Unintended Consequence of the Next Generation

A recent report from the security firm Kaspersky Labs said there was an increase in hacking attempts against the Xbox One and the Playstation 4.  Coupled with every other game system and devices used for gaming, the report claims that approximately 34,000 attacks occur per day worldwide. The claim that I want to focus on is that the increase in hacking is concurrent with the release of the Xbox One and PS4.

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Video game consoles having online play was experimented on as early as the Fourth Generation with adapters for the Super Nintendo. We saw an expansion of that in the Sixth Generation with the Playstation 2  and Xbox having an internet connection. The Seventh Generation further expanded on it, making DLCs easily available on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It was in the Seventh Generation that we saw a hint of the dangers when Sony was hacked and millions of customer’s personal information was stolen.

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We’re now on the cusp of the Eighth Generation of video game consoles. We’re seeing a further expansion of their online capabilities. We’re seeing a lot more options for online play (co-op and pvp)… to the point where the games that tended to not have online play suddenly will have some sort of online option. Microsoft wanted the Xbox One to always be online, a policy they thankfully reversed (though it is not clear how often it has to be online). Sony has the PS4 offer interesting online features like streaming  and/or sharing gameplay.

There is an implicit danger with greater online options. And we are seeing that with the increasing attempts to hack into these newer consoles. To be honest, I was taken off guard when I found out about it. Sure, it makes sense on one hand. The danger of being hacked, dealing with worms and viruses, or whatever else have you is a part of daily life with the internet. That’s why we all purchase software to help minimize the risk.

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If we are forced to have our video game consoles be “always connected” or “always on” like what is being pushed.. let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time… then we have to expect our console to be someday hacked. Having a system be always on and connected has to be an inviting target for any criminal out there.

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The Perils of Purchasing New Consoles

There are strange well known facts among the marketing circles that never seems to get out into the general public. I learned about these when I took a few marketing classes at College of Lake County that was taught by a former marketing professional. Did you know that in a blind taste test that RC has consistently been chosen as the best tasting pop (cola/soda) out there? That’s crazy. Billions of dollars were spent over the decades convincing us that the best tasting was either Coke or Pepsi. But the marketing people knew that was a lie.

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Also, did you know that it’s a bad idea to purchase brand new technology. New tech is filled with glitches and design flaws. The developers release it in order to make up the costs for research and development. If they can recoup the costs, then they can move forward with the product and fix the bugs for newer versions of the tech.

This is especially true with video games.

What? You don’t remember the PS1? That sucker had a huge overheating problem. The PS2’s and Xbox’s laser kept on being knocked out of alignment somehow and had to be manually adjusted. The Xbox’s original controller was too damn large to be usable as a video game controller! Or heck, the first generation of PS2 consoles cannot read a dual laser disc. Or…. the red ring of death with the Xbox 360’s original console release.

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We can look farther back to the NES with the screen blinking when it couldn’t read a cartridge. Or the Sega Saturn’s hardware being too complex. That design flaw led to a lot of third-party developers to abandon the system.. now THAT’S a huge flaw. Speaking of flaws and controllers, you can’t get any worse that the controller for the Atari Jaguar. Look at it for yourself! For whatever reason, Atari thought people wanted to go back to the Intellivision style of controllers with having a calculator pad along with their controller.

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The Jaguar Controller

That’s just a short list. I’m positive you read through that and said “you idiot, you missed xxxxxxxx!” I think every system had something wrong with it at launch.  And that’s the point.

Yes, it sucks when a console doesn’t work perfectly. Yes, it sucks when you purchase that console and find out that there’s something wrong with it. But, this is what happens with new technology. It’s a risk when you purchase it. Chances are, it’ll work very well, as advertised. But all the same, you have to accept the possibility that it won’t.

It’s weird for me to say that, since I’m all about consumer rights. Heck, I often argued that when a person purchases a product, they have a right to that product and expect that product to deliver what is promised. But in this case, it’s difficult for me to understand why anyone would purchase a brand new console on the day of its release and be surprised if it isn’t working. There’s a pretty well established pattern of bugs, glitches, and flat out bad designs.

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I want to conclude with a simple observation.

We should expect there to be bugs and glitches with releases. There’s no point to the focus of the ‘blue light of death.’ The damn light’s nothing more than a diagnostic tool. Sony sold over a million console systems within 24 hours.  I think that’s pretty impressive.

Will there be a repeat of the 1983 crash?

Superdata Research Inc released a report warning of a looming market crash from an over-saturation of video game consoles on the market. The report showed that 79% of gamers already own consoles and each gamer owns an average of 2.6 consoles. You can get your hands on the paper here: click here.

On a happy side-note, I own nine: Atart 2600, NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2, Xbox 360, and the Wii.

The report argues that despite there being more gamers than ever before, the 1983 market had exactly the same conditions as there are today. A lot of new gamers are gravitating towards the PC and mobile games rather than consoles, so the growth in the overall market is orientated away from the consoles.  If you include digital distribution growing in popularity (Steam, Origins, etc), there will be less incentive for this growing population of gamers  to switch to consoles.

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So, is Superdata Research right? Did the 1983 crash occur because of too many consoles? All the experts that I’m aware of would say no. The crash occurred because the market was flooded with terrible games, which drove the consumer away from consoles. It was one of the reasons why Nintendo started their Seal of Approval… to let their customers know that they wouldn’t have to worry about those horrible games

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It is a little doubtful that owning consoles would make it unlikely to purchase other consoles. That certainly wasn’t true for me. I would assume it’s not true for most others. If there will be another crash, it will come from bad games rather than too many hardware options.

Although….

If there will be a crash like 1983’s, it would come from the mobile games rather than the console games. The major game developers for console games are focusing on AAA titles and trying to only release games that will sell well. The developers for mobile games tend to focus on free-to-play models. They also focus on games that are fairly cheap to purchase. It’s easy to flood the market with hundreds, if not thousands, of bad games.

There have been others who predicted different ways there could be another crash. The one that stood out to me was from Clevernoobs released a brilliant video arguing why another crash is possible.

But what do you think? Are we on the verge of another market crash?

Steam; A Modern Day Gaming Essential

When it comes to what platform people prefer to play on, everyone will have different answers for different reasons. Some prefer the Xbox 360, some prefer the PS3 and some prefer the Wii. Some people even prefer older consoles such as PS2, Nintendo 64 or older handhelds such as Gameboy Colours. There’s a wide variety to choose from to be sure and for a long time I just considered myself a ‘console person’. I hadn’t really considered PC gaming as a route for me. I did, and admittedly still do, prefer the feel of a controller in my hands as opposed to keys. However, with the recent ‘next-gen’ argument only getting more heated I thought now would be the best time to try it.

Steam had been sitting on my computer for months at this point; somewhat neglected. It was in dire need of updates and my library was barren. I wanted to give it a fighting chance so I bought a good wireless mouse and mousepad, and got it back into fighting shape. I figured the most logical first step would be to download a game I have already on console and see how smoothly it flows for me.

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So I downloaded Dragon Age; Origins. I’d played it time and time again on my Xbox 360 (not to mention it was only £20 for the Ultimate Edition with all DLC packs in the Steam Summer Sale) so I figured it would be my best shot at getting an appropriate comparison. The result? My god, was it smooth to play. Less buggy, better interface, it even looked better. It completely took me by surprise and to be honest I adapted to the WASD way of things much faster than expected. I fell back in love with a game I hadn’t touched in quite some time due to new releases piling up at my doorstep. It rekindled my love for what is -in my opinion- the greatest RPG I’ve ever played. All because of how perfect it was for the PC.  Keeping in mind this was coming from a devout console gamer who was confident that Steam wouldn’t be able to convert me. It hadn’t completely done so yet, though; I wanted to try a few more titles before I could consider Steam my next-gen solution. So I bought a few more; Alice Madness Returns, Portal 1&2 and Magicka. All perfect, all VERY convincing. It was making me wonder why I hadn’t tried this before and the overall better gameplay wasn’t the only thing that I found seductive either.

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Another incredibly tempting aspect of Steam was the price of its games. The Summer Sale was incredible, but even without it a lot of the games were very modestly priced and most cheaper than their console counterparts. Not to mention there were different offers on every week which I can see would be extremely tempting if I had the money to spend on them. Sadly, I don’t being a student and everything but it’s safe to say my library would be packed if I did. My point being I would be much likely to buy a title off of Steam than I would be to walk into my local game store and buy it new from there. The only advantage I could see that console games have would be that you then always have that game on disc but you can access your Steam account from another computer so sharing isn’t a problem and I’m pretty sure Valve would be more than happy to help you if you had a faulty game or it just stopped working somewhere down the line. All in all? Cheaper with better deals. The idea of PC gaming is getting more and more appealing by the minute and yet, it isn’t over.

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And so we get to my last point; indie games. Yes, I know that Xbox Live has the Marketplace but with Steam the market is just so…Vast! So many incredibly promising titles just waiting to be discovered at prices that would make your head spin. Rogue Legacy was a hidden gem that’s finally getting the recognition it deserves and I don’t regret a penny of what I spent. There’s also Greenlight which further encourages indie developers to get stuck into such a promising market. It’s a win-win situation from where I’m standing; Steam get a larger market and more money, developers get recognition and money for their creations. Nowhere here do I see a bad point. Steam are giving indie developers all the right nudges in all the right directions and you only need to look at their ‘Indie’ section to see what a brilliant job they’ve done. It’s fair to say that some titles in that genre are better than some mainstream ones; it goes without question. It was the final blow for me; Steam was pressing all the right buttons.

So there you have it; a console gamer admitting their affair with Steam. And I’d never go back.

My Open Letter to Microsoft

Dear Microsoft

Hey. How’s it going? It’s me, Michael. I thought it was time we had a talk. You’ve had a rough few months. Windows 8’s been struggling. The Xbox One’s had a lackluster debut. As a response to it all, Steve Ballmer announced a restructuring plan. I have to admit, that’s a good start. It’s a shame Ballmer’s job isn’t in danger, but one would expect the CEO to want to direct the restructuring rather than consider himself to be part of the problem that needs ‘restructuring.’

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I’m your friend Microsoft. Really, I am. It takes a friend to tell you that you’re an idiot. And believe me, you are. You’re a multi-billion dollar company… arguably the most successful company in history, and you’re screwing up. Big time. And as your friend, I have to tell you to stop it. Look, I have some friendly suggestions for you. I want you to consider them. Okay?

1.  Customers expect certain things from their products

What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked.

7862-windows7_start-buttonThe Start Button. Why did you get rid of the Start Button? I love that thing. Love it, love it, love it. Every program so easy to access. And the cool thing… it’s been there for a long time. Hell, I remember using it in Windows 95! That was 18 years ago. Wow. 18 years…. for 18 years, you had this one button. It was close to a trademark. No, wait. It was a trademark. More than that, it was familiar. When I use a Windows product, I expect to see it and use it.

That’s not to mean your new idea, you know… your iPod/iPad/Smartphone apps ripoff isn’t cool. It is. I’ve gotten used to how to navigate and, well… in some ways, it is better. I can pull up a calculator really quickly. Not to mention when I use Netflix, I can lock it on the left part of the screen while working freely on most of the screen. It’s pretty dang cool.

But really? Learn your customers. It’s not always about innovation. It’s giving customers what they want. Want to know what they want? That’s easy to figure out. Ask them. Take surveys. Reach out to them. It’s easy to do.

2.  Take your head out of your backsides

So, the fans revolted against what you were planning for the Xbox One. They looked at it and saw that it sucked. You may have had the best of intentions with your product, but your dedicated and loyal fans saw what you were planning as a betrayal of trust. Rather than listen to your fans or state you were taking their feedback into account immediately, you seemed to dismiss it.  I mean, seriously? As a friend, let me tell you… that wasn’t a good idea. It’s commendable that you are dedicated to your vision. It really is.

But seriously? Your ideas were terrible. I don’t care how “forward thinking” you think you were with your DRM policies designed to favor video game developers at the expense of gamers (seriously? You couldn’t ensure discounts for the games since you’re removing the middle man? Do you seriously think I wouldn’t have noticed that? Come on Microsoft. We’re friends. Stop being a dick) and having your Kinect microphone on always on, it wasn’t meant to be.

So you backed down and removed most of it (kept that Kinect thing though, eh). After that you went all ostrich on me.

head_up_your_ass2I mean, really? Really? When Mark Whitten, the product chief of the Xbox One, says something like this: “The thing that’s really gratifying is that people are excited about the types of features that are possible, and it’s sort of shame on us that we haven’t done as good of a job as we can to make people feel like that’s where we’re headed.”

You see, after Microsoft backpedaled (rightfully so), they started playing the victim. Claiming that they had a wonderful vision and they worked so hard on it. If only the fanboys would stop hating and learn to appreciate their geniusosity…..that’s when Microsoft noticed a petition asking them to go back to what they presented at E3.

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There are some people who are serious and want to see Microsoft go back because they like the idea. But there are other who want to see Microsoft go back because they believe it will kill the Xbox One.

Microsoft, my dear… sweet….idiotic friend. Take another look at this survey. Heck, take a look at what you are trying to do. You want to emulate Steam, but keep the prices extremely high. Steam works because they have phenomenal sales! That’s the key to their success. Chances are, you won’t be able to emulate Steam. If you were planning awesome sales through your unique distribution or promises of lower prices because you are cutting out the middle man, then that could have worked! But did you? Nope. You didn’t.

You are missing what makes Steam so good. And instead, you’re keeping your collective heads up your rectums.

As a friend… please listen. I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, but it looks like you’re existing in a bubble. Do yourself a favor and take some surveys. Get feedback from your customer base. Find out what they want…

3. Don’t forget: you’re making a video game system

When you first debuted the Xbox One, you seemed to have forgotten that your system is there to play video games. That’s the function of a video game console. Sure, it has a lot of fun little things here and there… but at heart, it’s all about playing video games. Somewhere down the line, you forgot that. You pushed your dude-bro sports stuff and talked about your fantasy leagues. You talked about all the sport games that we can watch and how we all can change channels. You tried to make it look important and fancy, touting your close relationship with EA.

But really? You sorta came off as a douche.

Yes, you want to be young and stylish. I get that. We all get that. You want to be cool. But here’s the thing…. you won’t come off as cool when you’re using some 30-something yuppie looking jerkwad.

It’s about the video games. You should have stuck with that, then introduced all the nice little things after that. Show off a sport’s game. Let someone in the audience play Lebron James in NBA Live. Play Brian Urlacher in Madden. Make it interactive! That way, the gamers will feel the video game will let them be as close to the action as they can be.

We didn’t get that. We got the jerkwads talking at the Xbox to show that it listens to us. Showing us it is a good television, great at skyping, and sports! Lots of sports.

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Well Microsoft, I went a bit off topic a few times. Sorry about that. But I focused on a certain theme. Find out what your customer wants. Listen to them. Collect data. Yes, you have a nice vision. But if your customers reject your vision, then it’s not a matter of you not explaining it right… it’s a matter of you not making sure you are making products your customer wants.

I hope nothing but the best for you Microsoft.

I really do.

Signed,

Michael

Used Games: Greed

I’m a believer in free market capitalism. Seriously. I am. It empowers both the customer and the producer. The customer will pay for the products and services they want. The producer will then produce the produce or create the service the customer wants to make money. It’s a symbiotic relationship in that way. Sure, it gets far more complex than that. But when you look at the nuts and bolts of it, this is free market capitalism.

One of the nice complexities of free market capitalism comes into play when the customer no longer wants the product they purchased. They have the option of selling the product. They could do this at a garage sale, advertise it in a newspaper, or go to a resale shop to get rid of it. This option has been around for about as long as products have been sold at shops.

Gamestop came about, filling the need for a video game specific resale business. Sure, they sold new games as well… but it was nice to have a place where gamers could buy and sell used games.

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This is where the problem begins. Video game developers didn’t get a cut of the profits when gamers sold their used games off. In a free market system, the video game developer would not see the used video game market as lost profits, but rather would focus on creating quality products within the resources they had. Work with what you have, not with what you want.

The moment video game consoles were equipped with internet connections, developers had a tool to make money off of used games. Sure, they claimed DLCs were there to help expand on the video game… give the gamer more experiences… more levels to go through.. etc. But is that really what DLCs are used for? Really? I’ve lost count of the video games that lets me purchase ammo, guns, lives, etc. I’m left with the impression DLCs are there to help nickle and dime the gamer.

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More than that… online passes. They added it to as many games as they could, letting gamers purchase the used games. But they wouldn’t get the entire game unless they would pay the developers a small tribute… err… I mean fee. A small fee. That way, they are increasing their profit margin and tapping into a market where THEY DO NOT BELONG.

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What do I mean by that? Why don’t video game developers belong in the used video game market ? They made the game, after all. Heck, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot realized that when gamers purchase used games, they remain invested in the video game industry and are likely to purchase new games. So clearly, they have a stake in used games! So, why don’t they belong there?

Free market capitalism.

Video game developers are not letting the market naturally develop and grow. Rather, they are trying to take control of the market by taking away rights that customers take for granted. It seems straight forward that we can resell anything we purchase. This was because we believed we owned the damned product that we purchased originally. But as it turns out, we do not. When there are things like online passes and DLCs, the game can’t be truly owned by the customer. The proof is when they try to resell it.

If they owned it, then there shouldn’t be a problem with selling it to another person. That person buying the used product should get exactly the same product as the one who originally purchased it.

Does that happen?

Nope. That’s because the company retains a sense of ownership over the product. They can force customers who dare purchased games used to pay them extra to have the same experience as buying it new. And they justify it by calling it “online passes.”

The video game industry is over-reaching here. If they aren’t making enough money to develop their AAA titles, then they should re-think their business model… as it is not working. Their traditional business model is dying, as it is not compatible with the realities of the modern day marketplace. They need to look at the customers and figure out what they want rather than punish customers for what is perfectly reasonable: buy used games.

Related Article: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-05-31-pre-owned-crackdown-is-a-sad-excuse-for-business-innovation

Comparing Sales Figures: Xbox 360 versus PS3

Studying the weekly sales figures of the Xbox 360 versus the PS3 reveals something unexpected. The Playstation 3 has outsold the Xbox 360 for months now. Months! Sales figures were pulled from the website VGChartz.com.

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Febuary 23rd

  • PS3 – 184,342
  • Xbox 360 – 141,741

March 2nd

  • PS3 – 186, 210
  • Xbox 360 – 126, 582

March 9th

  • PS3 – 166,209
  • Xbox 360 – 119,539

March 16th

  • PS3 – 159,646
  • Xbox 360 – 115,039

March 23rd

  • PS3 – 157,118
  • Xbox 360 – 106,565

March 30th

  • PS3 – 175,908
  • Xbox 360 – 126,817

April 6th

  • PS3 – 153,771
  • Xbox 360 – 115,838

April 13th

  • PS3 – 146,889
  • Xbox 360 – 100,965

April 20th

  • PS3 – 139,768
  • Xbox 360 – 96,128

April 27th

  • PS3 – 136,517
  • Xbox 360 – 88,275

May 4th

  • PS3 – 130,667
  • Xbox 360 – 80,825

May 11th

  • PS3 – 120,714
  • Xbox 360 – 77,868

May 18th

  • PS3 – 126,462
  • Xbox 360 – 84,576

May 25th

  • PS3 – 131,251
  • Xbox 360 – 83,634

June 1st

  • PS3 – 129,226
  • Xbox 360 – 80,991

June 8th

  • PS3 – 121,374
  • Xbox 360 – 79,277

June 15th

  • PS3 – 146,813
  • Xbox 360 – 79,854

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The Xbox 360 dipped below 100,000 consoles for sale a week on April 20th and has been unable to get much higher than 80,000 since then. I’m surprised that the horrible debut of the Xbox One didn’t hurt their sales figures that badly. Seriously. The initial announcement occurred on May 21st. In that week, sales seemed to hit a fairly stable plateau of 80,000 a week. If the announcement would have hurt it, I would expect sales to plummet rather than stabilize like that.

Taking a look at the sales figures for the Xbox 360, sales of the system have fairly consistently fallen every week since the end of February. The figures are limited this way for the sake of brevity, as it is easy to put months of data up to show how the sales have fallen for quite some time. It could be there haven’t been enough games to attract people to the Xbox 360. Or maybe Microsoft’s marketing machine shifted away from the system to prepare for the Xbox One’s launch. It’s difficult to pinpoint any one reason or identify if any reason offers more explanation than any other one. No matter the reason, or reasons, it is clear the Xbox 360 sales are on a decline with no indication of recovery.

In comparison, sales for the Playstation 3 have remained relatively strong in comparison. Just like the Xbox 360, sales figures have consistently fallen for the PS3, but not at the extreme rate of their competitors. In fact, there are a few occasions where the sales increased. The week of E3 saw a jump in sales of about 20,000! It could mean that Sony’s success at E3 had a huge impact leading to more sales for their current console. It could hint that people are warming up to Sony or they won over fans. It could mean there were still great games being released which motivated more people to purchase consoles.

The figures strongly hints that there’s more trust in the Playstation name brand than in the Xbox name brand. More gamers are purchasing the system, plain and simple. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue or if this will definitely carry over into the next generation of consoles. As long as Sony can make a good showing as the 7th Generation Console War ends (The Nintendo Wii is the clear winner as it is closing in on 100 million in total sales), they can claim a very clear cut victory over their main competition.

Nicely done Sony.

Interview Series: The admin of Boycott Xbox One

I had a chance to have a short discussion with the administrator for the facebook page Boycott Xbox One. It was a chance to understand the motivations behind the page and to get a better idea of the purpose behind it. We were unable to chat via skype, but the administrator was more than happy to answer my questions over private messaging. Continue reading