Saturday, April 14, 2012

Casual Gaming gets infectious...

There are times when you just want to have a little fun.  Yes, there's no doubt that it's a blast to frag your opponents in Battlefield 3 or send a flaming ball of plasma at a rival racer in Blur.  However, both of those require a commitment that you're not always in the mood for.
Sometimes you just want to shoot stuff or in this case infect the globe with a dastardly contagion.

A friend of mine reminded me of that the other day when he sent me a link to the latest incarnation of the casual game, Infectionator 2 by Armor Games. 

205747_Holiday 30% off card and calendarsInfectionator 2 is just one of hundreds of casual web games available from  They have a long history of showcasing addictive game experiences from independent developers.  Requiring  little more than a browser and some time to kill these creations can smooth over the doldrums.

I'm sure you're aware of the phenom, Angry Birds.  Head over to Armor Games and play a few rounds of Crush the Castle and you'll see more than a passing similarity.  That's because the developers of Angry Birds first tried out the concept with Crush the Castle.

Infectionator 2's premise is simple, infect the world with a killer germ that can turn people into zombies.  As you progress you gain access to special items and zombie characters that aid you in your quest to destroy civilization.

Points are earned for dispatching innocent citizens as well as collecting gold dropped by  the recently departed.  Bonuses are awarded for achieving objectives as well providing critical resources to pursue your research into even better mayhem.

Being a browser based game you shouldn't expect cutting edge graphics or sound.  In fact most games on the Armor Games roster bear a strong resemblance to those great 8 bit arcade games of old.  Where Console and PC gaming constantly reach for greater realism browser games focus on the gameplay.  A point often lost on the big development houses.

Games like Infectionator 2 are simple pastimes much like those old arcade classics you may have lost all your quarters to in your youth.  It's no surprise then that many of the titles in Armor Games repertoire borrow heavily from those coin operated memories.  

Perhaps that's why casual gaming has become so popular.  Gaming doesn't always have to be photorealistic or in strict harmony with the laws of physics to be entertaining.    

After all it's a game not a vocation.  Give yourself permission to accomplish absolutely nothing once in awhile.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Game On Controversy

With thousands of other teary eyed fans I watched the last episode of Game On! Sunday night and continued watching until the end of the Shut up and Play LAN party.   When the studio lights finally went down with  Semisonic's closing time still echoing from the speakers it felt like the loss of a close friend.

There is no denying something about the show touched it's fans.  It was a feeling that supersedes the standard TWIT fandom.  To those who were looking for the standard YouTube gamer fare or glossy cable shows it may not have been all that intriguing.  If you were looking for multimillion dollar sets and ads from EA every 5 minutes you were similarly disappointed.

Like all TWIT fare the show never took itself too seriously.  Yes it had higher production value and strayed from the TWIT formula of talking heads but it worked.  Your hosts were not the standard bubbly constructs of a G4 teleprompter.  These were gamers who cared as much about the subject as their audience.
I'm not sure if many of you out there watch the BBC series Top Gear with any regularity but recently in the U.S. there's a new version that airs on the History channel.  I'm a big fan of the BBC version but the History channel's version I can't stand.  Why?  For the same reason I hate G4. 

The BBC version of Top Gear is more honest.  I genuinely believe that the show is hosted by 3 guys of average intelligence who genuinely love all things automotive.  Even being British they're easy to identify with which makes their program more relevant to my tastes. 

The U.S. version is simply an overproduced copy of the BBC version right down to the gags and format.  It's forced and doesn't feel genuine.  I don't believe for a minute, for example, that I have anything in common with Tanner Foust.  They're just not genuine and seem more concerned with their next TV series than the content of the show. 

By the way in case you ever see the word  "plastic" in one of my posts refer to the above example for my use of the term.

It's the same distinction between Game On! and G4.  It felt genuine.  That's also what tied the show into the rest of the TWIT lineup.  Most TWIT programming is well produced but not to the point of losing the contributions of the hosts.  You may not agree but at least you know where they stand.
By this point I think I've laid down the framework of why the show touched a nerve with the TWIT audience.  So why didn't it work? 

There's a lot of debate about that but the reason that most commonly comes to the forefront is fairly simple, money.   Leo Laporte has been quoted more than once as saying that the show was losing money.  With a total loss of around $100,000 since its start in January the show was never able to achieve the download numbers necessary to draw the kind of advertiser money necessary to sustain its production costs.  Laporte was also quoted as saying that no advertiser would commit to the show without a solid 50,000 weekly downloads of its podcast.  Game On! averaged 27,000.  

In podcasting the only reliable metric for viewership is downloads and subscriptions to podcasts.  Live viewers and alternate delivery via channels like Youtube or Jusin.TV are helpful but not specific enough to satisfy an advertiser's bean counters.

Laporte took part in the chat room during the final show and was present for the last Shut Up and Play Lan party afterward.  During the show Laporte addressed fans about the cancellation and defended the reasoning for it.  Still, he made it clear that he was very pleased with the show and that the only reason for cancellation was purely financial. 

Clinging to hope that Laporte would change his mind at the last minute, enthusiastic fans clung to a twitter post by Laporte posted shortly before Game On's airtime.  It said that if he could get 50,000 downloads he wouldn't cancel the show. 

This sparked action by what is known as the "TWIT Army" which is a group of TWIT supporters whose sheer numbers have been known to crash websites if Laporte even hints at a recommendation.  The "Army" mobilized Sunday night to push the show's ITUNES download ranking from #79 to #2 in less than 8 hours. 

At times it seemed Laporte was vacillating between saving the show or allowing it to be cancelled.  One of the hosts, Brian Brushwood further stoked the fire by stating he'd like to see the show go out as a top 10 then top 5 show on ITUNES.  Brushwood apparently got his wish.   It's likely Laporte was overwhelmed by the response which likely caused the appearance of wavering.

Of course while well meaning the financial reality was inescapable for Laporte.  He admitted in the chat room later that night that he loved the show and hated cancelling it but had no choice.  He went on to reveal that he had actually had to utilize a credit line to make payroll for TWIT.  He also commented that he had to do it to save the TWIT network.

Still, rabid fans unaware of the admission continue to promote the show's return even though the financial reality makes that outcome doubtful at best.  Laporte did express his desire to continue the Lan party on a periodic basis saying that it cost almost nothing since it wasn't a formal podcast and had low production costs.

When I dropped into the chat room during Monday's FourCast live stream the topic of Game On! came up again and the out of context tweet by Laporte from the night before was held up as proof that the show could be saved.

Last night I saw Laporte showing all the signs of suffering a painful blow.  I believe he wanted Game On! to succeed more than anyone. If there was a way he could have kept it going I believe he would have.  He appeared genuinely saddened that he couldn't. 

Fan support is critical to TWIT for any of its programming.  in this case, however,  expressing it in the mistaken belief that it can change the fate of Game On! does more damage than good.  At some point it becomes badgering, which isn't productive.

I've been attacked in the chat room multiple times for trying to bring down the level of hysteria over Game On's demise.  It's primarily by devoted fans who've selectively picked information to support an unlikely hope of the show's revival.  Even Laporte showed some irritation in the chat room over the  assertions. 
The bottom line is this.  I liked the show but it's not coming back anytime soon.  The financials aren't there and a one day movement won't change the bottom line .  It was simply  too expensive for the TWIT network to produce at this point.

Here's a little analogy...

I'd love to spend a week in Las Vegas and enjoy all it's got to offer and I could... if I were willing to give up having somewhere to live, a car to drive and food to eat after I got back home.  It's the same with Game On!  We all love it and want it to continue but the people who pay the bills can't afford it.

If there's any advice I'd give to fans I'd simply suggest they review all the available information before passing judgment on TWIT or Laporte over Game On!

If the show does come back someday,  I intend to be the first to publish an article about it just as I did when the show started,   That's a promise...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Game on! is Game over

Article first published as Game On is Game Over on Technorati.

As of April 5th, TWIT.TV's experimental gaming show hosted by Veronica Belmont and Brian Brushwood has officially been cancelled.  The shows fate was  first revealed via Twitter  from the gameon and Veronica Belmont  Twitter feeds.  Twit founder Leo Laporte answered queries about the shows demise throughout the day on his TWIT.TV network stressing that it was not the content but rather the profitability that brought about the decision.

As is policy for any new TWIT programming, shows have 12 weeks to meet their viewership goals or risk cancellation.  While Game On! had strong numbers with an average of 27000 viewers per episode it was unable to meet the 50,000 viewers necessary to make it profitable.
In response to multiple queries from the chatroom (which is omnipresent in all TWIT.TV productions ) before recording his Before you Buy podcast Leo Laporte responded with the following when questioned about the show's cancellation.

"We lost more money in one week than in a year of any other show"  He later explained that the "cost per episode was $7000" for talent and production costs.  Laporte also commented that TWIT had "lost $100,000" on the show.

When questioned about the reasons he believed it failed, Laporte's response was:"We didn't do a good job of promoting it."  He also went on to postulate that the gaming podcast market was already saturated with little opportunity for a new podcast to be profitable. 

The 13th and final episode airs on TWIT.TV on Sunday April 8th with Al Lowe of Leisure Suit Larry fame the guest.