Back in the day when vinyl was more commonly associated with music rather than clothes, I remember the countless hours of flipping through stacks of music records looking for surprise gems. Sometimes they would be stuck between pop hits. Other times they would be sitting on top of record stacks in plain sight. Occasionally they would be showcased on the staff recommendation racks. However they found their way into my hands, when I donned the headphones and the needle hit the groove of the record it was a magical moment of head nodding discovery.
That is the moment of discovery I also search for in video games. To find games unbeknownst to me that capture my imagination and bring a smile to my face. These are the games that aren't household names but deserve your attention.
This is the beginning of an ongoing series. I will highlight games that I stumble across that may not be on MetaCritic or be the featured App in the iTunes Store. These are the sleepers that light up the rest of the gaming landscape and provide creative inspiration to all of us in small and big ways.
It takes a lot for me to throw my controller down in frustration, but it bounced pretty high off the sofa just about now.
I am currently enjoying Batman: Arkham City for the most part so far. But it breaks a pretty obvious design rule that is making some of the combat scenarios annoyingly difficult. While the player is expected to be fighting large groups of characters, there are combat tips that persist on the screen for extended periods of time or until you have completed the prescribed sequence. The action does not stop and the player is expected to read the text while characters attack them.
The most annoying part is that the text is smack dab in the middle of the screen. So it obstructs your view of what is going on. If you are going to obstruct the action, please pause the game!!!
If the player does not execute the prescribed action, the text stays in the middle of the screen obscuring the action the whole time. Get out of the way!!!
I can't believe how badly some of the in-game tutorials are presented for an otherwise enjoyable experience. If there is something critical to convey to me, pause the game or explain it to me without having ten characters trying to jump me at the same time. If for whatever reason, you want the message to persist don't cover the middle of the screen for crying out loud.
Times are tough. The US is teetering on a double dip recession. Europe has been struggling to sort out its credit crunch. Fear is looming of an economic slowdown in China. The domestic and global markets are not looking so hot right about now. Even amidst these unfavorable market conditions, Zynga was pushing for its IPO the week before Thanksgiving. It seems like Zynga is taking its foot off the gas pedal and will now be trying to go public after Thanksgiving.
So who really benefits when a company goes public and what compels a private company to do so? It’s a complicated process that I don’t claim to fully understand. However, this is what I have been able to gather from public news.
Zynga has been trying to go public since July 2010. However there have been numerous delays to bring us to today where we are still holding with bated breath. Some of the delays have been attributable to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continuing review of Zynga’s financial results. Zynga was required by the SEC to restate their financial results due to accounting errors back in August. This has been one contributing factor to the erosion of Zynga’s projected valuation.
The owners of Zynga are supposedly bolstering their voting power over common shareholders. This is not out of the ordinary. However the ratio of how many votes the owners will maintain to a common shareholder’s vote seems heavily engineered to maintain voting control. In the case of the founder Mark Pincus, one of his super votes counts for 70 votes to just 1 for a common shareholder. The venture capitalists get a more tame 7 votes to 1. This allows him to maintain a controlling interest over the company, 38% of the votes, while the venture capitalists maintain a 26% share of the votes. Moreover, Pincus only has a 20% economic stake in Zynga while the venture capitalists have a larger 35% economic stake.
Now let’s get to why a private company typically goes public. One motivation is to raise additional capital. The common stock sold does not have to be repaid to common shareholders. Typically if there is a voting ratio of 1 vote to 1 share, the downside to the current private owners is that they are giving up a percentage of their ownership. In the case of Zynga, Pincus and the venture capitalists thanks to their super votes will still maintain 64% of the votes even though they are not as equally financially invested in the company. That does not seem like an equitable trade for a common shareholder. While this is not necessarily bad, it does make you wonder what is going on.
In a positive scenario, by maintaining control of the company, it could be steered more effectively by the people who got it to where it is now instead of opening it up to shareholder demands that can often be short-sighted. From a more cynical view, it allows Pincus and the venture capitalists to have their cake and eat it too. They get the infusion of public money and also get to control it. I will let your imagination take it from here.
Looking at the actual execution of an IPO, there are multiple parties that would benefit from the sale of an IPO. Investment banks and the venture capitalists have a large stake in seeing a company go public. Investment banks do the underwriting of the company in preparation for the IPO. They typically get paid a commission based on a percentage of the value of the shares sold. Without an IPO there’s no commission. In the case of venture capitalists, they typically don’t see a return on their invested money until there is a realized event, such as an IPO.
With the looming threat of of a rocky and depressed global market, unclear financial results, an inequitable public ownership model, and a strong incentive for venture capitalists and investment banks to get paid out, the winners at Zynga's IPO finish line don't appear to be the common shareholders.
Amid the unfortunate and sad news that Silicon Knights has laid off a significant number of its staff on Monday, October 31, there is talk that the studio will be looking to reinvigorate its critically acclaimed horror-action game, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. Being a fan of the game, I am excited about the possibility. I wonder though with the studio's struggles and history if it still has the magic that it had at the time of the game's creation.
With the giant ocean of games in today's marketplace, it made me think about how fans, including myself, make decisions on what games to play and buy. It's interesting how fans of video games are brand loyal at face value. The average fan does not readily relate development talent and teams with the quality and acclaim of a game. This is not something that is exclusive to video games though.
Can you name a single engineer that helped to develop the latest BMW M3 sports car? You probably can't unless you happen to work in the automotive industry or are a die-hard car enthusiast. However, I would wager that the skills of the various engineers was vital to realizing the production of the car. In this case, the car consumer is brand loyal in a way similar to the average video game consumer.
This is not the case with all products though. Take team sports entertainment for example. Even with the chaos of free agency, sports fans recognize the individual talent and team chemistry of their chosen team. They will support or reject teams based off the year's personnel. One might argue that sports is a live performance based form of entertainment and that I am comparing apples and oranges. I would still argue though that how a development team gels has a direct effect on the quality of a product. This is similar to the chemistry of a sports team determining if they can win a game together.
Probably the closest relative to games is film even though there are notable differences. Subtract actors and actresses from the equation since they fall into the same role of sports players. However, your average movie goer will probably have an opinion on the director of the movie that they are watching. The movie goer may have actually decided to watch the film because it was made by that director. In this case, the fan is recognizing the individual talent of the people behind the scenes that don't actually show up in the product itself.
Ask your average video game player who directed the original Mario. I bet most of them would not be able to answer Shigeru Miyamoto. Ask your average film fan who directed E.T. I think that most of them would be able to answer Steven Spielberg.
Why is it that fans do not recognize the individual and team talent that goes into the creation of a video game? Having worked on bad and good games, I would definitely say that the quality of people that I work with makes a world of difference to pulling a game off successfully or not.
So this brings me back to the recent news at hand. Making an announcement that they may be bringing back a franchise that I enjoyed, I wonder if they still have the staff that made it happen in 2002. I believe that was their last game working with Nintendo. I would guess they benefited from the likes of Miyamoto and company who are credited on the game. Ever since they parted ways, it seems that they have struggled with maintaining the same level of critical acclaim with subsequent releases.
With their latest layoffs, it's probably not making it any easier. They are going to have to restaff new production team and see whether it gels or not. This is not exclusive to Silicon Knights and sometimes a business reality. There have been numerous times where I have eagerly anticipated a follow up to a hit franchise only to be disappointed by it. More often than not in these cases, I find that the team make up has changed dramatically and that key players are missing. These experiences have helped to validate my belief that great games are made by the strength of the talent.
Now a days when I hear announcements of beloved franchises making a comeback, I have to pause and wonder if the brand is larger than the sum of its parts...
Michael loves making games almost as much as he does playing them. He has worked on numerous hit titles and is currently traveling the world to help fight crime and champion clean design practices.