Gaming world update for June: E3 and Origins

Welcome everyone! Our third-week-of-the-month series will be a quick overview of games news, from my own unique perspective. Please note that I am writing from Australia, and from a part-designer-part-educator-part-gamer perspective, and so my take on the games market is likely to be idiosyncratic… which is a polite way of saying that I might miss something, and that these views are those of this particular volunteer and are not any kind of official ALA position. Feel free to add news I’ve missed in the comments or to contact us!

 

Perhaps the biggest news in the gaming world this month has been the release at E3 of information about the PlayStation 4 and XBox One, the two upcoming incarnations of Sony and Microsoft’s game consoles. This month’s update will focus on the news from E3 from a library perspective. [This discussion has been updated in light of a dramatic about-turn in Microsoft’s policies for the XBox One. Updates in dark red.]

Before we get there, though, it’s worth noting that the Origins Game Fair, one of the biggest tabletop gaming conventions in the world, took place this weekend just past. I’ll post the nominees in each category (with winners highlighted in red) before we move onto the discussion of consoles.

Origins Awards nominees and winners

Hall of Fame Game Inductees
Munchkin – Steve Jackson Games
Dominion – Rio Grande Games

Hall of Fame Inductees
Lisa Stevens, Paizo Publishing
Loren Coleman, Catalyst Game Labs

Best Roleplaying Game
Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy RPG Core Rules
– Privateer Press
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Games
– Margaret Weis Productions
Monsterhearts
– Buried Without Ceremony
Nights of the Crusades
– Aetheric Dreams
Primeval RPG
– Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.

Best Roleplaying Supplement
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Civil War Essentials Edition Event Book – Margaret Weis Productions
Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue – Wizards of the Coast
Mutants & Masterminds: Threat Report – Green Ronin
Rimward: The Outer System – Posthuman Studios
The Mythos Dossiers – Cubicle 7 Entertainment

Best Board Game
Hot Rod Creeps – Cryptozoic Entertianment
Kingdom Builder – Queen Games
Lords of Waterdeep – Wizards of the Coast
Mage Knight – WizKids
Mage Wars – Arcane Wonder

Best Collectible Card Games
Card Fight! Vanguard Breaker of Limits – Bushiroad
Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters – Wizards of the Coast
Legend of the 5 Rings: Embers of War – AEG
World of Warcraft: War of the Ancients – Cryptozoic Entertainment
Yu-Gi-Oh! Battlepacks – Konami

Best Traditional Card Game
Doctor Who the Card Game – Cubicle 7 Entertainment/Treefrog Games
Legendary – Upper Deck
Locke & Key – Cryptozoic Entertainment
Penny Arcade: Rumble in R’lyeh – Cryptozoic Entertainment
Smash Up – AEG

Best Family, Party or Children’s Game
Catan Junior – Mayfair Games
Escape: The Curse of the Temple – Queen Games
Love Letter – AEG
Once Upon A Time 3rd Edition – Atlas Games
Quarriors! Dice Building Game – WizKids

Best Gaming Accessory
Castle Panic: The Wizard’s Tower – Fireside Games
Dungeon Tiles: Castle Grimstead – Wizards of the Coast
Metal Steampunk Dice Set – Q Workshop
Pathfinder Battles Miniatures: Rise of the Runelords – WizKids
Pathfinder Serpent’s Skull Dice Set – Q Workshop

Best Miniatures Rules
Dungeon Command: Curse of Undeath – Wizards of the Coast
Heavy Gear Blitz! Perfect Storm: The NuCoal Field Guide – Dream Pod 9
The Battlefield: Miniature Modern Warfare – Bombshell Games/Brent Spivey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Campaign Starter Set – WizKids
WARMACHINE: Colossus – Privateer Press

Best Historical Miniature Figure/Line
Ancient Greeks – Victrix Ltd
Austrian Napoleonic Infantry – Perry Miniatures
Early Imperial Romans – Aventine Miniatures
Early War Polish WWII – Forged In Battle
German BP44 Armored Train – Battlefront Miniatures

Best Historical Board Games
1812: The Invasion of Canada – Academy Games
Andean Abyss – GMT
Clash of Wills – Mayfair Games
Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 Village and Defensive Line Map Expansion – Collins Epic War Games
Samurai Battles – Zvezda

Best Historical Miniature Rules Supplement
Bolt Action: Armies of Germany – Osprey Publishing/Warlord Games
Clash of Empires: Age of Ravens – Great Escape Games
Flames of War: Nuts – Battlefront Miniatures
Hail Caesar Army Lists: Late Antiquity to Early Medieval – Warlord Games
SAGA: Raven’s Shadow – Gripping Beast/Studio Tomahawk

Best Historical Miniature Rules
Brink of Battle: Skirmish Gaming Through the Ages – Strategic Elite
Bolt Action: WWII Wargaming Rules – Osprey Publishing/Warlord Games
Deus Vault – Fireforge Games
Flames of War: Open Fire! – Battlefront Miniatures
Mad Dogs With Guns – Pulp Action Library

Best Miniature Figure Line
Thee Aberration (Carnevale: The Miniature Game)
– Vesper-On Games
Marvel HeroClix: Galactic Guardians – WizKids
Mountain King (Trollbloods Gargantuan) – Privateer Press
Radru-Rashaar (Carnevale: The Miniature Game) – Vesper-On Games
Trontek 29ers Corporation Team – Mantic Games

Best Game-Related Publication
Death’s Heretic – Paizo Publishing, LLC
Battletech: Weapons Free – Catalyst Game Labs
Time Traveled Tales – GAMA
Eighth Day Genesis: A World Building Codex – Alliteration Ink
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep – Engine Publishing

Congratulations to all the winners!

 

Next-gen consoles at E3 – the Electronic Entertainment Expo

E3 is a trade show, but given the billions of dollars in the videogame industry, it’s unsurprisingly huge. It’s focused fairly heavily on the videogame industry – though of course many videogames are bleeding out into reality via ARG (alternative reality game) promotions or subgames, to say nothing of actual economics, and many real-life games are gaining electronic versions or aids to help run them… witness our friendly sponsors, GameTable Online!

Regardless of such (deeply interesting) porosity, E3 is still very heavily focused on traditional PC/console videogames, and this year it saw the official announcements about the next generation of Microsoft’s Xbox, the Xbox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4. (Nintendo’s Wii U, of course, came out last year.) It also saw some brouhaha about the new Android-based indie console, the Ouya. So this month we’ll talk a little about all four console contenders in the light of E3.

(To prevent accusations of fanboyism, let me state upfront that I have enjoyed games on the Wii, PS3 and XBox 360 and have no special preference for any of them.)

 

XBox One

Microsoft’s console is making a hard play for the “living room entertainment centre” option. There has been some mockery of the launch presentation for the frequency with which “TV” was mentioned (as opposed to games), and relatively few exclusive titles. And several commentators have remarked upon the strategy’s apparent failure to take into account the smaller numbers of people with large living rooms to host the device, and the shift in attention from a single large hearth-like screen to multiple smaller screens (laptops, phones, tablets and so on). Regardless of anyone’s take on it, what’s clear is that Microsoft wants to make a play for being a middleman not only for games but for standard viewing fare, and they have made that point heavily.

More concerning for libraries, though, are the price point (USD 500) and the technical concerns that arise from Microsoft’s decision to design into the device a requirement for a Kinect (the stereoscopic camera/microphone device that enables controller-free play) and their approach to digital rights management, which requires an at-least-daily internet connection.

The Kinect is wonderful for libraries in some respects, allowing users to play games without having to learn how to use controllers (or staff having to worry about controllers being damaged or stolen). However, it is an always-on webcam in the library space. That’s fine if the console is not connected to the internet, but with the XBox One you will have to connect at least once a day, or the console loses its ability to play games – meaning that as part of library setup, staff may have to remember to connect the console, do the update, then disconnect it, or else leave an internet-enabled device with a webcam and browser active in the library space. Security settings can manage most of these problems, but you will need to get the IT department on board. [Update: This requirement has been removed! But see below for the tradeoffs.]

This decision to require daily check-ins is Microsoft’s attempt to regulate the post-purchase use of games, particularly of sharing and re-selling used games. It will be possible to transfer games between people – once – but the implications for the right of first sale are chilling. It is hard to see how libraries will be able to offer lending collections of XBox One games under this regime, which of course makes the console itself a much harder sell for gamers who like to try games before they buy. The console is now going back to the old system of requiring the disc in the drive to play the game. No online transfers of ownership (but no artificial caps on them either).

It could go the other way: they could fix this by adapting some of the technology they have already developed. It will apparently be possible to sign into your own Microsoft account on a limited number of other XBoxes and download and play games you own on those machines. This functionality could well be adapted to library lending if they chose – but it doesn’t seem likely, given most publishers’ recent shortsightedness about the role of libraries in sharing ebooks and other electronic media. And in any case, given the size of modern games, this would have to eat heavily into users’ download quotas. The ability to play your game on someone else’s console, and to share the right to download & play the game with other family members, is no longer going to be offered by Microsoft. However, the fact remains that it was possible – as digital downloads of games made obvious in any case – and that this technology could be adapted to library e-lending.

It’s possible this decision will be reversed or workarounds released: Microsoft has come under heavy fire (figuratively speaking!) from XBox-loving military personnel, for whom the regular checkin over the internet is a dealbreaker. Keep an eye out. But for the time being, it looks like XBox One will not be library-friendly. The XBox One is now comparable to the PS4 in terms of library-friendliness.

It’s speculation, but given the timing. it would appear that the outcry against the DRM arrangements by military personnel was a key part of the reason for the change. (On the other hand, that same argument applies even more closely to when this post was originally published…) Microsoft are remaining tight-lipped about their reasons, however.

The other question that affects library collections is that of backward compatibility – whether the new XBox can play games from the previous one. The answer is no, meaning that library users who own the new XBox will not be able to use any existing XBox 360 collections you have.

 

PlayStation 4

Sony’s presentation has been widely reported as being a total contrast to Microsoft’s. Heavily focused on games, with some terrific-looking titles, with no hardcoded regular check-ins, and making a great deal of their outreach to independent game developers, it has had a much warmer reception from the game criticism and design communities. It is also USD100 cheaper, at $400, though that doesn’t include the Kinect-equivalent-ish camera input, the Eye. However, a closer look reveals that there are some key questions still to answer.

While Sony have said that they will not require DRM (digital rights management) like Microsoft’s, they have also indicated that publishers can choose to require some kind of online authentication, and been vague on the details. Sony themselves have indicated that for their games, having the disc in hand will be enough to play, but it’s possible that other publishers will not be so lending-friendly. And of course, if such a mechanism can be enforced by the console, it’s also possible that Sony will change their minds and start attempting to control lending of games.

This means that if you are running a lending collection of PS4 games, you will need to confirm whether each game can be lent before acquiring it (or get your suppliers to guarantee this). However, as far as in-library play goes, the PS4 should be much like the PS3 – a comparison Sony themselves have made.

Like the new XBox, the PS4 will not offer backwards compatibility.

 

Wii U

The Wii U has been out since last year, but unlike its predecessor, the Wii, Nintendo’s new console has had a lacklustre start, selling relatively slowly. Aside from changed economic circumstances, this is largely blamed on an uninteresting launch lineup of games, which mostly failed to display the new controller – which includes a touchscreen allowing for hidden information and asymmetrical play – to its full advantage.

(Hidden information effectively means that one person in the room can do things without that information being available to all the other players… all kinds of fun is enabled by this.)

Nintendo’s E3 presence was reportedly very low-key and very heavily focused on promoting the new games that are coming out for the console, in particular the well-established Nintendo-owned franchises like Mario and Zelda. It may be that sales of the console will pick up as these staple exclusives make the console seem more worthwhile.

The Wii U does offer some backwards compatibility. It can interface with Wii peripherals and play Wii discs directly, and it also has a Virtual Console, which allows you to buy, download and play electronic copies of some games from even older consoles such as the GameCube and Nintendo 64. The Virtual Console is unlikely to support lending, but your collection of Wii games will continue to be useful to Wii U players.

However, in-library play of the U will be problematic due to the specialised controller, which is difficult and expensive to replace (and therefore likely to be a particular target for theft). Securing wireless controllers is possible, but complicated, and the touchscreen in the middle of the controller makes usual methods harder.

 

Ouya

It’s possible you haven’t heard of the Ouya, but it’s a very interesting piece of hardware for libraries.

Based on Android, Ouya was a Kickstarter project (it raised $8.5 million), and the consoles are just shipping to backers now (I’m eagerly awaiting mine); they will be available at retail soon. One of the chief selling points of the Ouya is its low cost: USD100 for a console and a single (wireless) controller. The other is that every game on the console is required to be free to try. Typically this means short demos, sometimes it will mean the free-to-play-(and then we charge you for upgrades and extras) publishing model. Regardless, it is brilliantly suited to in-library use: we can install a ton of games for free and then tailor our purchases based on user feedback about which games they want to play in full.

There are no discs for the Ouya – the default assumption is you will need to have a connection to acquire the games to play on it, though it does also have a USB connection to allow for offline transfers. This means it is possible that most games will work fine offline, but likely that some individual games will require a connection to play – you will need to check this before buying and make sure it is compatible with your network’s security. If you allow such games online, as with the XBox, you’ll also want to investigate ways to lock down the console itself to ensure that people don’t access the wider internet on it, though at least there is no webcam to give you privacy worries.

There is no word about sharing games on the Ouya at this point, but it’s likely that it will operate in a similar way to other Android/mobile platforms – it’s all downloads, and there are no easy mechanisms to lend content. But stay tuned, and see below.

The console itself is tiny, and while it doesn’t have the processing power of the bigger consoles (it’s closer to a very high-end tablet) it does produce HD graphics. It also has a strong focus on empowering people to create their own games. The lower price point combined with this support for user-created content makes it ideal for libraries with a more hands-on, users-as-creators focus; it wouldn’t be out of the question to get a grant to buy several of these and some cheap TVs, and use this as the basis for a game design workshop.

Trivia: The Ouya crew got into a bit of a kerfuffle at E3 – they were not actually at E3 proper, but (like many independent games businesses over the years) instead had rented space in a car park across the road. Reports are that some at E3 didn’t like this and hired a couple of large trucks to park in the spaces in front of them, and then when Ouya hired and moved to the spots in front of the trucks, sent the police over.

 

Other platforms

Of course, consoles are not the only platform for games. There are browser games or (depending on your location and internet speed) cloud gaming; there are Windows/Mac/Linux PCs; there’s the OS-agnostic marketplace-and-DRM client Steam (which is itself on the way to releasing a console); and the hundreds of handheld devices – tablets and phones. There are also tons of DRM-free marketplaces pursuing some very interesting publishing models: the bundles available at Indie Royale and the Humble Store, for instance, are making a wide range of independently published games (and music, and occasionally ebooks) available very affordably, and in the case of the Humble Bundle doing so for charity. We’ll be talking more about the indie bundles shortly.

Each of the above platforms has its own take on copyright and digital rights management. None are particularly focused on facilitating lending.

This pattern should of course be familiar to anyone who has followed the rise of the e-book. Some corporate publishers seem to have developed the idea that every electronic book, or game, or album, or what-have-you that a library lends is a lost sale, rather than an opportunity for the specific creator and the medium in general to kindle interest in the public’s mind.

In the case of most game creators, though, I don’t think this is what’s at work. I think instead we are looking at the product of our own historical indifference to games. People don’t expect games to be available, let alone properly supported, in the library for the simple reason that they have little or no experience of encountering them there.

That this is the case should give us pause. Some of the most innovative work in modern culture is happening in games – yet it has no place in the library? New publishing models are taking shape that essentially ignore us? We need to be at the tables where those conversations are happening ASAP.

More optimistically, this also means that we have an opportunity to reach out to some of these innovative creators and publishers and participate in the shaping of these new publishing models, and that’s an opportunity I am seeking to pursue. If you’re interested in efforts to enable lending/sharing on online platforms like the Ouya, the iOS App stores, Steam, and so on, I’m working on this – drop me a line! My email is euchronic, and that’s at gmail.com.

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