SPIRALING PRICES AND OTHER WOES…

As we look forward to the great new games coming out this fall, there is a worrying trend that is becoming apparent — the increasing prices of upcoming games (and, in many cases, the stagnant prices of games beyond their peak!).

So we did some research to figure out what was going wrong.  What we found was interesting. Spiralling prices are only the tip of a somewhat large iceberg — the disorganized state of the market and the lack of market intelligence are more pressing challenges, which are hopefully more in our control to fix.

Prices: The Government
How can there be a negative market trend and the government be not to blame, right? In this case, there are actually two ways, not one, that the government has managed to impact us gamers.  The easiest one to spot is, of course, the nose-diving rupee which seems like it is heading downward in an extreme bungee jump (we can only hope there is a rope tied to the ankle)! While release prices of most games worldwide have remained the same–in rupee terms, they have become more expensive.

There has always been a 27% duty on importing the great stuff we love.  Now, unconfirmed reports say that there is a “clarification” that this 27% does not depend on the price at which Indian suppliers import but on the MRP at which suppliers plan to sell.  This clearly makes the 27% have a much hire impact on prices than earlier.  We sure hope the importer community begins to push back on such practices and looks for workarounds to such inefficiencies.

Pirated Games and Prices: The Chicken Or The Egg?
The ease of access to hacked games and gaming consoles in India has undoubtedly been driven by the high prices of games. The appeal of drastically reduced prices coupled with the Indian approach to jugaad has made the pirated game market rampant. But what was originally driven by high prices could now be keeping prices high. When someone buys a pirated game, they don’t buy an original one:   this reduces the size of the Indian market in the eyes of game producers/distributors.  This means we get less attention (see the Unavailability arguments below) but also potentially higher prices for those who buy legitimate games.

Unavailability: The Nascent Market

Diablo III: Better Late than Never

When B+ games are released in the US and UK and don’t make their way into the subcontinent, we don’t really mind.  But when an obvious blockbuster like Diablo III doesn’t make it way here on Day 1, then that is a cause for worry.  Clearly, the market in India is not developed enough to make publishers take note.  Thankfully, some retailers have managed to now get the Diablo III franchise into India–and (shameless plug) we have a wide suite of Diablo III products from Steelseries to choose from!  The reason that the market is still nascent compared to other nations is that gaming was actively discouraged as a hobby until very recently thanks to parents’ obsession with raising the world’s next Sheldon Cooper.  And also, the high cost of gaming… but we have already established that!

So What’s Next?
Recent trends in the gaming information segment, such as the new MCV India website and the annual E-xpress conference of retailers, are welcome improvements that will hopefully play an important role in the maturing of the market.  Further, the naturally maturing market base (college students playing  PC games 10 years ago are playing original console games today) will contribute to more serious consideration from publishers worldwide.  So what if we got Sniper Elite V2 at a jaw-dropping, eye-bulging, expletive-inspiring price of Rs.3,499 (also available for Rs.3,135 on our store).

FIFA13: Raised quite a few shackles in the gaming world with its pricing!

The future looks mixed. FIFA 13 was announced at Rs.3,499 on PS3 until the distributor for the the XBOX version announced it at Rs.2,999.  The PS3 price was then revised immediately to Rs.2,999.  We have also seen some price cuts on last year’s Activision titles.  Analysts believe most distributors will be forced to increase the already-high prices in the future due to the change in import duties.  But there is also potential good news with Sony looking to manufacture games in India as the head of Sony India stated in a recent MCV article. That should drive some of the prices down – with the aim to get PS3 platinum games to the Rs.999 mark.

If you are a gamer, developer, retailer, or supplier, we want to know what you think!  Let us know in the comments section below!

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SHOOTERS: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE…AND INDIA

As our team was discussing the poor performance of Syndicate and Ghost Recon in India (decent sales on Xbox, poor on PS3 for the latter) compared to ROW (Ghost Recon is currently the top selling game in the UK for example).  I ventured that I preferred Ghost Recon to both Modern Warfare 3 & Battlefield 3.  And there it was, the whole GamesINC office turned around towards me with a look of shock and horror.  Before my open minded colleagues could confiscate my PS3, I ran out of the office and to the safety of the Delhi streets (well…).

What is it about shooters that divide everyone’s opinion so much?  And why, in India, are some games such as Battlefield 3 nearly impossible to find whereas others such as Ghost Recon suffered in sales.  Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…

The First Shooters:  One Choice Only But What a Choice

Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.  These defined the shooter genre. Playing Wolfenstein for the first time was eye opening– you’d never seen or experienced this before.  Tearing through Nazi officers with an unseen array of weapons and finishing off by taking on Hitler!  Beat that!

Chainsaw, Room Full of Ammo, Big Taurus Thingy Monster – Three Reasons Doom Revolutionized Shooters

And then Doom arrived and did that the very next year.  Adding diversity to the levels which was limited in Wolfenstein, a much longer single player mode, much better visuals, mutant aliens and deathmatches (where do you think the term comes from?).

At the time – the choice was limited to these two games for the vast majority of gamers, but it really didn’t matter – these games were so good and revolutionnary.  Doom & Wolfenstein created the shooter genre & even industry (most shooters afterwards were called Doom clones).

The Diversification of Shooters:  The Following Waves

It’s impossible to cover shooters from the mid-90s to mid-2010s without writing a dissertation – so let’s keep it high level.  Once Doom had engrained the genre into video gaming – shooters started slowly branching in different directions.  Quake took on the multiplayer mode, Half-Life took it to the next level and had an actual story line (a darn good one at that), Golden Eye wrapped them both into one awesome pack.  Half-Life and Golden Eye helped popularize the genre on consoles.

Someone Is About To Die – Getting Your Hand On The Rocket Launcher Was Always Satisfying

As the industry evolved, games such as Metal Gear Solid, Tomb Raider, Max Payne, Syndicate, Deus Ex (to name a few) started taking shooters into different directions offering a variety of games reflecting the varied demands of gamers (as well as the diversity in creative juices among development houses).  The diversification has even lead to different sub genres:  First Person and Third Person.  Some would argue that the games above, especially Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid are not really shooters.  You do shoot in them, no?  And this leads us to today…

Today:  A World of Choices

There are two uncontested big hitters today:  Modern Warfare 3 & Battlefield 3.  They keep the same fundamental as the originals – unadulterated action.  Sure – there’s a story thrown in there for good measure, but it’s all about blasting your way through levels or through online opponents. And boy does the formula work:  Modern Warfare 3 hit $1 Billion in sales in 16 days, more than any other release across all digital entertainment genres (it reached $1 Billion before Avatar and Harry Potter:  The Deathly Hallows – Part 2).  There have been a number of similar style games over the last twelve months which haven’t quite hit the same standard this year such as Homefront and Bodycount to name a couple.

Battlefield 3 Multiplayer – It’s Beautiful, It’s Chaotic, And It’s Hours of Endless Fun

For those not so much into the spray and pray – there’s a myriad of additional choices, some different by degrees (Max Payne 3, Black Ops, Crysis), some offering completely different experiences (Deux Ex, Ghost Recon, Uncharted).  There’s also been a merging with RPG which has given us some absolute classics such as Red Dead and the GTA series.

The multiplayer has also really taken to the fore – even games such Max Payne & Uncharted 3 offer multiplayer modes.  Development houses have kept gamers hooked for tens if not hundreds of hours of gameplay with awesome multiplayer modes.  For example, one of our regular customers wanted to trade in Max Payne 3 – we called him up and suggested he try the multiplayer before he made his decision.  He hasn’t traded it in, he likes the multiplayer too much – not a good business decision, but we’re gamers and we want people to get the maximum enjoyment.  In addition to the multiplayer, new DLCs appearing all the time mean that there’s no need to get a new game – as developers are constantly adding new maps, challenges, weapons to your game.

The Future:  What does it look like?

Developers will keep trying to keep gamers hooked into their games for as long as possible.  This year does not see such a heavy hitting line up as the end of last year (2012 actually might be a lighter year between big line ups in 2011 and 2013).  Modern Warfare fans might make the jump into Black Ops 2 in the winter when it releases, whereas Battlefield 3 fan boys seem a loyal bunch, and might stay away from a Call of Duty game – from observation, they could be playing Battlefield 3 for a while (I nearly got lynched on Facebook too for suggesting Ghost Recon is better than BF3).  Medal of Honor: Warfighter might be the big surprise as they are timing their release to perfection – jut when the market might be looking for a new traditional shooter.

Medal of Honor – Real World Conflicts, Tight Graphics, Chaotic, and Perfect Timing. Could Be A Big Hit

Does that mean the end of diversity in the gaming industry? By no means – sales of Max Payne 3 have been good, and gamers are always looking to get into new games – so while the multiplayers will keep fans occupied, it won’t stop them buying the latest games on release.  Over the last twelve months, games like Uncharted, Deus Ex, Saints Row The Third and L.A. Noire have entertained even the biggest BF3 or MW3 fan.

And this year, well next year actually – there’s a lot of interesting games in proposition which could take a lot of genres to the next level. Crysis 3 in particular looks stunning, and seems to be bringing a lot more options to players. Tomb Raider seems to have reinvented itself into a grittier more real game.  The Last of Us just looks like something we haven’t before.  And finally we can’t wait to get our hands on WatchDogs, which looks like a Deus Ex on steroids.  The last 3 in particular promise so much in terms of the evolution of shooters. Check out our preview of what’s coming in our E3 round up.

Will it look any different in India?

In India, the reason that games such as Ghost Recon and Syndicate struggled even more than internationally is that they were not hitting the spray and pray demand of the market – as well as not having the multiplayer following that will allow you to play against your friends.  The stealth and cooperative modes that these games offered do not appeal as much.  If you can shoot a thousand enemies per minute, why settle for ten?  Especially if those enemies are not your friends…

Watch Dogs – Cyberpunk, Strong Story, Intense Action, Good Looking, Everyone Is Hackable. Hits All Our Buttons

And in the case of Syndicate – the Indian market’s dynamics, a younger average age of gamers meant that the emotional attachment that us old timers had with the title did not push them to buy it. If anything – the Indian market is going to heavily go for the heavy hitters and less likely to go for the offshoots in the shooter genre.  With time – as the market keeps growing and ageing – things might change…but for the moment, we expect Black Ops 2 to perform well.  Medal of Honour is a bit of an unknown quantity for the Indian market, it could do very well as gamers look for a new shooter and it’s timing is perfect…or it could suffer the same fate as Ghost Recon and Syndicate.  We’re not expecting too much from Halo 4…but you never know, Halo fan boys might come out of the closet for the latest one.

2013 should be interesting – the popularity of such the reinvented Tomb Raider, the widely expected Last of Us and Watch Dogs will tell us a lot about the preferences of gamers in India.

What are your thoughts?  Did you choose Max Payne 3 or Ghost Recon: Future Soldier?  Why?

As always – keep up to date with our latest news, offers, and releases on Facebook and Twitter.  For all your gaming needs in India – shop @ GamesINC.  www.gamesinc.in

We offer all the latest and greatest shooters on our Web site.  If you wanna pick up some shooters at unbeatable prices, check out our high quality used games for Xbox here (includes Mass Effect 3, MW3, Black Ops & many more) or our PS3 collection (includes MW3, Syndicate, Deus Ex & many more).

Disclaimer:  Some people will have objections to the classifications of shooter, especially for games such as Tomb Raider, GTA, and Deus Ex. I’ve taken the “if you shoot something, it’s a shooter” perspective.  Controversial, I know…

And apologies to PC fan boys for not covering your platform in a lot of depth (except for the early days). You’ve accused us of being too console oriented, and that’s true – we write on what we know. We’re actually looking for PC bloggers if you’re interested…

 

DAY 1 IMPRESSIONS FROM IGC

Although we hadn’t posted about WTF IGC recently, we were just as excited as everyone else about attending the event that could define gaming in India.  So, we woke up today energized to check out the surprise WTF had arranged for us.  In hindsight, shock may have been the right word there.

Starting at the beginning, getting to Noida isn’t easy. Getting to Greater Noida is even a greater (sic) challenge.  Armed with an iPad for navigation, you would think getting directions would be a cinch.  That was until we reached Noida and realized that the WTF pages weren’t iPad friendly.  But hey, that’s a minor hassle — we decided to check out Google Maps for the address.  So we pasted the address from the WTF site on to Google maps and hey, wait — there is no sector BZP in Greater Noida?  We couldn’t let a simple thing like that keep us down. We asked for directions, went round in circles, and finally made it there. It was going to be worth it after all!

Except it wasn’t.

As we entered the complex, we did feel the potential of what this could be.  It really is what the Ayatti-Caparo group promises it to be.  Even with the issues getting there, we didn’t feel we would be let down. Yet.

We saw a queue up front which, we assumed, was for tickets for the event.  We parked our car and went over to the queue.  A few kids (I am allowed to call them kids, having passed the 30-year mark) in the queue looked disappointed — that looked odd given how this was the most anticipated gaming event of the year.  We found out then that they had been waiting there since 10AM and the organizers were still setting up equipment (at 4PM!).

One disappointed fan told us: “We have been hanging around here since 10AM, and now they are telling us that they are waiting for Honey Singh — who the hell wants to listen to Honey Singh, this is a gaming event!”.  His friend (kids are cute that way) consoled him saying: “Dude, don’t be disheartened — you have been waiting for four years for a gaming event.  We will be back tomorrow.”  At this point, I turned around to look at the stage — it was still being set up:  if I was the organizer, I wouldn’t blame Honey Singh for the delay.  I suspect this was just something an uninformed volunteer told our disappointed fan.

Another disappointed fan with a group of friends told us that they had been waiting since 10AM and they had not been let in by the guard for about two hours.  Being dedicated gamers, they took it in their stride and waited around under the hot scorching sun for the event that was promised to them (it isn’t like you can just hop over across the road to an air-conditioned mall to while away your time).  We asked the group if they were planning to come back tomorrow and there was a resounding no across the group.  “We aren’t planning on coming back, not after this.”

On the bright side, we did see refunds processing start around 4:15pm.  We left in another 15 mins but we expect that most refunds would be processed during the evening.

This should serve as a good learning experience for WTF.  We are not event managers ourselves, but we can imagine the multitude of things that can go wrong with an event like this.  WTF has probably done a lot of similar (but non-gaming) events in the past but getting this right in the next two days is critical to their survival.  The Metallica gig cancellation in Gurgaon cost DNA Networks a lot in terms of future prospects.  IGC being a failure is equally epic in its proportions given how gamers have viral power on social media.  Future events can, and will, be impacted if WTF fails to use the next two days to make this event a success.

Did you go to IGC today?  Let us know what your experiences were like.  If you are going tomorrow, be sure to let us know on our Facebook page how it went!

UPDATE: We promised you pics from the event, so here they are

Beta, Alpha, Delta... wait, where's Sector BZP? We eventually came to the conclusion that it was some combination of Beta-Zeta-Pi (isn't that a sorority?)!

Something fishy?

We thought this was the queue for tickets. Turns out it was for cancellations.

At the entrance: someone manning the desk might have been nice.

We are sure they didn't need to work on Day 1 -- not sure if they got paid though.

At the entrance: we didn't get the feeling there were going to be 300,000 visitors.

GAME OVER: IS THIS THE END OF THE GAMING DVD?

Gamers worldwide have been following stories of Game UK’s demise with increasing curiosity.  A lot of Indian gamers were disappointed to see the store go into administration.  Admittedly, most of us based our best wishes for The Game Group based on our experiences (and cheap prices) with their website.  Those closer to the erstwhile retail giant’s physical stores felt otherwise.  For instance, here is a comment from a reader from the Guardian’s coverage  of the event that sums up a lot of what customers in the UK are feeling:

“Ask any gamer why they don’t shop at Game anymore. Price. Range. Poor Customer Service.”

The Game UK Website wore a "down for maintenance" notice as well.

Those are probably the three most important things that drive any business — it doesn’t matter whether the business is a brick and mortar store or an online site.  While our assessment of the coverage shows that Game’s outcome was driven by a series of incorrect business decisions, it does belie the question: what about the gaming market?  Will all stores eventually close?  We have seen how the music industry has been taken over by online (legal and illegal) downloads and no-one ever buys CDs anymore — is that what will happen to gaming as well? Considering how we are investing our lives savings into the GamesINC franchise, you can imagine how important this was for us.

But like what any business should do before they launch, this is one of the considerations we took into account early on.  And it is being supported by those in the industry sharing their opinions in the wake of Game’s demise.

Our take is that we are still between five and ten years away from going completely digital (more infrastructurally advanced countries may see the change in five years and we expect India to make the shift in 7-10 years).  So here is our no-numbers (well almost) quick assessment of the future (we can’t share all our IP on our blog now, can we?):

Software Requirements

Video graphics have come a long way in the last decade.

The top reasons why we love the console — the graphics, sounds, and features — eventually translate into massive software storage requirements.  An XBOX game can take up to 8GB in storage whereas a PS3 game can go beyond 15GB.  A digital download that size is still a nascent possibility in the UK and U.S., and a near impossibility in “fair” usage policy afflicted India.  Even without fup, I’d feel a tinge of guilt spending all my bandwidth on games — sort of like the guilt you feel when you print out a hundred pages on your work printer.  With time, the size of games will only increase, not decrease.  That said, there is a distinct possibility that — if the XBOX720(?) and the PS4(?) allow — the market moves to SD cards as an alternative to DVDs.  That will possibly be a step in the right direction and will enhance the lives of our consoles significantly.  In either case, there will be no impact on online and physical retail stores who will still have something to sell.

Internet Infrastructure

The biggest bane of online downloads is not fup, but overall infrastructure support in the country.  Downloading a 8GB game is hardly the same as downloading a 100MB music album.  Chances are high that even before games are delivered online-only, movies will take the plunge.  If a large proportion of the customer base moves to streaming videos, DVD and BluRay downloads, and game downloads, free bandwidth will become scarce.  Our Airtels, BSNLs, and Reliances will hardly be able to keep pace with the upgrades required. Of course, not all of these scenarios will come to pass all at the same time, so I am admittedly being more catastrophic than the situation demands.  However, if you look at how our ISPs have taken a reactive, almost regressive, stand toward business and have focused on acquiring customers that they know they won’t be able to sustainably serve with the current infrastructure, we see a lot of pain in the coming days — with or without massive digital downloads.

Compare your speed to those around the world and you can see that we are not nearly ready. Source: http://bit.ly/GYWiAs

Business Sense

The most important factor that will determine whether the gaming world goes digital is the amount of business sense it makes.  When Microsoft launched the XBOX, it was estimated to be losing $125 per box just on cost of goods.  It takes a lot of time, effort, and R&D money to design a new console — 10 years is a completely legitimate timeframe for such companies to ride the tide.  Companies will still make money through online sales of passes, DLCs, and (some) games.  It was only about 4 years ago that Microsoft started to make money off its console business and followed it up with about $1Billion in profit in early 2011 thanks to the Kinect.   It is too early to try to change the entire gaming environment by moving to digital downloads.  Remember the first XBOX and the red ring of death?  If Microsoft tries to change its hardware in a way that goes beyond extracting more performance, then it might well run into another couple of years of technical nightmares.  Its not that they can’t build a great system, but that it is unreasonable to expect that the first attempt will be perfect.

Beyond the technical aspects, there is also an entire logistical and delivery system associated with ensuring that a game DVD reaches the end-user.  A new delivery channel — technical and server upgrades for every publisher wishing to offer digital downloads, for instance — will need to be built. That does not come overnight.  We can speculate all we want on what the new XBOX720(?) or the PS4(?) will bring, but one thing that new consoles will not bring is automated upgrades for all service providers in the value chain.  It is still possible, but this will not be the revolution everyone expects — it will in fact push back innovation by a couple of years while we transition to the next infrastructure and game publishers themselves understand the new platform.

The change from physical media to online digital downloads cannot be avoided and will happen, whether some of us want it or not.  Companies, suppliers, and retailers will have to innovate or die.  But it is still a few years out in the future.  In the meantime though, it is not business as usual.  In India, we have a lot of work to do.  Unlike most other ventures — online and offline — the gaming market itself is nascent here.  We can’t sit back, look at those burgeoning numbers that consultants share with us, and expect the money to keep flowing in.  India is still not taken seriously as a gaming market.  We retailers, developers, and gamers have to build the market together.  But that is a story for another time.

How far out do you think the digital media revolution is?  Do you think Indian infrastructure and gaming market is ready for it?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Research and articles sourced from:

PS VITA LAUNCH INDIA: A CONFUSED STRATEGY FROM SONY

The PS Vita will launch in India on the 22nd February.  The same day as launches in Europe and in the U.S.  It’s good to see that more and more console and video game makers are treating the Indian market seriously.  Or are they?

There are two PS Vita models:

1)       PS Vita Wifi:  can only be used online in a Wifi zone

2)       PS Vita 3G:  can be used online as long as you have 3G receptivity in the area you are in.

So the pricing for the PS Vita in India, UK, and the U.S. is as follows:

  • PS Vita Wifi:  UK – $362 (or £229);  U.S. – $250; India – $406 (or INR 19,990)
  • PS Vita 3G:  UK – $440 (or £279 ); U.S. – $299; India – $507 (or INR 24,990)

Answer is no.  $150-200 more than in the U.S.?  For real Sony?

Now, there are some financials behind it that explain some of the pricing  – like the 27% custom duty the Indian government put on any imported electronics, and the high manufacturing costs that Sony bear with the PS Vita (it took them years to make the PS3 profitable).  But with the Indian market being such a large and growing market – it’s a crying shame Sony have priced the PS Vita so high.  With both the PS3 and Xbox being available cheaper in India – and the PS Vita’s original sales struggling in Japan (as described here) – Sony is making it very difficult for the Vita to be widely sold in India.  We’re making progress – but we’re still not being taken as seriously as we should be.

If you are a hardcore gamer, can afford the INR20k outlay, and like portable gaming devices – here’s what you get for your money.

HARDWARE:

A Slick Design With Front And Back Touch Screen

  • Screen:  5-inch (130 mm) OLED touchscreen
  • Controls: two analog sticks, a joypad, a set of standard PlayStation face buttons, two shoulder buttons (L and R), a PlayStation button and Start and Select buttons, and a rearpad.
  • Cameras:  two cameras (front and rear) featuring face detection, head detection, and head tracking capabilities.
  • System:  512 MB of system RAM and 128 MB of VRAM
  • Battery Life:  3–5 hours of gameplay (no network, no sound, default brightness level), 5 hours of video, and up to 9 hours of music listening with the screen off (i.e. pack your charger if you’re travelling longer than you’re daily commute, and if you work in Bangalore it may not even last your whole commute).
  • Memory:  4-32 GB (and yes, you pay more for more).  Keep in mind that a game can use up to 1GB.
  • Additional Good Stuff:  stereo speakers, microphone, Sixaxis motion sensing system, three-axis electronic compass, built-in GPS (only for the 3G version) as well as Wi-Fi, 3G, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR connectivity.

The graphics and speed of play are impressive – in terms of a gaming experience, it’s the best portable gaming experience available on the market.  But it doesn’t go as far as a tablet in terms of all round functionality.  In summary:  the best portable gaming platform with some useful gimmicks, but it won’t replace your tablet if you have one.

TITLES:

The PS Vita is launching with 26 new titles – including some big hitters that received rave reviews such as Unchartered & Wipeout 2048.  You also get access to 275 downloadable PSP games (to be confirmed for India), with more coming.  At the moment, there are no plans to make PS2 or PS3 games downloadable on the PS Vita.

In India, these will start retailing between INR2,400 – 2,800.  A bit cheaper than PS3 games – but not significantly.

Wipeout 2048 Shows Some Impressive Graphics.

SO SHOULD YOU GET ONE?

The PS Vita comes across as a confused product.  Sony is confused by how well it is going to do.  It feels like it’s halfway between a portable gaming device and a tablet.  And Sony confused its pricing model by making it more expensive in India than in the U.S. (or maybe they just got their geographies mixed up – who knows).  They also made it more expensive than a PS3 (again, they might have confused their products).

It shouldn’t take away from the fact that it is the best portable gaming platform, and will give you a whole new gaming experience with some cool touch screen interfaces, great portable playability, and the best graphics available on a portable device.

But you’ll be looking at 30,000INR to buy the console, a couple of games to get started, and a decent memory card.  If you’re a hardcore portable gamer – go for it (or ask a nice family member or friend outside of India to be generous on your birthday). If you’re just looking for a new gaming experience, thought you should know that the WiiU is being released in 2012 and rumours are that it may be cheaper than the PS Vita in India.  No recommendations yet.  Just saying…

If do go for the PS Vita and are looking to pick up some PS Vita games, check out our new PS Vita games section.

GAMES FROM 2011 YOU SHOULD NOT MISS: PART II

The second in our three part review of the best games of 2011 features one of the best games of all time, and two games that pleasantly surprised us. With such a fantastic line up of games hitting our consoles last year, the three games listed below really focus on a great single-player experience.

Pick one of these up new or pre-owned, you will not be disappointed!

Unchartered 3: Drake’s Deception

A rollercoaster story, visuals with beauty and depth, intuitive and riveting game play, and great character build ups makes Unchartered 3 the best single-player game of the year, and dare I say all time? If you play games for great single-player modes, then you just cannot miss Unchartered 3. Actually, if you have a pulse you shouldn’t miss Unchartered 3 (however faint the pulse) – it is one of the ultimate entertainment experiences (across all forms of entertainment). Naughty Dog have done the impossible and improved on Unchatered 2 (voted best PS3 game of all time by Play magazine).

The game starts in the wet streets of London where you end up in a pub brawl. Your journey propels you to an abandoned Chateau in France, a crusader castle in Syria, a pirate lair, and an abandoned city in the desert of Yemenon to trace Sir Francis Drake’s mysterious voyage in the Middle East. Mind blowingly beautiful sceneries often force you to slow down and admire the view. The game itself builds on the previous versions of running, climbing, hand to hand combat, and shoot offs with groups of bad guys. The hand to hand combat is seriously improved and shooting mode works seamlessly – while not at the level of a BF3, it is very enjoyable nonetheless.

Riveting Action, Stunning Landscapes, and Great Characters - Unchartered 3 Delivers

Riveting Action, Stunning Landscapes, and Great Characters - Unchartered 3 Delivers

The character building and story line immerse you so deeply in the game that it is nearly impossible to put down. The cut scenes work so seamlessly with the game and often lead to rollercoaster game sequences (whether it is escaping a burning down castle or hanging onto the ropes of a cargo plane). In fact, the character building and action are so good they are looking at turning the franchise into a movie. There is also a great coop mode and the online multiplayer is surprisingly good. This game is the answer to the prayers in our blog post (How to Ruin a Video Game in Five Simple Steps). Unchartered 3 is the one game you should not to miss from 2011 (and that is saying something with the quality of the competition), so go and buy it NOW!!!

Deus Ex : Human Revolution

Deus Ex was the surprise of the year for us. While it’s predecessor, Deus Ex, lies in the Hall of Fame, we were expecting another Duke Nukem; but boy were we wrong! Human Revolution does not have the multiplayer modes of Battlefield 3, it is not the complete package of Unchartered 3 – but it is a really deep single-player experience. Picture Metal Gear Solid meets Red Dead Redemption meets Infamous meets L.A. Noire. The game is set in a futuristic cyberpunk style world where humans can be augmented by humans. You play Adam Jensen, who (yes, you’ve guessed it), is seriously augmented as a result of a terrorist attack leaving him in near death status. Your aim is to track down the perpetrators of the attack and as you progress, you go deeper into a global conspiracy theory revolving around your lost ex-wife and your current employer.

Multifunctional Augments - The Arm Blade: Useful for Killing Enemies and Slicing Your Morning Bread

As you progress through the game, you can augment your character with some interesting features: a 360 degree grenade, the ability to jump ten meters in the air, become invisible for short periods of time or punch through walls. Human Revolution gives you the freedom to decide the style of play you want: depending on how you choose to augment your character, you can take a stealth approach, a brute force approach, or a mixture of both – and these apply also to the open world of each city. There are also a number of side missions on offer which tie in very nicely with the main story line, and don’t feel pointless like is so often the case. We preferred the stealth approach, as the brute force approach seemed to less intuitively go with the game. Though we did get a surprise when the first boss required a brutal set up…

If you like deep one player experiences with strong story line, then Deus Ex is a game you can’t miss.

L.A. Noire

Mmm - That Is A Strange Place To Fall Asleep

L.A. Noire is a bit like Shah Ruh Khan as in you either love it or hate it. You play a cop in post WW2 LA, traumatized by the war and the decisions our man had to make. This is a sleuth game with a straight story line coupled with a free world environment where you can pursue additional cases. You solve cases by finding clues and interrogating characters (using both the innovative face reading feature and the clues you have gathered). You also get involved in tailing suspects, or more hardcore car chases and full on shoot outs with gangsters.

The game play is intuitive as you’d expect from a 2011 release, and the story line is well written and keeps you hooked onto your haunted character. How you perform on each case will also modify the story line and how quickly you rise through the ranks of the police force.

If you’re looking for a very different game or love crime shows and solving crimes, then L.A. Noire is well worth the investment.

FIVE INDIA-THEMED GAMES WE WOULD LOVE TO SEE

Not many will dispute that India is a unique country.  India is famous for its rich history and culture, for its role in ancient society, as well as an emerging powerhouse.  At the same time, India is recognized for its jugaad, or as the more politically correct would say:  “solutions-orientation”.  And yet, in spite of local innovation and a rich history, we never see such a hotbed of ideas being used effectively enough (or at all) in gaming.  And when we let Westerners create movies about India, we get a kid jumping into a pool of s*** to watch Amitabh Bachchan.  Imagine giving them free reign over gaming! So we put together this short list of Indian ideas we would like to see in games.

Crazy Dilli Auto (Racing)

Work your way up the career ladder, starting with the auto rickshaw

You aspire to be India’s next Narain Karthikeyan and take on Sebastian Vettel in the 2012 New Delhi Grand Prix.  But before you can achieve that goal, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.  Yes, you start as a crazy autowallah careening through Chandi Chowk and Daryaganj.  Your only aim is to get your passengers to their destinations within a specified time — and you get bonus points for getting them to their destination in one piece.  You mix driving with strategy by shifting employers and upgrading autos.  Slowly, you graduate to driving the black and yellow ambassador taxis, and then to air conditioned DizzyTaxis.  Finally, you start driving a BMW for for the Tag Hotels — whose owner, incidentally, is the sponsor for the 2012 Grand Prix.   Your final challenge is to face Sebastian Vettel in your own Force 1 car.

Battle for Axom (Strategy)

Lead your brave Ahom warriors into battle against the mighty Mughals

You act as Lachit Borphukan, as he works his way up through the Ahom army and finally meets his destiny in the Battle of Saraighat as he uses military tactics way ahead of his time to crush the Mughal Army’s attempt to enter North East India.  You start your career in the army of Chakradhwaj Singha, who is tasked with avenging his predecessor Jayadhwaj Singha’s defeat by the Mughals.  You work your way up in Chakradhwaj Singha’s army and build your career as a great lieutenant and master strategist.  Your final test is facing Raja Ram Singh’s 50,000-men army at the Battle of Saraighat.

 

The Encounter Squad (First Person Shooter)

Clean Up The Streets Of Mumbai - The Encounter Squad

The year is 1983, Mumbai is a haven for criminal gangs who have free rein on racketeering, dealing drugs and contraband, and generally taking each other out.  You play Bhaya  Nayak, a recent graduate from the renowned 1983 police batch tasked with restoring order to Mumbai. Partnering with bad a** cops such as Pradeep Sharma and Vijay Salaskar, you start on the streets of Mumbai investigating petty thefts and racketeering.  As your career grows, you become part of the mysterious Encounter Squad, taking on the infamous Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, and Arun Gawli gangs.  Missions range from detective work, exposing corrupt politicians (okay, this one might be a bit of strecth), to “encounters” with gangs.  You rise through the force by taking out gang members and completing missions.  The sophisticated AI enables you to chose if you are a bent cop or a clean cop through interactions with Mumbaikars.  The path you choose will influence the missions, how colleagues react to you, and even the ending of the game.  Will you die a hero stopping the 2008 Mumbai attacks or will you be gunned down with your own gun by a corrupt property developer? The choice is yours…

Rise To Power: An Indian Story  (Strategy Game)

You are the ambitious  mayor of a small town (you get to pick your state and town) hungry for more power and money.  You start off facing a challenging re-election where your opponent is whiter than white, through bribery, blackmailing, and clever use of the news you must guarantee your relection.  Then you move towards building the finances necessary for getting a shot at state elections by getting cuts on all infrastructure investments and taking out your rivals through all forms of skulduggery.  Use the media, local gangs, bribe the police and voters, leverage your political clout to increase your bank balance and political capital.  But beware, as you grow in power and fame, your rivals become more and more cunning.  And never forget the ultimate goal – becoming Prime Minister of India.

Ramayan (Action-Adventure)

Play Lord Rama and live up to his heroic status

Play the legendary Rama and rescue the beautiful Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravana.   You are accompanied by your faithful brother, Laxman who helps direct your strategy and covers your six.  You fight the asuras of Ravana, bring down the evil Surpanakha, collaborate with Hanuman to design your exit strategy in and out of Lanka.  The story culminates in an epic battle between you and Ravana, an old-world style showdown to rescue the beloved Sita.   From what we were able to find, the Ramayana 3392 A.D. project aimed to get there but was probably trashed at some point (or was built into a game that faded quickly into obscurity).

 

 

 

 

And Finally The One Game We Don’t Want To See…

Slumdog Millionaire:  A Real Indian Story (No Type)

You play Jamal Malik, a street child from the Mumbai slums with a perfect English accent.  Your aim throughout the game is to carry out every stereotype foreigners have of India.  Every time you do something normal, you are deducted points for not conforming to the view Westerns have of India.  But for every conforming action, you get Western Stereotype Points.   The aim is to get as many Western Stereotype Points by  jumping in shit, repairing computers, putting in shifts in call centers, ripping off hippie backpackers.  The ultimate aim – getting up the caste system so you can marry your loved one! Well,  actually the ultimate aim is to reassure foreigners on “what it’s really like growing up in India”.

This is, by no means, a most exhaustive list.  What else would you like to see on this list?  Is there a story or a movie you love that you would like to see in a video game?  Comment below and let us know!

JOIN OUR BETA GROUP WHEN WE LAUNCH

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NOSTALGIC DISORDER: GAMESINC’s TOP TEN GAMES OF YESTERYEARS

As GamesINC was locked in it’s dark room for days playing the latest and greatest in Video Games, we started day-dreaming (or hallucinating, probably induced by more than 18 hours of constant machine gun firing). The dream took us back to a time where music did not all sound the same, reality TV had not dumbed down the world, there were actually four seasons, and I had launched my first game magazine at the age of 11 (no, really, it happened – first review was Starwing on the NES), and video games were…not as good. In a teary-eyed, nostalgic, and combat overdose induced hallucinogenic dream, here are my top 10 favorite video games of all time. They are in nostalgic order (read chronological) – and qualify using some very strict criteria – I really liked them!

Communism launches the gaming industry

1. Tetris – GameBoy
Beautifully simple – the premise was to rotate different tetrads (blocks of different shapes) in order to form horizontal lines and avoid the tetrads taking up your playing field. As a young boy this was countless of hours of fun (and for the parents, peace and quiet). It even made me like those family friends we could never stand, as they also had a GameBoy with a multiplayer link so we could play together (well, annihilate them–nobody beats me at Tetris!). Tetris was developed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences, meaning that communism was partly responsible for the popularity of gaming. Tetris – a true legend!

 

Defining the racing genre

2. Super Mario Kart – SuperNES
The game that defined the racing genre. The Mario Bros had already made gaming popular (Mario 3 loses out to Sonic if you’re wondering where it is), but this game was probably the best racing multiplayer game ever. Yes, ever! The death matches would last for hours and hours, and some sore losers would endure hours, days, or years of taunting. Although there were other racing classics at the time (Wipeout and Starwing were great games in their own right), all the different modes of Mario Kart were unbeatable. And nothing beats knocking your opponent out of the race with a nicely aimed turtle! In college, one of my friends turned up at my dorm and brought his Super NES and Mario Kart – no one left the dorm room for two days. This was ten years after its release – a timeless classic!

Are You Ken?

3. Street Fighter 2 – Sega MegaDrive
If you were a gamer in the early 90s, then odds are you played SFII for hours on end. It is the ultimate fighting game of all time – all other games since then are building off it, but none defined the fighting game genre as SFII. As with Mario Kart, this game ensured endless hours of gaming fun at friends houses. Being unbeaten on SFII ensures hero-like status at school and a permanent and non-refundable membership of the cool club for ever. The super moves such as Ryu’s Hadouken (or Are You Ken? as was the myth), Honda’s Thousand Fists, Guile’s Sonic Boom to name a few are timeless and still vivid in memory. SFII – the ultimate fighting game of all time.

The only time Sonic is not running in the whole game

4. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega MegaDrive

Platform games were one of the most popular gaming genres on the 1990s, and no game brought innovation, speed, and pure fun as Sonic the Hedgehog. While other games such as Mario 3, Megaman, Rayman, Donkey Kong were great platform games, Sonic was another genre defining game (ok, the Mario Bros did their bit too). Zooming at a gazillion miles an hour through levels, the lush country sides, the evil bosses – this game was simple, bright, and a bucketload of fun. A game that made the most of the 2D mode and the MegaDrive’s processor – it was one of the rare games that parents approved of and kids love. And after hours of playing it, you didn’t have sore ears through excessive gun fire, depression through hours of gloomy surrounding, and a disturbed psyche through having butchered thousands of enemies.

FF7 - Immerse Yourself In The Tale

5. Final Fantasy VII – Playstation

In the summer of 1998, I had fallen out of love with gaming. Sports, girls, studies (yes, I actually got a college degree – shocker!) and the lack of a game that captured our imagination had pushed gaming just above cooking as a preferred activity.  A chance purchase of FF7 changed this forever. The groundbreaking graphics and movie-like cut scenes, the story (the most engrossing story ever), the deep and immersive world, the combat modes, the accumulation of the most amazing attacks ever (you could unleash dragons, tidlewaves, and all sorts of mayhem on your enemies), the endless hours of gameplay makes this probably my favorite game ever. If you have hours of free time and a small budget, getting a PS1 or 2 and playing FF7 will be worth it, even 13 years later. The RPG game by excellence!

Stealth + movie experience + great game play = MGS

6. Metal Gear Solid – Playstation
After FF7 revived my love of gaming, Metal Gear Solid ensured I was  hooked forever. As with GTA (we’re not there yet, keep your pants on), this game defined a new genre – stealth. The great story, the cut scenes, the random radio conversations made you feel immersed in a movie. The gameplay was also addictive, the continuous search for that perfect stealth level, ensured that you played it over and over again. The bonuses with finishing the game were also incredibly worth it (you could play the whole game over again in a tux a la James Bond or with an invisibility cloak meaning you could walk up to guards and plant C4 on their back – you get the rest…). A legendary game by legendary Konami studios.

Setting up the shooter segment

7. GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo 64
Another game that defined a genre, this time the shoot ’em up genre (old school I know). Both the single-player and multiplayer game modes in modern shooters are legacies of this absolute icon on the N64. The single player game brought in variety as different levels required different approach (snipe your way through on some levels, blast them to hell with a shotgun on other levels), and the multiplayer game would capture whole floors of our college dorm. Little Andy might have not been the biggest guy (it’s all in the name) or smoothest talker around, but he was a hero as no one could defeat him. Plus, you get to play James Bond – what more could you want? (Izabella Scorupco was hardly going to come with the game)

Perfect accompaniment for beer and college buddies

8. Pro Evolution Soccer – Playstation
FIFA vs PES – the battle that will continue for generations of soccer games. But when Pro Evo (as we knew it) came out in 2001, it was the bees knees and forced FIFA to up it’s game. You could build up play properly or launch devastating counter attacks, the game was finally realistic, the one-on-ones with the keeper was tricky (and chipping the keeper was the ultimate In Your Face). The gameplay and graphics are still the foundation for football games ten years later. Being a college student with a lot spare time, not a lot of money, and four male roommates – this game got more time than our studies or girlfriends. After 4 days of neglect and threat of nuclear attack from the girlfriend, the evening with her was spent checking the watch and bailing at 10:30 pm under the lame excuse “My Roommates will be worried” (and no, there was no good response to the perfectly valid question – “they’re not worried when you’re out partying until 5 am”). A game that made you break up with a girlfriend – doesn’t say much for my priorities, but says a lot about the game. (The girlfriend is now happily married to a banker and drives a BMW if you were wondering…)

Cutting edge graphics and gameplay - and cop cars on 2 wheels

9. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – PS2
Everyone has their favorite GTA, San Andreas is often regarded as the best one. I for no reason apparent preferred Vice City. Regardless of your favorite GTA, this game series created a new genre in itself – and for that, we thank you Rockstar. Despite all the controversies and the dubious moral standards, these games were an absolute blast and let out your darker side (from randomly beating up strangers, to stealing cars and helicopters, and driving around cities in a tank destroying all that came your way including the ferocious men in black). The graphics (well apart from the first 2D games  which were still a lot of fun) and the game play were cutting edge too, and some of the in games features such as the hilarious radio stations, ridiculous dialogues were more than just nice touches, they really added to the game. Most of the games on this list defined a genre, this one created one!

Keeping you on the edge a la Jason Bourne

10. XIII – PS2
This one is going to seem odd to a lot of people, but bear with me. Have you seen the Bourne series? Picture it in a comic book style with a richer plot. This was the XIII comic books released in Belgium in the early 1980s (same country that produced Tintin). Some genius decided to make a video game out of it, and it has one of the richest stories and most innovative graphics of any shooter. While the game admittedly had some playing floors, the story and graphics made the whole experience incredibly addictive! Why can’t more games keep you on the edge of your seat as XIII did?

You’ll have noticed that all these games are pre-PS3/Xbox/Wii and exclude PC games. PC games deserve a whole other post in our book, as some of the games are so fantastically different to the console ones (games such as Civilization, Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis, the Day of the Tentacle, Command and Conquer, Warcraft require their own list).

With all the new games coming out, the one thing that saddens us is all the 3s and 4s and 5s in the titles. Developers and producers all too often run to a formula that will make then money (MW3, 6.5 Million on day 1). While there is merit in improving a series, you’ll notice that very few of the top 10 games were further down than number one in the series (FF7 being the shining exception). So a message to developers – innovate!!  Give us new genres, new graphic styles, new game plays. And we know that you run to where the money is, but have a quick look at the games above if you want to calculate the risk/reward. Did they sell well? You bet they did!!! Because brilliant games will get brilliant sales.

This is my nostalgic list – so no argument allowed! But feel free to post your list…Would you have put Wipeout instead of Mario Kart? Zelda or Secret of Mana instead of Final Fantasy? Or the beautiful Lara Croft?

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FIFA 12 FOR IPAD: WASTE OF SPACE OR NEXT-GENERATION GAMING?

So when GamesInc was sitting in its Ivory Tower deciding the theme of it’s next blog post, something really strange happened. A conversation which involved armies taking over Europe, human baseball, treasure hunting across the world, ice skating for old people, an Elephant called Minimus and a Mouse called Gigantus, and whether chopsticks could be good game controllers (think about it, really!) led us to – a review of FIFA 12 for iPad. There is method to the madness – we wanted to see how iPad gaming had evolved and what it meant for the PS Vita coming out next year.

I was not enthused with the idea as I had to spend hours playing FIFA on my ipad. This sounded as appealing as counting frozen chickens in a deep freezer. But boy was I mistaken.

Positives
I must admit my preconceptions were broken as I played FIFA 12. The graphics, whilst nowhere near the console equivalents, are surprisingly good. You get a good sense of space on the pitch, and play build-up is enjoyable. Although the close up of players is pathetic – they look like they’re built of Lego – but you can live with it as it doesn’t take away from the game.

Player characteristics are surprisingly realistic – Messi is god, Rooney is unnervingly quick, strong, and accurate, Benzema will score from anywhere with the ugliest shots ever, and Zoolander can turn in one more direction than Walcott (right).

The iPad touch-screen controls work surprisingly well.

The touch screen playing which was my biggest fear turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. You have three touch screen buttons, and by pressing, double-tapping, or sliding them you get nearly all the options of the console.  There are some nice innovations too, you slide your finger over the screen in the direction you are aiming for free kicks and corners, meaning you can curve the ball away or towards goal easily. The ability to give directions to players off the ball by tapping them onscreen is interesting, although good luck doing it when you’re sprinting down the field. You can also use your iPod touch or iPhone as controllers which means it takes more of a console feel to the game.

Negatives

Manager Mode tends to crash randomly.

You obviously don’t get the same multiplayer joy from the iPad as you do for it’s console cousins, even with two players on iPhone controllers. Despite the playability being good, it’s no PS3 or Xbox version.  There are also some irritating in game habits. In the manager mode, the game would crash at random game moments meaning I had to replay or simulate the game–which, when you’re crushing Chelski 3-0 at half-time, is very annoying!  The commentaries can also be ridiculous and after blocking a clear goal scoring opportunity for your opponents at the expense of a corner, your team look distraught as if someone had just told them that Nestle had decided to stop producing Maggi noodles. And if you have quick wingers you can guarantee that they’ll be able to sprint the length of the pitch and get into the box nearly unopposed.

Overall impressions and what it means for PS Vita
Despite all the positives, FIFA 12 on iPad is nowhere near it’s console equivalents – but then it’s not supposed to be. Buying an iPad for it’s gaming offerings is like buying a PS3 for it’s Internet browsing – a silly idea. Having said that – I throughly enjoyed playing it and I still whack out my iPad randomly to continue my managerial career (although the amount of in-game crashes has curbed my enthusiasm).  It’s also been significantly less powerful for picking up chicks in coffee shops than reading a Tolstoy, Steinbeck, or Proust, but that’s hardly surprising!  Picking up chicks in India is a tough task anyway.

So what does it mean for Vita and gaming more broadly?  Well first of all, I’m not sure I’ll buy a Vita. I’m guilty of having bought a PSP and given up on it early, not really getting the gaming joy out of it, and finding my need for a portable gaming device not as big as I needed. Despite the Vita promising some innovations such as the rear touch pad, and two joysticks – it’ll need to deliver significantly more than the PSP for me to consider getting one in addition to my iPad. Having said that, there are 26 launch titles (including Wipeout and Unchartered) and another 100 games in the works. Having all the benefits of Internet access on the go and my media files, means that the media offerings of Vita are not going to sway me (the PSP ones were interesting but failed to deliver). So all in all, I will need to be convinced by the Vita before I get one – at the moment, my limited on-the-go gaming needs are well fulfilled by my iPad.

PS Vita and Wii U integrate touch screen functionalities.

The one thing that did occur to me while playing FIFA 12 is how well the touch screen can work, and hopefully console makers will take note. Nintendo seems to have already taken note with WiiU where there will be a touch screen included in the remote controller. Sony also promises that the Vita will integrate effectively with the PS3. But if you think beyond that, the development of Move and Kinect could integrate with a sort of touch screen option (or even a virtual touch a la virtual reality).  We’re not there yet – but surely the development of different types of gaming platforms will take to whole new realities of gaming in the future, which can only be a good thing!

What are you’re experiences of gaming with your iPad or iPhone? Do you agree that these types of development will push gaming forward? Want us to tackle new topics in our blog – just let us know!

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