Rise of MegaMaid; elevating Diablo 3 into the gamer stratosphere with ‘Reaper of Souls’

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If Diablo III: Reapers of Souls is the game we should have received two years ago, then would would the game be like today?

It seems to be that the biggest praise for D3:RoS is that it’s the standard of excellence that should have been met two years ago in D3′s initial release and said initial incarnation fell so far from the mark that people oft wish it be erased from Blizzstory.

It’s not a sentiment I particularly agree with. Let’s be clear on some things though: RoS is an EXCELLENT addition by all means, but the initial release of D3 wasn’t the giant mound of triceratops poop people criticized it to be either. It did indeed have some missteps, but it was still by and large a fun and exciting game to play.

How interesting it is that people who criticized D3 often shoved the success and much-adoredness of D2 in the face of anyone on social media posting ANYTHING to do with D3 when they seemed to have forgotten that D2 was less than spectacular up until its one and only expansion, Lord of Destruction, was unleashed. D3′s missteps weren’t game-breakers, but they did warrant some correction. And thus, with the release of RoS, Spaceball One has now become Mega Maid (only, you know…without that pesky Lonestar trying to push the self-destruct button).

Problem the First: Game Identity

The initial problem that hindered the game was replayability. This marred Diablo’s search for game identity. Is it an RPG? Is it an action game? Is it a dungeon crawler? Is it an MMO?

This was exacerbated by the fact that the first goal was not simply to beat Diablo, but to level a character to cap level (then, 60). Further complicating things was that after a content patch, in order to track progression in a similar fashion to the leveling experience, the Paragon system was released and too offered then a cap on the progression of said characters.

The problem was rooted in the fact that one had to replay the same four acts (or simply find the most lucrative of Acts…Act 3 in my opinion) just to level a character or farm out gold and gear.

The solution: while it may certainly be debatable, I think it goes without saying Blizzard found that both the game and its players’ goals were more in line with a dungeon crawler, and such, reduced other elements to back-burner status and elevated that which would enable the game to be enjoyed by breaking it up. Difficulty settings were modified not only to adjust for challenge, but also for reward bonuses (added experience points, chance at gold and epic loot, etc.).

What I find interesting about the difficulty settings is the ease of their adjustment. As one levels a new character, you can increase the content as you find challenges easier to overcome. In some cases you can increase the difficulty up one setting while playing (or exit out to increase it as high as you wish), or decrease it as often as you wish should you run into particularly gruesome roadblocks.

The best addition to Diablo’s dungeon crawler identity is Adventure Mode. Players can access it at any time (even while leveling) and can play through various taskings and challenges in any of the acts. Those challenges are randomly selected by the game and all must be completed to obtain a chest of gear which include key tokens for cross-dimensional challenge rifts (more on that in a sec), as well as gear you’ll either scrap for disenchantment material, sell for gold, or may even be an amazing upgrade (beauty of the game is, you just never know).

The aforementioned Nephalem Rifts can also be accessed via Adventure Mode using key tokens one collects when completing adventure mode quests and boss challenges. Five tokens are needed to open a rift which will remain open until one logs out of the game or completes the quest that will close it out. Stepping inside one will find him or herself in any randomly selected dungeon setting with equally randomized enemy packs (desert wasps in a Westmarch dungeon, or Westmarch Death Maidens in a New Tristram crypt, for example). The final boss offers the most challenge and the highest chance at an exorbitant amount of loot drops both in quantity and quality. I found rift farming particularly challenging and engaging with friends rather than going in solo.

Problem the Second: Character Progression

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Leveling is an easy way to track progression. Ding. I’m one level higher than I was before. I have more power, I have more resources, I have newer abilities to melt or rip off a stronger enemy’s face. Paragon leveling offered the same progression to characters already at the maximum level (60 in Diablo’s initial launch and now 70 in RoS). In actuality it still does. A problem that existed prior to RoS was the fact that both the regular character and the paragon levels capped out at some point. Character progress became untrackable and replaying content became pointless, particularly because genuine loot upgrades were few and far between. In order for Blizzard to fully embrace the dungeon crawler identity, it needed to revamp gameplay that was encouraging to repeated runs through content.

The solution: The first step was to remove the Paragon level cap. This allows people to track their activity in game contributing to the mentality “ah, well, no loot this time, at least I got some Pxp which will make me stronger, and maybe I can try a higher difficulty setting down the road to get a better chance at higher quality loot.”

Also promising better progression was the Loot 2.0 system. Probably the most important system for character-specific progression is a system in which the loot dropped is USEABLE by your character, or “smart” loot as it’s called. I found the system to not be ENTIRELY perfect, if only because I managed two legendary demon hunter chest drops while playing on my wizard (Intentional? Game bug? Jury’s still out on that). The idea behind Loot 2.0 is that while rare and legendary gear drops may seem far apart, when you DO get something it should be valuable to you. If you couple this with the new enchanting system and legendary crafting patterns for your Blacksmith, you find that even non-upgrade legendaries now have a purpose. For example, disenchanting unusable level 70 legendaries yields a Forgotten Soul which is needed to enchant other legendaries (and by “enchant” I mean change an undesired property to your choice of one of three other randomly selected properties).

Loot 2.0, a rejiggered crafting system, and a new enchanting and transmogifrying service, all combined to create the Schwartz force necessary to push Mega Maid’s “suck” switch to “blow,” thus breathing new life into the attention spans of the community’s most demanding gamers (and also laying to rest the franchise’s most controversial features).

REST IN PEACE, AUCTION HOUSE

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Where D3 pre-RoS was a fun game all things considered, the one piece of it that spoiled it for most people was the Real Money and Gold-Based Auction Houses. People selling off trash gear for obscene amounts of money (because really, no one even LOOKED at the gold-based AH) contributed solely to the first problem mentioned in this blog. Why replay something when you can spend a few bucks to get the gear you know in all likelihood will not drop for you.

I will say this though.

While I am indeed glad to see both AHs gone, I have to give props to Blizzard for at least TRYING to streamline external game transactions. Again, how quickly D3′s biggest critics forgot about the loot transaction system that existed in D2. External trade channels and character muling often opened players up to botters and shady third-party services that could jilt players out of both loot and personal finances. While an account-wide stash resolved muling issues, the trade system remained particularly challenging, partly because those who revere D2 often attribute such reverence to the trading system that encouraged community interaction. The RMAH and GAHs aimed at providing a outlet for people to trade unwanted, though valuable loot while giving them  options on how they wish to benefit from their luck. Coupling the stigma associated with a “pay for play” progression mindset with that of the greed that tends to infest an AH environment, and it’s easy to see why the RMAH/GAH was an experiment doomed for failure. Though I find it alarming that Blizzard appeared to be so surprised by the anti-AH sentiments when all designers needed to do was go into World of Warcraft to see how awful that system is to see that involving real money would only exponentialize the hate. If there’s one thing positive that came out of the experience, is that it revealed Blizzard to be a developer that cherishes feedback and also forced it to rethink the progression systems, the revamps of which we now get to enjoy. But alas, this horse is officially dead and placed in a modestly marked grave with the epitaph, “Good riddance.” And so shall it be.

Stay awhile, and play…

Overall the changes offered in RoS are welcomed. Act V continues what I thought to be a great story in the beautifully constructed and darkly tragic Westmarch. The newly added Crusader class is wicked fun to play and with the changes in how one can level and progress, is relatively easy to reach cap level to continue Paragon progression. Lest we forget that the production elements and touches are what separate Blizzard titles from the pack — as such, a nod to the amazing environments, in-game cinematics and music must be made.

Now, if only we had news on the release of the planned PS4 (and XBox One) versions, and I’ll be a happy gamer.

Unleashing the gaming hounds; or, Blizzard’s Karazhan-style eSports chess maneuvering…

What’s more fun that tin-foil hattings about the goings-on of one of the gaming industry’s biggest hitters?

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There have been quite a few interesting developments in the structuring of Blizzard’s eSports line-up lately. Developments that affect all of the company’s current and future eSports offerings.

First up was the announcement of the Heroes of the Storm Alpha (which will likely be mostly in-house testing with a limited number of community influencers before the next phases of testing opens up progressively). Having tested the game at BlizzCon, I can say that it was certainly much further along than I had anticipated and viewing a few of the panels meant that we’ll likely see the title before long (or, Soon™, as we’ve come to know from Blizzard’s timeline vernacular).

Next we got wind that Blizzard was mutually parting ways with North American Star League, despite having already started the current WCS Starcraft II tournament season. Both sides remain mum on the actual reasons, while only glossing over the situation with the more simplified “We couldn’t honor our obligations and decided to go our separate ways.”

But there are a few floating pieces that seem to indicate this is more than just a failure to meet obligations.  Because really, NASL was only in charge of ONE title with an average Twitch.tv viewership of maybe 10K viewers.

On top of the Heroes of the Storm developments, there was also the fact that Hearthstone finally officially launched — this a few weeks after Blizzard announced intentions to support it as an eSport title by updating their community tournament licensing to include the CCG title. Couple that with the Alpha release of HOTS, and one can easily see what those “obligations” were that could not be met by NASL’s quaintly understaffed crew. Granted HOTS still has more development to undergo before it’s officially launched, but Hearthstone is now complete and Blizzard is itching to take on the CCG aspect of eSports by storm (no pun intended).

So what does it all mean? Well, first it means that Blizzard is playing Karazhan-style chess by strategically placing all of its eSports pieces on the board to take on the community and blow everyone away (at least one would hope). 2014 will be a big year for the company in the eSports world, I’m almost positive of that fact.

What I hope to NOT see is Blizzard trying to market solely to the MOBA-format eSports community by sniping at competitor audience numbers through typical side-by-side comparison marketing (think Apple vs. Samsung, iPad vs. Surface, cell phone companies). Just as most MMOs have tried the “next WoW killer” strategy and failed, so too would Blizzard if it decided to take on Riot’s eSport-leading MOBA title League of Legends. HOTS is not a LoL killer, nor should it be. Between what I tested at BlizzCon and the current Alpha-test walkthrough video, HOTS will definitely succeed on its own merit.

What I’m excited to see with Blizzard’s eSports offerings is to see just how successful both Hearthstone and HOTS will be, but Hearthstone in particular. Even in closed beta, Hearthstone‘s popularity seemed astronomical as evidenced by its reception at the BlizzCon Invitational. There was such an enormous showing that all signs point to Blizzard having another leading platform title, especially since the CCG market isn’t exactly bringing the numbers as far as eSports go (meaning it’s just WAITING for a superstar title).

I said it before…2014 is going to be a BIG year for Blizzard.

Pon de HOTS video and commence drooling:

INB4 check and mate.

Pairing the bookends; or, ending the Navy career on a high note…

Just as I received my DD214 today that I will use in gaining employment in the coming weeks, I got some brilliant news courtesy of the Chief of Information’s office.

The 60-page program I designed for USS Anchorage’s (LPD 23) commissioning ceremony won first place in the annual Navy Media Awards competition in the Graphics – Publication (Open) category.

Here is a preview of it…download it for a higher resolution.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

What makes this special is that I won an NMA in 2004 (then called the CHINFO Merit Awards) and because of that win, I was finally able to get my foot into the door in the Navy media community after two years of being told I couldn’t be in it. Alas, this year’s win book ends what has been a great communications experience that hopefully will continue wherever I end up.

/dance

Those last two bells; or, fair winds and following seas…

deptthanks_anchorageWhat a ride. 10.5 years, the last three on good ol’ USS Anchorage (LPD 23).

Closer to 11 years ago, one Cuervo-fueled late night argument with one of my best friends who I consider a sister, led to a decision that ended up being one of the most important ones I made in my life. I cannot thank her enough.

I leave with an Associates degree and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree, work experience, lifetime friendships and some great memories.

I promise I won’t be one of those war vets (hard to think of myself as one, but I did my time out there in the Middle East and was lucky enough to come home with all my limbs attached where others weren’t so lucky) that constantly talks about his time in the military. But I will think of it fondly for as long as I am able.

Here’s to a new adventure — still not sure where I’ll end up but thankfully, there are possibilities on the horizon. 10.5 years ago, I had limited options, an incomplete education and was directionless.

If you would have asked me then if I ever would have thought I could apply to a company like Blizzard, or a PR Firm like TriplePoint would be flying me out for an interview — I would have probably smiled graciously and then quietly gone to my room and cried thinking those types of things would never happen.

We’ll see where this road goes…going to be exciting and I’m nervous as hell. Thankfully, I have the best group of friends and a supportive family to turn to when I have a freak out.

 

Redbull in the Coffee; or, jolting #Nintendo’s lagging business with some new social-focused energy

Seriously, Nintendo, WAKE UP.

The hot topic in the gaming industry seems to be the ill fortunes of one of the industry’s once upon a time heaviest hitters and its seemingly geriatric-orientated solutions to drum up revenue that would do a better job of putting gamers to sleep than sleepy time tea.

Not Sure If_nintendo

There isn’t a happy memory in my childhood that doesn’t surround the adventures I had alongside Yoshi and Mario or even ripping some dude’s heart out on Mortal Kombat. I remember working hard to pump out the homework assignments to earn my ticket to an evening chockfull of the horrors and suspenseful jumps that awaited in Resident Evil (because yes, I was the GOOD kid that took the time to actually DO my homework first vice blowing it off).

Over the years I’ve still maintained my affair with Nintendo. Xboxes come and PS2/3/4s go. But Nintendo seems to always be there…good ol’ reliable Nintendo.

Maybe that’s the problem. Where technology and advances in gaming both in terms of visual aesthetics and interactivity are evident in the current generation of console gaming, Nintendo games haven’t seemed to change. I’d like to think that’s a good thing. When I play Mario, I’m more concerned about the challenge of the puzzles I’m forced to solve to wade through the end of a level into a castle where a fungus-y friend awaits to tell me the damn princess is in another castle; this over the cinematic one-upmanship that dominates the titles swimming in the libraries of both PlayStation and Xbox.

But in console wars of late, Nintendo has been lagging to the detriment of its bottom line. It took FOREVER for people to pick up on 3DS handhelds and even longer to embrace Wii U.

Let’s take a look at some of the past issues and future challenges that Nintendo must come to terms with if its to survive and continue giving future generations the same joy I had growing up when I finally finished that last annoying essay or pre-cal problem blocking my path to sheer 8 or 16-bit bliss.

Is it or Isn’t it a new system

Wii Same Systems

As decades-old Nintendo customer, even I scratched my head at the Wii U when it first came out. I honestly couldn’t make sense of it. I set up the Wii U right next to the previous Wii console I had and turned my head feeling kind of duped. The only thing I had to show for the fact that I had bought a new system was the touchscreen GamePad that came with the U, and a controller similar to the generation of Wii controllers that had preceded it. So similar in fact you could use the exact same controllers from your old Wii and use them on the Wii U adding to the confusion.

But apparently I wasn’t the only person to have the same conflicting feelings about the two systems.

I’m just going to say flat out: the name choice was AWFUL.

I mean, would Wii 2 have been so bad? Wii Touch? Something that when first reading the name would have clued people in that this is indeed an entirely new system.

Take one last moment to really consider why this was a problem.

Imagine a society where we are used to electronics being upgraded every so often where the naming of said device or system is so vital that any non-distinction could be met with downturn sales or an apathetic response from consumers. iPhone 5 users weren’t exactly rushing to the stores to get the newer 5s because they knew it wasn’t an entirely new phone from what they had. However they did know and feel the difference between an iPhone 4 and a 5. The naming distinction is subtle, yes, but so pronounced that people could assess the difference between 4 and 5. The same could be said between Kindle and Kindle Fire, Xbox and Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3. But it wasn’t just the difference in names, the hardware itself is distinctive.

Again, as an owner of both Wiis, it’s annoying that the only thing really different between the systems is the touch screen controller, as previously mentioned.

Ok, this horse is officially beaten and dead – the poor guy.

For awhile Nintendo seemed to slowly but surely be recovering from the launch confusion with some really great titles like the well received Super Mario World 3D. But the problem with resting on your laurels (especially ones that have existed since the 1980s) is that the cushion on said laurel loses its elasticity and the butt print from the 800-lb gorilla becomes permanent. Thus the current troubles Nintendo finds itself in.

This town needs an enema!

Wii Risks

What Wii U needs is an image makeover, one where it severs itself from its previous iteration (much like its controller design) and fully embraces the entirety of the Nintendo family.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned with venturing out and exploring the corporate world is that you have to start with what you know.

We know that there are Wii owners and 3DS owners. Two completely different systems that make complete and total sense to bring together. Mistake the first for Wii U was that Nintendo did NOT bring these two groups of consumers together. In fact, Nintendo wasted money on developing a touchscreen GamePad that would act as the main controller for Wii U. WHY? 3DS would have made more sense. Current owners of the 3DS would find the easiest transition to upgrading or buying into the Wii U so then the remaining challenge would be to get current Wii owners to become owners of BOTH the 3DS and the Wii U.

Thankfully stores like Gamestop work with Nintendo to offer bundle set-ups that would have brought the pricing down for both. But the marketing emphasis would focus on the fact that one could get a Wii U AND an accompanying 3DS for STILL less the price of a single PS4 or Xbox One.

The sad part of this suggestion is this is where people THOUGHT Nintendo was going and when it was evident that wasn’t the case, competitors swooped in and took advantage: PS4 owners who also own a Vita can enjoy the very marriage of systems Nintendo shirked when it decided to make a new touchscreen controller vice incorporating the 3DS.

Once everyone is brought up to speed and in the happy world of dual Wii U-3DS ownership, the next step would be to create an atmosphere conducive to the interconnectivity between the handheld system and the main system. Thankfully Nintendo already has said system in place.

As Scott Stein on CNET points out, the Virtual Console service can serve as the link between worlds (pun intended). As Stein suggests:

Nintendo should also open up tons of those old Virtual Console games — and more — to a subscription-based monthly gaming service. It doesn’t need the latest hits, or even the last few consoles. Just put the really back-catalog stuff on there. You know, like Netflix. Or, more to the point, like Sony is doing with PlayStation Plus. That service — which costs $50 a year, or about $4 per month — is quickly becoming one of the best values in gaming.

By “Netflixing” their catalogs, customers can enjoy the amazing offerings from the history of Nintendo on both systems using the 3DS as the controller for the Wii U and still be able to take the 3DS and enjoy the games while on travel.

And moving beyond that just imagine what would happen when Wii U games become 3DS games and vice versa. The current catalog increases to such an amazing number that the minds of title-hungry gamers would figuratively explode.

And with the mobility of 3DS think of another market that can take advantage of the Virtual Console. That market in which Nintendo up to this point has forsaken: mobile. In the way that iPhone and Apple TV can interact, so too can apps be created on iOS and Android systems that enable people to achieve the same effect with Wii U. I’m not saying give full mobile control over the Wii U system in the same way I’m suggesting they do it with the 3DS, but hey, increasing customer numbers at this point couldn’t hurt Nintendo. Besides, I’ve always thought Nintendo to be a tad closed minded to shirk its nose at the mobile market. And I want to play Mortal Kombat on my iPhone and iPad dagummit!

Gamification of the Mii-verse

Of course what is the melding of systems and differing consumer markets without the gamification of such ownership for all users. Under the umbrella of the Mii-verse, Nintendo can create a truly innovative social system that rewards social interactions as well as gameplay on the home system as well as on the go. Continue to imagine that 3DS accepting StreetPass invites taking those invites home to the Wii U and now StreetPassers on the 3DS system become friends on the Wii U. If Nintendo games are best enjoyed with multiple players then lets make it easier to add people to the friend lists when not at home accessing the home system.

StreetPassers already enjoy rewards for their social interactions and so too do Mii-verse users on the Wii systems. Again, combining the worlds to create one big one will only encourage Nintendo customers to buy into multiple systems vice just one or the other. I mean if Google can shove G+ down our throats with all of its services, no reason to think Nintendo can’t be successful doing the same thing – and people actually LIKE Nintendo, I don’t think unifying the social system between gaming consoles would change that.

And lastly, this would be yet another opportunity to connect system owners with the mobile market, as pointed out by Wired’s Chris Cohler. The gateway entrance would be characterized by a dual-purpose social and storefront experience that allows people to shop, share and communicate about things Nintendo.

Whatever Nintendo decides to do at this point it has to realize that the only reason its still afloat is because people LOVE Nintendo, but we don’t love the direction its taking to compartmentalizing all its offerings. The current trend in gaming is to create an EXPERIENCE. And sometimes that experience is away from home.

The old school way of doing business is, well…old. So I repeat: WAKE UP Nintendo! Put some caffeine in an IV bag, each a power mushroom and hold the B button while moving forward. Seriously, get some energy.

redbull_in_coffee

Moar Awesome! Or, looking at 2013 carryovers that will change the rules of video gaming PR in 2014

Tom asks, and so shall he receive. Over on the Evolve PR twitter feed, the following question was posed:

For those who don’t know, Evolve is one of the top PR firms whose focus is on video game developers and their titles.

I started thinking about what trends I enjoyed from last year that I think will increase exponentially in 2014. In addition to traditional marketing and promotional practices, there are a few things to consider when trying to increase your awesome with regards to Tom’s question on Twitter.

Diving into the world of the kickstarter:

Last year was a big year for crowdfunding. Through services like (but not limited to) Kickstarter and GoFundMe, developers of all kinds were able jump start production on projects that likely would have never seen the light of day through traditional corporate funding pleas drives. I mean, hell, VERONICA MARS is being made into a movie through such means. But even Forbes reports that the popularity and power of crowdfunding is likely going to continue and increase in 2014.

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For a PR firm whose focus is video games, increasing awareness of fundraising efforts not just for client titles, but ANYTHING in the gaming industry you like is an opportunity to boost street cred. One who becomes a champion of supporting the gaming community as a whole will likely garner closer and more meaningful relationships with clients in the long run when the client sees the people behind the firm care about what affects the community.

For client titles, award genuinely lasting rewards for tier levels to include credits, tangible items, and one-on-one interactions. Most Kickstarter projects offer these things, however these are often the responsibility of the developers. Combine such offerings with the representing firm to increase award pool at earlier tiers which equates to a more memorable investment experience. For a title in the fundraising stage, the combined efforts of developer and firm will increase likelihood of seeing the game into fruition.

Lastly inviting those who pledge to share their experiences by stimulating and moderating an online conversation via social media means people can communicate through the firm their ideas, anticipations and curiosities in front of worldwide audience with the intention of garnering increased awareness (especially if you do something in the ballpark of a Twitter hashtag town hall-esque kind of conversation).

Making a splash through live video media:

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Increase presence on video streaming services like Twitch. YouTube is excellent for trailers and most play-throughs. However, people want to make a connection with their gaming experience. That connection is stimulated through interactions with people and not just the content.

A regularly scheduled Twitch stream allows you to preview client content in addition to general gaming content (again, supporting the community). The key is to show ALL forms of gaming and to allow you to talk about it. People feel better about their decisions when other people state their opinions about something whether they agree with it or not – this has been a founding principle for critical review of any kind for as long as people have had the freedom to express such opinion. Also, when gamers see a REAL PERSON playing through a game they can instantly connect to it, especially if that person running the live stream is vocal and answering questions coming from the channel viewers.

Live programming also gives you the opportunity to put the developer in front of potential customers to ask questions and share concerns or build expectations.

The trick would simply be gaining viewership, which can be accomplished through normal promotional and incentivized means which is something a PR firm should be well versed in.

Increasing Post Launch Information:

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For AAA titles, it’s pretty clear that people often want to see how their game is doing. They refer to the gaming media for this information, which is good for objective statistical numbers reporting.

With clients you often provide this service through research, sales tracking, etc and offer the results through meetings and conference calls. All run-of-the-mill procedural stuff as one would expect. Why not expand that information sharing to the community as a whole, but most especially with the people you likely spent months trying to engage to purchase said titles?

I can say as a gamer, and especially as one who watches for fun, cool, and/or quirky indie titles if I end up buying and completing a game I like I often want to know how it did. Performance results to a customer means that they’ll likely see further content to the game (some games are all about the DLC) or other content from the developer.

The point is transparency to potential consumers in development and promotion should also extend to the post-launch analysis when said potential consumers become actual ones.

To conclude…

The overall theme to these suggestions is truly embracing the image as champions of the gaming industry. PR professionals are expected to promote and sell, but they are people just as well. The gaming community bonds through its likes and dislikes and to sell to them means you have to share yours as well. You are not just selling to them, you’re bonding with them. And in the digital age, that bond is as strong as oak.

If one were to explore the idea that playing video games means an opportunity to interact with character(s) or an avatar that represents who we imagine ourselves to be in the world of the fantastic and unattainable, then one would be remiss if he or she thought such connection didn’t extend into the real world. Thus, it becomes a powerful tool if you can connect with such people on their level, customer and client alike. Community managers and superstar influencers (especially the ones who put themselves on camera or lend a voice to popular gaming podcasts) are what REALLY sell games these days – so why not become an influencer or gaming industry hero yourself?

herocat

10 Stacks of Determination; or, an infographic to aid in deciding to hire Aramis

Happy New Year!

In this first post of twenty-14, I’ve decided to display an infographic I made to send to Blizzard to aid in a decision to hire me.

Behold:

Aramis' Job FlowClick for larger view.

Flow charts! Who doesn’t love them? As much as they are visually appealing, they are a HUGE P.I.T.A. to assemble.  The last one I made was awhile ago when I was finishing up school and I swore I’d never make another one. Never say never, I suppose, ha! Alas, my Warcraft-themed flow chart should at least raise an eyebrow (in a good way — I hope).

What’s unknown to a lot of people is that I interviewed with their PR team last month for a position (decision pending and forthcoming sometime after the holiday season is but a memory). I’ve harbored a dream of working for the company for YEARS and several times during my Navy career I stopped and told myself, “If I only had my degree and I wasn’t in the Navy I would take a position in a HEARTBEAT if they offered.”

Well, my enlistment contract is quickly drawing to an end (terminal leave starting in two months time) and I have my degree. Nothing is holding me back save for an actual offer.

The realist in me knows not to bank everything on this one opportunity. There are quite a few opportunities with other equally great companies on the horizon.

Which leads me to my only resolution for the new year:

I resolve to not inhibit myself from going for what I want and will, through determination, strive to achieve the goals I set out for myself with regards to gaining and sustaining employment at a great place.

I may not know where I will end up in 2014, but I know that it’s going to be an interesting ride.

UPDATE Jan. 17, 2014 20:22 PST:

So I did not end up getting the position. I happen to know personally the guy who did, and it was well-deserved. Blizzard hired internally, and I firmly respect that decision. It’s a quality I look for in an employer, in fact — hiring from within. One day it will be my turn, but until then I wish them the best in their decision.

Double Facepalm; or, #hasjustinelandedyet’s lessons to all about living life through social media

double_facepalm

It all started with a tweet.

Justine Sacco, communications director for IAC (former, now) , conglomerate in charge of such sites as Match.com and Dictionary.com sent out the following tweet prior to boarding a several-hour long flight to Cape Town, South Africa:

saccoLOLwutLet that sink in for a moment if you haven’t already read or heard about this. It’s a real doozy of a WTF moment.

Sunk in yet? Rooted in place? OK…

What we have here is a real lesson in several areas. Now that the dust has somewhat settled, let’s break it down in a few of those areas.

Lesson the first: Once again we see what happens when you, for one moment, underestimate the power of social media

Twice in the last week we have seen people take to social media to vent their frustrations for perceived slights.

The first came to us in the form of the Facebook storm that pitted fans of Duck Dynasty‘s patriarch, Phil Robertson against, well, everyone else. The cultural divide delved deeper than fans of the show and non-fans. In the wake of the digital battle of Gay-tysburg where religious zealots who decry Robertson was robbed of first amendment rights and the lefties who decried Robertson overstepped his bounds when he spoke in direct contradiction of the more accepting philosophies of his employer, A&E (particularly those on homosexuality which always seems to be the most inflammatory of subjects), the online battlefield was rife with equal parts savior, vitriol and inspirational messages of acceptance. It’s a wonder that any sense could be made of Robertson’s situation with the back and forth of a figurative flaming tennis ball on the court, but in the end, I believe it was John Stewart (always the moral compass I find myself agreeing with more often than not) who summed it up best:

“I think the guy said a zinger…But I also have an inclination to support a world where saying ignorant shit on television doesn’t get you kicked off that medium.”

The TL;DR is that A&E knew what they signed up for with Robertson and his tribe of Cabela’s toting NRA poster children and when one spoke out of line, they should have opened a dialogue instead of unceremoniously kicking him to the curb Paula Deen-style (remember THAT mess?).

But there have been some GEMS on both sides of the argument: for and against Robertson, and moreover, his supporters…I prefer reading the more thought-out arguments on both sides because it’s more interesting when intellectuals debate. Some people like UFC fighters in a cage, I prefer smarties with the written word.

And just when people were starting to entertain the idea of moving on from Robertson’s ejection from Duck Dynasty, Friday night happened. And from what I presume to be the result of checking every girl-gone-wild bucket list item in that Katy Perry song, Justine Sacco gave the gift of her misunderstood humor to the Twitterverse.

And when at first I was willing to write off Saccogate as the transgressions of a careless Twitter account holder who was the victim of cybercrime and a hacked account, I soon found myself writing her off as someone who simply tried to be funny in a public forum and it failed when both the context and the humor was misunderstood and misperceived.

Because, as much as we’d like (and some did) to call her an ignorant girl (again, some saying as much using much meaner words), the realist and humanist in me would like to think she was simply someone who tried to tell a joke and failed miserably.

When a comedian tells a bad joke, people tend to be silent, and if it’s a REALLY bad joke, people will boo, and if it’s downright offensive they’ll throw things.

The problem people have with Sacco’s “joke” is that even if people could wrap their minds around it actually being a joke, they begin to question or debate the source from where such a joke would originate. So ensues an often reignited battle of both class and race.

Wherein the previous week we saw the progressives defending the homosexual community against Phil Robertson and his army of followers (and yes, I strategically use the word “army”), with Sacco’s tweet we saw the the mob transform. Such transformation is both amazing and frightening as a flock of birds flying so spectacularly in formation changing direction in unison as the winds change. But never once do so many birds maintain the same formation. They change direction and what was once a V is now an oval. The mentality of the Twitterati is much and the same.

The point is people EVISCERATED Sacco before her plane even landed (I think the trending topic on Twitter puts the proof in the pudding, #hasjustinelandedyet) without so much as an explanation. What if she indeed had been hacked? Would that have changed the expedient manner in which the digital mob had made up its mind?

And once it was confirmed to be legit, did we stop to ask her why? One man did, well, sort of.

Lesson the second: The masses of social media users will often make up their mind without proof or evidence based on their experiences, background, associations, and upbringings.

In the past, when people judged a person based on their behavior, demeanor, style of clothing, or communication skills (or lack of any of the above) it was often easy to associate, cast off, or ignore people completely based on those judgements. The high school lunchroom was the first place we often saw this principle in motion. Segregation at its finest based on a number of factors. But such segregation was on a small scale. It was simply people around us. Can you imagine what kids have to go through these days. Their lunchroom no longer has 200-300 of their classmates. Their lunchroom now has 20-30 million people their own age and then some making the same judgements, jokes and agreements about daily life occurrences. And come on, you KNOW that our minds are totally screwed up as teenagers. Everything is SUCH A BIG DEAL. But we get over it. Like the campaign of the same name, it gets better. Why? Because we move on. Well most of us. We get away from those people or they get away from us.

With social media, it’s different. There’s no getting away from anyone or anything might that we try because everything is connected. Unless we move to some remote island and left behind every single piece of technology, we can’t escape the world. I mean, even on the island are you REALLY getting away? Google Maps satellite will still be able to display your coconut gathering and Tiki hut building to the world, enabling people to “like” or “share” what you’re doing.

The depressing sentiment is that because of technology, we are no longer able to drift away from the harsh politics of high school. We are no longer able to, well, grow up or face the music of our choices because if we say or do anything in the world, now, chances are there’s an association of people with a website, Twitterfeed and Facebook business page that can muster up support for or against those choices. We saw it just last week with the Phil Robertson debacle.

Lesson No. 3: Because we’re all connected, and because someone somewhere will be offended by what we say and do, we have to recognize that our personal life is different than our online one.

Sacco made a joke. Plain and simple. She didn’t think anyone would take it the wrong way, but they did. Did I? No, I didn’t. I got it. But that’s also because being a cynical and sarcastic person (much as I have been even when I was a kid and my favorite teacher in high school accused me as such — she wasn’t wrong and I loved her more for her honesty) I recognized Sacco’s effort. So what was I upset about?

Her lack of understanding.

I’m still new to the world of Public Relations, even in my 33 years the last ten of which have been in the Navy. Heck, I’m applying for jobs as we speak and most of them are junior role PR and Social Media positions. I have a lot to learn about the PR world. But one doesn’t have to be a senior person with years upon years of experience to see that what Sacco tweeted was stupid. But, therein lies the irony.

SACCO WAS A LEADER IN THE PR WORLD.

I mentioned this on PR Daily in their comments section, my feelings about the matter.

In the Navy, well, military in general, we leave no one behind. As teammates, shipmates, etc., we work to accomplish the mission AS A TEAM. As such, we are as it goes without saying, only as strong as our weakest link. We take each other’s mistakes and make them our own. We learn from those mistakes and when a team member makes one, we question ourselves as teammates and leaders to find where we failed that person.

Sacco wasn’t the only person who failed in her situation. We all did as PR professionals. It’s easy to poke a stick at her, make her the butt of this year’s holiday party jokes, and even make her a case study for future PR professionals in school, but the true challenge will be to accept her and teach her. One would hope that she attained the position as a DIRECTOR of communications at a large conglomerate because she’s indeed intelligent with the principles of investor and public relations as well as corporate and marketing communications. But who would have thought the younger cats like myself would have a few things to teach veterans like her about life in the social media age, or as my good friend and sociology doctorate holder Danny would remind me, in a social surveillance society.

Sacco learned the hard way what it’s like to live your life online. I’ve never met her, but I imagine her to be a spunky person. I like spunky. I have a few of those people in my life now. And each and every one of them are loving, caring and most importantly, ACCEPTING people. And a few of them have a sense of humor that can easily be misunderstood.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about free speech vs. consequence free speech. The truth is, we live in a great country where people can say whatever they want. They can voice their opinion, publish it, share it, LIVE it. But there is a difference between speaking your mind and saying shit that hurts people. One has to stop and think not of the legality of the speech, but of the moral purpose. Just because you CAN say something doesn’t always mean that you should. And the brilliant people in this world are those who can recognize the difference, even when in the moments they choose to speak they say something with which we do not agree. Phil Robertson might believe and speak to the fact that his faith dictates that I as a gay man will go to hell. And Justine may very well be a bloody awful joke teller. But there are times and places for such things and their dismissals from their jobs are the consequence of saying such things when they are suppose to represent the principles of their employers who pay them to either BE in the public eye or communicate with it. As this is their failure, so too, is it ours. It’s ours because we have allowed the social media realm to become an extension of the high school lunchroom.

There are a few guidelines I suppose need to be reiterated in order to trek through the lunchroom and survive without feeling like you’re in a never-ending power struggle that dominates a real high school lunchroom:

  1. Don’t VENT on social media when you’re pissed. Especially if what you’re venting about is work or family situations wherein real people are involved and could misunderstand what you’re saying in anger or be hurt by it. If you feel compelled to write it and share it with the world, then write it. But sleep on it or cool off before hitting the send button. And if you DO hit that send button, be PREPARED to defend it should people be equally compelled to confront you about it. Again I reiterate the difference between speaking freely and consequence-free speech where you can certainly do the former but the latter nearly does not exist.
  2. If you are going to call someone or a company out, do it politely and express your concern. Nowadays most people and companies are watching social media for customer service opportunities. Often calling them out on Twitter means you’ll receive much better and quicker attention which makes both sides happy (the company gets to show other people how they’re willing to help you and you get to benefit from that eagerness=win/win).
  3. If you’re going to joke on social media, be sure people know the context, or be prepared to explain it. Don’t joke (especially something you KNOW could be seen as offensive without context) and leave it at that and then board a 10-20-hour flight to another part of the world.
  4. If you’re a company or brand and your tweet/post, though honest in its intentions, goes wrong or is misunderstood, don’t remove it. It’s too late. Screencaps and the Meme-ers will keep it alive forever (and knowing Buzzfeed they’ll make a post rife with GIFs containing the most AWESOME reactions to it) and removing it makes you look desperate to please. Don’t look desperate. Own it. If it’s wrong or messed up, simply apologize and move on. People will too. TRUST ME.
  5. And along those same lines, if you make a tweet/post that’s awesome (for example) and a handful of people freak out or are offended by it. Apologize to THEM (probably individually and genuinely). Not to the world. And don’t remove the tweet/post. It makes you look weak. For the most part, people love a brand that stands by what it says and doesn’t change the message because a handful of people are offended. I know it’s hard to understand this, but the customer is not always right, and you really cannot please everyone.

These are the few BASIC social media PR principles. There are a ton of resources out there that afford people an opportunity to understand our world as we live it now online. But remember that often things get lost in translation from mind and voice to text online. If people cannot see your facial expressions or hear the tone and inflection in your voice to know you’re being (or trying to be) funny or sarcastic, chances are they won’t.

The final truth I end this post with is that I think social media is forcing us to be better people. It’s making us be smarter about what we say because as we saw with Phil and Justine, the consequences of what happens when expression becomes oblivious, even for just one moment, to the fact that such expression is online for the WORLD to see. Does that mean it’s not allowing or deterring us to be who we really are? In some ways yes, and in others, no. Yes in that now we are accountable to what we say; meaning, if it’s perceived as hateful or stupid, people will happily remind us as much. But no because we are now able to express ourselves on a global scale now, not just in our immediate environment. This allows for us to seek out and find those who share our ideals.

I just wish such expression was free from the judgmental antics of the high school lunchroom. I mean REALLY? Does that shit have to follow us long after we graduate?

Ah well…at least I ate lunch in Rm. 206 at Burges High. It was the journalism room. It wasn’t perfect (we had a caste system of editors and non-editors), but at least we got along. God I miss those guys.

You no take cookie! Or, examining YouTube’s Content ID shenanigans

YouTubeWell it was bound to happen. YouTube, once a pioneer of online content creativity for even the most amateur of aspiring entertainers, vloggers, and journalists, seems to have grown too big for its own good.

Recently, the big why-tee (and indeed the question on most minds these days, why?) rolled out its Content ID system. Essentially it’s an automated scanner that probes all video content posted to YouTube analyzing it for possible copyrighted content owned by persons other than the content creator.

Seems simple enough, right?

Well, as with all things automated, there are a few traps in the system. Game reviewers, gaming community personalities, and multichannel content creators have been hit hard with the system, flagging their videos for copyright claims.

What do these claims mean?

When a video is flagged for a claim by a copyright holder, what happens is that any revenue from ads that run on the video or on the video’s page will be diverted from the creator of the video to the copyright claim holder.  For the bigger gaming channels and personalities who have made such content creation a way of life, this could mean denial of revenue that equates to lost wages.

Recently, it has been reported that most game publishers like Ubisoft are dismissing the claims in support of the community that supports them.

How is this a problem if the companies whose copyrighted material is being displayed are dismissing the claims?

cookiemonsterLet’s think of a video product like a cookie. You have flour, crisco, sugar, baking powder, chocolate chip morsels, etc. Each of these ingredients are combined to make a single product, a delicious chocolate chip cookie. YouTubers in the gaming community are making money eating those cookies for you and telling you what they think AND the company that made the cookie says that’s okay because they think it will make you buy the cookie to eat it yourself and possibly buy OTHER flavors of cookies.

But lo! What’s this…the maker of the chocolate chips that went into the cookie have decided, “Hey, you’re making money off our product that we licensed to the cookie maker. That’s not cool.”

So to better aid in the search for violators, YouTube made a chocolate chip scanner to find who has chocolate chips in their cookies and flagging them as such. You can still watch people eat the cookie, but now they can’t gain any revenue from the ads that surround the video of them shoving their face.

In essence, the current claimants for YouTube copyright violations (preceedingly known as the makers of the chocolate chip morsels) are music companies, mostly. A video is scanned and matched to YouTube’s, in the words of Kotaku, “copyright-o-tron” database and then if flagged, a message is sent to the content poster and the copyright holder. The problem with scanning is that the scanner is catching things that already have approved licenses to appear in the game being featured in a review video. Music in a video game, specifically. And if you think of games like Grand Theft Auto where a video playthrough will have music playing in the background that is a song by a popular artist, you can imagine the kinds of webs that are spinning here.

Naturally, the response to the Content ID system has been negative if only to speak to the fact that its catch-all system has been proven to be flawed and has already seen victims of mistaken claims. Mostly though, what seems to have people downtrodden is that this automated system seems to have no human oversight, despite the thousands of complaints seen on the internet.

And YouTube’s response couldn’t be more a more flippant “this is what we’re using, deal with it” attitude. Lest we forget this is the same attitude we saw from Microsoft’s Don Mattrick last summer at E3 (and we all know how much longer he lasted at Microsoft after THAT fiasco). Here’s YouTube’s response, courtesy of Kotaku:

 Hi from YouTube,

You might have heard about, or been impacted by an increase in copyright claims made on videos over the past week. We’re getting in touch to explain what’s happening and how you can get back to creating and monetizing great videos.

What’s happening

Content ID is YouTube’s system for scanning videos for copyrighted content and giving content owners choices on what they want us to do with them. Last week, we expanded the system to scan more channels, including those affiliated with a multi-channel network (“MCN”). As a result, some channels, including many gaming channels, saw claims appear against their videos from audio or video copyright holders.

Understanding Content ID claims

Keep in mind one video may contain multiple copyrighted works, any of which could potentially result in a claim. For example a record label may own music playing in the video (even in the background), a music distributor may own a game’s soundtrack, or a game publisher may own in-game cinematic content.

Also, online rights are often resold to companies like music labels and aggregators. While you might not recognize the owner, this doesn’t necessarily mean their claims are invalid.

Deciding what to do

When a claim is made, you’ll see what’s been claimed, who’s claimed it, what type of claim it is (audio or video), and you can play back the part of your video that it matched. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to act on Content ID claims, and you can find out all your next steps, dispute options, and other troubleshooting resources here.

It’s also important to know that most claims won’t impact your account standing.

Tips for new videos

If you’re creating videos with content from other people, remember that rights ownership can be complicated and different owners have different policies. Be aware of music. Many games allow you to turn off background music, while leaving sound effects enabled. And if you’re looking for music you can freely use (and monetize!), check out our Audio Library.

Whether gaming, music or comedy is your passion, know that we love what you do. We’ve worked hard to design Content ID and other tools to give everyone — from individual creators to media companies — the opportunity to make great videos and earn money. As YouTube grows, we want to make sure we’re providing the right product features to ensure that everyone continues to thrive.

Sincerely,

The YouTube team

Interesting to say the least.

One would be remiss to ignore the fact that Content ID exists simply to protect people’s rights to their creative property and YouTube’s survival instinct to protect itself from such claims. However, if one were to really look at the videos on YouTube no one is trying to steal someone else’s work and claiming it for themselves. Millions of people traffic the sight and it would be really obvious near instantly if someone even tried. And ad revenue is enough to keep content creators afloat but isn’t exactly raking in the dough. Hence why people are in an uproar and why YouTube’s attitude seems to be a kick in the nuts.

If this was the road YouTube was forced to travel, there are a number of ways to communicate that without seeming like a Mattrick-esque kind of jerk (though, Mattrick was blatant in his wording, YouTube by way of its public response seems to at least be using nice words — props to the PR team). Not to mention the fact that once again, like the Twitter-block debacle, you have a company trying to roll out changes to its services without duly WARNING people beforehand how they might be affected. Wired‘s Derek Powazek broke down what happened with Twitter and it seems that point-for-point the same could be applied to YouTube’s current Content ID situation.

Essentially, people notice changes like this right away, ESPECIALLY when once the system is in place all of a sudden videos years-old are being flagged out of nowhere. And most importantly, the system seems to hurt victims (in this case YouTubers) more than the copyright holders.

The easiest solution I can think of is to increase human oversight of Content ID to discern legitimate claims from bogus ones flagged by the system. It doesn’t take much to see a flagged video, CLICK ON THE LINK and ACTUALLY WATCH it to judge the content. Let the system do it’s job in identifying but let PEOPLE at YouTube first be the judge. This should alleviate the number claims needing to be processed and those undergoing review won’t waste the time or money of the people involved with the dispute.

What also needs to be re-examined is who has rights to particular parts of the cookie. Music plays in the background of a game that was approved to use it. The game, in essence, is an experience. That experience needs to be protected wholly, not in part(s). Otherwise there would be no limit as to who has a right to a claim. I mean, a video game featured by a reviewer was made using a particular software not owned by the game’s development company. Who’s to say that the software company doesn’t have a right to a claim? The game reviewer is wearing a shirt with an American Eagle logo. Who’s to say AE isn’t allowed to claim the video now because they contributed to the “costuming” aspect of the video.

The point is, why should music INCLUDED in that experience be seen as a separate entity? The fact is, it shouldn’t. If this were the case of someone making a new video to play on YouTube and decided to add a soundtrack of copyrighted music, that’s one thing and perfectly legit for a claim. But in this case, news reviews and critical reviews featuring content already approved for use within said experience should not be, plain and simple.

Right now, there seems to be no movement from YouTube other than its official response, and from what I’ve seen from all the game reviewers and broadcasters I’ve followed is that if that continues to be the case, they’ll find a new home. Case in point:

Some have even started barking up Twitch’s tree calling for an advent of the streaming service to become a true one-stop shop for the gaming community and its broadcasters. That would definitely be an interesting development if it came to fruition as it would open up competition to the video behemoth that is YouTube.

Either way, YouTube has to know that initiating policies and practices without warning and with little-to-no regard for the ultimate end user will result in an exodus and that could mean loss of revenue for not just it, but parent company Google. It needs to tread lightly in the coming days with regards to this issue. I assure you, this is not the last we’ll hear of it, and I’m sure other industries that participate in creating content on YouTube, and not just the video game industry, will have plenty to say when it starts to affect them just as well.

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

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