Iron-branded; or, adventuring through the beautiful lands of Draenor in Warcraft’s latest knock-out expansion

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Ten years. Ten wonderful years of ups, downs, achievements, boss kills, epic story and the endless cycle of loot-hunting.

I’ve happily been a member of the World of Warcraft community in eight of those ten years having started in the second half of The Burning Crusade, the first full expansion to Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful MMO.

It goes without saying that because my birthday was two weeks ago, I spent every free waking moment when not working or studying delving into Warcraft’s fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, suffering through latency and douchebag-instigated DDoS-ing that caused the entirety of Blizzard’s Battle.net servers to shut down, preventing scores of players from accessing the game, not to mention the massive queues that riddled servers of even moderate to low player populations. A review of the game is challenging considering an MMO comes in parts or stages. And an MMO that’s ten years old definitely needs to be sliced into different equally delicious portions of the celebratory cake.

Questing opens up a story filled with triumph, heartache, loss and hopenagrandfinale

(NOTE: As a discussion of the story is necessary in this write-up, insert appropriate *Spoiler Alert* warning here…)

I had the joy of experiencing the game on both sides; Horde side during beta testing, and Alliance on live. For Lorewalkers such as myself, it’s the only way to play the game. Questing through old world Draenor in short was AMAZING. When the concept of Warlords was first revealed at BlizzCon 2013, acceptance at the direction came with slight hesitation not just by me, but by a vast majority of attendees as well as online enthusiasts of the game. “Time travel…how original.”

But I can see why such a concept was so controversial, because it would mean going back to a zone we had previously conquered to a time before it was necessary to conquer it. The immediate notion of reusing or rehashing old environments for new quests seemed rather lazy based solely off what we were shown.

But over time, we learned that Dreanor was NOT the Outlands as we knew it from The Burning Crusade expansion. The zone was entirely redone, from concept to art to environment. Even some of the wildlife (Talbuks, Clefthoof, etc…) saw some artistic updates.

So, story….

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The dark portal has changed. Something changed. Prior to go time, the color of the portal in the Blasted Lands changed from the eery booger-colored tinge of the fel green magic that had once powered it to the now seen red. Phasing technology took over the zone to show it had been taken over by an army of Iron Horde orcs and prior to launch, it was our job to assess the situation.

Into the portal we went with the help of Thrall (our usual hero), Maraad, Khadgar, and the armies of both the Horde and the Alliance. Our job: to stop the Iron Horde from coming to Azeroth who had usurped the Burning Legion that had previously used the portal to come into the world in its quest for domination.

Why the portal? Why the Iron Horde? What happened to the Burning Legion? What happened to Garrosh Hellscream, the royal douchebag who was the final boss of Mists of Pandaria?

All questions answered as one quests to the now current cap level of 100, with the exception of Garrosh’s escape. If one has neglected their assigned reading, they missed this story in Christie Golden’s illuminating War Crimes, which details the events of Garrosh’s trial post-Siege Of Orgrimmar and subsequent escape.

The short spoilerific skinny of it: Garrosh was in cahoots with a rogue bronze dragonflighter, who ultimately was a member of the Infinite dragonflight (the tea-party of the Bronze flight so to speak). During a commotion at the trial, the two escaped and traveled back in time and place where Garrosh was coerced into changing the destiny of the Orcs by convincing his father, Grommash, NOT to drink the blood of Mannoroth, the powerful Burning Legion pitlord, the blood of which consumed the Orc race turning them into a wild pack of Cujos killing everything in sight.

What we experience in questing is the result of the change that occurred by manipulating that one moment in time. What we also experience is the rise in new heroes and the sacrifices made by ones we’ve known or known about for awhile.

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I won’t go too much further into detail (play the game!), but I will note something of particular interest. The crafting and development of Yrel a female Draenei paladin who seems to be the hero the Alliance had been shouting for to fight alongside Thrall (something about the whole supporting a former Horde leader that Alliance players found jarring during both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria). Unlike Varian Wrynn, the official Alliance leader, Yrel’s rise is one of sacrifice (by her and for her by others), determination, and devotion to her people. She makes an excellent counterpart to Thrall who was once a leader, but stood down when the need arose for a champion to lead Azeroth’s combined forces against a global threat. What is most intriguing is the care and attention paid to her development and it’s really one of the best storylines I’ve seen in game in a long time if only for the fact that the game needed a really strong female character. Rather than just placating Jaina into that role (which they could have done excellently in Mists of Pandaria, but then fell completely flat), they decided a new character was needed and saw Yrel’s development through. There was a moment when the notable Avenger’s Wings, a paladin ability for which Yrel made excellent use, made an appearance during a battle and I was actually “Fuck yeah!”-ing in my chair. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll likely see an upsurge in the number of players opting for Draenei Paladins during questing.

Which leads me to the conclusion of the story. Props must be given to the designers, story developers and the cinematics team for expertly interweaving typical questing, scenario experiences, and cinematics to reveal some of the more major plotlines throughout the questing game, the pinnacle being the grand finale in Nagrand. This features a battle between Thrall and Garrosh that is haunting, stoic, epic, brutal, and ultimately satisfying in every way from the story itself to the music and the animation.

And this is just the start of the expansion. Where we go from here will be seen and experienced in the endgame raids currently open and set to open in future patches. Ultimately the timeline has changed and we’ll be spending the next few patches and later expansions trying to figure out the ramifications of that change because the implications are rather extensive (for example the Burning Legion is stopped by the Iron Horde, and without the influence of Mannoroth’s blood, who was killed in the game trailer, that won’t stop the Legion from finding other ways to Azeroth). As a bronze dragonflighter would say, only time will tell.

Exploration is just as equally lucrative as questing

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There are vast lands to explore on Draenor. Whether you’re a Horde member starting in the cold, snow-covered lands of Frostfire Ridge, or an Alliance member trekking through the darkglow of Shadowmoon Valley, there are rewards for actually taking the time to explore the map.

Expanding off the idea we saw at work on the Timeless Isle during the latter half of Mists of Pandaria, throughout each zone is an array of treasures and rare mobs (some of which are named after a few of Blizzard’s employees and prominent community members, like the photo above) to be found, killed, or simply discovered. Rewards range from simple gold to on-use toys and companion pets, to even rare quality gear. All one has to do is mount up and roam around. It’s easier and most effective to do this as you level, because often the gear rewards are at the level of that zone and would be useful for questing.

What’s also interesting to note is the randomness of the gear. Unlike previous expansions where a rare mob was often killed and on a particularly long respawn timer, rare mobs in Draenor respawn within a 2-3 minutes of their kill, AND everyone participating in its demise are rewarded (the exception being a few of the larger more powerful rares and world bosses). The randomness comes into the quality level of the gear. Where one person gets a rare level gear item (blue) someone else could get an epic level (purple) version of that same gear item from the same mob they defeated. And that randomness carries onto the quest rewards, which often were subject to an internal roll for the quality level and could be the rewarded level, or an upgraded version when actually obtained by the player. Ultimately, it makes for a more exciting reward experience, especially in the later questing zones of Spires of Arak and Nagrand where heroic/mythic raiders begin replacing their gear from the previous expansion. I made it to level 98 before I saw my first gear replacement (which is pretty cool as far as time investment goes on what it took to get that gear in Seige of Orgrimmar).

Garrisons bring the RTS resource management flair into the perpetual online realm

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I’ve always respected Blizzard for not giving in to the whims of the player base and doing what it feels is best for the game. When it comes to the subject of player housing, this is arguably among the most requested game features based on the offerings of Warcraft’s competitor MMOs like Rift, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Lord of the Rings Online. Players want it, Blizzard doesn’t want to devote precious resources to developing it, which is understandable because you’re asking the company to develop a player space for its VAST following (aforementioned games that offer player housing tend to have a smaller pool of subscribers where housing could be feasible). So the compromise is ultimately what we see in game now in the form of Garrisons.

As far as personal space goes, Blizzard dabbled in the idea in Mists of Pandaria with its respective version of Farmville over in Halfhill in Valley of the Four Winds. Where players simply had an instanced farm and tended to it for various in-game resources, garrisons expand on that notion by building an entire base complete with military forces, trade skill practitioners, and resource gatherers. What makes this work is Blizzard’s idea of exposing the player to the garrison concept early, as in, the first thing you do while questing is secure a foothold in this strange new world. Throughout questing, players are asked to keep attending to their garrison offering periodic upgrades and rewards. At cap level, players then work to fully expand their keep by building and upgrading various workshops to entertain profession progression and other useful trade skills. On top of that…in each zone, a player is asked to decide what type of structure should be constructed with each offering various zone-wide benefits (like being able to ride a Talbuk or Frostwolf in and out of combat in Nagrand, for example). That structure then becomes an access point for players to continue managing their followers at local command tables.

Followers also add to the garrison. Throughout the questing experience, a player gains followers they can use for follower missions as well as assigning them to their respective trade skill structure in the garrison. Other followers can be gained through achievements, reputation grinds and contract purchases, as well as other side quests and feats which includes the updated Brawler’s Guild (Meatball can be gained after defeating him at the end of Rank 4 in the Brawler’s Guild). Like gear, followers have a quality level that when upgraded, gain special abilities that enable them to do more and complete more challenging missions. Some followers can be gained at epic level (like gear, randomly selected upon actually obtaining said follower), which fully unlocks all their abilities, while others at uncommon and rare quality will have limited abilities. Followers need to be leveled like actual players and then upgraded from uncommon green to epic purple quality, all of which is completed by managing and tracking their missions at a command table. Various mission encounters lay out which type of follower will be needed and assesses their chance percentage at successfully completing it. Essentially, the quicker the mission timer, the lesser the reward, and the longer the timer, the more lucrative the reward.

Between follower missions, building construction, and daily quests offered by the NPCs within their respective areas, garrisons managed to pull off something magical, a full immersion of the story and a element of progression that extends beyond the simple gear-more-leet-gear cycle that was once a staple of progression in Warcraft. Players feel as if their influence in the game is increasing as you go from commander of a small party, to a full on general (Alliance side at least) when town hall hits tier three.

The 5-Man Dungeons step up their game in mechanics

 

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As with every new expansion a slew of new 5-man dungeons offer the first step in a journey toward boss-killin’ badassness in the larger raids (raids of which only one is currently available – Highmaul – but others are set to be out in the coming months). But as the story goes with every set of 5-mans, the heroic level ones remain a challenge in the beginning and then teeter off into mass-pull merry-go-rounds courtesy of better gear as the expansion moves along. The cool thing about the current dungeon bosses is the lifetime expectancy is extended somewhat by way of clever mechanics not only on trash mobs, but bosses as well. An experienced group will crowd-control certain mobs and kill others and move along quickly, while the Looking For Dungeon groups (which tends to be a painful experience) will be more challenging. Currently, my favorite dungeon is the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, which has some familiar-style bosses and mechanics, not to mention the look and feel of the place, all purpley and shadowy. Iron Docks is also fun if only because players get to play engineer and launch some deadly iron stars!

Gear and Stats get the Diablo randomocity treatment

Yes, randomocity is a word. Because I say so.

What makes Diablo a great, repeatable dungeon crawler is the seemingly unending quest to obtain that PERFECT gear item. Stats are random, the quality is random, the cycle continues because there will always be the possibility to get a better piece. Upgrades often come in baby steps, but on occasion, one can see a huge leap with an amazing piece. As noted before, that starts with the questing process. Upon completing a quest, or killing a rare with a gear item drop, an internal roll occurs that determines the level of quality for the piece from uncommon to rare to epic. One can boost their chance at getting a rare or epic piece by constructing a Dwarven Bunker (Alliance side) or a War Mill (Horde side). Continuing from the regular to warforged quality randomization in the last tiers of Mists of Pandaria raiding, similar chances have been extended to the heroic 5-man dungeons.

The stat itemization was both simplified and rejiggered to increase the pool of possible loot drops as any combination of stats can exist on a piece (not to mention a chance at a gem socket for extra oomf). Prior to the launch of Warlords, players saw a much-needed simplification in stats that is now relegated to a core stat (i.e. strength for plate, agility for leather, intel for cloth and so on) and a combo of secondary, or tertiary, stats. My own observation saw myself getting a heroic warforged agility sword with crit and multistrike, while a guild member got a similar agility heroic warforged axe with haste and multistrike and a socket for a gem. The benefits of this system are two-fold. One that extends the shelf-life of raids in the neverending quest for a better gear piece, while the second is simultaneously rewarding players with minor upgrades or sidegrades for their effort should they not get exactly what they were shooting for. It’s likely that optimal stats won’t be fully assessed since the raids just opened up because beta testing was limited in the scope of testing such itemization and focused more on the functionality of the bosses and mechanics. As the adage goes, only time will tell.

Everything is just so preeeeettty……

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The completely redone Draenor environment was just the tip of the iceberg as far as visuals go. The above shot is one of my favorite zones, the forrest autumn-feeling Spires of Arak, which boasts some of the most realistic and authentic sceneries of any MMO.

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For months Blizzard had been teasing the revamped character model updates (some praised, some not). Personally I found most of the updates rather pleasing, especially the Orc model, which made them a bit more emotive, and the recently teased Blood Elf Model. As Alliance races go, I’m particularly fond of the Draenei updates which look softer and as equally emotive as the Orc model as well as the Dwarven models which no longer look as if they are constantly smelling a particularly odiferous pile of shit.

So where are we going from here?

Well, considering the normal timeline of releases for expansions, we’ll likely see this content for two years. So far, everything is shiny and new (but also really fun), and a lot of it has some longterm appeal. Really, garrisons though…incredibly addictive fun. Fun I hope translates into an equally immersive mobile experience via the WoW mobile app. I mean, c’mon – how cool would it be to manage follower missions and garrison upkeep from your phone?

And after ten wonderfully-Warcrafty years I have just one thing to say to you, Blizzard:

Thank you.

Here’s to another ten years — and in the spirit of that, a re-sharing of my personal experience with Warcraft.
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I am S-M-R-T! Or, Cracking the code on Google’s ‘diversity problem’

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I was at lunch with a co-worker when this subject came up in our conversation. We were talking about projects, ideas, the money and minds behind such endeavors, which of course led to the subject of education.

I got to thinking about today’s education system (being that I just started my MBA program, the topic is fresh on the brain).

Despite the fact that education is getting exponentially more expensive (I mean, ONE book alone for a class I’m currently taking was more than $300), availability of schools and programs is better than we’ve EVER seen. Of course we know that technology plays a huge part in this accomplishment.

Prospective students who would have otherwise been challenged by the distance of a dream school are now that much closer thanks to the Internet. Veterans coming home from the Middle East or even just leaving the service in general, have plenty of money and options for post-secondary education. We’ve seen some relevant reform as far as loaning and student indebtedness goes. But the fact remains that if you really WANT to go to school, you can whether in person, online, daytime or after work.

After I finished my Bachelor’s (earned and paid for courtesy of Navy Tuition Assistance), I had the luxury of exploration after leaving the Navy to find out what I really wanted to focus on for grad school studies. In the meantime, I decided to focus on getting my first post-Navy job and using my time wisely to ensure I found the right program in which I could fully commit and see through to completion.

Fast-forward to earlier this week. I have a cool job that gives me the freedom to master my professional development and include the schooling for which my ten years of naval service is funding. I’m also in the final week of my current set of classes pursuing an MBA. I’m glad how things turned out for a former collegiate dropout who once upon a time had time management issues. But that’s also because I WANTED to learn from my mistakes and made every effort to do so and clean up the mess I made in my late teens.

My educational experience is somewhat hybrid, which is particularly fitting for a guy who sits comfortably between two generations (X and Millenial, respectively). My degree programs were a mix of traditional in-class courses and online courses. I found myself more comfortable taking certain kinds of read-only courses in an online environment (like world lit or sociology, for example, where the format was read, quiz, write a paper, read, test, for which a classroom setting wasn’t needed). I love that technology enabled me to start my program while I was serving in the Middle East, and then continue when I moved back to the states. What I also love are schools that embrace this changing educational environment. There were so many schools to choose from when I was selecting an upper-level undergrad program and I was faced with a similar number of selections for my MBA program.

Now my point in discussing this…

I came across an article on LinkedIn from Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President, People Operations at Google entitled, “The Biggest Mistakes I see On Resumes, and How to Correct Them.”

Now, Google is a company I watch as far as employment opportunities go if only because during my job search, I did submit several applications for communications-related positions and for every one in which I was passed over, a piece of me died especially considering that Google had recently announced its diversity challenges (like, really? A gay Hispanic war vet? You really can’t get more “diverse” than that – but I digress).

Needless to say, when a senior VP from Google takes the time to enlighten the masses, I stop to see what he or she has to say. In the case of Bock, his offering was neither ground-breaking or insider revealing, BUT if the leader of the department that oversees hiring for one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world says these are things HE has seen, then obviously they are things worth noting.

As the article title suggests, Bock points out repeated mistakes with applicant resumes, five specifically. All common-sense bullet-points, but still very sound advice in which he explained, “The toughest part is that for 15 years, I’ve continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job.”

While any job recruiter would have similar advice (and some do as I’m lucky enough to have some talented and hardworking recruiter acquaintances in my network that go out of their way to make sure my material has always been spotless), what adds weight to Bock’s advice is as I quoted earlier, his 15 years of experience in which he likely zapped mistake-ridden resumes like an endless round of Galaga.

Just as I neared the end of his last point, one in which he expresses the near impossibility of attempting to get away with lying on a resume, he makes one pointed statement that throws what would otherwise be a very good write-up into a political toilet:

“…sorry, but employers don’t view a degree granted online for ‘life experience’ as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall…”

I actually had to READ that several times. The reason this stuck out so harshly was because this wasn’t the first time I had heard this coming from someone in a position to hire people.

I was quickly reminded of a reserve Navy captain that was a member of my transitional assistance program class (a week-long course the Navy sends you to as you gear up to leave the service) that said pretty much the same thing Bock said in his article.

So let me breakdown all the things that are wrong with this type of thinking because this may very well solve a large chunk of the “WHY?” portion of Google’s diversity problem.

With regards to what Bock said specifically, no, there are no such things as degrees solely based on “life experience…”

There isn’t.

BUT there are schools that award credit as such. Schools like University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s University Without Walls distance learning program, have as part or their program, a portfolio building and review process (things we ALL have to do professionally anyway as part of, wouldn’t you know it, GETTING HIRED) that will result in the awarding of credit based on the scope of the work you present as part of your real-life endeavors. But that only grants partial degree-plan credit; the rest still has to be learned in a class (in person, or online), as any other college program would require.

My own undergrad school, University of Maryland University College, takes the training and school I had already completed in the military and grants credit that way.

So even taking programs like these out of the picture, you still had credit by exam (CLEP, course challenges, etc.…) where you can take your “life experience” or prior exposure to subject material, challenge a course, take a test, and get credit. Needless to say: ANY BILINGUAL PERSON WHO TESTED OUT OF FOUR SEMESTERS OF LANGUAGE COURSES WAS GRANTED CREDIT BASED ON “LIFE EXPERIENCE.”

So excuse me for pointing out the obvious, Mr. Bock, but there is nothing wrong with earning credit for things you’ve already worked on, studied, learned, or applied in life. Nothing.

Degrees earned non-traditionally are on the rise as a result of the direness of the economy

It doesn’t take a brainiac to see that non-traditional adult collegiate programs are the rise because people need to work, raise their families, make a living, but that shouldn’t keep them from pursuing educational goals. This is the case for a lot of minorities and lower income prospective students.

Technology, for what it’s worth, has greatly advanced the way in which we can receive valuable information and an education. AND even the most prestigious of private schools and state school systems are embracing this by increasing the number of programs available outside of their traditional campus offerings.

Let’s consider the recent news Google itself released with regards to its diversity numbers. Some serious conversation resulted from these numbers. Lacking on the employment side were pretty much every currently recognized minority, but more specifically African Americans, Hispanics and Women.

Bock said with regards to it’s diversity (or lack thereof):

“We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”

Bock’s statement in his LinkedIn article makes it easy to believe that if the leader of the department in charge of hiring is making an assumption about the types of degree-awarding schools from which minorities tend to gain their education (link courtesy of US News & World Reports’ diversity school rankings all of which are schools that offer Bachelor’s degree or higher distance learning programs), then it’s safe to assume such thinking is passed down to the people at Google who do review applications. Because really, do you think a senior VP is actually looking at resumes at this point?

Anyhow, ignoring potentially awesome candidates based solely on the source of their education and/or degree hurts a company’s bottom line, period. And it’s doing so for Google when it has to publish biting self-analyzing reports about how it’s lacking in a cultural diversity.

I will grant that without access to a report about where Google’s employees and recent hires earned their degrees, a lot of this is speculation — so I’m going solely off Bock’s own public statements.

I’m not going to turn this into a “this school’s degree is better than this school’s degree” platform because such arguments are petty. No instead, I’d like to offer that schools are held to the same standard as other schools in their region through an accreditation program. ALL members of the respective awarding authority derive accreditation requirements, and as such, to receive the award, a school has to meet those standards, period. Not only that, but there are even checks and balances amongst the accreditation bodies. Yes! Accreditations for the Accreditors! So when a program like National University’s Masters of Business Administration is accredited by the International Assembly of Business Collegiate Education (IABCE), it is held to the same standard as a school that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Harvard for example, because BOTH accreditation bodies had to work for their acceptance into the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

But now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. My point is that what was once considered a “gold standard” no longer applies in today’s world because society and technology have advanced our way of thinking and the way information is shared and taught. If schools have the foresight to embrace this change, develop programs around it to meet the needs and challenges of its prospective students, then…

SHOULDN’T EMPLOYERS BE DOING THE SAME WITH PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATES?!

So Mr. Bock, if “employers don’t view a degree granted online for ‘life experience’ as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall…” then perhaps you should lead the charge in getting away from this archaic line of thought because chances are, your team has probably missed a few quality candidates because of it.

justsayin

Twitchazon? Amatwitch? A new partnership that quells the trolls AND allows Twitch to grow

amatwitchLook at it. It’s almost as if it was meant to be. That Amazon swoosh integrated into Twitch’s viewbox. A half cocked smirk that says in a smug Beyonce tone:

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And it couldn’t be more right. Today’s confirmation of Amazon’s $970 million acquisition of the gaming industry’s heaviest live streaming hitter should qualm even the hardiest of trolls that decried such a purchase by YouTube. The latter suitor was in talks with Twitch earlier this year, but it looks like that didn’t pan out.

While more information should be forthcoming about Amazon’s new toy, there are some lingering questions.

Prime Membership: What perks should Prime users get with Twitch?

Once it was announced that Twitch’s purchase was all but final (dotting of Is and crossing of Ts and such), among the first questions I saw on Twitter were how Prime memberships would be integrated into Twitch’s premium subscription policies. Lest we forget, there are two major pay services to think about:

Twitch Turbo: At $8.99 a month, this grants access to all Twitch content, ridding users of advertising both displayed on page and during video content.

Partner Subscription Program: $4.99 a month gets you prime access to HD content for individual partner channels, which includes heavily trafficked eSports broadcasts

How would a Prime membership affect these costs? Would it replace them? Discount them? We’ll find out in time but it’s certainly something I’m sure Amazon will be quick to answer in the coming days. Twitch CEO Emmet Shear did comment on the company’s blog:

“We chose Amazon because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster. We’re keeping most everything the same: our office, our employees, our brand, and most importantly our independence. But with Amazon’s support we’ll have the resources to bring you an even better Twitch.”

I’ve highlighted the more poignant of statements which leads me to believe that partnership sub plans will likely stay put, but I really feel if Amazon is going to capitalize on its newfound gamership (lest we forget Amazon has been slowly building its own gaming studio), it’ll likely want to encourage Prime users to join Twitch users by discounting the Turbo plan if not include it completely in the annual membership fee. This will encourage people to join the Twitch community who could then stream Amazon Game Studios’ content, among other publisher content of course (more on that in a sec).

Lastly it should be mentioned that with YouTube out of the way, the possibility of non-partnered streamers being barred from placing donate buttons on their streams (which conflicts with YouTube’s nonprofit donation policy) so too does that restriction go off into that (not so)-good night. Again — if Shear’s comment is to be fully realized, business will carry on as usual in that regard.

Video on Demand Content and Filtering Services Will Remain With Twitch

Twitch’s content filtering system that scans uploaded videos for copyrighted content (namely music) will remain steadfast. This was likely a requirement by not just YouTube but Amazon and pretty much any big name that would have purchased Twitch. Because ANY company willing to buy Twitch for around $1 billion would be faced with music company legal departments just ITCHING to cash in on a big name. Twitch needs to protect itself, its new parent, and of course all its children who don’t like to play by the rules (kids these days, SMH).

But one thing that goes way with YouTube no longer in the picture was the Google’s VAST resources it dedicates to the storage of such media. Sure Twitch streamers can still transfer their broadcasted content to their YouTube accounts as they do now, but not having YouTube around means not having the all-in-one ability to stream and archive VODs.

Amazon’s Marketplace should see beautiful synergy (*shiver* — I hate that word) with Twitch channels

You come across an entertaining broadcaster playing a cool game…well, click on the game’s hyperlink and it will take you to the marketplace page on Amazon to buy said game. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

So HEY publisher PR departments (and gaming-focused PR firms)! Guess what! Now you have an even BIGGER incentive to run your own Twitch channels to preview your own content. Because you’ll likely then give channel viewers a more direct way to purchase such content. Twitchazon’s combined forces now give you an amazing conversion opportunity with a vastly large potential consumer base. Couple this with your community teams working closely with influencers and well…

That’s a pretty big pie sitting in the window just ITCHING to be violated by Jason Biggs.

AMERICAN PIE, Eugene Levy, Jason Biggs, 1999

Amazon Game Studios will have free reign on streaming content on Twitch

So speaking of publishers streaming content to sell them a video game, Amazon’s brilliance in vying for Twitch really shines with this often overlooked division of the company: Amazon Game Studio.

You did KNOW Amazon was a game developer now, right? From the looks of some Twitter comments and gaming news sites’ comments, a lot of people didn’t.

Well, now that Amazon owns Twitch it will have direct and first access to a service that it could use to sell its own games and possibly force other publishers into retail agreements to give them the same access. It’s fucking genius. It’s like when Apple made iTunes and the forced music publishers into the similar “this is our design, you abide by it” mentality. Now I doubt that Amazon will regulate pricing as Apple does on iTunes, but even still, it’s now a precarious position to do so if it pleases. Twitch is the LARGEST user-based livestreaming service where marketing potential is VAST and the only reason why Twitch has grown so fast in the last three years is because of this fact. Broadcasters use it to market themselves as content creators, and publishers use it to push their titles — all in an everyone wins scenario, including its humble host, Twitch.

Now we amend that statement to read “everyone wins, but now Amazon wins just a little more.”

In the end, this acquisition pleases everyone. Broadcasters, gamers, viewers, publishers and most importantly, Twitch. Because as Shear points out, it was all about preserving the community. While I would have supported a Google/YouTube-backed Twitch just the same, Amazon does offer that preservation that could not be had with YouTube. It’s an entirely different community. That and gamer’s just really really hate Google now for some odd reason and likely would have abandoned Twitch taking viewers with them. Amazon taking the lead gives Twitch the backing it needed and viewers less vitriol to mull over. So, again…win-win.

 

In memoriam: Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Not going to belabor this sad entry…but I just wanted to reflect quickly on the career of a man that inspired happy moments while I was growing up (as there weren’t many). Family movie nights were often delighted by his films as there are so many we enjoyed.

You were among my father’s favorite entertainers and a childhood hero…now the two of you get to goofball it up there…you’ll like my dad, Robin, he was a big fan.

dreamsmaycomeRW

‘I HAVE A HOLE IN MY STOMACH!’ An open letter to #Twitch

Dearest Twitch:

bathingsuit2pieceSo you have a hole in your stomach. Let’s think about how you got that, shall we?

A few weeks ago, we got word that YouTube (Google by extension), wanted to buy you. The gaming community immediately took notice and split not so evenly with the majority of the community taking on a “meh, saw that coming…” approach and the vocal minority taking a “LOMFG you fucking sold out, KKTHXBAI!” trollish attitude.

As you can see by my blog entry on the matter, I was very much in your corner. I support your endeavor to grow and evolve and make a better service because that’s what the gaming community deserves. I even wrote a small guide on how to build an audience. While we never got word that your acquisition was final, pending, had fallen through, or well, anything at all…what we saw then was what we ended up seeing earlier today — the implementation of a policy that would affect a lot of users relatively quickly.

So your content filtering system which automatically detects copyrighted audio and mutes it for Video On Demand (VOD) content was something smarter broadcasters knew would be coming; especially if you were/are in line to be scooped up by YouTube which has a similar if not deeply annoying system. I think I should make this clear before continuing:

I FULLY SUPPORT YOUR SYSTEM AND THE REASONS FOR IMPLEMENTING IT.

I realize that you’ve grown far beyond your means and as such the evil eye of Sauron the recording companies had fixed their gaze upon the millions of streamers broadcasting copyrighted music. I further realize that you needed to protect yourself AND your users from the consequences of such a powerful gaze. As a still-yet small company with gamers who likely couldn’t afford the myriad of lawsuits they could have been faced with should they continue to freely make video content with copyrighted material, I understand your need to derive a system that would enforce people to THINK about the law and apply it to their content as they create it.

But, Twitch…what I don’t understand is:

HOW COULD YOU NOT WARN PEOPLE WHEN THIS SYSTEM WAS GOING TO BE IMPLEMENTED?

I understand the need for swiftness in this matter. But YOU KNEW this system needed to be implemented, probably even had internal mandatory deadlines (perhaps to stave off pending litigation threats?), but those are things that NEEDED TO BE COMMUNICATED TO YOUR USERS.

We use Twitch because it’s awesome, ok. I said it. It’s awesome. And believe it or not, some of us want to help YOU as much as you want to help US. We gamers…we’re a family. Sure there are trolls (what family doesn’t have them?) but the majority of us, we tend to help each other out. We’re capable of great things when we combine our efforts.

So how could you not trust us with telling us you were going to implement this system on a relatively quick timeline? Some users could have started making preparations and changes long ago. Some could have removed the content, cleaned it up, and replaced it so their channels and content wouldn’t be affected. The transition could have taken place with as little interruption as possible (though I can’t promise with little resistance — some people would still whine about it). I mean, it goes without saying that when your new system is implemented so quickly that even YOUR OWN content is flagged…

…something broke down terribly in the communications process. Face it, you let this state of existence perpetuate and allowed your users to get comfortable streaming and archiving content with copyrighted material. It’s an environment you harbored so you owed it to your users to allow them an opportunity to make changes when it became apparent this new policy was going to HAVE to be implemented.

To make matters worse, your vaguely written blog about the policy which didn’t warn people about the impending policy, but rather said “SURPRISE! IT’S LIVE, #SRRYBOUTIT!” left more questions unanswered. Couple this with your silence in the community to legitimate policy questions on social media channels makes for BAD juju in the way of community management, engagement and public relations. Scheduling AMAs and other community discussions not on the day you suddenly implement a controversial policy isn’t how you handle public communications, just, you know, FYI.

So Helen, if you want us to fix that hole in your stomach, you better speak up. This policy (while not exactly desireable to many) is manageable and in the end, is something that is needed. We honestly, in the bigger picture, will adapt and adjust because quite frankly a lot of us don’t care…but treating your community like a strung out Felicia, especially when people have serious questions about that system, is not on the options list.

Change your communications policies because clearly THAT is what needs more work. Otherwise YOU will be become the Felicia and WE the community will simply say…

byefelicia

Blockbuster Video or Cable TV? Two dangerous roads the gaming console industry is inching toward

firstdayNSBM
First day of work sexy realness.

So I’ve just completed my move to Oxnard, Calif. It was a relatively simple move for someone moving solo and who just took his first job after ten years of the Navy telling me where to be at and when.

About a month prior to the move I called Cox Cable, and similar to the cancellation dance heard ’round the world, I had all my services shut off except for the Internet which I had cut off at the end of the month.

In my “exit interview” with the customer service rep (or retention services rep as I found they are when you are canceling service), I had simply informed that I was moving to a new city where Cox was not the area provider. They accepted that and began to ask me about my service to which I answered in kind:

Well, the service never cut off and the Internet, save for one incident, seemed stable — but the stick you had in my ass for what you were charging me by the end really wasn’t getting me off.

Ok, so I didn’t say that last part…I think it was something more akin to “Well, the pricing wasn’t exactly pleasant, which is what I will tell anyone who asks me what I think of Cox Cable.”

In hindsight I probably should have just stated what was on my mind, but I didn’t because I’m a nice person that way.

I mention this because it’s seems to have been the way of Cable TV service and even more so since everything went digital — you start off at one price point, and after the promo price expires you pay the regular. BUT, then the regular price creeps up and up and up with no end in sight. After my one-year promo price expired I was due to pay around $130 a month for my bundle package which consisted of:

  1. BASIC…YAS, betch, YAS…BASIC digital cable. No premiums, no HBO, no Showtime, or sports bundles. Needless to say I had my remote favorites set to three channels: Logo, Food Network, and Animal Planet (because if I’m going to cook my pet some food I’m going to look fabulous doing it, ok’rrr?).
  2. Only their second highest Internet service package (15mbps) because it was just me in my apartment and I never had a problem with Netflix running and playing things like World of Warcraft while downloading Steam games.
  3. A phone that I never used once. NOT. ONCE. I don’t even know if I wrote down the phone number. Telemarketers knew it though, I should have asked them.

When I called to cancel my service, I realized that over the course of two years after that first year’s pricing, my bill managed to CROSS the $200 threshold. TWO HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS and I wasn’t even getting HBO.

I think it’s just pointless at this point to say that just ain’t cool, but there it is: THAT JUST AIN’T COOL.

You’re probably asking, so what does this have to Video Games. I’m glad you brought that up, because if you hadn’t, I would have mentioned it anyway.

This week I got to thinking about two pieces of information concerning the industry, particularly with regards to access of video game libraries.

EA-Access

The first of which was Microsoft’s acquisition of EA Access which will cost Xbox gamers $5 a month to access Netflix-style EA Games’ current and future titles. At first this was interesting news because the deal had originally been offered to Sony. According to Forbes video game contributor Eric Kain, Sony didn’t think “asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.”

I sat there in awe with Sony thinking, “yeah! You tell them Sony!” At first I had thought Sony was championing the gamer especially since a good number of us are customers who buy into the near-$100 a year PlaySation Plus program.

But then all my hopes and dreams were dashed. You see, Sony, was not in fact the champion of the gamer. Oh no. Like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s hand to a police officer’s face, the reality revealed Sony was simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A predator out to stalk the livestock in my wallet. Because then the second turn of events last week unfolded…

PlayStation Now beta went live with its limited title offering of current and older games and its complete and utter BULLSHIT pricing model.

I hate to be so crude, but honestly, with Sony I feel completely bipolar; either I’m  on the verge of finding complete and total happiness, or I 180 into a violent Star Road-induced nerd rage because that’s how this last week felt.

So let’s first comment on EA’s catalog plan. $5 a month gets you complete access to current and future titles (and that’s ALL EA games which includes subsidiary studio offerings). It’s clean and simple, you pay fee, find a game, download, play, find, download, pay, new month fee again, and so forth. Literally just like Netflix. Because hey, that’s what people are used to in the digital realm. Clean, simple pricing and unlimited access. But…here’s the rub…

Mineseagulls

If EA charges for premium access, who’s to say that other publishers won’t follow suit? EA is just ONE publisher. There are hundreds of others including biggies like Activision, 2K, Disney, Warner Bros., Capcom, etc… and they all have extensive catalogs…where would it end? $5 a pop for each publisher and you’ve just turned the gaming industry into the Cable TV industry.

Did you not read the fun and exciting adventures of my wallet at the start of this blog entry with regards to the Cable TV industry?

This is not a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” kind of warning, because it is ONLY FAIR to assume that other publishers will want to follow EA’s lead with regards to charging for premium access to their catalogs. So who’s to blame when the snowball becomes an avalanche? Gamers for buying into it? EA for offering? Microsoft for accepting? All I see is everyone on a merry-go-round of spinning knives where everyone is blaming everyone else for the dire state of the gaming industry and in the end, EVERYONE GETS CUT TO SHREDS.

Now let’ talk about Sony….Sony Sony Sony…certainly played me for a fool this week.

Let’s do a quick breakdown for PlayStation Now.

At E3 in June, it wasn’t exactly clear what Now’s model was going to be as the only thing said about it during Sony’s preview conference was that it was going to offer nearly 100 titles at launch from current and back catalogs that could simply be streamed to any PlayStation device, be it a PS3, PS4, or even Vita. No downloads necessary.

Of course access to previous titles going as far back as the early 1990s causes foam to gather around the mouths of gamers. People incorrectly assumed then that such a capability would be offered via a Netflix-like payment plan wherein a simple monthly fee ON TOP OF WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR THE PLUS PROGRAM would suffice for such amazing access.

Well, hehe, you know what they say when you ASSume things…

datassume

Fast forward to last week and the launch of Now’s beta and we learned so many things we wish would just pack themselves into a minivan and drive off cliff.

  1. Games indeed need only be streamed. Okay, good so far…
  2. Only a few games are available during beta. Okay, makes sense, it’s only beta…
  3. Access to games will be on a rental fee basis with the pricing based on the length of rental time purchased, anywhere from a handful of hours to 90 days max. LOLWUT?!

zackmorriscell

You hear that? Oh, hold on…that’s my parents’ brick cellular phone from 1995 calling…

“Hello?”
“Yes, May I speak to Sony, please?”
“Who may I ask is calling?”
“Blockbuster Video.”
O_o
“…and what is the reason for your call, Blockbuster?”
“We’d like our rental fee model back.”
“I’ll see what I can do…”
“Thanks…be kind, rewind.”

Dearest Sony — I have amorously imbibed your delicious Kool-Aid since, well, as long as you’ve made consoles. But even I was taken aback by this pricing model.

I’m reminded of an age-old adage:

THOSE WHO FORGET HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.

Did you not learn a lesson from Blockbuster Video’s downfall, Sony? Thanks to Netflix, people saw something simple, easy and FAIR in pricing and latched on to it forsaking something that came with so many hidden fees or pothole traps for the money in our wallets. No one wanted it then, so what makes you think you can bring it back now?

Here’s what’s wrong with Now, and if you’re looking for feedback Sony, here it is:

  1. IF, and I mean a huge IF, you decide to rent out titles for streaming, there should at the very least be a post-lease buying option where a customer can just pay the remaining cost of the game to own it forever.
  2. That being said, the rental fee of the game should not be more than what it is worth (which is where, sadly, a lot of OLDER titles fall).
  3. And because a lot of titles fall into that category, it makes no sense to charge a per-game-per-time-purchased fee. A Netflix-esque model would be more beneficial — please explain to me where your financial gurus failed in figuring that out.
  4. And what kind of financial guru would sit there and think “well, people will pay $50 to rent F1 2013 for 90 days when 2014 is out in less than 2 months where they can spend $10 more to own that one outright.”
  5. Oh, that’s right. It’s not SONY’s financial gurus, it’s the publishers. So, Sony, why can’t you be like Apple was with iTunes for many years and say “if you are going to use OUR service to distribute YOUR titles to OUR customers, WE will charge them THIS fee, no more, no less. You get a majority of the cut, we get a hefty slice, everyone is happy.”
  6. There’s no relationship AT ALL with PlayStation Plus. I’m already spending $100 a year for a handful of free or discounted games. You want to charge me MORE and give me so little? I think I get better value with Plus and as it were, I have NO incentive to buy into Now. So let’s consider a new customer who has not bought into either service. On which service do you think he or she would spend his or her money? The one where he or she gets charged variable prices to only access a game for a small period of time, or the service where you get 2-4 free titles a month (that are owned forever) and discounts on others for a flat annual fee which roughly breaks down to $8.25 a month? Get back to me when you figure that out…

The point is, I’m not saying I wouldn’t buy into Now. I’m happy to give Sony AND the publishers my money if it means they can generate more content and keep me happy as a gamer. It’s a symbiotic relationship, BUT fair is fair. Netflix pricing models are fair. Whatever this current batch of fail is that Sony has derived with Now service is not.

Be SONY. Crusher of console wars. Bringer of entertainment. Champion of the indie developers.

Don’t BE Blockbuster Video.

blockbusterancient

/highhorse

Itch to Twitch; or, building an audience on gaming’s powerhouse streaming service

twitch1b

Interested in building a Twitch audience? I’ve put together a little guide to better explain the types of broadcast formats there are in the world of gaming livestreams and how one can increase viewership (steadily over time).

Keep in mind this isn’t a how to stream guide. If you’re looking for info on how to get started with streaming (i.e. what broadcast software to use, equipment, etc.), Twitch has a start-up guide conveniently available on its website.

Preview below and a link to download the hi-res PDF.

Happy streaming!

Download (PDF, Unknown)

The Art of Ketchup; or, stockpiling the condiments of failure to flavor that success

jobrejection

In the hierarchy of high school social circles, I can say that I got along well with almost all sub-factions that often comprise the divisional lines  of the high school experience.

I was in no way “popular” so to speak, but thanks to a prime spot in the journalism program I was able to talk to and get to know a lot of people. There were most definitely crowds, but from what I remember there really wasn’t ever an “in” crowd. Different groups held different standings, which is odd if you compare it to what you typically see portrayed in media. I was an honors student, but those in the honors program weren’t all “nerds” and even the athletes and cheerleaders weren’t brain-dead socially escalated zombies.

Quite frankly, school groups at good ol’ Burges High were cool. We coexisted. Kind of like skipping to the end of Mean Girls when everyone was at peace. Don’t get me wrong, there were some debacles and scuffles for sure — but nothing worth mentioning.

So in the absence of genuine political divides, there existed loose cliques which mostly comprised of friends of similar interests, but not in the way you would have pictured. I think what brought most people together into these cliques was more a result of upbringing than social or economical divisions (meaning, if a group of people were hanging out together, it’s likely because they had simply done so in previous schools and they just knew each other or lived near each other).

But I got along well with pretty much everyone in all these groups. The sad part being was that I didn’t belong to any of them.

I definitely wasn’t an outsider, but since I wasn’t originally FROM the area (military brat who moved around a lot) I was never really considered a “lifelong” anything to anyone. Journalism was my ticket to speak with a lot of people as were other school programs for which I participated. A lot of people KNEW me and I knew a lot of people, but I was never included in the often talked about social events that happened off campus.

Since then and over the years, I seem to keep finding myself in the same situation. Often on the outside of things, looking in.

I ultimately ended up doing for the military what I did in high school, journalism. It took me to a lot interesting places, introduced me to a lot of great people.

And still, I was often the person people loved to come to work on a Monday morning to recount interesting stories about weekend “adventures” or experiences. I listened and laughed, never judged and often gave advice on next steps among other things.

In each duty station, I was lucky enough to find a small group of friends with similar interests with whom I would spend my own personal time away from work. But it seemed to go every time that each person within my group of friends ended up engaging in a relationship and every time (and I do mean EVERY time) I was the last one left standing.

It’s weird, I’m not a socially awkward person. I enjoy talking to different people (I work in communications FFS). I just hardly ever find myself wanting for that person who completes me because often when I do find that person, I meet his husboyfriend of so many years. (cue the Alanis song).

When the time came to decide to stay in the Navy where I had ten successful years, or try something new somewhere else — I opted for the unknown. I figured I worked ten years to hone my communications skills, even getting a degree in the process (as one who never wastes an opportunity for such free education) and it was worth a shot to be somewhere else.

Because I had gotten along so well with people (even in failed romantic relationships where I’m pretty much still friends with all my exes) the only true forms of rejection I had experienced in life were the college applications I submitted my senior year. I didn’t apply but to handful of schools and scholarships ultimately being rejected to Notre Dame, Colombia, UCLA, etc…

But I’ve written about my sordid academic first attempts, so in the long run I’m actually glad I didn’t get into a big school. I made mistakes and have definitely learned from them, I’m just glad they weren’t at a big expensive school.

But rejection nevertheless isn’t cool.

I look at the last year of my life and I can honestly say rejection flat out sucks.

It was a year ago last month I submitted my first job application to Blizzard and since then I’ve had nothing but rejections for applications at all of my favorite companies. Last night I received my latest of rejections from both Blizzard and Ubisoft.

I have folders upon folders containing specially tailored resumes and cover letters, art projects and portfolios (I even taught myself how to make an app for posting on the iTunes store for my digital portfolio).

I carefully research every application ensuring that my skill-set and education would support it, often resorting to assistant, coordinator, or associate roles just so I was sure I was not overreaching. And every time the answer was the same…

“Thank you for your interest. We regret to inform you…” from the companies who were kind enough to actually give me some sort of response (which, rejection as it may be, is much appreciated). There are countless applications that have disappeared into the ether with no word of their outcome.

I’m not ungrateful for a job opportunity I recently accepted working for the Navy (this time as a civilian). But it’s far from the industry I want to be in, and admittedly I only accepted it because it will pay the bills. Whenever I was faced with seemingly doomed assignments in the Navy (like getting stationed in Meridian, Mississippi), I often made the best of such situations by seeking out an opportunity to learn and improve myself (which is how I ended up finish my Bachelor’s degree). I’ll do the same with this next job — give them the best person they could possibly want (hopefully) and use the time wisely in improving myself (master’s degree or a professional certification).

But I am still sitting here wondering where I went wrong. I sought out resume consultants to ensure the information communicated on mine read like a private sector professional. I went to workshops and job fairs. I networked with people over the last year, some who have become really good friends that I turn to not only for assistance and job leads, but for honest feedback on my application materials.

And still, well, you see the opening graphic — nothing.

After a year of applying, showcasing the best of my work of the last ten years, and communicating the ever-evolving, passionate person the Navy helped me to become, I sit here looking at more job rejections.

I can’t help but wonder, is it me? But really, is it?

Some say “well, it’s a tough economy…” It’s not. We’ve since dug ourselves out of that crisis.

Some say, “perhaps you’ve set your expectations too high…” Really? For a vast number of entry level positions my bar is set too high?

I’m usually a very humble person, but I’ve learned to balance that with the confidence needed to effectively communicate my skills and experience. It’s with that in mind that I’m perplexed at how a knowledgeable communicator with years upon years of experience and education, who also happens to be a war vet, can’t seem to catch a break in the tech and gaming industry to which I’ve LONG desired to work?

With companies that claim to have veteran hiring initiatives (such as Activision and Amazon) and companies that seem to have diversity issues (like Facebook and Google), why am I still sitting here looking at mountains of rejections from the industry? Just looking at this blog site, looking at the material I have shared on “The Professional” tab, what makes me undesirable as a candidate? Or better yet, what makes OTHERS better?

These are not unreasonable questions. I think after a year of trying and failing, it’s reasonable to ask. For without knowledge on how to correct something, how can it be corrected?

I’ve applied to almost all gaming and tech companies (Sony, EA, Bungie, NCsoft…and so on) with communications-related openings which include PR, internal communications, and community management and every time I receive a rejection letter, or get wind that I was rejected, that feeling Elle Woods had in Legally Blonde when she attempted to join her classmates in study group with fresh baked muffins replays in my mind. I mean, come on, it sucks.

What I find interesting when I frequent the job boards of all my favorite companies it is interesting that most of them are senior or manager positions. Few of them are at my level. It makes me wonder why SO MANY are at that level. Who the hell is leading these teams for these companies if they have a huge number of openings?

And then someone explained to me part of the reason those postings exist is because they already have people slated for those positions. And more often than not they come from other companies (namely competitors).

So let me get this straight — you want to hire someone WHO ALREADY HAS A JOB in the industry? And then they wonder why the tech and gaming industry is hurting in the realm of diversity. Such an incestuous hiring practice does no good for a company that is aiming to reflect the societal breakdown of the consumers it hopes to gain and maintain.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and admire a company that chooses to hire/promote from within, but this bouncing of people between companies is not fair to those of us looking to break in. Especially when people like me chose to learn and grow while we served the nation.

Look, I don’t expect favors, and I don’t expect hand outs. I busted my ass for ten years to gain experience and knowledge which included doing so in environments where things exploded and people died in a tragically frequent basis. What I want is to be taken seriously as a candidate with a LOT to offer that I have MORE than efficiently communicated in a resume, cover letter and interview.

I’ve never been one to wallow (okay, maybe a little — but usually only for an evening with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a depressing movie), so people reading this are likely to ask,

“So what are you going to do about it?”

That I at least can answer. Keep trying. I mean, I lose everything if I simply give up.

Continue networking, seeking out opportunities for self-improvement. Continue applying.

I’ll wear them down Sandra Bullock at the Oscars style.

I work in communications — I’m not looking to make millions of dollars or live some lavish lifestyle. I don’t think it’s asking a lot to get a job at a company I really like (or love) even if the pay isn’t up to some unknown standard. I just want to work, to EARN my right to be there and to do a job that will make me happy. Happy because it challenges me in the right ways, and makes or develops things that I enjoy myself and can share with others. This is why I chose gaming and tech.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. “
Truman Capote

If that’s true, Mr. Capote, then I have  in one year, gathered enough condiments to flavor every hot dog at Yankee Stadium for a few seasons.

For now though: Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked…and, hehe, Legally Blonde. I believe things are in order for this evening.

Gaming Overload; or, E32014 round-up shows it’s all about the games

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No scandalous PR fiascos, exciting announcements, great demos — some have said that this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was a bit subdued, but having walked the floor I can tell you that wasn’t the case.

Traipsing around for two consecutive days, I tried just about everything I could get my hands on — even if it meant waiting in a line with a wait time that rivals any Disney theme park line.

I’m just going to say I might be a little biased because it was my first E3 (a trip made possible by wonderful friend in the gaming industry) so some dazzle and flare might have been in my eyes, but overall titles that were shown were solid, and since there were no pending console releases it was all about the games.

So speaking of the console wars, let’s get this out of the way so we can focus on the awesome games.

IMG_1995

Microsoft has stepped up its game with Xbox One in Indie support and has started LISTENING to its customers

Microsoft kicked off the entire week with its press conference, which set an amazing tone. At least amazing considering the bomb it dropped at least year’s E3 from which the company is STILL recovering.

  • Kinect? Gone.
  • Xbox Gold tax for media streaming services? Gone.
  • Extra $100 over PS4’s price tag? Gone.
  • Lack of indie developer support? Amended with a beefed up ID@Xbox program.

Also included in their press conference was the announcement of some awesomely tempting console exclusives:

  • Halo 5: Guardians (which coincides with an AMAZING box set, Halo: The Master Chief Collection)
  • Sunset Overdrive (which demo’d well on the floor)
  • Forza Horizon 2 (which ups the ante on stellar racing car game graphics and is simply stunning)
  • First access to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare DLCs

Overall it was a humble showing, which is the step Microsoft needed to take in the wake of Don Mattrick’s mishandling last year’s E3:

Was it enough to get more people interested in the console? Time will tell, but one can clearly see Microsoft is finally listening to its customers by exercising some of the more controversial features and supporting indie developers in way it should have been from the start. When console lifetimes span several years, and seeing as how we aren’t at a full year since release, Xbox certainly is in a place where it can catch up to Sony to remain the strong competitor it should have been from the start. Heck, even I sat up straighter during the Xbox conference:

 Sony solidified its reign with a bucket list of exclusives and remote play features

Not to be outshown by Microsoft, Sony pulled out all the stops during its opening conference.

The exclusives:

  • Destiny (not a console exclusive, but the beta is and early access — hopefully you PS4 owners signed up, as the website SHUT. DOWN. during the conference from people jumping on that offer so fast)
  • Little Big Planet 3 (seriously a WICKED FUN franchise and graphics are even more beautiful)
  • Battlefield: Hardline (again, not a console exclusive but the Beta and early access are)
  • Early Access to Far Cry 4, Batman: Arkham Knight, and even Mortal Kombat X
  • Hell even Blizzard got in on the action: An exclusive The Last of Us-themed nephalem rift in the forthcoming Diablo: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition.
  • And of course, the exclusives that were announced or previewed: Bloodborne, The Order, Uncharted 4, Grim Fandango reboot, and the visually stunning No Man’s Sky.

Also upping the ante is variety of remote play features that make most gamers drool at the possibilities of playing older titles:

  • Vita’s remote play that current owners enjoy will be more desirable when the libraries open up for PlayStation Now and is coupled with the remote play for PlayStation TV which enables the console to be played from any TV on an owner’s home network.
  • PlayStation Now will launch with more than 100 titles (beta access starts late July) and will open up older ones progressively.

Sony is showing they will fight hard to stay on top and really, who’s losing here? If this forces steeper competition between the console giants so be it — we get to reap the benefits as customers with better titles, stronger features, and somewhat lower costs.

Nintendo closed the conferences and kicked off E3 with the same humility of Xbox and blew people minds

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Day one of E3 opened with a conference from the last of the major console developers, which for Nintendo was smart move. It wasn’t as flashy as last year’s showing which attempted to sway people by shooting glitter in their eyes with what was then a $299 dust collector.

Over the last year, Nintendo has progressively started releasing smash title after smash title and from the announcements during their conference, the developer is showing no signs of slowing down:

  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl revealed new fighters and was the most prominent of its convention floor demo stations. Nintendo even had an amazing tournament with the winner busting out an 11th-hour win in sudden death with Zero Suit Samus that got the crowd seriously pumped for its forthcoming cross-platform title (WiiU & 3DS).
  • The announcement and previewing of a forthcoming Starfox title that opened people’s mouths in awe.
  • And of course other amazing titles that were available on the floor: Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker, Splatoon, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and a preview (not playable on the floor) of the figurine system Amiibo, which will compete with the likes of Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

But the biggest most crowd-roaring announcement that had people talking the rest of the day on the convention floor was glimpse at a new open-world Zelda.

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It’s not entirely clear at this point what character players will control because people still aren’t even sure if that is Link in the photo. But the images shown during the conference and replayed on the floor showed a beautifully rendered Hyrule. Suffice to say, the mood on the floor was that “Nintendo is back.”

Again, time will tell. As I’ve written before about Nintendo, it seems to be resting on laurels, some of which are as old as the company itself. Granted it’s those laurels that saw the most success in the last year as Super Mario 3D World and the recently released Mario Kart 8 have sold in the millions. But hell, even I widen my eyes at the future which promises an open-world Zelda game.

So it’s really hard to answer “Who came out on top?” because I think each platform shined with its offerings. What made this year different was simply that E3’s focus was solely on gaming line-ups. Sony did well with justifying why I bought a PS4 in the first place. Microsoft did well with showing me it is willing to learn from its mistakes and is even offering things that would TEMPT me to buy a system, and Nintendo is finally making good on my WiiU purchase, which admittedly was a purchase more for the nostalgia of the developer than for the system’s offerings (at the time).

Now to a few of the games that had great presence or awesome previews.

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My first stop was at the WB Games booth where a dear friend of mine works. Of course that meant front of the line privilege for the theater room seating for the pre-release demos of both Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight.

1. If you are a fan of the Arkham Series for Batman, just you wait. Seriously. You’ve never seen a more visually jaw-dropping Batman game.

Batman: Arkham Knight has a few combat additions that made this offering unique such as the ability to actually drive AND USE the Batmobile in combat as players will take on a new enemy in the series, Scarecrow. Sadly though, release dates for this (and a majority of the more popular E3 titles) aren’t until well into 2015.

2. Mortal Kombat X will feature new fighters and a new story

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Having watched the announcement trailer several hundred times in the 24 hours it was shown online to the time I sat in the pre-release demo theater, I was already prepared for the gruesome showing. But that trailer pales in comparison to what we were shown and it shows Mortal Kombat doing what Mortal Kombat does best, great graphics, awesomely-bloody fatalities and fun environmental fighting quirks. It’s a return to form for Ed Boon and the gang at Netherrealm. And if the gameplay wasn’t enough the story had me intrigued even more as one of the new fighters shown was Cassie Cage, the daughter of MK vets Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade (apparently the game’s story is 25 years after MK9) — the entire theater reacted to that news and even friends I’ve told since have had similar “LOLWUT!?” reactions. Guess we’ll have to wait and find out about that story.

So moving around the different halls here are a few of my observations:

3. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition‘s UI Updates Make the game even more fun

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I have loved the synergy the development team at Blizzard has had for bringing a PC gem to the console. The best of both the PC and console versions seems to go back and forth and it has made for a great gaming experience on both ends. While people detested the initial launch of D3, the subsequent console release proved that certain features didn’t need to exist (i.e. the Auction Houses) and as such the PC version’s Reaper of Souls update saw a lot of emulation from console to much success. The UI changes make the game easier to navigate, especially with regards to loot scrolling and managing abilities.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the new The Last of Us-themed nephalem rift, but alas, it was not shown on the demo floor. Still though, Blizzard teaming with Naughty Dog to make beautiful zombie loot-piñatas  has me excited.

4. Onigiri makes a beautiful leap from PC to PS4

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Fans of Aisan-grinder MMOs (no judgement, not my flavor) will see last year’s Free-to-Play  CyberStep, Inc. release make a jump to the PS4 with the same offerings. I happen to be walking by the demo station and the gameplay caught my eye. I normally hate grind-heavy MMOs because, well…they’re grindy. So much time killing random things for a level increase to be strong enough to take on the next level of content. It’s honestly why I gave up on the beautiful and hair-pullingly frustrating Aion. But if Onigiri is considered a grinder, I couldn’t tell from the demo. The boss encounters were well designed and scale nicely depending on if one is fighting solo, or with a few people. It’s as beautiful as one would expect an anime-style MMO to be, and it comes with the same price-tag as the PC version: free. For gamers on a budget, you can’t really complain with free.

5. Kingdom Heart s 2.5 HD finds me wanting the LONG OVERDUE Kingdom Hearts 3.

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The only thing I find annoying about the release of games like this (which are amazing and visually top notch) is that they keep me from fully committing to my PS4 because of its release on PS3. But just as one would expect, the gameplay is much smoother and visually appealing on the HD release. The main screen in the Square Enix demo area played KH3 teasers and all it did was make me sad. Why they don’t release these HD versions on PS4 is beyond me. KH is a franchise that is being kept alive by the constant nipping at SE’s heels by rabid fans like myself because otherwise I get the feeling SE would rather focus more on its Final Fantasy franchise (which considering FF15 was announced last E3, one would not have guessed because there was NO presence  on the floor).

6. Evolve finally gives us a glimpse on the FPS gamer nerd version of “You’re It”

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Four players with guns. One player gets to be the monster (one that gets to, you know, evolve with every kill). I keep stating I’m not an FPS kind of guy, but more and more games keep being shown to me that make me want to rethink that (last year it started with the subtle FPS aspects of The Last of Us). This year it looks like Turtle Beach/2K’s Evolve will do that, and continue on to next year(ish) when The Division (announced and previewed with no demo on the floor) is released. The shooter aspects of Evolve are pretty standard, get gun, run around, shoot said gun, get upgrades, so on. But again, it’s the small twists that make this such an intriguing game, running around and getting to play the monster and watch it grow into a Kraken, for example. That is what will set this apart from the seemingly unending pool of titles in the FPS realm. This was quite easily the best title and demo station on the convention floor.

7. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was everything I wanted and more from the next offering in this franchise

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So much so, that it sucked up more than 60 percent of Nintendo’s real estate on the show floor. The character selection is actually what makes this offering more than just an updated SSBB for WiiU/3DS. I mean, Pacman, the Wii Fit instructor…it really shows Nintendo’s sense of meta-humor which is awesome. What’s more, it is an amazingly social game. Like, I’m looking at my GamePad and my two regular controllers and I’m thinking, “If I want more people to come and play this, I need more controllers.” Plus the interaction between GamePad and the game is exactly what it should be as it offers off-screen glimpses into the match at hand with scores and such. Though it IS SSBB, so you know not to take your eye off the match for too long before you’re booted off screen.

8. Little Big Planet 3 adds new characters and increases the fun on this puzzler franchise

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Both the single player and co-op modes are incredibly wicked fun. The visual aesthetic of the game remains unchanged, but what has improved is the finite detail in the emotes of the characters, the rich depth of the scenery, the realistic look and feel of the objects,  and the overall balance of the scene. If there were a “Mario” type of game for the PlayStation console, this would be it and Sackboy would (and should) be the mascot of PlayStation (even if it wasn’t developed by Sony per se, but rather Media Molecule). I mean really, the game has reached a third release (LBP3 being the first on PS4). Unlike most of the game shown or previewed, LBP3 comes out THIS YEAR (in November) and it will support the levels seen in the previous two titles that were released on PS3.

9. Project Morpheus is *pinches* THIS CLOSE for mainstream release

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I’m still trying to wrap my mind around full immersion games. Don’t get me wrong, PM and Oculus Rift offer great possibilities, but perhaps I’m just not ready to see myself getting stabbed in the chest by an alien in the VR-ready Alien:Isolation, the first of OR’s offerings. But seeing as how OR was only available for previewing to credentialed press and not regular attendees, I only got to try PM. And I can say, PM was pretty tight. It was still in demo-mode so I didn’t get stabbed by an alien, but it’s comfortable, the controls are intuitive and with Sony as its backer, you KNOW when this puppy is ready, it’s going to have some serious clout and the games to go with it. OR might have the jump on availability, but as we saw with last year’s E3, going second can have some SERIOUS advantages for Sony.

10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War kept my heart as I left this year’s E3

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I watched the gameplay demo, this after nearly balling my eyes out during Ubisoft’s conference where the trailer premiered. This game completely blind-sided me with its amazing story, yes, told through the eyes of the dog who had befriended each person featured in the game as you learn their story.  The art direction is nothing short of amazing, as is the music. Luckily PC gamers won’t have to wait long as its June 25 release date is fast approaching. It’s not an action game, or an FPS, but rather a story puzzler, much like last year’s phenomenal jazz-noir Contrast. Of all the amazing games previewed or demoed, this UbiArt offering had my vote for fan favorite.

Sadly, I left before the closing of E3 and I had but one title on my bucket list I didn’t get to demo, Destiny. Evolve and Destiny had the longest wait times in the demo lines and I opted for Evolve knowing that I’d get to jump in the PS4 Alpha-test for Destiny, well, today. :D Also not making the list were the vast number of indie games, particularly from Indiecade which had a huge corner of the publisher’s floor. This is actually a knock on me, because I tend to champion more indie fare than AAAs, save for my love of anything Blizzard, Naughty Dog, Ubisoft, and EA to name a few. Indie games tend to be more fun because they have a lot more to prove than AAAs, and as such have a lot of heart, sweat, blood and tears behind their production.

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As far as E3 outtings go, this being my first I have nothing to compare it to except for BlizzCon and San Diego ComicCon, but those are different venues so, yeah, no comparison there. It was a nice glimpse into the very industry I’m working hard to break into. A part of me did leave a little sad knowing full well my struggle to break in has so far yielded no results. But you know, that’s part of the challenge. So, dear friends…

…challenge is nothing without the struggle.

Deep Blue Sea; or, ending a chapter and starting anew in this thing we call life

And with that, my service in the United States Navy is officially complete. End of contract. Finito. Fin.

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Ten and a half years ago, I embarked on a journey. Spurred on from a drunken Cuervo-fueled argument with a dear friend about the direction of my life (or lack thereof).

My first attempt at college and living out on my own was a bust. I failed most spectacularly and spent a few years just roaming about. I did have a steady job for a number of years at Bath & Body Works and just worked to live. Plenty of dreams, but no degree or means of getting anywhere. It takes a true friend to call you out on that feeling of helplessness. A true friend will see your lack of initiative and call you out on it. So to my friend, Taryn, I love you and can’t thank you for that metaphorical Cher-esque slap across the face telling me to “snap out of it!”

I was humbled immediately by journey in the military. As the academic in the family, I always mistakenly thought I was above hard and menial work. They Navy said “Screw that,” and put a mop in my hand and told me to swab the centerline passageway. I worked from the bottom-most ring up meeting the most incredible and selfless shipmates and mentors along the way.

Traveling all over the world was an amazing experience. Moving about the globe by sea:

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Land:

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And air:

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Takin’ selfies before they were cool ;)

It’s not unknown that my deployments to the Middle East were – I’ll put it lightly – humbling, to say the least. My experience was not confined to the safety of an operating base. I traveled around Afghanistan (once even in disguise) on photojournalism and public affairs assignments covering patrol groups, reconstruction efforts, humanitarian assistance, and even the death of fellow comrades. I saw what war can do to a country and its people. I witnessed fire fights, battles, and even sent fellow Americans home in boxes:

afghanistanramp1Fair winds and following seas.

I was lucky. I made it home safe and sound. As it is Memorial Day Weekend, I feel it’s necessary to reflect on that part of the journey where I said good-bye to fellow servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation’s freedoms. They will not be forgotten.

I believe it was somewhere in the Middle East, likely Bahrain, when I had just finished paying off the school debt from my failed first experience that I knew I had to finish what I started. My parents had high hopes for me as I did for myself and I knew sitting at the media watch desk at U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain that I wanted to work at a place like Blizzard Entertainment. I’ve written ad nauseum about this, but it bears repeating as dreams often do. I knew the only way to get there was to buckle down, learn from the mistakes I made in college and take the experience I had thus far in the military and apply myself.

I found school rather enjoyable — even going full time some semesters. What started in Bahrain I took to San Diego and during my final tour with the USS Anchorage (LPD 23), I finished what I started:

degrees1This one’s for dad, and Taryn.

Where I go from here is unknown. But I feel so much more prepared than when I was putzing around before the Navy. There are so many great experiences I would not give up for anything and I know that this journey was meant as a learning tool. You see wherever I end up, be it at Blizzard, or any other great company, I’ll appreciate it more. It’s a lesson I saw firsthand in the Navy. Undesignated seaman tend to do better when they are finally selected for a job in the Navy because they appreciate it more — they had to bust their ass to get there.

I spent ten years busting my ass to get to this point so I know I’ll have that appreciation of landing that cushy office job because I know things could be a lot harder. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and I’m a more well-rounded person thanks to the many leaders who instilled those values in me. I’ve served with great people and I’m grateful.

Thank you all and much love.

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Serving Up Authentic Geek & Gamer Realness | Aramis X. Ramirez

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