Versus Mode: Angry Birds, Xbox Indie Games, Free-to-Play, and More

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olivermoreTopics in gaming news debated by GameCola writers and industry professionals.

In this edition of “Versus Mode” we have:

vmdave vmnikola

DAVE GILBERT VS. NIKOLA SUPRAK

Dave Gilbert is a videogame designer as well as the founder of Wadjet Eye Games, an independent software developer that focuses on classic point-and-click adventure games. Recent releases by Wadjet Eye include Gemini Rue, which was hailed by GC’s Nathaniel Hoover as “one of the best adventure games I’ve ever played,” and the adorable-robot infused Puzzlebots. He’s also the designer of the Blackwell series, the latest of which, Blackwell Deception, is currently in development. This is Dave’s first appearance in “Versus Mode.”

Nikola Suprak is a current GameCola staff member who writes reviews and columns, including “Games that Secretly Suck,” in which he points out why good videogames actually aren’t, and “Cleverbot Considers,” which he co-authors with an AI chatbot. This is his first appearance in “Versus Mode,” too.


1. Angry Birds is the new Super Mario Bros.

Dave Gilbert: It’s funny. A month ago I went to my gym and saw a stuffed Angry Bird on the front desk. Now, I had never played the game. I don’t even have an iOS device that I could play it on. But somehow, I knew what it was. I absorbed the knowledge through some kind of cultural osmosis.

Nikola Suprak: The level of enthusiasm for Angry Birds in this article is so palpable and over-the-top obnoxious that I’m just glad they edited out the slurping noises of the guy licking his iPad during the interview. The article ends abruptly, cutting out the part where Brian Meehan jumps up and down on Oprah’s couch shouting his incoherent love for Angry Birds while she looks around nervously and motions for the guards with the tasers. Brian Meehan proclaiming that Angry Birds is the new Super Mario Bros. leads me to believe he is the kind of guy who only watches the first half hour of a sporting event before declaring a winner. His evidence for crowning Angry Birds the new king of the gaming industry is that he stalks people on planes and peeks over seats to see what they’re playing, what hotel they’re staying at, and at what hours he might be able to break in and steal their unmentionables.

angrybirdstitleShown above: How you might pass time on a plane.
(Not show: Brain Meehan hovering over behind you, his breath fogging up the screen on your iPad.)
(Definitely not show: his pants.)

People eat tiny bags of peanuts on airplanes, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to serve them as the main course at their wedding reception. Congrats Brian; you’ve just showed that Angry Birds belongs in the same category as the in-flight movie and crossword puzzles as riveting activities that people choose instead of sleeping or staring out the window. Planes are a terrible place and people are doing all sorts of stuff just so they can pass time and not be obligated to talk to the enormous man taking up both his seat and half of theirs.

Angry Birds is clearly popular, but one game does not a franchise make. I’d equate it more to Tetris or Pac-Man, where they have one or two hits before experimenting with new genres, combusting in a cloud of alcohol and failure, and landing a reality dating TV show on VH1. Maybe Brian Meehan should wait until Angry Birds gets a couple of successful sequels under its belt before declaring something the new Super Mario Bros. But you know what actually is the new Super Mario Bros., Brian? New Super Mario Bros. Or New Super Mario Bros. Wii. So I think they already have the market cornered on that moniker.


2. Xbox Live Indie Games should be allowed to have Achievements.

Dave: I am one of those weirdos that hates seeing my Achievement score go up. It’s like a barometer of how much I’ve wasted my life. I want an Xbox Live Indie Game that gives me negative Achievement points. Somebody go and make that. I’d buy it.

Nikola: This is a pretty obvious “yes” that doesn’t really merit much explanation. If Microsoft was worried about enforcing a minimal quality requirement for games to have Achievements, then Enchanted Arms would have subtracted points from your gamerscore for playing it and alerted GLADD that you were committing a hate crime.

What is more hilarious, however, is the fact that one of the top indie developers listed the lack of Achievements as the biggest barrier impeding the success of indie games. This would be like a restaurant complaining that its food wasn’t selling because of the color of the napkins, and it leads me to believe that he isn’t aware that games were played before there were Achievements. I think the bigger issue is that Microsoft has secluded indie games in a dank area of Xbox Live where no one (except Paul Franzen) is brave enough to go look for them. Microsoft has chained indie games in a room with nothing else but Cary Elwes and a saw, and the developers are only complaining about the fact that they aren’t allowed to wear a party hat.


3. Free-to-play as a pricing model is better than having games that cost $60.

Dave: There are so many opinions and thoughts on how to monetize games these days it’s dizzying. For me, it doesn’t track. At least for the types of games I make. How do you monetize a point-and-click adventure game? Personally, I’m going to stick with the “you give me money, I give you a game” model for a little while longer.

Nikola: I’m not sure “Free-to-play” is really the best moniker for these games, because it makes it sound like the companies are some sort of magnanimous heroes. I picture them running down to the nearest orphanage, stopping the big game companies from stealing the shirts off of the poor kids, and tossing out free games to anyone and everyone out of the goodness of their heart.

olivermore“Please sir…I want some Spore.”

While we might all complain about how Zynga makes terrible games that no one would ever play if they weren’t free, the company would have a hard time hearing our complaints, since they’re too busy frolicking on top of their giant money pile. Currently, they are valued at $10 billion dollars. BILLION. “But, wait a second,” you might be asking yourself, if you have an annoying habit of talking to yourself because you’re lonely and even your cats won’t listen to you, “how can a company that makes free games make any profit?” The long answer is boring and I can’t possibly make enough fart jokes to make it all worth reading. The short answer is stealing with the tenacity and effort that most game companies waste actually making games, and selling the gaming equivalent of crack-cocaine mixed with purple drank and hookers.

I wouldn’t say the typical $60 pricing model is exploitative like Easy Studios, but that’s only because I still have all my higher brain functions and realize that willingly paying for something I want and then crying about how I’m being exploited is a lot like asking my friend for a high five and then calling the cops because I’m being assaulted. What I will say, however, is that the old method is quickly becoming antiquated, especially in this era of digitalized media. Sure, the free-to-play games are technically free, but they only allow you to get a taste of the games. This free sample approach allows the game to draw in a much larger audience than might otherwise try it out, and enables the game to sink its claws in you before you realize you’ve just spent a couple hundred dollars on what was supposed to be free. There are users who just eke by with the free version, but then there are others who spend anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $80,000 each year. That’s right: Mafia Wars has made more profit from one person than many other games make in total.

And that’s where the genius is: people spend as much as they want to in this kind of game. There are some people who won’t pay anything, but that doesn’t matter—since the game’s free and entertaining, they’re telling all their friends about it, and odds are that one of them is dumb enough to pay a hundred dollars for some fake crops. At the very least, they are spamming their friends on Facebook about it and acting as free advertising.

farmvillefacebookProtip: If your friends ever try to send you digital cow poop disguised as animal feed,
it’s time to remove them from your friends list.


4. Nintendo is right to ignore “hobbyist” developers.

Dave: I don’t have a Wii or play many DS games so I don’t follow Nintendo news much, but I get the impression that Iwata was talking about quality control, rather than ignoring indies completely. Nintendo has that “shovelware” reputation and maybe they are trying to change that. Either way, it’s their prerogative. There are so many outlets for distributing games these days that people shouldn’t get angry over just one of them.

Nikola: Nintendo is totally right to ignore “hobbyist” developers. If they were going to start focusing on them, who would develop Baby Horse Tarts Wear Glitter and Dance Xtreme? How could the “hobbyist” possibly work in the requisite number of Wii-mote gimmicks? What would guarantee that these “hobbyists” would adhere to Nintendo’s mission statement of churning out exactly the same game every five years with such regularity that you can set your watch by it?

I don’t think the hobbyists have any cause to worry though, as Nintendo was very specific that it just doesn’t want to work with garage developers. With good reason too, because what kind of weirdo programs in his garage? That game is either going to be a kitten-torturing sim, or hardcore pornography that would be offensive even by the standards of a Japanese censor. Nothing good has ever come out of a garage, and if anyone ever tries to sell you anything out of one—and you do anything other than run away screaming in the other direction—then my suggestion would be to at least try to strike a ferocious pose for when the guy stuffs and mounts you.


5. Developers probably shouldn’t review their own videogames.

Dave: If there is anything to be learned from this debacle, it’s that there is way too much emphasis placed on Metacritic scores. A site that collates all the reviews into one place and averages them out is nice in theory, but it only takes a small fraction of the review sites out there into consideration. You could have several dozen smaller review sites give your game an 8 or a 9, but none of them will show up on Metacritic. But if, say, PC Gamer doesn’t like it and gives it a 5, then that’s the Metacritic score you get. It’s a broken system and I wish companies (especially major ones, like Bioware) wouldn’t put so much stock in it.

Nikola: I think a better title for this column would have been “Suprak’s editor links him to articles in which people say dumb things in an effort to cause him to apoplexy,” because after reading through all of these, I’m nearly positive he is trying to kill me. The representative in this article told Kotaku that this was justified because Obama voted for himself in the last election, and I can only assume he then plugged his ears and yelled like a child when someone tried to tell him that this line of reasoning was so moronically stupid that it will be featured as the newest cast member on Jersey Shore. The difference here is they weren’t forthcoming about their bias when writing this review, and it would be like if Obama showed up at the polls wearing a fake mustache and calling himself Herman Q. Public, and then getting indignant when they turned him away.

With that being said, I am totally in favor of people reviewing their own games, as long as they don’t work in the marketing department and claim that anyone that disliked their games only did so because they were too busy having sex with terrorists to finish it. I think it would be a lot more honest if we got the point of view of someone who was forced to work on it for 18 hours every day for a year.

Overall, the game was pretty good. You can tell a lot of work went into the graphics and character design. Unfortunately, the background textures are complete ass because Jim is an incompetent moron and couldn’t do the one goddamn job we asked him to. And I know you took my stapler, you goddamn douchebag. It has my initials on the bottom! Crudely changing the FS to ES and claiming it stood for “everyone’s stapler” is a chickenshit move, and I swear to God if you don’t give it back I WILL HAVE YOUR FAMILY MURDERED.

The Pros:

+Nice story, atmosphere

+Detailed character design

The Cons:

-Goddamn Jim


To hear more from this month’s “Versus Mode” contributors:

  • Check out the Wadjet Eye Games website here, and check out Dave Gilbert’s blog and Twitter account here and here.
  • Check out Nikola Suprak’s GameCola archive here. Make sure to read “Cleverbot Considers” if you haven’t yet, because it might motivate him to do another one.

Do you own or write for a videogame website or blog? Are you involved in the videogame industry? Do you…at least work at GameStop, or something? Well then, you’re just what we’re looking for! E-mail Editor-in-Chief Paul Franzen for details about participating in “Versus Mode.”

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