[Misc] EA acquisition rumours, Avengers Alliance, smart games, long games

Rumours spread quickly around the gaming news sites yesterday that Nexon may be interested in  launching a buyout of Electronic Arts. Nexon is a South Korean company best known for F2P MMOs like Maple Story and Dragon’s Nest. EA, as readers probably know, is an American company best known for a wide slew of AAA games and includes some fan favourite development houses. This is a pretty flimsy rumour, especially as it would involve Nexon getting involved in a load of different markets that are new to them. But who knows?

So yeah, what is happening to the gaming industry that this is even a rumour?

My interpretation is that although EA does hold a lot of market share (and mindshare), they haven’t been able to translate this into profits as efficiently as other gaming companies. They’ve also been seen as not adapting well to the death of retail and growth of direct download. So this is reflected in the share price, which is perhaps low enough to be seen as a good deal to a buyer who is better at monetising games. And that’s why some analysts are saying EA is vulnerable to a takeover; it may be seen as good value for money.That’s about as far as my analysis gets since I’m not much of a market person – any readers have any thoughts?

The magical online universes of EA games

One of the strategies EA announced recently was that they want all of their brands to become ‘online universes’. So you could interact with them via console, mobile games, PC, tablet, etc.

Play Battlefield, for example, on a console in the evening, a PC in the midnight hours, a smartphone on the commute and a tablet while at the office. All the data, all the progress and achievements, will carry from one device to the other, allowing the player to play “how he wants, when he wants and on the device he wants”.

No one who reads gaming blogs need really blink at this. After all, we’re people who read (or write) and think about games when we aren ‘t actually playing them, which is I suppose a sort of ‘online multiverse of brands.’ Anyone who has been in an MMO guild probably interacted via a guild bulletin board, which you might have checked from your smartphone or from work (during lunch hours, obviously). Sandbox games like EVE pretty well encourage this type of constant immersion and interaction, if only so that you can find out what’s going on when you aren’t playing.

So it shouldn’t be shocking if EA wonders whether people who love, say, Football Manager, might want to interact with it somehow during the day. It’s not the worst idea in the world ever. Why play Farmville on Facebook if you had a Football Manager game on Facebook you could play instead when you felt in the mood for a Facebook gaming fix (which I am mocking less now that I have found one I like, see below)?

However, as gamers it is a bit concerning because I wouldn’t trust EA (or any other developer) not to push incentives for playing the game on as many platforms as possible. Which is demoralising if you have the wrong type of smartphone or only want to play it on the PC in the evenings. If I buy a PC game, I expect to be able to beat it just by playing it on the PC. I certainly don’t want to feel forced to go outside that to find better stat boosts, or to feel at a disadvantage because I don’t have an iPad to play some spinoff game on as well. This online universes strategy could be used to gateway the most colossal grinds known to mankind.

Yet, again as MMO players, we’re pretty well used to being advised to go read guides, watch videos, use addons, and learn how to play our game of choice better from outside the game.

Ultimately, if the games themselves and their spinoffs on other devices are good, this could still be a fun trend. It just sounds ominous when EA talk about it.

Marvel: Avengers Alliance

avengers_fb

So, Avengers Assemble (as it is known in the UK) was released yesterday. We’re seeing it over the weekend, so expect some pictures of Loki here next week (le swoon).

Meanwhile, for my Marvel superheroes fix, I have been playing Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook. Yup, I know I hate Facebook and all of its works, especially the F2P social games, but this one is pretty cool. It’s a turn based pokemon-style team fighty game, in which you collect and level up your superhero pals and go take on the forces of naughtiness and supervillainy. It has all the usual social paraphenalia, such as being able to go visit your friends ‘cities’ once a day to get extra stuff and needing some friends to help you boost various power aspects.

But I find the social side fairly low key in M:AA compared to your typical Zynga game, the writing of the various adventures is pretty good and the different currencies work well together to keep you focussed and interested. By this I mean, you need in game cash to help pay for levelling up and research, which you can get by sending heroes off on long missions on their own. You also need ‘shield points’ for levelling and research which you can get from your friends, and ‘command points’ to acquire new heroes which you can get from beating end of level bosses.

As per pokemon, there are different ‘types’ of heroes (tanks, scrappers, blasters, infiltrators, tacticians) each of whom are strong/ weak against other types, and some of your heroes will also have special bonuses. For example, flying heroes are immune to ground attacks, Asgardians (like Thor and Sif) are immune to fire and cold, armoured tanky heroes (like Colossus or Thing) are immune to bleeds et al. And you can use research to get better weapons for your character, who is a SHIELD agent.

The other feature in this game that I enjoy is the writing. Each episode is a self contained story which is part of the larger story arc, and I enjoy that all the characters have recognisable voices. Whoever wrote the game likes the comic characters, and that comes across well.

I haven’t actually felt the need to give them any money for this game, even though I really like it and would not begrudge them the cash. The F2P framework always makes me feel like paying is for losers. If it had a tip jar, I’d probably contribute.

And a couple more links

A proper links post will be coming this weekend, but for now here are a couple of posts about gaming in general that I found interesting.

Brainy Gamer takes issue with the argument that games are dumb, and is getting together a list of smart games. Here is his current catalogue of smart games as submitted by readers, see if you agree with the choices.

Keen ponders the length of games, and considers the point at which he gets exhausted with a game and can’t be bothered to finish it. I have definitely found this, and whether it’s to do with the length of the game, the style of the game (it can be hard to keep up with a very long storyline that has tons of characters, twists, etc), or simply mechanics that don’t grab the players, I think games can definitely be too long. Lots of Final Fantasy games end up in this category for me, even the ones I like.

Links for the weekend (E3 prospects, and the state of raiding)

  • E3 is next week, and is the first of the big summer gaming conventions. Destructoid summarises the publishers and games expected to be there, so there will be plenty of news/ press releases about those. I don’t feel massive excitement about any of these, although “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is a good title.
  • There are also expected to be some hardware announcements: Nintendo has a successor to the Wii to announce and no one will be surprised if Sony and Microsoft also come up with something. Venturebeat run down some of the more stable rumours about next week’s announcements. Allegedly Bioware are already working on Dragon Age 3 so that might also get an announcement.
  • Yngwe writes a guest post for Kiss my Alas, pondering the ways in which real life has made him a better raider. (But leaves the question open as to whether raiding has helped him iRL.)
  • Staying with the raiding theme, Wugan writes a thoughtful post on Flow asking whether it’s too easy for individual players to act as free agents, shifting guilds as soon as they get frustrated with progression. I always think that a raid leaders’ ideas on what is wrong with raiding can seem so different from a raider/ non leader’s ideas that you sometimes wonder if they are playing the same game.
  • Stabs describes issues that he’s had with filling raids in Rift and explains it using psychology. I felt bad reading this because I’d be one of those people who thinks “I’ve done proper raiding before, I know how much time and commitment it takes, so better that I sit out in this new game than risk being all those horrible things people call you if you get one enchant slightly wrong in WoW.” Not that my Rift character is level 50 yet, but soon.
  • Rhii asks how people feel when someone they are raiding with keeps talking about their other guild/s and other raid/s. In WoW, it’s not uncommon for people to have different alts in different guilds/ raids – I suspect this is more common now due to the way the lockouts work.
  • Scott Andrews, in his excellent WoW Insider column, predicts that Firelands will not save your (raid) guild. Is he right?
  • Psychochild lists 10 games that he thinks designers should play and asks for your suggestions for what games or types of games you think designers should experience.
  • Syncaine eases my troubled mind by explaining why gaming bloggers are not leechers. What he’s actually getting at is that if you are really into a game or hobby, you probably prefer to play with other people who are similarly engaged. And this actually applies just as much to casual roleplayers as it does to hardcore raiders (he doesn’t make that connection, but it’s true.)
  • Danc writes a fairly controversial post in which he critiques game criticism and particularly that written by gamers. In my opinion this is pretty much a straw man because what a reader can get from a well written and well presented experiential blog post is simply a different style of game writing than a critic would be expected to produce. And I’d argue we should value the players who are able to do this well without lumping them in with the critics. I think this is particularly true in MMOs or any game with a virtual community because we don’t really have the theories yet to fully explain how players interact with each other online – it’s a new field. And as in any new field, the observations have to come before the theories and analysis. Be scientific, game devs! Pay attention to the (good) observations.
  • The Last Psychiatrist ponders Second Life and real life, and points out that in some ways they are not so very different. Is getting your hair done to look like a celebrity iRL so different from sculpting your avatar to look like them online?
  • scrusi wonders if exploration and story are mutually exclusive.
  • Tipa notes that the Rift devs have been borrowing a lot of ideas from WoW and wonders if they could take a few pointers from EQ as well.