Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

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How long is too long for a demo?

How long would you like your demos to last? Enough to get a good sense of the game? Enough to leave you wanting more? How about long enough to actually complete it? That’s what one PSP game is offering. According to Famitsu (via Kotaku), the PSP’s version of Ragnarok, an online strategy RPG, the demo released by GungHo Online Entertainment lasted around 16 hours allowing the publication to see on of the many endings. And that’s why this model works for Ragnarok, because if people want to see the other ones they’d have to purchase the full game. If you fancy giving it a go, the demo can be downloaded here.

Technically, this can be considered a freemium model which may not be big on consoles, but is something that’ll have to be considered in the long run. The PSP has already had a freemium game and again it’s an RPG. Bakumatsu Revolution could be downloaded from PSN and then distributed among PSPs via wireless connectivity. A genius way of virally spreading your game inside a tight community and then charging for additional quests and loot thereafter. Sony seem more keen to adopt the freemium model than other platform holders and are even changing PlayStation Home to incorporate free-to-play games.

Microsoft initially appear less than on board with the freemium model. When Dungeon Fighter Online comes to XBLA, the current plan is that it won’t be the free-to-play version seen on PCs but a fully paid-for game. However, in June, several sources claimed Microsoft was collecting data and discussing the possibility to bring free-to-play games to the 360 where gamers exchanged MS Points for in-game items. Maybe Dungeon Fighter Online will stay a freemium game after all.

Nintendo is adamant that free-to-play games will not be a feature of their consoles. Time and time again Satoru Iwata has scoffed at the idea of this model so don’t expect to see any on the 3DS or Wii U which could make them less relevant to gamers in the near future. On the nearest supposed contender to Nintendo, the App Store, in-app purchases and free-to-play games account for 72 per cent of its revenue. Like it or not (and I don’t), the freemium model is very big business and a better way for console publishers to combat piracy and pre-owned sales than DRM or pre-order bonuses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation of consoles focused on this type of gaming pushing us almost entirely into a digital distribution. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not

Apple, in ten years time, all this will be yours…

Phil Harrison helped the launch of the original PlayStation all those years ago and was on board right up until the early days of the PS3 where he once famously said rumble for controllers was ‘so last-gen’. But poor Harrison was merely playing the PR game and only said that because Sony was in the middle of a legal battle and not his true feelings. Now he’s no longer at Sony but an advisory for a cloud-based delivery network, Harrison’s thoughts aren’t murky with legalities but clear and most recently, rather divisive.

In an interview by Edge magazine a couple of weeks ago Harrison spoke about future of gaming and how, in ten years time, Apple will eventually become the games industry. Why? Because of the “proliferation of devices,” he said. “You’ve got iPhones, iPads, iPods, which are all part of the same ecosystem; the speed at which Apple sold 15 million iPads is phenomenal. And the number one activity on an iPad, according to some reports, is games, and I think that will only continue.” He went on to praise the App Store for how well it’s integrated and how easy it is to buy things. One click and you have content straight to the device. Harrison called it elegant and continuously refined but as an owner of Apple products, I’m not sure elegancy is a word I’d use.

But it’s the talk of Apple becoming the industry because of the size of its market which is really interesting. With that logic surely the Wii is currently the console industry, Primark is the epitome of fashion and Call of Duty: Black Ops is the best game ever made. Sheer volume doesn’t directly equate to an absolution of an industry. Yes, it means those markets are currently healthy but I would propose the notion that it shows Apple are capable of making a powerful entertainment device which gaming is a by-product. Apple’s approach to gaming, best seen in their press conferences, isn’t one that fills me with confidence of an overall take over of the video games industry. They talk about it but with the mediocre response to Game Centre, the praise and boasting, what little there is, centres around the tech driving it not the experience itself.

Other companies have done well to capitalise on the success of iPhones and iPads  but there is still a huge separation between the majority of games you find on those systems and the ones seen on traditional consoles. Often they try and emulate each other with varying results. One major issue, which is pointed out time and time again, is the lack of a physical controller, mainly the analog stick. Look how important it was for Sony to include a second stick on the PSVita and how awkward it can be for virtual versions to run on touchscreens. To become not just a leader but an industry itself, you’d have to better what came before and that goes for all aspects, not just sell lots of your device.

Mobile developers and publishers can be handsomely rewarded for their games but the 59p model does come with a few restrictions. Lets say the average gamer buys three titles a year and spends £120 doing so. Compare this to a purely mobile gamer who buys 59p games. They have to buy 203 of them in order to match the average gamer’s spend. And while there maybe well over 203 budget titles hitting the App store each month, that shows another problem with this market, it’s almost too big for its own good. Perusing a bloated store with games of drastically varying quality can only take up so much of anyone’s time before it becomes laborious. There would have to be some major changes in how the App Store works over the next ten years for it to be the ultimate place to shop. In that time who knows, Sony and Nintendo could perfect their digital distribution methods. We’ve already seen a huge improvement from Nintendo with the eShop on 3DS.

There’s no denying the popularity of Apple products. Selling 15 million iPads in nine months is superb but Microsoft are shifting a ridiculous number of Kinects with around 10 million of them already in homes worldwide. Is that too a contender for games industry? There’s no doubt Apple have been eating away at the traditional gaming space and the 59p experience has changed the habits of spending but I don’t know if ten years is enough for it to go from where it is now to ruling the entire industry, supporting the kinds of games found on todays consoles and PCs. I do like Phil Harrison, I think he’s a great personality and was a valuable asset to Sony but have to agree to disagree with him on this one.

iOS enters the third dimension

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Companies like Sony and Nintendo are defiant that in one way or another, 3D entertainment is the future. The former relies on fancy TVs, glasses and a PS3 whereas the latter is marketing their latest handheld, the 3DS, as a better alternative, doing away with the need for glasses and instead using a dual-layered screen to generate 3D images. But what if you didn’t need either or those solutions? A pair or developers from the University Joseph Fourier have created a tech demo for iOS devices that creates the illusion of 3D on existing 2D Apple hardware (via Slide to Play).

The App called i3D (available on the App Store now) was developed by Jeremie Francone and Laurence Nigay and uses the front-facing camera to track your face as move the device around. Since your head stays still (or at least should), i3D changes the on-screen image in real time according to its position relative to your head. Or, to put it another way, iPad 2 or iPhone 4 + i3D + head = 3D images. The video above shows just how impressive the demo is at the moment and the potential for this kind of technology rather than investing in expensive glasses or multi-layered screens. The downside – other than i3D currently only showing five proof of concepts, one of which being Mii heads so it’ll probably be pulled soon – is that no matter how cool this kind of thing is, it’s generally seen as a gimmick. Nintendo’s previous DS has a DSiWare title called Looksley’s Line Up or 3D Hidden Picture in Japan, that was pretty neat but puzzlingly not a concept adopted by other developers. Maybe now that i3D has been made for iOS devices, there’ll be more interest from smaller indie studios who regularly create iPhone games. I hope so because in the right hands this kind of thing could be awesome.

Review: DAGi Capacitive Stylus (iPad)

Steve Jobs once said that if you need to use a stylus on one of their iDevices, Apple had failed. However that hasn’t stopped consumers from wanting to use something other than their fingers and equally had little effect on the companies who make them. Considering the amount of drawing applications and the potential for the iPad to become a serious artistic tool, finding a good stylus among the many iPad accessories is essential. Most are fat with a rubber tip and resemble a swollen pencil but DAGi have made a thinner alternative that also offers a remarkable amount of precision.

Using the stylus for drawing works surprisingly well because of the clever design. DAGi replaces a rubber tip with a clear plastic disc that has a red dot in the centre. When held correctly, the red dot is the exact spot of contact between stylus and screen. It’s almost as if you’re painting with a laser sight. It must be said though because of the shape of the tip, there is a certain sweet spot for using the stylus. Drawing still feels natural and you won’t be holding the touchscreen pen at any obscure angles but it’s worth mentioning if you’re fussy about such things.

The Apps I used as a test for the pen were Brushes, Adobe Ideas and Facebook. The first two were to see how semi-professional art applications work with the stylus and they do so very well. If you’re going for detail and don’t want to keep zooming in to 400% or more, having fundamentally a red dot to follow makes everything a lot easier. As for Facebook, that was used to see how well the stylus handles as a navigational tool for people with portly digits. Again, it came up trumps, scrolling through screens and entering text wasn’t a problem at all.

Despite Jobs’ condemnation of iPad styluses, the DAGi Capacitive Stylus is a great accessory for anyone who wishes to sketch or draw precisely. I would argue that using one doesn’t mean Apple has failed but rather that DAGi have succeeded.

Mass Effect 3 delayed, Mass Effect portable okayed.

The official Facebook page for Mass Effect 3 had some bad news yesterday as it posted a message saying the game has been pushed back into early 2012 instead of holiday 2011 when it was said to come out. Executive producer Casey Hudson wrote: Mass Effect 3 will be released in the first three months of 2012. The development team is laser focused on making sure Mass Effect 3 is the biggest, boldest and best game in the series, ensuring that it exceeds everyone’s expectations.”

I can’t but wonder if this has anything to do with the outcry towards Dragon Age II and its many recycled dungeons. At the start of March, composer Inon Zur spoke to IGN about his involvement with the fantasy game saying how it was a bit if a rushed job due to EA wanting to “capitalize on the success of Origins,” pressing BioWare hard for it to be released sooner rather than later. Only 14 months stand between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II and for some players it really showed. If it were allowed the appropriate breathing space, it’s probable that the gameplay could have matched the high quality story telling that DA2 is said to possess.

What happened to BioWare’s other triple A franchise may have nothing to do with the delay but I’d imagine it would at least be at the back of their minds. The time between Mass Effect 2 and 3 would have been a fair amount longer in comparison if it were to come out this year but an extra few months to really tighten up the code could be the difference between an award winning game and one that’s not quite up to par.

On top the the news about the set back, EA listed a handheld/mobile release for Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3 too. It comes as no surprise when EA are actively pursuing the mobile space and already have both franchises on the iPhone. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has an iOS version as does Mass Effect who received a prequel to ME2. However, it needs to be said that neither of them are very good. Though mobile phones aren’t necessarily the avenue here because we could just as likely see a 3DS or NGP versions which would be a lot more interesting if true. Whatever they end up being, I’m hoping the Battlefield 3 (coming late 2011) and Mass Effect 3 (early 2012) portable won’t be watered down ports but follow the brilliant Dead Space on iPhone and create there own unique experiences.

The Nintendo Stream

UPDATE: Nintendo have officially announced their next home console code named Project Cafe and said that it won’t be out before April 2012.

No sooner had Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed the existence of Project Cafe, gaming site IGN managed to get hold of yet more alleged details about the Wii successor including a name, release date and price. If Nintendo don’t officially unveil it soon they’ll have nothing left to say! According to IGN’s trusted source, Project Cafe is expected to launch at the end of this year, around October or November and retail for either $350 or $400. But they also say that Nintendo may decide to hold off until the beginning of 2012 allowing studios to have longer with dev kits and potentially boosting the launch game line up. In the past, the Japanese gaming giant have been very secretive with their tech which annoyed a number of developers who could have benefited from the knowledge. Like LucasArts. They found out about the Wii MotionPlus add-on the same time as consumers and by then, they had already developed a light sabre-based fighter that could have been a great deal more successful if it included Wii MotionPlus support. If Project Cafe is as feature rich as everyone says it is, I’m sure devs would want to know about it way in advance and be at the forefront of the launch window.

Project Cafe is also said to be a bit of a beast, with insides that are meant to out perform both Xbox 360 and PS3 and have the potential for stereoscopic 3D too. But I highly doubt such a thing would be a integral to games since it’s taken this long for Nintendo to make the jumo onto HD TVs so they’re not about to leap frog that for 3D TVs. So the guts of the system will be ultra high tech but the outer is said to look like an updated SNES and have similar proportions to the first Xbox 360. As for the frankly perplexing name of Project Cafe, IGN say Nintendo have plenty of official names in mind with Stream being one that stood out. Probably due to the rumour surrounding controller. Project Cafe, Stream or Wii 2, whatever it’s to be called, will supposedly stream games straight onto a HD touchscreen fixed to the controller not so unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU or indeed the GBA and GameCube. They could be seen as early concepts for what Project Cafe is to become but possibly on a grander scale.

But that got me thinking, if the controller can be a gaming device all by itself, where does that leave the 3DS? Nintendo are potentially creating their very own iPods and you’d have to imagine they hold some form of memory capabilities. If they’re able to play standalone games as well as being accompaniments to Project Cafe titles, the 3DS could become an even harder sell. I think Nintendo will be very careful with what they do with the controller and how they market it. They’re not stupid and wouldn’t create a competitor for one of their own devices but would they also pass up the opportunity to make even more money off a peripheral? Think about it, WiiWare, DSiWare or Virtual Console style games playable on something that would be designed to fit snuggly in your hand. Sell them for a couple of quid or more and they could become very popular.

Nintendo, quite expectedly, declined from commenting on rumours when quizzed by IGN but all eyes will be on their press conference at this year’s E3 when we’re likely to hear more about the system. Unless of course more sources leak information before then. Ooh, isn’t it exciting eh?!