best Buy Union Square from 6pm-8pm
1 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003

Los Angeles – Sunday June 13th
GameStop from 11am-1pm
1000 Universal Studios Blvd.
Universal City, CA 91608

We here at the Pixelation Room are planning to attend one of the New York events being as we well, live there. Word has it that there will be Peace Walker shirts!

Admit It, You Still Care; Pokemon Black/White Starters Revealed May 21, 2010

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Alright, don’t lie. While around your friends you might say “Ugh, they’re still making those games? There are too many!”, you still care about Pokemon Black and White. Maybe it’s the snappy titles, or the 3D graphic upgrade. You can be honest with us here.

So we’d like to introduce you (As other sites seem a little “too cool” to bring you them), the starting Pokemon for Black and White. Let’s see; we’ve got a smug looking grass jerk (Looks like he just stepped out of a fancy bar in LA), some fiery boar who looks ecstatic to have been created, and a horribly depressed…. otter thing? Maybe he’s sad because he looks like Piplup’s ugly cousin.

In addition to this, the first video footage from the game has started leaking out of Japanese television (Which, I have to say, looks far more entertaining than American TV). Not only do we get to see these guys in action, but we also get a sneak peak of how the new 3D environments will look. Check out the video below to see some nifty new battle animations, the game’s protagonist (who apparently has no regard for other human beings), and proof that Japanese TV is awesome.

Big Sonic the Hedgehog 4 News! May 20, 2010

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photo-m

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode One has been… delayed!

But it’s ok, look at the new trailer!

I’m a little upset and relieved at the news. The official SEGA blog has just let out that the game that was supposed to be available in early summer has just revealed that the game will be released in the latter half of this year. The official reasoning is that SEGA “extended” development time to “ensure the best Sonic experience possible”.

As an official “Sonic Apologist” – the past 6 or 7 years have not been all that kind to the blue hedgehog and good doctor – not since after Sonic Adventure 2 (in my opinion). Since Heroes to Unleashed, all of his console appearances have been lackluster, low budget affairs to trick children into buying something mediocre – save for his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Sonic 4 is finally SEGA manning up to their mistakes and set on bringing something good to the table. No teamwork mechanics or werehogs with clumsy combat system – Just a back to basics approach to reinvigorate a franchise that many people that grew up lost faith in. So lets hope for great level design, epic boss fights and equally epic music! I hope the dev team went in with the mindset to surpass Sonic 2.

I have faith. I mean, look at that trailer.

Oh yeah, it’s also coming to the iPhone and iPod Touch

Mega64 Announce New DVD Details May 20, 2010

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Mega64's Version 3 DVD

Many of us know Mega64 as ‘those guys who make those gaming videos for IGN, or something.’ What many of you may not know, however, is that Mega64 actually began as a television show intended for their public access station in San Diego. It was rejected. But they took their series to the internet and gained a small following. Since then, they’ve been hired by various companies to make skits including IGN and Ubisoft. It’s been years since the last season of their show was released, but now the wait is over.

Mega64’s “Version 3” DVD is about to hit their internet store, and it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of their skits. The story revolves around Dr. Poque, an evil game developer who traps two men in a beta testing dungeon for his new console: The Mega64. This Version features 6 brand new episodes, including a musical episode cleverly entitled “Mega64!” The guys also just announced an impressive list of special features on the disc as well, so it seems to be worth the price tag if you’re interested.

Personally, I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while now. I can safely say that after their last season, Version 3 should be a very good time. You can expect some quality gaming humor. Really, how can you not be excited to see people get harassed by grown men dressed as video game characters? Head over to Mega64’s website for some fresh details on the DVD.

Kingdom Hearts – Birth By Sleep Bundle May 18, 2010

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Birth-by-sleep

So it looks like Square is finally bringing their long hyped Kingdom Hearts prequel “Birth By Sleep” for the PSP in America on September 7th. Like just about every big budget PSP game that comes out, Sony is releasing yet another bundle pack to go with it. Like their other PSP game bundle packs – It looks like you’re getting a “Mystic Silver” PSP, Kingdom Hearts, 4GB Memory Stick and a movie that will probably have no place in being there.

Now that it looks like a PSP bundle is being announced well after E3, does this mean that a PSP 2 is not in the cards for this year? Or will Sony reveal a PSP2 and still release a PSP-3000 bundle to unsuspecting consumers? Bah, I just want E3 already for the answers!

Oh well, glad that this game finally got a release date – Been waiting for this for a while. So now that Kingdom Hearts PSP is out of the way, how about that Parasite Eve sequel, Square?