All posts by Amelia Torre

Is Microsoft Paying More Attention to Female Gamers?

In an interview the week before the release of Halo 4, Bonnie Ross, from Microsoft’s 343 Industries, and Kiki Wolfkill, Halo 4’s executive producer, boldly announced that Xbox Live would be implementing a lifetime ban for “players who are found to be making sexist or discriminatory comments against others.” The blogosphere lit up with claims that Halo 4 on Xbox Live would be “banning sexism,” but what does this really mean?

According to ESA game player data, female gamers now make up 47% of all game players, and females over 18 are the industry’s fastest growing demographic.  Nonetheless, sexism in gaming is a prevalent issue. Websites like Fat, Ugly, or Slutty encourage gamers to submit screen shots of players making rude, sexist, or inappropriate comments. Sexist comments are an integral part of the banter over the microphone headsets that gamers use to communicate with each other.

The fact that two industry leaders behind a popular game like Halo 4 are women is quite impressive.  It is also important to have them calling out sexism in gaming as “behavior that is offensive and completely unacceptable.” The question is, do their words have any real impact? At it turns out; their seemingly groundbreaking announcement does not reflect any actual modification of the current Xbox Live policy.  The code of conduct, has not been changed, and reads as follows:

Don’t create a gamertag, profile content, Avatar action, Avatar content, or in-game content that other users may be offended by. This includes, without limitation, anything related to or suggestive of: profane words/phrases, topics or content of a sexual nature, hate speech (including but not limited to racial, ethnic, or religious slurs), illegal drugs/controlled substances, or illegal activities.

As you can see, the code of conduct includes no new language specifically addressing sexist comments. Since the interview, a Microsoft representative has said that the company is not changing their Xbox Live policy for Halo 4, adding that Microsoft does not support any form of bigotry.

So to summarize, Xbox Live is not placing a lifetime ban on players who use sexist comments, and Ross and Wolfkill’s announcement does not mean that Microsoft will be initiating any special measures to stop sexism on Xbox Live.

The few days of excitement over the possibility of Microsoft taking steps to actively fight sexism raises important questions; should sexism be fought in online gaming forums? With women now making up a large and growing percentage of gamers, is this an issue that needs to be pursued, or should online gaming outlets stay out of the situation?

In their interview, Ross and Wolfkill placed more of the responsibility for ending sexism in gaming on the developers. As the number of women in the gaming world grows, it will be interesting to see how companies like Microsoft handle the issue of sexism.

Amelia M. Torre

Re-blogged on The F-Bomb

The Oscars and Movie Box Office

What is the most exciting time in Hollywood?

If you guessed January and February, you are correct!  After the first of the year, a series of awards are giving to recognize the best movies and performances of the previous year. Some of these awards are the Golden Globes, Producers Guild, Writers Guild, The Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and the Academy Awards, also known as The Oscars.

           

Being nominated for any of these awards is prestigious, and winning is even better.  For movie studios, however, the award season can be less about winning and more about maximizing their profit margins.  There is a buzz created by all of the nominations, and studios can use that buzz to help promote a film and appeal to more moviegoers.  Winning an Academy Award, of course, represent the height of success for any movie.

The Oscar nominations are announced the month before the ceremony and many studios go into full campaign mode to maximize the excitement surrounding the awards. There are new commercials launched that focus on how many and what kind of Oscar nominations a movie has received. This is an attempt to entice viewers to see the movie because it is being recognized as one of the best films of the year for one reason or another.  After nominations are announced studios will also try to get interviews and photo shoots set up with the actors in the film as a way to get some free publicity.

Does all of the award buzz really pay off for the studios?  Box office results indicate that, yes, there really is something to the excitement.  According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, The Artist had a small four-theater release around Thanksgiving and was slowly gaining momentum, but after being nominated for an Oscar it jumped up to over six hundred screens.

The publicity around the awards can be important for independent films that are nominated.  Many of them have small advertising budgets and being nominated puts a film on the map.  The Descendants, from Fox Searchlight, was another movie that had a small opening and was able to pick up momentum through the award season.

The Oscars had an interesting effect on the movie The Hurt Locker.  Originally released in June of 2009, The Hurt Locker opened for twenty-one weeks on 535 screens and grossed only $12.5 million.  After winning the Oscar for best picture in 2010, the movie was re-released for two weeks on 350 screens and grossed another $4 million, about 30% more!

The Artist, The Descendants, and The Hurt Locker are all examples of films that have received a boost from award nominations and wins.  The Academy Award is the most important award given during the season because of the number of filmmakers, tradespeople and actors voting for the winners.  According to the chart on BoxOfficeQuant.com, there is a significant jump in movie revenue at the start of the award season, and it continues through the Oscars Award ceremony.  All of the award excitement can pay off for some movies in a big way, with box office boost and the long-term claim to fame.

Amelia M. Torre

The Oscar Race Has Begun!

May 16th 1929 is a date that not many people are familiar with, but it was the start of one of Hollywood’s most glamorous traditions…the Academy Awards.  Each Spring, Hollywood’s red carpet royalty come out en masse to recognize the year’s best cinematic performances.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) held the first ceremony at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with 270 people attending.  There were twelve award categories and the winners had already been announced earlier in the year.  After many additions and shifting around of the categories, there are currently twenty-four Oscars awarded and the winners are kept secret until the night of the ceremony.

How are the nominees and winners decided? The AMPAS is made up of almost 6,000 voting members from various areas of the movie business including actors, producers, and directors.  Prospective members are nominated for significant performances or contributions to the industry and after a vigorous screening process some are invited to join AMPAS.

To select the award nominees for the year there is a round of voting and the most popular nominations are voted on again to determine the winner in each category.  Because peers in the industry decide the winners, there is considerable prestige that comes with being nominated and especially with winning an Oscar.

The nominations were released earlier this week with few surprises.  One big snub this year is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was not nominated for best picture.  A minor surprise was The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg, not receiving a nomination for Best Animated Film. Martin Scorcese’s Hugo received the most attention, with eleven nominations, including one for best picture.

             

Two of the favorite movies going into the Oscars are The Artist and The DecendantsThe Descendants took home a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture earlier this month. There have been a handful of movies that have won both awards, but that doesn’t mean other nominees don’t have a chance. There are a variety of films nominated this year but all of them have the common thread of being creative and emotionally compelling.

These nominees are not your common Blockbusters. They have risen to the top because each movie provides a snapshot of life… its frustration, its pain, its joy.

The 84th Academy Awards ceremony will take place February 26th in downtown Los Angeles at the Kodak Theatre and will be broadcast live on ABC.  Who do you think will be winning this year? You can fill out a personal Oscar ballot here and see how your opinion compares to Hollywood’s! Check back here for Academy Award results and analysis!

– Amelia M. Torre

Video Gaming Industry Battles Piracy

Global piracy plagues every area of the entertainment industry. Video games are no exception to that rule.  In fact, 73% of global video game revenues are lost to piracy. Between 2004 and 2009 the industry lost $41.5 billion dollars to illegal downloading.

The majority of the lost revenue comes from overseas, although piracy within the United States is an issue too.  Piracy is most popular in Japan where losses were estimated around $10.7 billion in 2010.

Why is piracy so prolific and how is it possible? The reason is the same around the world: the high cost of games and hardware and the spread of broadband Internet.

The cost of games and hardware varies from country to country. In the United States game consoles are $200 – $350 and new games cost around $60. With the high price of initial investment, gamers cannot always afford to buy all newest games they might want.

This predicament has lead to the creation of numerous videos and websites dedicated to helping consumers learn how to burn games and modify consoles to read those games. These website are allowed to exist because they have a disclaimer about “voiding the warranty of consoles” and instructions that these practices are only to be used to back up “personal game libraries.”

However, when a game’s copyright protection is overridden, the game can be copied and the files uploaded to peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Anyone can then download, burn, and play the game on their modified console. In the United States, “self-moding” consoles so they will read burned disks is the most popular form of piracy.

In other countries the cost of games and hardware is even more expensive than in the United States. Most big title games are imported by other countries and have taxes and tariffs on them that drive prices up.

An article from 2010 in The Velvet Light Trap explains that when you take into account the currency exchange rates, gamers in the United Kingdom will pay $30-$70 more than gamers in the United States. These extra costs can almost double the price of games. All countries buying games from the United States have this problem, not just the United Kingdom.

Given that games start out expensive, and are only more expensive outside the United States, is it any wonder piracy is so prevalent? The above article points out that “consumers are not choosing to purchase pirated or smuggled products over legal ones—they are often choosing to purchase a gray or black market product or nothing at all.”

Again, the Internet and its spread has been the key in facilitating piracy. With its spread through Europe and Asia, downloading and burning games has become the easiest way to illegally obtain games. Peer-to-peer file sharing makes it is hard for governments to accurately track and block illegal activity.

How are gaming distributors supposed to respond to these issues? It will take innovative copyright protection software or an entirely different strategy. One approach would be a firmer crackdown on peer-to-peer file sharing and the websites that distribute information on how to burn and mod games. Another approach would be to embrace digital downloading and lower the of cost of producing games.

The major problem with any crackdown on gaming piracy is the fact that this is a global issue. U.S. companies have chosen to avoid distributing or have limited distribution in some countries because of rampant piracy. The funny thing is, gamers still want the latest games and they will find a way to own them whether it is through legal methods or not. Perhaps combining lower prices and wider distribution is the key to limiting piracy losses.

– Amelia M. Torre

E3 = Every Gamers Dream

At E3, being a gaming nerd is an entrance requirement.  E3 stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo, and it is one of the largest gathering of gaming software and hardware developers in the world.  The Expo takes place in sunny Los Angeles, California during the first part of June every year.  The convention lasts for three days and is filled with glitzy and impressive “first look” displays of the new games and gaming systems premiering in the fall.  This year, E3 hosted more than 47,000 attendees from over 100 countries, and 200 exhibitors that took up the better part of the Los Angeles Convention Center.  I was there with fellow Modern Media Mix reporter Freddie Dickerson, and a dozen other SIU folks.  We enjoyed playing Star Wars and Dance Central 2 for Microsoft’s Kinect, Resistance 3 for Sony’s PlayStation 3, playing many other titles, and checking out some new hardware, as well.

Here are some Game Titles coming out this fall and holiday season that were previewed at E3:

  • Batman: Arkham City  – Trailer
  • EA Sports FIFA Soccer 12 – Trailer
  • Star Wars Kinect – Trailer
  • Gears of War 3 – Trailer
  • Battlefiled 3 – Trailer
  • Modern Warfare 3 – Trailer
  • Resistance 3 – Trailer
  • Saints Row 3 – Trailer (explicit)
  • Just Dance 3 – Trailer (Anyone sensing a theme with the 3s this year?)
  • Hitman Absolution – Trailer  (My personal favorite trailer)
  • Assassin’s Creed Revelations – Trailer (2nd favorite)

Amelia Torre and Freddie Dickerson playing the Star Wars Kinect demo.

 Hardware coming out this fall and holiday season that were previewed at E3:

New hardware like a Playstation 4 or Xbox 720 are not rumored to come out for at least another year, and so this year at E3 the hottest products were the games.  At this stage in the console lifecycle, more money is being channeled into game development.  Games like L.A. Noire and Need for Speed-The Run are investing in live action capture techniques to make the games more realistic. Consumers are demanding games that are better looking and more complex, and the demos at E3 proved that the industry is listening. Check back with ModernMediaMix.com for more detailed information about E3 and what’s coming out this fall. To see a bunch more E3 pictures “like” ModernMediaMix on FaceBook!

Amelia M. Torre

An Earthquake Shakes up Hollywood

The media industry is on a wild roller coaster ride when it comes to technology. Technological change is often sought for increased efficiency, but technological change can also occur out of necessity. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, forcing Sony, the largest manufacturer of magnetic tape, to shut down its largest manufacturing plant. Magnetic tape is the format most commonly used by the film and entertainment industry as the “master” for many products. The loss of imported magnetic tape from Sony’s Japanese factories created a shortage of tape in Hollywood, and the major studios were forced to adapt by switching almost entirely to digital formatting.

For several decades, films were shot on expensive and highly flammable nitrate film stock, which easily decays over time. Nitrate stock was abandoned for less expensive, safer and longer lasting film stocks. Similarly, the switch from analog to digital video means that a lot of video is now recorded in a digital format or converted later to digital. Over the past couple of years there has been a gradual movement towards operating solely with digital formats, and that process has been drastically accelerated because of the earthquake. Media companies are scrambling to keep everything moving smoothly especially as TV shows are coming off of summer hiatus and filming again (HollywoodReporter.com).

The company I am working for is a post-production quality control facility in Los Angeles. When I started here two months ago the mastering department was working mainly with tape. The tapes were physically picked up by our company and brought to the facility to be viewed and driven back to the client when the work was done. As the summer is drawing to a close, however, all of the new feature films the company works on are delivered directly to the company hard drives via a digital pipeline or occasionally picked up on a portable hard drive. In the course of just eight weeks, my company had to quickly purchase, install, and learn how to work with digital video. There are some technical issues that all of the studios and their associates are attempting to figure out. Digital files are extremely high quality and therefore take up a lot of storage space. Studios are buying 100 terabyte hard drives continually and still running out of space. My company deletes all of the client’s files after the project is completed and we own several 100 terabyte hard drives just to temporarily hold projects.

Every company is figuring out how to operate without the standard magnetic tape after the loss of the Japanese plants. Sony is planning to reopen their largest factory later this fall but the big question is, will there be a significant market for tape at that point? (LAWeekly.com) The film industry was already moving towards digital, and now with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in this change, digital is here to stay.

Amelia M. Torre

To Steal or Not to Steal?

Media piracy is everywhere. You have heard about what illegal downloading has done to the music industry, and you know that you can find ways to pirate movies and TV shows fairly easily. The MPAA, film studios, and record companies complain loudly about the money they are losing because of illegal downloading.  So what, you might say? A large media company loses a few dollars here and there—they’ll never miss it! However, as piracy grows, there is another way of looking at this issue: What is the human cost of piracy?  While this is not a matter of life and death, the stakes are high nonetheless.

In media centers like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, hundreds of thousands of people are employed by the industry (MPAA fact sheet). This includes people who work directly on a CD, film, or TV show as well as agents, costume designers and everyone who works in post-production. While living in Los Angeles I have met families where two or three members are employed in the media business. Needless to say, the media industry is an important part of the American economy.

I am working at a media post-production quality control facility in Los Angeles and piracy is a significant concern for us. Security is a top priority and something that is on everyone’s mind. The facility has security cameras inside and out, employees are given badges that will only open specific doors depending on their level of clearance. When movies or TV shows are being worked on the disks are checked out of a vault with a record kept of when and who checked it out. There are no windows close to workstations in the building and most other windows are kept covered. The MPAA actually inspects the building every few years and certifies it as a safe location.

The more piracy grows, the less money media companies make, and the fewer people they are able to hire to work on projects. This means, crews, audio engineers, gaffers, mixers, editors, promoters and everyone else across the industry will have an even harder time finding a job (AFL-CIO fact sheet). The security measures mentioned above may seem excessive but they are common for facilities that handle content for major productions. No one at my company complains about the security or would consider pirating content because they know their jobs depend on studios earning a lot of money.

The MPAA and the rest of the media industry may be fighting a losing battle. Technology to encrypt disks and files is evolving, but so is the technology to get around the encryption. The more prevalent piracy becomes the more jobs will be lost and certain facilities, such as the one I’m working at, will become less relevant. Will the battle rage on, or will the media content industries adopt a new business model?

– Amelia M. Torre