2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Games
The holiday season is the video game industry’s busiest time of year, with publishers saving many of their marquee titles to release on the public like an avalanche of digital goodness. It can actually be quite overwhelming with so many different options to choose from, so we’ve done our best to put together a collection of what we feel are some of the year’s best titles, and ones that the gamer on your shopping list will love.
Click on the image next to each item to purchase it online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.
Sony PlayStation 4
Sony’s already broken launch day sales records with the PS4, meaning that getting one for the holidays won’t be easy. That’s a shame, too, as by all indications, it is one incredible piece of hardware that has developers across the industry whistling in wonder. Sony really went out of their way to address many of the complaints people had with the PS3, and the PS4 not only fixes them, but adds exciting new features like built-in live streaming capabilities and a much more versatile and comfortable controller. If you do manage to get your hands on one, be sure to download the addictive and intense shooter “Resogun” to go with it. While it may not look like much, and isn’t that long, it’s the “Geometry Wars” of the new generation, meaning you’ll be playing it over and over again and long after bigger games have begun gathering dust on your shelf. It’s the unlikely can’t-miss game of the PS4’s launch.
Microsoft Xbox One
Is the Xbox One the system for you? Well, to answer that, you first must ask yourself if its $100 increase in price over the PS4 fits your budget. If so, then buying one means getting a gaming console that has both an intense interest in becoming the centerpiece of your home theater and the capabilities to do so. The Xbox One’s ability to work harmoniously with your TV and other devices through a native interface as sleek and capable as we’ve ever seen is so incredible that you would be forgiven for momentarily forgetting that it’s also quite a gaming system. Of course, the phenomenal Day One lineup of games available for the Xbox One should go a long way to reminding you. It’s hard to choose just one to spotlight, but if you haven’t yet got your fill of zombie killing, then be sure to consider “Dead Rising 3” and its own particular over-the-top brand of undead apocalypse. Much like the PS4, though, all of this is assuming you can somehow find one. Going by the pre-order numbers, that won’t be easy.
The Last of Us
“The Last of Us” has been referred to by some in the past as the greatest “Resident Evil” game ever made, and it’s been taken as an insult. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though, as it’s a statement only meant to convey the absolutely unbelievable mix of horror, survival, plot and atmosphere you get from this game. Purchasing “The Last of Us” is like giving a toddler on a sugar rush access to all your emotional buttons. Its world of despair and terror where survival is the only reward left is the perfect setting for its cross-country journey in search of hope. There’s nothing quite like “The Last of Us” in the history of gaming and, as much as fun as the game is to play, it’s an even better experience.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in: Games, Lifestyle, Stuff to Buy
Tags: 2013 holiday gift guide, Batman: Arkham Origins, BioShock Infinite, Christmas gifts, Diablo III, FIFA 14, gift guide, gift guide for men, Grand Theft Auto V, Holiday Gift Guide, holiday gift guide for guys, holiday gift ideas, PlayStation 4, The Last of Us, video games, Xbox One
Gaming Trends in China
Free image courtesy of zirconicusso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In September China finally lifted a 13-year ban on video game consoles and in doing so opened up a new chapter in the country’s gaming history. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will now be clamouring to tap into a huge potential market that has been manufacturing the big three’s consoles but not using them. Consoles were originally banned in 2000 because authorities were concerned about their effect on mental health of young Chinese, but online gaming on PCs and mobile gaming have filled the gap in years since. So what makes up the current and past gaming trends in China?
The landscape of China’s online gaming has gradually shifted in recent years. According to a report by Niko Partners on the Asian games market, MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) and free, casual, browser-based games used to make up the overwhelming majority of the online action. But now “we have MMOGs, and within ‘browser-based games’ we have 1) casual games played on casual portals sometimes for free, 2) webgames that are not very casual in nature, generate fees in the virtual economy, and compete against MMOGs, and 3) social games distributed via social networking sites. In addition we have games from each of those segments played on mobile devices as well as on PCs.” Developers of new games will have to make sure to incorporate this move towards more social gaming and navigate the treacherous terrain of monetizing their products in a market where free-to-play games are so popular.
In 2013, 288 million people played mobile games in mainland China. It was the fastest-growing segment of the Chinese market in 2012 and netted the economy around $750 million in revenue. It is estimated to grow to $1.2 million this year according to Bloomberg. The market has seen a dramatic shift from the stereotype of male-dominated internet cafes full of MMOG to a more balanced market where people of all ages and backgrounds are embracing a variety of games. The country seems to be turning away from cafes to office and mobile gaming, a trend that is likely to continue as the middle class continues to grow.
Gambling is one trend that can only grow from strength to strength in the future. Currently mainland China outlaws gambling and the former Portuguese colony of Macau, the “Monte Carlo of the Orient”, is the only Chinese territory where gambling is legal. Needless to say, it can’t keep up demand, meaning more and more of the surrounding countries are becoming gambling havens. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers report on global gambling, the Asia-Pacific casino gaming market will be worth $80 billion ($34 billion in 2010) and Asia-Pacific will bypass the U.S. as the world’s largest regional casino gaming market in 2013. In Macau, the tourists outnumber residents by 54 to 1. If China doesn’t want to risk losing a great chunk of revenue to neighbouring nations, they’ll have to consider lifting the mainland ban. At the moment, online casino gambling is also illegal.
Given that the Chinese market has been without consoles for the last 13 years, it could be that consumers pounce on new hardware as soon as it’s released; or, conversely, they’re suspicious of it and sales flop. The most successful business model in the Chinese video game market is somewhat paradoxically free games – EA and Sony Online have generated millions of dollars in revenue from free-to-play titles. As Edward Williams of BMO Capital Markets has commented: “The Chinese consumer is not geared to the habit of ‘I go to the store, spend X dollars to acquire this game, then go home and play it all night long.’ That creates some challenges for [publishers].” Given the size of the economy and the relative skillsets of the population, the question remains whether China will begin to dominate the global console market and resist U.S. imports if the Chinese appetite for consoles takes off.
Where Exactly is Online Poker Headed?
That answer to that is a simple one at first glance: it is headed into an era of regulation and accountability, one in which a Full Tilt Poker-like squandering of player funds will be just as impossible as the Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet insider cheating. An era in which the perpetrators of such schemes won’t have to be held accountable, because it will be impossible for anyone to do anything as vile and despicable as conning people out of their hard-earned money. At first glance, the future does seem bright, and the game may yet get there indeed, but those who know a thing or two about the inner workings of the online poker industry understand that the legalized/regulated sort of online poker utopia depicted above – if it exists at all – is really far down the road, so far down in fact, that the industry may never get there in its current shape and form.
Online poker regulation has been underway in Europe for a while now, and what has been made clear by the process thus far is that small operators, be they honest or crooked, do not have a seat at the table. This fact has been reflected in the dwindling poker room review sections of major online poker portals like pokerstop.com, which saw many of their listed operators evaporate, the sites fallen victim to this current period of transition. Online poker giants like PokerStar and a handful of others have managed to secure licenses in most of Europe’s regulated markets, but whereas before there was one major online poker compact where players from all over the continent and even the world could play at the same table, the post-regulation market has become a mosaic of smaller parts, a fragmented shadow of its former self, where raising proper player liquidity has become a major challenge.
Although the EU has generally been opposed to this market-fragmentation which – at the end of the day – is about favoritism towards local interests, but only if the outside operator looking to break into the market isn’t a PokerStars-like 500 lb gorilla, many of the member states have gone ahead implementing protectionist measures thus essentially denying smaller operators any semblance of a chance to ever peddle their games and promotions to their citizens.
In the US, the outlook isn’t any brighter for the small guys either. As the legalized area of the US online poker market is slowly but surely expanding, having started out in Nevada and having later secured a foothold in New Jersey too, it is increasingly obvious that the new playing ground is by no means level. Local big dogs are muscling in, but since they possess neither the technological prowess nor the required experience in the vert, they strike up deals and partnerships with the major online poker operators to put together a viable business. The two legal online poker operators (Ultimate Poker and WSOP.com) currently pushing the frontlines in Nevada have thus far only managed to shed a light on the incondite nature of the intra-state market, which – in its current state – is basically screaming for inter-state compacts.
Starting up an online poker business under these conditions is no longer a matter of joining an established network and putting up a website, although that may indeed turn out to be a good thing in the long run.
Game Review: “Lost Planet 3″
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
There are two types of bad games. Those that try for something great and simply miss the mark, and those that just didn’t care at all and end up being the exact sum of their efforts. While “Lost Planet 3” is an example of the former, which is normally the better way to go, here it’s a frustrating case of a game with incredible potential not making the most of it.
Let’s back up a bit. “Lost Planet 3” is the return of a series that had its 15 minutes of fame during the Xbox 360 launch for featuring an impressive snow world that proved to be one of the initial examples of things that the 360 could do that wasn’t possible before.
Those amazing graphics, and some lightning fast gameplay, made the series stand out for a time, but its star faded only months after its release, and a 2010 follow-up did little to improve its standing, as it only emphasized the same elements and gameplay that by then had more than worn out their welcome.
That’s where new developer Spark Unlimited takes over for this third installment, and their designs to turn the series into something relevant are immediately apparent. A prequel to the initial games, renewed focused has now been placed on the plot, which may borrow liberally from movies like “Alien,” “The Thing,” “Starship Troopers” and other classic sci-fi staples, but is actually really, really good. Told through found audio and text logs, along with traditional cut scenes and environmental clues, it revolves largely around a new energy source on a hostile (and still very snowy) planet, and the trials your blue collar protagonist endures in his pursuit of it as a contract worker for a shady organization.
Read the rest of this entry »
Game Review: “Madden NFL 25″
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Even the most adamant of “Madden” fans don’t expect each new installment to be mind-blowingly original or reinvent the game of virtual football each time out, but with the series celebrating a landmark quarter century anniversary, you’d be forgiven if just this once you let those expectations be lifted in the hopes that “Madden 25” presents that significant leap forward that has eluded the franchise like cover boy Barry Sanders used to elude defenders.
If you are one of those that hoped the series would present an installment worthy of its biggest anniversary yet, then I’m sorry to tell you the short answer is, it doesn’t.
“Madden 25” continues where “Madden 13” left off, in that its main aim is to make the on-the-field part of the game more dynamic. Whereas “Madden 13” did that with a new physics engine, “Madden 25” adds precision modifiers, which allow you to pull off some enhanced moves in the run/after the catch play. Accomplished by using the left trigger or shoulder button at the optimal time, it’s a system that actually does benefit the running game tremendously and, for those willing to explore it, can create some pretty incredible highlight reel maneuvers, such as the ability to juke right after a spin and blow past multiple defenders. It’s reminiscent of the incredible “charge” ability in “NFL 2K5,” but with a flair all its own.
Off the field, the biggest addition (though it’s somewhat of a returning feature) is the Owner mode, which sees you take the role of owner and manage everything from soda costs to staff decisions. Like the precision modifiers, it’s a feature that benefits from some commitment and yields most of its entertainment from playing like a maniacal control freak a la Al Davis, making dangerously bold media comments that throw your staff under the bus or just saying screw it and moving the team to Portland, Oregon (FYI, my Oregon Hipsters are 2013 NFC champions). Considering you can still play your season in between the shenanigans, it’s actually my preferred franchise mode for the added options.
Read the rest of this entry »