An interesting and sickening piece of political video gaming news came out last week. I had meant to write about it at the time, but got bogged down with some personal and family obligations. Nevertheless, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

Activision / Blizzard has apparently banned a professional Hearthstone player, living in Hong Kong (a semi-sovereign city-state in China), from participating in professional e-sports. The reason that Activision / Blizzard banned Ng Wai Chung (who goes by the username Blitzchung) is because he made statements in support of a decades-long protest movement in Hong Kong that supports independent democracy. The authoritarian communist Chinese government has been battling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong for decades, and apparently video game publishers (among many other American corporations) are starting to act as shills for China's policies of repression and censorship.

Heck, Activision even went one step further, and rescinded the prize money that Blitzchung had already won! They also stated that they are canceling professional relationships with the Taiwanese reporters who were interviewing Blitzchung when he made the comment. Taiwan, by the way, also has a lengthy history of Chinese repression.

Blitzchung made his comments as a part of an official Twitch stream, and Activision claims that his statements violated tournament rules that prohibit any speech that would:

"... brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image."

Apparently, speaking out against Chinese government repression and tyranny counts as "damaging the image of Blizzard". But Blitzchung isn't an employee or agent of Activision / Blizzard, and his statements had nothing to do with Activision / Blizzard as a business. Blitzchung's comments weren't hate speech, they weren't inciting riots or violence, nor was the statement itself anything that is actually offensive (to anyone other than the Chinese government). Would Blizzard have reacted similarly had a tournament player said "Trump, 2020" or "LGBTQ rights" or anything that could be seen as similarly divisive? If they had, they'd be equally as wrong to do so.

Activision / Blizzard's reaction is disgusting and reprehensible. I'm sure they want to increase their market penetration in China, and having players of their games who live under that repressive Chinese government speaking out against the repressive Chinese government probably doesn't make Activision / Blizzard look good in the eyes of the Chinese government. But so what?! By not taking a stance in favor of free speech, Activision / Blizzard is enabling and condoning a tyranny that would squash the very free markets in which Activision / Blizzard operates and earns its vast amounts of wealth.

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If you're a fan of college sports video games, then you've probably already heard that in the middle of May, the NCAA announced that it would be convening a special group to re-examine the issue of student-athlete compensation for the use of their name and likeness. Lawsuits from former players whose likenesses were being used in college games without their permission (let alone compensation) is the reason that companies like EA and 2K Sports had to stop releasing new college football and basketball games back in 2012 and 2013.

These issues have been in and out of the courts over the years, with most (if not all) cases being decided in favor of the individual athletes and requiring the NCAA, video game publisher, or both to have to pay damages the athlete. Ever since, the NCAA has refused to lend its license to video games in particular, as they have steadfastly refused to allow players to be compensated on the grounds that they are "amateur" student athletes, even though they are the primary driving force of a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry.

College sports games have been absent for quite a few years now.

Over recent years, the NCAA has been receiving mounting public pressure to pay athletes and/or allow them to profit from the use of their likeness in commercial products, and it looks like they might finally cave to this pressure later this year. We've talked about the idea of college sports games returning in the past, but up till now, it's always been purely speculative. This time is a bit different, however, since the NCAA itself is finally taking some actual action on the topic. No final decision will be reached until October, so it's still entirely possible that the committee will decide to retain the status quo, which will mean no NCAA-licensed video games in the foreseeable future.

I already thought 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for football video games,
even before this announcement from the NCAA!

I am optimistic that the NCAA will decide in favor of allowing players to receive compensation. In fact, I think this could actually be a brilliant -- and somewhat insidious -- decision by the NCAA. On the one hand, it allows them to license their brand to video game, which would provide a revenue stream for the NCAA. Secondly, it allows the players (the popular ones, anyway) to get paid, which may quell much of the popular demand for the NCAA themselves to pay athletes a salary.

Lastly, based on what I've read about the proposed rule changes, the deal would allow the license-holder of the game or the manufacturer of the paraphernalia holding the athlete's likeness and/or name to pay the athlete directly. Which means the NCAA isn't actually the one paying the athletes. The athletes are getting paid with someone else's dollar. It would, thus, allow the NCAA to save face by continuing to pretend that they are facilitating an "amateur" sport".

In fact, the NCAA's official statement flat-out says:

"... the group will not consider any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports. The NCAA’s mission to provide opportunity for students to compete against other students prohibits any contemplation of pay-for-play."

It's a kind of cop-out win-win-win for the NCAA, so it's actually kind of amazing that they didn't consider doing this sooner.

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UPDATE 28 JANUARY, 2019, 6:44 PM (PST)
Twitter user @HillardHouseDan referred me to a gamefaqs post at gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/179835-resident-evil-2/77419853 that has a work-around for this issue. That post claims that disabling HDR (High Dynamic Range) in the PS4's video settings will allow you to stream and capture Resident Evil 2 footage. Commentor Jon had also posted the same work-around just as I was loading up RE2 to test it. So thanks readers!

I had actually come across this post last night, but had dismissed it because it was specifically about "Share Play" and not about streaming. I have been streaming Red Dead Redemption II for two months with HDR enabled without any problem, so it didn't even occur to me to test that setting.

Besides, the message was telling me that the scene was "blocked", so I had assumed that Capcom had blocked it as a "spoiler" section. Games in the past have done this for screens in which players enter email accounts, passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information (which is the only acceptable use of blocking share functionality!). But Atlus had also recently blocked streaming of Persona 5 in order to prevent spoilers from leaking onto the internet. I was assuming that Capcom was doing the same thing. Atlus had patched Persona 5 to remove the streaming block for after about a week.

So, long story short: If you disable HDR on the PS4's video settings, you should be able to stream Resident Evil 2. You'll be playing at lower resolution, and with less color range, but it'll be playable and streamable. I guess I'll have to chalk this one up to a bug for now? Maybe Capcom will fix it with a patch. I can't imagine that they had deliberately blocked HDR or 4k streaming, but left non-HDR and regular HD enabled.

So pending any other setbacks, I do expect to play Resident Evil 2 this week, and will hopefully have a review out in a couple weeks. I'm leaving the rest of this post intact for posterity. Some of the points about fair use and blocking functionality of the console are still valid for situations like Persona 5, so maybe this blog will serve as a cautionary tale for any publishers or developers who do try to pull something like this deliberately.

UPDATE 26 February, 2019:
I have a full review up for the game now. I have also adapted that review into a video critique on YouTube:

I have adapted my review into a video critique on YouTube.
I was really looking forward to this remake of RE2.

After having to wait all of Saturday night for Resident Evil 2 remake to download and install on my PS4 (and playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to pass the time), I tried booting up the game on Sunday and played 15 minutes, only to find that the entire game is blocked from streaming. Even the built-in "capture" functionality (of the last 15 minutes of gameplay) of the PS4 console is disabled! I didn't even know games on the console could disable the built-in capture.

This realization sent me into a rabbit-hole of digging through the internet to find out if there was a work-around. I couldn't find one. Apparently, only the PS4 version of the game suffers from this problem. Players on Steam and XBox One do not seem to have any issues streaming.

I was very exciting to play this game. I really loved the REmake that was released on PSN a couple years ago, and I've been looking forward to an "RE2make" ever since. Resident Evil VII was also pretty damned good, and a return to form that made me optimistic about the series moving forward. But the game being blocked from streaming and capture put a damper on the experience that makes me not want to play the game. Basically, my night -- and my weekend -- were ruined by this petty decision from Capcom (and the fact that Sony even allows this bullshit on their platform).

This makes blogging about the game much harder

Why is this such a big deal? Why can't I just play the game and not stream it to Twitch? Well, the reason is that I use the streaming and capture functionality to get screenshots (and occasionally video) for use on this blog. After playing the game, I go through the archived footage to get relevant screenshots for blogs, strategy guides, analyses, or whatever I happen to be writing about the game -- all of which is legally protected under fair use!

It isn't just streaming that's disabled; even the capture function built into the PS4 is disabled!

I could maybe have lived without the Twitch broadcast, as I usually prefer to save important footage using the PS4's built-in capture function. The captured footage is much higher quality than what is saved by Twitch, and so it's essential for getting good screenshots of action segments. But the PS4 only saves the last 15 minutes of footage, so I have to make sure to remember to capture any video that I feel I'll need. I use the Twitch stream as a backup in case I forget.

The principle of the thing

More importantly, however, is the principle of the thing...

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XFL logo

Slumping ratings and controversy around concussions and national anthem protests aren't the only problems facing the NFL now. The NFL is going to have some competition in the form of at least two new professional football leagues!

The XFL wants to be no joke

A few days ago, the new XFL released a list of the cities that will host its inaugural teams, and I have to say, I'm a bit confused by the decisions. The cities that made the final cut are:

  • Dallas, Texas: Globe Life Park in Arlington
  • Houston, Texas: TDECU Stadium
  • Los Angeles, California: StubHub Center in Carson
  • New York, New York: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford
  • Seattle, Washington: CenturyLink Field
  • St. Louis, Missouri: The Dome at America's Center
  • Tampa Bay, Florida: Raymond James Stadium
  • Washington, D.C.: Audi Field
XFL teams will be sharing cities (and in some cases, stadiums) with NFL teams.

I understand that the XFL would want its teams to be in large markets, but I'm surprised that every single one (except for St. Louis) is a city that already has an NFL team. So the XFL's teams will be competing with a firmly-established NFL team for fans and ticket sales in all but one of the XFL's inaugural cities. In fact, three of these teams will have to share a stadium with an NFL team. Metlife will be split between the New York XFL team, and the Jets and Giants of the NFL. CenturyLink Field will be shared with the Seahawks, and Raymond James will be shared with the Buccaneers. I was expecting the XFL to go after the largest markets that didn't already have NFL teams. Cities like St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland were shoe-in destinations, in my mind, since they recently lost NFL teams, and so have empty, NFL-caliber (sort of) stadiums waiting for a new tenant.

Other than that, I was expecting to see the XFL go to places like Milwuake, Oklahoma City, Portland, Albuquerque, Boise, Honolulu, and other midsize markets. Las Vegas would also be a prime target, if not for the Raiders moving here in a year or two. The XFL also could have tried to beat the NFL to some foreign markets, such as Toronto, Vancuever (Canada), Mexico City, or London.

And if it were absolutely necessary to go into cities that already have NFL teams, I would have expected them go after cities that have historically bad or under-performing teams in the hopes of stealing away some disenfranchised fans. Tampa Bay certainly fits this bill. I was also thinking of places like Cleveland, Detroit, Pheonix, and Jacksonville.

Bully politics

I'll admit that I was actually excited by Vince McMahon's announcement of an XFL revival. McMahon's statements so far have indicated that he is taking the league much more seriously this time around, and that it won't be as much of a gimmicky joke. According to early reports, McMahon wants the league to be faster. He wants to reduce the game time from three-or-more hours to about two hours. How he plans to accomplish this is still not entirely known, but my guess would be that he could achieve it through a combination of shortening quarter lengths (to 10 or 12 minutes), reducing the play clock from 40 seconds (in the NFL) to 25 or 30 seconds (closer to NCAA rules), eliminating some clock stoppages (by not stopping the clock for incomplete passes, for instance), or by slowing down the game by making the rules favor running the ball rather than throwing the ball. This last one seems unlikely, as I'm sure McMahon wants the game to be more exciting, and most fans are not like me, and do not enjoy seeing long, methodical, ground-and-pound drives.

The new XFL will be devoid of some of the original's excess and theatrics.

McMahon will own and finance the league this time around, rather than the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE). This new XFL is expected to eliminate a lot of the silly, pro-wrestling-inspired theatrics that plagued the original XFL and turned that league into a joke. Players with criminal records will not be allowed to play, and they won't be able to create silly names for the backs of their jerseys (no "He Hate Me" as a player name).

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Red Dead Redemption II

It appears that 2k is pulling a thoroughly dickish move with regard to the release of the highly-anticipated Red Dead Redemption II. They are not distributing it to small, independent game stores until a week after release. The game is scheduled to release on October 26 (4 days from now, as of the time of this writing), but mom & pop game shops likely won't receive it until at least November 7! The game will be available for digital download on the scheduled release date of October 26, and it will even be available at large corporate retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Game Stop. But if you have a favorite little indie game shop, you'll have to wait more than a week to play this game-of-the-year candidate.

What is 2K's reason for this move? Well, from what I've read, the reason is not entirely clear. 2K is citing production delays and supply issues for the discs. Even people who pre-ordered the game from the affected shops will not be receiving their copies on time, which completely negates the purpose of a pre-order, and highlights just how absurd the process is. In an age of digital distribution, pre-orders are practically moot. But even when a game is sold physically (and sells a crap ton of pre-orders), it still might not be available to you! So why bother pre-ordering?

To be honest though, I don't care what 2K's reasons are. If this genuinely is an issue with production of the discs, then 2K should have either:

  1. Reduced the number of units delivered to all retailers, regardless of size, or
  2. delay the release of the game (including online sales) a week.

A minor delay into early November would not be that much of a hit on the game's sales. It not like they'd be missing the revered holiday launch window.

At the very least, they should have provided any and all pre-order copies to the stores that sold pre-orders.

The cynic in me can't help but suspect that this is some deliberate move by 2K to harm independent game retailers. Perhaps they want even more control over the release process of their games, and independent retailers are much harder to control than massive corporate entities. Or maybe they calculated that any losses from those independent stores would be offset (either partially or in full) by online sales in which the publisher does not have to split money with the retailer.

In any case, we're living in an age when independent shops are struggling to survive against the monopolies of corporate retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and against the online retail juggernauts like Amazon (and the online storefronts of companies like Wal-Mart and Best Buy). Withholding highly-anticipated product from such shops (while still delivering it to their corporate competitors) is outright cruel and unforgivable. That is true whether the withholding is being done maliciously or not.

All those stores that sold pre-orders, promoted the game with posters and cardboard cut-outs, and merch sales -- probably all at the expense of the store owner! -- are completely screwed. Loyal customers will hopefully wait and buy the game a week later, but most customers will probably cancel their pre-orders and take their money elsewhere. I implore you to wait till November 7 and buy the game from a small, local, independent game store! Show 2K that this behavior is unacceptable business practice! Or just don't buy the game at all...

As for me: unless 2K back-tracks and does, in fact, deliver the game to independent retailers, I will not be buying a new, retail copy of Red Dead Redemption II! Instead, I will wait a week or two and see if I can get it used off of eBay (or a local independent retailer). I will stand in solidarity with independent retailers and their customers. As such, any review that I write for it will necessarily be late -- even by my standards... And even if it turns out to be the best game that I've ever played, I will not be trading it in for a new copy of the game, or recommending it to any friends, as is my usual practice.

2K, you just lost a sale.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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