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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Heart Freebies

If you haven't heard, the FTC recently enacted a rule that amatuer netizens must disclose products they receive for free or face up to $11,000 in fines.

For the sake of this argument, let me disclose - I've gotten a handful of free games from a few companies. My favorites so far being Bad Company, Godfather II and to an extent Pure as they weren't entirely on my radar before emailing back and forth with PR people and quite enjoyed playing them. It should also be noted that I've gotten several games which, for one reason or another, I've gone ahead and bought anyway and allowed someone else to play the free version (which generally gets added as feedback for review). This includes Dead Space and Spore.

The biggest impact, I think, is that I've written a few paragraphs on games I normally would not have written about. Games don't get a free ride here. The attention the game gets is in merit with the game itself - I found Dead Space an interesting game from many angles, and it got a lot of attention (and I didn't technically get it for free). Pure is a fun racing game with a couple twists - and it got a few paragraphs.

The FTC's logic is that consumers have a different relationship of trust between small amateur blogs like this one than "traditional media". I'm that guy on the street, and G4 is apparently Ted Koppel. The summary from the FTC themselves goes:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
-- FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials []

Course, the problem the FTC is delineating between "word-of-mouth" marketing and traditional marketing. What's the distinction between here and Joystiq? Or here and a PR guy like Major Nelson? Or the official Sony blog? Let's ignore the fact the anachronistic concept that any of this is actually "word of mouth" at this point (if Cathode has ever increased any sales, trust me - it is "by way of Google" not by "word of mouth") - my biggest problem is that the leap form "material connection" to "paid endorsement".

So let me be clear - I'm completely willing to admit to having "material connections", despite them being rare, small and frequently in the wrong format. I am most certainly not saying anything on this site has ever, ever, even approached "paid endorsement" and I think the FTC is tossing a lot darts to hit a very narrow point on the board.

I agree with the FTC here in spirit, and think that doing something like seeding community sites to gather support is a fairly vile use of the 'net. I'm just not sure including bloggers who get a review copy merit being tossed into that bunch. I know I don't really appreciate it.

In summary? I love freebies. Mostly because I love the fact that there are PR people out there pushing games. It means I get a chance to engage people (and it has been more than PR peeps - like this interview with a SWAT 4 dev ... remember PR is the gateway) about games before they come out. I don't really care if it's a big label, indie title or some guy's homebrew ... if the project looks interesting, I like to have the conversation.

And if you want send me a version of your game to review - I'm likely to review it. If the fact that I got it free actually factors into my opinion of the game, I'm thinking that can't be a very good game. I'm thinking it would fall under "this would have been a waste of my time, were it not for the price" category.

Which avid readers would know I make note of when reviewing anyway.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Sunday: Assault Girls

I'm with Topless Robot here, I can't tell if this will be awful or awesome.

Comforting to know I'll probably watch it either way, however.

Fallout 3 DLC ... Bethesda, WTF?

In the beginning, there was Fallout. And it was good.

Then there was Fallout 2, and heralded it was as awesome.

Then a bunch of stuff happened, some of it pretty great and some of it Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

Then we got Fallout 3. And we could forget that whole F:BOS nonsense.

And then we got downloadable content. And it was a buggy demon from hell.

Look, I really love the fact that the PlayStation 3 finally got the DLC. What I don't get is that after months of waiting and even more months of delay - the DLC still just doesn't work right.

Your mileage might vary - but my mileage is stuck on the side of the road waiting for VATS to get unstuck. Or that load screen to, well, stop loading. Which, by the way, many times it simply won't and I need to reboot the PS3. I haven't had an experience this buggy since I ditched playing games on the PC.

Which - for the record? Is why I ditched playing games on the PC. I can understand the graphical glitch here or there, or oddities with quest objects, or the occasional slowdown in framerate ... but there are multiple times while playing that the game simply stops running.

How does that pass quality control? Did someone forget to document "game should keep running" as a requirement? Are all the test scenarios less than ten minutes? Did they test a completely different game? Any explanation?

So far I've played through the main quests of Broken Steel, Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt and Point Lookout. All of the DLC has been plagued with slowdowns and lockups to varying degrees - with seemingly little predictability. Mothership Zeta remains, and honestly my excitement for it has waned considerably in anticipation for multiple reboots.

Sure, Fallout 3 is a great game - but this level of quality is just shameful. Hopefully New Vegas aims a little higher.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sci Fi Review: Dollhouse and Stargate: Universe

Science fiction on television seems to go through waves ... you'll have a show which takes off, acts a bit like a tentpole for more sci fi - and then everything winds down and some of the actors from one show start shuffling around. Take the Battlestar reunion taking place on Dollhouse - if Tricia Helfer shows up, I'll be convinced that Echo is actually a Cylon.

Dollhouse peaked somewhat with last season's unaired Epitaph One (unaired, but watched by probably every Dollhouse fan by now), which was easily the best episode of the show so far and serves as guidepost for the direction of the plot. Season two starts not only a little flat, but even somewhat confusing as we jump right in with Ballard now on the side of the 'house and his strategy for bringing it down feeling about as muddled as an active's CAT scan. The third episode, "Belle Chose", actually felt more like a better start for the season as we see Ballard trying to fit into his new role as well as some wonderfully creepy foreshadowing into the events of Epitaph One. The show has an odd game to play now - making the original premise and plotline around Echo work while also building to a potentially dark future. If it has any problem, it's that the latter is proving a lot more interesting than the former. However, if "Belle Chose" is an indication, this season could prove that the show can finally perform to its potential.

The other "networks show sci fi on Fridays because they assume the demographic never goes out and then complains about the numbers" offering right now is Stargate: Universe. Apparently the demise of Atlantis called for something of a reboot on the frachise, which after a long running core show and relatively long running spin off isn't worst idea. Universe has a different cinematic feel and the overall concept is more serious - it's like someone got some Battlestar in my Atlantis.

Sounds great on paper, but the execution so far is a bit lacking. One issue is that the wide array of characters feel largely similar and the ensemble feels somewhat shallow due to it. The military crew feels almost like a band of dwarves - you have stern, youthful, angry, etc. Two of the characters stand out for me ... one being Doctor Rush, in part because Robert Carlyle's portrayal is particularly awesome and secondly he's such a great throwback to a near villain like Doctor Smith (Lost in Space) than another "brilliant scientist with a gun" cutout that the series could so easily offer up.

Sadly the other character is Eli, who is such a horribly transparent viewer advocate that I fear the array of geek apparel and references to arrive. If his "Last Starfighter" premise of even being in the show wasn't bad enough, the fact that every other character willingly accepts his presence so blindly is even worse. Eli's character is a blow to the kneecaps to the show. Take the second episode, for instance, where one has to continually ask - why are they insisting on keeping the slacker civilian in the desert??

The show's pacing seems slow at the moment, so the jury is still out while we see if that's part of a method or just plodding along.