Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Posted in botch, business, gaming, portable by commorancy on February 28, 2022

SteamDeck1I’ve not yet had my hands onto this new Valve bad boy of a handheld, but I still want to give my first impressions of this device with its base $399 price tag. Let’s explore.

Handhelds in Gaming

Before I jump into my opinion of Valve’s new Steam Deck, let’s take step back in time to understand this device’s origins. I’m sure you may already be aware of many of the devices listed, but for those who may be new to some of them, I’ll list them below.

Handheld gaming began with Nintendo going as far back as early 80s with the Nintendo Game & Watch series of handheld gaming devices. These were single game devices that played very simplistic games, such as Fire and Ball. These simplistic games had you doing very simplistic things, such as with Fire, catching people as they tumble out of a burning building or in Ball, juggling balls.

Nintendo realized the magic of these small single-game handhelds and introduced the more flexible cartridge based GameBoy. Using cartridges, this handheld gaming unit offered the ability to switch games out and play many different games, up to as many as cartridges were made. It also offered game play on the go in a compact format.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of portable gaming handhelds in the subsequent years including:

  • Gameboy Color
  • Gameboy Color Clamshell
  • Atari Lynx
  • Sega Gamegear
  • Nintendo DS
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • Neo Geo Pocket
  • Sony PSP
  • Nokia NGage
  • Sony Xperia Play
  • Sony PS Vita
  • NVIDIA Shield
  • Nintendo Switch

and now we have the Steam Deck to add to this list. I didn’t include the Nintendo Wii U because while it had a portable element in the Gamepad, it simply wasn’t possible to play games strictly on the Gamepad on-the-go.

The Reviews

The early reviewers of the Steam Deck call it groundbreaking. Yet, the Steam Deck doesn’t solve any of the fundamental problems of handheld consoles of this variety. So, how exactly is it groundbreaking? It isn’t. It has one huge limitation that makes it fall far short of “ground breaking”. It’s also buggy as all get-out in far too many places that matter. Let’s take a closer look at the Steam Deck. SteamDeck2

From the above image, it looks like a fairly standard kind of handheld with …

  • A large touch screen
  • Two thumbsticks
  • A D-Pad
  • ABXY buttons (using the Xbox Controller layout)
  • A ‘Steam’ button
  • A ‘…’ menu button
  • Two shoulder and two trigger buttons
  • (new) Two trackpad buttons below the thumb sticks
  • (new) Two additional buttons (View and Options) between the thumbsticks and the D-Pad and ABXY buttons.
  • Power, volume up (+) and down (-), headphone jack, USB-C port and reset buttons are on the top edge.

This console runs Linux, or rather SteamOS, apparently. I’m uncertain why Steam chose to go with Linux on this handheld when choosing Windows would have been a much more compatible option. I mean, every single PC game would operate right out of the box on a handheld built on Windows. My only thought is that Gabe Newell didn’t want to fork over a bunch of cash to Microsoft to make this console a reality. Using a Linux based SteamOS meant cheaper outlay and no royalty fees.

Unfortunately, that design choice immediately sacrifices game compatibility right out of the gate. No where is this more apparent than when you attempt to play some games, which simply crash outright. Seeing as this is Linux based, it must use a Windows compatibility stack. The SteamOS apparently uses the open source Proton for its Windows compatibility stack, in similar form to Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator). In fact, Proton’s Windows compatibility is based on Wine, but is being developed and improved by Valve and CodeWeavers. If you’ve ever used Wine, then you know it’s not ready for everyday use the vast majority of the time. Valve’s Proton layer may be better, but it can’t be that much better than Wine.

One thing I’ll say about compatibility is that it can work great one minute and suck hard the next. It’s entirely dependent on so many tiny little things to line up. Instead of fighting with compatibility layers, the Steam Deck could have run Windows directly and avoided all of these compatibility problems. Assuming the the point is to play Windows games, then why fake Windows when you can use the real thing? If the Steam Deck had at least been given the option of loading Windows as its operating system, then a buggy Windows compatibility layer wouldn’t have been required.

Pricing

The Steam Deck isn’t cheap. Let’s examine the Steam Deck’s pricing levels:

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 11.08.47 AM

For $399, that gets you an entry level handheld device and a carrying case. I’m assuming the Steam Deck also ships with a power cord and power brick, but it’s not listed in the above. If you want the top end version of the Steam Deck, you’re going to fork over $650 … more once you’ve bought accessories and games and paid taxes.

Let’s put this into perspective. For $499 ($100 more than the Steam Deck’s base model), you can buy a PS5 or an Xbox Series X. Both are true gaming consoles, but not handhelds.

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

All three of these consoles are the most recent iteration of touch screen “tablet” handhelds. These are the handhelds that should have been able to perform the best. In fact, the NVIDIA Shield should have been competitive with this console. Although, the Shield is now several years old at this point.

However, the Shield tried exactly what the Steam Deck is now trying. To bring PC gaming to a handheld. Yet, for whatever reason, it hasn’t ultimately worked.

That’s not to say that the Steam Deck won’t have some success, but ultimately it likely won’t succeed in the way Gabe hopes. It’s not for lack of trying. This format has been tried multiple times each with varying degrees of success, but none so runaway as to call it massively successful. As I said above, though, there’s one huge fail in the Steam Deck’s design. I’ll come to this shortly.

Of all of them, Nintendo’s Switch is probably the closest to a ‘runaway success’, but it’s still not winning the handheld space. What is? The Smartphone. Why? Because of it’s multifunction purpose. You can play games as easily as answer the phone as easily as book your next flight to Aruba. A phone supports always on data and, thus, gaming can take full advantage of that fact… making carrying around a phone the easiest gaming handheld available. On top of this, smartphones are updated about every year, making them 100% compatible with your current software, but allowing them to run that software much more fluidly. Gaming handhelds, like the Steam Deck, are lucky to be updated once every 3 years.

The point is, the handheld market is dominated by smartphones, not gaming handhelds. The reason for this, as I stated above, is clear. Not to mention, the battery life on phones, while not perfect, is about as good as you can expect in that sized device. It lasts all day, at least 8 hours. Many phone batteries can last up to 12 hours.

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

Handheld gaming devices, at best, offer about 2 hours of play time with the best games. That’s a problem with the Nintendo Switch, the PS Vita, the NVIDIA Shield and, yes, even the Steam Deck. The point is, 2 hours of play time is simply not enough when you’re attempting to become immersed in a brand new game. All immersion is immediately broken when you see that sad red flashing battery icon letting you know your battery is about to die.

Sure, you can then find a wall outlet to plug into to continue your gaming, but that can be a hassle. This is also the fundamental problem why such handheld gaming consoles don’t sell as well as they should. You can’t produce fabulous looking games at a rock stable 60 FPS gaming experience when you’re limited to 2 hours of play time. The OS must then play internal conservation tricks with frame rates, CPU power levels, GPU power levels, shutting hard drives down and so on. These power saving techniques mean better battery life, but poor gaming performance. It also gets worse as the battery runs down. Less amperage and voltage means limiting CPU and GPU computing speeds.

This problem exists even with the Nintendo Switch, but Nintendo has taken a balanced approach by reducing the resolution to 720p when playing on the console’s screen. Moving the Switch to OLED, though, likely means even better battery life. An LCD screen backlight is a huge power drain. When using OLED, each LED in the screen uses much less overall power than a full sized backlight. Unfortunately, OLED also raises the cost of the unit simply due to its inclusion. Basically, to get a small amount of battery savings from an OLED display means the consumer shelling out $50 more ($349) to replace a Switch that you may already paid $300 previously.

Display Technology

Unfortunately, Valve chose not to use OLED to help save battery power for the Steam Deck. Instead, Valve chose to build it with a TFT LCD screen with a backlight. Let’s talk about the screen for a moment. What type of screen does the Steam Deck offer?

  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • 1280 x 800 (16:10)
  • 60 Hz
  • IPS (In-Plane Switching)
  • Anti-glare etched glass

This is a decent screen type for handheld. Consider, though, that the Nintendo Switch offers OLED at 1280×720 (720p) at $349, meaning that the screen on the Steam Deck is only 80 pixels wider. However, even were the Steam Deck to ship with an OLED screen, the CPU and GPU are the power hungry hogs in this unit. Yes, the Backlight does consume power, but not at the same rate as the CPU and GPU. An OLED screen might buy the unit an additional 15-45 minutes of play time depending on many factors for how the screen is used. Meaning, the fewer pixels lit, the less power it takes to drive the screen.

On a handheld, OLED should always be the first consideration when choosing a display, if only because of the backlight power savings. For a TV monitor, OLED’s benefits are inky blackness in dark areas.

I give it to Valve, though. You gotta start your design somewhere and LCD was the easiest place to start the Steam Deck, I suppose. Let’s hope that the next iteration, assuming there is one, that Gabe considers the power savings an OLED screen affords in a handheld design.

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Unknown, but probably not this version. Did I mention that one huge flaw in this design? It’s still coming. Though, based on its current specifications, I’d give it a relatively low chance for success. Why? Because a gaming-only piece of hardware swimming in among a sea of smartphones doesn’t exactly indicate success. Oh, the unit will sell to various die-hard gamers and those who really want to be out-and-about gaming (ahem). But, those die-hard gamers are not going prop up this market. If that were to happen, the PS Vita would have succeeded. Yet, it hasn’t.

The only reason the Nintendo Switch has done as well as it has isn’t because of the Switch itself. It’s because of the franchises that Nintendo owns: Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Super Smash, Zelda, Mario Party, Kirby, Metroid and so on. These franchises drive the sales of the device, not the other way around. Nintendo could put out the worst piece of handheld garbage imaginable and people would still flock to it so long as they can play Pokémon.

Unfortunately, the Steam Deck doesn’t have legitimate access to these Nintendo franchises (other than through emulation after-the-fact). The Steam Deck must rely on games written for SteamOS or that are compatible with SteamOS. Even then, not all of these Steam games work on the Steam Deck properly, because they were designed to work with a mouse and keyboard, not a console controller. In essence, putting these games on a Steam Deck is tantamount to shoving a square peg into a round hole. Sometimes you can get it to work. Sometimes you can’t.

Ultimately, what this all means for the Steam Deck is a mixed bag and a mixed gaming experience.

Games Should Just Work

Consoles have taught us that games should simply “just work”. What that means to the gamer is that the simple act of opening a game on a console means that it launches and plays without problems. Though, recently, many games devs have taken this to a whole new and bad level… I’m looking at you, Bethesda.

With the Nintendo Switch, for example, games simply just work. The Nintendo Switch is, if nothing else, one of the best handheld gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld. Not from a battery perspective, but from a “just works” perspective. I can’t even recall the last time I ran a Nintendo game that crashed outright back to the dashboard. Nintendo’s games are always rock solid.

Unfortunately, for the Steam Deck, that experience doesn’t exist. Some games may work well. Some may work halfway. Some may crash part way through. Some games won’t launch. The experience is a mixed bag. This poor level of experience is exactly why the Steam Deck may or may not succeed. That and the Steam Deck’s one big flaw… yes, that info is still coming.

When paying $400-700 for a gaming console, you expect games to play. Yet, even though the game is listed on the Steam store doesn’t imply the Steam Deck will run it. That’s a fairly major problem with the Steam Deck.

Instead, the Steam Deck folks need to create a tried and tested list of Steam Deck games and limit only those games to being visible, available and playable on the Steam Deck’s interface. Basically, the unit should prevent you from seeing, downloading and attempting to play any game which has not been thoroughly tested as functional on the Steam Deck. This vetting is important to bring the Steam Deck back into a similar stable play experience to other handhelds, like Nintendo. If a game doesn’t work, you can’t see it or download it on the Steam Deck.

This “games just work” mentality is an important aspect to a gaming handheld like the Steam Deck. It’s a make or break aspect of marketing this handheld. It’s not that difficult to limit which games can be seen and downloaded. There’s absolutely no reason why this handheld shows games that knowingly don’t work or that are knowingly unstable. Yes, such limits will reduce the amount of games available, but will improve the overall play experience of this device for buyers.

When spending $400, we’ve come to expect a specific level of sanity and stability. This goes hand-in-hand for the price tag, even for the Steam Deck.

Yet, reviewers have stated that their review models have experienced a completely mixed bag. Some games that work, work well. Some games that were expected to work, haven’t worked at all. Some games that worked well have crashed the following day of play. This problem all comes back down to the Proton compatibility problems mentioned earlier.

Success or Failure?

At this point, it’s too early to tell, but one big flaw will likely prevent full success. However, let me dive right into my own opinion of this handheld console. My first observation is that the Steam Deck is physically too big. I understand that Steam wanted it to have a big enough screen with the Steam Deck, but its simply too big and bulky. With the added bulk of the controls, it simply becomes oversized.

Instead, how I would handled design of this platform would have been to use a separate remote joystick. Design the screen to be a simple tablet display with a hefty fan, kickstand and no controls on the tablet at all (other than volume, power, reset and headphone jack). Then, have a separate joystick that can be charged and carried separately. This does a couple of things. Joysticks with separate batteries mean no drain on the console battery under use. Additionally, a battery in the joystick could be hefty enough to be used as a supplemental power source, which can be tapped by the console to extend its battery life once the console is out and about. Having a separate battery means longer play time, thus carrying a separate and charged joystick means extra playtime.

Separate joysticks also feel better in the hand than attached joysticks on handhelds like this. The wide spaced joystick always feels somewhat awkward to use. This awkwardness can be overcome after using it for some time, but I’ve never really gotten past the awkwardness of the Nintendo Switch. I always prefer using the Pro controller over the attached JoyCons. The mechanics used to drive the sticks in a small form factor like the Steam Deck are squashed down and usually don’t feel correct. Using a full sized joystick, these awkward sizing and design issues don’t exist.

With the PS Vita, this spacing problem was less of a problem due to the smaller screen. Though, playing games with the smashed-flat thumbsticks on the PS Vita always felt awkward.

I do get having an attached controller, though. For places like on a train or a bus or in a car, it may be difficult to use two separate devices. Thus, having a controller built-in solves that problem in these few situations. Yet, I don’t know if I’d hamper a handheld device’s size simply to cover a few limited places where having a separate controller won’t easily work. The vast majority of out-and-about play locations would allow for using a controller separately from the LCD screen base, which can be propped up or even hung.

However, these are all relatively minor problems not likely cause failure of sales of the device. The major problem with this device is its lack of additional functionality. For example, it’s not a phone. You can’t make calls using the device.

SteamOS also seems to also offer limited productivity apps, such as word processors, video editors and so on. It does have a browser, but even that seems limited because of the limited controls. You’d have to pair a keyboard if you want more functionality.

Because SteamOS is based on Linux, there’s limited commercial software available for Linux. Unlike MacOS X and Windows, where the vast majority of software is being written, Linux doesn’t have many of these commercial software options. To run Windows apps requires a compatibility stack like Proton, to which those problems have been discussed above.

The Steam Deck goes way deeper than not being a phone, though. It has no cell phone data capability at all. I’ve been teasing the Steam Deck’s biggest flaw… so here it is. No on-the-go always on networking. Meaning, there’s no way to play multiplayer games while out and about without carrying additional devices. Which leads to….

Multiplayer Games?

Don’t go into the purchase of a Steam Deck for any purpose other than single player offline gaming. Know that you won’t be making cell phone calls nor have any easy always-on data options available. If you want data while out and about, you’re going to need a WiFi network handy, to carry a MiFi hotspot with you or use your phone as a WiFi hotspot. This means you’ll need to carry a second device for playing any games which require multiplayer. Because too many games these days require multiplayer always-on Internet, the Steam Deck substantially misses the boat here.

Even still, using a phone or MiFi hotspot may limit your speeds enough to prevent the use of multiplayer in some games. If you try to use a Starbucks or Target store WiFi, you may find that gaming is blocked entirely. This is a huge downside to this device for out-and-about multiplayer gaming. Basically, the only games you can play while out and about are single player offline games only, not multiplayer. While some offline games are still being made, many games now require online Internet at all times, regardless of whether you are playing multiplayer. As more and more game devs require always online status, this will limit the usefulness of this model of the Steam Deck over time.

Instead, Valve needs to rethink this design of the Steam Deck. Valve should include a cell phone radio so that this unit can join a 5G network to enable always-on networking. This is a huge miss for the Steam Deck… one that shouldn’t have been missed. Multiplayer gaming is here to stay and pretty much so is always online Internet. As I said, many game devs require always online Internet.

The lack of a cell phone data network on the Steam Deck limits out and about play for far too many games. Ultimately, the novelty of the Steam Deck’s handheld’s remote play basically limits you to playing multiplayer games in and around your home or at places where you know high speed online gaming is allowed, which isn’t very many places. Even Hotels may limit speeds such that some online games won’t function properly. Thus, the lack of always-on Internet actually undermines the portability of the Steam Deck, making it far less portable for gaming than one might expect.

Instead, Valve needs to team up with a large mobile carrier to offer always-on data networking for the Steam Deck that also allows for full speed gaming. Thus, this would mean including a built-in cell phone radio that offers purchasing a data plan offering high-speed 5G always-on network multiplayer gaming. Once this is achieved, only then could this device be considered ‘ground breaking’. Without this always-on networking capability, the Steam Deck handheld is firmly tied to a past where fewer and fewer offline games are being created today.

Success or Failure Part II

Circling back around… the Steam Deck, while novel and while also offering access to the Steam library of games may not yet be all that it can be. This handheld needs a lot more design consideration to become truly useful in today’s gaming circles.

Some gamers may be willing to shell out $399 to play it, but many won’t. The limitations of this unit far outweigh it’s usefulness as a modern handheld console. Back when the PS Vita offered two versions, WiFi only version and a Cell Phone version, that was at a time when multiplayer gaming was still not always online.

Today, because many games require always-on Internet, not having a cell phone network available on this gaming “tablet” (yes, it is a tablet), is highly limiting for multiplayer gaming. Multiplayer gaming isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting bigger each year. Choosing not to include or offer a cell phone data version of this tablet is a huge miss.

My guess for success of this specific version of the Steam Deck is that its success will be limited. It will sell some, but only to very specific gamers. I seriously doubt that it will be considered “ground breaking” in any substantial way, particularly after missing the general purpose nature of a tablet combined with including an always-on a cell data network feature.

I felt this way both with the Nintendo Switch and with the NVIDIA Shield. Both of those tablets have done okay with their respective markets, particularly Nintendo’s Switch. It’s done exceedingly well, but only because of Nintendo’s major game franchises and because none of those franchises (other than Mario Kart) require heavy networking. The Shield, like this tablet, has only done okay in sales. Not great, not horrible.

If Valve wants to sell this gaming tablet as it is, it needs to strike while the iron is hot and while this tablet is new. Advertise the crap out of it everywhere. Because it’s new, people will be interested to have a look. Many more will buy it because it’s new. Eventually, all of the above limitations will be apparent, but only after people have paid their cash and already purchased it.

Personally, this unit has too many limitations for me to consider it. If this gaming tablet offered both cell phone data options AND full Windows gaming compatibility, I might have considered it. It isn’t enough to offer many from the Steam library of games. It also needs to offer the fundamental basics for multiplayer gaming.

For example, you wouldn’t be able to play Fallout 76 while out and about without access to a high speed MiFi hotspot. Thus, you also won’t be able to play multiplayer games like Fortnite, Overwatch or Destiny using a Steam Deck while riding a train to work. The lack of a multiplayer always-on data network is huge miss that ultimately undermines the usability of the Steam Deck and is also its biggest design flaw; a flaw that shouldn’t have been missed by the Valve team at the Steam Deck’s price tag.

Overall, I can’t personally recommend the purchase of the Steam Deck as a portable modern gaming device strictly because of its lack of thoughtful design around multiplayer gaming while on the go. However, the Steam Deck is probably fine if used as a home console device using a wireless controller while hooked to a widescreen TV and connected to a home high speed WiFi network. It may also be worth it if you intend to use it primarily to play offline single player games or if you intend to use it as a retro emulator for 80s and 90s games. Still, it’s way overpowered for the likes of Joust, Dig Dug or Defender.

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What Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax means?

Posted in business, microsoft, Sony, video gaming by commorancy on October 28, 2020
Can the PS5 succeed?

I’ve had this question recently posed to me on a Twitch stream. Yes, I stream games on Twitch in addition to penning this blog. I haven’t cross promoted my Twitch stream on this blog because blogging and gaming are mostly unrelated. However, if you’re interested in watching me game, please leave a comment below and I’ll post my Twitch channel. Let’s explore the answer to the above question.

Bethesda and Microsoft

Microsoft isn’t really a gaming company. They are a software company who produces gaming products in among all of their other hardware and software product lines. Sony is, likewise, not really a gaming company for a similar reason. Sony is mostly a content producing company who also produces gaming hardware.

Anyway, Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax likely means eventual changes to all of Bethesda’s game franchises. In fact, I’m actually surprised that the FTC has allowed such a purchase considering the negative impact it will likely have on consumer choice.

Sony and Microsoft

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Sony and Microsoft are rivals when it comes to gaming systems. Sony has the PlayStation and Microsoft has the Xbox. Because Microsoft owns the Xbox console, purchasing large gaming companies firmly pushes this situation into conflict of interest and consumer choice reduction territory. Additionally, Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax before the PS5 has really launched can become an easy way to keep the PS5 from succeeding.

Why? Microsoft has designs on making the Xbox Series X console succeed and be more successful than the PS5. To do this, they want to lock Sony’s platform out of as much content as they can. How will this manifest with Bethesda’s games?

While the final outcome is entirely uncertain, the handwriting is on the wall. What I mean is that Microsoft may eventually make all of Bethesda’s newest released games exclusive to the Xbox. That means that Bethesda’s game franchises (plural) may ultimately end up playable only on the PC and on the Xbox console. Yes, that could mean that both the Nintendo Switch and Sony’s PS5 are equally negatively impacted by this purchase.

Both Sony and Nintendo could find themselves without future Bethesda titles on their gaming platforms. That could mean no more Fallout, no more Elder Scrolls, no more Doom and no more Wolfenstein will make their way onto Sony or Nintendo’s platforms. It doesn’t stop there. Titles like Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield, which has yet to be released, could be pulled from release on both Sony and Nintendo’s platforms… leaving this game only available on PC and Xbox.

Sure, it may lose Microsoft money by not releasing these games on these non-Microsoft platforms, but Microsoft will more than make up for those game sales losses by pushing more Xboxes and PCs into the home. Eventually, these games will be sold to newly purchased Xboxes and PCs more than making up for the losses in sales on those other platforms. Basically, Microsoft has an easy way to do the dirty to both Sony and Nintendo as far as Bethesda games are concerned.

Microsoft is also well aware of the leverage they hold over the gaming industry by purchasing Bethesda. More than this, Microsoft can steer new consumers onto their Xbox line of consoles and away from Sony and Nintendo consoles strictly by enforcing Xbox Exclusives.

Exclusives

Bethesda isn’t the only studio on the planet. However, Bethesda is a large studio with many very cherished video game franchises… franchises that bring in a lot of cash and drive console purchases.

While Microsoft can enforce making upcoming Bethesda games exclusive, Microsoft doesn’t necessarily have to take this step. However, knowing that Sony pretty much kicked Microsoft’s butt with the PS4’s sales, Microsoft isn’t eager to repeat that trend with the Xbox Series X. Purchasing ZeniMax gives Microsoft a definite edge. It also means Microsoft might also be eyeing the purchase of Activision, EA, Rockstar and even Ubisoft. Don’t be surprised if Microsoft snaps up some of these additional game developers as well.

By Microsoft purchasing large game studios like Bethesda, they can control which console becomes the dominant console this time around (i.e., theirs). This means even more exclusive Xbox games.

Exclusive games force consumers to buy specific hardware platforms to play these exclusive titles.

PS5

What does this news mean for a console like the PS5? It puts the PS5 at a severe sales disadvantage. Microsoft could request Bethesda to not produce PS5 games. Without Bethesda’s support on the PS5, that leaves the PS5 at a major disadvantage in the upcoming next gen gaming market.

This is part of the reason I am not purchasing a PS5 at this time. I’m waiting on how this plays out. Bethesda’s ownership by Microsoft means a very real possibility of future exclusive Xbox titles from Bethesda, with no releases on the PS5 or the Nintendo Switch.

This change would put Sony and Nintendo with a clear sales disadvantage. Sony would have to rely not on Bethesda games to drive the PS5’s sales, but instead rely on Sony Studio game releases… games they have developed themselves or by studios they own (i.e., Sucker Punch).

That doesn’t mean the PS5 will be worthless, but it means that the future of Bethesda’s games being released on the PS5 has become very unclear. In fact, I’d use the word “muddy” to describe these waters.

Here are some questions that come out of the above:

  1. Should I buy and Xbox Series X or a PS5? The answer to this question entirely depends on what Microsoft has planned for Bethesda. If they intend to turn all future Bethesda releases into Xbox exclusives, then the answer to this question is… buy an Xbox Series X. Even then, I’d still recommend buying an Xbox Series X because there’s a zero chance of losing Bethesda games on the Xbox. However, there’s a high probability the PS5 will lose Bethesda’s future games. The even larger answer to this question also depends on whether Microsoft plans to buy more large game studios.
  2. Will Bethesda lose money? The answer to this question is, no. Microsoft has deep, deep pockets. They can withstand any short term monetary losses from making Bethesda’s games exclusive to the Xbox and they can also withstand the long term needs to recoup those losses by selling new Xbox consoles and any exclusive Bethesda games. The more consoles Microsoft sells, the more games they can sell.
  3. Will Microsoft force Bethesda to make exclusives? Yes, they will. This is guaranteed. The question is, which games will be forced into this category? That’s still unclear. Will it only be some of Bethesda’s games, all of them, new games only or some combination of this? We don’t know. However, I can guarantee at least one of Bethesda’s games will be released as an Xbox exclusive. My guess is that most of Bethesda’s games will become exclusives.
  4. What about existing Bethesda games? What happens to these? Microsoft isn’t stupid. They will allow existing games to continue to be sold and operate on the PS4 and any other older non-Microsoft consoles. They won’t rock this boat. Instead, Microsoft will look at upcoming unreleased games and use the games that have never been released to become exclusive.

As a result of these questions and answers, it’s clear that if you love Bethesda’s games and you wish to play future upcoming Bethesda game franchises, you may want to wait before investing in one of these new consoles. It would suck to spend a wad-o-cash to walk home with a PS5 only to find that the one Bethesda game you thought you could play is now an Xbox Series X exclusive. That means, you’ll never see that game released on the PS5. Microsoft is very likely to make this situation a reality.

If Microsoft buys even more of these large developers, they could lock Sony’s PS5 out of the mainstream gaming market. That would push Sony’s PS5 into a situation like Nintendo (and the PS Vita), where the console maker is entirely responsible for creating compelling game franchises for their respective console on their own. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to keep a platform like the PS5 alive.

In other words, with the purchase of Bethesda, there’s a very real possibility that this time around that Sony’s PS5 will be the underdog.

Ramifications

The bigger ramifications of this purchase is the lack of and reduction of consumer choice. This purchase can easily push Microsoft into an even more monopoly status than they already are. Locking down the biggest game developers to exclusivity for the Xbox means causing the PS5 to ultimately fail and for the same reason the PS Vita failed.

Personally, I believe this is Microsoft’s true agenda. The Xbox One’s sales paled in comparison to the PS4. Microsoft is not eager to repeat this situation with the Xbox Series X. By buying large developers like ZeniMax / Bethesda, Microsoft can all but assure the success of the Xbox Series X… and, at the same time, assure Sony’s failure of the PS5.

This purchase is honestly a one-two punch to Sony…. and for Sony, it’s gotta hurt.

Sony and Gaming

If Sony is smart, they’ll run out and buy Rockstar or Ubisoft right now. They shouldn’t wait. They should purchase one of these companies as fast as they possibly can. Rockstar would be the best choice for Sony.

Sony could then have this same bargaining chip in their back pocket just like Microsoft has with Bethesda. Should Microsoft dictate Xbox exclusivity for Bethesda’s upcoming games, Sony can do the same thing for Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption (once they own Rockstar). Ultimately, it will be a “tit for tat” situation.

In fact, Sony should buy both Ubisoft and Rockstar and have two bargaining chips. Even still, such a game exclusivity war would lead to fracturing the gaming market in half. Basically, the consumer would be forced to buy multiple consoles to play games that formerly landed on both consoles. It’s a loss for consumer choice… which is why I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t stepped in and blocked this one.

I’m guessing that because the final outcome has not yet manifested, the FTC can’t see the forest for the trees. However, once hindsight forces 20/20 vision, it will be too late for the FTC to block this purchase.

What does this mean for Fallout?

I know this is a very specific question about a very specific game. However, I was asked this very question on a Twitch stream. Let me answer it here.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout series and you’re unsure which of the upcoming console to buy, I’d recommend waiting to see what Microsoft has in store for upcoming Bethesda games.

With that said and to reiterate what I’ve said above, there is now zero chance that Microsoft will withhold Fallout for the Xbox Series X and newer Xbox consoles. However, Microsoft can easily block the release of future Fallout games from the PS5 and the Switch. This means that a consumer’s investment of cash into a PS5 could see the console without any future Fallout or Elder Scrolls or Doom games.

What that means is that should Bethesda take on the challenge of remastering Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Fallout New Vegas for the newer consoles, these games may only find their way onto the Xbox Series X as exclusives and may not be found on the PS5.

Basically, proceed with caution if you really, really want a PS5. You may find that like the PS Vita, without titles released from Bethesda, the PS5 may end up a dying console before it really gets the chance to take off, particularly if Microsoft buys even more of these large game studios. If the PS5 does fail due to Microsoft exclusives, it will be mostly thanks to Microsoft.

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Game Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Posted in gaming, plagiarism, video game design by commorancy on July 20, 2020

This Sucker Punch studios created game feels like a sucker punch to Ubisoft as it is far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Let’s explore.

[Updated: 9/2/2020] After having rethought this entire article, I’ve come to a new conclusion about Sucker Punch studios. It seems highly likely that Sucker Punch is an empty-shell game development arm for Sony. What do I mean by empty-shell? Let me explain what I mean. There’s a lot that also supports this shell idea. Sucker Punch may actually be a sub-company that strictly comes up with game ideas and doesn’t actually implement them. Instead, Sony / Sucker Punch hires out third party development studios to produce a game for a fee (and under contract) based on Sucker Punch’s game concept.

In the case of Ghost of Tsushima, it appears that Sony / Sucker Punch may have hired out Ubisoft to produce Ghost of Tsushima using Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine including Ubisoft’s development team. Sucker Punch likely wanted something very specific (i.e., all of the particle animation and Japanese environments) including the assassination concept. Who better than to hire Ubisoft for that project? Sucker Punch may employ a small team helping produce some limited assets for the game such as trees, some character models and so forth. The majority of the development work likely went to the third party team (e.g., Ubisoft).

What this likely means for Sucker Punch and Ghost of Tsushima is that Sucker Punch indirectly licensed Ubisoft’s AnvilNext for this game because Ubisoft actually produced this game for Sony / Sucker Punch under contract. As an aside, it’s odd to note that both Sucker Punch and Sony PlayStation begin with (SP). Anyway, why am I jumping to this conclusion so much later? There are excessively too many suspect mechanics included in this game that mimic Assassin’s Creed to be a mere coincidence.

That’s just the beginning of this conclusion jumping. There’s also the suspect lack of credits anywhere on the game. Any game studio putting in years of time and effort would want to reward their developers by giving credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, credits are not listed on Ghost of Tsushima… at all. Not anywhere is there a credits page within this game. If you had devoted years of your life to an entertainment / game project, wouldn’t you want credit? Wouldn’t you expect to see your name listed on the credits page? Yet, no credits appear anywhere on this game. The lack of due credit is the biggest suspect item thus leading me to the empty-shell studio conclusion.

One further telltale sign is that games by direct developers place all engines and technologies they use up front immediately after the developer’s logo splash page. Again, Ghost of Tsushima fails to give credit to the engine, physics systems and technologies used within the game… an extremely odd play for an “alleged” big name developer.

This situation could also easily explain Ubisoft’s extreme silence on the Assassin’s Creed front for the last two or three years. If Ubisoft were deep in development for Ghost of Tsushima for Sony, that team would have been unable to make significant progress on a new Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed title. Sure, there has been both Odyssey and Origins. Odyssey being the newest, was released in 2018 with nothing since. Even then, that game could have been produced at least year earlier… giving Ubisoft a minimum of 3 years development time on Ghost of Tsushima.

Since Ubisoft already has a workable existing engine in AnvilNext, it wouldn’t have taken much time to rework that engine to produce Ghost of Tsushima. However, for Sucker Punch to devise their own engine from scratch that’s even more capable than AnvilNext (and that renders almost identically to AnvilNext) in two or three years, that’s a bit of a stretch. Developing an engine as sophisticated as what’s seen in Ghost of Tsushima would take every bit of that 3 years and likely more. That doesn’t account for the time it would take to produce a functional game including character models, game mechanics, 3D assets (trees, villages, carts, etc), stories, motion capture, voice actors and all else to create a complete game. To produce a game like Ghost of Tsushima from nothing to completion would be at least 6-8 years.

While it is possible Sucker Punch could have created an engine that looks and acts like AnvilNext, considering that the last game released by Sucker Punch was INFamous Second Son, released in 2014, the idea of it doesn’t really work especially considering there are no credits. The engine used in INFamous Second Son doesn’t at all resemble what’s in Ghost of Tsushima. Sure, both offer decent lighting models, but the engines are completely different between these two games. The engine used in INFamous looks, feels and acts entirely different. There was some limited particle animation in INFamous, but nothing like what’s in Ghost of Tsushima. Even then, INFamous is just an overall different game that operates entirely differently.

Ghost of Tsushima looks, feels and acts like Assassin’s Creed. From the horse, to the assassinations, to the perks to pretty much everything in the game. Even the world lighting looks and feels like AnvilNext when the light falls on objects. Even the swirly wind motif iconography feels like Assassin’s Creed. The whole thing has a telltale sign that it was produced by the Assassin’s Creed developers.

Let’s get back to the credits, which seem to tattle on Sucker Punch (and the lack of technologies used). If credits were listed on this game with real people’s names, it would be easy to spot developers who work at Ubisoft. It would be even easier to know that this game was actually produced by Ubisoft. I’m guessing that both Sony and Sucker Punch decided against revealing this information thus definitively proving that SP hired Ubisoft to produce this title. In fact, if I had to make a guess, such a development agreement contract probably stipulated keeping Ubisoft’s name (and technologies) off of the game. To do that, no credits or technologies could be added to the game which would reveal Ubisoft’s involvement… hence, likely the reason the game doesn’t have credits of any kind.

With the above said, please read the rest of this article recognizing my previous mindset before I had come to the above conclusion. If the above ends up being true, then Ghost of Tsushima is technically an unofficial Assassin’s Creed installment.

Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft originated the stealthy assassin take-down style game, but it seems that Sucker Punch is cool with both ripping off and carrying this concept forward in its latest game, Ghost of Tsushima.

By comparison, some of the most notable and identifiable mechanics in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed include:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in weeds, hay piles or crowds of people
  3. Smoke Bombs (usually comes later as you unlock skills
  4. Healing, although this mechanic has changed several times in successive AC games
  5. Various button mashing combat mechanics including parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing rocks and structures)
  7. Eagle Vision — allowing the protagonist to differentiate enemies from friendlies with an x-ray like vision
  8. Taking over Forts
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And… stealthy assassinations… basically how Assassin’s Creed got its name.

There are other features included such as the hidden blades, which also adds to the identity of Assassin’s Creed. However, there have also been AC games that lacked the hidden blade feature.

Why am I harping so much about Assassin’s Creed? It’s important to understand exactly how much Sucker Punch took from Assassin’s Creed to create Ghost of Tsushima.

Ghost of Tsushima

While no Assassin’s Creed game has yet visited feudal Japan, Sucker Punch decided it would be their turn to do so in Ghost of Tsushima. The game is set during the time of the Samurai, during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima.

In that goal, the game sets up the protagonist, Jin Sakai. A little goofy, a little nerdy, a little naïve, Jin ends up becoming the lone Samurai who wanders the island helping out with various problems along the way while learning new skills, including stealthy assassination both from behind and from above. Learning these new skills, along with parkour, ultimately help him to defeat the Mongol leader holed up in Castle Kaneda.

Along the way, Jin learns how to become a ‘Ghost’ (Sucker Punch’s word for an assassin). He uses his newfound assassination techniques to stealthily take down everyone from archers to Mongols to whomever deserves it. Though, he is nearly just as adept at being a Samurai, heading into open combat nearly as easily.

Sounds similar to Assassin’s Creed? It is. In fact, it’s far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Even the landscape, terrain, stories, enemy archetypes, combat and situations feel like Assassin’s Creed, right down to a nearly identical Assassin’s Creed combat maneuver to break through an enemy’s shield and take down that enemy.

Stolen Ideas

Not only has Sucker Punch taken practically everything that was Assassin’s Creed and placed it into Ghost of Tsushima, it has done so with careless abandon. It’s as if Sucker Punch is flaunting this fact in Ubisoft’s face. “See what we made? It’s just like Assassin’s Creed, only better!”, I can hear someone at Sucker Punch saying.

Here’s the non-exhaustive list of how Ghost of Tsushima ripped off Assassin’s Creed:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in Pampas Grass and weeds
  3. Smoke Bombs
  4. Healing with ‘Resolve’
  5. Parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing up rocks)
  7. Focused Hearing (looks like Eagle Vision)
  8. Forts and taking them down
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And, of course, stealthy assassination takedowns

Ghost of Tsushima even goes so far as to use a logo that looks like an A, just like Assassin’s Creed uses a different looking A for their franchise.

In fact, there are so many mechanics, behaviors and actions so similarly constructed to Assassin’s Creed (and in particular Origins, but really all of them), it makes me heavily wonder if Sucker Punch hired some of Ubisoft’s disenchanted Assassin’s Creed developers away and put them to work on this project. It’s all so suspect.

Legal Issues?

It’s one thing to hire a team to build a game that has slight similarities to another popular game title from another studio. It happens all of the time. However, it’s an entirely different issue to steal practically everything that made a single game, like Assassin’s Creed, unique and then put it all into a new game and call it your own without giving Ubisoft any credit.

Ubisoft’s Legal Team

If I were on Ubisoft’s legal team, I’d be looking at all options right about now. Considering that AnvilNext is a proprietary engine developed by Ubisoft and which is strictly for its own internal use… then seeing another engine looking, acting and performing similarly to AnvilNext, while driving a game that practically mimics Assassin’s Creed in nearly every way? Yeah… suspect.

Not only would I review that game with a fine tooth comb, I’d be looking through the credits roster to see who might have left Ubisoft and taken something with them. Talent moves around in every industry. It might be worth determining if any developers who worked on Assassin’s Creed made their way to Sucker Punch with a little something extra in hand.

Beautiful Rendering

There’s no denying that the landscape and terrain that has been built on Tsushima is outstanding, but no more outstanding than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins. Yes, the rendering of the environments doesn’t look at all much different from what’s seen in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. Galleries below.

In fact, it looks so similar that I’d have to say that Sucker Punch may be using portions of Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine. The look and feel of the graphics are far too similar in quality. It’s also possible Sucker Punch picked up another similar game engine. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia doesn’t yet state which game engine Ghost of Tsushima is built on. My money’s on AnvilNext, or rather a modified version of AnvilNext, Ubisoft’s proprietary engine.

Game Play

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima plays pretty much like mashup of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed games. It utilizes the eye popping graphics seen in Odyssey and Origins, but then goes back to basics with the combat mechanics and healing. It does have various staples seen in every AC game, such as smoke bombs and hiding in weeds and it improves upon the smoke bomb by adding its new sticky bombs.

Combat

The combat mechanics are almost identical to various Assassin’s Creed games, but with one difference. Jin is easily killed with one or two hits. The enemies also have the ability to immediately stagger Jin leaving him unable to attack or move for at least a minute. This means that the rest of the enemies can simply move in for the kill and they do.

Even though Jin has decent Samurai moves, his armor leaves a lot to be desired… and that stagger mechanic is literally a game killer.

For whatever reason, games have been adding these longer and longer lasting stagger mechanics into their games, which leaves the player unable to do anything other than watch their character die. I’m not a fan of this in games, particularly when my weapons don’t equally stagger opponents in the same way. Giving the enemy an upper hand method to basically kill the player’s character instantly is never satisfying.

What you, as a player, end up doing is… entirely avoiding this situation by making sure you always have the upper hand. The problem is, this game doesn’t let you get that upper hand when in open combat. The enemies always surround you and the best you can do is dodge out of the circle.

Healing

Here’s another sore spot of this game. Ghost of Tsushima gives you the ability to heal (called Resolve), but once used, you must gain it back through specific combat moves. The problem is, you can kill enemies galore, yet never gain any resolve back. There are some times where you do get it back, but there are many times were you can defeat 10 or more enemies and still have no resolve recovered.

This ‘resolve‘ mechanic is actually an incredibly piss poor design. It definitely needed a whole lot more development time. In fact, I’d have preferred just having dead enemies drop health and let me pick it up without having to regenerate “resolve” through very specific means, which clearly doesn’t always work.

Photomode

To carry on from the Beautiful Rendering section above and because this game is just so damned photogenic, you’re inevitably going to want to take some pictures. While photomode does work, it has some important limitations, which may be resolved in later updates. Let’s go through them now:

  1. If the game is night time and you change the time of day to daytime, the sun comes up, but the night sky remains. It looks like a very brightly lit night moon sky rather than daytime. If you want daytime shots, you’ll need to wait until it’s actually daytime in the game.
  2. There’s no way to pose the character at all. Once photomode begins, the character is in whatever pose he was in when it began. The only thing you can change is the facial expression. Even then, the facial expressions are poorly crafted.
  3. Likewise, there’s no way to pose the horse.
  4. While there are various types of weather from foggy to rainy to clear, none of them really work as well as you might expect. When switching between these, like the night/day problem above, the difference is just not that noticeable.
  5. Yes, there are filters. No, they don’t look great. In fact, the filters are so piss poor in quality, there’s really no reason to use them. Though, vivid is probably the most useful of these crappy filters.
  6. Unfortunately, photomode entirely lacks a vignette mode.
  7. Depth of field is also here, but it also doesn’t fare well. While it does support foreground and background blurring, it just doesn’t look as good as it should. It’s just not configurable enough.
  8. There’s no way to improve contrast, only brightness.

There are a number of other photomode features, but they just don’t really work as well as they should. You can get some great shots out of the game, but mostly by happenstance and not by messing with the filters and settings. Here are some images I’ve captured while playing….

Image Gallery

Ghost of Tsushima

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Compare the above to these similar in appearance images from both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey

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Weapons

As one would expect of a Samurai game, Ghost of Tsushima offers you your choice of blades including a dagger and a Samurai blade and more as you progress. You also get access to a Bow, bombs and various other weapons that you’ll get as you complete ‘Tales’.

Dyes and Plants

Picking certain plants and flowers gives you resources, such as wood and dyes, that you can trade at merchants to change or improve your clothing, armor or weapons. Remember back to Assassin’s Creed 2? Dye was a big thing in those early Assassin’s Creed games.

Skill Tree

There are basically two skill trees in this game. One is the Ghost (assassin) skill tree. The other is the Samurai skill tree. As you progress through the Tales (Quests), you are given skill points at the end, which you can use to unlock skills from any tree. As you progress more and more, you can unlock more and more skills. It’s a fairly bare bones basic skill tree setup.

Animus Missing

The one thing that Assassin’s Creed included that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t is having an outer shell. What I mean is that Assassin’s Creed was predicated on Templars from the present using the Animus virtual technology to revisit the past to find specific relics. These relics would help them in the present day gain specific power.

Ghost of Tsushima refrained from using this wrappered shell system so as to avoid that similarity. Although, even though that’s not included in Ghost of Tsushima, the rest of the mechanics included more than make up for the lack of this one missing thing.

Tales

As with any open world system, there must be quests. In this game, they’re called Tales. When you participate in a tale, you help someone do something in return for their help. Sometimes they give you a bow or armor, but sometimes you’re recruiting them to help you later. In return for that help, they expect you to do something for them now. Most times, it involves combat.

Forts

As mentioned above, forts are common in Assassin’s Creed. You end up having to not only take down everyone in a fort, you must also take down its leader. Once you do this, you basically own this fort.

The same can be said of Ghost of Tsushima. Though, while at the end you don’t own the fort, you do get to loot it for whatever rewards you can find.

Overall

Ghost of Tsushima is pretty. Very, very pretty, particularly when the wind is blowing across the grass and trees. One only needs to look at the above images to see that. But, having a game rendering a pretty environment is only part of the battle.

The other part is producing compelling, innovative mechanics to drive this world. Unfortunately, Sucker Punch actually lives up to its name and practically sucker punches Ubisoft for its Assassin’s Creed franchise. Sucker Punch entirely took almost everything that was Assassin’s Creed and imported it almost intact into Ghost of Tsushima.

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’ll probably like this game. However, it’s so similar and plays so similarly to Assassin’s Creed, you may also feel like you’ve played this game before… and you likely have.

Is it worth $60? That’s debatable. I’m not usually one to urge people to run out and buy copycat games. In the case of Deep Silver’s Saint’s Row 3 and 4, these were so satirical of Grand Theft Auto, they had their own quirky uniqueness. In this case, I would recommend Saint’s Row because while they had some similarities to GTA, they were uniquely different.

With Ghost of Tsushima, the only really unique thing about this game is it having been set in feudal Japan. Everything else pretty much feels like a clone of Assassin’s Creed, for better or worse.

Ratings

Graphics: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Uniqueness: 1 out of 10
Stories: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Mouth Tracking: 2 out of 10
Replayability: 1 out of 10
Multiplayer Mode: none, single player campaign only

Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (Rent first. If you like it, then buy it.)

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Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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Should I buy a Sony PS5?

Posted in tips, video game console, video gaming by commorancy on February 18, 2020

ds4-gamingI know that the purchase of a PlayStation 5 is a burning question on every console gamer’s mind. Let’s explore.

PS4 Launch

To help begin to answer this burning 🔥 question, we’ll need to take a look back at the PS4’s 2013 launch. When the PS4 was first launched, it was absolutely the most bare bones basic console imaginable. Consider that both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 already had tremendous feature sets included at that point. Taking a jump into the PS4 felt like taking a huge leap backwards in time. When the PS4 launched, there was no Hulu, no Netflix, no apps of any real note, no browser and a barely functional store with literally nothing to see. It was so disheartening to turn on my brand new “day one” PS4 console only and find it such a barren wasteland.

What was in the PS4 store was limited to but a handful of game titles which you likely already owned. While all of this “lite” aspect of the PS4 would only last for a longish period of time, many of the features that eventually became standard on the PS3 never even materialized on the PS4 (i.e. CD ripping). Additionally, some common standards we take for granted today have likewise never made it to the PS4.

Bluetooth

For example, the prevailing Bluetooth headphone profile (AVRCP) has never made it into the PS4. You simply can’t go buy a standard set of Bluetooth stereo headphones (or a speaker) and use them on a PS4 without purchasing additional add-ons. The only Bluetooth headset standard adopted by Sony for the PS4 is the backwards and unrealistic HSP standard… a standard that almost no headphones manufacturers actually support. This fact forces you into buying Sony’s expensive dongle-based wireless headphones rather than using Bluetooth headphones you likely already own.

To this day, Sony has STILL not implemented the widely used AVRCP headphone and speaker profile on the PS4. If you wish to use this standard, you must do it by connecting another costly device to a PS4 output port, such as relying on your TV’s audio system, an external amplifier connected via HDMI, the optical out port or by using dongles attached to the DualShock controller. It all ends up a kludgy hackjob that Sony could have resolved (and avoided) simply by updating their system software to support AVRCP … possibly even a fairly simple change to their operating system.

First Six Months

You may be thinking the six months that I am talking about applies to the PS5. In fact, I’m discussing the PS4’s first six months after launch. For the 12 months after the PS4’s lackluster launch, there remained a drought of not only apps, but name brand video games. In fact, applications were entirely non-existent, save a handful of Sony only apps. Only but a handful of launch titles kept the PS4 afloat for the first 9-12 months after launch. The PS4 remained a fairly barren wasteland other than for those first few launch titles.

After my first six months of owning a PS4, I ended up putting the system down and not using it for at least another 8 months before the next game arrived that I wanted to play. I literally couldn’t use the console because of the lack of applications. As I said, there was no Netflix, no Hulu and no Amazon Prime Video. These apps have since launched on the console, but it took ages before they finally arrived… and by ages, I mean at least 12-15 months. It was an exceedingly long amount of time before these apps fully arrived on the PS4.

Before these apps arrived, the PS4 became an exceedingly expensive paperweight. Literally months passed when I didn’t turn the PS4 on because I had completed playthroughs of all of the launch titles and there was literally nothing else to do with the console. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t rip music to the hard drive. I couldn’t even watch Netflix. It was a useless paperweight. This forced me to return to using my PS3 and Xbox 360 because at least Netflix and other apps were available there, along with some of my ripped music.

Looking Forward

Looking 9-10 months from this article’s publication date, Sony expects the PS5 will take the world by storm. In fact, I highly recommend not purchasing the first incarnation of the PS5. Why? Because you’ll end up finding yourself in the same exact boat as I did with the PS4. No apps, nothing to use it for after consuming the launch titles. It will become a heavy and expensive paperweight for those first 12 months. Sure, you can play the launch titles again, but that wears thin!

I’m near certain that Sony will have spent their time readying the hardware, not wooing developers to write apps (or even games) or in making their OS stable. When the PS5 does launch, it will be just as lean and lite as was the PS4. It’s pretty much guaranteed given Sony’s track record with new console introductions.

A year or two after launch, the PS5 will have all of the apps and alternative uses. But, for the first 12 months, it will likely be a paperweight for at least half of that time. In the PS5’s case, this problem might last even longer.

Don’t expect to be able to use the PS5 as a music device or anything similar for months. Plex, a home media sharing app, probably won’t appear until well after the 12 month mark. Even on the PS4, the Sony Media app took months to finally appear before you could even use DLNA. There was no DLNA support on the PS4 for over 6 months after launch. I’d fully expect the exact same problem with the PS5’s launch.

Considering that Sony is having trouble sourcing components for its PS5s, this situation seems to have driven up the price tag of the PS5. In fact, the first release of a new console is always the most expensive. After Sony can wrap its head around where and how it can trim component costs, how it can merge components and see the same functionality and when it can trim components not needed, it won’t be able to reduce the cost of the PS5.

Worse, the first console release is always the worst of the bunch. Within 6-12 months, Sony always releases an updated hardware version that is better than its initial release version. It’s always worth waiting to buy the second version rather than investing in a “day one” system that will have little use and be the most expensive, least useful version. If you’re a “must have every first edition”, then by all means buy it. However, if you’re buying it as a gamer for the gaming utility of the console, then it’s well worth waiting through this “awkward” phase… which lasts at least 12 months after a console’s launch.

Launch Titles

Sony always readies one major game title that seems to be “must play”, to get people enticed to buy into their new console. The difficulty is that that game is not going anywhere. Day one releases can be fun to play, but more recently they can be a chore to play considering all of the “day one” bugs.

With the PS5’s version 1.0 operating system coupled with version 1.0 versions of the launch games, you’re looking at a major amount of bugs. In fact, you’re looking at far too many bugs. It will take Sony to release the 2.0 version of the operating system before I’d feel comfortable enough to say Sony has even the smallest handle on its bugs. Even the PS4’s OS at version 7 still has bugs. With the PS5’s 1.0 OS version, you are guaranteed to have day one bugs requiring a huge day one patch.

While the operating system bugs may not be too bad at times, you have no idea what the game developers have in store for us. What that means is that these big, bold games may turn into big, bugged games. Games that they may not see bugs resolved until Sony updates their operating system. Even then, 1.01 and 1.02 won’t be great OS versions either. While a 1.5 version might be somewhat better, it’s guaranteed it still won’t be great.

Applications

In addition to all of the bugs, the PS5 isn’t likely to have very many apps at all, if any. Sony’s apps like Crackle and PlayStation’s own subscription services may be present, but apps like Spotify, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix and similar are highly likely to be absent for the first several months. This means that besides gaming and possibly playing Blu-ray movies, there’ll be very little to do with the console. This assumes they plan on releasing Blu-ray and not forcing the console all digital.

Further, apps are a huge part of all computing ecosystems today. Releasing a console without third party apps could be the death of sales for the PS5. In 2013, apps were a thing just coming into their own. Sony’s misstep in 2013 wasn’t that devastating for them. The PS4 still sold respectable numbers.

Releasing a console today without apps on day one may become the death of the console (at least for a while). I’m fairly certain that Sony is more worried about getting the console out to the door than how many third party apps will be available on Day One, just as they did with the PS4.

Buyer Beware

When buying anything, “Buyer Beware” is always the motto that rules. Sony is no exception to this rule. They are just as likely to rope you into a purchase, where you’ll find maybe one or two games that last you a month or two of play. But then what do you do with the PS5 after that? You wait until something else is released. You wait until apps are released. In short, you wait.

If you’re going to be waiting for stuff to appear, you might as well use that money for other purposes and wait without making a purchase. Buy a PS4 and use it. It already has a huge game library. It already has apps. It already has much of what the PS5 won’t have. The PS4 will remain a viable console for at least 1-2 more years even after the PS5’s release.

Wait and See

Sony could resolve all of this if the PS5 also offers a full PS4 compatibility mode. This means that all of the PS4 apps and games can work right out of the gate on the PS5. If Sony adopts this, then it may be worth replacing your PS4 with a PS5. However, I don’t trust that Sony will include such a mode. It cost Sony a huge sum of money to include PS2 and PS1 compatibility modes on the PS3. Eventually, it cost Sony so much they had to remove at least the PS2 mode from the PS3. They didn’t even bother to try to include these modes on the PS4.

It’s exceedingly doubtful Sony will spend the time, effort or money in building such costly modes on the PS5 unless they’re basing the PS5 directly off of the PS4. If it’s to be a sub-$500 product like it always has been, Sony simply can’t afford to build in such features. I simply won’t expect to see the PS3 compatibility effort placed into the PS5 when it didn’t even make it to the PS4.

However, Sony could include PS4 game disc and store compatibility features allowing play of existing PS4 games, as long as the hardware is similar enough to the PS4… and it probably is. Unfortunately, I simply wouldn’t expect to see the PS5 offer compatibility modes for the PS3, PS2 or PS1. It would be great to see, but I simply don’t expect Sony to spend the money to include it in a sub-$500 product. Even then, the PS4 compatibility mode might not be available day one. It may be a promised feature that actually arrives months after launch… or possibly not at all. Sony has changed their minds about features in the past.

Professional Console

If Sony were to price out a “Pro” version of the PS5 at around $1000 or $1500 (a price point that’s way out of line for a console product, I might add), Sony could include such “advanced” features. The problem is that few gamers will spend that amount of cash for such a product. A greater than $1000 price point is the same as an iPhone 11, an iPad Pro or even many notebook computers. A parent is going to find that price tag difficult when comparing it to much more useful and educational computer devices at or close to that price point. That’s a hard pill to swallow solely for a dedicated gaming console. Sony will have to majorly increase the PS5’s usefulness as a generalized computer device and/or portability to make a $1000 or $1500 price point ever become feasible.

As it is now and based on the how the PS4 looks and works, I expect the PS5 to have a similar form factor and function. In fact, I doubt that the PS5’s case will be smaller. It will likely be the same size or larger than the PS4. Larger doesn’t necessarily make a product better.

The PS5 might have an option for a solid state drive (512mb or 1TB) rather than spinning hard drives. But, that’s not really a selling point. It makes the PS5 boot up faster and the games launch faster, but it won’t make the PS5 any cheaper. In fact, adding a solid state drive is very likely to drive the price tag up by a minimum of $50. Knowing Sony’s pricing premiums, however, expect such features to raise the price by at least $100.

Price Point

The PS5’s price point is likely to be its biggest hurdle in adoption. Since Sony has made some waves at potentially breaking with the “tradition” of a sub-$500 price tag, that means I might expect the PS5 to see a price tag of at least $800-900. Games may even see a “standard edition” price increase to $69.99 per game (a price hike of $10 per game). This will further push the “Deluxe” and “Limited” editions of the games up by $10-20.

If Sony attempts to not only raise the console price to nearing the $1000 price point with games nearing the $75 price point, this could further erode sales of consoles… pushing game developers onto more defacto devices, such as the iPad and Samsung tablets. Tablets are far more entrenched and compatible version to version than consoles have ever been. It wouldn’t surprise me to see big developers jump ship from the PS5 and begin porting their games over to iOS and other tablets… leaving the PS5 without much in the way of game developers, much like what happened with the PS Vita.

Sony is playing a dangerous game by mucking with the console’s traditional price point, particularly considering how lean the PS5 is likely to be on day one. Sony will need to seriously consider all of this (and, of course, Microsoft’s console plays) to get this part right.

My Opinion

Considering the PS4’s excessively lean launch and the length of time with which the console was more-or-less useless, I personally endorse waiting for at least 12-18 months for a purchase of a PS5. Don’t buy it in 2020. Buy it in 2021 or after. Why? Because this will give both Sony and the developers time to launch many more game titles and mature their operating system. You can always go back and try the launch titles, but typically the launch titles are never worth playing once better games are released. In fact, the launch titles are mostly looked on as amateur efforts once those more mature games launch, which almost fully utilize the hardware.

For me, I felt entirely betrayed by Sony in 2013, releasing such a uselessly lean console. Because of being burned by Sony, I fully intend to wait until 2021 to buy into a PS5. That will give Sony well enough time to not only work out bugs, but solidify its app ecosystem, add more peripherals, build a video game library and woo developers on board. It will also give time for Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to embrace the platform and release solid, functional apps. Until that point is reached, for me the purchase of a PS5 is simply a waiting game.

So let’s answer the question, “Should I buy a PS5?” Yes, but not day one. Buy it only after the console has sufficiently matured.

This advice won’t stop YouTubers from buying and reviewing day one editions. They will do it because that’s what they do. That doesn’t make their console purchase smart, but it does make their purchase into channel fodder to rope you in as a viewer. Don’t be fooled by these YouTubers. Just because they bought it doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve told you what I plan to do. Now it’s time for you to sound off and tell me if you intend to wait or if you will buy a PS5 on day one! Let me know below.

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Can I sell my video game?

Posted in nintendo, Playstation, video game, xbox by commorancy on April 27, 2019

The answer to this question depends on how the game was originally sold to you. Let’s explore.

United States and First-Sale Doctrine

The United States has a lesser understood, but very powerful doctrine known as the “First-sale Doctrine”. This doctrine defines important limitations and exclusions afforded to purchasers of copyrighted (and trademarked) materials. This doctrine is so important that without it, copyrighted and trademarked works couldn’t easily be sold and definitely couldn’t be resold. Basically, this doctrine allows (and is designed) to allow resale of copyrighted works without having to notify or turn over resale profits to the original creator. Via the ‘exhaustion rule’, the original creator ‘exhausts’ specific resale rights once he or she sells a copy of that work to someone else.

Originally, the First-sale Doctrine covered such physical media as books and records. At the time of the the creation of this doctrine, digital media wasn’t in existence. However, this doctrine has also come to apply to software delivered on physical media (such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, Hard Drive and even Flash ROMs). Software includes music, movies and, yes, even video games.

In short, this doctrine says that once a creator who holds all rights to a specific work sells a copy of that work, the creator relinquishes all further sales rights (among other rights) of that specific copy. For example, if an author writes a book and a copy of that book is printed and sold, the creator no longer holds any further sales rights to that physical copy of that physical book. If the new owner (purchaser) of that book chooses to sell it, burn it, chop it up into pieces or hold onto it, that’s entirely the purchaser’s right. The one right that is not given to the purchaser is the right to make new copies of it.

However, the new owner can sell their original copy of that book for any amount of money they wish and the original creator no longer has any claim over that sale as that was exhausted after the “First Sale”… hence, this doctrine’s name.

Physical Media Video Games

With video games delivered on physical media, like a CD, DVD or similar, in the US the First-sale Doctrine applies. The copyrighted work exists within a legitimate “First Sale” purchased media. This means that as the “First Sale” purchaser, you now enjoy resale rights given to you over that media. This means you can take that video game DVD back to Gamestop or any other used game seller and sell it back to them for any amount of money they choose to give you. You can also sell it to a friend or put it on eBay and sell it to anyone who wishes to buys it.

Owning a physical original “First Sale” copy of a video game gives you the right of resale.

Buying Used Games

Buying a used video game also affords you “First Sale” rights over that original media. Even though the used physical copy wasn’t sold to you by the content creator (does that ever happen anyway?), the “First-sale Doctrine” still applies to all purchases of original media. However, if the game is counterfeit or has violated copyrights to come to exist, these are unauthorized copies not protected by the “First-sale Doctrine”. Only authorized copies of works are protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Digital Video Game Sales?

With digital video game sales, this is where things get tricky and where the waters get murky with regards to the First-sale Doctrine. Why? Because it’s a bit more tricky to determine the “original media”. With a DVD that was produced by a manufacturer authorized by the creator, the chain of change in ownership is clear.

When you download a copy of a video game to a hard drive, the chain of ownership remains unclear. In order to sell a single digital copy of a game, you’d have to make a copy to sell it. This new copy would infringe on the copyright holder’s “copy” rights. That means you would have to make an illegal and unauthorized copy to sell it. For this reason, you can’t sell a digitally downloaded copy easily. However, that doesn’t mean the game can’t be sold. It just can’t be sold in the way that you think.

With that said, you can sell your digital video game copies under a very specific circumstance. It will also not violate copyright laws and the sale will adhere to the First-sale Doctrine. Once you click the download button to download that digital copy, the game will be stored on your hard drive on your console or computer. So long as you do not move, copy or transfer that data to another media, that “First Sale” video game is stored on its original media. That means that the copy stored on your hard drive is the “First Sale” copy.

Why is the “First Sale” copy important? It’s important because this copy is the original (and only) copy you received from the purchase.

How Can I Sell a Digital Game?

How can you sell it? Well, that’s the tricky part. You can’t sell only that game. You can only sell the media it lives on. This means you’d need to sell the hard drive that that game lives on. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to authorize play of the game. That hard drive also resides in computer or console.

For PlayStation and Xbox and likely the Switch, there’s also a “license to play” which is part of, but separate from the game download. This “license” lives in a separate location and must be present for the game to play on that console. That “license” is also tied to your “Store” account with Xbox, PlayStation and Switch.

This means that to sell your digitally downloaded games (plural), you’d need to sell not only the hard drive, but the entire console AND your Xbox Live, PSN or Nintendo ID account to have the First-sale Doctrine apply. Basically, you’ll have sold everything needed to ensure the game will play. Of course, you’ll have sold your whole console and all other games along with it. Yeah, it’s kind of overkill, but it’s the only way to sell digital games and stay within the First-sale Doctrine.

With physical media, the license is the media itself. With digital media, the licenses are stored separately and become part of your network account. This means you have to sell the console, hard drive (and all games and content) and your network account. Selling a physical copy of a game is, then, much easier.

Copying Games

The Xbox and the PlayStation allow for copying games from one media to another. The difficulty with this process is that it likely invalidates the First-sale Doctrine. In order to copy a game from your internal media to an external drive, the system has to make a full and complete copy before deleting the original.

Once the system deletes the original, only the second copy remains. This second copy may violate (and invalidate) the First-sale Doctrine. No longer are you playing the original “First Sale” copy. Now, you are playing a copy of a copy that the PlayStation or the Xbox created. However, content creators using the Xbox or PlayStation stores may have to agree to authorize this copying process in advance. If the developer legal agreements require this, then any copied games may still be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

What this all means, though, is if you sell your console with any games which have been moved from one drive to another, you may not be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

This situation also exists if you delete your “First Sale” copy from the hard drive, then re-download the game from the store later. No longer are you technically playing the “First Sale” copy. This makes the “First-sale Doctrine” more difficult to apply to video game and harder to know if “First Sale” still applies. It gets even more complicated with…

Game Updates

Because video games require periodic updates to fix bugs and improve the game, this may also invalidate the “First Sale”. Even though the updated copy comes from the original creator, what you bought isn’t what you’re playing after an update. Unfortunately, these nuances to video games, copyrights and “First Sale” have not been challenged in a court. Only a court of law could rule on what applies and what doesn’t under such circumstances as game updates and when copying from one media to another using built-in system tools.

Selling your Console

To sell a specific digitally purchased video game, you’d have to sell not only your entire console unit, you’d have to sell your network ID account that authorizes play of those games. If you did this, you can legally sell these digital copies of your games under “First Sale”.

However, you’re not technically selling a game itself. You’re selling the console and everything that it contains, including all digital copies. To allow for those games to be played by the new buyer and to ensure the seller relinquishes all access to those “First Sale” copies to the buyer, you’d have to sell them your network ID. This means that you have transferred all “First Sale” rights of any games on the console to the buyer and you have entirely relinquished access to those games for yourself.

For you to play a game that was on that console again, you’d have to purchase it anew on a new console using a new network ID.

Game Saves

Saved games are not part of the original “First Sale” game download. These are created separately by the game as User Generated Content after playing the game. In theory, you should be able to make external copies of your saved games (as long as the console allows for this) and import these into any new console you purchase later. This way you could continue playing a game should you buy that game again in the future.

With that said, if a saved game contains any copyrighted content used within the game, copying your saved games might cause copyright issues for you. Though, it would be a separate copyright concern from the game itself. Your game saves are separate content from the game and were created as part of playing the game. With game saves, the player might even be able to argue some copyrights over saved games depending on exactly what is stored in the game save.

For example, if you’re using a music program and you create digital music, when you create a save from that application, you own that game save and you own any original music content you created as part of creating that digital music. The same concept applies to a video game. Because you were playing the game, a game save may contain unique things to your specific game play through. This means that that content is unique to you for that game. As a result, you may own portions of that created content… the portions that were unique to your game play.

However, if the game save contains copyrighted music files, image files or similar, you won’t be able to claim ownership over that content. You can only claim ownership over the content that’s unique to your play through (i.e., your character’s appearance, your character’s wielded weapons, your character’s clothing combination, your character’s stats). All of these character stats combine to create something unique to you… and you may be able to own the copyrights over that uniquely created content.

One thing is certain, save games are not considered as part of the “First Sale” of the game itself. Game saves are items created by the game after the game has been sold to you.

Overall

Can you sell your video game? Yes, under specific circumstances described above. Purchasing physical media of a game is by far the easiest way to resell your game without any problems. Physical copies of video games are completely protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Unfortunately, selling an individual digital download copy of a video game you purchased through an online game store and downloaded directly to your console (or PC) isn’t possible. While you can’t sell an individual game, you can sell the entire console (or PC), its hard drive(s) and all account(s) associated with the games and that sale will fall under the First-sale Doctrine. Unfortunately, that means you lose access to your entire video game system and any game library you had amassed while you owned the system. No, it’s not in any way optimal, but this is the only one afforded to digital goods consumers under the current U.S. copyright laws.

If you wish to be able to sell individual video games easily after you’re done playing, you’ll need to stick with purchasing physical media boxed copies from a store.

Disclaimer: This answer is written for United States residents. If you’re reading this in another country, you should consult with your country’s own copyright laws for details regarding video game resale rights.

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Hottest Video Games for 2018

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on August 31, 2018

The fall of the year is always the time when the majority of video games release. After all, kids are back in school and the holidays are right around the corner. The game industry waits until August to begin trickling out their biggest games, building momentum until the end of the year. As always, there are a number of games this year to consider. Let’s explore.

Video Game Inclusion Criteria

The games selected for Randocity’s top games list for 2018 only include games that I feel will be of high quality, will be fun and will offer the best play value for your money. Nothing is implied about any game that didn’t make this list. The lack of inclusion simply means that the game isn’t likely to offer the best play value for your money. Those other games are also usually for gamers who specifically look for those kinds of games. This is especially true if you’re considering using this as a gift guide. With pretty much any of these games you cannot go wrong giving them as a gift, with the exception of Fallout 76 due to its MMORPG nature. Without further adieu…

Randocity’s Top Video Game Picks for Fall 2018

PS4, Xbox One and Multiplatform Games

Game Platform(s) Release Date Rating Publisher
Destiny 2 PS4, Xbox One September 4th Bungie
Spider-Man PS4 Exclusive September 7th Sony Interactive Entertainment
Life Is Strange 2 PS4, Xbox One September 27th Rating Square Enix
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey PS4, Xbox One October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Mega Man 11 PS4, Xbox One, Switch October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Call of Duty: Black Ops IV PS4, Xbox One October 12th Rating Activision / Treyarch
Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4, Xbox One October 26th Rating Rockstar Games
Hitman 2 PS4, Xbox One November 9th Rating Warner Bros. Interactive Ent.
Fallout 76 (requires Internet)
PS4, Xbox One November 14th Rating Bethesda / Zenimax
Battlefield V PS4, Xbox One November 20th Rating Electronic Arts
Darksiders III PS4, Xbox One November 27th Rating THQ
Just Cause 4 PS4, Xbox One December 4th Rating Square Enix

Nintendo Switch Games

Game Platform Release Date Rating Publisher
Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition Nintendo Switch September 5h Stage 2 Studios
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Nintendo Switch September 13th Rating InXile Entertainment
Super Mario Party Nintendo Switch Exclusive October 5th Rating Nintendo
Child of Light Nintendo Switch October 11th Rating Ubisoft
Dark Souls Remastered Nintendo Switch October 19th Rating Namco Bandai Games
Project Highrise: Architect’s Edition Nintendo Switch October 23rd Rating Kalypso
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Switch Exclusive December 7th Rating Nintendo

The games listed above are not all of the games that will release this year, but they are on this list because they will work well as gifts for just about any gamer. Note, some of the games on the Switch may have previously released on other console platforms. This particular year there’s not a whole lot of games that really stand out as must play games. But, there are a few… specifically Pokémon, Super Smash Brothers, Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2. These are the only true must play games on this list.

The rest of the games will likely be fun, but they’re not games that I feel must be owned day one. Though, they do make great gift ideas. Note that Fallout 76 is an MMORPG in similar form to The Elder Scrolls Online. It requires an internet connection and Xbox Live if playing on an Xbox One. Be careful when considering this game as a gift item if you don’t know whether the recipient has always-on Internet or Xbox Live. If you’re not sure whether your recipient meets these game requirements, you might should consider other games on this list. All of the other games should be safe without Internet, but always read the back of the box to be absolutely sure.

Enjoy!

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How much data does it take to update my PS4 or Xbox One or Switch?

Posted in computers, updates, video game console by commorancy on May 10, 2018

It seems this is a common question regarding the most recent gaming consoles. Let’s explore.

Reasons?

  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re concerned with data usage on your Internet connection or if your connection is very slow, you’ll find that this answer will likely not satisfy you. However, please keep reading.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you want to predict the amount of data more precisely, then skip down to the ‘Offline Updates’ section below.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re simply curious, then please keep reading.

Xbox One, PS4 and Switch Update sizes

The PS4, Xbox One and Switch periodically patch and update their console operating systems for maximum performance, to squash bugs and to improve features. However, this process is unpredictable and can cause folks who are on metered Internet connections no end of frustration.

How much data will it need to update?

There is no way to know … let’s pause to soak this in …

How much data is needed is entirely dependent on how recently you’ve upgraded your console. For example, if you’ve kept your console up to date all along the way, the next update will only be sized whatever the newest update is. With that said, there’s no way to gauge even that size in advance. Not Microsoft, not Sony and not Nintendo publish their update sizes in advance. They are the size they are. If it fixes only a small set of things, it could be 50-100 megabytes. If it’s a full blown point release (5.0 to 5.1), it could be several gigabytes in size. If it’s a smaller release, it could be 1GB.

If your console is way out of date (i.e., if you last turned it on 6 months ago), your console will have some catching up to do. This means that your update may be larger than someone who updates their console every new update. This means that if the base update is 1GB, you might have another 1GB of catch up before the newest update can be applied. This catch-up update system applies primarily to the Xbox One and not to the PS4 or Switch.

Xbox One vs PS4 vs Switch Update Conventions

Sony and Nintendo both choose a bit more of an one-size-fits-all update process when compared to Microsoft. Because of this, we’ll discuss the Xbox One first. Since the Xbox One is based, in part, on Windows 10, it follows the same update conventions as Windows 10. However, because the Xbox One also uses other embedded OSes to drive other parts of the console, those pieces may also require separate updates of varying sizes. This means that for the Xbox One to update, it has a process that scans the system for currently installed software versions, then proceeds to download everything needed to bring all of those components up to date.

Sony and Nintendo, on the other hand, don’t seem to follow this same convention. Instead, the Switch and PS4 typically offer only point-release updates. This means that everyone gets the same update at the same time in one big package. In this way, it’s more like an iPhone update.

For full point-release updates, the Xbox One also works this same way. For interim updates, it all depends on what Microsoft chooses to send out compared to what’s already on your Xbox One. This means that the Xbox One can update more frequently than the PS4 by keeping underlying individual components updated more frequently if they so choose. This is why the Xbox One can offer weekly updates where the PS4 and the Switch typically offer only quarterly or, at least, much less frequent updates.

Size of Updates

If you want to know the size of a specific update, you have to begin the update process. This works the same on the PS4, the Xbox One or the Switch. This means you have to kick off the update. Once you do this, the download progress bar will show you the size of the download. This is the only way to know how big the update is directly on the console.

However, both the PS4 and the Xbox One allow you to download your updates manually via a web browser (PC or Mac). You can then format a memory stick, copy the files to USB and restart the console in a specific way to apply the updates. This manual process still requires you to download the updates in full and, thus, uses the same bandwidth as performing this action on the console. This process requires you to also have a sufficiently sized and properly formatted USB memory stick. For updating the PS4, the memory stick must be formatted exFAT or FAT32. For updating the Xbox One, it must be formatted NTFS. The Nintendo Switch doesn’t provide offline updates.

Cancelling Updates in Progress

The Xbox One allows you to cancel the current system update in progress by unplugging the lan and/or disconnecting WiFi. Then turning off the console. When the console starts up without networking, you can continue to play games on your console, but you will not be able to use Xbox Live because of the lack of networking.

Once you plug the network back in, the system will again attempt to update. Or, you can perform an offline update with the Xbox One console offline. See Offline Updates just below.

You can also stop the PS4 download process by going to Notifications, selecting the download, press the X button and select ‘Cancel and Delete’ or ‘Pause’. Note, this feature is available on 5.x or newer PS4 version. If your PS4 version is super old, you may not have this option in the Notifications area. You will also need to go into settings (Xbox One or PS4) and disable automatic updates otherwise it could download these without you seeing it.

How to disable automatic updates:

With that said, you cannot stop system updates on the Nintendo Switch once they have begun. Nintendo’s downloads are usually relatively small anyway. Trying to catch them in progress and stop them may be near impossible. It’s easier to follow the guides above and prevent them from auto-downloading.

Also note, any of the consoles may still warn you that an update is available and prompt you to update your console even if you have disabled automatic software downloads.

*This setting on the Nintendo Switch may exclude firmware updates, your mileage may vary.

Offline Updates

Xbox One

The Xbox One allows you to update your system offline using a Windows PC. This type of update is not easily possible with a Mac. Mac computers don’t natively support formatting or reading NTFS properly, but there are tools you can use (Tuxera NTFS for Mac).

To use the Offline System Update, you’ll need:

  • A Windows-based PC with an Internet connection and a USB port.
  • A USB flash drive with a minimum 4 GB of space formatted as NTFS.

Most USB flash drives come formatted as FAT32 and will have to be reformatted to NTFS. Note that formatting a USB flash drive for this procedure will erase all files on it. Back up or transfer any files on your flash drive before you format the drive. For information about how to format a USB flash drive to NTFS using a PC, see How to format a flash drive to NTFS on Windows.

  1. Plug your USB flash drive into a USB port on your computer.
  2. Open the Offline System Update file OSU1.
  3. Click Save to save the console update .zip file to your computer.
  4. Unzip the file by right-clicking on the file and selecting Extract all from the pop-up menu.
  5. Copy the $SystemUpdate file from the .zip file to your flash drive.
    Note The files should be copied to the root directory, and there shouldn’t be any other files on the flash drive.
  6. Unplug the USB flash drive from your computer.

PlayStation 4

You can also update your PS4 console offline using Sony’s system updates. Here’s the procedure for PS4 offline updates. Note, the USB memory stick must be formatted either exFAT or FAT32. The PS4 doesn’t support any other types of stick formats. This means, if you buy a USB stick intended to be used on Windows, you will need to reformat it properly before you can use it on the PS4.

Update using a computer

For the standard update procedure, follow the steps below.

The following things are needed to perform the update:

  • PlayStation®4 system
  • Computer connected to the Internet
  • USB storage device, such as a USB* flash drive
  • There must be approximately 460 MB of free space.
    • On the USB storage device, create folders for saving the update file. Using a computer, create a folder named “PS4”. Inside that folder, create another folder named “UPDATE”.
      PC Update
    • Download the update file, and save it in the “UPDATE” folder you created in step 1. Save the file with the file name “PS4UPDATE.PUP”.
      Download Now Click to start the download.
    • Connect the USB storage device to your PS4™ system, and then from the function screen, select Settings (Settings) > [System Software Update].
      Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the update.
  • If your PS4™ system does not recognize the update file, check that the folder names and file name are correct. Enter the folder names and file name in single-byte characters using uppercase letters.

Nintendo Switch Updates

Nintendo doesn’t offer offline updates at all. The Nintendo Switch only supports Internet updates. There is currently no way to download or update your Switch via USB stick or SD card. The Nintendo Switch is the newest of the consoles, so it’s possible that Nintendo could offer an offline update mechanism some time in the future. However, knowing Nintendo, don’t hold you breath for this feature.

Offline Updates are Point Release Only

These offline update processes apply point-release updates only and not interim updates. Interim updates must still be applied directly from the console. Interim updates scan your system, find what’s needed, then download the patches. This can only be performed on the console. This means you could find that after installing a point release, the Xbox One may still require an additional update or two.

Updates and Internet Connectivity

Game consoles require updates to keep them current. The primary reason for most updates is to keep yours and your friend’s games in sync when playing multiplayer games. This prevents you from having a network edge over another player. When all game consoles are running the same version, all multiplayer activities are on the same playing field.

For this reason, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network (PSN) require all users to update to use networking features. If you declined or postpone any updates, both the Xbox One and the PS4 will deny you access to networking features. You must update both the console and the games to continue using networking.

If you don’t intend to use the network features such as multiplayer or leader boards, then you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you’re not using the networking features, then there’s no reason to buy Xbox Live or PSN. So far, Nintendo doesn’t yet offer a network capable of multiplayer gaming like Xbox Live or PSN, but as soon as they do I’m quite sure they will enforce the same requirements.

Pushing off Updates

While you can postpone updates to your console, it’s not always the best idea. I get that some people are on metered networking connections and can’t afford to download 20GB sized updates. But, at the same time, this is how consoles work. If you’re looking for a console that supports offline updates, then you’ll want to look at the PS4 or the Xbox One. You might want to skip the Switch if this is a show stopper for you.

As we move into the future, these consoles will continue to assume more and more connectivity is always available. Don’t be surprised to find that both the Xbox One and PS4 discontinue their offline update feature at some point in the future.

Though, Sony will still need to provide a way to install the operating system when a hard drive is replaced. However, that won’t help you with updating your console offline.

If you have a reason to want to know your download sizes more precisely, other than what I mention above, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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Console Review: Nintendo Switch

Posted in nintendo, technologies, video gaming by commorancy on August 17, 2017

Back in April, I wrote an article entitled Why I’ve Not Yet Bought A Nintendo Switch. It’s now August and I’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a Switch based on a comment I heard about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I hadn’t yet played this game (in part because I was disappointed with the last Zelda installment). However, someone told me that it is effectively Skyrim. That comment piqued my interest. The Elder Scrolls series is one of my two most favorite video game series, the other being Fallout 4. I’ve always liked Zelda, but didn’t want to play it on the Wii U. So, I decided it was time to give the Switch a try (assuming I could find one in stock). After turning the unit on, it became quickly obvious just how limited this tablet really is. However, I am looking forward to playing the Skyrim port on a portable. Let’s explore.

Best Buy

As luck would have it, when I arrived at Best Buy to pick up my pre-ordered copy of Agents of Mayhem for the PS4 (haven’t started playing it yet for reasons that will become obvious), I asked a floor person if they had any Nintendo Switch consoles in stock. To my surprise, they did. I picked one up on the spot, and with it a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I also picked up a few Amiibo that I didn’t have and a Switch Pro Controller in hopes of avoiding the Joy-Con problem. I have heard the Joy-Cons can lose connectivity when operating wireless, dropping their connections mid-gaming. I had experienced this exact problem with the PS3 controller after its release and I definitely do not wish to revisit that problem on the Switch. Even the Best Buy floor representative confirmed the wireless disconnection problem with his own personal Switch.

Note, I also decided to picked up the Switch at this time because it’s still well before the holiday season when finding things in stock gets crazy impossible. I’m planning on playing Skyrim and wanted to have a Switch before Skyrim releases during the holidays (no release date as of this article). I would also like to see Bethesda port Fallout 4 over, but that’s probably a pipe dream. Let’s get right into the meat of this review.

Tablet Weight and Size

Starting with size, the one thing that I immediately noticed upon opening the box is how small this tablet actually is. My NVIDIA Shield, my iPad and my Galaxy Tab S are all actually much bigger than the Switch. Even the iPad mini is bigger than the Switch. Let’s just say that its much smaller than I had expected. In a portable, I guess that’s okay. Of course, after attaching the Joy-Cons, the tablet becomes much longer. As for setting it up, the tablet setup was easy and fast, unlike the Wii U which seemed overly complicated. The slowest part was setting up a Nintendo account (see below).

The weight of the tablet is average, not too light and not too heavy. After you attach the Joy-Cons, the weight becomes more substantial. I’ll probably leave the Joy-Cons attached most of the time because the Switch Pro Controller works spectacularly well even though it costs ~$70. Anyway, the screen is smaller than I expected, but it is still readable. However, the screen controls inside Breath of the Wild are far too small. In fact, this tabsole suffers from the same exact problem as did the PS Vita. The screen resolution is so high and the icons are drawn so small that it can be difficult to touch or read some of the text on the tablet screen. When played on a TV, this isn’t a problem. Though, the tablet screen is bigger than the PS Vita and the play area is quite nice, the tiny icon problem remains. Nintendo can fix this issue in later games, but for Breath of the Wild, it suffers a bit from the tiny icons when playing on the tablet screen.

Graphics and Game Performance

After playing Breath of the Wild for just 15 minutes, it is quite obvious. This tabsole is workhorse fully capable of producing solid frame rates on both the tablet display and through the dock on a large screen TV. In fact, the ability to switch back and forth between the tablet display and the TV display is so seamless, it just works without thought. Simply slide the tablet into the dock and it’s on the TV. Hooking the dock up to the TV was a cinch.

What accessories does the Switch support?

  • microSDXC and microSDHC cards
  • 32 GB built in tablet memory
  • card slot for games (they’re card based)
  • Amiibo support (both on the controller and on the tablet)

Interestingly, there are tablety features missing such as:

  • No cameras (rear or front)
  • No microphone
  • No stylus (interesting because the 3DS was all about the stylus)

However, the Joy-Cons have a unique slide attach system. This means that in the future such devices as microphones and cameras may become available as slide-on accessories. It is unknown if the slide-on accessories can be stacked. Hopefully, Nintendo did design the slide-on accessories to be stackable. Even if they aren’t stackable, you can still use the Joy-Cons wirelessly when other accessories are connected.

Joy-Cons

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss these controllers. These controllers (light gray – right, blue/red – top) slide onto the left and right side of the tablet (or the left and right side of the adapter). They’re nice enough and have a good joystick feel, but overall they’re only just okay. The buttons are too small for my liking. When you take the Joy-Cons off and attempt to use them separately or attached to the Joy-Con controller adapter (pictured right), they still don’t improve much. The real improvement is in using the Switch Pro Controller (pictured below). Interestingly, in addition to the Joy-Con adapter, there are two slide-ons included for each Joy-Con that attaches a wrist strap. I guess because of the Wii and people breaking things by throwing them at the TV, Nintendo has learned its lesson. Needless to say, these two wrist strap attachments do provide the Joy-Cons with a more polished, finished look and feel when attached. Interestingly, Nintendo did not include simple rounded end closures for the sides of the tablet itself to make the tablet also look finished when the Joy-Cons are detached. The unfinished tablet side ends just hang out to collect dust and dirt.

Switch as a Tablet

In this day and age with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Apple’s ever larger and larger iPad versions, coupled with the iOS or Android, these modern tablets are both functional as productivity and browsing devices, but they can also be used for high intensity gaming… with controllers even. Clearly, only Apple tablets support iOS. However, many many tablets support Android. In fact, Android is likely to become the operating system of choice on tablets, far and above iOS or Windows in deployments. Why? Because it’s open source, it’s designed to work with tablets, it performs well and it’s well supported. It also means that there’s a crap ton of applications already available on this platform.

Unfortunately, here is where the Nintendo Switch completely falls down. Nintendo has opted to use its own proprietary operating system to drive the Switch. This has the obvious downside of not running any existing apps or games. This means that as a Switch owner, you are entirely at the mercy of Nintendo to provide every app you could ever want. And herein likes the biggest problem.

While the games run like a champ, the Switch cannot become a useful tablet itself because it does not benefit from inheriting existing games or apps from Android. This is entirely the problem with the Switch in a nutshell. When you power the Switch on, you’ll quickly notice that there are a very very limited number of games in the Nintendo eShop. In fact, there are so few, it’s probably not worth considering the Switch as anything other than a Nintendo gaming system.

Switch as a Game Console

Unlike the Wii U that offered a dual display (the Gamepad touch screen in addition to TV screen), the Switch can only display on the TV or the tablet one screen at a time. When docked, the tablet display is covered and disabled. With the Wii U, you could use the Gamepad screen for maps or inventory or other useful drag and drop features. With the Switch, that’s not possible. That Nintendo has dropped the two screen idea entirely is a bit unusual. I did like being able to perform certain gaming tasks (i.e., rearranging the inventory) on the second screen. Yes, it was of limited use, but having the second screen for certain gaming tasks made a lot of sense.

Nintendo never learns

By now, you would have thought that Nintendo would have learned its lesson from failure of the Wii U. Yet, here we are… back in the same boat as the Wii U. This means that, yes, it’s a tablet but, no, you cannot use it for anything other than gaming. Nintendo, if you’re planning to design a device like this, you also need to understand the bigger picture. This is a tablet. As a tablet, in addition to gaming, it should be able to run standard apps that are found on both Android and iOS. Unfortunately, there is nothing available (not yet anyway). In fact, the Switch is currently missing the most basic of apps such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a web browser or any other social networking app. While the OS may support sharing some content to some of these services, that’s as far as it goes. You cannot use the tablet as a general purpose device. Such a shame as this means that you will have to carry the Switch around with another tablet or device.

In fact, as a Nintendo device, it doesn’t yet even support Miiverse, not that that’s a big loss. It also doesn’t currently support StreetPass (and may never). That’s a bit odd for a portable gaming device produced by Nintendo. You would think that Nintendo could at least support its own social platforms out of the gate.

Nintendo Login

The bizarre choice to require a Nintendo website ID instead of the Nintendo Network ID to log into the eShop is completely unexpected. Like the Nintendo 3DS, I fully expected to type in my NNID login and password and be on my way. Nope, I had to run over and create a brand new login ID through the web site, then link it to my NNID, then use that new login and password to have the Switch login. Bizarre. Nintendo seems to make these arbitrary and haphazard changes with each new console iteration. I’m not yet even sure what benefit jumping through this hoop actually provides. Though, once you log into the Nintendo Web portal, you can link in your Facebook and Twitter accounts. So, perhaps it’s a way to link your social networks? *shrug*

The one thing that irks me is that you must type in your Nintendo Login password each time you want to enter the Nintendo eShop. Why it can’t remember your password for even a few minutes is frustrating. Better, give me the option of saving my password on the console so I don’t have to type it each time. If you want to add a security feature against accidental purchases, require a separate four (4) digit pin code which must be typed before each purchase. Typing in four (4) numbers is far easier than typing in a long password string. Figure it out Nintendo.

Nintendo Online

With the introduction of the Switch, Nintendo has created (or will create) an online service. This service, I’m guessing, is to be similar to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. I’m assuming it will offer multiplayer gaming and other perks, but we’ll have to wait and see what it intends to provide. It doesn’t officially launch until 2018 and will sport a $19.99 a year price tag (though you can pay monthly). Whether or not that’s the final price tag remains to be seen. Considering that both PSN and Xbox Live are well more costly than that, I’d fully expect Nintendo to raise the price of this online service in short order. After all, it’s not inexpensive to build and maintain services in AWS or Google Cloud or even in your own data center.

Overall

The Switch is definitely great at gaming. However, because Nintendo has chosen for the Switch not to be a general purpose tablet or run an operating system with a boatload of existing software (i.e., Android), it will only ever be a single purpose gaming tablet. Personally, I think that’s a huge mistake on Nintendo’s part. Nintendo is gambling an awful lot on this limited tablet design. I personally believe this gamble will not pay off for Nintendo and may leave the Switch as dead as the Wii U. Thanks for thinking ahead there Nintendo. For playing Nintendo game franchises (Mario, Zelda, Pikmin, Pokemon, Splatoon, Metroid and so on), the Switch will do fine. Barring the upcoming Bethesda port of Skyrim to the Switch, I can’t foresee much in the way of non-Nintendo franchises or other blockbusters being developed or ported. In fact, Nintendo probably paid Bethesda a boatload to get Skyrim ported. However, I wouldn’t expect third party ports to continue much into the future. Nintendo will, once again, be forced to give up on that idea of wooing AAA titles to the Switch … which will ultimately limit the platform to Nintendo properties (the entire reason the Wii U failed).

The Switch will become just like the Wii U, the third most popular game console. It will sell to those parents who trust the family friendly nature of Nintendo’s games. However, for adult gaming or using this tablet as a replacement for the iPad, nope. It has a nice enough hardware design, but it just has too many shortcomings to be the end-all of tablets. Because it does not support general purpose tablet use, a parent cannot justify it as an educational tool or even a browsing tool, unlike an iPad or Samsung tablet at around the same price point. Sure, it supports Nintendo’s game franchises, but is that enough? No.

Personally, the Switch is just a little too weighty (and way too lacking of general tablet features) to carry it around all of the time. Instead, I’ll use it at home like a console when docked or use it as a portable around the house when I do laundry and such. If it had Android, could access to the Google Play store, had access to an existing library of tablet games, supported a browser and included other general purpose computing features, I could much more easily justify carrying it with me all of the time. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen with this version of the Switch. Perhaps Nintendo can make this right with an OS update, but certain things cannot be solved in software (i.e., lack of a camera or microphone). The lack of a microphone will seriously hinder multiplayer usage.

The final takeaway is, don’t go buy a Switch expecting anything more from this tablet than playing Nintendo game franchises. For the price of the Switch as a tablet, it’s way under-designed.



Hardware Build
: 5 Stars
Hardware Features: 4 Stars (missing camera and microphone)
Software / OS: 1.5 Stars
Joy-Cons: 3 Stars
Pro Controller: 4 Stars
Overall: 3 Stars

Agree or disagree with this review? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Nintendo Switch.

 

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For whom does the bell toll? Microsoft’s Xbox.

Posted in botch, business, gaming, microsoft, xbox by commorancy on March 27, 2016

xbox-1-logoIn case you haven’t been reading recent news, here’s an article that might wake you up… especially if you happen to be an Xbox platform fanboy. What is this alleged article? Microsoft has stated it will merge the PC and Xbox platforms into a single unified platform, ending the sale of dedicated console hardware. Let’s explore.

Xbox and Xbox 360

When the original Xbox arrived in 2001, it received lots of fanfare. The console market now had a competitor against the PlayStation 2. The PS2 had released only one year earlier in 2000. Though, the Sega Dreamcast had promise, Sega pulled the plug in 2000 citing lots of reasons including bad sales, competition and poor platform reception. The Xbox’s controller, architecture and speed quickly ended up competing with the PlayStation 2.

A few years later, we went through the second iteration of this console war when both Sony and Microsoft released the PS3 and the Xbox 360, respectively and near simultaneously. Once again, we had our next generation console in our hands and we gamers were happily playing with better graphics and sound quality.

The Xbox 360 took the lead in the console market over Sony’s PS3, but only by slim margins. Though, the XBox 360 managed to stay one step ahead through out the lifespan of both consoles.

Xbox One and Ps4

Unfortunately, Microsoft would not be able to maintain its fleeting lead it had won with the Xbox 360 with its blundering Xbox One E3 announcement in 2013. Here’s what they had wanted to do:

This announcement in 2013 would set the tone for all things to come including the next iteration of the Xbox platform. Within a week of their E3 announcement, after facing Sony’s harsh rebuttal at E3, Microsoft reversed all of its DRM and privacy invasion strategies after the gamers clearly spoke with their wallet, PS4 orders surged and people cancelled their Xbox One orders in droves. It’s clear, this blunder was Xbox’s first death knell and set in motion many future problems to come for the Xbox. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor the Xbox has been able to recover from this blunder.

Elite Console and Controller

XboxOneEliteController-smImmediately prior to this Windows platform integration announcement, Microsoft had just released the Elite Console and Elite Controller. This controller being a much more costly update to its existing hardware ($15o vs $60). This console and especially the controller is Microsoft’s nod to a more professional gamer. That is, a nod to those gamers who want to play games using higher quality contollers, button remapping, changeable controller features, more inputs and faster consoles. I’ll tell you what, though. The Elite Controller is actually quite nice, but very very pricey. Yes, some of us do want these advanced features from our systems. However, it’s entirely disingenuous for Xbox to release the Elite controller and system only to see Microsoft announce the death of future hardware systems just a few months later. Really, what does this say to would-be gamers about Microsoft’s commitment to the gaming market?

To me, this says that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in Redmond. On the one hand, you have the Xbox engineering team trying to drum up new gaming interest by releasing high quality experiences for the gamer. On the other, Microsoft itself is trying to reduce costs by getting rid of costly hardware projects it deems a loss. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean good things for Microsoft as a whole. This ultimately means that the whole company is fractured internally and doesn’t have a proper focus on its products or its markets. Instead, it is making rash decisions without thinking through the long term ramifications of those decisions. A death knell.

Microsoft’s confusion

With this announcement of the integration of Xbox with Windows, Microsoft has likewise announced that it also intends (see article) to stop making future hardware and will instead focus on the Xbox platform as a subcomponent of Windows. Just like Windows Media Center, it will become an add-on to Windows. You might think that this is a great idea, but it isn’t. Let’s understand why.

Windows itself already offers developers a solid gaming development environment to produce native games on Windows. Most AAA game titles are made not only for consoles, but also for Windows and sometimes even Mac. The question is, would that spell the death of the Xbox platform? Yes. The reason the Xbox platform exists is as a gaming hardware platform independent of Windows. It does not exist for Netflix, Amazon or for any other non-gaming entertainment. Sure, you can play movies and music on the Xbox, but that’s not the platform’s intended purpose. Microsoft is seriously confused over the reason the Xbox platform exists and why it continues to exist. This confusion spells yet another death knell. Basically, if Microsoft thinks that the non-gaming aspects of the Xbox will survive once in Windows, it won’t. You can already use native Windows apps to get access to all of the services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon… and the native apps are usually better.

The Death of the Xbox

Because Windows is already a solid gaming platform in its own right (in addition to being an entertainment platform), integrating a second gaming environment into Windows means that only one of these gaming platforms will survive the transition. Game developers will also only choose one platform to develop. Assuming status quo for the Xbox platform, the Xbox will be the clear loser. It’s simple to understand why: high priced licensing fees. It costs developers substantial amounts of cash to license and sell games branded with the Xbox moniker. It costs far far less to develop games under Windows directly. Unless Microsoft substantially changes their Xbox licensing model, this platform is entirely dead for gaming. Game developers won’t be willing to pay the excessive licensing fees on top of producing the game twice (Xbox and Windows) for the same hardware platform. Why would any game developer produce the same game twice that is destined for the same platform? They wouldn’t. A death knell.

So, what does this mean for gaming? PC gamers win a feather in their cap. Xbox gamers lose a platform entirely. Once games stop being produced for the Xbox platform, and they will stop, the only thing left to use the Xbox platform for is Netflix, other media activities and already purchased digital content. As I said above, you can already crack open Chrome or Firefox and do video streaming and music playing better. So, the answer, there will be nothing left to use the Xbox platform for except for legacy digital content that you may have purchased on an Xbox One/360… assuming that content even remains compatible after the Windows PC migration. Another death knell.

Digital Content

So, what does this mean for already purchased digital content? It means that you better hold onto your working Xbox One and Xbox 360 if you want to continue to use this content. Though, Microsoft may eventually force users to move to the Windows integrated platform and sunset the use of Xbox hardware entirely (and cut it off from the Xbox Live service).

This means that, at some point, you may no longer be able to download your digital content to your Xbox One and you may be forced to buy a PC. Depending on how Xbox One’s content activation system works, it may even prevent you from using the digital content you’ve already downloaded depending entirely upon how far and deep that Microsoft takes it.

Of course, this is still years off yet. But, once that time arrives, your Xbox One and 360 may become paperweights. A death knell.

Why this change?

From Microsoft’s perspective, I can understand the value and cost savings that integration (and lack of hardware) brings. No longer does Microsoft have to design, build and sell hardware platforms, no longer do they have to compete with Sony, no longer do they have to support this finicky hardware (a highly expensive ongoing investment). This means they can reduce their costs for all of the above. Instead, they can push the hardware costs back onto PC manufacturers to support their new Xbox platform.

Unfortunately, expecting PC manufacturers to support the Xbox is a pipe dream fantasy. There are far too many PC manufacturers who don’t follow the rules 100%. Instead, they get about 90% there and call the system done. This means that instead of having a fully 100% reliable Xbox platform, you’ll end up with a crashing behemoth of a system that, once again, barely works. The clear benefit to designing exclusive hardware is to achieve reliability by design. Leaving it to third parties to provide that hardware support means that some PC manufacturers will flat out not support the Xbox platform and those that do will charge a hefty premium. This ultimately means that buying a PC that properly supports the Xbox platform will likely mean a significantly higher cost than older far less expensive dedicated gaming console hardware. Not to mention, the clunky and ugly tower and desktop shapes of PC manufacturers which can no longer be used as a set top box.

This means that not only will the PC-based Xbox experience falter badly, you’re likely looking at 2x, 3x or more the price of today’s Xbox One to invest in a compatible PC-based Xbox platform. This puts this platform so far out of the price range of console gamers, this is yet another death knell for the Xbox. I won’t even get into the peripheral issues. Okay, I will a little. If Microsoft stops the hardware entirely, they’re likely to stop the controllers and leave that also up to third parties.

We all know how well PC controllers work with many games. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They are usually not wireless and when they are, they are chock full of wireless issues. The whole reason the Xbox One works well is because of the wireless controller and its close integration with the hardware.

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

Ultimately, Microsoft is throwing away all of their hard earned gamer loyalty. They are effectively closing the Xbox and throwing away the key. What this ultimately says is that Microsoft has no long term commitment to the gaming market, the console market or the gamers. What was formerly the green glory will fade into Microsoft’s Windows obscurity.

Overall, this is the worst of all possible fates that could befall the Xbox. A console is not a console without hardware. We all know how well gaming platforms work when they offer dedicated hardware. We also know how well they don’t work when relying on third parties. Think Steam. Perhaps Microsoft is deluded enough to think that Steam is the model of the future? I can tell you that Steam isn’t it. Steam works, but for limited purposes. Effectively, Steam is the app store for gaming. Since most app stores don’t focus on gaming, it was inevitable that someone would put one together. Hence, Steam. But, the Xbox platform, regardless of its current strength in gaming will die a quick death once there is no more console hardware to be had. Gamers aren’t likely to spend their efforts chasing down third party hardware platforms that might or might not work. The whole point of a console is that it “just works”. The Steam model simply won’t work for the Xbox unless you’re talking about $2-5 pricepoint games which could run on Facebook. That’s not the class of gaming that Xbox One is today.

We all need hardware to make our lives better, yes even in gaming. You can’t game without hardware. Relying on PC manufacturers to get you what you need isn’t the answer. Worse, Windows native games and developers will kick the Xbox platform to the curb. No developer in their right mind would consider spending extra money to develop on the Xbox platform when they already have Windows development efforts underway. Why would game developers choose to redundantly build their game twice for the same platform? That’s just stupid.

Sony, Nintendo and, yes, Apple

All of the above is actually very good news for the remaining console developers. Once the Xbox platform dies quietly inside of Windows (and it will), Sony only need worry about Nintendo for the foreseeable future. However, with Apple’s recent foray into gaming with the latest Apple TV, this could mean Apple now has an opening into the console market. What I will say about the current Apple TV for 3D gaming is that it’s still very rudimentary. The textures are low res, the environments look like something out of the Nintendo 64 and there’s not a speck of realism to be found… yet. However, Apple can up the ante a lot in the next Apple TV console iteration. Assuming they wedge in a much higher end GPU and a lot more RAM into the Apple TV, they could easily match the specs of the Nintendo Wii U, but perhaps not yet approach the PS4… it will take quite a bit more effort by Apple to match Sony. For Apple, the door for the console market is quite clearly open. For Microsoft, the door is quickly closing.

Yes folks, the Xbox is officially a dead platform. With this integration announcement, this is the Xbox’s final death knell.

If you are considering the purchase of a new gaming console, you should steer clear of the Xbox One unless you really enjoy buying into dead gaming platforms.

 

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