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Games all over me: On cloud saves and cross-device play

I finished playing through a narrative-based video game. I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for THE CLOUD.

Like most people, my video gaming habits have definitely changed as I've grown older. Well, maybe it doesn't have so much to do with the number of years I've physically been on this planet, rather as I accumulate hours, days, weeks, years, etc. on Earth, I keep on accumulating stuff that takes precedence over extended video game sessions, despite the fact that video games are an essential part of how I make a living. As my years advance, I keep on giving myself more responsibilities, such as lawn that needs mowed, and kids that need to be raised and taught how to mow (so I can get back to playing video games). 

Recently, I did something that I almost never do these days, and I "beat" a story-based, narrative-driven video game: Drinkbox's Guacamelee. I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for new hardware and network features.

So, back to "finishing" games: Some game developers lament how so few players actually play their games all the way through -- that somehow they have failed as a designer if players stop halfway through. I played Guacamelee to completion (well, the story anyway, there are more secrets and whatnot to uncover, but close enough), so that must mean I think this game is better than Grand Theft Auto IV, which I never beat, right? Not necessarily, but that's the logic that some people use.

Ubisoft's Jason Vandenberghe doesn't cry over unfinished games. He has made a pretty convincing argument that this low rate of completion is a feature of game design, not a bug.

"Gaming is as much a lifestyle as it is entertainment, and if a game doesn't fit into an individual's life, they are going to put it down. That's not a tragedy. That's a feature of our design landscape."

There are a bunch of narrative-based video games that I've started and yet to "finish" this year. Game designers can employ different tactics coax players through an entire story game -- they can make it shorter, make it less "grindy," etc.

But a game designer can only do so much -- someone like Jason Vandenberghe can't just force his work into our lives. The hardware and network need to start picking up more of the slack.

In other words, I'm realizing just how desirable cloud and multi-screen experiences are, as my video game habits evolve. The ability to bring a game wherever you go -- and play it on a variety of screens -- for me, is becoming less of a "nice-to-have" and more of a "Please do this for everything; I'll even give you money for it."

Guacamelee supports both a second screen experience (a map on your Vita with the game on your PS3 / TV) and cloud saves across Vita and PlayStation 3. I switched back and forth between the Vita and the PS3, depending on where I was, or the availability of our living room TV, which is often occupied by Glee or Power Rangers (THANKS NETFLIX). Once I got to the climactic end of Guacamelee, I made sure to squeeze onto our TV and finish it off with big sound and visuals. I'm sure I never would've spent the 15 hours that I put into that game in front of my TV in the living room -- I only finished it because a.) it was a really good game and b.) I wasn't constrained to one device. And despite a.), certain realities in my life would've kept me from actually enjoying the game all the way through. But b.) saved the day.

Sony isn't the only one making its platforms more flexible from a cross-compatibility perspective. Microsoft has implemented this with Skulls of the Shogun, which lets players bounce between Xbox 360, Windows Phone and Windows 8; Apple has a cloud save feature that, if implemented, lets players switch between iPhone and iPad (there's also AirPlay that beams compatible games to your TV); Google's doing this with Google Play Game Services; and Nintendo's Wii U GamePad and Nvidia's Shield were built with this kind of trend in mind. This goes beyond the portable devices that we've had for decades -- now it's about having options and flexibility in experiencing our games.

Addressing this trend is more than just, "Hey neat, I can play more video games now, and maybe I can actually play a game's whole story every now and then!" Being able to play games seamlessly across a variety of screens can also have cultural implications. If gaming really is a lifestyle, as VandenBerghe says (I think it is), then how popular can that lifestyle become if you have your content dictating, "Meet me at this specific place at this specific time for this amount of time, using this device." Books, music and even movies (after they leave theaters) don't have to put up with that.

Many people I know aren't going to finish a longer, narrative-driven game under those strict, confining circumstances. And even though I do agree with people who tell developers "don't get upset if players don't finish your game," finishing a game, particularly a story-based one, and experiencing the full vision of a game creator does have value. A lot of times, we just need the technology to help us fulfill our desire to experience the full vision.

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