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Sitting here and watching March Madness really makes me irritated with the fact that there's no NCAA basketball games anymore.  Sure, I'm aware that maybe the sales weren't all that stellar in relation to their professional counterparts, but I find it quite a shame that such a major sport is no longer represented in a video game.   

People take days off of work to watch the first round of the NCAA tournament and office brackets, pools are one of the main topics of conversation at this time of year and people call into sports talk radio stations to talk about their brackets and upsets.

All that really makes me want to do is fire up the 360 and play some college basketball but, alas, I have to play a quality game that is almost 4 years old in College Hoops 2K8!

Seriously, is the NCAA basketball license that expensive?

Yes, EA continued to make college games after 2K decided not to renew the license, but let's be honest here, EA's basketball games aren't the quality of 2K's.  While EA made some presentation strides with March Madness 10,  I think it's safe to say that 2K still owns the basketball gaming genre and I'm really only calling on them to step up and revive the College Hoops series.

College Hoops 2K8 still provides a decent basketball experience if you take the time and download current rosters and slider sets.  However, given the fact that this is 2011 and the March Madness is is popular as it ever was and is the most accessible as it's ever been with online streaming and phone apps, I want a new college basketball game.  

Hopefully that will happen again one day.  Until then, it's back to College Hoops 2K8 for the tourney.   And speaking of rosters and sliders,  take a look at raiderfan247365's rosters and 500bloc's slider set on OS to get your March Madness fix.  It's pretty much the best we're gonna get nowadays.

 

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It figures.  Just when I recently wrote an article pointing out how I felt EA Sports was turning the corner on feature-laden sports releases in their games (HERE), EA Sports decides to drop two steaming stink-bombs at the feet of sports gamers.

But, we shall review. The first bad news came last month in the form of EA forcing 2nd hand game owners to shell out $10 to open up many of the features that came standard on the disc of the original game owner.  My thoughts on that ill-concieved move can be found HERE.  I hoped at the time that EA had gotten all of their high-level idiocy out of the way for a while.

Clearly, I underestimated the level of foolishness at dear EA.

Within the past week, EA's Phil Frazier was tasked with delivering the bad (read: idiotic) news, this time specifically to the Madden faithful.  The full text of his blog can be found HERE, but let me quote the part I shall focus on.

From Phil Frazier:

"Last year we delivered Online Franchise and while it was received very well by community and press, the usage was among the lowest for any of our gameplay modes. What this said to us was that Franchise mode as whole needed more than just a new access point, it needed a complete refresh. As most of you know, Franchise mode debuted in Madden NFL 99 on PlayStation, and since then, we’ve been adding on layers and layers of code each year to make it the most authentic experience possible. As console technology has evolved, it’s become increasingly more difficult to evolve the mode in-kind, since we are handcuffed by the limitations of the code from so many years in the past. To re-write Franchise mode to take full advantage of the PS3 and Xbox 360 would take well over a year to do, which is why we’ve taken the approach we have up until now. With that in mind, we made the decision to focus this year’s development on making the core areas of Madden NFL better, namely the AI, animations, playcall, and online play..." (end quote)

Wow.  Lots to digest there.

Lets take it part by part.  First of all, delivering something, and delivering something of quality is two different things entirely.  Last year, EA Sports delivered a half-assed, depth-deprived attempt at online franchise.  The mode had no salary cap (kinda huge), no free agency process, no "Extra Point" show (like offline franchise has), and very little of the depth that offline franchise had as well.  The online franchise feature, aside from the iphone app that came out well after the release of the actual game, was inferior to nearly every 2K Sports game with online franchise that has been released in the current system cycle (i.e. since 2006).

Okay, live and learn...but improve!  And that's precisely what Madden 11 is not doing with online franchise.  Basically, EA Sports is not touching online franchise mode (or Superstar mode, for that matter) that were both very flawed in Madden 10.   I also find it offensive that they cite usage stats as a reason for leaving the online franchise mode "untouched" (read: still with all of its flaws and missing features).   This just in, EA, perhaps if online franchise wasn't such a hot-mess to begin with, people would have focused on it more and played it more.  Lets face it, for better or worse, you never hear 2K Sports cite "usage stats" to keep an online mode crappy and untouched year to year.   I find it laughable that EA turns the blame back at the fans ...for their own game's lack of detail in a particular area.  Wouldn't more people have played a BETTER online franchise mode?

"Sorry folks, your usage number wasn't what we wanted.  We'll leave the game crappy in that area.  Carry on."

But that wasn't the only message.  Later in the blog, Phil Frazier went on to discuss how "Gameplanning" and things like 3 on 3 co-op play saw most of the developer attention this year.   Seriously? 3 on 3 co-op play?  Can someone please find me even find me 10 Madden football repeat-buyers who have coveted a 3 on 3 co-op play over full featured modern online franchise?  None of the Madden players I know is that elated that they can finally play QB while their buddy runs around as a receiver and catches the ball.  Sure, there might be some fun there, but in most cases, us Madden folks would rather beat the snot out of our buddy with him controlling one team and us controlling another.  I can only pray that EA releases its "online usage stats" on this "great new mode" once Madden 11 ships.  Here's a wager.  FAR less people will play online co-op than did Madden 10 online franchise.

Why?

Because very few Madden fans EVER ask for co-op in any Madden wish-list. (Yet, how many ask for full featured online franchise.)

Later in that article, Phil went on to sing the virtues of the new GamePlan feature (also absent from online franchise, FYI).  Yes, it could be cool setting up individual game-plans for various opponents, but how many Madden vets would rather just go into each game with their full arsenal of plays to begin with (i.e. like all other years of Madden.)  I fail to see how deliberately limiting a playbook is such a wonderful hardcore feature.  Also, who says your AI coach, who prompts you to run plays in that particular mode, will realize things we all know as veteran players.  For instance, will the AI coach realize that about 80% of the run plays in the Madden are terrible, slow to develop, and prone to lose yards.  Will the AI playcaller (or play-suggester) realize that many of the stock Madden pass plays put too many receivers bunched in the same area of the field, causing high interception probability on most of the routes?

Yeah, give me ALL my plays.  Let me decide that.  However, this was the second of the "big features" that took priority over untouched online franchise.

But wait, it gets worse:
At the end of the blog, Phil Frazier goes on to say that EA plans to "build online franchise and superstar mode from the ground up" in Madden 12.  Those of us who have lived through previous "From the ground up" declarations from EA know exactly what that means.  It means that we can expect very little in the way of finished product for several years.   I recall how NBA Live was "built from the ground up" starting about 4 years ago.  It is currently being built from the ground up again after taking it on the sales chin from NBA 2K10 last year.

(You know, NBA 2K10, that product that has full-featured, modern online franchise, and has for several years now...while NBA Live...still has no online franchise whatsoever.)

Yeah.  That.

But, it sure is funny.  I mean, after all, EA's CEO recently told everybody how the EA Online Pass (read: gouging second hand owners of an EA disc at $10 a pop) would mean way more premium content and improved experiences for the new game buyer.  I guess the EA Tiburon Madden team must have missed that memo, at least as it pertains to improving online franchise and superstar modes in Madden 11. Funny that.

Scott Hemphill
Consolesports.net

 

 

 

 

 

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We at Consolesports.net play more games than just sports sims.  That's why we decided to create this section several months ago.  However, due to the fact that my one year old toddler (with her newfound walking/running ability) is in full-swing lately, I haven't had much time to actually get some thoughts up here on what's going on in the non-sports world of console gaming.

Until now.

2010 is showing itself to be a banner year for quality games accross the board.  Look at what we've had just 5 months in.  We have Red Dead Redemption, an instant classic of epic proportions.  We have Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is probably the best platformer ever made by Nintendo.  We have Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which is a top notch game, which has everything COD:MW2 has, but with more depth and the addition of driveable vehicles.  Bioshock 2 was fantastic, and had a fresh take on the whole Rapture setting with life as a "Big Daddy".  On the PS3 we have God of War III and it is a world-beater of an action game.  Mass Effect 2 hit us in January. I know I was particularly fond of Aliens Vs. Predator as well.  Capcom recently released Super Street Fighter IV, it's critically acclaimed magnum opus in next gen fighting.  Then, to top it all off, just from the beta of Halo: Reach multiplayer, (which had about 2.4 million players sign in to give it a spin) is shaping up to be something VERY special.   And hell, I haven't even mentioned the high quality of the sports games that have released so far this year.

And we are only five months into 2010.

FIVE MONTHS, people!

Still, to hear "industry analsysts" talk about how "slow" April 2010 sales were, you'd think we'd have a gaming-industry financial-meltdown underway.  What people don't seem to get is that gamers are selective, and always have been.  Many of us, knowing a huge game or big release is coming, will selectively pass on "good" titles that may come out during the wait.  Money is not an infinitely available commodity for most of us (sadly!).  Plus, lets face it, not all games are AAA level.  Suffice it to say, however, that 2010 is really showing itself to be a banner year in terms of game quality.  Frankly, I can't remember a time in console gaming history when there were so many non-sports releases THIS good.

But why is that?

Well, for one thing, we are almost five years into this generation of gaming.  The XBOX 360 will celebrate its 5th birthday this November, and PS3 and Wii will be celebrating their fourth.  Developers now have a very firm handle on the hardware and their in-house toolsets for creating games.  They are now able to focus on gaming depth and content moreso than in previous years, when they were still figuring out what could be done on the hardware (and how to do it.)  Right now, both the XBOX 360 and the PS3 are hitting a nice stride.  Conversely, on the Wii, Nintendo corporate is realizing that relying on third party devs for their gimmicky hardware isn't the ticket, so now they are pushing out the occasionally brilliant first-party wares, such as  New Super Mario Bros. 2, Metroid M, and Super Mario Galaxy 2, with a new "Zelda" rumored to be out before Christmas.

All in all, it is a good time to be a gamer.

But I think we have another factor to thank for this glut of game quality reaching our televisions.

We actually need to give kudos to The Recession!

Sounds awful, eh?  Sure it does!  But hear me out.  What normally happens in the fourth or fifth years of a console generation's life-cycle?  Developers get pulled off of projects on existing hardware to go design for "generation next" in terms of the upcoming new system hardware releases.  By years four and five, consoles are generally just beginning their "farewell tours" with rehashed releases and middling quality games.  We remember those days.  Remember those PS2 titles and XBOX games in their fourth or fifth year of the console cycle?  No? You don't remember those games?  EXACTLY! 

I also have no doubt, were it not for Mr. Recession rearing his ugly head, we'd be talking about the next XBOX and maybe even the "PS4" already.  But as it stands now, have a gander at the industry trade mags and the hobbiest mags at your local book store.  What do you see about "gaming generation next"?

Nothing.

At best, you'll read about upcoming peripherals for the existing systems, such as Microsoft's "Project Natal", or Sony's "Move" controller.  However, you probably won't read about new systems.  We are seeing a "hardware generation freeze" on the current generation of systems, with the recession being the root cause.  While this may be viewed as problematic for hardware makers to a degree, software quality is seeing a huge "up-tick".  Teams of devs are working with known, familiar hardware and are really honing their craft with that existing hardware.  Depth, storytelling, features, and online play are driving game quality to levels we haven't seen as gamers.  The recession of the past two years has caused what seems to be a "perfect storm" as it pertains to software quality.

Had this recession not happened, I contend we might be waiting some time to play a slightly enhanced version of "Red Dead Redemption", "Biosock 2" and "Halo: Reach" on new Microsoft hardware, since such AAA titles would have been coerced by MS or Sony to be made available on their new hardware as an incentive to early adopters.  But instead of that "industry standard 4 to 5 year refresh rate on system hardware" we have seen since the 80s, we are instead seeing something totally different. We are witnessing the quality of the games, and not the newness of the hardware, take center stage.

That is a big win for us gamers, in my opinion.

It is simply not profitable to release any expensive hardware in the current state of the recessed world economy, so smart money is now being spent on game quality for THIS generation of hardware.  Subsequently, the sheer quality of that now-intense competition is also pushing developers to better and better things.

So, thank you, Mr. Recession.  We didn't know about that bright silver lining in your otherwise dark clouds...

Article by Scott Hemphill
Co-founder, senior writer
Consolesports.net

 

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I recently received an XBOX live message from Bmac, a regular reader of my columns.  His comment was about how much he enjoyed my piece about how this years football games are shaping up, but he was surprised that I didn't mention anything about EA's very controversial "EA Online Pass" announcement.  It bears explaining that when I wrote that article, I had finished it several days before the announcement, and hadn't got around to posting it.  So the content of that article was written at a time before this major announcement, even though its posting came shortly after.

However, I will use this article to give my thoughts on the EA Online Pass.

Quite simply, I think it is a terrible decision for both EA and any other game publishers that might do the same thing.  However, before I get into the reasons why, lets review what the EA Online Pass really is for those who don't truly grasp what is going on.  Basically, anybody who buys a new EA game off the shelf will get the "Online Pass" for that specific game at no additional charge.  The pass opens up things like "Online Franchise" and all the other modes of play that we have already come to expect from our sports games.  That "code" that comes with the game will enable one XBOX 360 with a online pass registered profile to play with all of the features of the game.  To be honest, the "EA Online Pass" changes very little for the person who buys all their games new.  It will just require code input.

However, what it means for those who buy that same game used is that they will have to pay a set fee to enable those same modes of play on the used disc.  (The number being kicked around per game is $10) Why is this being done? Obviously, revenue is the big thing, but EA is particularly jealous of the used market profits being made off of chains like Gamestop who deal in used games.  EA wants a piece of that pie.

Gamestop will have to respond in kind by lowering it's pricing on the used EA games to compensate for that fact that features will be locked out and the user will have to pay $10 additional dollars if they want all those features "re-enabled".   I have to admit, I don't feel too bad for Gamestop.  Gamestop has been HEAVILY gouging customers in the used market for far too long.  Taking in relatively new used games for $20 and reselling for $54 has always been preposterous at best.  Gamestop is going to have to adjust for a $10 per game hit.  (My guess, Gamestop will be selling the games for $15 under the new game pricing instead of the usual $5.)  Again, I shed no tears for Gamestop's dip in profit margin.

But unfortunately the new EA Online Pass doesn't just hurt Gamestop.  Any gamer who wants to sell (or give) one of his used games to a friend will be effected.  The new user of the disc will have to buy his own $10 EA Pass to re-enable the features on the disc.  The whole idea is idiotic.

Some may disagree, but this is yet another self-induced PR nightmare from a company famous for self-induced PR nightmares.  Even the corporate spin on the announcement seemed like a bad joke even as written by EA's professional PR department.  The poor SOBs from EA (most notably the CEO) who were called on by the media to explain the EA Online Pass sounded like cats who just wrongly ate someone's pet canary and had no excuse for doing so.

The spin begins with the idea that EA is losing revenue due to people buying used games.  No, EA was never entitled to used game revenue.  Nor was any publisher.  The game was purchased by an end user who merely wanted to sell it.  If anything, EA is simply jealous of a given revenue stream, but completely not entitled to it.

The idea of locking out core game features on a second hand disc requires a bit of an anlogy for some to grasp where I'm coming from on this.  It is important to note that I am someone who does not share the "anti-corporate" feelign that so many claim during this recession.  Corporations hire.  People need hired.  The market is what it is.  I am a staunch capitalist, and some would say to a fault.  However, I feel the logistics of the EA online pass effect certain liberties of ownership of a legally purchased commodity. The precedent this sets is enormous...and bad.

Let me explain.

Lets say a buddy of mine offers me $5000 for my used 2005 Ford Focus.  I sell the car to him, yet because the keyholder changed hands, Ford is requiring him pay 1/6th of the original purchase price of the car directly to Ford, in order to re-enable the air conditioning, power locks, radio, and trunk latch, which were disabled (by Ford) when I handed him the keys.

Similarly, is an artist entitled to a percentage of the sale of their work if the original buyer of their work opts to sell the same piece of art to another person at a later date?  Hell no.  The artist was paid during the initial sale for the value of the work.  He/she is not entitled to profits from further resale.  However this is the essential crux of what EA is trying to claim.

Sounds like crap.  Smells like crap.  And indeed it is crap.

The very fact that EA feels entitled to a used market revenue stream is quite telling as it pertains to the megalomaniacal history of EA's rather unpopular-with-gamers CEO John Riccitiello.  Riccitiello is countering by indicating that gamers can expect more from their core new game purchase with the Online Pass.  For his sake, he better make sure that extra downloadable content for a given game is free to those who have the Online Pass enabled for that game, or else there will be even more hell to pay from gamers.   Strangely, this was his response to why he felt EA needed to go this route when interviewed on May 11th.

"We think it's a great idea.  We think it will build our business, and we think it's a positive consumer experience.  Invariably, the consumer is getting a boat load more content to experience than they otherwise would."- John Riccitiello

(Note, he doesn't say HOW skimming $10 each off of used sales would somehow give "more content to experience"..)

"We used to literally pull our teams off of a game within four to six weeks pre-ship and they'd go work on something else because the game was done.  our teams are being held in place up through and beyond ship to continue to create content to entertain the consumer with the franchise the like best."
- John Riccitiello

Okay, but what about this deal guarantees that EA still won't do the same thing?  What about this deal guarantees "more content" to the new game buyer?  What are the tangible, measurable deliverables that the customer gets with the advent of the EA Online Pass, other than second hand game owners being $10 poorer in order to enable then locked-out standard features on a game disc that has simply changed hands?

Absolutely nothing.

At the end of the day, this is a huge cash-grab for EA, who is now using the deliberate limiting of features on a software product to invade a revenue stream that it should feel no sense of entitlement to be involved with in the first place.  They've tried this move before with the past two NBA Live games where the updated "daily rosters" were part of the game with the initial registry of the product, but if the game changed hands, the person using the disc would have to pay $10 to re-enable the feature.  However, those same NBA Live games still had no online season/online franchise like their competition has had for the past 5 plus years.  (So much for the idea of this business model somehow equating to more content for the customer, Mr. Riccitiello!)

And, to make matters worse, that other major game publisher who has a PR disaster of a CEO with a PhD. in "Dumbassitude" (Activision CEO Bobby Kotick) allegedly thinks that Riccitiello and EA are onto something good with this horrid idea.

So it looks like both EA and Activision will continue their ugly "race to the bottom" in terms of consumer friendly/consumer concsious game publishing.

But at the end of the day, my used Ford Focus analogy holds, and my re-selling art analogy holds.  The manufacturer/artist is not entitled to profits from a second-hand sale of their work after already taking the revenue from the initial sale. One can only hope that 2K Sports, EA's competitor as it pertains to basketball titles and a few other sports, does not follow this idiotic path.

And when it is all said and done, this EA Online Pass can be thought of as nothing more than a steamy pile of corporate excrement for the consumer.  A bad idea at a bad time from a very bad CEO.   And who knows what this means for online game renter GameFly.

Lets hope we might see some legal challenges to this business practice going forward.

article by Scott Hemphill

 

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