September 2009

Head on over to the iTunes Podcast directory and search for “video games.” Pick one podcast at random. Ninety-nine times out of 100, that podcast will adhere to a certain standard format: a bunch of videogame fans sitting around a microphone and rambling about videogames. Likely they’ll talk about what’s in the news that day or week, review games they’ve been playing recently, and maybe answer some letters from readers. If you’re lucky, they may talk to a game developer or touch lightly on some larger themes surrounding gaming culture or the industry. If you’re really lucky, they’ll avoid the kinds of inside jokes and rambling asides that make most gaming podcasts hours-long bores.

But if you’re extremely lucky, that videogame podcast you picked out at the beginning will be the one in 100 that doesn’t fit the standard formula. If you’re that lucky, you’ve probably stumbled upon Robert Ashley‘s “A Life Well Wasted.” (ALWW)

More than just a gaming podcast, ALWW is, as the tagline puts it, “an Internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them.” Rather than just jawing about whatever comes to mind with other game journalists, Ashley actually tracks down and and interviews gamers inside and outside the industry, on subjects ranging from game journalism to game preservation, independent development to fan fiction, hardware hacking to cosplay. Ashley then snips the best parts from the interviews and cuts them together with music from his band, I Come to Shanghai. The result is a roughly hour-long audio story that resembles public radio shows like “This American Life” or “Radiolab” more than other gaming podcasts.

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We crunch the numbers to provide a visual and numerical breakdown of American gaming and console ownership.

Since November 2006, NPD’s monthly console sales reports have provided the best publicly available data on the North American console market. But while these reports give a good rough sketch of the size and shape of the market, they leave unanswered some rather important questions. How many Americans, for instance, are playing games even though they don’t own a current-generation console? How many American households own more than one current-gen system? Are those Nintendo Wii buyers using the system by itself, or as an addition to an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3? Which console combinations are the most common?

Luckily, an NPD press release from last week helps provide answers to those questions and more. Though the release was primarily focused on the power of “word-of-mouth” advertising and “hands-on play” in gaming purchasing decisions, it also included an interesting table on cross-system ownership among American households. With these new data points, and a few more provided by NPD and the U.S. Census, we can outline the American gaming landscape with much more precision than before.

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What is videogame news? A miserable pile of secrets!

In this edition:

  • Have you heard about this new Beatles: Rock Star game? An editorial by Your Mom
  • Valve founder offers free trips, games to all Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters
  • Report: Scribblenauts players overusing guns

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How do PR people decide which journalists get early copies of games for review? Press Pass investigates.

When I was growing up and dreaming of a position as a game journalist, I envisioned three primary perks to the job: 1) getting to play games all day, 2) getting to see games months early at the Consumer Electronics Show (the precursor to today’s Electronic Entertainment Expo), and 3) getting to play early review copies of games before they reached store shelves.

Of course, now that I’m a full-time game journalist, I know the somewhat disappointing reality behind of all these perks. Yes, I get to play games during the work day, but more of my time seems to be spent writing about them, which is the part I actually get paid for. Yes, I get to go to E3, but after a while the show seems less like a massive, freeform arcade and more like an endless, hellish slog filled with massive lines and boring appointments. And while I do get access to plenty of reviewable games before release, getting such access from public relations departments has sometimes been a struggle, especially when I was just starting out.
In an ideal world, there would be enough early press copies of a game available to satisfy every legitimate journalist with an interest in writing a review. In reality, though, almost every journalist I’ve talked to says they’ve gotten some form of the “we just don’t have enough copies available” excuse when requesting a game for review. And the public relations people I’ve talked to say that’s the line isn’t just a copout.

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You’d think that, being a Videogame Journalist Extraordinaire and All-Around Cool Guy (it says so on my personal Web site, so you know it must be true), I would know everything about the Xbox 360. You’d be wrong. True, I can rattle off a selection of the system’s hit games, its pros and cons versus competing systems, its various retail configurations and their features and prices, and lots of other information ranging from important to trivial.

But being a game journalist means there’s one perspective on the Xbox I struggle with: that of a normal videogame consumer.

While I did buy my first Xbox 360 (a Pro system) at retail, Microsoft has since sent me the upgraded Elite system, a debug unit to play unreleased games, three of my four Xbox 360 controllers, and enough Xbox Live Gold membership cards to last me through 2012. A majority of the games I play on the Xbox 360 are provided by publishers hoping I’ll review them, and the nature of my job lets me play games during the work day, rather than just during free time. All these things skew my experience with the system in some small way. Intellectually I know the true costs of the Xbox 360; but personally, I’m shielded from having to make the tough economic decisions most gamers face every day.

Which is why I’m grateful for my family. In the past six months, my sister and cousin, both teenagers, have gone through the process of purchasing Xbox 360s. Throughout this process, they both consulted me, the videogame expert in the family, for advice on everything, from what hardware they need to what games to buy. The process of guiding them into the world of a new (and, as you’ll see, somewhat bewildering) game system made me realize some things about the Xbox 360 that I hadn’t considered before.

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Every so often you’ll see some site pop up with a “Most Wanted” list of tracks it’d like to see playable in Rock Band. These lists are always fun, and a great way to get a discussion going, but they always had one major problem as far as I was concerned — an overabundance of choice. When you’re choosing from a pool of “every rock and pop song ever written,” whittling it down to just a few choices is practically meaningless. There are literally thousands of songs that would be great in Rock Band, and picking out 10 or so based on your personal tastes is no tough feat.

It’s different with The Beatles: Rock Band, though. Since the Fab Four only released 185 songs* in its short career, the potential space for downloadable songs is pretty limited. Take away the 45 songs included on the game disc and 31 more from “Abbey Road,” “Rubber Soul” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that have already been promised as downloads, and that leaves only a little more than 100 remaining Beatles songs as potential future downloads.

With such a small remaining set list, MTV Games could easily code every single one for the game, letting players purchase and play through the complete Beatles catalog. If it falls short of that ideal, though, which songs make the cut is going to be a matter of some debate. Here are our humble suggestions for nine songs that we really, really want to see as Beatles: Rock Band downloads, and four that we could easily do without. Your mileage may vary, of course, so be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.

* Give or take, depending on what you count as a “song.”

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Videogame news … videogame news never changes.

In this edition:

  • Microsoft, Sony execs trade passive-aggressive barbs after price drops
  • Warner Bros. announces Batman: The TV Show: The Game
  • Exclusive: Halo’s “Spartans” to appear as Diablo III‘s mystery class!

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