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The Psychology of Online Poker

The Psychology of Online Poker

As promised, DDJ follows up on his earlier musings with an article on some of the specific psychological dynamics at play in online poker.

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Final Fantasy XIII-2

Final Fantasy XIII-2

In this short article, I’ll talk about why it is that Final Fantasy XIII-2 profoundly misses the mark for a sequel.

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What should impact a game’s score?

What should impact a game’s score?

This week, DDJ examines all the various criteria that one could argue should influence a game’s review score, including fun, play time, replay value price, innovation, uniqueness, artistic merit…

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How do you score wildly different games?

How do you score wildly different games?

How do you compare The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Bastion? This week, I’ll analyze the difficulties inherent in comparing game from wildly different genres.

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The Dangers of a Narrow Score Spectrum

The Dangers of a Narrow Score Spectrum

In order to examine the dangers of a narrow score spectrum, let’s first consider why we give games numeric scores in the first place. I’d suggest that they’re for two reasons. One is as a simple channel of communication from reviewer to reader that allows the reader to get a very rudimentary view of the reviewer’s opinion in one single character. I’ll talk in future entries about why that’s a bad idea, but you can probably think of a few reasons yourself. The second one, and the one that I’ll focus on this week, is differentiation and comparison: scores give us a way to directly compare games to one another, allowing ranking systems, voting systems, etc. You can’t easily compare games without some kind of formal, objective scale to place them on, and so, the scoring system exists to allow us to differentiate games from one another easily. What, then, happens when we focus on putting all our games in a small subset of our reviewing spectrum? We lose the power to differentiate between them. Take a simple 1 to 10 scoring scale, and assume that, like the current industry, we focus only on points 7 through 10. That effectively gives us four bins to put every game in the world into: 10, 9, 8, and 7. How do you sort games into such large bins? Inevitably, you’re going to end up with games of vastly different qualities sharing bins solely because there aren’t a lot of bins to choose from. It’s like trying to sort every food in the world into four overarching groups; inevitably, you’re going to end up with mismatches as bizarre as kiwis and pizza in the same group solely because you have so few options. If the goal for review scores is to facilitate differentiation and comparison, then this sort of weak granularity is incredibly detrimental. In reality, however, differentiation rarely comes up as a practical concern because the industry at least seems to recognize it as an issue and takes counter-measures. whether knowingly or unknowingly. Unfortunately, those counter-measures tend to be to add on new solutions to the spectrum rather than fix the problem to begin with. Differentiation doesn’t become an issue because review outlets seem very content to add new levels of granularity to the upper echelons of the review system. There was a time when games were reviewed on a ten-point scale, 1 through 10. Over time, that evolved into a 20-point scale, 1 through 10 with half-points in between. Now, it’s become tenths of points in most places, which is what allows a score like 8.8 to even arise in the first place. On the...

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Why is 8.8 a bad score?

Why is 8.8 a bad score?

When I started to do research on this series, I was pleased to discover I’m not just an aimless reviewer howling against the wind. This problem is a thoroughly documented and often mocked issue with industry game reviewing. For evidence, look no further than the Google search results for 8.8: 8.8 is the score [amazon_link id=”B000FQBPCQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess[/amazon_link] infamous received from GameSpot a couple days before its release, an it has resulted in the first search result being the TVTropes article on 8.8, named for exactly that controversy. For a while, Googling 8.8 gave the Twilight Princess review itself, but fortunately for the meta-obsessed among us, searching for 8.8 now gives an article about searching for 8.8. Diving a little further into the TVTropes article (as we are basically helpless not to do), we find the article on the Four-Point Scale, which covers the tendency of game reviewers to operate based on a 4-point scale (6 to 9) rather than the 10 point scale they claim to carry. Excuses for this tendency vary. Many defenders of the current system claim that the system’s metaphor is to grades; anything less than a 60% is failing, so if you give a game a 6/10, you’re saying it’s failed — what’s the point in going any lower? I don’t personally buy that argument. I could write an entire article on why I find that to be a silly and inaccurate metaphor, but suffice to say I don’t agree with it. We’ll get more into it in a few weeks when we more clearly define what a review system needs to do, but in a nutshell, the grading system defines failing at 60% because there is a certain minimum level of content mastery necessary to advance in education. There is no reason for gaming to adopt that system. So why does it? According to TVTropes and many others, it’s a product of “executive meddling”. Put simply, game review outlets rely on industry aid to put out reviews. If an outlet reliably gives low scores, the industry can refuse to send them advance copies of games, thereby completely handicapping them against the rest of the industry that can build up hype through previews and advance reviews. Therefore, the outlet has to inflate scores; so, despite a game being subpar, it might get an 8.8, with the logic being that by inflating the score, the game producer will still be happy. At first, that might be true, but the long-term effect is that grade inflation becomes the expectation, not the exception. Therefore, 8.8 takes on the perception of a bad score because of...

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New Feature: The Challenges of Game Reviewing

New Feature: The Challenges of Game Reviewing

In this series, I’ll focus on several of the issues that I see as challenges for game reviewers today, including score inflation, conflicts of interest, and where reviews ought to focus. Along the way, we’ll talk about how game reviewing in general is doing a disservice to game developers, game players, and the industry as a whole, and how it can be fixed.

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Pulling It All Together: The Future of Gaming

Pulling It All Together: The Future of Gaming

This entry is part 7 of David’s series on The Future of Gaming. Click for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. This series has been going on for a month and a half now, and finally we’re at my grand conclusion. Before we get into it, let’s briefly recap what we’ve said over the past several weeks: The iPhone has fundamentally changed the gaming industry. It’s brought gaming back to the mainstream, back to a large audience, and back to where it was in the early 1990s before gaming developed its own spin-off culture. The iPhone, and smartphones more generally, has helped put gaming truly back in the discussion with movies and books as mainstream entertainment that appeals to the majority of people, rather than a niche side culture. The iPhone’s App Store is the shopping paradigm of the future: its centrality allows for game shopping to be simply, accessible and reliable, largely dodging the problems with accessibility that have plagued the game industry in the past. Compare it to other industries: with movies, you go, buy a ticket, and watch. With books, you buy the book and read it. With games before, you had to buy the console, buy a game for the right console, understand how to navigate the console’s setup… easy once you knew how to do it, but challenging for novices. Now, game-buying is as easy as movie-going. That, coupled with flexible pricing schemes (appealing to independent developers), will make the App Store the paradigm for future game-buying, just as we’ve seen it take hold with the Xbox Live Arcade, among other things. The ubiquity of smartphones, however, is what puts them over the edge. Through devices that aren’t dedicated to gaming, gaming can re-enter the mainstream without the stigma often attached to it. A future where everyone has a smartphone is a future where it’s justifiable for anyone to drop $500 on a device that plays games because it does so much else as well. It’s a future where the smartphone can tap into your location, personal preferences, or social circle to customize the game-playing experience just for you. It’s a future where gaming isn’t just accepted, it’s expected; recently I heard one of my non-gamer friends ask another, in shock, “You don’t have Angry Birds on your phone?” What was the last game that it was shocking to hear non-gamers hadn’t played? Super Mario Bros.? And with all this ubiquity comes more ubiquity: the more people have it, the more people want it. It’s an unstoppable snowball effect. But smartphones do leave certain things to be desired: their power can never match actual consoles. Enter the...

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Wii U: The Tiny, but Necessary, Final Piece of the Puzzle

Wii U: The Tiny, but Necessary, Final Piece of the Puzzle

This entry is part 6 of David’s series on The Future of Gaming. Click for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. Now, this part’s going to be rather short. Really, it is. I’ll try to drag it out as much as I can, but there’s just not that much to say about this. I contemplated not giving the Wii U’s relevance to the future of gaming its own article, just because it’s not so much a cornerstone as much as it is the last link in the chain. I’m giving it its own article since the last one’s going to be plenty long as it is, but really, if the future of gaming is a 500-piece puzzle, then smartphones and OnLive are the first 499 pieces, while Wii U is just the one that completes the puzzle. What is it about the Wii U that I’m talking about? Motion gaming? No. Touch gaming? Nuh-uh. Multiple screens? Nope. Casual gaming? Covered, and done better, by smartphones. The games themselves? Good guess, given that the game library is always the most crucial piece of a new release, but that’s now what I’m referring to here. Head tracking? Oh wait, they’re still not doing that even though it’s been shown to be possible, easy, and awesome. No, I’m referring to an under-appreciated, almost overlooked, element of the Wii U’s E3 presentation. But before I talk about the feature, let me try to stretch this article past the height of the ad over on the left and set up why this feature is needed, somehow without giving away the next one. What has the problem been so far with marrying OnLive to smartphones? What’s the major problem with real gaming on smartphones in general? The experience. Tiny screen, no controller, terrible sound. Streaming the screen content from OnLive doesn’t solve any of these problems. It’s still a downright subpar gaming experience. Now, if only the receiving device could then redirect the incoming video signal to a different source. If only the receiving device could effectively become the “cable box”, responsible for receiving and interpreting the incoming video stream and sending it to a real television set. If only we could stream the contents of the screen not only over the internet to the device, but also within the same room to a screen. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the first thing featured in the Wii U E3 trailer. The Wii U has the capability to stream the contents of the video signal of the game it’s playing from the console itself to your wireless controller. I’m not sure of the technology, though I’d anticipate the latest version...

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The OnLive Paradigm: The Second Piece of the Puzzle

The OnLive Paradigm: The Second Piece of the Puzzle

This entry is part 5 of David’s series on The Future of Gaming. Click for parts 1, 2, 3 or 4. To briefly recap, the first three articles of this series focused on how the iPhone has changed the gaming industry, and how the concepts introduced by the iPhone will perpetuate into the future of the gaming industry. I spent some extra time on those because they covered the bulk of the ‘content’ in terms of developers, gaming culture, and business models. The general takeaways: (a) were that the App Store paradigm of a closed, vetted, centralized online store with developer control over individual app prices would replace the current dominant “big-budget games only” model (and already has started to, given the Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, Wii Shop, etc.), and (b) that gaming will have to exist on a medium, in some way portable, that is not reserved solely to gaming. The iPhone (and for the latter point, smartphones in general) matches this idea perfectly. Of the articles in this series, this is the one I’m most nervous about writing. Why? Because one could easily misinterpret my case here as hyping up something that was already hyped, and subsequently basically fell flat on its face. That’s right, I’m talking about OnLive. Hyped by many as the console killer, OnLive has not even come close to delivering on that hype. However, I’m going to make the case that OnLive really is the console killer… kind of. Probably not by that brand name, and definitely not with their current business model, but that the “OnLive Paradigm” of streaming your screen rather than owning all the processing power in your own house is here to stay. In order to try to make this case convincing, I’m going to frame it a bit differently. Rather than just espouse the glory of OnLive itself, I’m going to frame this according to the question, “What benefits does the OnLive Paradigm give us over traditional console gaming and present smartphone gaming?” Lightened Device Demands The most obvious response to my articles about the iPhone and smartphone gaming is a hardware argument: the iPhone hardware cannot run top-of-the-line games. Even though technology is always improving, you’re still not going to run Call of Duty 4 on the iPhone hardware any time soon. Most smartphones run on roughly a 1 GHz processor — by comparison, PCs hit the 1 GHz processor mark ten years ago. The Xbox 360 presently has three 3.2 GHz processors. But the OnLive paradigm blows away the demands on the hardware within the actual device. The hardware required to stream from OnLive is just the hardware one would require...

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