Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

That's all of life's bases covered, right?

Ian Fleming was lazy – and I want to be just like him

Fleming

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post about fiction writing, I question what I even have a right to say. I’d love to give advice on how to write, or share what I’m working on and how I do it, but the truth is I’m just like everyone else in the group: still learning.

So instead, I’ve turned to one of the masters, the creator of one of my favourite series, so I can shamefully steal his knowledge and share it with you.

The author in question is, of course, Ian Fleming – the father of James Bond. In May 1963, just a year before he died, Fleming wrote an essay for the Books and Bookmen periodical published by Hansom Books in which he discussed how he came to write the acclaimed 007 saga.

After paragraphs referencing the well-known factoid that he based some of Bond’s adventures on his own experiences, he comes to the actual process of writing. And here’s some of his thoughts that I found particularly useful and inspiring:

Read more →

James February 5, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

…Actually, it’s about self-perception based on our media choices

Goldfinger

For the last few months, I have struggled to understand why the consumers behind GamerGate are so upset.

Despite the fact that tensions around this ‘discussion’ (and I use that term broadly), it’s become nigh on impossible to take a neutral stance on this. Given that I am a journalist in the games industry (though not on the consumer-facing side, I should stress), my own perspective leans towards that of the media accused of corruption that – in my experience – simply isn’t there.

I’m not going to get into the discussion about ethics in journalism. Instead, I want to look at another side that until today I had been largely dismissive of.

My understanding is that some (that’s, I stress again, SOME) of the GamerGaters began this campaign because they believe feminists plan to ‘ruin video games’. That criticism by the likes of Anita Sarkeesian about the way women are depicted in titles like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto will somehow prevent such games from ever being made again.

Initially, I scoffed at this. What I have seen of Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women  in Video Games series so far has all seemed reasonable to me. Even if there was something I disagreed with, she had formed her argument coherently enough that I could see her point of view. But the truth is, even if Sarkeesian was trying to destroy such games, she is one voice against the millions that buy every iteration of these triple-A blockbusters.

Yes, there have been more games targeting consumers outside the traditional 16 to 34-year-old male demographic in the past few years, many with political agendas or heavy-handed points to make. But the best-selling games every year for the past decade have invariably been: FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed. They are in no danger.

And with those titles in no danger, I couldn’t understand why some gamers were getting so upset, so outraged, so defensive. Now perhaps I do.

This morning, I was listening to the Goldfinger episode of Nerdist.com’s excellent James Bonding podcast. If you’re a fan of Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent, you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.

I have been a fan of James Bond from a very young age. My enthusiasm for his adventures is probably as old as my love of games. I am the ultimate James Bond apologist – I still maintain Die Another Day has its good moments (albeit very few of them). Bond and me: it’s true love.

So when the female guests on this Goldfinger podcasts began attacking the franchise from a feminist point of view within minutes of the episode starting, I couldn’t help but feel defensive.

It was the strangest sensation. I knew perfectly well that none of these comments are directed at me, or anyone who likes James Bond. I knew, in fact, that these women were absolutely right: Bond is a misogynistic arsehole. I’ve been watching through the films with my other half, and I become quite uncomfortable with how badly he (Connery, in particular) treats women. And yet I still felt defensive, almost hurt by some of the things said against the film, the franchise and the character. The words “No, because…” or “Yeah, but…” threatened to burst from my mouth on more than one occasion.

The only reason I can think of that would cause me to react in such an absurdly defensive manner is this: I’m too emotionally invested in the James Bond franchise.

I dread to think how many hours I’ve spent watching and rewatching these films, discussing them with friends or on podcasts, reading the books, playing the games – invest that amount of time into anything, and it’s understandable that it soon feels like a part of you. By extension, any attacks against that media feel like an attack on you, and human instinct dictates that we defend ourselves.

Perhaps this is what ran through the heads and hearts of so many GamerGaters when this whole fiasco began. The hours that many of these people pour into games is probably tenfold the amount of time I’ve spent enjoying James Bond. It’s natural that they will feel a little defensive when something they’ve chosen to invest so much time on seemingly comes under attack (if that is how they perceive it).

I am, of course, not condoning any of the abuse that has come out of this hashtag movement. Such behaviour is absolutely inexcusable under any circumstances. But perhaps now I can understand, on some level, the spark that led to such anger.

James December 12, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink

Should 24 live another day?

24 lad

I should probably disclaim the following from the off: I’m more than a 24 fan. I’m a 24 apologist.

To me, it is perfectly believable that a man who has his heart stopped can still be revived and have enough energy to single-handedly bring down a corporate conspiracy, take out multiple commandos with a sniper rifle, and snap a man’s neck with the only side effects being the occasional need to clutch his chest and say ‘ow’. Why? Because it’s damn good entertainment.

Jack Bauer is TV’s James Bond. It doesn’t matter how diabolical the plot he foils is; I’m just happy to be along for the ride. So I was overjoyed when the show’s producers gave up trying to fund this movie that is clearly never going to happen and brought us the mini-series 24: Live Another Day.

And with the series now out on Blu-ray and DVD, I find myself thinking back on this new adventure for my favourite shoot-first, shout-dammit-later TV hero and wondering whether I want more.

The fact that I’m wondering this at all is not a good sign. Every previous series (yes, even the meandering confusion of Day Six) has left me eagerly anticipating Bauer’s return. As much as I knew that the ambiguous open end of Day Eight was constructed solely to allow more series to be produced – and purely for commercial, not narrative reasons – I wanted more.

Live Another Day has – SPOILER ALERT – just as open an ending, but I can honestly say I’ll not lose sleep if the 24 clock never ticks again. Even an irrepressible fan such as I can recognise when things have run their course.

Given the hype that surrounded Live Another Day, I doubt this is the last we’ll see of Jack Bauer (it’s Kiefer Sutherland’s biggest earner – the man’s got to eat, after all) but have they even left themselves anywhere to go?

As it stands at the end of Day Nine, Jack Bauer – MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT – has been taken away by the Russians to pay for all the people he killed in Day Eight. Chloe O’Brian is free to find a new direction for her life, having learned that the last few years of anger towards the Government for the death of her husband and son were completely unjustified.  President James Heller is suffering from the slow decline of Alzheimer’s. All other characters of note, that could have any importance on the series’ future storylines are dead.

24’s character kill count is both a triumph and a burden. From the heart-breaking death of Teri at the end of Day One – if you’re still reading, it’s safe to say spoiler alerts are redundant by this point – to Bill’s sacrifice in Day Seven, the writers have masterfully made us care about the deaths of these on-screen heroes.

But with such a body count now behind them, there’s no one left to kill. in fact, we’re now so accustomed to losing the ficitional people we love that the faked death of Heller and very real death of Audrey had no impact – which is criminal, given how well developed the storyline between her and Jack has been since she debuted in Day Four. Her declaration of hatred towards Bauer when he inadvertently causes the death of her ex-husband still upsets me on later viewings today, and yet her death did nothing.

Similarly, Jack’s rampage through the Chinese ship at the news of her death was nowhere near as dramatic as it should have been, because we’ve already seen him hell-bent on revenge in the final hours of Day Eight.

Herein lies 24’s biggest problem: it’s a victim of its own success. From the very first season, the show has broken new ground, changed the rules, presented plot twists and set pieces that had never been on TV before. The result is that there is very little it can do to shock us anymore. In breaking the formula for TV thrillers, it has formed its own and thus become formulaic.

Don’t get me wrong, the premise for this series was great: 12 episodes, spread across four hours. Jack’s on the run from the whole damn world for murdering half the Russian government in a murderous rage. Much missed characters James Heller and Audrey Boudreau (née Raines) are back. And it’s set in London. Many boxes ticked here, particularly for the most devoted of fans.

But there are so many missed opportunities. I thought the shorter format was to allow them to skip hours of travel that would have been boring to watch. Spend the first few hours in London, skip the hour or two it takes to get to Paris and have a few exciting episodes there. Europe is so closely connected that 24 could have delivered a thriller on a scale not seen before, but the cost of production and limits of what an on-location team can do means Live Another Day failed to live up to this potential. To call the ten-minute ’12 hours later’ epilogue disappointing would be an understatement.

Even the overall villain lacked something. The twist that Chang, the vengeful Chinese agent who harks back as far as Day Four, was the baddie would have been a great revelation… had he not been missing from the show for at least half a decade, and crammed into the last few episodes.

There was a lot 24: Live Another Day did right, and I’ll certainly be picking up the home entertainment release for later viewings, but I almost hope this is the last we see of Jack Bauer. Given all he has endured over Days One to Eight, the only satisfying ending would be one of two things: death, or retirement with Kim and his grandchild. The latter, sadly, is far too happy an ending for the show’s producers to even consider, and they have no way of making the former meaningful given that Jack has already died once, faked his death and been on his deathbed due to a biotoxin a few years later.

The only answer is to leave it, unless they can come up with the mother of all finales. Live Another Day was intended to give closure to fans, something it failed to do. I reckon they have one last chance, but they’d better be damn sure to make it a good one.

James October 8, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink

The job I always dreamed of is all but gone

magazines

 

In my teenage years, the calendar wasn’t the only thing I used to judge how much of the year had gone: monthly releases of N64 Magazine also helped me gauge how much time was passing. The Spaceworld issue was already on shelves? That means it’s nearly Christmas.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life back then. Write novels, obviously, but given the drivel I was churning out in the middle of French lessons when the teacher’s back was turned, I knew that this was unlikely to sustain me financially when I was an adult. I toyed with the idea of teaching, perhaps teaching English in the hopes of inspiring the same enthusiasm I had for writing in future students.

Then there was a news story in the aforementioned publication: ‘Want to write for N64 Magazine’?

Everything clicked into place. When I wasn’t writing or reading (which was most of the time; I was an undisciplined teenager, after all), I was playing my Nintendo 64. Becoming James Bond in Goldeneye, saving fantasy lands in the Zelda games and mercilessly slaughtering Goombas in Super Mario 64. Why not write about these experiences and get paid to do so? It was perfect.

The article called for aspiring games journalists that were 18 or over – and sadly I was a couple of years short of the mark. But now I had a direction in my life. I chose GSCEs and A-levels that were relevant to a career in journalism. I searched universities for degrees in Journalism, particularly those with a focus on consumer magazines. And slowly but surely, I worked towards that dream job: playing my favourite games and writing about the experience.

Hindsight has naturally taught me that there’s a lot more to games journalism than I naively once thought. Stints of work experience on PC Gamer and Official PlayStation 2 Magazine dispelled the myths of grown men spending full days with a controller in hand, and simply writing with enthusiasm wasn’t enough. You had to write succintly, eloquently and above all, authoritatively. One PC Gamer team member wisely told me: “The readers will always know more than you. If you assume otherwise, you lose any respect they have for you.”

I took these lessons on board, and maintained my determined pursuit of a role on a consumer games journalism. But I took a slightly different path.

Through a fortunate coincidence involving a late library book (true story) that led to a long-term internship, I wound up in trade journalism: writing not for gamers, but for the games industry. It was not what I had intended, but I quickly grew to love it. In particular, my five years on MCV opened my eyes to how the industry really runs – something I wonder if I would have understood as deeply had I been on a consumer-facing title.

The fast pace and challenge of this weekly business magazine was more than satisfying enough to keep me coming into work every day, but I did occasionally glance at (and even apply for) other positions elsewhere. As much as I loved games trade journalism – and still do – there was a part of me that kept remembering the original job ad in N64 Magazine and wondering if I was ready or worthy of such a role. I waited, wanting to hone my skills, and only applying for one, maybe two jobs that particularly appealed to me.

Perhaps I waited too long. I became overqualified for the role I had originally wanted, back in the Nintendo 64 days, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had grown, I had learned things about both magazine production and the games industry that opened new doors, new opportunities. But that direction, the sense that one day I would have my teenage self’s dream job began to fade.

And now with the closing of Official Nintendo Magazine, I question whether that job is even out there anymore. Magazines are declining rapidly, and games websites from large, established firms are fighting to avoid being drowned out by enthusiast sites, amateur blogs and, yes, those inexplicably popular YouTube channels. When I first envisaged becoming a games journalist, it was a market of limited outlets. Now the only thing limited is reader attention, spread thinly across more channels than the traditional games media could ever cope with. The job I defined my academic choices around, that I moulded my life to, has all but gone.

I make it clear now that I have no regrets. I may never intended to enter trade journalism, but had I known of its existence earlier, I certainly would have endeavoured to end up where I am today. I’m only a year into my role as editor of Develop, but I’m already hoping to be holding onto it for years to come. The fascinating look under the hood of games is far more interesting than commenting on whether or not the graphics, handling and content improve on those that have come before. It’s the job I didn’t know I wanted, and looking at the path I almost took, I’m lucky to be here.

 

James October 7, 2014 3 Comments Permalink

Nintendo needs seconds, not thirds

BKXBLA

It’s nearly time for E3 and my mind is almost habitually turning to the Nintendo conference (or Nintendo Direct or whatever they choose to do instead of the traditional on-stage flashiness).

Obviously I’m looking forward to the Microsoft and Sony shows as well, but they’re a little easy to predict: big first-party sequels, maybe a new IP, partnerships for third-party blockbusters, entertainment services and perhaps some awkward celebrity cameos/endorsements. With Nintendo, the anticipation centres around the same question E3 has presented us for the last few years: can Nintendo turn things around?

Wii U is struggling. 3DS is doing okay, but it took all of Nintendo’s biggest franchise and most of its attention to fix – something that undeniably added to Wii U’s woes. The announcement of a new ‘quality of life’ business spells the beginning of the end for this Nintendo – it’s only a matter of time (perhaps just a few years) until Nintendo quietly downsizes its gaming output and focuses on this new business. The caterpillar that is the Mario and Pokémon firm is preparing the threads for its cocoon from which it will emerge as a health and fitness butterfly.

However, that laboured analogy does not mean Nintendo is or should giving up games completely. With the 3DS back on track, the only problem left to fix is realising the potential of Wii U. And there is still potential – perhaps not to surpass the success of the Wii, but to at least introduce new forms of gaming, offer an alternative to the glossy, loud offerings of Xbox One and PS4 and to entertain families and friends in the way that only Nintendo can.

As is the case when any prominent corporation is struggling, everyone already knows how to save Nintendo. Or at least, that’s what they claim on Twitter – although the allegedly infallible solutions won’t emerge until after the Big N has gone. The most common suggestions – nay, guaranteed salvation – comes in the form of new IP and more third-party exclusivs (or, these days, any third party support).

New IP is certainly something we’d all love to see, but it’s not necessarily the best way to revitalise Nintendo. Let’s set aside that fact that new IP typically tends to struggle in the market, and focus on the fact that, while Nintendo may be guilty of rolling out the same properties time and again, it still has more familiar franchises than either Microsoft and Sony. It’s like asking Disney to come up with a new character to replace or draw attention from Mickey Mouse.

As Nintendo has proven in the last couple of years, the likes of Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, Mario Kart (yes, it’s separate), Donkey Kong, Professor Layton and Smash Bros still excites its audience – and that’s without the other pillars in its portfolio such as Wii [ various], Pikmin, FZero, Starfox, Metroid, Pilotwings, and so on. It also doesn’t count the spin-offs that essentially serve as new IP; take away the trembling plumber and Luigi’s Mansion is a new IP, as is the WarioWare series, because of the wildly different gameplay. Nintendo has enough properties (although we’ll never say no to more).

Sadly, I worry that the third party ship has sailed. Only Ubisoft seems to be unyielding in its staunch support of Nintendo with the biggest games in the market – Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, FIFA – giving Wii U a wide berth, despite the entirely capable hardware. Equally, while some publishers/developers attempt new things with their Wii U SKUs – again, Ubisoft with its hack-happy Watch Dogs – few have the time, resource or even imagination to seek out innovative uses of the unique GamePad.

Yes, third party support would be instrumental in at least maintaining Wii U – the fact that almost every next-gen release is accompanied by Xbox 360 and PS3 ports but nothing for Wii U is inexcusable, with the fault lying as much with Nintendo as with the publishers. Nintendo’s first party titles can offer something enticing in the meantime, but there’s an interim stage that the platform holder seems to be missing – and it was a major factor in the success of one of its past consoles.

Forget third parties – Nintendo needs second party support.

All of Nintendo’s internal developers are dedicated to established franchises: Mario, Zelda, etc. With these already on shelves or currently in development, there is no resource for these developers to be exploring other possibilities. This has always been the case, but in the days of the Nintendo 64 there were second party studios to help with this – most notably the UK’s own Rare. While Nintendo pumped out Super Mario 64, two Legend of Zelda games, Mario Kart 64, Lylat Wars and other first-party hits, Rare produced Banjo-Kazooie, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day – oh, and Goldeneye. For all intents and purposes these were Nintendo properties, or at the very least Nintendo exclusives. And they caught of other gamers. Why else would Microsoft purchase Rare, then spend years tempting nostalgic fans with new outings for Banjo, Joanna Dark and a remake of Conker.

Some of Sony’s biggest hits today – the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Infamous – are not from internal studios. The games are published by Sony, the franchises are owned by Sony, but it is other developers making them. It gives the platform holder plenty of scope to have teams working on these blockbusters while its own studios are working on other first-party properties like LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo and so forth.

Yes, Nintendo has Retro Studios but the US developer has only been tasked with work on first-party IP –the excellent Metroid Prime trilogy and recent Donkey Kong titles. Rumours suggested the Japanese giant was gearing up to purchase Bayonetta makers Platinum Games, but has yet to prove these reports true. Nintendo needs to invest in second parties, and ideally those with an already proven track record and plenty of sales under their belt.

Second parties bring fresh ideas to the table. With the right studios under your wing, they can provide an entirely separate portfolio of franchises that are just as compelling as the first party ones, plugging the gaps on the release calendar between internal Nintendo projects – and perhaps even allowing for more time to be spent on those titles (It’s unlikely Super Mario 3D World was in development for more than a year, and even less likely that New Super Mario Bros U was).

Perhaps trusting these second parties with first party IP, as Nintendo has in the past, will lead to new spin-offs on existing franchises. Luigi’s Mansion was famously used as a training project for a team of new Nintendo developers, while Capcom proved it was more than capable of honouring the Zelda legacy with no less than three handheld games and a multiplayer title. Yes, there have been failed experiments in the past (we’re looking at you Star Fox: Armada and Metroid: Other M), but think what other non-Nintendo talent could do with those franchises, or Pokemon, or even Nintendo IP that hasn’t seen the light of day since the days of the NES and SNES. And it’s not like Nintendo doesn’t have the cash reserves to invest in this.

When Nintendo’s E3 broadcast goes live, I’ll be hoping for new properties, and I’ll be hoping for some sort of major third-party Wii U exclusive that will silence the naysayers (however briefly). But I’ll also be hoping for news of an acquisition, or a glimpse into what other studios can do for the platform holder’s portfolio. Roll on E3…

‘One can’t be doing with this nonsense’

the queen

I had thrown this together as a potential April Fool’s story for Develop, but thought better of it. Still, why waste it, eh?

Royal family challenges King over trademark infringement

HRH Queen Elizabeth II decries Candy Crush creator’s “blatant disregard” for monarchy’s long-running brand

The royal family of Great Britain has given King a taste of its own medicine as it accuses the Candy Crush firm of trademark infringement.

Representatives at Buckingham Palace have told Develop that HRH Queen Elizabeth II personally gave the order to protect any terms that specifically relate to the monarchy, including ‘King’, ‘Queen’, ‘Prince’, ‘Princess’, ‘Crown’, ‘Palace’ and ‘Corgi’.

In a rare phone interview, Her Majesty explained why this issue is important to her.

“In these austere times, it is One’s solemn duty to protect One’s family and One’s branding,” she said.

“One will sit by and be usurped no longer. The English Monarchy far predates this King company – quite how they think they can get away with blatant disregard of One’s rights is quite beyond One.

“In the light of our most recent launch, Prince George of Cambridge – currently in Alpha, and later to be upgraded to King George VII – One felt it was prudent to pre-empt any attempt to capitalise on the Royal brand.

“Besides, One can’t be doing with the Candy Crush nonsense. Bejeweled is far better.”

Our sources suggest Buckingham Palace is also preparing a case against Ubisoft to block the Prince of Persia series.

Things I learned at GDC the hard way

SanFrancisco

As I’ve said to countless people over the past few weeks, this year was the first time I was able to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

It went well. It didn’t go perfectly. But I put that down to this being a learning experience (it was my first trade show since 2008, and the first one I’d attended as editor) and I’m already looking forward to putting what I’ve learned into practise next year.

Here are the main areas of improvement I need to work on:

You need to make time for the conference sessions

So eager was I to meet as many companies as possible, I didn’t actually attend any of the conference sessions, talks, summits or other events that GDC is actually built around. It’s a shame because there were a few talks I wouldn’t mind sitting in on – not the least of which was Sony’s VR announcement – and the coverage from others that I hadn’t previously considered shows some interesting discussions happening in the industry.

You’ll never see everyone you want to

Even without going to any of the conference, and having arranged back-to-back meetings from Monday to Friday, I still didn’t get to speak to all of the companies I had hoped to. Whether I need to reign my expectations in or prioritise better, it was still great to talk to so many interesting firms working on some industry-defining tech and more ambitious projects.

Your meeting schedule needs some margin for error

Because my meetings were arranged back-to-back – one every half an hour – I experienced what several GDC veterans referred to as ‘the cascade effect’: if one meeting overruns, it has a knock-on effect for the next one, and the one after that, and so on. Even when booths were next to each other, there were still occasions where I barely got to the start of my next meeting on time. Particularly when there was a greater distance between them…

Nearby hotels aren’t as ‘nearby’ as you would think

Before heading out to San Francisco, I printed off a section of Google Maps with the Moscone Center at the, er, centre and marked which hotels I had arranged meetings in. I was pleased to find they were all within a block of the convention centre but, as I quickly discovered, that’s still at least a five to ten-minute walk (if you don’t get held up by pedestrian crossings). And that really doesn’t help my previous point.

Yes, people do know what Develop is

In all walks of life, I’ve never been one for assuming that people know who I am, who I work for and what I/they do. But in Develop’s case, maybe I need to rethink this approach: almost every single company I met with, and even some random people I bumped into during the week, are not only familiar with Develop, but regular readers too. Getting to know your audience is both rewarding and unnerving – there’s more pressure when you know who’s reading.

The work doesn’t end when the conference closes

Moscone begins turfing people out around 6pm, but meetings can often overrun past this – particularly if they’re held in a hotel rather than the convention centre. And while I got a break for dinner, every night had a ridiculous number of networking events and other parties. Just because you have a drink in your hand, doesn’t mean you’re off duty: you’re still representing the magazine and making contact with new companies that could become close partners in the years to come. That’s not exactly new knowledge to me, but I’d never experienced it on a scale like this before. It meant I felt guilty every time I left a party early, even if it was to spend the next hour or two writing up the day’s news from my hotel room.

Sugary breakfasts are inadvisable

On a family holiday to Florida last year, I learned that big, greasy, fatty breakfasts are not the best way to start your day. While the Moscone Center isn’t exactly abundant in rollercoasters the same was Orlando is, my days were no less active, constantly power-marching between meetings every half an hour. Having avoided the remarkably tempting Breakfast Burrito at Mel’s Diner (almost. I caved on the last day), I opted for what I thought was a healthier option: waffle with berries and cream. O, how mistaken was I! There was so much sugar in the waffle, cream and maple syrup that my head was buzzing throughout the morning. I felt drunk for my first few meetings that day, and I apologise if that came across.

Taxi drivers expect big tips

Since those hotels aren’t as close as I thought, sometimes a taxi was the best way to minimise the knock-on effect of delays on the rest of my meetings each day. However, while the cabbies back home are happy with you paying the fare that’s displayed on the meter (almost certainly already altered from what it should be), US taxi drivers get more than a little arsey if you dare to hand over $6.25 for a $6.25 journey. They also seem to judge you if you’re asking them to only drive ten minutes down the road rather than taking the half an hour it would to walk the same distance.

Virtual reality does not mix well with hangovers

I awoke one morning feeling ever so slightly the worse for wear. Not horrendous, mind you: just slightly off. You know when you have that faint headache and vaguely upset stomach, but it’s not strong enough to be classed as a hangover? Yeah, that. Well, for all the wonders that virtual reality can bring us, curing this particular condition is not one of them. In fact, just three minutes of the sci-fi spaceship dogfighting title I played was enough to exacerbate my condition for several hours afterwards. You have been warned, VR fans.

There are some things money can’t buy

Visa-Mastercard-credit-cards

I had planned to comment on this earlier, but a combination of work events and other commitments means I’m throwing my two cents on the table a little too late. But still…

A few weeks back we all saw the controversy surrounding the Brit Awards and Mastercard’s Priceless Surprises campaign. Put simply, journalists were asked to tweet something using the campaign’s hashtag – both from their publication and personal accounts – in return for press accreditation and entry to the event.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into this particular Pandora’s Box. The conflict between journalistic integrity and the ability for journos to, y’know, actually do their job is more than apparent.

However, there are two truths here which I think often get overlooked by the public.

1. Advertising funds a lot of publications

I stress that this point is not “advertising funds a lot of journalists”, but “publications”.

Printing a magazine on a regular basis (monthly or weekly) is expensive. But almost all printed publications are facing declining readerships (particularly in the games market!) so subscriptions are rarely enough to pay for the production costs of your favourite mag.

Hosting and maintaining a website is expensive. And while more and more people are getting their news online – with many sites enjoying readerships in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions – they are more often than not consuming that content for free. The only way to fund the upkeep of the site is to host advertising.

This does not mean that every article is paid for (or even that a majority are), but the result is that it is impossible that advertisers will be financially supporting both magazines and websites and hoping for editorial support in return.

More often than not, any editorial that is specifically linked to an advertiser is agreed by both the publication and the advertiser but the publication still has final say on the message, the content and the integrity of that content. No journalist or magazine I know has ever written or would ever write an article that kowtows to an advertiser’s sales pitch unless it was specifically made clear that this was an advertorial.

2. There is nothing an advertiser won’t target

But you know what? That’s not an inherently evil thing – it’s just their job.

The human mind is now so accustomed to being constantly accosted with advertising messages that it is now quite easy to completely block out any standard forms of promotion: billboards, magazine pages, TV spots, and so on. So it is up to advertisers to come up with new and more subtle ways to grab our attention and get their message across without deterring us.

And you know what? We know this. We all know that those free vouchers at the supermarket are to introduce us to new or promoted brands. Those sponsorships that cover every award are just to get that logo or brand name in front of our eyes, however briefly.

All of us also know that advertisers will follow us wherever we go. While we’re driving to work, they’re on the radio between songs (or, more often than not, there are songs between adverts). While we’re travelling around cities, they’re on buses, phone boxes, in shop windows and on billboards.

So is it any surprise that they will follow us online as well? If there’s something people are interacting with, such as hashtags, advertisers are duty bound to find a way to use that to their advantage. Again, it’s nothing sinister – it’s just their job. We know this, and most of us are able to tell the difference between a user-created hashtag and a paid one.

Complaining that advertisers are trying to advertise is like complaining that rain clouds are raining on us. It’s a fact of life. There’s no need to blame anyone – just run for cover or ignore it.

About the author

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While taking a brief and mildly egotistical browse through Amazon, I noticed that my name under the listing for my writing group’s anthology linked to some other James Batchelor that writes books.

Now obviously my name’s not unique enough for me to expect to be the only James Batchelor with published fiction – particularly not in a world where absolutely anyone can release an e-book. But I’ll be damned if I’m letting this other Batchelor take credit for my work (to be fair, he may not want a children’s anthology associated with his adult historical fiction series).

So, I’ve just set up my own Amazon author page. It’s dead easy – suspiciously easy, in fact. Couldn’t help but wonder if I could just take credit for anyone’s books just by claiming I have the same name. I’ve now correctly attributed the anthology to me, added a brief biography and a photo, and now I have a place to showcase all my published fiction to my adoring fans. Whenever I acquire them, of course.

It may seem a trivial, almost presumptuous step to do, but if I’m going to get books published, I should ensure there’s no one waiting in the wings to take credit. At the very least, there will be two more Writebulb anthologies on my page by this time next year and, who knows, maybe an e-book of my own.

Obviously, I’ll need to come up with a better headshot, write a more professional biography and, y’know, publish some work, but it’s hopefully laying a foundation.

It’s also a source of motivation. As with writing, if you’ve got a blank page, it’s impossible to resist filling it.

James January 31, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink

A Nintendo console is for life, not just for Christmas

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This is not another opinion piece that will solve all of Nintendo’s problems.

Since the Japanese giant announced its worrying financials, a good portion of Twitter users and almost every games media outlet imaginable has scrambled for the spotlight with their own infallible rescue plans for Wii U and its parent. Their suggestions – go mobile, scrap the Wii U, release a new console, abandon hardware, release the Nintendo back catalogue as a Netflix-style service – could all fail just as easily as they could succeed.

Instead, I’d like to offer a more personal request for something to be factored in to Nintendo’s inevitable reinvention: a Nintendo console is for life, not just for Christmas.

For many, console gaming is a year-round hobby. While Q4 is understandably a crucial period for any company that deals in retail titles – a fact that often sees the run-up to the holidays overcrowded with blockbuster releases – there is still a steady supply of new games throughout the other nine months of the year. Expect, arguably, on Nintendo home consoles.

I got an Xbox one just before Christmas, with copies of Forza, Ryse, Dead Rising, Zoo Tycoon and Assassin’s Creed. And yet the console I spent the most time with – nearly four full days, in fact – was the Wii U, and specifically Nintendo Land. The multiplayer games in this showcase of tech demos managed to ensnare both my family and that of my other half, as well as two groups of friends – one of which was a bunch of core gamers who had originally earmarked the day to spend on Call of Duty.

It was amazing to see everyone from children to adults, casual players to gaming enthusiasts, hooked on the panic-inducing antics of Mario Chase – a game that, with only three maps, it’s possible to exhaust in terms of new content in less than fifteen minutes, and yet every match reveals new strategies and unique moments.

It was not to last. I have not touched the Wii U since December 27th. And sadly, this is nothing new.

Since 2006, anecdotes about the original Wii only being dusted off at Christmas have been both commonplace and, unfortunately, true. Wii Sports was central to every Batchelor Boxing Day until the release of Mario Kart, which took over for the next year or so. And yet at any other time of year, the console was more often than not regarded with apathy.

I may not know the cause of nor the solution to this eleven-month neglect, but I hope Nintendo considers this as it ponders over how to better position its troubled console. Ignoring calls for the firm to ape its rivals Microsoft and Sony, I would point to the release schedules for both Xbox and PlayStation as something to learn from.

While first-party releases are even more irregular than Nintendo’s – particularly on Microsoft’s consoles – there are still significant events throughout the year. These range from Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, drawing attention to the wealth of digital games during a traditional lull at games retail, to the major third-party blockbusters that punctuate Quarters 1 to 3.

Just look at 2013: all eyes were on Xbox 360 and PS3 when Tomb Raider arrived in March, followed shortly by BioShock Infinite. PS3 stole the limelight briefly with The Last of Us, before the next multi-format releases around the cluttered August Bank Holiday: Splinter Cell, Saints Row and Rayman. Only two of these examples were released on Wii U, one of which was originally supposed to be an exclusive.

I’m not saying Nintendo needs third-parties to maintain interest in Wii U throughout the year – unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed and I doubt anyone truly knows how to beckon it back. Instead, Nintendo has already proven that it can keep one of its platforms relevant with regular, high quality releases.

3DS outsold every other games platform last year, and it had one of the best software line-ups in history. Between January and December, we received Luigi’s Mansion, Fire Emblem, Donkey Kong, Mario & Luigi, Animal Crossing, Pokémon, Professor Layton and an excellent new Zelda – all critically acclaimed, enticing releases with barely a month between them. The result was that if one title didn’t appeal to a 3DS owner, chances are there was something more tempting that wasn’t too far away.

Meanwhile Wii U, during its crucial one-year head start over Xbox One and PS4, saw the slow trickle of LEGO City Undercover, Game & Wario, Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101, Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World during the same period. This range was far more limited in its appeal, primarily reaching out to children, fans of Japanese oddities or loyal Nintendo fans who are already hurling their disposable income at Wii U’s sister platform.

Yes, the first year of a console is always slow – the 3DS’ first one certainly was – but never before has the launch period of a console been so crucial. Was there more Nintendo could have done? Absolutely. Were they in a position to do it? Arguably not; the stunning 3DS release plan was the belated rescue line-up that followed its own troubled start.

But had Wii U benefitted from a similar line-up to 3DS, it could have deterred players from sticking it back in the cupboard with the Christmas tree decorations and collection of sculpted Santas. There are plenty of reasons to play Xbox 360 or PS3 every day – even after the launch of their successors – and I would love nothing more than for Nintendo to take this into account when it devises its much-needed Plan B.

And yes, I’m fully aware that suggested solutions have wormed their way into this piece, despite my opening promise. But the health of Nintendo is so near and dear to those of us that have grown up with it – not to mention the future of the industry – that it’s impossible not to chip in with advice, despite the fact that the recipient in many ways defined video gaming. Perhaps that’s why every games journalist is convinced they know how to save Nintendo.

James January 22, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink