Ain't nobody got time for this

So, I'm playing the site mess right now, and I've hit something of a wall. I've made it through a bunch of different places, found some video tapes and solved some puzzles, but I found myself the entire time thinking about the experiences I could be having with other games. It's not that I dislike the latest outing from Jonathan Blow, I really like it. It's beautiful, challenging, mysterious, and well made. I just can't help but consider all the other things I could be doing other than slamming my head against a wall and wandering around in frustration only to be rewarded by often what is a similar or more challenging puzzles.

With other games still on my list to spend more time with, and while I'm sure I'll go back to The Witness again and again, It's just not the type of game I can start-to-finish in the same way I've done with so many other games in the past. 

I can't help but feel like that's intentional. There's something to this game that makes me feel like the will of Blow is being pushed on me. Not that I don't agree with some of the philosophy posed by the title in it's discoverable videos throughout it's lonely island, I can't help but feel like there's a voice behind each of the puzzles, crying out to me to be not just understood, but agreed with.

While I think that the medium in general benefits from games asking more questions of their players and of society as a whole, when the only other thing to do in a game about connecting dots, is to watch videos that are all seem to begging you to be saying "Hey, look at this video I found! Isn't it important?" and while I'm perpetually intrigued by the things the game has shown me, I worry that I'm experiencing messages imbued with a pseudo intelligence that isn't more than surface level deep.

I look forward to coming back to this game, but for right now, I ain't got time for this.

A Christmas Without Games

A funny thing happened since my last post. I left New York City and my job at Squarespace to give it a go at Apple in Cupertino, California. It’s a job I’ve been dreaming of for a long time, and I couldn’t have made it there without all of the fine folks I’ve worked with throughout my career. While all that is incredibly exciting it means a lot of what I could potentially talk about on this blog could be construed as relating to my work or the business practices at Apple—I assure you, it doesn’t.

So I pack up all of my stuff and fly over to Silicon Valley and start looking for a place, then fly home for the holidays, than fly back to start 2016 of running. All the meanwhile, I’m not playing any of the game’s I own. Sure on the plane rides I dabble in a little Persona 4 Golden (push through the first few hours of dialogue, there’s a great nugget of a game in there), I start my Fallout 4 campaign on my youngest brother’s console and get as far as freeing a certain detective early on in the game, I pick up my copy of Tomb Raider, and it’s still in it’s wrapping, I play a round or three of Battlefront, which is so good looking I almost forget it’s shallow and expensive, heck I even pick up a bunch of meaning-to-play games on Black Friday to ensure I’ve got plenty to do during my first few months in a new place without any friends or family around me.

But I realized that for the first time in a long time, I had a Christmas without any video games. I never realized how central the environment of coming home, turning down the lights, turning up the sounds or putting on headphones and picking up a controller had become to me in the last few years. I found myself mindlessly cruising the isles of Best Buy to find the best deals on discs I didn’t have a way to play. It was weird, it was odd, and it was…. good.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I love games. But I found that my time for enjoying family and friends, going to the movies (I’m looking at you Star Wars), watching the Doctor Who Christmas special, eating mom’s home cooked meals, and driving around Massachusetts aimlessly looking at shoppers going crazy in the 70 degree heat of Christmas Eve all felt heightened. The real world has really high resolution textures it turns out!

Over the next few weeks I’m going to find an Apartment, move in, and go back to my power strips and big TV, and bells and whistles, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying myself.

What’s the plan for 2016 you ask? The answer is two fold: I want to take deeper looks into gaming trends and tropes, and I also want to share with you guys the things I’m checking out. Think “less about companies and platforms, more about content and creators”. I hope that once I surge past this past holiday’s list of titles I’ve yet to beat, a list that you may notice is getting pretty extensive:

  • Metal Gear Solid V
  • Fallout 4
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Halo 5 — It’s good
  • Forza 5
  • Soma
  • Witchier 3 — I know it’s old now, but I really want to finish it.

So, I’ll write back when I’m all set up for the new year. I hope you’re all rested and ready to go. Happy 2016, wish me luck.

Preparing for the fall

I'm looking forward to diving into Fallout 4, but this week is simply too crazy for me to consider it. I'll be covering it more and having impressions once I have time to crack open my Pip Boy Edition and journey though a destroyed version of my home state!

Impressions from others have been largely what I expected. It's the quality Bethesda is known to produce. They're known for their worlds and experiences, and also for their mannequin-faced humanoids and questionable performance and UI. 

Either way, I'm still excited. Here's some excerpts from reviews around the web that contain notable nuggets for me:

Competency shouldn’t be a bullet point for a game’s store page, but it was jarring to actually enjoy the gunplay in Fallout 4 after trudging through the controls in literally every other game Bethesda has made. Functional used to be the watch-word, and it’s been replaced by something that can actually be fun. Of course, skill shots aren’t always possible, and weapons still have stats that determine their effectiveness, accuracy, recoil and the like — especially now that you can modify literally every piece of gear in the game.
— Arthur Gies,
But the glitchy technical issues appear across the board in every version of the game. In that, Fallout 4 is universal. As such, a big part of deciding if you want to play Fallout 4 becomes a personal inventory of your desire to either revel in these glitches or your patience at dealing with them, should they appear. As someone who has really appreciated this line of games in both its Fallout and Elder Scrolls flavors, Fallout 4 was still harder to swallow than I initially suspected it would be. It’s another one of those games, for better and for worse.
— Jeff Gerüstmann,
A fully voiced male or female protagonist is a first for Fallout, but I frankly don’t feel like it added much beyond the convenience of not having to read as much text when playing from the couch. It doesn’t get in the way, either - performances are fine, if somewhat bland - and would only be objectionable to me if I’d envisioned my character’s voice as something outlandishly different. So it’s successfully unobtrusive, at least.
— Dan Stapleton,

Questions arise around Pew's numbers

Unsurprisingly, other outlets have begun questioning the Pew findings that more console owners are women than men. 

First, the numbers. In 2015, Pew surveyed around 1,900 adults, about a third of them over landline phones and two-thirds over cellphones. Among other questions, it asked respondents: “Please tell me if you happen to have each of the following items, or not. Do you have a game console like Xbox or PlayStation?” According to the results, 40 percent of adults answered yes. When you broke down the data further, 37 percent of men said they did, and 42 percent of women. That’s a change from 2010, when researchers asked the same question and found that 45 percent of men and 40 percent of women had a console.
— Adi Robertson, The Verge

Polygon even went on to cite research from the Electronic Software Association (or ESA) an association that represent video game publishers in the United States. Not to be confused with the ESRB, who assign age and content ratings for video games and mobile apps, and police  advertising, marketing and privacy practices in the video game industry.

Interestingly, the demographics represented in the Pew Research Center’s report differ from those found by the Electronic Software Association, shared earlier this year. The ESA’s survey showed a gender disparity skewing toward men, with 59 percent of its male respondents calling themselves gamers as opposed to 41 percent of women polled.

This could be attributed to the broader range of ages represented by the ESA’s report, however. The Pew findings exclusively reveal data regarding technology owners over the age of 18, while the ESA’s numbers present a picture of gamers young and old.
— Allegra Frank,

More women own consoles than men in America

The statistics, spotted by Tech Insider, come from a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre. According to Pew Research, 40% of American adults polled owned a console such as an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. Interestingly, women were more likely to own a console than men, with 42% of women surveyed owning at least one console compared to 37% of men.

Why doesn't this pass the eyeball test? It seems when I get in online lobbies all across Xbox Live and PSN all that I find is loud mouth trash talkers, dudes who are too close to their mics, and guys  neglecting their (potentially loud) cat / dog / babies / spouse / parent?

Where the ladies at? I'd love to see more about the surveyed group, or perhaps a supplemental study that just correlates to the on the ground experience. It makes me question the data. Now it's not that I don't think that women play games, or that more women own consoles than men. Both of those pieces of data may be true, I'm just trying to rectify it with what I'm seeing online.

What does the engagement? Do women play less? Do they not play online? Do they just keep their headsets off and miss muted. If I was a female gamer, I'd certainly avoid the web, or keep the headset and mic muted, can you blame them for not wanting to be vocal in a lobby full of people who act so abhorrently towards women just waiting to pounce if they loose to a girl.

The good news is that if these numbers pan out, than women are the majority of console gamers, and that can only be good for the console gaming market. More diversity, more tolerance, and more of the good stuff, while starting to push out the lunatic fringe that consider the opposite sex something of an enemy. The other good news is that split almost every way—income, race, age, gender, education, location—everyone is playing games! That's amazing!

As for the 65 and older folks and their measly 8%? Steve Jobs had some thoughts on that...


League of Legends UI changes

Riot games showed off changes to the League of Legends UI recently. I for one think this looks like a step in the right direction for the company. After trying my hand at the game nearly two years ago and realizing that League of Legends wasn't for me, one of the reasons was the seemingly inscrutable structure of the game, it's "meta-game" which involves memorizing knowing popular strategies from professional players, and a UI that confused the hell out of me.

While I still don't have a strong grasp of what some of these changes mean, and I have no idea how the community will receive them, It's interesting to see the changes. As a designer myself, I find them objectively better and more comprehensible than ever before. Just take a look:


The Current League of legends UI


The planned UI

The new design seems to be more focused, make it clearer who's being selected, has a better count down timer. Has a vastly superior art direction, and seems to have made smart decisions around minimizing chat, and getting away from a nasty tabbed structure that didn't have clear enough states.

Kudos to the design team over at Riot Games. It looks like you're working hard to define a sense of style that doesn't feel like an off-brand Blizzard knock-off. That's a team with opinions that are starting to be realized. Though I could still do without the Wow-esq fonts, and I'm begging for a native Mac client.


Candy Crushed

Candy Crush and all other King properties were bought by Activision today. Weird move if you ask me. 

Activision will pay $18 a share in cash, a 16 percent premium to King Digital’s closing price of $15.54 Monday in New York. That’s also 20 percent lower than King’s initial public offering price of $22.50 in March 2014. The stock fell after the IPO on concerns that the Dublin-based maker of Candy Crush may fail to diversify from its top-selling game and become a one-hit wonder.

The agreement adds a mobile publisher to the arsenal of the biggest U.S. video-game maker, positioning Activision to capitalize on growing smartphone-based play. Activision will use $3.6 billion of cash stored outside the U.S. to finance the deal, a move that will help save about $1 billion in taxes the company would have had to pay to repatriate the money, according to tax consultant Robert Willens.
— Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg

I don't know what to make of this. It seems like a lot of money to be spending on a company that has not proven itself to be an entity that can thrive with diverse titles over years of business. Are you telling me that Activision believe's that King is worth more than Star Wars? My bet is that it's not, and while this gives Activision an in to a big money making market, I think they're making a move that's all about short term interest.

I could be wrong though. Sometimes short term interests are the only interests that matter.


SXSW changes course, decided to highlight online harassment

Polygon reported the reversal, good move for South By, even if they did not really have a choice.

Forrest goes on to acknowledge the community response. In an effort to make up for the loss of the panels, which remain canceled, the organization has invited those previously-scheduled panelists as well as a number of other speakers to discuss online harassment.

Cyber abuse was the subject of one of the two panel discussions no longer set to occur during the festival. “Level Up,” hosted by experts on combating online abuse, was shut down by the event’s organizers due to security concerns. “SavePoint,” sponsored by the GamerGate-parroting Open Gaming Society and meant to address “ethics in video games’ media [sic],” was the other panel taken off the schedule.
— Allegra Frank, Polygon

Vox and Polygon are the next shoe to drop on SXSW

Vox, parent company to and The Verge is also withdrawing form SXSW on the heels of an announcement from Buzz Feed.

Harassment is an issue Vox Media takes extremely seriously. As a digital media company, our journalists often face online harassment and find themselves on the receiving end of threats. We support our staff when they encounter this kind of abuse while continuing to do the work that can result in it, and want to continue an open dialogue about how best to do so.

By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats. By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today. We have reached out to SXSW organizers and ask that they host a safe and open discussion of these issues, rather than avoid them. Vox Media will not be participating in this year’s festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us.
— Vox Media