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Is Google Hatching a New Platform for Games?

Google's new tool, Wave, is getting buzz as new way to communicate and collaborate online.   But talk is already brewing about the impact on games

Because Wave will be open source, developers will have an opportunity to create games for the service as well as other applications.   Web games are taking off lately, especially on social networks such as Facebook, where titles from poker to Mafia Wars are hitting big.   Wave games would likely be of a similar ilk, free, fast, and accessible.   The keyword there is "free."  Free2play titles, which you can get for nothing and accessorize for an added premium, are increasingly the "wave" of the future. 

Fable II Goes Episodic

Peter Molyneux is among the bold name designers in the videogame industry.  For years, he's been specializing in so-called "god games" that put the players in charge of a virtual world.  Now, he's making waves with a new kind of experiment - episodic gaming. 

Beginning today, he's selling his game, Fable II, in episodic portions via Xbox Live, Microsoft's digital download service.  As you might recall, Fable II came out last year on disc, so this is Molyneux's attempt to reach a different group of gamers online.  I hope he's successful.  The game industry is evolving away from expensive discs to affordable downloads, and the risk is that bigger, more ambitious games like Molyneux's will not make the transition. 

Here's an excerpt from a Q/A with Molyneux in Edge.

EDGEL:    Why have you implemented this now in Fable II’s life?


PM:  There are two reasons, really. The first is that I had a look at how many active Live users there are – I don’t know the exact number but it’s 10 million or something like that – and compared to the number of people that have bought Fable II, about three million, and saw there’s a big divide. As a greedy game designer I ask why. I can sit back and moan about it and wish the game had more presence at retail or whatever, or I could do something about it.

PSPgo's Trouble Going Digital

Sony's new PSPgo handheld gaming device doesn't have the UMD disc drive found in the original PSP.  That means gamers can't boot up all their old titles.   Someone at Sony had the bright idea to let buyers swap their old UMDs for digital versions - but no go.  

Citing "technical and legal reason," a Cony Computer Entertainment of America spokesperson says the plan has stalled. Doh!  This seems so crazy to me.  How do you introduce a UMD-less gadget without a way for gamers to access their existing catalogs?  

Death of the $60 Game?

Kotaku reports on some interesting news from the Tokyo Game Show.

Yoichi Wada, president of Square-Enix, creators of the Final Fantasy franchise, says the coming game-changer for the industry isn't technology - it's e-commerce. 

"What's going to be important for the next five years is not going to be the innovations in the specifications of the hardware or software," he says, "But the billing ... the revenue model and how this can be firmly rooted among the users — that's when the next breakthrough will come."

Why the big deal?   Because gamers' have different demands when buying games online.  Instead of shelling out $60 for a huge game, they favor smaller bites - mini-games, episodic games, subscriptions.  Yes, we're moving more and more into the cloud, when a game world will be something we visit but don't own. 

We've been seeing hints of this in massively-multiplayer games like World of Warcraft and even shooters like Counter-Strike.  The model for the future could be multi-tiered, as Wada suggests- paying different prices based on the content we access and time we spend online. 

Air Hockey 2.0

Arcades have been struggling to survive ever since the Playstation Nation booted up to higher quailty gaming experiences at home. 

Improving the arcade experience has been hit or miss.

So-called location-based games - those big machines that simulate, say, surfing or motorcycling - charge a premium for the kind of immersive experience you can't get in your living room (even with a Wii).  With the exception of Dance Dance Revolution, a boogie-by-numbers phenomenon that successfully made the precipitous leap from Japan to the U.S., however, we have yet to see an arcade game spark a Pac-Man sensation for a new generation.

Now Sega seems to be taking a more retro approach by re-enginnering one classic arcade experience - air hockey.  Geek.com has a preview and video of one of these new machines.  Yes, you still play with a puck and paddle, but there's a whole lot more happening on the responsive, video playfield.   Here's a look.  Maybe there's no room to improve on some games after all.

 

The Beatles' Rock Band Vs. Yours

Yes, the new Beatles Rock Band game is great for all the reasons you've heard - including those I mention in my cover story for Spectrum.  But now that I've had a couple weeks to play around with the finished product, there's something I'm wondering:  is one rock band too much for one game?

Part of what made Guitar Hero and Rock Band great was their ability to transport you, the player, onto the stage.  You felt like you were the star, even when you were playing well known songs.  You weren't limited to one artist, you could make your own playlist from a variety of songs - the dumber and louder the better.  Plus, you weren't assuming the role of some celebrity.  You made your own avatars.  The characters on screen were nobodies, and when you scored big it felt kind of like getting discovered. The Nowhere Man (or Woman) was you.

From the second you boot up the Beatles game, though, you know who owns this club.  It's all Fab, all the time, from the Cavern Club to the psychedelic montages.  There is no you, there is just Them.   I wonder how the game would have felt if it had all the incredible Beatles songs, but without the John/Paul/George/Ringo avatars.   Or if you subbed out one of the Fab Four and put yourself on stage with them instead.  My guess is that it would felt better.  Also, the songs aren't dumb and loud by any stretch - no Eye of the Tiger here - instead their smart and quiet, another problem.  When was the last time you air-guitared "Strawberry Fields?"  It's presumptuous to think that every song will work in a Rock Band game, and the fact is that many of the Beatles songs don't. 

The game is an amazing technical and artistic achievement, but it is not the greatest videogame of all time - like many lazy critics would like you to believe.  It's obsequious karaoke, and the next Band game needs to put back the rock.

 

 

 

 

The Changing Face of Gamers

Whom do you picture when you hear the word "gamer?"

A young guy?

Think again. According to a new study by NPD Group, a technology research firm, 44% of gamers are female.  But here's what's even more surprising.  The largest category of gamers consists of players between the ages of 2 and 12. 

The line between "real" and virtual play is disappearing.  While teenagers and adults inhabit social networks like Facebook, kids interact in training-wheel  worlds such as Toontown, Webkinz, Neopets, and Club Penguin.  The kids then graduate from these experiences ready to join the urgently tweeting masses.  Maybe it's time to retire the word "gamer," and accept that we're all playing in digital worlds in one form or another.

 

Console's End?

Having the latest, greatest game console in your living room is a badge of honor.   But that badge may be going the way of your CD player.

With the increase in broadband penetration, and the increased robustness of digital delivery services, we may not need game machines much longer.  Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, said as much this week in a presentation at the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference in San Francisco.  As Gamespot Australia reports, Kotick "told attendees to 'expect many of our products to be playable independent of a console,' specifically saying he'd been impressed with media hub functionalities shown by 1080p TVs that let users stream content from their PCs. He also suggested a day in the not-too-distant future where players' Facebook profiles will be integrated into Guitar Hero, letting them make songs to share with friends, post high scores or favorite songs on their profile pages, and so on."

Meanwhile down in Austin, Texas, a company called Spawn Labs is doing its share to break down the wall between consoles and PCs.  The company has a settop box, the Slingbox, which lets you stream console videogames from your TV to your PC.

 

Pac-Man Fever

Some games never die.

A new record was set on the Pac-Man arcade game.   The winning player, David Race, ate every dot, fruit, and ghost to nail a perfect maximum score of 3,333,360 in 3 hours, 41 minutes, and 22 seconds, according to USA Today.

As the story points out, the original Pac-Man king was Billy Mitchell, a BBQ sauce entrepreneur who was immortalized in the awesome documentary, The King of Kong.

If you haven't seen that film yet, I highly recommend it.  It's basically like geek Rocky. 

Apples iGames

I've blogged before about the rise of iPhone game apps, and how this is fueling a new golden age for indie development.

Apple execs agree.

This week, in an event rolling out a new series of iPods, the company took direct aim at its handheld competitors - the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP.

Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Philip W. Schiller trumpeted the iPhone/iPod Touch for having better, cheaper games - and a wider library of titles from which to choose.

I agree - but with one caveat.  The iPhone has yet to have a single breakout title that captures the popular imagination.  Of course Nintendo and Sony haven't done very well in that regard either.  Nintendo got close with Nintendogs, a pet-training simulation, but that's about it.   

Why haven't we seen something like a Halo effect in mobile games?

I think it will happen.  And when it does, look for it on a phone.

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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