Blog Entry List

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Why im waiting on the WiiU

Since E3 2011 the WiiU has become very much of an enigma. Not much is known other than what Nintendo wishes to tell us all. This is of course not unfamiliar for the sort of secrecy surrounding such a large product launch. The level of secrecy is for many reasons least of all to stop the competition getting a heads up about their upcoming competition.

However as is the case with todays modern unsleeping media the reports and rumours already swirling are running rampant. This is not even a problem for just Nintendo with both Microsoft and Sony both having many "details" regarding their upcoming next gen consoles released to the press. These have gained a large following from many online sources (mostly gaming websites) who choose to release them not under the cloud of "beware all who read these as they are completely unverified" but under a much vaguer mantle of "from a source close to the matter". Of course once out into the general ether of the internet it is practically impossible to tell who said what and what is from an original source and what parts have been embellished but the lack of understanding from many corners can be detrimental to both the fans and the company producing the product.

Shortly after the E3 announcement of the WiiU back almost a year ago the stock for Nintendo began to fall and many so called "Industry Experts" began to lower their ratings on the company. When asked why the general response was that Nintendo had in their view not put enough (if any) emphasis on how the new console was going to interact with social networks such as Facebook and in their view this would cause less people to buy the console itself. This was however not a view shared by the crowds of people who actually got to see the console and by and large the gaming community itself. The biggest problem for Nintendo in terms of gamers was a misunderstanding about what the WiiU actually was, was it a new console or just a new controller as many at the time believed. Gamers however did not seem to care about a lack of Facebook integration into their latest mario kart game or the fact that every space pirate killed in a new metroid was unlikely to then tweet of its demise. The reason, the people buying the console are not looking to buy yet another social networking device but a new "gaming" console. The media however did not see it that way as all of their "Experts" were following their own script.

Todays problems for Nintendo come in the form of "reports" regarding the performance of the new console. Some say that it is several times more powerful than the current gen consoles but then there are other reports claiming it to barely be capable of the same graphical fidelity and power of an Xbox 360. Clearly both reports can not be correct and I daresay that until Nintendo decide to come out and definitively confirm the exact specs we will continue to get such reports.Then there is the question surrounding the quality of products being made for the machine. The Wii floundered in a sea of sub-standard games which put many gamers off what is a very good "gaming" machine supported by some tremendous first/second party games. So which is the most important? That the console has brilliant components or that it has brilliant games.

So i for one will be holding back any decision on whether to love it or hate it until i see some finished games and get a look at what the box can do because while it might seem like great fun to speculate and wonder about what might be inside that little white box, speculation without acknowledging the difference between speculation and truth can cause some "real" problems. Dont get me wrong though, im not asking for a complete lack of reporting on such matters and im not asking for gaming websites to stop reporting news as im wholly for a free media (sat here as a blogger spouting my opinion, a free media is exactly what i need). But these websites that choose to promote news as facts need to make sure that their audience gets that somethings are facts and some are not. This is the responsibility of the writer and not the reader.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

PS Vita, The core gamers portable console?

In recent years social gaming has exploded into a huge market, helped by the popularity of platforms such as the Nintendo DS/IPhone/Facebook and tablet computers have propelled social gaming into every part of lives. No matter where we are be it on the bus, train car, in the office or line for a coffe social gaming has used the most popular portable tech platforms to become one of the most important gaming sectors.

This it has to be said has lead to a huge increase in the popularity and money involved in video games in general and has helped boost the sector into its spot as the biggest global entertainment industry. Social gaming is for everyone no matter your age, gender or race. The nature of social gaming (sometimes reffered to as casual gaming) as generally being smaller, cheaper and easier to play has allowed the market to boom with games allowing you to do anything from build a mafia empire one click at a time to guiding a "doodle" ever further into the sky.

The great breadth in terms of gaming opportunities and tiny cost of producing these small games has lead to huge numbers of games being created with varying degrees of success and quality. For every "Doodle Jump" there is a million "Marshmallow Cookie Maker"s. This has sadly lead to many great games being completely ignored in the quagmire of mediochre-at-best rubbish.

The Nintendo DS (Nintendo's all conquering handheld) started promisingly enough for core gamers with games like Super Mario 64 DS and Metroid Hunters pleasing core gamers along with many others. These not only delivered great gaming experiences but utilised the nature of the technology. However a few years later and you take a look at the sales charts and its a different view entirely. As the Chart for the week ending 18th Feb shows, a large number of the top selling games are part of the casual genre. Art Academy at 10, Barbie at 14, Loving life with Hello Kitty and Friends in the top 30. Its also interesting to note that apart from a smattering of professor Layton games (which is very much on the border between core and casual gaming) there are very few Core games in the top selling charts. Most if not all of these are split between Pokemon and other Nintendo published games, with the now 8 year old Super Mario 64 DS coming in 19th. This loss of core gaming products from these lists can be attributed directly to the rise in social gaming, the boom of game releases flooding out the core games from the shop shelves.

The PS Vita however with its HD graphics and dual thumbsticks has levelled itself as the core gamers portable console and it has shown with a stellar lineup including a portable version of its console brothers best series. This alongside FIFA, Rayman and Marvel vs Capcom (among others) is bringing confindence back into portable gaming for thos ewho would rather lead an assault in Battlfield than plough up a field in Farmville.

Whether or not the PS Vita will continue down its current route as a core gaming device is unknown but with continued support with games such as Resistance: Burning Skies and (planned) releases for Bioshock and Assassins Creed games the future is looking bright once more for core gamers who need a real gaming fix while on the move.

Let me know what you guys think, are you more of a core or social gamer (any Zynga addicts?). Do you see the need for a greater emphasis on core gaming in the portable market or is it more of a sideshow for you. Let me know about any of the topics in this article or any ideas you have for my next piece.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Can Arcades make a Comeback?

Arcades have slowly but surely been dying out in the western world. The Big question is why? When arcades around asia continue to grow and video games as a whole have become the largest entertainment industry in the world, why have we allowed the very origins of true video gaming to fall through the cracks.

Video Games are huge, its now a multi-billion dollar industry spanning the entire globe and catering to every age/race/gender/interest/genre imaginable. Consumers are willing to pay more and more for the latest blockbuster and sales of consoles continue to roll in thus showing that it is unlikely to be the expenditure that is a turn-off. I have spoken before about the future of video games, increased emphasis on digital media and the like but one area of video gaming and culture in general has been slowly disappearing from our shores. That is ofcourse the plight of the arcade, those havens of nerds, dark rooms filled with spotty individuals hunched over sticky controls with the light from the bright screen being the only illumination. At least thats what my parents believe arcades are, but you go to any arcade over in Japan or Korea or a number of other asian countries and all you see is rows and rows of people of all shapes and sizes in bright multi-coloured rooms playing at well maintained clean machines. Arcades in asia are as much a social hub as they are a place of gaming, they are essentially western-style coffee shops with games in them (essentially the video gaming equivalent of Starbucks).

Now as a gamer one of my dreams is to own a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet, even to play on one would be heaven  because having grown up on a tiny Island (Jersey, Channel Islands) in the 90's i grew up without the original and had instead to settle with NES and SNES versions which while brilliant did not "Feel" the same. No amount of Hi-Def graphics or fancy motion controls can beat the original thrill of playing a real arcade cabinet, whether its guiding a plumber over barrels, guiding a yellow circle away from ghosts, collecting taxi fares or playing Street-fighter the experience of the original arcade cabinets and controls cannot be reproduced. And this is why its so saddening that the popularity and success of vidoe games in general in the west has not lead to a similar rise in the popularity of gaming arcades.

Let me know your views, do you think arcades still have a place in current gaming culture, if not then why are they still so popular in other parts of the world. Any favorite games or arcade moments?

Why the Interest in Pinterest?

Sorry for the pun in the headline but i just had to put it in this article somewhere. So as Tech Crunch reported this week the social media website Pinterest, where users share images of things which they find interesting/useful/funny/cool/inspiring etc etc, has hit 10 million unique monthly hits in the US faster than any other standalone startup.

Pinterest is a site built entirely around the sharing of your interests (hence the name) and is wholely devoted to the ability to share your pins and to view those of others that are linked to yours. Why then, when people are continuing to protest against other Social Networks use of their "likes" etc are they flocking to another website where the sole purpose is to share this information with random people.

The answer is partly down to money. Facebook and Google give you information about your interests and likes to advertising companies in return for advertising money and they have been very succesful at doing it as shown by the recent high profile news regarding Facebooks impending IPO. People dislike the idea of them being "used" by companies to make money off them especially when it refers to the use of "private" information. Mostly however it is down to the difference between whom it is that is releasing the information. Most of us are happy to give our emails and phone numbers out to our closest friends as we get the control of the flow of information. If a third party (be it a company or even just a friend) was to be going around handing out our number to those same friends most of us would have some sort of a problem because suddenly we have lost the control of the information. this has been the problem for companies like Facebook with its well known issues with the suitability of its privacy controls and  its use of personal information as a revenue stream. Ofcourse with a company like Facebook we are expected to understnd that for continued use of facebook as a FREE platform we must as users be willing to give up certain liberties, this is something i am perfectly content with.

So where will all this leave Pinterest. Well if they wish to keep the current popularity then it will have to find a way of monetising the website without using user information. Advertising is the most likely with targeted ads based on companies and sponsored pages. But in the long run they just need to keep things simple, they have a website whos popularity is based on a single idea and i hope they keep it that way for the users sake.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why I feel good about Netflix

Im going to throw it out there, I Like Netflix. There I said it. True it had what could be called either a "Rocky" or "Catastrophic" year in 2011 with drops from its highs of 304 in July to 62 in November but it is my belief that these drops have resulted mostly from a mass panic from investors rather than any economic reason for such a sharp drop.

Now this isn't to say that i agree with all the decisions made by Netflix's management in 2011 and indeed the short-lived decision to spin-off its disc service was the wrong decision made at exactly the wrong time. Why would you want to further splinter your customer base by creating a new service at a time when you are trying desperately to hold onto customers after a high profile price rise. The quick U-turn on this looked bad but could have saved the companies core customer base.

So why the good feelings about a company who has made such blunders in the last year and who according to its stock price is almost on deaths door when compared to such a short time ago. Well my good feelings stem from the core of the companies business model, its streaming business. Internet Entertainment has come along way in the last few years, the boom of websites like youtube and the rise of network online players has led a migration of entertainment usage from the TV to computers,tablets and smartphones. Online streaming legal or otherwise has become a huge part of not just the way in which we take in video but also music through services like Spotify, Grooveshark and Love.FM . More and more people are moving from the traditional cable or satelite box and accompanying bills in favor of a more streamlined online existence. And why wouldnt you want to break away from those set top boxes, filled with channels you never watch yet have to pay for regardless, why would you want to be tethered to your TV set when you could choose online material and watch it almost anywhere.

As i have said in my previous post on which trends we can expect to see in 2012 online media will grow ever further and faster, boosted by improving infrastructure and larger content libraries. Netflix will continue to ride the cusp of this wave and if it can keep some momentum i predict it will be back up to its mide 2011 dominance (and stock price) within the next 2 years.

To Watch For: Further intergration with Facebook possibly allowing people to view content via the social media website could lead to a huge boost to customer base in Europe in a similar way to Spotify boosting its US visibility and customer base in the US through similar integration with the social media giant.