The Rising Popularity of E-Sports

Written by: Joe Sciabica

The Major League Gaming Pro Circuit Championship, held last month in Rhode Island, set new records for competitive gaming ratings. This new wave of professional sports is quickly gaining popularity, which some may not consider traditional competition. However, the numbers show that major league gaming, also known as E-sports, is reaching levels on par with conventional sports viewership. The Rhode Island tournament, one of six held every year by MLG, boasted impressive numbers compared to its previous events and mainstream television network ratings.

At one time the number of viewers reached 241,000. Matches during the event, mostly of games such as Starcraft II and Halo: Reach, were streamed by viewers in over 175 countries with average view time being longer than three hours. It is expected that viewership will continue to rise for these events in the coming years. This is a fair assessment to make considering there was a 225 percent increase of unique viewers to MLG events from 2010 to 2011.

It is becoming increasingly true that e-sports are becoming more legitimate, not only as skilled competition but also as a means to advertise toward difficult demographics. In males 18-24, MLG event ratings surpassed MTV, FX, Comedy Central and TBS. However, the United States still has a while to go before professional gamers reach a status like those of South Korea, considered the epitome of major league gaming. For South Koreans, professional gaming is the mainstream with two television networks dedicated to e-sports and an Air Force Starcraft II team. It is quite common there for the top players to be followed like rock stars.

What does this increasing popularity mean for the future? Several factors are likely to converge that will perpetuate the popularity of major league gaming. It is now possible these days to make a living as a gamer from endorsements and tournament winnings. Just this year there was 15 million dollars in prize money from major tournaments. This lifestyle may encourage more kids to seriously pursue this type of lifestyle and thus lead to more diversified and attractive matches.

Meanwhile, technology will continue to improve so that gaming will not only be more entertaining but reflect the skills of gamers more accurately. With rising ratings, advertisement and investment will increase. Right now the video game industry, at 60 billion dollars a year, is already larger than the film industry. Companies that already take part in funding tournaments include Intel, Dell, Samsung and Volkswagen.

The time may be soon when Starcraft II and Halo are household names and major matches are broadcasted in similar fashion to the Super Bowl.

The Remarkable Benefits of Computer Gaming

Computer games do not deserve a wholly negative reputation

Slacker-inducing, obesity-generating, mind-numbing….we have heard it all before and pretty much accept this as fact. Like all things taken to the extreme, the effects of too much too often are likely damaging. But there is another side to computer gaming: a surprising “upside.” While concerns about violent games persist, researchers have discovered that gaming can boost cognitive function and foster positive behavior. It can also ease depression. It can teach, enlighten, and heal injuries. It can build team player and decision-making skills. Computer gaming is not all bad.

Most video games involve a number of mental tasks, and playing can boost any one of them. The fast pace can increase visual acuity, spatial perception, hand-eye coordination, and sharp observation skills. Complex strategy-based games can improve working memory and reasoning. One particular study involved a woman who suffered from depression and post traumatic stress. Unable to sleep at night, she started playing the popular PopCap game “Bedazzled,” and found that the distraction was pleasurable and soothing. Researchers have determined that the focused distraction of games can place people and children with physical or mental pain in a different mental zone, relieving them of their discomfort as they undergo treatment.

Hand-eye coordination and team player skills are a couple of the positive benefits of video games

The interactivity of computer gaming also provides a stimulating platform for learning. Integrating “play” into learning how to keyboard, for example, makes the tedium of learning to type more rewarding and interesting. Incorporating geography and real history into gaming strategies can be a creative approach to teaching.  Senior citizens who express interest in learning about computers easily adapt to the maneuverability of the mouse while playing computer Solitaire.

When we read books or work crossword puzzles or Sudoku games, we are rarely frowned upon as mindless time-wasters. Why are many video games viewed so harshly? Violent games are concerning, but evidence isn’t clear that they promote aggression. Aggression could stem from seeing violence on TV or in the home. And violent games can provide an avenue of venting in a fantasy world in lieu of acting out in reality.

Ultimately, computer gaming feeds a lot of human needs, and many of them are positive. Strike a balance, enhance the mind, and enjoy yourself.

New Call of Duty to Be Set in Vietnam

The official announcement of a Vietnam Call of Duty game was a long awaited confirmation of a rumor which had been simmering for months prior.

It was officially announced today that Call of Duty: Vietnam will be the next installment in the Call of Duty series, according to  Call of Duty Vietnam, which will be possibly the biggest name among historic military tactical series to set a game in Vietnam, is among only a small group of such games set in Vietnam.

Call of Duty: Vietnam which is expected to be released on PC and all major consoles—including the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii—may help to boost the popularity of historic tactical games focused within the context of the Vietnam War, according to one view among industry analysts.  Seven years ago, games with this particular historic focus were all but nonexistent.  In 2004, however, the release of Shellshock: ‘Nam ’67 from Eidos Interactive for the original Xbox console marked the first video game console release of a Vietnam game, and was was followed shortly thereafter by the release of Conflict: Vietnam for the PlayStation 2.

One reason which can be easily cited as to why it took until now for a franchise with the popularity of the Call of Duty series to release an entry set in Vietnam or for why it took until 2004 for any Vietnam game to reach home consoles is the political controversy surrounding the war effort.  While it had been less of a challenge to portray the war in movies in the past without creating too much of a climate for controversy, it was more of a challenge to do the same for a tactical game in which the player must assume an active role in a war effort toward which many were strongly politically opposed.  That political tension, however, appears now as though it is becoming less of a factor in the context of historical tactical games.

Pandora Portable Gaming System Slated for Release in 2010

Some hope that the release of the Pandora may bring about a revitalization of the declining portable console gaming market.

While the decline in the release of new portable gaming consoles such as the Game Boy, Nintendo DS or Sony PSP has had some industry observers questioning whether this particular style of portable gaming is becoming a thing of the past, a new portable console from OpenPandora—named Pandora—could potentially provide a mix of answers.

The Pandora—slated for release in the third quarter of 2010—holds similarities to portable gaming platforms of the past in that it is designed with its particular purpose as a game console made explicit by the inclusion of a traditional console control pad design with four main buttons, a left side directional control pad and dual analog controls.  At the same time, the Pandora will differ from the traditional portable gaming console in that it additionally functions as a portable computer—running on a Linux operating system with a CPU engine format of a standard PC—albeit not at the same speed as many of today’s latest PCs.

It is claimed by designers of the Pandora project that the portable gaming system’s hardware will surpass that of all current portable gaming consoles on the market, including the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP.  The Pandora is expected to retail at an MSRP of $330.00 USD at the time of its initial launch.

Casual Gaming Appeals to Women

Women are increasingly drawn to casual gaming

When we think of video games, we generally think of boys—or young slacker men—shooting ‘em up, mowing ‘em over, and gawking at the curvaceous cartoony women gracing the screen for hours on end. In fact, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more activated in men than women during video game play. If the man (or boy) in your life is “hooked” on gaming, this probably explains why. However, women are increasingly drawn to video games, although generally of a different sort known as casual games.

As reported in the New York Times, a recent Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) study found that 65 percent of women in the 25-34 age bracket play video games. The key factor involved with these findings is the increasing popularity of casual games. Casual games typically are played on a personal computer or online, although they now are trending on game consoles and smart phones as well. The typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female.

Microsoft’s Solitaire was likely the first known casual game. Similarly, Tetris was originally bundled on the Game Boy and its popularity made Nintendo’s portable gaming system a success. Bejeweled is a current casual game played widely on smart phones and on Facebook. In fact, Facebook hosts a number of casual games that have become a firestorm of mostly female casual players; Farmville alone has over 63,000,000 active users every month.

Women gamers are also increasingly drawn toward adventure and hidden object games, generally played on PCs and consoles. Many of these games are much like an interactive mystery novel that involves exploring spooky settings, gathering inventory of useful items to manipulate in order to escape from jams, and solving cryptic puzzles. These games are usually non-violent and feature interesting characters, intriguing storylines, and excellent graphic artwork. Engaging examples of these games include Benoit Sokal’s Syberia with its amazing, lush graphics and mesmerizing story; and the point-and-click Carol Reed Adventure series that take place in Sweden with actual local photography used as backdrops and real people (not models or graphics) as characters. These casual adventure games are deceptively serene as evil lurks around every shady corner.

While casual games are not exclusively women’s domain, they are the backbone of increased gaming popularity from this sector. And it appears that the part of the brain that generates those rewarding feelings isn’t just for men anymore.

Are Portable Gaming Consoles On the Way Out?

The decline in the number of portable gaming consoles released on the market in recent years has some wondering if Sony's PlayStation Portable may be among the last of its kind.

It has been more than five years since Sony released the PlayStation Portable—the last major release of a portable gaming console following in the tradition of innovation of portable gaming epitomized by Nintendo’s famous line of Game Boy systems.  Although Sony has continued support of its PlayStation Portable system as Nintendo has done with its competing handheld console—the DS.

One decade ago, the evolution of major portable gaming consoles appeared to be rapidly on the upswing.  From 1998 through 2004, Nintendo alone released three systems with new graphical engines three years apart from one another—the Game Boy Color in 1998; the Game Boy Advance in 2001, and finally the DS in 2004.  Although handheld consoles other than the Sony PSP have seen recent release, most have remained largely obscure on the market by comparison.

Both the DS and PSP portable gaming consoles have enjoyed sufficient commercial success to receive continued support; however, the lack of any new major competition or rapidity of innovation reflective of years past may signal that—for the foreseeable future—handheld gaming in the innovative style of the Game Boy may soon fade.  Aside from economic explanations for the apparent slowdown of this type of console may very well be the coincident evolution of portable electronics with application capabilities, such as the iPhone or the newly released iPad from Apple.

With popular video game franchises such as the Madden NFL series now releasing versions for the iPhone, it appears that portable gaming as it has been known for years may not be entirely on the way out, but simply making its transition from the single purpose Game Boy style console to new multipurpose technological platforms.

Madden NFL Series Seeks to Enhance Gameplay Realism With Locomotion

EA's new Locomotion system aims to enhance the realism of control physics in Madden NFL 11.

In an April 7 announcement on the official EA Sports Madden NFL blog, Lead Gameplay Designer Ryan Burnsides has announced the implementation of a new and more sophisticated system of player movement physics in the Madden NFL series, called “Locomotion”, which will come into effect with the release of Madden NFL 11.

The new Madden NFL Locomotion system includes a number of additions to the complexity of the physics of player motion which are intended to add significantly to the realism of many aspects of gameplay involving running.  The enhancement of the effect momentum and acceleration, integrated into the running game are expected to be the most noticeable of differences.  Also affected will be the quickness with which players of differing attributes of skill and athleticism will be able to change directions quickly and pull off more complicated running techniques such as jukes, strafing, and maintaining balance in the midst of sudden direction changes and impacts.

Burnsides states in his blog that in Madden NFL 10, the integration of such complicated effects of physics which have ultimately become the goal of Locomotion was successful to a degree, but were “difficult to tune”, which—although the gameplay of Madden 10 managed to retain as solid and realistic a feel in the running game as any previous installment—was especially evident in some of the more awkward running visual animations.

It is the hope that with the next installment in the Madden NFL series that not only will the animations and gameplay take on a more realistic look and feel, but that the successful implementation of the Locomotion system will coincide with an increased level of control responsiveness to allow the game to achieve the full benefit of its new enhancements for a product which EA and fans of the Madden NFL series hope will result in a product with a level of realism which has remained unseen thus far.

Lack of Sports Game Market Competition Hurts Quality for Consumers

MVP Baseball 2005 was arguably the most deep, detailed and realistic baseball simulation on the market before the series was discontinued as a result of an MLB license exclusivity deal between Take Two Interactive and Major League Baseball.

Consumers of popular sports video game franchises such as EA Sports’ Madden NFL series or Take Two Interactive’s Major League Baseball 2K series years may have taken notice of troubling trends involving a lack of market competition and what some argue to be a corresponding decrease in product quality within the past five years.  EA’s MVP Baseball 2005 was arguably the most deep and realistic baseball simulation made to date as of the year of its release, but like Take Two’s NFL 2K Series, production of new installments of the franchise ceased the following year.

The reason as to why production ceased for both sports video game series—and for all other third party NFL football and Major League Baseball simulation franchises—was not a result of a lack of financial support, but the result of a legal licensing loophole which was exploited by the publishers of each series in order to eliminate their competition with the stroke of a pen.  In 2004, Electronic Arts reached an agreement with the National Football League which granted the publisher exclusive third-party rights to the NFL license; effectively eliminating Take Two’s NFL 2K series in doing so.  In what many saw as a retaliatory move, Take Two Interactive struck up an agreement with Major League Baseball which granted them exclusive third party rights for the use of the MLB license for their baseball franchise, which effectively eliminated EA’s MVP series.

While the Madden series remained relatively strong in terms of consistency of quality from one year’s product to the next despite its lack of competition, the same could not be said for MLB 2K series with the release of the notoriously flawed game, Major League Baseball 2K9.  Although there remained competition for Major League Baseball 2K9 in the form of the far more refined product of MLB 09: The Show—an installment of a PlayStation 3 exclusive series which Sony Computer Entertainment America reserves the right to publish with the MLB license solely due to the fact that they are an exclusive first-party publisher for a single affiliated platform rather than a third-party publisher for multiple non-affiliated platforms—Xbox 360 owners and PC gamers had no alternative option in for a Major League Baseball simulation in 2009.

While MLB 2K10 has received a vastly improved critical reception than the series installment of the previous year—and continues to improve with downloadable post-release patches from the game developer in order to correct technical flaws for the satisfaction of consumers—the lack of competition any quality alternative on the market made available to owners of platforms whose first-party company does not publish their own competing product is quite troubling, and it is even more troubling when the lack of competition comes about as a result of what would seem to the observer to be the abuse of licensing laws for the purpose of gaining a monopoly of the market share at the expense of consumers.