The Xbox One interface pisses me right off

The scene opens as a bunch of guys in stuffy suits sit around a board room, their ties loosened a bit to show that they’re working a bit casually. A man leads their discussion from the front of the room, standing next to a whiteboard with ideas circled, crossed out, and some with triple underlines. There’s obviously been some excitement and discussion going on here. Sound fades up as we join in on the conversation.

Suit 1: …convoluted. Yeah, I’m being serious. I think that if we make it totally convoluted and difficult that we’ll get where we’re trying to go.

Suit 2: I don’t follow. Don’t the kids like things a bit easier in their video gaming consoles these days?

Suit 1: No, that’s where you’re not seeing the big picture! If we make it as difficult and irritating to use as possible, yet still fully functional for the holdouts, we can force them to use Kinect, because to use the controller would be like trying to eat spaghetti without hands. Sure, you can do it, but it’s going to be messy.

Suit 3: What Norman is trying to say, Gene, is that we need to force them to use Kinect, because as it stands, this thing only works about half the time in perfect conditions. We’re pretty proud of that though, so don’t take that as a put down.

Suit 1, who we now know as Norman: Exactly! Thank you, Earl!

Suit 2, now known as Gene: I see…and I like that spaghetti idea. Let’s get some after this wraps up.

Suit 3, now known as Earl: Agreed. To take the spaghetti idea further, let’s just imagine each activity on the Xbox One is like following individual noodles through a bowl. That’s our target, let’s hit it, team.

*Gene, Norman, and Earl pump their fists at the same time and squeeze out determined looks*

A musical montage runs. Gene, Norman, and Earl can be seen sketching, pointing a lot, eating spaghetti, laughing, rubbing their foreheads, and as the song fades out, the three can be seen huddling around the whiteboard with a list of decisions. They look exhausted.

Norman: I’ll read it back. If we missed anything, please speak up. Ok, so, launching apps…we decided to go with “annoying.” Looks right. Navigating categories with a controller…we went with “asinine.” Seems in order. Kinect accuracy…we settled on “spotty.” So far, so good. The party system was hard, but I think we nailed it with “far worse than the simple and beautiful system we had on 360. In short, totally convoluted and confusing.” Finally, we come to speed and overall ease of use and we decided on “slow and painful unless you use Kinect, and still kind of slow even with Kinect.”

Gene: Guys, I don’t want to sound too optimistic here, but I think we nailed it in one pass. The kids are going to be raving fans.

Earl: Agreed. Phew, that was a looooooong meeting. I’m not used to these sessions that go the full hour. But hey, you can’t argue with the results.

Norman: No you can’t. Good work guys.

End scene.

Xbox-One-Dashboard-1

I’d call that satire, but this is my actual and honest educated guess about how the Xbox One’s dashboard came about. If I’m being kind, it’s a mess. I don’t like the Kinect at this point. Sure, maybe I’ll get better as time goes on, but as it is now, using Kinect is embarrassing, even when you’re sitting alone in your gaming room. If you really want to feel stupid, show your wife how “cool” the Kinect is and watch as she laughs at your “kind of neat if it worked well” $500 console.

Resorting to controller is almost preferable to using Kinect. Almost. The way that everything is “organized” on the Xbox One is beyond stupid. Random tiles flip around in place and there’s no cohesion to the style nor experience from one page to the next. I get that you can pin your favorites in place, but any time you veer from your favorites, you better fire up Google Maps, because THE SEARCH IS ON.

Not to compare too much to the PS4, but after using Sony’s very simple interface, the Xbox One feels outright assaulting to my senses. There’s too much going on, too little organization or control, and stuff that is buried or simply no longer available to view (try finding a game invite if you miss it come through). At this point I just don’t like barking commands out to my Xbox, and I don’t know that I’ll ever like it all that much. I’m hoping that the voice commands increase in accuracy though, because nothing grinds your experience to a halt faster than shouting at your Xbox 4-5 times to simply launch a game or snap an app to the side.

I love the capabilities of the Xbox One. I think snapping in TV or the Internet to the side of the screen is pretty cool, but fighting to make it all happen really makes me question whether or not I care enough to fight with the console.

I was a huge 360 fan in the last generation and only played the PS3 for its exclusives. I figured the same would be true going forward into this new generation, but so far, the Xbox One has been a chore. Please turn this around Microsoft, because I would rather have two consoles that I deeply enjoy, not one that gets relegated to dust collector role until a worthwhile exclusive comes along.

Image via TechnoBuffalo

Android is now 72% of the mobile market, so can we start using “mobile” to refer to apps and games?

One thing that drives me crazy is the insistence that many people have to refer to mobile games as iOS versions of a game. They’ll be talking about Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty and say, “there’s an iOS companion app for the game as well.” Yeah, there is, but it’s not limited to iOS. Many times the app is available for Android and Windows Phone 7/8 as well. Heck, most times it’s available for at least one other platform than iOS.

The people doing this are being irresponsible. It would be no different than a reporter mentioning that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was now available…for Xbox 360. Yes, it is, but it’s also available for PC, PS3, and Wii U. Multiconsole development became a standard quite a while ago. Only when we have an exclusive app do we mention the platform, and mobile development should be no different.

So why is this an issue, exactly? Well, I’m very well informed when it comes to the gaming industry, but often news sources can fail us. It’s impossible to get news from the original source every time, so I rely on podcasters, editors, and even word of mouth from peers. When these people are saying, “out for iOS” by default simply because they own an iPhone, they’re being misleading, even if it is unintentional. As a specific example, I saw many prominent gaming media members discuss the availability of Xbox Smartglass for iOS, and I figured that the Android version must be coming lately. Finally, a few days later I decided to just search for it on the Google Play Store, and there it was.

Call them whatever you want, “mobile apps/games” or “apps for phones and tablets” or whatever you want; but please, use a term that is inclusive, not exclusive. We’ll all be better informed, and we’ll all be doing our job better.

Sony pulls a Sony with their new Vita ad

Sony has a long history of horrible ad campaigns, especially in Europe. Yes, they do make some good ones, most notably the Michael ad, but far too often they leave their fanbase blushing in embarrassment and their target audience scratching their heads in confusion. The latest ad is definitely a case where blushing and confusion are running rampant.

Earlier today, a thread popped up over on NeoGAF with an image that shows Sony’s latest print ad for the Vita. The ad is currently running in France, and when translated reads: “Two touch surfaces, twice the sensation.” The quote is accompanied by a woman with four breasts. Seriously. You can see the ad below (click to enlarge).

Sony Vita Ad with 4 breasts

Not only is the ad stupid and lacking in content that would compel anybody to pick up a Vita based on its available software, it’s also highly demeaning and gross. Not only are you alienating women with the approach, you’re also implying that breasts are nothing more than a plaything for horny men. It’s subtle, but by cutting the head of the woman out of the ad, they’re not even hiding the fact that a gamer would have no interest in the woman as a person, it’s just important that she has a nice pair (of pairs) of breasts.

And really, it’s also undermining the Vita too. Hey, who cares about software and the personality of the library, it feels good to rub! That’s all you guys want, a good rub, right?

You can do better Sony. Your fans and the industry deserve better than this.

So this happened, and it’s open season for games journalism now

Geoff Keighley appeared in an interview with PixelPerfectMag on YouTube and talked a little bit about some upcoming games…especially Halo 4 and its partner programs with Mountain Dew and Doritos. And boy did Mountain Dew and Doritos get some play. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sponsorship in gaming, but that should be between the video game publisher and the product maker. When gaming journalists step in and decide to take part in that relationship, everybody is going to cry foul.

I don’t have any doubts about Geoff Keighley’s ability to do his job well. I don’t think he’s been dishonest in the past, but when you see him, or anybody else for that matter, sitting in a room surrounded by promotional material, it’s not a stretch to start thinking that their viewpoint might begin to skew in favor of those sponsors just a little bit. Take a look at the video below, and I’ll give my reaction and explain why this could have been approached in a much better way.

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Geoff is seated around a bunch of promotional material. That’s the first and last thing you’ll notice when watching this clip. It looks bad. The thing is, if Geoff agreed to talk about the Dew/Doritos XP program, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t have disguised it as a simple interview. They should have presented it as a sponsored segment. Secondly, it could have been presented in a more detached manner. Remove the marketing materials. All they’re doing is evoking thoughts of Wayne’s World’s sellout bit. They look cheap and forced. Talk about the program, be upfront that a deal has been made to promote it, and don’t try and act like you’re just interested in talking about Mountain Dew and Doritos because they’re such fine products.

When talking about Halo 4 or the Dew XP program, all Geoff would have said to make this go down easier would have been, “and I want to talk about this DewXP and Halo 4 stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by Mountain Dew and 343 Industries to discuss it with you.” Doing that, it would have been received so much better. By disguising it as a journalistic segment between an online magazine and a journalist, this whole segment comes across as gross, insulting, and kind of sad.

Let’s not move this direction, people. Let’s learn from this misstep and separate coverage from promotion with clear, bold lines. When we neglect to do so, especially with a respected member of the games journalism community, the reactions that arise are damaging to our industry and to our attempts to be taken seriously by the gamer community.

The PSN is the suckiest bunch of suck that ever sucked (for downloading)

First, let me say thanks to Sony for providing a review code for Papo & Yo. The game is great, and it’s something I’ve been highly anticipating since E3 2011, when I first saw the game. Ok, now that I’ve said that, let me whine for a bit.

The PSN is terrible. It’s absolutely awful. I’d rather get nut punched by a kangaroo than have to sit and wait for a game to download from Sony’s slow-as-molasses network. I have a 20Mbs Internet connection that works great for watching movies, playing games, streaming media, downloading files, and even for uploading poorly edited YouTube videos. It’s awesome for everything, aside from one thing. Downloading games from the PSN Store.

The 1.3GB file for Papo & Yo took over 11 hours to download. I started it around 7:00pm, and when I went to bed at 1:30am, it was not even 2/3 of the way done yet. I got up the next morning just after 6:00am and checked the status. It had 12 minutes to go. I’m not alone on this, either. Most of my friends who have PS3s complain about the same thing.

If Sony fixes only ONE thing going into the next generation, it has to be the ability to deliver content digitally to their console. My Vita downloads faster, though it’s still a fraction of the speed of what my Xbox 360 or even Wii can do. Sony is the company that is working the hardest to push digitally delivered content on their consoles, but the experience is terrible.

Get it together Sony. Please. For the children.

Why I’ll never buy another Polytron or Phil Fish game

Fez was a game that took years to develop and it enjoyed a strong amount of hype leading up to its release. For those waiting on the game, the wait felt long and painful, but finally the game hit on April 13, 2012. Gamers purchased Fez in droves, and although neither Microsoft nor Polytron released sales numbers, we do know that it sold over 100,000 copies in the early going. All seemed well, but it didn’t take long for people to start finding bugs, glitches, and hiccups in the Fez experience.

And then Polytron patched Fez.

With the patch that Polytron released for Fez, many of the bugs, crashes, and performance issues were resolved, but for a small number of gamers out there, the patch corrupted save files. The only fix was to completely abandon progress and start over, which has proven to be a tough pill to swallow by those affected.

When it became clear that the patch was problematic, Polytron pulled the patch and promised a better fix. The promise, however, would never be fulfilled. After going the rounds of negotiation with Microsoft, Phil Fish, owner/founder of Polytron decided that he’d rather not pony up the cash it costs to issue a second patch (first patch is free, second patch costs money) and just tell those who were affected by the bug, myself included, that they’d have to dump their progress and start the game over.

Well, I don’t want to start over. I don’t feel like I should have to start over. I feel like if you’re going to publish a game on a major platform that you owe it to your supporters to make sure that they get a bug free experience. Phil ranted about how it was expensive to issue a patch. So what, Phil? Fix the game and put out that patch. Eat the money.

What irks me almost as much as my flawed save file is that Phil complained about Microsoft and how it was so terrible that he would be faced with this fee. Cry me a river, Phil. YOU CHOSE TO SIGN AN EXCLUSIVE DEAL WITH MICROSOFT, DON’T TURN AROUND AND WHINE ABOUT IT LATER. Phil has gone on record saying that the exclusivity deal has been a nightmare. Yeah, I bet it sucked having Microsoft market your game aggressively for you, right Phil? I bet it sucked having prime real estate on the Xbox dashboard.

Phil likes to paint himself as a victim, but he knew what he was getting into when he signed the exclusivity agreement. He put out a game that was bugged and then issued a patch that had even worse bugs. If Phil says he was unaware of any potential problems when signing an exclusivity agreement, it was because he was blinded by dollar signs.

And Phil has a history of being a total douchebag. He’s put down PC gamers, media outlets, Microsoft (who offered to work with him on the patch issue and he kicked dust and cried instead), Japanese developers, and his former business partner who was by all accounts horribly misrepresented in Indie Game: The Movie on the account of Phil’s one-sided account of things. All these things could be swallowed until he burned his consumers to save a few bucks, which is often an unforgivable sin in retail.

Well, that’s it. I’m not ever giving Polytron another penny. If they want to make things right, I’ll reconsider, but I have a habit of not dealing with companies that wrong me and then make no attempt to make it right even though it’s fully within their means to do so. Maybe I’m alone, I don’t know, but I just think that Phil Fish’s stance is childish, disrespectful, and greedy.

Can anybody tell me what Ben Kuchera thinks of Ouya?

Seriously. I mean, I love when a person has an opinion on something. I also like when that person shares their opinion, even if I don’t agree, because it makes for good discussion. But when you’re in a position of authority, I think it’s entirely irresponsible to pick a target and just needle it incessantly. And this needling is exactly what Ben Kuchera has done over Ouya.

For those not familiar, Ouya is a Kickstarter-funded (still in funding as of now) gaming console that runs on Android. Ouya is aiming to create their own marketplace while creating a console that is easy to customize (hack), easy to set up, and cheap to purchase. Several developers have shown interest, and the team involved in the project includes some impressive names. For $99 you can get in on the Kickstarter and get a console with a wireless controller. It sounds nice if it all pans out, but nobody is sure quite yet how it’s all going to come together. What is clear, however, is that there’s a large group of interested people who are willing to put their money down and gamble on the device. Right now, the project has over 40,000 backers and has raised over $5.1 million dollars. Seems like there’s some good excitement out there.

But don’t look towards Ben Kuchera if you are seeking nods of approval.

Over the past week, Ben has gone on a personal crusade against the little upstart. He seems to have a daily tweet quota where he whines about the number of people backing it, how much money is going into the project, what questions are left unanswered, and even goes as far as to whine about “what if” scenarios the he creates himself. It’s crazy.

Now, Ben is fine to be cautious. Anybody who puts money into Kickstarter should always be cautious to some degree, but he’s crossed a line with his fervor. Ben has used his standing at the PA Report to write up reasons why you should pull your money or keep from pitching in. He’s tweeted out all kinds of reasons why you’re foolish to hope for anything good to come from Ouya. And the worst part of it all, it seems to be rooted in his disdain for Android. For evidence of that, look at his earliest criticisms where he basically asks, “who would want an Android device?”

Ben, nobody is asking you to support Ouya, but I am asking you to find a lower horse to sit on with this one. It’s not your place to single out a Kickstarter project and rain all over it. There are literally hundreds of destined to fail projects on Kickstarter right now, so why pick just this one? Why choose the fastest growing Kickstarter of all time? Sure, Ouya may fail, but people who are pitching in aren’t too concerned about that. They’re backing the concept. People are proclaiming that they want an open console and they want something affordable and customized. While Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Apple release devices that are extremely locked down (or even lose features over time), people are ready to embrace something affordable and open.

Ben is a smart guy. Ben is a great reporter. But in this case, Ben needs to chill out and stop acting like he’s exposed the Illuminati and it’s his mission in life to warn everybody else away. Ouya may fail, and Ben might be right, but for many backers, they won’t care. Ouya might be a huge success, and that would be a great thing, so why can’t we just let them keep climbing the ladder without stomping on their fingers?

If you’re interested in Ouya, you can find the Kickstarter project page here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console

Helpful games journalists: Stop telling the shackled to run

Do you ever get advice from someone who is qualified to give it, but you’re not capable of acting those suggestions? If so, you know it can be frustrating, if not, you can probably imagine how it might be. With an increased amount of scrunity on games journalists lately, there’s been a big focus on improving the content being produced by major video game news and reviews outlets. Some prominent writers often hand out freebie bits of advice through Twitter, blogs, and podcast, all with the hope of helping less experienced or skilled writers to raise their quality of writing.

The problem is, many of these tips are impossible to achieve for your average newcomer.

Last week, an editor that works with quite a few freelance writers began to vent a bit. Other writers and editors chimed in and either echoed statements or added to the list of dos or do nots. Some of the tips were quite helpful, such as common cliches to avoid or how to abandon old standards that make you look dated. Some tips focused on things that seem clever, but are actually annoying or disingenuous. But then some gems got dropped that left me shaking my head a bit.

One editor told writers the differentiate themselves by picking up the phone and talking to sources to get their own quotes rather than reporting on existing quotes from reports posted on sites. It’s good information, but few writers who are just getting started have the talking heads at Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and the big publishers on speed dial. In fact, getting that information can be a bit difficult, and some companies dislike being contacted by site owners or writers that have no established history of communication. It’s a solid tip, but it’s not that helpful for a writer that lacks the resources or clout to act on it.

Another tip, well intentioned but misguided, was that small site owners need to do their own independent fact checking. Much like the previous tip, this is simply a near impossible task for small outlets. Over at Gamer Theory, we’re at the point where we can contact a publisher and get a timely response, but it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that we’d contact a company to verify something and we’d not hear anything back. If we did get a response, it would be a quick note that someone might get back to us if they get time. By the time we’d hear anything, the news cycle had turned over and the story no longer mattered.

I love that certain writers are engaging their audience and providing tips for hungry writers. It’s great that they do this, but there needs to be some recongnition as to what a helpful tip would be for someone with limited resources. At times I think we forget what it’s like to be a startup or a newcomer on the scene. We expect everybody to have the power of a major network behind them, when that’s simply not the case.

And really, those tips are still worth putting out there, but they should be accompanied with some understanding. Too often these tips are followed up with a remark that includes criticism of those not practicing them. That criticism is only fair if the writer is capable of acting on the advice, but then chooses not to. When a writer’s hands are shackled, it’s really quite rude to offer them an ice cream cone before the key.

Until we get better access to PR and industry influencers for smaller outlets, it’s time to stop expecting more from the lesser established writers out there. Yes, feed them with “tips from the pros”, but reserve the criticism for them until they’re ready to act on it. All you do is sow discouragement and make the writer question whether or not they’re fit continue writing for this industry.

The incestuous relationship between games journalists and PR

It’s something that gets talked about once in a while, but it’s always a subject that either quickly gets brushed under the rug, or it gets laughed off nervously. It’s a reality, however, and it’s the biggest obstacle in our industry when it comes to getting gamers to trust us as journalists. I’m talking about the incestuous relationship that exists between games journalists and game developers and PR.

To deny that there’s a whole lot of coziness going on between games journalists and PR is akin to sticking one’s head into the sand. As I talk about this, I’m going to name specific examples, but I’m going to refrain from naming names or companies outright. The point of this article isn’t to point out who is guilty, because the problem runs much deeper than what can be named from a few specific examples.

A few years back, a bit before the launch of the Wii and PS3, I attended a media day at a large publisher’s office. We were there to see games for the 360, Wii, and PS3, and for many in attendance it would be their first hands on with Wii and PS3 software. After the first couple of major titles, we broke for lunch. The publisher treated us to a nice catered meal, but I noticed that a few reporters left to “go get some real food” with a couple of members from the PR team. At the time it seemed harmless.

As we sat down to eat, a few guys at the table grumbled that the guys who left for lunch were getting a great free meal, but that they “typically paid it back with a glowing preview.”

I didn’t think much of it and chuckled at the comment, figuring it was more of a joke than anything. But sure enough, as embargoes lifted, the guys who went to lunch served up previews that were devoid of criticism that were also packed with bits of information that nobody else had access to at the event.

The experience caused me to open my eyes a bit to the practice. I’ve witnessed countless similar occurrences in other settings. I took a trip to cover a gaming event outside of the country once. I was treated amazingly well on the trip, but again, there was another group that had a deep familiarity with our hosts who ended up posting previews that were far more glowing and, once again, contained additional information than we were able to collect at the event.

I’ve seen the same sort of stuff take place at E3. I’ve seen it take place over Twitter. Anybody who is looking will see it, you don’t need any sort of insider access to see that certain reporters benefit from a friendly relationship with developers and PR.

These relationships aren’t some devious plan or the result some under the table dealings in most cases. The reason this happens is because we often become friends with PR or developers as a natural consequence of communicating and spending time with them. The problem arises when people find that they have an easy time talking about what they like about their friends’ work and that they struggle to criticize that same work. The issue is compounded when former journalists are now in production, and they have former co-workers handling critiques. And while I do like that some journalists often refuse to review games that they get a little too close to during development, they still do benefit greatly from increased exclusive access.

So what can be done? If the nature of the industry pushes us naturally into these positions of friendship, is there a way to avoid favoritism? If you’re on the PR side of things, wouldn’t you want those who tend to give you the best press to be the ones you trust with increased access to your products? If you’re the reporter, wouldn’t you overlook a few minor gripes in exchange for a better working relationship with your PR contact?

Well, it would take a denial of basic human nature. I don’t know that journalists are ready to fairly criticize their friends, and I don’t know that PR is ready to bestow equal access to all individuals and news outlets, regardless of how critical or kind they may be. It’s what needs to happen for us to improve as journalists, and for the games themselves to improve. Proper criticism is key to improving products.

If we truly love this industry, we’ll start doing the hard thing and start getting honest, even with our friends.

Can Kotaku repair their image with the hardcore audience?

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Kotaku over the years. I’ve refused to give the site clicks, and I’ve heard countless complaints from other gamers about how poor the coverage is at Kotaku. Normally I wouldn’t rail so hard against a publication, but Kotaku was seriously one of the shining of examples of everything that holds games journalism back from being taken seriously.

Always willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of a few extra clicks, Kotaku was notorious for putting out articles that were extremely low quality, rushed, off topic, not properly sourced when they were reporting on another site’s exclusive news, and for having a poor attitude when answering to criticism and negative feedback.

But everything is changing now. Kotaku is not the same as it was even three months ago.

Stephen Totilo has taken over at Kotaku as top dog now that Brian Crecente has left to be part of the Vox Games team and former editor-in-chief Joel Johnson is writing for Jalopnik. New faces at the site are headlined by the highly respected and likable Jason Schreirer. These changes have brought about an immediate change in the attitude at the site, and the writing has noticeably improved. The design is still a mess, but we’ll worry about that later.

In recent weeks, Stephen Totilo has shown that he’s a responsible editor-in-chief that cares about the content produced under his watch. There’s still a disposable story that slips through here and there, but the blatantly offensive or truly awful posts have been put to a stop, and when one has slipped by, Stephen has apologized via Twitter for it. It’s radical change in attitude coming from the top at Kotaku then we’re used to, and I hope people are paying attention.

For years Kotaku’s stance has always been, “we’re Kotaku, so deal with it.” Seeing Stephen opening up increased dialog is what is going to be the biggest difference for the blog. For the first time in years I’ve been willing to read articles at Kotaku, and if I don’t like what I see, I have patience because I am seeing a sincere effort by the staff to improve.

I’m curious what others think. I’ve rarely heard a good word about the site said when I’ve been sitting down with other journalists or talking to gamers who are well read in the world of gaming.

For Kotaku to turn their image around, they’re going to have to stay pushing into this new direction. It may cause their overall click count to go down, an I’m not sure how the upper management at Gawker will feel about that, but I just hope that they stay patient and allow Stephen Totilo to continue to have free reign.

Personally I’d love to see Kotaku become a respectable website in our community. The more great outlets we have, the better we are as an industry. It’s a long road back, but it looks like the driving forces at Kotaku are willing to stay in for the long haul.