Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

New innovations in villainy

Posted by nfinit on July 6, 2007

There are times when you are presented with a villainy so insidious, so clever, so utterly vile that you can’t even be angry or even particularly shocked, but you sit back and marvel at the subtle complexity inherent, much like a mouse trap being presented with the inner workings of a glue trap.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Electronic Art’s latest atrocity, courtesy of NCAA Football 2008:

Good game, advertisement industry. Long have I wondered exactly how you’d go about making life an irredeemable chore. At first I thought you may borrow from Orwell and subject us all to digital cameras built into our television sets that wouldn’t let us continue watching unless our eyes focused on an advertisement for a set amount of time, or that you guys would simply build a giant laser and burn iPod ads into the surface of the Moon, or maybe offer five bucks to anyone willing to carve Golden Palace inside the eyelids of their children. Instead, you decided to destroy gaming.

First, a bit on what you’re looking at above. All Xbox 360 games feature something called “gamerpoints”, represented in a “gamerscore” that itself doesn’t represent anything particularly much to people who don’t like to brag about arbitrary measurements of gaming skill. It’s sort of like bragging about how much epic loot your World of Warcraft character has stored in the bank, only without as much of as much of a chance at getting you laid.

These gamerpoints are accrued through attaining “achievements”, goals for the player set in advance by the developers of said game. Upon completion of that goal– since we’re talking a football game here, let’s say the first time you intercept a pass for a touchdown– you’re presented with an otherwise unobtrusive five second popup notification of completion of said goal, along with how many points that goal is worth.

Now, EA games are notorious for their ease of which a player can burn through a set of achievements. Indeed, it is standard practice in the gamerscore community (and yes, as frightening as the implications may be, there is indeed a “gamerscore community”) to rent an EA game and collect a quick couple thousand points or so over the course of an afternoon.

Previously I thought that this was just another facet of EA’s long penchant for lowest common denominator laziness; IE: never doing more work than is absolutely necessary, indeed most EA achievements can be collected through nothing more than a simple playthrough. There was never really any “achievement” part to their Achievements, you just sort of collected them as you played, which sort of defeated the entire point of the Achievements system, which was originally to add life to a game through the completion of non-mandatory goals. Realtime World’s Crackdown, for instance, last maybe seven hours through an initial playthrough, but it’s life is extended much longer through clever and challenging Achievement goals. But it turns out EA was preparing us for something else– easily-accessed sponsored Achievements unlocked at regular intervals that double as popup advertisements for the companies “sponsoring” that particular Achievement. In short, EA has found a way to install a popup advertisement system into videogames and has, as a result, turned the Gamerscore system into the gaming equivalent of advertising malware.

And as goes EA so goes the industry. You can be sure that this system will bleed into the rest of EA’s lineup, only to be copied by Ubisoft and, by degrees, most games to appear on the 360. Today it’s NCAA ’08’s Pontiac 4th Quarter Comeback, tomorrow it’ll be Halo 3’s Smith and Wesson Headshot Challenge, or Need For Speed’s Southern Comfort Highway Rampage Disaster Multiplier Award.

And as I’ve moaned about in the past (LINK!) we can’t expect Microsoft to actually do anything about this. MS has a fine tradition of presenting it’s corporate hindquarters to whatever ravages Electronic Arts deems fit, whether it be the total undermining of Xbox Live’s integrated online multiplayer or constant microstransaction larceny or the fact that EA Xbox 360 games are $10 more expensive than the exact same game appearing on the Wii and PC. No, long ago Microsoft decided submitting to the whims of The Madden Company superseded any protection owed to the hardcore gamer community.


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