A Plea to Online Game Developers: Can We Please Have Age Filters in Our Game Lobbies?!

This is a topic I have been discussing with my gamer friends for a few years, and it becomes more relevant, or even necessary, in our minds as the years pass. We would like to see some sort of age filters in our online game lobbies. Okay, folks, I am in my 40s, and most of my game buddies are thirty-somethings. Many have families. We all have careers. We have degrees or at least some amount of college. So you can imagine what a turn off and frustration it is to be trying to get into an online match and have to tolerate immature behavior from prepubescent kids and adolescents. Speaking on behalf of more mature gamers, we should not have to put up with the juvenile behavior that spews from them, their lack of sportsmanship, their disregard for game rules, etc. I am not saying that these younger gamers all behave this way, there are those who have shown definite maturity and were a pleasure to game with; but they were the rare exception. (Kudos to the parents that have given them proper social skills.)

So what can we do about this? I think the answer is simpler then most realize. We add age filters to the game lobbies. The data to do this is already in place. As we all have experienced, most online accounts are tied in with credit or debit card data which has birth dates associated with it. Those that do not require the credit or debit cards still ask for birth dates. All that needs to be done is to link that additional data to the gamer identity. With that in place we can institute age filters. Wouldn’t it be nice for adults to be able to have the option to allow only those who are over, let’s say, 21 to enter our game? Even college students could select an age range within their demographic. I, personally, would love to create a match that specifies people within the age range of my friends. This would make online gaming a much more pleasurable experience. No longer would I have to hear some 10 year old, up past his bedtime, running around a Halo map yelling slurs that he doesn’t understand. Nor would you have to put up with the kids who completely disregard the rules of the match you are in. (Yes, there are adults who do this too, and I block them.)

Of course, as has been pointed out to me, there are those who will lie about their age, or play on another account. True, but I point that those would be found out eventually, and if they are violating the rules of online play, or are otherwise being offensive, they can still be booted. I do believe that age filters have become something that needs to be instituted to improve online play. As well, if this were in place I do believe you would see more mature gamers who have been turned off by negative experiences in Halo, Call of Duty, etc., return to play online more.

There is another benefit that parents would appreciate: age filters can be applied to parental controls, and online pedophiles and stalkers would be easier to single out and identify.

So, dear developers and people of the game industry, please put age filters into our online games. The benefits outweigh other considerations.

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Enough With the Online Dependency of Games!

As I have done in my past posts, let me briefly state where I stand. I do love to play online. I like to be able to play co-op with friends around the world. I also like to get online and frag-n-bag opposing players in a good FPS. But, I do not feel every game demands this component. So many developers have come out and said that they are only going to focus on online play. I can speak for not only myself, but also for a great deal of my gaming friends, in that we like our single-player campaigns and other solo modes. Many times, after dealing with the real world and the general public all day at work, we want to be able to escape into our virtual realms and not deal with people.

Why is there this huge push for online play? Shouldn’t the focus be on creating a good game with a good story or in the case of platformers, puzzle games, and arcade games, games with innovative play? Before the push for online games we used to have RPGs that you could clock over 100 hours playing. Action and adventure games had storylines that were typically over 40 hours. We had serious content in these games, but that has been sacrificed while more attention is being paid to tacking on an online component. (Currently many action and adventure games typically have campaigns that can be finished in 10-15 hours.) It is analogous to making a movie that is all special effects and no story to hold it together.

Even in single player games, many gamers are forced to go online to activate and/or play them – games by Valve and any game purchased through Steam, for example. A growing number of games require you to be connected online just to play them. One of the latest to do this was the hugely anticipated Diablo III, which not only requires you to be online, but you must have a Blizzard account just to play a solo game. Let’s be realistic, not everyone wants to be online. Not everyone has reliable internet access. Not everyone wants their gaming activity monitored.

I don’t want in any way to be construed as being against the online; I encourage and am a part of its evolution. However, we can’t let that displace quality game content and solo play, and we should not force people to have to get online to enjoy their leisure entertainment.

Downloadable Games vs Boxed Copies, and WTF is up with the price of downloads?

Let the record show: I prefer box editions of games over downloads. Why? Well, I like the box art. I like the extras that come with some games. I like something that I can show off on my bookshelves. If it is title near and dear to my heart, or I want something of extra collector’s value, I will get a collector’s edition, eager for the figurines, statues, art books, or other game swag. What I fail to understand is how they can rationalize charging the same price for a digital copy of a game as they do for the disk copy. Logic would dictate that without a physical disk or any packaging the cost of the game would be cheaper. Right?

Most every time I get on one of my consoles I check their online store for new downloads, etc., and I am always taken aback that they would charge the same for the downloadable version of a game has they do for the retail box copy. You’d think without the cost of packaging you would get some kind of price break. Before I go further, I should remind people that it is not the companies behind the consoles that set these prices (although they have some influence), but it is the game publishers themselves. One argument that I heard, and it makes total sense to me, that the reason for the basically equal pricing between digital vs disk copies is so that they don’t hurt the demand for disk copies. I can respect that; I want to see continued production of my disc games in their artful packaging to display on my shelves. But, seriously, if you want me to buy a digital download version, make it worth my while. Include digital copies of the things that the physical copies have: game manuals, box art, etc. Yes, some have online manuals; but, seriously, have you ever tried to reference one while playing the game? Come on, people, put it in a PDF form so we can open it on an eReader or be able to print it. Give us JPEGs or PDFs of the box art. For that matter, if they are going to charge the same price as the box copies, why not include at least the game soundtrack to make purchase of the download more economically worthwhile. That brings up the argument that if they did include these perks, the added downloads would just be taking up space on the console hard drive. That doesn’t have to be. When you make the purchase, they could send you links for the additional content with the purchase confirmation that gets emailed to you so you save it to your PC.

What logically follows with any discussion on a focus on downloadable titles is having the hard drive space to download them to. Both Sony and Microsoft have been pushing gamers to build their digital games library. At least the consoles now have much larger hard drives than they did a few years ago, but the current 320Gb drives that the top end models have right now are barely enough to hold games and DLC for the serious gamer. (Gaming PCs usually come with at least a terabyte of hard drive.) Most triple-A games released today take 10 to 15 Gb of drive space, and that doesn’t include any map packs or expansions. But I digress… back to the subject at hand.

Now let’s talk about the hidden costs of playing online games that affect both box copies and downloads. No, I am not talking about online fees or anything like that. What I am referring to are the costs of map packs and other DLC that you have to purchase to continue playing online. For gamers that want to continue playing the online component of games in the Halo franchise, Call of Duty, Gears of War, etc., just to name a few off the top of my head, you must keep current with the map packs, or else you are faced with either being booted from the game lobby or not being able to enter a game lobby. The costs of these adds up quickly. In many cases the online gamer will end up spending two to three times the purchase price of the base game in map packs alone just to be able to continue playing online. One may counter that you do not have to get the DLC, but if you don’t you will find yourself not being able to get into most game lobbies. I, myself, spent approximately $100 in map packs for Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Halo 3 each. That was just so I could continue playing online. Some publishers have gotten wise to this and have wisely offered a type of subscription for future map packs and DLC, but we are still faced with doubling the cost of our games just to continue playing online, especially for ranked online play.

In this economy it just doesn’t make sense to have to pay these kind of prices for downloads. I understand and support production costs of creating games having been involved with film and television production, and I have no problem paying for the talent and skills that go into creation of this media. When you eliminate the cost of physical packaging and physical distribution, you should pass some savings onto the consumer. That’s only good business.

Returning to Eorzea: Square Enix Follows Through With Vast Improvements to Final Fantasy XIV

It’s gratifying to see a game publisher like Square Enix admit fault and work to publicly fix a flawed title that we had so anticipated. That is the saga of Final Fantasy XIV. After some encouragement from a friend I gave this game a second chance, and I am glad I did.

Final Fantasy XIV was a title I was drooling over since the first teaser trailers. Then I lucked in to the closed beta of it. The beta had me so excited. Never before had I seen such amazing graphics in an MMO or any other game. The beta, as is the case with any game in testing phases had its issues, but nothing that would turn me off. I pre-ordered my Collector’s Edition of it and eagerly awaited its arrival.

When launch day came I plummeted headlong into it, having decided to retire my Final Fantasy XI character. (FYI: In addition to FFXIV I currently am on WoW and ST:TOR. If you don’t know those acronyms you probably are not a gamer, or at least not an MMO gamer.) Back then, I must say, I was enthralled with the first few levels. On a technical note, thank god I have a powerful gaming PC because initially that was needed to play this game at all. Even with my powerful beast of a machine my fans would whirl like a wind tunnel. People without a hardcore gaming rig were left out in the cold. After my first dozen levels my disappointment started. This was a game I truly wanted to love, but it left me empty. A game, especially an RPG or an MMO needs to give you some sort of raison d’etre, a reason to be. That was lacking, and much time was spent trying to figure out what the hell to do next while my PC was whirling like a NASA wind tunnel. So, I eventually ended up not playing the game at all. I considered deleting it to free up hard drive space, but something in me, whether it was sentimentality or optimism, said wait. My decision paid off.

I must give Square Enix credit for admitting to their mistakes and then developing a game plan to make much needed improvements in both the technical aspects of the game and the game play itself. Here is the link outlining the changes being made for version 2.0, and check out the PDFs that go into further detail about the changes.

After having not played in a year, I have spent the last several nights playing, investing on the average seven hours a night. That being said, the changes I have noticed have been dramatic.

After I got in the game, I grew concerned because my PC was not kicking into overdrive like it did before. Then I checked some of my performance monitors and realized that the system’s resources was being used much more efficiently and economically. With several background apps running on Windows 7 64-bit, total RAM usage was only 2.8Gb, while only 27% of my i7 processor was being used. My rig also runs dual Nvidia 465 graphics cards. For this game I do not use SLI configuration, running graphics on the primary and PhysX on the secondary. Square Enix had said they were changing the graphics engine, and they did. And, there is no noticeable compromise in graphics quality. The game looks amazing. I repeat: amazing. This is some of the best graphics I have seen. And with this new graphics engine, they have made this game much more playable and accessible for people who do not have high-end gaming PCs. To cap off already amazing visuals, the weather effects and time changes in the game will make you stop and watch. The texture detail is, for lack of a better word, dazzling. So, as for the graphics, visuals, and arts style of this title this game deserves an A.

I’m baaa-aaack!

But, visual components alone do not a game make. You have to have some kind of driving momentum. Once I got over the amazing graphics, I was pleased to immediately see those exclamation marks over some NPCs’ heads indicating some available missions. As well, the new leve quests that SE introduced into this game are still there. As promised, Square has added content and refined others. There are also some really nice cut scenes that caught my attention, adding to some of the story lines and tying things together. They have promised more work on this, and I am anxious to see how far they go. Of course, in the time I have played it since going back, it is impossible to see everything that has thus far been tweaked, but I have to say from what little I have seen, that Square is making a valiant attempt at putting its money where its mouth is. It is really a shame that they didn’t get it right at the beginning, but the strides they have made make it worthy of a second chance.

A Man and His Chocobo

If this were a full review, I would take time to write about the character creation, jobs, crafting, and plethora of choices that we have come to know and love in our MMORPGs. I will revisit that when the 2.0 version hits (and/or if I create a new character before then.) I will tell you this, there are a multitude of choices to make, and if you are one of those who like to craft and sell your wares there is plenty to do in that area.

Ultimately, what they are striving to achieve with their version 2.0 slated for release this fall, is a complete overhaul of their game. They have wisely chosen to tackle this incrementally. As of this writing, they seem to be right on schedule. As of this writing they have a game that I am looking forward to playing right now. If you played it before, but were turned off as many were, I highly recommend giving it a second chance. If you haven’t played this before and were considering, you have two options: one, waiting for the 2.0 release and/or its companion PS3 version, or two, jumping in right now to a gorgeous game that at this point is a good solid MMO. Did I mention that it is gorgeous?

All I need is my moogle!

Continuing to Impress – Ragnarok Odyssey (Japanese release)

I just have to add to my previous review: This game is awesome! At least it is in Japanese, a language which I embarrassingly admit to knowing next to nothing. (All the Japanese I know is from watching Kill Bill, anime, and Kurosawa films. A fact which I intend on remedying soon.)

As I mentioned before, it is a testament to a good game its ease of learning when you can pick up a game in a language you do not know and intuit the mechanics and enjoy it. This is the case with RO. This is easily one of the most addictive games I have played in a while.

There have been several updates to the game since I started playing, all of which have tweaked the online features. Because of my ignorance of the language, I hadn’t really experimented with the online… until last night. I wasn’t sure, but I had surmised, that a certain dialog was referring to entering a game lobby in the tavern and inviting players to come along on a mission. And I was right! Much to my elation, a few Japanese gamer brethren joined my party and we rocked some monsters! Although there was some lag in the gameplay, it did not detract from it at all. I was quite impressed to play this Japanese game in America on Japanese servers with people on the other side of the world with little or no problems. And as for the obvious language barrier, the game has quite a few animated emoticons that your character can use to communicate with others, breaking down the language barrier. If they get the localization right for the North American release, this should be the game to own for Vita owners; it already is in my book.

Vita owners, I recommend pre-ordering this title. Or if you can’t wait (like me), get the Japanese import. If you can’t find a copy of the import, let me take this opportunity to refer you to one of my fave places, Video Games New York.