Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amazon Will Give Apple Some Stiff Competition with the Kindle Fire--Updated

Before Amazon’s big announcement yesterday, I was expecting them to come out with a decent $250 Android tablet. Instead, they fired the first real shot across Apple’s bow since the so-called “Tablet Wars” began.

First, the details--Amazon’s upcoming Kindle Fire is a 7-inch tablet that will run a customized version of Android. The tablet will have Flash support (which the iPad does not), and will be connected to Amazon’s suite of services (Kindle, Cloud Music, Prime Streaming, etc.). The tablet will feature a 7.5-8-hour battery life, and will be able to sync wirelessly. The Fire will be wi-fi only (no 3G), and will not include a camera or a microphone.

The most important detail, however, is the price: $199. Or, in my opinion, the magic price point that will destroy pretty much every other 7-inch tablet and grab a good chunk of potential iPad sales.

Is the Fire an iPad killer? No--it’s smaller, and clearly doesn’t pack in the features that the iPad does. But, it does have one thing that has helped allow Apple to maintain a stranglehold on the tablet industry over the past few years--an ecosystem.

Two of the reasons that both the iPhone and the iPad have been so successful is because of their user interface of their devices and the ecosystem that is iTunes. It’s a one-stop shop that allows users to seamlessly move between different types of content (movies, TV, music, books, podcasts, games, productivity apps).

Assuming Amazon gets the user-interface right (which they did with the Kindle already), they have a similar, and in some ways superior ecosystem to offer their users. Amazon has a full-fledged Android app store, a music store that allows you to store and play music in the cloud (with cheaper prices than iTunes), a first-party streaming video service (no need for Netflix), and the world’s leading online bookstore. Not to mention, Amazon itself is already the world’s biggest online department store. The only thing Amazon was lacking was a mobile device that would allow you to access their entire suite of services, and now they have that in the Kindle Fire.

The iPad may be more feature-rich, but for most content consumers, being able to get all their music, video and books in the same place, in addition to shopping for anything else they need through Amazon will provide the type of seamless experience that only the iPad has provided so far. And the Fire will provide this for $199, as opposed to the cheapest iPad, which is $499.

So, I could buy two Kindle Fires, and $50 worth of content for each of those devices, for the same price as the cheapest iPad.

Think about that for a minute.

Regardless of whether or not you’re excited about the Kindle Fire, you should be excited about what Amazon just did. In a “Tablet War” that has so far been all hype and no substance, Amazon may have just changed everything.

UPDATE (10/5/11)--I was reading a few stories today that estimated Kindle Fire pre-orders at over 250,000 already. With a month and change left before the Kindle Fire launches, the tablet could sell more than the 300,000 the iPad did in it's first day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Planning for NaNoWriMo: Switching Points of View?

So, I am kicking around some ideas for NaNoWriMo this year, and I have a few solid ideas. One idea I have in particular is a comic pitch that never got off the ground, but I would love to develop into something publishable. In order to use this aprticular concept, I have to make a big decision up front--should I write the story in the first-person, third-person or both?

The way I had envisioned the comic is that it would feature the storylines of two characters that would start out separately, but would eventually converge into one. One of the storylines featured a character narrating in first-person, and the other was presented in third-person. The problem is that it's much easier to switch perspectives in a comic, due to the visual nature of the medium. If I maintain the "switching perspectives" model when turning this idea into a novel, I run the risk of confusing readers. I've read a lot of articles on this subject recently, and it seems that switching perspective is generally frowned upon.

So, I've got a big decision to make. Do I ditch the multiple-POV idea and just go with a third-person throughout? Or do I run the risk of confusing readers but maintain the original vision I had for the storyline?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why I Don't Want to Write Game Reviews for a Living

I’ll say this comic fans—I give you a lot of crap on the Secret Identity podcast about being fanboys. Marvel vs. DC flame wars, continuity nerds, the whole shebang. However, there is an area where game fans take the whole fanboy thing to another level, and it actually hurts the entire hobby. I’m referring to game reviews, and the way that both fans and reviewers behave when it comes to reviews is the reason I’m not interested in reviewing games for a living.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to provide some context for those who don’t know about my freelancing work. From 2008-2010, I did freelance game coverage for Comic Book Resources. Most of the work I did at CBR involved interviews with game developers and comic creators that were working on game-related projects. Of the 100-plus articles I have written for CBR, one of them is a review (“Batman: Arkham Asylum”). I’ve recently been looking for some other opportunities to do some freelance writing about games, but not in the review arena. So why don’t I want to get paid to write game reviews? Because for the most part, the entire concept of game reviews is completely broken right now, and gamers themselves are mostly to blame for that.

Here’s a little experiment for you to do that illustrates the problem. Go to any gaming site and read a review of any recent release. Then read the comments that are in response to the review. How many comments did it take you to get to the one that claims the reviewer is completely biased because of reason X, unqualified to review games because of reason Y, or paid off by company Z for giving the game the review they did? I would guess less than five. That’s pretty much par for the course on any game review.

Another issue is that many review readers focus only on the score a game is given, not the actual content of the review. Once a reader decides whether or not they agree with the score, it doesn’t matter whether or not the reviewer justified the score they gave. They are judged as either a genius or an idiot based on that number and how it compares to the number in a reader’s head. Many review readers also expect a certain “paint by numbers” style to a review. Every review has to talk about controls, graphics, story, etc. Omitting any of these things or straying from the formula is discouraged by review readers, which results in reviews from multiple outlets all reading like they were written by the same person. So, deeper discussion around things like narrative are discouraged, as many people just want the “paint by numbers” review and the score.

“So what?” you might say, “People respond to comic reviews the same way.” And here’s where gamers take the whole fanboy thing to another level. In many cases, once a reader disagrees with a review score, they make it a personal mission to discredit the reviewer and/or the organization the reviewer writes for. This often involves referencing previous articles the reviewer wrote, taking things out of context, and trying to prove some bias or lack of credentials. People take screenshots of a reviewer’s Xbox Live or PSN stats to show just how much of a game the reviewer completed before writing a review, and then use that information to discredit them. The list of nasty misinformation tactics goes on, but you get the point. The sad fact is that the same people a reviewer writes for are the ones trying to discredit him or her. It gets so bad that you find gaming sites and magazines having to respond to fan comments by trying to further justify why a game got the review and score that it did.

By now you might be thinking “Why the heck do sites even review games? Why not just focus on features, interviews, and other aspects of games?” Because unfortunately, it’s the reviews that get the most traffic on gaming websites, and the traffic drives the ad revenue that sites get. The deeper features and non review-related articles are generally read by many fewer people than the reviews. So a gaming site that wants to remain financially viable needs to write reviews. It’s a catch-22, and a lot of game reviewers would tell you they’d love to ditch reviews entirely and just focus on features, but they can’t.

There are other negative aspects of writing reviews as well, specifically around the public relations side of things. Many PR companies and people get paid according to how well a game reviews, so there is constant pressure on them to try and influence reviews to be as positive as possible. Advertising is a big issue as well, as much of a game site or magazine’s advertising comes from game publishers and developers. Maintaining a good relationship with those companies is important, and negative reviews can affect those relationships. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

My long-winded point is that I really enjoy writing about games, talking to developers and getting behind the scenes of how games are made. I choose to focus on those aspects of my hobby as opposed to reviews, because writing reviews for games today is a losing proposition. I am also very fortunate to have Secret Identity as a place where I can review games informally, as I don’t get paid for those reviews, and subsequently don’t have to worry about a lot of the issues I mentioned above. We also have a great community here that can respectfully discuss things we don’t agree on, which is rare on the internet these days.

So, while I truly hope that you’ll see my name out there in the future, talking about games and celebrating what’s great about them, I don’t think you’ll see me doing a lot of reviews. I’m just not interested in exploring reviews as a freelance writer until the current culture around them changes for the better.