Life Is Strange-ly Telling

WARNING: This post will contain major spoilers to key parts of Life Is Strange episode 2.

I was on the fence about Life Is Strange at first. On one hand, it was by the developers of Remember Me, a game I loved and felt was criminally underrated. On the other hand, I was seeing a lot of comparisons to Gone Home, a game I felt was at best bland and at worst, pretentious and cliché and extremely overrated. I figured I’d wait until the full run of episodes was out before jumping in but my friend gifted me the first one for my birthday. After playing it through on a live stream, I discovered that the only real similarity to Gone Home was the conflicted, female teenage protagonist and that there was much more to this game so I immediately bought the season pass. Episode 2 came out last week and I also played it through in one session this past weekend. What I discovered in the end was that this fictional title about a character I couldn’t really relate to actually showed me something unexpected about my real life and potentially validated a recent decision I made and had been questioning since.

A quick primer for those unfamiliar: Life Is Strange is an adventure game and at several points, you’re forced to make choices that will impact how the story progresses throughout the series and how other characters interact with you. If you’ve played and of Telltale’s recent titles like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, you know the kind of thing I’m talking about. Also like those games, when an episode concludes, you’re shown all of the critical choices you had to make and how your decision stacks up with the rest of the player base. You can also show a comparison that is run only against your friends list (which was Steam in my case as I played on PC.) It was when I looked at these two comparisons after completing episode 2 that I had quite a surprise.

Here’s where the spoilers come in. During the game, Max (your character) meets this young woman:

This is Kate Marsh.

This is Kate Marsh.

Kate is sweet and friendly but shy and is often the victim of the clique of “mean girls” at Blackwell Academy where you both attend (and seriously, these girls are mean.) She’s also a religious person with a conservative upbringing which has given her a rather prudish reputation.

Prior to the start of the game, she decided to attend a party hosted by the elite social group at Blackwell known as the Vortex Club in an attempt to fit in. The short of it is, someone drugs her (very likely but not provably the asshole son of the rich family that owns the school) and she’s filmed making out with a bunch of different guys, a video quickly spread online by the aforementioned mean girl clique. A direct implication of rape is not given (likely because the developers didn’t want to go that far, even though this series is rated M) but if you read between the lines, that’s clearly what this is about. Her reputation gets destroyed very quickly, the school security guard hassles and threatens her to keep things quiet and her religious family all but completely ostracize her, leaving her extremely depressed and alone.

You have several choices to make with Kate over the course of the episode which largely involve telling her how you think she should handle things. At the end of the episode, she ends up pushed so far that she goes to the roof of the school, ready to commit suicide by jumping. You have to try to talk her down and it’s possible to fail and have her die but also to save her. I unfortunately messed up and couldn’t save her, a choice I’m living with as I think that’s what you should do in these kinds of games but I’ve felt like crap about it ever since.

When the episode ended, I compared my choices and found that I was in line with what most people picked, though I felt extra bad when I discovered that most people were also able to save Kate’s life. What really threw me for a loop however, was the stark contrast of one earlier choice when I compared the world to my friends list.

When Kate tells you her version of what happened at the party, she asks you what she should do. She wants to go straight to the police and make an accusation against Nathan, the rich kid who she’s certain drugged her. Your choice as Max is to either encourage her to do that or to tell her to wait for more evidence first.

I chose the latter. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, having had several experiences with Nathan up to that point and knowing the influence he had at the school and indeed in the town, I knew throwing an accusation out with no concrete evidence would only damage Kate’s reputation further. Proof is undeniable, an accusation is easily brushed off and retaliation certain when there’s so much corruption involved.

Secondly, when I play games like this, I try to play with my own set of values as the character to see how my own moral compass intersects with the writers and designers. My compass said that while sexual assault (especially on campuses) is a real, serious problem, so is false accusation and the presumption of guilt until proven innocent, the opposite of due process. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believed Kate’s version of events but in the eyes of the law, an accusation alone isn’t enough without proof (or at least, that’s not how it should be.) So, assuming I’d be able to find her more evidence, I told her to wait. She didn’t take it well but agreed nonetheless.

Here is how that particular choice stacked up against worldwide players versus my friends list:

My choice versus all of Steam.

My choice versus all of Steam.

My choice versus my friends list.

My choice versus my friends list.

With only a 1% difference, my friends list was the polar opposite of the worldwide stats, though it was fairly similar on almost everything else. This was a huge abnormality that really blew my mind and I began to ponder why it happened. It didn’t take long for me to realise it.

After Extra Life last year, I wrote a personal post talking about how among other things, I was deciding to step back from an online community I had been a part of for a long time. This was largely because of a shift in tone there to the extreme end on some issues which have boiled over in recent months, an extreme I do not agree with at all. The vast majority of my Steam friends list is still populated with people from that community and everyone on it who has played this game at time of writing is from there. On a regular basis, I question whether stepping back from that as I have was a good idea and whether or not I should go back. This choice comparison and how the community members were literally 99% different than the rest of the world has provided a surprisingly indirect, yet clear answer to that question, at least for now.

As weird as it is to have a personal quandary like this answered by a statistics screen in a video game, I think the way this informed a decision I was otherwise unsure of is quite something. Unfortunately, showing who made which binary choice doesn’t convey any nuance or context. Did they believe that what they’d witnessed of Nathan’s behaviour up to now was enough evidence on its own, even though it was anecdotal? Did other choices they made in episode 1 reveal more concrete evidence that I hadn’t seen? What choices could those have been? Were they trying to play to their own moral compasses as I do or were they projecting their gut feelings alone because they knew it was just a game? Or did they tell Kate to go to the police because they just believed her based on her say so alone, despite a lack of proper evidence? This is a common symptom with the “guilty until proven innocent” problem I mentioned earlier.

I made the choice I did because while Kate’s story certainly was believable because of what I’d seen up to that point, it didn’t matter as the law is clear and a false accusation can destroy someone’s life, even if it is an asshole and even if the accuser is being unjustly dragged through the mud themselves. The burden of proof should always be on the accuser, not the accused. It wasn’t the best choice for my feelings (seriously, fuck Nathan) but it was the best choice based on how I personally interpreted the situation. Clearly, those on my friends list didn’t think so, even if they were in the vast minority compared to most players of the game who witnessed the same things.

This chilled me quite a bit. I can’t know the motivations of their choices for sure but having stepped away from that community for the reasons I did and hearing how the tone has continued to be there since, it appears fairly clear to me what they were and that saddens me. It indicates a line of thinking towards certain critical issues that’s based on extreme viewpoints rather than rational ones and a disdain for due process when it involves certain subjects that have become touchier of late. That’s not something I believe in and while we don’t all have to agree, the viciousness some have shown to those who dare to not tow the line has been made all too clear the last while.

This one choice and how out of whack it is with all the others when compared to the rest of the world speaks volumes in a way I never thought possible. On that alone, DONTNOD Entertainment should be highly commended because this is something I didn’t think was possible. It’s a realisation I wasn’t expecting, certainly not in this way but it’s both fascinating how it happened and also depressing as the outcome is not one I was hoping to see. This game is light years above Gone Home for many different reasons but this revelation and how it was communicated is something wholly unique in my 30+ years of gaming. Who would have thought a static screen could tell you so much. Needless to say, I think I’ll be staying away from that community for a little while longer and I can’t wait to play the rest of this series.

Life Is Strange indeed.

Posted in Culture, Personal, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Service (With Video)

This post is a little different than most. Normally, the video is my rambling thought process that went into what’s ultimately a more condensed, concise post on the topic but this one’s basically just a big ol’ rant. When I write about a topic, I try to also put in a potential solution along with my complaints but this time, I don’t really have one. The video is long but contains the stories behind what this post is about, stories that would make this an epic wall of text if I repeated them out. If you want to know the stories, watch the video and feel free to relay your own stories in the comments!

A sad reality most of us have come to accept these days is that good customer service is something that’s generally the rule and not the exception. Big companies have learned exactly how bad their service can be before people will go from just complaining to actually taking their money elsewhere (there are people who actually figure this out for a living) and they ride that line with precision. However, if you do your research into who you buy stuff from, you can often find the few diamonds in the rough and proceed to hold on to them for dear life. If you can find a small business instead of a big chain, that used to be almost a sure bet. You may end up paying a bit more but you know you’re dealing with a place that will treat you right and make up for that. Nowadays though, it seems we can’t even count on that and that even when you do your due diligence, you still can’t be guaranteed you won’t be treated like shit.

In the last month and a bit, my girlfriend and I have experienced a near constant string of some of the worst customer service we’ve ever seen (again, watch the video if you want to hear the stories.) Appliances, parts for said appliances, computers, cars, video games, retail, these nightmares cross all kinds of genres. If you look at the video thumbnail, you’ll see many large, familiar names that you might nod your head with but there’s a couple in there you might not know either. Indeed, the kinds of small companies you thought were the bastions of treating customers with respect seem to be just as bad as the big dogs now. When it came to my RetroN 5 experience, I actually would have had an easier time had I purchased it from a big box retailer instead of supporting one of the few Mom N’ Pop video games stores left in this country.

I’ve been on the end of bad customer service most of my adult life. I’m largely steeled to it and and the fact that I should be pleasantly surprised when a company treats me like a valued customer instead of just a profit centre. I have learned to expect when dealing with certain companies that I often need to work up a good mad before I call them because I know a fight will likely ensue. Nothing in my long history in the trenches of this stuff can hold a candle to the last month. It is simply astonishing to me not only how customer service standards have slipped but product quality standards as well. High-end products, in some cases brand new in the box, have had major defects. We’ve dealt with multiple companies that even in this age of hyper-computerised supply chain management, still can’t accurately tell if they have a simple product in stock or not. We’ve had to spend hours trying to find a part for a dryer that’s less than 10 years old. I’ve dealt with a small retailer that actually misrepresented the features of a product before selling it to me, admitted to doing so and yet still expected me to cover the cost of returning the item to them. All of this accompanied problems that were actually not that major and shouldn’t have been hard to get sorted out.

All of this is due to what is known to cold capitalists as “what the market will bare.” In plain English, that means that companies treat people like shit because they know they’ll tolerate it. However, it feels to me like this had reached a new height or more accurately, depth the last while. The vast majority of companies seem to place no value whatsoever on their customer’s business any more. Indeed, they feel they’re entitled to our money and that anything we ask of them after they’ve taken it is a burden that they should try to divest of as soon as possible. In the era of social media and outrage culture we now live in, you think if anything, the ability of people to broadcast their dissatisfaction would have forced an improvement but the opposite has happened. These companies have learned that what people bitch out on Twitter and Facebook doesn’t really matter in the end because like so many other things, it’s all just become noise that no one pays attention to. As long as the company feigns concern, most people won’t see anything past that. When everyone provides shit service, no one has to provide good service and it seems even the small players have gotten wise to that.

Like I said up top, this isn’t a problem I can really offer a solution to. I still don’t tolerate bad service but I’m one person and have no means to make a real difference. The last month has made that abundantly clear. Indeed, it’s much like politics. Everyone bitches about how the government isn’t doing right by them but a lot of us don’t go out and vote, yet think we still have a right to bitch. The fact is, if you don’t fight for the respect you deserve, you kind of don’t deserve it in the first place. If you keep giving your money to companies that disrespect you and don’t demand better from them after you have, why would any of them change? They know they don’t have to and good service costs money so why spend it? People need to step up and demand better but we don’t seem to be. Everything has a tipping point and I’ve said for years now that people are only going to tolerate this crap so much and we will reach a point where various industries will have to step up their game but it hasn’t happened and the goalposts of good quality products and service seems to be moving further and further away each year. We keep putting up with this crap so the companies keep trying to push further and further back and there’s no breaking point in sight.

I’m seriously waiting for the day when some large corporation just decides they’re going to make money by charging like $5 to every credit card and bank account in the world and saying “If you don’t want us doing that, you have to tell us.” They won’t provide any actual product or service, they’ll just take the money and give it back to whoever complains. Hell, some cable companies have already tried what’s known as “negative billing” before, where they add service onto your bill and charge you for it until you tell them to shop. I swear at this point, some company could try that and they not only would get away with it, they’d probably actually make a huge profit on it because a bunch of people either wouldn’t notice the $5 missing or wouldn’t care to jump through the hoops needed to get it back. That’s like the capitalism singularity, when companies can literally charge money for absolutely nothing and I swear, one day someone is going to try it. If people don’t stop putting up with this shit, they’ll get away with it too.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know where the line is where people will finally say enough is enough but when we have put up with the kind of shit we have in the last month, I get as mad at the faceless people who don’t stand up to it as those who perpetuate it. When I have to kick up a massive, time wasting fight with some company to get the service I should expect out of the gate, it’s not just them I’m fighting, it’s all the lazy, complacent other people who didn’t mount fights of their own. As someone who strives to provide good service in my own endeavours but also demands it from others, this is immensely frustrating. Consumers are supposed to be the ones with all the power. We’re the ones with the money after all. When did we all stop giving so much of a fuck that we just shrug when a company takes often thousands of dollars from us with one hand and slaps us in the face with the other? We need to snap out of this. I’m sick of fighting for all of you as well as myself. Demand better, we all deserve it.

Posted in Business, Business, Personal, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lenovo’s Superfish Is A Superfail for the PC (With Video)

In the PC industry’s latest feat of idiocy, manufacturer Lenovo has been caught red-handed pre-installing what is widely considered to be spyware on machines they sold in the latter half of 2014. It’s an application called Superfish which is designed to help users “discover products visually” (seriously, if you came up with that tag line, punch yourself in the stomach for me) and what it essentially does is inject its own ads into user’s search results and viewed web pages with presumably a piece of that going to Lenovo. That’s scummy as shit in and of itself but worse still, this application installs its own security certificate and in doing so, can theoretically spy on the contents of encrypted communications from your browser to places like your bank and phone that information home to who know’s where. It’s not clear whether it’s designed this way out of malice or just incompetence but the capability is nonetheless there. Several different anti-virus applications consider Superfish to be malware and detect it as such, though conveniently the garbage McAfee software Lenovo’s also been pre-loading the last while doesn’t. Given that McAfee is also owned by Intel, you think they’d have higher standards than that.

Pre-loaded crap on computers isn’t anything new. Usually most consumer systems (especially the inexpensive ones) come with an anti-virus trial, some basic games, maybe a photo sharing application and stuff like that. These are usually trial versions and the idea is that if you convert to a paid user, the PC manufacturer gets a commission from that. Most people don’t convert but it’s a similar business idea to scummy free-to-play mobile games in that it only takes a small percentage of conversions to turn a healthy profit. This is how PC manufacturers are making a profit on that $399 laptop you’re buying at Best Buy that by all rights, should cost $700 at least. The margin for most non-Apple computers is razor thin. We’re talking sub-1% in some cases, worse margins that grocery stores. True story: Many years ago, I worked for Geek Squad which is a division of Best Buy. The manager of the computers department told us that the margins on the machines were so thin that if you didn’t sell an extended warranty, accessories or Geek Squad service with it, the store literally lost money on the machine, just paying the salesperson’s paltry hourly wage. That’s how thin we’re talking here.

I’ve been an evangelist for Lenovo computers for a while now. I’ve sold at least a dozen of them to clients in the last couple of years, I bought a highly customised, $1,600 ThinkPad last year to edit video on and my girlfriend just bought a Yoga 2 Pro after a horrendous product and service experience with a Dell Inspiron 13. I’m permanently loyal to no brand and what I recommend changes frequently as quality and service ebb and flow. I’m a fan of Lenovo because their machines are reasonably priced, built very well, their support is better than average and that’s all been pretty consistent for a while. Until now, they also didn’t have a reputation for loading them up with crap software. They usually come with an anti-virus trial and a couple of internally developed maintenance utilities that are actually really good and which I use personally cause they do a great job.

Thankfully none of the models we own or that I’ve sold clients were affected by this,  it seems to have been limited to machines sold in the last 6 months and only lower end and thus, lower margin consumer models. (UPDATE: I was mistaken, my girlfriend’s Yoga 2 Pro did have Superfish on it, I just missed it the first time. The Lenovo auto-removal utility sorted it but still, it was there on a nearly $2,000 machine.) But you know what I still had to deal with? A pile of clients e-mailing me in a panic going “I’m reading that this PC you sold me could be sending my banking information to hackers, what the Hell have you got me using?!” I had to spend a chunk of my day in my own damage control mode, assuring these people who I’ve built up strong trust with that their machine is clean. Due to that trust, they believe me but they’re still leery. That’s one small example of how this stupid, greedy move by Lenovo hasn’t hurt just their business but that of everyone who recommends their products and indeed, the PC platform as whole. I can only imagine some of the IT officers at massive organisations with tens of thousands of Lenovo machines in production and the awkward conversations they’re having with their CEOs.

This pisses me the fuck off. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am a huge fan of the PC platform and a proud anti-Apple fanboy. I think Apple products are overpriced, underpowered, I think OS X is an overdesigned mess to use and that the company is trading on fashion, not practicality and computers are supposed to be function over form. The PC platform offers choice: Choice in hardware, choice in manufacturers, choice to build your own, choice even in operating systems if you want. People keep saying Microsoft is a monopoly, yet you can only run OS X on Apple’s proprietary, largely non-upgradeable hardware (which has been repeatedly shown to be no more reliable or stable than a comparable PC) and Apple has swiftly curbstomped any attempt at competition on their own platform. Despite what Apple’s cult will tell you, I firmly believe modern PCs are cheaper, more diverse, better to use and easily as reliable as Macs, if not more so and I this is easily demonstrated.

However, I guarantee you that this latest foul up by the PC industry (because many see the PC as if they’re all made as a single collective) has given Apple fanboys another reason to dismiss the platform as unsafe and to tell their friends who are looking for a new computer that they should pay 20-40% more for a product that’s no better. How many potential customers has Lenovo just handed Apple on a silver platter? This hurts everyone who evangelises the PC platform and makes it harder and harder to confidently recommend it against a company and fanbase who is masterful at exploiting every slip up to their advantage. Say what you want about Apple and I can say plenty but this kind of shit doesn’t happen on Macs and a lot more people than you think are willing to pay more to not have to worry about it.

This is yet another example of hyper short term, “the next quarter is all that matters”, public company thinking. By using Superfish, Lenovo is literally making the experience of using their own products worse for the customers in order to pad their short-term profits. They’re not thinking about what the loss of good will is going to do to their brand in the long term or what it will do to the current Lenovo users who will never buy one of their systems against because of this. That’s for then and right now is all that matters. It’s pure, unadulterated disrespect for your customers and it’s an idiotic way to run a business. If Lenovo loses even one large enterprise customer over this, it will cost them more than they ever would have made off the Superfish deal. What good does that do the company or its investors? Even small operations like mine in quantity can hurt if they lose us as customers. I still love Lenovo hardware but for the next year, I guarantee you nearly every potential customer I try to recommend their stuff to is going to go “Isn’t that the brand that spies on you or something?” Despite being some of the best computers out there, I may have to consider switching to another brand that I don’t think as highly of. That doesn’t just hurt Lenovo’s business, it hurts mine and I sure as shit didn’t see a piece of that Superfish revenue.

Apple can teach the PC industry one big thing: People are willing to pay more for a quality product. I certainly am and so is everyone I know. Maybe instead of constantly racing to the bottom and trying to sell your systems on low price alone, why don’t you build top notch machines that you can sell for a higher price, get the good margins and not have to load up with garbage? You don’t have to charge a lot more. Hell, $50 more per machine probably gives you margins that you can only dream of and it still makes your stuff way cheaper than Apple. Why don’t you raise the price a bit, devote more effort to quality and sell them based on that? Take the line “We’re not the cheapest but we’re worth it because our stuff is great.” That’s how I market my Capital Tech Support business and it’s worked out very well for me. Don’t always cater to the bottom, ask for more and tell people why. More will buy in than you realise. Apple has proven this isn’t a hard concept to sell to people and you all have massive marketing teams. If they can’t sell that simple concept, sack their asses because they’re useless.

Given the overblown trouble Microsoft got in a number of years back for abusing manufacturers and other OEMs, this is probably going to sound controversial but bare with me. I honestly think that they need to start using their influence as the maker of the dominant operating system on the planet and start telling OEMs that this kind of bullshit isn’t acceptable. Microsoft and OEMs have a symbiotic relationship. Microsoft needs them to sell the hardware Windows comes on and the OEMs need Windows to make their machines viable to mainstream consumers. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for Microsoft to have a term in their agreements that says “You can’t pre-install any software that can be considered malicious or which severely degrades the consumer Windows experience.” I’m not talking about stuff like WildTangent games, OEM utilities or anti-virus trials, I’m talking stuff like Superfish which is considered malware. I think they should absolutely say that’s unacceptable and if OEMs violate that, they can face substantial fines and penalties, up to and including the loss of their right to sell Windows to certain market segments. Every scandal like this hurts the entire PC ecosystem from other OEMs, to resellers to indeed Microsoft themselves. Every potential PC sale that becomes a Mac sale is a lost sale of Windows.

Microsoft is trying to recover from the massive PR disaster of Windows 8. They’ve done the frankly epic mea culpa of offering every Windows 7 and Windows 8 user a free upgrade to Windows 10. They’re pulling out all the stops to keep current PC customers and lure new ones in by listening to what people want. Bullshit like this Superfish scandal is only causing further damage and hampering efforts they are going to great expense to do in order to win back the good will of consumers. I personally see nothing wrong with telling companies like Lenovo that they can’t actively engage in harming their customers if they want to sell Windows. Sure, they can’t go overboard with those restrictions, lest they become like Apple but saying you can’t pre-load spyware isn’t out of line. Who’s going to say no to that? No PC maker can afford to be without Windows and if Apple can control all aspects of both hardware and software on the Mac without being called a monopoly, this certainly can’t be either. Microsoft needs to take a leading role here and stop letting these greedy OEMs tarnish the brand of what I firmly believe is the best consumer operating system available right now.

This kind of this drives me up the wall and it’s emblematic of the level companies will disrespect their customers just to serve the current quarter. If you’re making so little money on even relatively expensive machines that you have to resort to spyware to be profitable, your business model is fucking broken and you need to fix it now. It’s not the job of your customers to fix your inability to command decent margins. Your CEOs are paid millions more per year than the people who actually design and build the computers to figure this out. If you can’t, then get the fuck out and put someone in charge with a sense of respect for customers. If Apple can figure out how to get people to pay more for better stuff, then surely someone in the entire PC industry can do the same. The PC is the best platform available and it’s not hard to convince people of that and make money at the same time.

You’re fucking this up for everyone Lenovo and making it harder and harder to support the PC every day. Get your shit together.

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GODUS Dammit Peter Molyneux (with Video)

Populous, Syndicate, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, Fable. For many long-time gamers, these names are synonymous with incredible experiences which many would consider the best of all-time. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with anyone who thinks that. These are also all games helmed by industry legend Peter Molyneux. However, when one thinks of him, one also tends to think of a career littered with the ashes of broken promises. He’s a genuine guy who despite his status, always comes across as humble and who can captivate a crowd with his ideas, ones he clearly believes, yet almost always fail to live up to his own hype in the finished products. His games are always good but he is legendary for making them sound like they’ll be so much better before they come out. It’s a clear case of letting your mouth get out in front of your brain. Some people love this about him, some hate it but it always leads to interesting debate and even a popular parody Twitter account.

The latest instance of this is different however because it involves something fans made a reality. Molyneux Kickstarted the game GODUS some time ago. In short, the game is way over budget and past deadline, many of its promised features are missing, tons of microtransactions and skinner box mechanics were added, rumours are both the staff and scope of the game’s PC version have been gutted (while the free-to-play mobile version still goes strong) and the winner of a contest involving Curiosity (Molyneux’s last “game”) that was supposed to lead to him having a position of influence and financial benefit from Godus haven’t happened. All this while they’re still taking money for the PC game on Early Access. This type of behaviour certainly isn’t unique among game developers but it’s different this time, especially for Molyneux as it’s consumers who funded this project, not a publisher who traditionally has much more control over the purse strings and uses that to wield influence. The contest situation in particular has resulted in a new wave of consumer frustration this past week, one I can certainly appreciate.

Peter Molyneux’s charisma and the games press’ general lack of willingness to ask anyone of note tough questions has meant that his tendency to grossly overpromise and underdeliver has largely gone unchecked and treated as something that’s almost cute and funny instead of irresponsible. Rock, Paper, Shotgun decided to buck that trend by conducting a very hostile interview with him. I think the term “hit piece” is overused these days and often is used by people who can’t take criticism as a way to attack something that didn’t agree with them. In this case, I think it’s a perfectly apt descriptor. RPS in general tends to alternate between being kooky British and being just smug douchebags and this is the latter without question. I’m all for asking tough questions and it’s great that Molyneux finally got asked some but when the first thing you ask is “Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?”, your agenda is clear from the get go and makes you sound like a forum troll at best. It was unnecessary and clearly designed to drive clicks through controversy, something RPS and many of its defenders claim they’re above. Molyneux wasn’t the subject of this interview, he was a target. Funny that industry darling Tim Schafer, who is guilty of many of the same things including screwing paying customers, but has staunchly defended the unethical journalists who attacked their audiences, has not been given the same level of scrutiny.

To be fair to John Walker, a lot of the interview consisted of him calling out actual things Molyneux has said before and asking him to explain them. The response to most of these was attempts at deflection or him claiming that he meant something different than what he actually said, as if we’re all supposed to be mind readers. While I think the tone was overly and intentionally hostile and trying to trap Molyneux into saying something Walker could point to and go “Gotcha’!”, he also didn’t do himself any favours and rarely admitted to his mistakes, claiming instead he was misinterpreted or that he meant it at the time, as if that justifies the failure to deliver. He then tries to turn the tone back on Walker, claiming he just hates him, wants to see him driven from the industry and claiming he’s going to just stop talking to the press because of this (though he’s already done it multiple times since.) Neither person comes up smelling of roses here.

Walker repeatedly chastises Molyneux for still seemingly being unable to manage a project properly, despite being in the industry for more than 30 years. To a certain degree, I can sympathise with any creative person who is trying to make the best art they can. Business and art are oil and water in many ways and I can imagine that even for an experienced creative like him, trying to make anything that isn’t based on a well-trodden formula must be like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. If you’re trying something new, it by definition something that you’re not experienced at. You can rely on past project planning experience but no matter your skill in that, it can only take you so far. I think saying that Molyneux is lying to people might be going to far because a lie requires an intention to deceive. I don’t think the many unfulfilled promises in Molyneux’s past projects were put out there with the intent to deceive people into being hyped for the game or pre-ordering or whatever. I think he truly believed what he said, he just wasn’t sure of its viability before he said it and that’s a very different thing.

Where I do have a big problem is when Molyneux says straight up that they purposefully lowballed the amount they said they needed for the project on Kickstarter because they were scared that if they asked for what they actually needed, they probably wouldn’t hit the target and since Kickstarter pays nothing if you don’t fund, they had to hit the target. This is a project that was pitched as being funded by the fans for the fans and wouldn’t have investor or publisher interference (though the mobile versions of GODUS did indeed end up with a publisher.) If that’s the case, then you can’t say you need less money than you do because you’re scared you won’t get it. Ask for the right amount or scale back, you can’t have it both ways. Saying you need less than you know you do sounds straight up fraudulent to me and the kind of thing that a real investor could sue over.

Combine that with rumours that most of the GODUS team is now working on the next project, which Molyneux has announced despite this furore and this looks like something that many would have called and out and out scam if it was someone less known. The new Lead Designer of the game (who started out as a backer with no industry experience and worked unpaid for a year) has also stated publicly that a lot of the promised features just aren’t realistic, including possibly the ones that would allow the fulfilment of the obligations to the Curiosity winner. Molyneux claims he’s learned a lesson from all this and may not use Kickstarter again as a result but that’s cold comfort to the people who paid for what is at best a prototype, well after the game was supposed to be finished.

I’ve long said that one of the biggest problems with this industry is the over reliance on PR speak. The message, especially with big games, is controlled so tightly that everyone who speaks about it ends up sounding like a corporate robot who has no real passion for or investment in the thing they’re promoting. I like creators who are honest, who speak to people like human beings and want to make you as passionate about their ideas as they are. Gaming wouldn’t have evolved past Pong without those people. It’s also important to me that they are willing to admit where they fucked up. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes they’re big ones. What’s important is what you take away from those and how you apply it to your future work. Peter Molyneux’s problem is that many years into his career, he has learned how to own his fuck ups and say what he’s learned from them but then he just keeps making the same fuck ups over and over again. Rightly or wrongly, his historical cachet has cushioned him through a lot of that but I think this time is different because it’s not some publisher who has to weight the financial consequences of this, it’s his customers directly and I would say they’re far less forgiving.

There seems to be no middle ground any more when it comes to the balance of creativity and business in gaming. On one side, we have the extremely creative people like Molyneux, Schafer and even people like Phil Fish, who make amazing games but seem to have no concept of the business needs of development and treating fans respectfully. On the other side, there’s the extreme business end of things where you have the Ubisofts, EAs and Activisions, that are cranking out manufactured, risk averse, endless sequels that are iterative at best and creatively bankrupt at worst. There has to be a way to balance these two extremes in a way that allows expansion of this medium as an art form with the investment to make those experiences amazing and successful so that we get more of them. Right now, things seem to be very polarised and consumers are left in the middle of it, demanding new things but getting increasingly burned when they try to back them.

The press’ role can’t be understated here either. As we all know, there’s been a large pushback lately on the press and the often too friendly relationship they have with developers. I think it speaks volumes that while too hostile and rude, the RPS interview is one of the only ones where Molyneux has truly been called out on his broken promises. I think the lack of such treatment Tim Schafer (who is very friendly with large swaths of the gaming press) has gotten over Broken Age and Space Base DF-9 speaks volumes to the lack of critical distance many journalists have from their subjects. Ultimately, the press is supposed to protect consumers and well, they’ve been failing miserably at that for a long time now. I think John Walker and Rock, Paper, Shotgun came across as petty and purposefully spiteful in their interview but I also applaud them for willing to ask the tough questions no one else was.

Ultimately, I still think we need more people like Peter Molyneux in game development. They’re visionaries with the ideas that will drive the next big trends and they’re willing to experiment and push against convention and that’s ultimately a good thing. They just also need to temper their expectations and realise that like it or not, this is also a business and you need to work within the constraints that presents. Some of the best games ever made were ones that purposefully kept a narrow focus and scope and did a few things well instead of a lot of things poorly. Molyneux strikes me as a man with big ideas but one that also needs walls and constraints to keep him focused and he’s rarely had that. For as much of a disaster as GODUS is and as much blame can fall at his feet for it, I hope that having to address his customers directly in response to it does provide the lessons he needs to control his impulses and redeem himself going forward. I don’t want to see him leave the industry, indeed this industry needs more people like him. But I would so like him to exceed my expectations instead of merely meeting reduced ones.

In spite of all this, I still believe in you Peter but I’m done believing the hype. Please deliver something awesome.

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My Bold Predictions for 2015

Here we are again for another year of predictions. I reviewed and scored last year’s in my previous post and scored I think the lowest I have since I started doing this, which was kind of a surprise as I didn’t think I was all that bold last year. It just goes to show how unpredictable things can get I guess. 2015 hasn’t started out great so far but I’m still hopeful this year will work out better for both myself and humanity as a whole than it has for the last couple. We can still do it people!

I don’t have as many predictions as I do for last year but I like to think a couple of these are bolder than before. That may not end up helping my score much this time next year but we shall see. As usual, I’ve kind of tried to put these in an order that groups similar things together but the position in the list doesn’t mean anything. Off we go!


  • Console sales will stay strong but the Wii U will continue to limp along. The Xbox One and PS4 continue to surprise me with how well they’re selling and I think that bodes well for gaming as a whole (more on that later.) The Wii U can’t seem to get any kind of foothold, even if many of the best games of last year came out on it. Nintendo’s clearly going to keep it going until the next system but it’s a damn shame it’s done so poorly.
  • The Oculus Rift’s consumer version not only won’t ship, we won’t even get a date for it. Same with Sony’s Project Morpheus. If there’s one thing these companies taking the latest stab at VR are consistent with, it’s making it clear that they’ll let these things sit and brew as long as they need to so they ship solid. If they want VR to have any chance of success this time around, that’s absolutely necessary. Take your time and get it right.
  • Star Citizen won’t get a release date but will cross $100M raised. This thing is absolutely bonkers and like I said in my last post, it’ll either be the best thing ever or one of gaming history’s greatest disasters. With the scope they’re at now, there’s no way anything resembling the final version comes out this year but at the pace money keeps rolling in from the whackjobs funding this thing, it’s definitely on track to hit 9 figures.
  • There will be fewer games delayed and new announcements will start coming closer to release. This is probably a bolder prediction than you may think. Big publishers love to talk about AAA releases far out but between all of last year’s delays and the disastrous launch of others, I think they’re realising it’s better to wait until you’re sure of things before you talk about them publicly.
  • Fewer games will release completely broken than before but a couple of big releases will still have issues. The AAA industry got a massive kick in the nuts public opinion wise last year and they deserved it. Though humility is not the corporate world’s strong suit, I think they have learned that they can’t keep getting away with this. Personally, I think many of the games that were delayed into this year were specifically to avoid disastrous launches.
  • Assassin’s Creed Victory will undersell expectations. Ubisoft will at least hint at taking a year off that series. I haven’t played Unity yet but I’ve heard that tech issues aside, it’s not a great game. Victory is being made by another studio whose previous experience consists largely of DLC and shovelware games. If it’s not a stellar title, I think this plus the Unity fiasco will hurt sales in a big way and this will give the company the means to tell their investors that it needs to go back in the oven for a while. As a huge fan of this series, I sincerely hope that happens.
  • We will see more new IPs and new ideas talked about in the AAA space this year. I’ve read in a few places that apparently because many publishers were buying into the nonsense that tablets were taking over all gaming, a lot of them held off greenlighting many new projects for next-gen machines until they saw if they would sell. They have and many of those projects are supposedly now in production but because AAA games take a while to make, we won’t start to hear about them for a bit. I hope so, we desperately need new ideas.
  • Publishers that had previously gone near silent on AAA games (such as Capcom and Konami) will announce several new projects this year. See the last point. They’ve barely done anything on consoles lately but the market has shown there is still money to be made there. Both companies had huge (and nearly empty) booths at E3 last year because they didn’t want to lose the space by not booking it all. I don’t think they would have done that if they were planning to get out of console games.
  • Steam will announce a significant retooling of the policies of either Greenlight, Early Access or both. This goes beyond little rule clarifications like Valve put out earlier. Both of these systems are broken messes that are hurting consumers and there are too many smart people at Valve to not realise this. One or both of these systems is going to have a major change to how they work to try and clean up their reputations.
  • At least one major free-to-play game developer in the mobile space will significantly contract or restructure. Cracks in the facade of Rovio and King are already beginning to show. These are one hit wonder companies that rode single competent or bad ideas into the ground and tricked a bunch of gullible investors in the process. Now that those ideas are flickering out, they have to restructure themselves out of the bubble and grow like normal companies.
  • Zynga will continue to struggle and at the very least, rumours of a possible sale will start. Don Mattrick–the guy who rode in on the wave of Xbox’s success and in a few months, killed almost all it–hasn’t managed to turn around the fortunes of this other one hit wonder company. No one cares about social gaming any more and other people are already dominating the mobile space. Zynga can only continue to lose money for so long before their investors demand they sell.
  • Double Fine Productions will undergo a downsizing. Between Broken Age and Space Base DF-9, it’s painfully clear that this is a company that’s not well managed. They already had a small layoff because a publisher bailed on them and I think that with the path they’re on, they are going to have to downsize soon and lower their frankly arrogant ambitions in order to survive.
  • No gaming Kickstater with a goal of over $300,000 will successfully fund this year. This is not to say a project with a lower goal won’t surpass that amount though. I still like the idea of crowdfunding and have done plenty of it but the fad of it has worn off and there have been too many high profile failures of late that have eroded consumer trust. There’s still plenty of opportunity on Kickstarter but I think the idea of projects with humongous goals getting funded is over.
  • Valve with neither announce nor ship any new games. They just don’t seem to care about putting new stuff out right now while they’re riding the wave of DOTA 2, CS:GO and Steam money. I’ve no doubt they have a bunch of stuff being worked on but the one disadvantage of a company with no job titles and dump trucks of money is there isn’t really pressure to put much out quickly.
  • SteamOS and the first Steam Machines will ship and both will underperform expectations. The silence around these two things since they were first revealed has been deafening. People just don’t seem to care (I certainly don’t) and at least one of Valve’s hardware partners is saying this is a dead end, even as Valve is touting how much Steam Machines will be on display at GDC. I think they’ve come too far to abandon this now and it’s probably going to be one of those long haul projects they’ll run at a loss for a while but I don’t see these setting the world on fire when they come out, especially with Windows PCs being available for similar money, with similar capabilities and a much bigger library of games.
  • Sony’s PlayStation Now subscription service will initially not be popular but they will start expanding the catalogue. Tying this to a subscription was a smart move for Sony but all the service has right now is a bunch of old PS3 games that no one cares about. What’s going to get me and probably many more excited is more of those games but especially filling out the catalogue with PS2 stuff. I definitely see that happening and maybe then it’ll take off. I think this is something they expect to take a while for people to warm up to.
  • The Division will ship and finally divert from the “Ubisoft Open World Template.” This game is being pushed as basically multiplayer only, with no single player campaign. Yeah, they could figure out a way to put more damn radio towers in it but I don’t think they will, or at least it will be some different kind of mechanic. Ubisoft has to know that people are tired of their regular formula, right?
  • No Man’s Sky will not ship. I’m sure this is coming but they’re still so cagey at showing much of it and letting people play it for any length of time, I still think this needs a lot of time to bake yet.
  • At least one highly anticipated indie game will either fail to release or release and bomb. The indie space is more crowded and saturated than ever before. It used to be if your indie game was simply good and/or a press darling, you were guaranteed success. I think there’s just too many titles for that to be the case now and I think indies are going to start having to get used to being more like hit-driven AAA than ever before.
  • At least one gaming site that’s considered “major” will either shut down or announce a near total shift to video content. GameSpot sort of did this last year. Ad revenues are so bad that nearly everyone is resorting to sensationalist clickbait and the audience is getting sick of that. Something’s gotta’ give and I think someone’s going to buckle this year. I have my picks for who I’d like it to be but they’re not the likely ones, not this year anyway. For better or worse (I think some of both), YouTube is quickly rendering many of these sites irrelevant.
  • At least one well-known “games journalist” or gaming YouTube personality will announce they are leaving the profession. This doesn’t mean a writer going to YouTube or vice versa, this means getting out of covering games entirely. Yes, a few people already did this last year but personally, I didn’t consider any of them to be well-known, on the level of a Jeff Gerstmann or a TotalBiscuit. Covering video games is a brutal field for a number of reasons and I think someone of note is going to have had enough this year. Truth be told, I can’t blame them.
  • The heavy emphasis on social justice topics in games coverage will continue but the audience’s interest in it will start to wane. I think we’re already seeing evidence of this. Put down your pitch forks, I’m not saying that all social justice games coverage will go away, nor do I think it should. However, certain sites continuing to try to endlessly browbeat their audience with it (more because of the clicks it drives than any real cause) will start to see diminishing returns on it. People want to read about games, not be endlessly lectured to.
  • GamerGate will continue well into the new year but greatly reduced in numbers and mainstream coverage. I’ve said my stance on this before. Like it or not, this movement still exists and in no small part because of the press and personalities therein that continue to insist on talking about it and giving it attention because it drives lazy revenue. Based on what I’ve seen though, the movement’s momentum is slowing and people are burning out of it. There still are valid concerns among all the other garbage and there is a dedicated group of people pushing them and they’re not going away but their numbers will shrink and so will their voices. That’s not entirely good either.


  • Smart watches will underperform almost universally, aside from an initial fanboy-driven sales bump for the Apple Watch. Smart watches are a distraction by phone manufacturers who don’t want to admit that they’ve run out of new ways to sell you a new device every year. The numerous ones that have already come out and landed with a thud show that people just don’t care and one with an Apple logo on it isn’t going to change that. Yeah, a bunch of iCultists will line up for it and Apple will milk that for press but it won’t last.
  • The Apple television is not coming. As long as the tech press continues to take one throwaway line from the Steve Jobs biography to mean more than it does, I’m going to keep making this prediction. The last place Apple wants to go is the ultra low margin TV business.
  • 4K TVs will gain no traction. There’s been a big push on these and while I think one day they will be a thing, for right now they’re just as big a fad as 3D was. TV makers are losing their shirts and they’re desperate to get people to buy something new, anything new. It was hard enough to get a lot of people to see the difference with HD and there’s almost no 4K content available. This is a non-starter in 2015.
  • Apple products will have more news making security issues this year than Windows. This is among the boldest predictions I ever made but I seriously believe it. I can’t think of any major Windows security vulnerabilities last year that made the news. In fact, Windows was the only major operating system that wasn’t susceptible to Heartbleed. Meanwhile, we had several major security flaws found in both iOS and OS X. Apple and their fanboys think that Apple products are more secure because it’s such a closed system but bigger install bases mean bigger targets and while Microsoft has had a massive dedicated security team for years, Apple has been lazy.
  • We will see a large number of stories or opinion pieces decrying Apple’s decline in software quality. I’ve already seen several of these. Many people (including some well known hardcore fanboys) have been complaining that Apple’s recent software releases have not only been poor on security but also buggy and poor performing. Again, the company is getting lazy and complacent and that’s the last thing they should be doing. Cracks in the reality distortion field are forming.
  • Windows 10 will ship and be hailed as what Windows 8 should have been. With $10 in free utilities, you can make Windows 8 work just like Windows 7 but with all the under the hood benefits. Yet, people still like to irrationally hate it because it’s easy and trendy. Everything I’ve seen of Windows 10 just makes it looks like Windows 8 but with all the stuff the third-party software normally does built-in instead. That’s great but people have been insisting on using the inferior Windows 7 for years already for no good reason.
  • Twitter will make money for at least one quarter and announce at least one change that will enrage users on a large scale. They appear to be getting close to profitability and while saying they’ll pull it off for a whole year is a bit too ambitious, I think they’ll manage for at least 3 months. They’ve already done some stupid crap that’s annoyed a decent number of people but nothing that infuriates everyone like Facebook has done multiple times in the past. I think they’re due for that. Maybe that change is what will finally get me to dump this cesspool of a communication tool.
  • Another major YouTube network will get acquired by “big media.” I really hope it isn’t my network. Maker Studios was bought for half a billion dollars by Disney in 2014 and there are several other major players in that space too. YouTube is trendy and if you get a network with big channels, appears to be very profitable and growing now too. I’m curious how long it’ll remain that way but there are several other ripe takeover targets out there right now.
  • Tablet sales will continue to decline to a normal level, smartphones less so. Both smartphones and tablets have been experiencing unrealistic growth over the last several years because they were new and trendy. But as tablet sales in 2014 have already shown, people are sick of shelling out hundreds for a new device every year that they really don’t need. They’re going to become more like PCs where you upgrade it every few years instead. By their nature, phones don’t last as long but those are starting to slow as well to a lesser degree.
  • There will be at least three major news making security breaches this year of either retailers or large corporate infrastructures. Think levels on the line of the Sony Pictures or Home Depot hacks. Big business doesn’t take IT security seriously enough and hackers are making them eat that. The only thing that’s going to make them learn is to see their competitors crushed by it. Sony and Home Depot were warnings but I think a few more are needed and will happen this year now that hackers know how vulnerable many of these targets are.
  • Yahoo! will announce either publicly or stealthily that they are up for sale. By all accounts, Marissa Mayer’s attempt to turn around this struggling company has been a disaster, with their substantial investment in Alibaba being the only thing that makes them valuable at all. Yahoo!’s current state is far from her sole responsibility. The company had missed the mark for years before she arrived but she certainly hasn’t mounted the 180 of fortune she promised and the employees seem to hate her. Yahoo! has managed to avoid going on the block for years now but I think that time is at an end.

There we go, another block of predictions for 2015. There are fewer this year but some of them are bolder than before so we’ll see what happens. I hope the negative ones don’t come true as always but either way, it could be an interesting year. I hope 2015 is better for everyone than the last couple of years. I think we all deserve it. Have a great year!

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Revisiting My Bold Predictions for 2014

I’m a bit late with my yearly dual Bold Predictions posts this year. I’ve been both busy and adjusting to some new meds that didn’t leave me in a great mental space for blogging but all that’s sorted and it’s time to catch up! 2014 was a year of a few highs and some pretty bad lows for me, not unlike 2013. I was hoping 2015 would start off better but well, that hasn’t been working out great so far. Humanity, can we please just get our shit together?

For those not familiar, the idea of Bold Predictions is something that originally started on the Gamers With Jobs forums. I always have so many, I decided to post them here. I do two posts every year. This first one is where I revisit last year’s predictions to see how good of a prophet I was. This year’s predictions will follow in another post later. To add some gamification cause everyone loves that, I also score myself. I get 1 point if a prediction was right, half a point if it was partially right and nothing if it was wrong. I determine what’s right because it’s my blog dammit! I do try to keep myself honest though. I also judge only the base prediction itself, not the little blurb I gave with each. I made a whopping 40 predictions last year so that’s what I’ll be scored out of. Let’s do this!


  • Both next-gen consoles will continue to sell well but PS4 will lead Xbox One by a health amount (1 point.) Nailed it! I have to admit, even though I often felt like the only one saying people still wanted consoles, I didn’t expect they’d be doing as well as they are. The Xbox One had a bump over the PS4 when they put it on sale but PS4 is still enjoying a good lead. Boy does Sony need it too.
  • The Oculus Rift won’t ship in its final consumer form this year (1 point.) Got it again. Maybe not the boldest prediction in the world but it doesn’t look like this thing’s anywhere near done. I still think the Facebook buy wasn’t a great thing but they do seem to be giving it all the time it needs which is great. Make it good guys.
  • Star Citizen won’t come out this year and will begin to have some serious development concerns (1 point.) Star Citizen has just gotten ridiculous now. It’s crowdfunded more money than some AAA game budgets, has announced everything including quite possibly the kitchen sink, has like 7 studios working on it and despite being probably years from release, it’s still pulling in the dough. I didn’t put much money into this and have no emotional investment in it. It will be the best thing ever if it can meet its goals but a flop of historical proportions if it doesn’t. A lot of people think this has gone too far and I don’t disagree.
  • This console generation reset will bring some new ideas but fewer than before (0 points.) I honestly wish I’d made this prediction for 2015 but I’ll probably make a different version of it for then. The honest truth is that at in the AAA console space (and even the indie space), 2014 was full of the same ideas rehashed yet again. There were exceptions of course but not many. If that’s all we can expect this generation, we should all be very worried. So far at least, there ain’t much new here.
  • PC ports will suffer a bit but be much more at parity than before (half point.) In general, I think this is true but not because of difficulty meeting parity with new console hardware. There’s no doubt the good PC ports are absolutely stellar and the almost comically bad ones we’ve seen in the past are very uncommon now. Unless they’re from Ubisoft but that’s normal.
  • The gaming press will continue to stoke the fires of controversy and fuel egos (a billion points, OK just 1). Umm, yeah? No better has this point been shown than the last few months. Clickbait driven by outrage culture is rampant and the contempt so many of these so-called professionals have for their audience is beyond belief. This will probably get worse before it gets better but a lot of it can be squarely laid at the fault of the press, many of whom are about as much journalists as a blogger at TMZ. I was not on board with the idea of YouTube usurping all their influence but if what we’ve seen lately is the norm, I’m all for it.
  • We will see more restrictions placed on capture and streaming functions of the new consoles (0 points.) Nope, I was dead wrong on this. Beyond locking out cutscenes sometimes, this stuff is pretty much wide open. I think it’s great but I’m also really surprised as I thought big publishers were going to turn on streaming and Let’s Play culture as the next reason for why they can’t make money.
  • Free-to-play on PC will have a reckoning and will continue to test people’s limits on mobile (half point.) I don’t think the reckoning on PC happened. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t and still think it could but there wasn’t much news of free-to-play games there going under. Despite there still being notable successes on mobile this year, the tanking of King and Rovio are showing just how hit driven that business is and it’s becoming more concentrated than ever before. It’s simply not sustainable the way it’s going now and I think that’s been clearly shown in 2014.
  • More indies will launch first on PC rather than mobile since they can charge money up front, creativity in the mobile space will suffer as a result (1 point.) The only mobile games you hear about now are either free or scummy free-to-play games. The creative titles that charge money up front for a complete experience are few and far between but are thriving on PC and indeed, on consoles now too. The people who want to make quality games for gamers rather than a quick buck know where their home is and it’s not on phones and tablets.
  • Pricing variability will be tested further on consoles but won’t happen to the degree it does on PC (1 point.) We’ve seen a lot more sales on consoles this year (especially on PSN) but still not frequently enough and they still aren’t coming close to matching how places like Steam do it. Some of this is down to lack of competition, some of this is due to still not wanting to offend retail. They’re getting better but they’ve still got a long way to go.
  • The Wii U will find a small niche but it’s mainstream prospects are over (half point.) I’m giving myself a halfsie for this because while it’s mainstream prospects are dead and buried, I’m not sure the niche it’s found can even be described as small. People with Wii U’s love them (myself included) and more than a few have said all you really need as a hardcore gamer right now is a PC and a Wii U. The sales of the thing are still terrifying though, as good as the games are and there’s no way Nintendo is making back most of these development budgets. It’s such a good machine and thankfully, Nintendo can weather this storm but I hope they have a killer new idea in the chamber.
  • At least one Android console maker will fold (no points.) I’m really surprised about this one. Not only has no one gone under that I’m aware of but several more of these things were announced and/or came out, even from the likes of Mad Catz. I don’t know if this is because they haven’t run out venture capital yet or if these things are just so cheap, it doesn’t cost much to turn a profit but everything I’ve heard says they’re all junk. Maybe 2015 will be their reckoning.
  • SteamOS will release this year and not take off initially (no points.) Well, I was wrong about this too. SteamOS isn’t out and no one really knows what’s up with it. What I’ve heard about the beta releases is that it’s neat but offers nothing that warrants having to deal with the headaches of Linux and that you couldn’t just do with a cheap Windows machine and Big Picture mode. I’m sure it’ll still come out eventually.
  • The first Steam boxes will land with a thud but no one will give up on the idea (no points.) No actual Steam boxes released in 2014 so this is a dud. There are already rumblings that PC makers who partnered with Valve are losing faith in the program but that news came out in 2015 so it doesn’t count. Valve has said these things will be front a center at GDC so we’ll see what happens.
  • The next generation of cross-media gaming will still not resonate (1 point.) Ding! At E3 2013, everything was about the “second screen experience.” At E3 2014, it was barely mentioned and if it was, it was as a footnote. I got an Android phone this year and tried out some of these companion apps and they’re all as dumb and pointless as I thought they were. People don’t care about this and games are too expensive to make for publishers to waste money on this crap.
  • Valve will announce and ship Left 4 Dead 3 this year, we’ll still hear nothing about Half-Life 3 (no points.) I’m failing myself for this one because come on, the second part of that prediction was softball. I was dead wrong on the next Left 4 Dead. If Half-Life 3 happens at all, I don’t think we’ll hear about it until very close to its release.
  • A new breed of smaller publishers (i.e. the likes of Deep Silver and Nordic Games) with new ideas and models will start to come into their own (half point.) I waffled between failing myself on this or not but I’ll go with a halfsie. Nordic Games had previously just keep buying up properties and doing nothing with them but this year, they’ve announced some projects are coming back and even helped found a development studio. Deep Silver has also continued to expand their internal development efforts after buying Homefront from Crytek. It remains to be seen whether these companies do something different than the other big publishers but I think they’ll have to if they want to be competitive. We need more smaller publishers so I think this is a good thing.
  • At least one smaller PC digital distribution service will shut down this year (no points.) As far as I know, everyone of note is still kicking. I’m kind of surprised, given that anyone who isn’t Steam is fighting for the scraps of their monopoly but they seem to be making it work so far.
  • Most AAA titles will continue to struggle (1 point.) There actually haven’t been many sales figures released this year but that publishers aren’t bragging about their sales speaks volumes. Given the disastrous state of many big games this year too, I think the entire business model of this type of game is being challenged. I hope they can figure it out cause I still love AAA games but not like this.
  • Rumours of a Kinect-free Xbox One SKU will persist but it won’t happen this year (no points.) Wrong, wrong wrong. The Xbox One was faring worse against the PS4 than even I thought it would so Microsoft had to respond. And it seemed to help. Hell, I bought an Xbox One when they took out Kinect.
  • Sony will unveil and launch Gaikai-based backwards compatibility this year but not with a subscription model (half point.) A halfsie but just barely. The service was unveiled but it only came out in beta and while it does offer backwards compatibility, it’s just PS3 games on PS4 so far. A subscription model was also announced but in 2015 by just a hair.
  • eSports will start to get some mainstream coverage from a “traditional” sports outlet (1 point.) Well, ESPN covered The International so I think that counts. Supposedly, they were pleased with the viewership too.
  • More indie games will fail due to saturation and discoverability issues but the successes will be even bigger (1 point.) Again, this is hard to tell as indies don’t usually talk numbers but there are definitely more indie games than ever and commentators have been harping all year about how bad discoverability has gotten on places like Steam. It’s generally accepted that if you’re an indie developer, your chances of success aren’t much better than being in AAA. It’s just the way of life if you want to make games. The successes this year have been big and prominent though.
  • Social gaming will continue to struggle, Zynga will retract further (1 point.) Even under the leadership of the guy who rode Xbox’s existing success, Zynga still can’t make money and when’s the last time you saw a story about a big Facebook game? That’s what I thought.
  • Call of Duty will continue to decline and Bobby Kotick’s Activision will start to be revealed as the one-trick pony that it is (half point.) Despite being notably better this year, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is selling even worse than the abysmal Ghosts did. Activision is still doing well though, largely on the back of boring, derivative stuff like Hearthstone. I still think that company’s going to have its reckoning some day but not today.
  • Apple’s iOS controller support will go nowhere significant, as will Android’s (1 point.) Dead right. A bunch of companies announced iOS and Android controllers, a lot of them came out and just like I thought, no one cared. Since all the games have to support touch screens anyway, developers don’t care to shoehorn in controller support for a tiny niche market. People who take games seriously enough to buy dedicated hardware for it are going to buy a console or a controller for their PC, not something to bolt onto their phone or use with a tiny tablet screen. The most popular one of these I’m aware of is NVIDIA SHIELD, while is principally used to play PC games streamed to a tablet. People don’t care about this.

Category Total: 14.5/26


  • The current YouTube insanity will stabilise but at least one prominent channel or entire network will announce they’re moving elsewhere (half point.) The Content ID fiasco did in fact normalise and no one seems upset about it any more. Google still doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t a top 5% earner but the storm is over for now. No one big announced they’re moving elsewhere, though PewDiePie has hinted that he’s considering starting his own network. Oh yeah, Disney also bought Maker Studios.
  • Apple’s meteoric growth will plateau, Android’s will continue and Windows Phone’s will accelerate (no points.) I’m just calling this as wrong. The only category Apple’s seeing growth in is the iPhone but it’s so big that it’s erasing the declines in everything else. Android is still going strong but Samsung’s sales are tanking. Windows Phone is either doing better or way worse depending on who you ask. Sales are apparently up but it’s market share is also down which makes no sense at all. My sentiment about all three seems to be wrong in some way. It’s clear everyone sees the writing on the wall though, that’s why they’re all trying to distract us with watches.
  • The Apple television is not coming (1 point.) It still isn’t.
  • Apple’s stock price will continue to slide into normalcy (no points.) Noooooope. I swear, this company could have a 50% drop in all categories and analysts would still be stupid enough to recommend everyone buy it. This will happen some day but it certainly didn’t in 2014.
  • BlackBerry will attempt to pull an IBM and reinvent itself as a software and services company (1 point.) They’re still announcing phones for niche audiences but I think their new CEO has outright stated that software and services is the future for the company. It’s too bad, they had the potential to be the market leader and they let inept leadership ruin it.
  • We will see more formerly retail software adopt subscription models than ever before (half point.) This didn’t happen at the pace I expected which I why I am calling it a halfsie but I don’t think anyone can deny that this is what software developers want to see happen.
  • PC sales will more or less remain stable (1 point.) From everything I’ve read, this is exactly what happened. They aren’t growing but they still outsell everything else by a huge amount every year. I said long ago that those who claimed phones and tablets were rendering PCs were obsolete were idiots. They still are.
  • At least one newsworthy Mac and/or iOS security exploit will happen this year (1 point.) Google it, you’ll find plenty. Mac and iOS aren’t inherently more secure and Apple still places far too low a priority on security. People just don’t attack small targets. Mac still is a small target but it’s a growing one and iOS is a huge target. Make no mistake, the days of being able to say “Apple stuff is just more secure” are long gone.
  • Windows 8 will claw its way to a half-decent market share, people will still hate it irrationally (1 point.) Simply because it’s the only thing you can get on PCs now, Windows 8 is slowly getting there, though Windows 7 and I think even XP still trounce it globally. Windows 8 is great under the hood. I’ve been running it for a while now and I love it. Spend $10 on Start8 and ModernMix and it’s the best Windows experience you can get. Most people won’t do that though, they’ll just keep hating it cause it’s trendy to.
  • Windows 8.2 will bring back the Start Menu, people will be happy about that and still never use it (0 points.) I considered making this a halfsie but since it’s technically Windows 10 that’s doing this, I’ll call it a zip.
  • Twitter will still not turn a profit but their stock will not suffer for it (1 point.) Ding! They didn’t make money (though it looks like they might start to soon) but their stock has done quite well in spite of that. Some companies are just exempt from basic market rules I guess.
  • There will be more stories this year about people scaling back their use of social media (0 points.) The more I talk to people, the more it feels like people are getting sick of social media but everyone still uses it and those that use it a lot seem to be using it even more. I don’t know, the sentiment feels like I predicted but I’m just not seeing that reflected in reality.
  • Windows and Android tablets will sell more than ever but still lag far behind iPad (1 point.) Both of these are true and there’s some great offerings in both camps now. Android apparently has the global lead in market share for tablets now too but there’s certainly no one model driving it and honestly, I probably see one non-iPad for every 100 iPads I see in the wild. At least in my experience, iPad is still sadly dominating.
  • Intel’s “Dual OS” strategy will be a colossal flop (1 point.) Boy, that came and went with a blip didn’t it? I barely read anything about this after it was announced and the couple of Dual OS laptops that came out, no one cared about whatsoever. I still don’t know why they thought this was a good idea, especially given how cheap and surprisingly good full Windows 8.1 tablets have gotten.
  • Technology will continue to get more dumbed down to appease the dumbest of us (1 point.) It’s hard to find a router with lights on it now. My girlfriend and I bought new laptops from Lenovo and Dell respectively this year and I had to install third-party utilities on them to see when the hard drives were active. If you have an Xbox One, you have to dig to find information about the progress of downloads and even then, you just get a percentage meter and nothing else. Apple has taught people that not knowing what your expensive technology is doing is a good thing and I absolutely hate it. Stop emulating the worst parts of user culture that company espouses!

Category Total: 9/14

GRAND TOTAL: 23.5/40

Oof. As I was writing these up, I actually thought I was in for a bit of a blow out but it turns out I didn’t do so hot in 2014. I consider anything over a 50% success rate to be a victory but I didn’t squeak by with much margin this time. Ah well, all part of the game!

My bold predictions for 2015 are coming soon. They probably won’t be as numerous as 2014’s but I’ve got a few good ones in the pipe. Watch for them! I hope everyone has a great 2015.

Posted in Business, Business, Computers, Coverage, Culture, Mobile Phones, Predictions, Predictions, Tablets, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canadian Broadcasting Cowardice

By now, you are likely aware of the tragic and horrific massacre that took place at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo this past week over some cartoons making fun of a religious figure. These cartoons. Needless to say, I think it’s a horrific attack against free speech and democracy by religion driven nutjobs, who think that gunning down a bunch of people is justified by the fact that they dared make fun of something. I think the two brothers who orchestrated it have gotten away far too easily and sadly, I fear this is not the last we see of things like this.

A bunch of different press outlets worldwide decided to show solidarity and their shared desire to not bow down in front of terrorists by reprinting a bunch of the cartoons which inspired the killers to do what they did. A bunch more didn’t. You may think I’m here to rail on all the ones that didn’t but I’m not. I understand it’s not a simple black and white decision to reprint something that divisive and in general, I respect any organisation that decides to not print them and can provide a solid justification as to why. I don’t agree with them but I respect their right as journalists to decide what they think is in the best interests of their readers. However, as you may have deduced from the title, I do take great exception with one particular news organisation’s reasons why, the taxpayer funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC has been a hot button topic in Canada. Many people (typically on the opposing political spectrum of the government currently in power) think the CBC is an inefficient waste of taxpayer money that spews on propaganda for the sitting government and produces other content that no one else will because people largely don’t want to watch it. There are parts of that sentiment I share but when it comes to the news, I’ve defended them for a long time as one of the last bastion’s of what can be at least partially be called journalism in this country. Watch or listen to most of what passes for news elsewhere in Canada and you’ll see why. I listen to CBC Radio 1 in my car almost exclusively and hear a chunk of the morning and afternoon shows every day.

After announcing that they would not be republishing the Charlie Hebdo concerns, the CBC went into immediate damage control mode, almost like they knew a lot of people would be upset with them for it. On both Radio 1’s afternoon show and the next day on The Current, segments were held in which a man named David Studer, Director of Journalism Standards and Practices was brought on with the task of defending the crown corporation’s decision. Certainly not an enviable position to be in and I can imagine it was not easy or pleasant for him. Nonetheless, I take great exception to his weak attempts at rationalising their refusal to reprint these cartoons and worse still, to go on the offensive towards organisations that did. The CBC may not have been the only news organisation to use the reasoning he did but it’s the only one I’m aware of and it’s this reasoning that makes me want to take them to task.

To the credit of the hosts of both segments, they weren’t softball with Mr. Studer and on The Current, two other guests were present who strongly opposed his opinion. This is good because it was only after a lot of prying that he finally admitted to the actual reason for the decision. Most of the rest of his time was spent trying to dodge around that using a level of intellectual dishonesty that was beyond belief.

Here are some of his more choice responses. I don’t have transcripts of the segments so I’m paraphrasing but the core answers are accurate:

“We wouldn’t have published the cartoons the day before the massacre so why would we publish them the day after?” It was a different world the day after. Given that the terrorists stated the shootings were motivated by these cartoons, it makes sense to show them so people understand just how moronic said motivations were. I don’t think most of the other places that published them would have done so the day before either so what makes the CBC special? The CBC is not a newspaper and age-gating content or putting it behind a simple click filter with a warning and leaving it in the user’s hands to decide whether to view it is trivially easy.

“People don’t need to see the cartoons to understand the situation.” That’s up to the reader, not you. The only way I’ve heard the cartoons described is some variation of “They make fun of the prophet Muhammed.” That’s not even remotely helpful in conveying just how mundane they are and the goofy style of their presentation. The job of the news isn’t to provide a vague description and let people draw a mental picture. In fact, that’s the opposite of what the news is supposed to do. I had an idea of what the cartoons were. Then I saw them and it turns out my mental picture was way off. You can say the content’s offensive and that people concerned about it shouldn’t look but it’s not up to you to say that we don’t need to see it. People died because of it. Yes, we do.

“This is driven by spur of the moment emotion and/or business motivations.” Wow, way to throw a whole bunch of journalists under the bus there. I’ll be the first to say that proper journalism is dying in this world of clickbait and trial by social media but there are still pockets of people out there trying to report the news well. With this sentiment, you’re essentially saying that anyone who chose to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (likely after the same fierce internal debate you claimed the CBC had) did so purely out of anger and a desire to throw up double birds to the terrorists. It couldn’t be because they believe the public should see what these religious scumbags thought was worth murdering for. No no, it was just a visceral emotional response. No doubt some of the usual suspects used this as an opportunity for easy traffic, just like they would have done with something else. However, I think it’s incredibly smug and arrogant to think that they only did it for that reason.

“You don’t need to show a graphic crime scene to explain a murder so we don’t need to show the cartoons to explain this.” The scale of this false equivalence is so massive, I’m amazed the studio didn’t collapse into a black hole. You aren’t showing a graphic crime scene, you’re showing cartoons making fun of a religious figure. Those are two things they aren’t within a continent’s reach of each other. This isn’t asking to show the bodies gunned down by the terrorists. This isn’t even asking to show graphic cartoons. The whole point is that the cartoons are not graphic in any way, yet they still drove some religious nutjobs to mass murder.

All of these various jukes were countered and Mr. Studer finally stated the real reason: The CBC didn’t want to offend Muslims. He didn’t say that they were worried about retaliation being taken against the 99.9% of Muslims that are not violent extremists (retaliation that is sadly happening anyway), he said that they didn’t want to offend them. That someone will be offended and you’ll hear from them about it is possibly the worst reason for a supposedly journalistic institution to not run content.

I’ll put this bluntly: I don’t give a damn if anyone gets offended by the cartoons and a journalist shouldn’t either. When it comes to comedy, there are nor should there be anything that can’t be satirised. People have a right to be offended about whatever they want but I’m sick of this growing belief that people have a guaranteed right to never be offended about anything. They don’t. I see things all the time that offend me. Some of them even offend me enough to need to write something here or send an e-mail. However, not once have I ever said that an organisation shouldn’t be able to produce what they want (especially in the interests of informing the public) because it offends me. If you see a piece of content that offends you, you are free to say something about it and you are also free to turn your damn head and not consume it. That should be the extent of your power as a consumer. I’m a proud Athiest but I have nothing against anyone else wanting to believe in whatever religion they want. Where that crosses the line is when you start saying that someone should not be allowed to produce something because rather than just turning it off, that no one should be able to see it because it offends you. I don’t care what belief system you subscribe to, you can fuck right off if that’s what you think.

Journalism isn’t about what’s offensive or what isn’t, it’s about what’s true. What’s true is that a bunch of evil people driven by their religion, gunned down a bunch of innocents over cartoons that offended them so much, they felt murder was justified. I think when telling that story to the public, giving them the means to see the cartoons is key to them being optimally informed about it. Again, I can respect an organisation’s decision to not run the cartoons for any number of reasons, even if I disagree with them. If the CBC has just straight up said “We don’t want to offend Muslims.”, I would have strongly disagreed but still respected that decision.

Where I take exception is when people like Mr. Studer make smarmy excuses for why they didn’t and then to actually have the gall to call out other organisations that did and question their journalistic motivations. Let us not forget that the CBC had no problem running multiple, intentionally one-sided hit pieces against gamer culture, likely to avoid even the appearance of siding with a movement ignorantly labelled as anti-women so soon after the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Not wanting to offend easily offended religious people is a straight up cowardly reason for not showing the cartoons. However, all you had to do was state it, say that was your final decision and move on. To go on the air, get up on your high horse and use transparent, intellectually dishonest arguments to question the integrity of organisations that did reeks of hubris and I think did no help to sway anyone to your side.

It’s no secret that the CBC is fighting for its life under a government that would like nothing more than to see it crumble and redirect it’s funding to Sun News Network instead. I have and will continue to defend the CBC’s right to exist and flourish with my money. But dammit if situations like this and the responses of people like Mr. Studer aren’t making that harder by the day.

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