April 8, 2010
Posted: 10:48 AM ET
Fake crops on Farmville - the "free" social game that's become a huge hit on Facebook - cost a British mother some real cash after her 12-year-old son racked up $1,400 in charges on the game.
The Guardian reports that the pre-teen needed only about two weeks to empty his own savings account then start using his mom's credit card.
"When I asked him why he did it he said that they had brought out 'good stuff that I wanted,' " the mother, who asked not to be named, told the newspaper.
Farmville, which last month reported having more than 75 million monthly players, is free to play. But players can spend money on extras, like virtual crops, tools and barns.
Zynga, the company behind Farmville, Mafia Wars and other popular social games, says the games are designed to appeal to a wide cross-section of players, not just the typical young, male video game crowd.
The mother said the son's bills came to 905 British pounds - the equivalent of $1,373.
The British mother, whose hometown was not listed in the story, said she doesn't blame Zynga, Facebook or her credit card company, although she tried to get the money back.
But she said she wished there was extra security to prevent such spending.
"I do think they need to shoulder some responsibility in this business and put systems in place to stop this happening again," she told The Guardian. "The fact that he was using a card in a different name should bring up some sort of security and the online secure payment filter seems to be bypassed for Facebook payments."
She said her son was unable to make mobile phone payments - because his older brother had lost credit buying a ringtone a couple of years earlier.
"We sound terribly technologically unaware don't we?" she said.
April 7, 2010
Posted: 11:24 AM ET
The next three months of game releases are going to be light compared to the first three months of this year. Expect a lot of downloadable content to come out for previous released games, but not as many blockbusters.
There are some big names coming out this spring, though. Mario makes a return as well as Harry Potter, Tiger Woods and Metroid. And there are hints about something that has been nearly 12 years in the making.
April kicks off with "Splinter Cell Conviction" (Ubisoft), as hero Sam Fisher gets some new moves and tricks to make him even sneakier than before.
A new "Mark and Execute" command lets Fisher take down opponents faster, but stealth is still required to make your escape.
"Splinter Cell Conviction" is rated M (blood, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language) and available for the PC, iPhone and Xbox 360 on April 13.
"Monster Hunter Tri" (Capcom) is a RPG game for the Wii in which you battle monsters with huge, oversized weapons, collect loot and then do it again. The Wii controllers make it more than just a button-mashing game and the early release in Japan is doing very well.
"Monster Hunter Tri" is rated T (blood, use of alcohol, violence) and available only on the Wii on April 20.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa kicks off in June, but why wait to see who will hoist the gold trophy. "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa" (Electronic Arts) will let you carry your favorite team to glory and includes all 10 stadiums that will be used in South Africa as well as regional stadiums.
The game is not rated yet, but will be available on the PS3, Xbox 360, PSP and Wii on April 27.
May marks the return of the Prince as "Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands" (Ubisoft) takes us back to the deserts. Our hero is forced to do whatever is necessary to save the kingdom. The Prince gets a partner in this chapter of the saga, but wait until you see at what cost.
"The Forgotten Sands" has a tentative rating of T+, but that rating is not final. The game will be out for the PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii and DS on May 18.
"Modnation Racers" (Sony) has been called a cross between "Mario Kart" and “Little Big Planet." Players can customize their vehicles, the drivers and just about everything else.
If you aren’t feeling creative, there are many pre-made elements to let you dive right into the racing portion. "Modnation Racers" is rated E for everyone and will be out on May 25 for the PS3 and PSP.
June begins with the next installment in the now-classic series in golf games, "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" (Electronic Arts). This version integrates the Ryder Cup into the mix as well as online team play.
Tiger is also sharing his cover art this year with Irish golfer Rory McIlroy to give it more of an international flavor. "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" is rated E and will be out on June 8 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP.
Snake is back and ready to kick tail. "Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker" (Konami) takes us back to the 1970s where the "Soldiers Without Border" group gets its start with Snake in the lead.
Gaming Web sites are already touting this as the PSP Game of the Year, but hold those expectations in check until the final version comes out on June 8.
It is a PSP-exclusive and has a tentative rating of M. There are also reports that Snake may be appearing in other games, so keep your eyes open.
"Metroid: Other M" (Nintendo) lets players switch from 2-D side-scroller to 3-D action-adventure as Samus' past is explored. It is going to be a Wii-exclusive title so expect some unique gameplay using the Wii controllers. "Metroid: Other M" is expected out on June 27 with a T rating.
June will also be the premier of Harry Potter – in Lego form. "LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4" (Warner Bros. Interactive) chronicle the boy wizard’s adventures in "Sorcerer's Stone", "Chamber of Secrets", "Prisoner of Azkaban", and "Goblet of Fire" in blocky, Lego fun.
"LEGO Harry Potter" will be available for the Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, Wii, PC, PS3 and PSP in June (no specific date yet).
Plenty of other games will be filling in the gaps including some movie tie-ins ("Iron Man 2", "Clash of the Titans") and a new Mario game ("Super Mario Galaxy 2") that offers up some new powers for the famous plumber and his faithful dino, Yoshi.
Casting a long shadow this summer is the expected release of "StarCraft II" (Blizzard). They've been working on this title for years and released a closed beta to select gamers for testing. A spokesman for Blizzard said they are on track for a mid-2010 release, so don't be surprised if Terrans, Zerg and Protoss descend on your PC this spring.
What are you looking forward to in the next three months? New titles or DLC for ones you already own? Let us know!
April 2, 2010
Posted: 03:22 PM ET
The baseball season officially starts Sunday night when the Boston Red Sox take on their perennial rivals, the New York Yankees. For gamers, that means the latest incarnations of baseball video games are released. Here's a look at two heavy hitters on the market.
Both try to put you in the game with realistic player movements, authentic ball parks, and lifelike sounds from the seats. Each is licensed with Major League Baseball so you get real players with real stats (always important in baseball) to simulate actual MLB games faithfully.
“The Show” has upgraded the accuracy and variety of animations for players, coaches and fans. Improved logic and presentations provide a wider type of hits, ground balls and even player collisions. Hitting a hard one back through the middle deflects off the pitcher rather than going through him into center field.
“2K10” unveils a new Motion Model, which features hundreds of new signature movements and a totally revamped fielding system. The new animations try to give accurate portrayals of batting stances and pitching deliveries for all players around the league.
Each title allows for different types of game play to suit your mood. Career mode lets you build your own player and guide him through the minors to his big league club. There are manager and franchise modes to allow gamers to take charge of as many aspects of their team as they want.
In an effort to hang on to its title as the #1 selling baseball franchise in history, “The Show” adds new stadiums, new practice drills and customizable music, fan yells and chants. The biggest addition is the ability to call the game if you play as a catcher in career mode, thus providing more control and more realism to the gameplay. Previously, the catcher was only involved if the ball was in play. Now, players can call pitches, locations and plan strategy for the game.
“2K10” is challenging gamers to play their best game ever - and is willing to pay them for it. 2K Sports is offering $1,000,000 to the first player to pitch a perfect game in “2K10” and record it. A couple of provisos: the game has to be played on the PS3 or Xbox 360 and it must be recorded in its entirety either digitally or with a camera pointed at the screen. 2K Sports said they expect someone to do it.
The biggest difference between the two baseball franchises is how the controllers are used to play the game. “The Show” uses meters and buttons to pitch, hit and throw. “2K10” uses the right stick to sling those curveballs or to swing for the fences.
Baserunning controls are also slightly different for the two games. “2K10” wants you to point in a consistent direction for each base (right for 1st, up for 2nd, etc.). “The Show” requires you point to the next base as you are viewing the game, which can cause some delays when the camera angle changes after the ball is hit.
The differences in gameplay are subtle even if the differences in presentation are not, so it may be a matter of preference for which game you want to play.
“MLB 10 The Show” is exclusive to all PlayStation consoles (PS3, PS2, PSP, and PSP Go). “Major League Baseball 2K10” is available on the Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, Nintendo DS and Windows PC.
March 30, 2010
Posted: 04:05 PM ET
Everyone remembers the first time.
Whether it’s the first time you drove a car or the first time you kissed a girl, it was probably important.
That was how it felt at the first East Coast Penny Arcade Expo or as it’s better known, PAX East, which wrapped up Sunday. The annual west-coast gathering of gamers, started in 2004, had become so popular that, finally, it made the jump across the country country.
For gamers, this was an important event - not just because we got to go out with our "geek flags" flying high, but also because we felt the camaraderie and shared love of gaming that we can't always find without an Internet connection.
The Hynes Convention Center in Boston was packed with people carrying gaming PCs, consoles, and even pouches full of dice. No style of gaming or gamer was excluded. Everyone was accepted and most likely, found a ton of people that were into the same type of games.
It was definitely the place where you got to pick your poison. If you were into "Dungeons & Dragons" there was a room for you. If you wanted to play "Magic: The Gathering," not only were there rooms filled with people eagerly shuffling their decks, but games spilled out into the halls.
Retro arcade gaming was represented in full force, taking everyone back to the quarter-hoarding mindset or our youth - or, for younger gamers, of legend.
There were even rooms set up with dozens of PS3s, Xbox 360s, and Nintendo Wiis ready for action. All you needed was a game and the courage to play it in front of other people.
Once you were done getting your butt kicked by a 13 year-old, there were plenty of panels discussing new trends in gaming and the evolution of today’s games.
Actor, blogger and geek superstar Wil Wheaton kicked off the convention with a keynote address about growing up as a gamer and how relationships forged in the crucible of imagination have become some of his strongest friendships.
Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX and creators of the "Penny Arcade" webcomic, took questions from the audience and even showed people how they make a strip.
No gaming topic was overlooked. Panels discussed every aspect of the gaming community, from game development, criticism, marketing and even creation. New games were demoed, "Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands" and "Split Second" were playable and they haven’t been released yet.
This convention was a gamer's dream.
Back in 2004, when Holkins and Krahulik started the convention in Washington, they wanted to bring gamers together. And they've succeeded.
If the reaction in Boston is any indication of the future, Mike Krahulik may get his wish of one day starting a Euro PAX.
March 29, 2010
Posted: 11:44 AM ET
Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.
PAX East, the Penny Arcade Expo, was the geek buzz this weekend as gaming fans flocked to the event in Boston, Massachusetts. Wil Wheaton of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was a guest speaker. Before the convention, I chatted with Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the writers of the Web comic Penny Arcade, who started it all. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
What do you want people to get out of your convention?
Jerry: We want them to derive nourishment. Nourishment for the geek soul and the enduring sensation that they are not alone.
Do you think that geeks today are more accepted than before?
Jerry: Even if it were true, I would resist it. I don’t want to be accepted. I want to retain my street credentials. There are lots of geeks, and certainly geeks can communicate with one another, but ... do we have an openly geek Senator? Is there a Senator that can speak fluently about Daleks? Maybe not.
I would say that Michael and I are being beat up less. It hasn’t completely abated. It still happens on occasion. But I would say that… the beatings are less severe.
What do you think is the difference between a nerd and a geek?
Jerry: I think being a geek is cool… A geek has an ownership of their geek nature.
Jerry: They don't. It’s my hope that my nerds become geeks via a natural process, that they learn that their inherent nature isn’t something they need to feel ashamed of. I feel like 'nerd' is the epithet, and 'geek' is the inside term.
Mike: Is that like what's written on a tombstone?
Jerry: Mhm. Here lies, you know, Nerd.
How do you geek out?
Jerry: We geek out constantly. I'm geeking out right now. I'm talking to CNN.
Mike: I tend to geek out about gadgets. Pretty much any new gadget that comes out, I get excited for, mostly because I like taking them out of the box, peeling that layer of transparent film off of them ... .
Jerry: The thing that I geek out about most is that specialized cultures, just by necessity, need to develop a lot of customized language. Because Penny Arcade is read by a broad spectrum of people, one of the things that we can do is create bits of useful language and I like to track those words and see if they end up with a happy, healthy life. Like, if they make their way into actual conversation and are used as a tool.
"Bull shot" was a good example that Mike came up with. It's often the case that a case screen shot from a game - obviously screen shots are part of the marketing engine that promotes this medium - but sometimes these shots are obviously fraudulent. Most recently it was with Final Fantasy 13 on the [XBox] 360. There were just some shots that were untrue... The term "bull shot," which we had put in the strip a couple years ago, was leveraged, even today in 2010 to describe that - which, for us, is pretty exciting.
How did you meet and start making comics?
Jerry: We met in journalism class originally and we did a small comic in the paper for Mead High School in Spokane. Through the course of human events, we ended up working on comics there in the apartment. [E]ventually we entered a contest to create comics for a Web site called Next Generation Online, which was connected to a magazine back then. Very prestigious. We failed in that task. We did not win that contest. [But] we had an ample selection of comics, and we found a place to run them.
How did you go from writing comics to selling books to making your own video games to hosting your convention?
Jerry: We tried to make the right decision at each juncture. If there was an opportunity to get books out through Dark Horse or Random House, if there was an opportunity to make a game or make a show or put together a charity, we just tried to make it as good as we could each time. It was a pretty organic process.
How would you describe what Penny Arcade is?
Jerry: It's essentially like a political cartoon for the gaming industry. We essentially catalog gamer culture and pop culture in a thrice-weekly comic strip.
How would you say that it evolved since 1998?
Jerry: We have changed a lot. Essentially the strip – it's about games because that's what we like. But more than that essentially, the strip is about us, it's sort of like a diary in that respect. It's changed along with us... Occasionally, we'll discuss the kids we've had in the interim period, or things like that. We've touched on some more dad issues, and some things that are maybe of a more enduring nature than the releases that week.
Jerry: One always has the best hopes for their children, but no. It’s a perpetual surprise
What is your favorite video game of all time and why?
Jerry: There have been a lot of games that I’ve played in recent memory that are sort of standing tall. Mass Effect 2 just came out, and we've all in the office played through that, and that had a pretty profound effect on all of us...The original Wasteland on the Commodore 64... that was the first game I ever bought with my own money, so for me, I earned every second of that experience so I was very aware of it. But I really liked the first Shenmue as well on the Dreamcast.
Mike: My favorite video game is probably Kingdom Hearts II, but I also have to go with Jerry and say that Mass Effect 2 is pretty amazing.
How did you come up with the alter egos Gabe and Tycho?
Jerry: We didn't have to work very hard. Gabe and Tycho were our handles... The name that you choose when you play a game in multiplayer or single player, it's just sort of these personas there. Personality wise, the characters in the strip are just sort of exaggerations of our worst qualities.
How did you meet Wil Wheaton and start inviting him to PAX?
Jerry: He's our friend. We had met him at multiple conventions; he often found his way down to San Diego and we had met him there one year and really hit it off. And so when the time came to move PAX from Bellevue, where it started out, into the Washington State Convention Center, a pretty momentous move… we really wanted to identify that shift, that motion into a world-class show, and we thought that Wil would be a good voice for that. We were not wrong; he delivered a really great keynote that year.
March 24, 2010
Posted: 10:02 AM ET
In an effort to expand its video-gaming business, Electronic Arts may start charging for certain pre-game content – a possible move that is already drawing fire from gamers.
In an interview with Wedbush Morgan Securities' industry analyst Michael Pachter, EA Group GM Nick Earl said the company plans to start charging for “premium downloadable content” before releasing the entire game at full price. Earl said the strategy would "serve as a low-cost marketing tool” and limit the risk of promoting a full game that may not do well.
Reaction from gamers was swift. Some denounced the move as a blatant attempt at money-grabbing while other urged patience to see what the final plan would be.
A user named Fimmel wrote on GameSpot’s message board, “Do they really think we'll pay to DL the beginning of the game before we've even gathered enough information to decide if we want to buy the game at all?”
Another commenter, Lord Thayer, wrote on Kotaku, “So, is it safe to assume that, if you buy the demo, then upgrade to the full game digitally, that they would take the price of the demo out? If so, I actually think that would be rad. “
Facing a possible backlash, Electronic Arts has tried to clarify its position on demos. A statement from the company said there were no set pricing strategies for the entire EA portfolio and included a curious line:
The statement also said EA was working on delivering “premium content” to gamers before, during and after the launch of a final game package. It said each division of EA was experimenting with downloadables in an effort to provide “fresh game content in formats players want to experience.”
We’ve asked EA officials for further clarification about what they mean by “traditionally free game demos” and what impact this will have on future game releases. We’ll let you know if they get back to us and what they say.
UPDATE (10:37 a.m.): An EA spokesman responded to our request for additional information. He said, "EA will continue to release demos and we have no plans to charge for them."
March 19, 2010
Posted: 10:35 AM ET
In a time when financial news about the gaming industry has been largely doom and gloom, the world’s largest video game retailer says 2009 was a very good year and 2010 is going to be better.
GameStop announced that sales for fiscal year 2009 increased 3.1 percent to more than $9 billion. They also plan to open 400 new stores in the upcoming year in an effort to capitalize on gamers who want to buy, sell, or trade their software and hardware.
GameStop is expecting 5 to 10 percent growth in the “used products” market.
The company is also predicting a decrease in profits from new hardware sales - somewhere from 5 to 15 percent - due to reduced prices compared to last year and in spite of the launches of Project Natal and PlayStation Move motion-sensitive controllers.
The report also showed that comparable store sales decreased nearly 8 percent, possibly indicating that more people are getting their merchandise online through the GameStop.com website.
The company currently operates 6,450 stores worldwide in 17 countries.
Do you get more of your software and hardware online? Do you only go into a “brick-and-mortar” store when you want to trade your older games? Let us know in the comments.
March 17, 2010
Posted: 03:20 PM ET
So you want to design a video game?
One way to break into the field is to customize existing games like Sim City, where users can create your own clothes and change various gaming mechanics.
That was the advice from Shanna Tellerman of WildPockets.com when I asked her about entry-point recommendations for someone who is interested in creating video games but lacks a computer-programming background.
Tellerman participated in a South by Southwest Interactive panel designed to share unique approaches for game creation accessible to anyone. The panel was one of many gaming-related events at the festival, which ended Tuesday.
Between console games, online games and social-networking games such as FarmVille, there are more computer games and genres today than ever before. But why would an ordinary person without a gaming or computer background want to design their own independent game?
Michael Agustin from GameSalad.com says games are important for teaching and sharing meaning. "Creating games for parents allows them to take an active role in the context of the games their kids play, and to be more involved," he said.
Designing the next World of Warcraft or best-selling app for the iPhone might be a bit of a reach for most newbie game designers. Game developer Adam Saltsman, or 'Atomic Adam' as he's known in the gaming world, tells beginners to become familiar with Gamemaker from YoYo Games.
"It offers great resources with community support and is visually easy to get into," said Saltsman, who believes game creators shouldn't aim for mobile platforms in the beginning but instead focus on designing for the Web.
Saltsman, whose Canabalt game was an Internet sensation last year, says Web-based game design is generally much easier to maneuver than mobile platforms because many mobile devices are not Flash enabled. Eventually designers can move to mobile, he said.
Tellerman suggests that budding game programmers look for 24 hour 'game jams', weekend events where groups of designers collaborate on dynamic game-development projects. "It's mostly simple games being built, but the process and experience is a great value," Tellerman said.
All of the South by Southwest Interactive panelists agreed that would-be game creators should spend a lot of time experimenting on their own time. After all, Tellerman said, some of the most successful independent game developers lacking formal computer-programming educations.
March 15, 2010
Posted: 03:24 PM ET
Matt Drenik, frontman for hard-rock band Lions, has an easy formula for worldwide exposure - meet an employee from a video game company, then get him drunk.
"We had a showcase here three years ago. He came and drank beer with us until 5 a.m.," said Drenik during a panel Monday at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. "Next thing we know, we have a contract to be on Guitar Hero III."
Having their song, "Metal Heavy Lady," on a game that has sold 13 million copies worldwide couldn't have come at a better time for the Austin, Texas-based rockers, who had recently been dropped from their record label.
It's part of a years-long effort by bands looking for ways to gain exposure at a time when mainstream radio stations have moved largely to safe, structured formats that don't leave much room for independent artists.
"It's very challenging now for certain bands like mine and others who are heavier riff-rock bands to kind of break out," he said. "Everybody knows the U.S. modern rock radio is pretty bad. They don't really spin a lot of good innovative bands anymore."
Lions was the only independent band on a game that featured the likes of Slash, from Guns 'n' Roses, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
Doug McCracken, of “Guitar Hero” creators Activision, said the obvious approach would be to try to pack games like his and rival “Rock Band” with “only artists that have sold X-number of records.”
But including an indie band, along with groups like a reunited Sex Pistols and death-rock icons Slayer, benefits the product by expanding its base, he said.
“From our perspective, we have a range of music so we can appeal to a bunch of different types of people,” McCracken said. We love that it adds to … the authenticity and credibility for our brands and also helps the artist.”
March 2, 2010
Posted: 06:05 PM ET
Putting together a game takes lots of work from developers, artists and writers. But gaming companies also put great stock into gamers who take advantage of demos and beta releases.
Beta releases are usually advance versions of games that aren’t fully formed, but the development team wants to test out particular aspects of the overall gameplay. Demos are often limited versions of what the full game will ultimately become.
Patrick Bach, a senior producer at game developer DICE, said his company went “old school” when putting together its latest release, “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” (Electronic Arts, DICE), which goes on sale today.
“Betas are used to test the game, get feedback and make adjustments,” Bach said. “Our demo from last year was needed to make adjustments in game balance.”
Bach points out that betas and demos are about more than just getting feedback from testers. Tracking software can show what gaming elements are being used, how gamers are using them and what impact they have on the overall feel of the game.
He said often gamers will tell them what they think about a particular element, but the stats show a different story. It is meshing the two types of feedback together that helps developers create a more enjoyable game, he said.
“It is super important to find the balance of fun and fair,” Bach explained. He called it the “rock, paper, scissors balance” where no one element overpowers another.
“Battlefield: Bad Company 2,” a first-person shooter war game, took two years to get from drawing board to a ready-for-shelf product. During that time, Bach said his team worked on making the game fair, but never really knew how fun it would be for the players until they got important feedback from them.
The DICE team kept close contact with their entire community and blogged updates to keep their fans in the loop.
“We were surprised to find out [after beta testing and early demos] that our gameplay was perfectly balanced,” Bach said. “We expected to do more tweaking. And we found that gamers were using the full spectrum of kits available in the game. We were surprised it worked as good as it did.”
DICE did do some minor tweaking with weapons and vehicle handling based on suggestions from the play testers. But the company is quite pleased with its final product, he said.
“Most people are used to linear shooters,” he said. “We want to show people with the downloads and betas that it is about quality and strategic options in our game.”
“Battlefield: Bad Company 2” is available for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.
Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.