Versus Mode: Magazines, Digital Distribution, Motion Controls, and More

GameCola writers Carl Houghton and Paul Franzen discuss whether videogame magazines are a thing of the past, digital distribution, motion controls on the 360 and PS3, and more.

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powerWelcome, one and all, BACK to Versus Mode—the column that calls upon GameCola writers as well as denizens of the videogame world at large to talk about what’s up in gaming.

This month in Versus Mode we’ve got:

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Carl Houghton is a current GameCola writer known for his reviews. Lately, he’s been on a mission to review every classic LucasArts adventure game ever, and right now he’s up to Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. This is Carl’s second appearance in Versus Mode, having written previously in NewbieMania.

Paul Franzen is the founder and Editor in Chief of GameCola. In addition to running just about every facet of the site and editing every word you see, Paul writes reviews as well as The Gates of Life, a choose-your-own-adventure-esque fantasy adventure thriller (every other month); Digital Championship Wrestling, which pits videogame character versus videogame character in pro-wrestling bouts; and Dear Readers. This is Paul’s fourth appearance in Versus Mode, having written previously with Christian PorterNeal Iannone, and Casey Levine.

1. Print videogame magazines will soon be a thing of the past.

Carl: My game reading habits HAVE changed drastically. When I was growing up, I actually bought the first 150-to-160 issues of Gamesmaster magazine in the UK. However, as it soon started catering to the mass market and kept getting excited over series like WWE Raw vs. Smackdown and Pokémon and moved away from more serious articles, I began to lose interest. I needed my fix of serious gaming news, because, reaching my late teens, it became hard for me to get excited about “sequels” that were pretty much carbon copies of powertheir predecessors but were given constant front-page exposure by the magazines because that’s what the mass market wanted.

I do still buy a magazine every now and then because the UK-based Retro Gamer is fantastic and deals with a topic I am very interested in, but let’s face facts: We live in an age where we can get the latest gaming news up to the minute online, or we can wait a while and then read about news that we could have found out about six weeks ago. I used to love gaming magazines, but unless they’re of a specialist nature, the general gaming mag is seeing its end rapidly approaching.

Paul: I’d like to say something like “Until I can read one of these ‘Internet Web pages’ on a bus or at the dinner table, there’s no way in heck that my videogame magazines are gonna leave me.” And I would, but just because I don’t have an Internets-enabled cell phone or one of those tiny, tiny PCs, that doesn’t mean that everyone else doesn’t. Convenience, I think, is one of the big reasons magazines and newspapers have been able to stick around through the Information Age—why else pay for your videogame news and reviews when you can get them in cyberspace for free?—and as that benefit seems to be on its way out, we’re probably gonna say adios to Electronic Gaming Monthly before too long.

2. Discs will be replaced completely with digital distribution within 12-18 months.

Carl: Discs are going nowhere. They’ve been very good to us over the last decade, and unlike the financial impact that cartridges were having on the market back in the 90s, today’s games are being mass-made and for a very cheap price.

It’s not all financial, though. We may think that we live in a predominantly cyber society, but there are still plenty of gamers out there who don’t have the benefit of downloading the latest content or games through programs like Steam. To suggest that digital distribution will be number one in the next year or so is unrealistic. Maybe in around a decade, when our generation is in its 30s, but not while things like DVDs and boxed videogames are still selling like hot cakes.

Paul: See, here’s the thing: I like having discs. I like lining up them all up on my videogame shelf in alphabetical order—this gives me pleasure—but, more importantly, I like knowing for sure that a freak electrical storm won’t destroy my entire videogame collection. I’m hesitant to purchase pure data without any physical backup because I feel like that’s just asking for trouble. (Plus, if I don’t have the physical thing, it doesn’t feel like I actually bought anything.)

That said, I think the success of iTunes and Xbox Live has shown that my hopes and dreams don’t line up with those of the teeming masses. Physical media is, without a doubt, going to be gone within our lifetimes, whether we like it or not. Online distribution is way to go from a financial standpoint—it’s way cheaper to sell a download than to sell a disc, manual, and box, not to mention the resources that go intro producing the disc, manual, and box; and it’s cheaper to offer a game on a Web site than it is to get it in warehouses and on store shelves. Not only that, but from the consumers’ perspective, all we have to do is click a few buttons to get a game. There’s no driving to GameStop, and there’s no waiting for Amazon to ship the game. If you want a game, you can get it right now.

It’s going to happen. But, it’s not going to happen within the next year and a half. Consumers are only now getting used to buying XBLA and PSN’s bite-sized games; I don’t think they’re ready to move completely away from discs yet, especially since no major company is releasing major online-only titles. I could see some company breaking the ice within this year, but it’ll be a big leap from that to online-only distribution. Maybe we’ll see it in a console generation or two, when we could, potentially, have systems that run exclusively on downloads.

3. It’s OK for developers to decide that certain games in a series don’t count for the series’ overarching storyline.

Carl: It’s annoying for the hardcore fans of a particular series, yeah, but what the hell; sometimes a totally diverted route works out for the best. I mean, look at something like Kingdom Hearts, where you have Disney characters and SquareSoft characters joining forces to fight villains of the same series. It’s bonkers, but it somehow works.

apolloSomething like Sonic the Hedgehog is a different story, though. We’ve followed this one character since the days of the Green Hill and Spring Yard Zones, only to find girlfriends introduced, Dr. Ivo Kintobor re-packaged as Dr. Eggman, and even Sonic joining up with ol’ Mario for a few outings. It doesn’t make sense, but it appeals to the masses, who can be easily pleased. Me? I’d love to see a 2D Sonic game released for the Wii, but, as it’d likely be at a budget title, it wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a Class A game. Which is a shame, because Sonic the Hedgehog 2 still wipes the floor with most of today’s Sonic games.

Paul: If the game in question is Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, then holy crap yes. I’ve already decided that the game’s not canon, so I have no problem if Capcom wants to agree with me. I’d prefer it if I could get an explicit, canonized explanation for why the events that happened in a game were false (such as the old “it was all a dream” excuse), but if it’d significantly improve a game’s overarching storyline if they’d just axe a game or two from continuity, then why not.

4. The 360 and the PS3 need their own “Wiimote” controllers in order to compete with the Wii.

CarlSounds like bullshit to me. Microsoft has already proven that it’s not willing to jump on any ol’ bandwagon anytime soon by ditching plans to make a Blu-ray player for the 360, and I don’t see why it’d hurt its position as the Number One for hardcore gamers by trying to muscle in on a market that Nintendo has already won point, set, and match. I have both a Wii and a 360, and I have definitely separated them into two different styles of gameplay. The Wii is extremely fun on all accounts, while the 360 is for times when I want to get a bit more serious with my gaming.

The PS3 shouldn’t even be thinking of trying to compete with the Wii right now as, if it does, it will die sooner than later. It needs more than a “Wiimote” style of gaming to get itself back into the market, because, at the moment, it seems to be selling consoles only because Blu-ray beat HD DVD. Which isn’t that great an achievement, when you consider that basic DVD is still outselling the pair of them put together.

The Wii will keep a hold of its more casual market, while Microsoft would do good to carry on doing what it’s doing right now, and successfully, too.

Paul: Why bother? Wii games that use the Wiimote and, specifically, motion controls aren’t any good if they aren’t made by Nintendo. The only thing Wiimote capabilities would add to the 360 or the PS3 would be an abundance of waggle-based shovelware and other games that might’ve been good if they didn’t force flapping-about-like-a-maniac controls. Quite frankly, I don’t think the world would be better off if it had Ninja Reflex available on multiple systems.

Like the Wiimote and motion controls themselves, this is a great idea in theory. More companies might be interested in investing more resources into making good Wiimote-enabled games if more systems could handle it. But, in the real world, in order for this to be at all worthwhile, third-party developers would have to stop being such a bunch of goddamn lazy asses and start actually making cool games that use motion controls.

5. It’s unfair to reset known cheaters’ gamerscores and label them as cheaters in their profiles.

Carl: This is a simple one. If you’re going to be so fucking sad to actually “cheat” to gain points that gain you nothing but recognition within the gaming community, you deserve to be labeled as such. There’s people out there who use the gamerscore system genuinely and don’t get noticed for people like stripclubdj who cheated his way to a whopping 250,000 gamerscore points, only to have them ALL removed, reset to 0 and labeled a cheater for all to see. Good on Microsoft for clamping down like this.

I love the gamerscore system, as it ensures that I go through and play games more than just once. I’m playing COD4 through its hardest level, and this is something that I would have never done had it not been for the gamerscore system. To actually cheat to get the points unfairly is just insane. Now if we could somehow use the points in some kind of reward system…. 😉


Paul: If they’re cheating just to get gamerpoints, I think it’d be a mistake to do all that. We’re talking about people who are hacking their Xboxes in order to prove that they have even less of a life than the nerds who will spend years trying to find every single cave in Two Worlds—TWO WORLDSin order to “achieve” 50 points. They have nothing to live for, and if we ruin their gamer profiles, they will kill themselves.

Or maybe I’m bitter because I have only a paltry 1,996 gamerpoints, and I’m still missing like 15 caves, easily.

In any event! I think this punishment’s a little harsh and that it’d suffice to just take away all their ill-gotten gamerpoints, but that’s ’cause I’m a nice guy.

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