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Blogged Out: 'A Herd Of Blog'

Are EA's sponsored achievements crossing a freshly drawn line? Are video games less games than Go and chess? In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at developer blogging on adverts that are not adverts, and games
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: adverts that are not adverts, games that are not games. Product Orientated Gameplay Firstly this week we have a transmission from Treyarch producer Stuart Roch's excellent blog, in which he once again raises an eyebrow and thumbs a nose to over-zealous advertising tactics in games. Roch says: “For the love of God EA, take it easy on the product placement! I posted previously on my distaste for the shameless ad placement in Need for Speed and hardcore gamers are obviously turned off by all the plugs in Fight Night. Now, a new low for EA - sponsored Xbox 360 achievements! I've always been a supporter for putting advertising in games where it makes logical sense. Billboards in your city (as long as you have more than a few product partners so the city isn't littered with one brand over and over) or actual vehicles in the game rather than fictional varieties as examples. I can live without product placement in my achievements though, thank you very much.” I suspect that this is going to become one of the most contentious issues of the next couple of years: where to draw the line on making extra cash in your game. I can't say I personally feel all that fussed about sponsored achievements – it seems coldly logical – but I do wonder about the detrimental effects of the trend as a whole. When we pay so much for games, should we really be expected to suffer these intrusions? As Roch points out it sometimes makes sense within a game context, but advertising creep continues. I, for one, always enjoyed spoof ads in games. Lampooning our own commercial monsters has always been something that game designers did well. Ultimately I suspect that when I see games becoming cheap – free, even – then I'll stop worrying about advertising, but is that ever likely to happen? The Endless Argument Last year I stumbled upon a multiplayer oddity in which players took on the role of man-faced deer in a woodland. It was entrancing, for a few long moments, and eventually oddly compelling. Almost everyone I sent the link to logged in to wander around making gestures as a deer. It was a peculiar experience – and just the sort of game I seek out - partly because it was so unusual, and partly because it seemed as much about aesthetic experience as it did about any traditional conception of gaming or play. The folks who made that curious beast, which is called The Endless Forest, have begun blogging about such themes. They have much to say about the unique status of the video game, particularly with regards to story-telling. With a recent post, however, the project seems to have run into some treacherous waters. The post Ten Reasons Why Computer Games Are Not Games delivers some cloudy arguments, such as this: 2. Stories are more important than rules Traditional games can be highly abstract. Games like Chess, Go and Bridge are classics. Computer games, on the other hand, thrive on stories. Sure, Space Invaders and Pac Man are historical highlights. But would anyone want to trade in Myst, Tomb Raider, Ico, Half Life, Grand Theft Auto or The Sims for those? Also, computer games feature characters. Creatures that we can empathize with, in whose behaviour we can recognize our own. Unlike the pawns and dice of traditional games. It seems clear that traditional games can also be based on telling stories. Isn't D&D now a traditional game? On the other hand, there's no story that matters in Speedball 2, Eve Online, Peggle, Quake 3, or many of the other video games that I seem to obsess over. They are pure mechanics. Stories, I'd argue are generally secondary the rules, or the 'physics' of a game. Anyway, take a look at list and see how many objections you can come up with to that list. I'm on half a dozen. Perhaps Computer Games really are traditional Games after all... [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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