Category Archives: Media Trends

DLC, Micro-Transactions and Loot Boxes: Innovations for Cold Hard Cash

It was 2014, and the finale to the Batman: Arkham games, one of the most popular series of the last decade, was just announced. Millions of thrilled fans went to YouTube to watch the Batman: Arkham Knight announcement, learning that Two-Face would be a villain. They also learned that if they didn’t pre-order this game they wouldn’t be able to play as Harley Quinn. Yes, they were pushed to preorder a game based a few minutes of video, which didn’t feature any gameplay.

gamePre-order exclusives are one of many ideas that the game industry has come up with to incentivize customers into giving their money away. Over the last decade the AAA game industry has come up with further innovations, not just to entice customers to buy games early, but also to gain a bigger profit. Sure, making games is a business and businesses are in it for the profit, but why are concepts like micro-transactions and season passes so common now in gaming?

In the beginning, the only way for companies to make money was through selling their game, make a new game and repeat. Most AAA games cost the same price, from a first-person shooter or a management simulator AAA, games usually cost $60. Why not just increase the cost of the game? For the answer check out Game Rant’s article about the subject. Truth is, companies are scared to deviate from the standard formula.

One of the first ideas for extra profit was to sell expansions, updates to games that add new content, usually for PC games. Not all of these updates are huge changes. Some content contains smaller additions such as cosmetic items or new weapons, to help keep players interested.

In the past few years, companies have been relying on DLC more than ever for a constant post-launch cash flow. There has been some debate as to how ethical these practices are. For example, some game critics argue that day-one DLC should be in the original purchase instead of being locked away until players spend more money. Yet, others defend these practices. There have even been some that have accused publishers of taking large amounts of content out of the initial game so they could sell more through DLC.

gameWith these new ideas being implemented, the AAA game industry transformed the idea of games being a single transaction product, into a continuous service that requires updates and new items, which in many cases the players must pay for. There is little downside to these DLC practices in the eyes of these publishers, because they usually take little resources and lead to a bigger net gain.

gameRemember the $60 set price mentioned above? Well, publishers started experimenting with different price ranges by releasing special edition games with more content. While the core game stays at $60, these special editions can go for much more.

Even with these additional avenues of profit the game industry continued to find ways of enticing gamers into spending more money with the implementation of micro-transactions in $60 games. For years, micro-transactions were utilized specifically for free to play games, where the player doesn’t have to pay, but the game’s progression is often purposefully slow to get them to pay for credits or items with real money in order to speed the game up. There is a large number of customers that are completely against the idea of these kinds of practices being featured in AAA games, and as the game industry has been using micro-transactions more than ever, the backlash against these companies has as well.

The success of micro-transactions has culminated in a controversial new business strategy that has taken the game industry by storm this past year. Loot boxes, a new form of micro-transactions where the player pays for a random item instead of getting to select one. This instantly began a debate between gamers as to how far was too far. There were many that defended these practices, while others voice their concerns.

For example, some critics argued that the loot boxes took advantage of people with gambling addiction. This was in light of the recent CSGO lotto controversy. A developer of the Lord of the Rings game, Shadow of War defended his game’s loot boxes by stating they were there to help the player. “It’s there as a player choice. It’s there, from my perspective, for people who are protective of their spare time and scared when a massive game comes along that they’re not getting to see the full experience. It’s the same design philosophy as us adding in difficulty modes. So now we have Easy mode, and we’ve added Hard mode at the other end of the spectrum.”

These are issues still being talked about today. An industry with a once simple business model, is now in a constantly evolving state where the next money-making idea is just around the corner. All of this has left a growing divide between publishers and gamers. There has been a growing feeling that customers are being cheated out of content initially because developers are focusing on expansions and DLC rather than the core game itself. Many would argue that these practices are only beneficial to the industry. Yet, this problem looks to continue as companies are finding financial success with these ideas.

There is little that consumers can do to change the minds of publishers like Warner Bros. and EA. There has already been a large amount of vocal opposition against micro-transactions, but there are always those who will side with the companies. Wherever there’s a profit the industry seems to go, and so the only way for gamers to make a difference is to talk with their wallets.

-Reese Stolte

Social Media Poses a Challenge to the FTC’s Advertising Guidelines

Assuming you’re not already reading this on your phone, go ahead and open up your preferred social media app. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, whichever you prefer. Scroll through and quickly count the ads you see. How sure are you that you counted them all? How did you determine they were ads? Did the post say sponsored by? How about #ad?

Unfortunately, you may have missed one or two, because a content producer didn’t disclose that they were getting paid for their posts. They might be monetizing their audience, without their audience even knowing it.

This issue is not isolated to one particular industry or level and even occurs with high profile influencers such as the Kardashians, one of ninety social media influencers and marketers who received a letter from the FTC noting their legal obligations to disclose material connections. Despite this, consumer groups are still claiming that the Kardashian/Jenner family is failing to disclose that some social media posts are possibly ads.

Social MediaBut unfortunately, the Kardashian/Jenner situation isn’t the most nefarious or outrageous when it comes to this problem. That honor falls to CSGO Lotto owners Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassell.

Before we get into what these two did, we need to understand one part of the popular first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offense, otherwise known as CS:GO. CS:GO has a well known and very successful micro-transaction business model that creates unique and rare gun skins for cosmetic use inside the game. And because the developer and publisher of CS:GO, Valve, created a marketplace where players can trade in-game items for real money they quickly became a pseudo-currency that could be used for gambling on websites.

Social MediaTo have a complete and total understanding of what CS: GO skins are won’t be necessary for the rest of this article but if you want to know more here is a handy article to learn more.

But back to Martin and Cassell, both of whom are popular CSGO players on YouTube and Twitch. The pair co-owned and operated a skin gambling website called CSGOLotto in which they actively promoted on both other creator’s platforms, but their own.

(Here is one of Cassell’s videos where he gambles on his own website.)

Basically imagine a Vegas casino owner hiring Brad Pitt to play at their casino without letting anyone know, and then sitting down at their own table and playing a few hands with house money. While this already seems bad, it’s made worse by the fact that the main audiences of all social media influencers involved are minors.

This situation has to lead to the first-ever complaint against individual social media influencers on the FTC which was settled September of 2017. With Martin, Cassell and the influencers, they paid to promote their website getting little more than a slap on the wrist from the FTC. You can see the settlement here.

“Consumers need to know when social media influencers are being paid or have any other material connection to the brands endorsed in their posts. This action, the FTC’s first against individual influencers, should send a message that such connections must be clearly disclosed so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions,” said Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chair of the FTC, when the settlement was reached.

While there was a lawsuit over the illegal gambling which involves the CSGOLotto owners and the video game publisher Valve, there are no are legal or financial punishments for either Martin or Cassell for deceptively advertising their website.

For now, it seems, social media influencers will continue to give the FTC problems until an influencer is made an example of.

-Chase Danielson

Squanchtendo: A Novel Way to Doubt Your Own Existence

Hello dear reader, is this reality truly reality or is it just a simulation? Have you ever played a video game? If you haven’t, you can usually bet on a very similar narrative among most games. You start playing and you’re some hapless individual with an innate and untapped power that you’re about to master. A billion hours later and your character is now something akin to a god. This is what you can expect from playing most games because they’re just games. They’re made to give you something that you’re lacking in what you might consider to be your real life. Which brings us to one the black sheep of the gaming industry: The Stanley Parable.

Stanley ParableUnlike most games, The Stanley Parable is a game in which you are some poor schmuck named Stanley working a dull office job for all eternity. You have no power, no real choice, and nothing special about you whatsoever. The narrative is something that you make sense of and ascribe your own thoughts to. You have to find your own meaning and it allows you to reflect on what you may or may not be missing in your own life. This is a bit abnormal in video games because usually the narrative is grandiose and somewhat shallow. The stakes are normally through the roof and it’s up to you to save the world/galaxy/universe.

In 2016, a small game studio named Squanchtendo was started with the creator of The Stanley Parable along with the co-creator and voice of Rick and Morty. When the two creators collided they ended up with a virtual reality product known as Accounting. That game takes a similar approach to The Stanley Parable however the tone is darker and the narrative is much sillier.

Stanley ParableIn Accounting, you are a virtual accountant and you travel deeper into other virtual worlds. While in these other worlds the time you spend in them does not stop and you eventually come out of each one at a different point in time. You eventually make your way out of each of these worlds and the game ends. Which leaves you with the thought of whether or not this is reality and if you should try to escape it, the game’s ending carries over to after you’ve finished it.

It’s not just their narratives that makes these two creators unique, it’s also their business models. The first product from Squanchtendo was priced at the modest price of free. While this does reflect the small amount playtime it offers, it also is a product that fans definitely would have paid for. The Stanley Parable was also priced pretty low for its content which was around $15. The primary reason that these games are priced so low is that they are not being funded by massive companies.

Stanley ParableThese creators made a conscious decision to focus more on an individual story than a sprawling experience that the larger companies tend to align themselves with. The focus on a smaller more compact narrative has become a trend for indie developers in recent years and continues to be the case. Generally indie developed games have a smaller price tag to go along with the experience they’re selling.  Whereas the larger companies have settled on a $60 price tag on just about anything they put their name on.

At the end of the day they’re selling a product, whether it’s a six hundred hour adventure through the galaxy or a ten-minute-long reality-bending romp in your office. While it’s subjective which of these are better than the others, fans like myself can only hope to see more creators taking pointers from the little guys because you’re never too big to learn something. So tell me, do you exist or does it even matter? Are you a fan of any of these games? Does VR lend itself to video games enough to justify the purchase?

-Brigham Swanson

…And We are Back with Avatar: Here Come the Sequels!

After achieving the status as the highest grossing movie of all time, Avatar is coming back with four new movies to be released over the next few years. The second movie began production on September 25th of this year. Many have wondered what the next movie will be like. Will it take place directly after the first one, or will it fast forward, since it will have been eleven years after the original film came out?

AvatarThese questions have been answered with the addition of children who have been added to the cast. The word is that these new children will be playing children in the clan. Some are also supposed to be Sully and Neytiri’s children as well.

Along with the new cast, Cameron has revealed some new information about what the new movies may contain. In an interview, James Cameron said that the new movie is supposed to take place with Sully and Neytiri controlling the clan. He continued by saying that the clan will leave the forest and find new environments, including underwater and volcanic environments. The producers plan on focusing less on Sully and Neytiri, and put more emphasis on the children. In an odd comment, Cameron promised that this movie will make “you s**t yourself, with your mouth wide open.”

With the first Avatar movie raking in over $2.8 billion in the box office alone. Cameron and Fox have high hopes for the next four movies. Cameron originally only had a contract with Fox for two more, but after him and his team overwrote, Fox was more than willing to create two more.

The combined production for the four movies will be $1 billion. If each movie plans on being roughly $250 million each, then they are only spending roughly $13 million more than the first movie for each of the sequels. Cameron believes that the first movie was so successful due to its story. Most fans, however, liked the movie due to special effects at the time, and they thought the story was average or nothing special. It will be interesting to see how the new stories turn out. Will they be better than the first?

The next Avatar movie is expected to be released around Christmas 2020. Release dates for the other upcoming movies, are tentative.

-Joey Linder

Tuition Costs Suck, But College Students can Save on a Spotify + Hulu Bundle

The cost of college can be expensive, but the cost of streaming unlimited music, movies and TV is now more affordable for U.S college students than you would think. Just recently Spotify joined forces with the TV streaming service, Hulu, in hopes to gain more subscribers on both platforms, and create a new partnership.

spotify huluOn September 7th, these two different entertainment platforms officially opened up their brand-new deal, $4.99 a month for access to both Spotify and Hulu, for U.S college students only. This bundle is the same price for regular Spotify, but now you get Hulu added on for free through this new offer. Both companies continue to have their own separate apps, so there will be no technology integration, where you would see Hulu suggestions within Spotify’s app. So, in a sense, yes they are bundled together, but each still operates completely separated from the other.

In the past, Spotify has tried to push their original videos into the spotlight and grab their listener’s attention. But if you watch one of their original short episodes, you would understand why nobody would sign up to Spotify strictly to watch any of these episodes. It has long since abandoned those plans for combining music and TV. With this new plan with Hulu, Spotify may not need to start from scratch on their TV channel idea. We could be seeing something big in the near future with these two platforms partnership that has already been created.

SpotifyThe landscape in the music streaming business can be very competitive. When you look at the number of subscribers for Spotify (60 million) and Apple Music (27 million), however, you can see that this entertainment bundle is only going to increase their numbers and widen the gap between their competition. Apple hasn’t announced anything about what they might potential do in reaction towards this new bundle.

Hulu’s plan in all of this is to hopefully gain a larger number of subscribers and make a habit of students continuing to use Hulu after they graduate college. By getting access to Hulu for free, students will get introduced to streaming TV and will hopefully enjoy the experience and want to keep Hulu. On the other hand, Spotify is trying to do a similar strategy. Students get half price to Spotify premium, but once they graduate it goes back to normal price. Spotify is hoping to draw in those students at a cheap price and access to Hulu and keep them once they graduate. Spotify is paying for all the advertising and digital promotion, while Hulu doesn’t have to pay anything. But Hulu is not getting any revenue by letting Spotify subscribers gain access to their streaming network.

With such a low cost, college students can get the perfect entertainment bundle with music and TV streaming ability. We will see if these two companies continue to share their networks and advance their market to more than just U.S college students. This entertainment bundle is nothing like we have seen before, and we will see if it works out for both Spotify and Hulu.

-Nick Langel

Why Watch when you can Listen? The Evolution of Podcasts

With the holiday season right around the corner, Americans across the country are traveling for hours to visit friends and family. For me, I have a few gruelingly long trips ahead of me. When I was younger, I would spend the time playing car games with my brother and sister or pestering my parents. Today, I listen to podcasts.

podcastsA podcast is “a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.” According to the History of Podcasting, podcasts are the “method of spreading information, has become a recognized medium for distributing audio content, whether it be for corporate or personal use.” Today, the podcast industry is booming. There are about 250,000 unique podcasts spread over 100 language and iTunes had over 1 billion podcast subscribers in 2013.

How podcasts came to be was not as staggering as its current listening reach. The beginning of podcasts come from small internet sites who were creating podcasts about specific topics and people for people who cared about the niche topic or person.

Podcasts did not garner national recognition until 2015 when This American Life, a public radio show, developed the podcast Serial. This podcast used investigative journalism to explore the murder of a young high school girl and the boy convicted of that murder. The listener had to listen to each episode in order to understand and follow the story. This podcasts was the catalyst that helped slingshot the industry to what it is today.

podcastsWhile there are many reasons for podcasts popularity, here are a few of the basic reasons I believe podcasts work:

  • Podcasts cover a wide range of topics. The thousands of different podcasts available cover a variety of topics that can pique the interest of any person. Some of the more common topics for podcasts are: religion, comedy and humor, crime, educational, feminist, history, horror, and science fiction. Christianity leads the way in active podcasts on iTunes in 2015 with 23,200 active podcasts.
  • Podcasts are portable. Unlike television where you need to sit down to enjoy it, podcasts allow listeners to listen to the podcast during any part of their day. I listen to podcasts when I’m working out, shopping for groceries, waiting in line at the bank and during my very few attempts at cleaning.
  • Podcasts are relatively inexpensive. For the podcaster, podcasts are easy and relatively inexpensive to make. All a person needs is equipment to record and edit the podcast and a way to publish it online. For the listener, podcasts can be found free online. If you want to create a podcast, Sound Cloud, is a great place to start.

While podcasts had humble beginnings, they have escalated into a thriving industry. An estimated 50 million people listen to podcasts each month. This high number of people listening to podcasts is reflected in the growing revenue of the podcast industry. In fact, estimates put the 2017 podcast revenue at 220 million dollars, an 85% growth from the previous year. Looking into the future, companies are working to determine how ads on podcasts can be effective. Until then, podcasts will continue to thrive as a way to educate listeners around the globe on a variety of topics.

-Daniel Roers

Worth the Wait? The Problem of First Day Glitches

As many of you have experienced, you buy a new device or download a new software update on the first day it releases. Well when you do that, there are bound to be some glitches with the software. This is what I call “First Day Glitches.” Many companies have this problem including some of the best companies out there. Whether it be Apple, Nintendo, or even Microsoft, it’s basically inevitable.

glitchesFirst let’s start out with Apple and their recent update iOS 11 that launched on September 18th, 2017. This is exactly one week after the iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch. On the first day, many users were experiencing issues. One of those issues was with the iPad, with graphics that were completely out of whack. The user would unlock the screen, and right away the bar that includes all of your favorite apps would be in the middle of the screen. This made it impossible to get to some of your apps that were underneath that bar. Another problem users ran into was with Apple Pay. Some people reported that Apple Pay would not work, or would completely crash when they tried to use it.

With this new update, Apple added a new feature that records your screen while you use it. Although this was a good idea on Apple’s end, it didn’t have the greatest first impression. Users would start recording and their iPhone would freeze or wouldn’t record audio like it was supposed to. The only way to unfreeze your phone was restarting it.

Apple isn’t the only company to have these kinds of problems. Nintendo had had a couple of pretty big issues when they first launched new products. One of those issues was with the JoyCon controllers not being able to connect to the screen when in portable mode. This raised many red flags because it is one of the key points for the switch being both portable like a GameBoy or stationary like a console. The other major issue with the Switch was that the screen would glitch to the point of not being able to see your game or control it at all. This video shows the extent of problems that it caused for many people.

The last company is Microsoft, and they problems they encountered with their launch of the Xbox One. On the first day, Microsoft released their “Day One edition” of the console which had some problems of its own. The “Green Screen of Death” was the biggest issue among them all. On the first startup of the console, the screen would freeze on the screen shown below. Many people got lucky and just unplugged their console and restarted it but some people had to send it back to Microsoft to get fixed. Gamers that also played on the Xbox 360 compared this to the “Red Ring of Death” which cost Microsoft nearly $1 Billion.

glitchesMany other Microsoft gamers complained about the optical disc drive either not reading discs or making a crunching noise when the disc was inserted. Along with that, the download times of games was very slow, but the explanation for this is based on how large the game files are in order to provide such high-quality graphics. The higher the graphic quality, the bigger the file will be. This is one of those times you have to decide what you would rather have. Quality graphics and slow download time? Or Bad graphics and fast download time? Read more here.

Overall, these companies are great companies even with their flaws, and it is impossible to be perfect. These examples are why I always wait a few days or a few weeks until getting that new device or downloading that new software. If you wait most of the major bugs and glitches will be taken care of.

Here are a few questions to think about. Are you one of the many that have to have the newest thing right away? Or do you wait?

If you were involved with one of these companies, what would you recommend doing differently to make the first day go smoother?

And what are some other examples that you have bought or downloaded something on the first day it released that had some glitches like these?

Brett Olson

Don’t Be a Dick: American Vandal, a New Mocumentary

Scandal, conspiracy, lies and dicks. These are just a few of the themes from the new Netflix original, American Vandal.  This eight-episode mocumentary will have you biting your nails and sitting on the edge of your seat.  With a cliffhanger at the end of every 35-minute episode, there is no way that you won’t binge-watch American Vandal.

American VandalIt was an in-service day for teachers and the students all had the day off.  27 cars got tagged with 27 dicks in red spray paint.  Senior Dylan Maxwell is immediately pegged for doing it, being the class clown and known “dick drawer”, it just made sense to the school board and one specific teacher who has it out for him, Mrs. Shapiro.

Sophomores Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund think otherwise.

Peter and Sam are the two students that make a documentary, that may not prove Dylan innocent, but will reveal the truth as to what happened on that day.  With a supporting cast of students to interview, Peter and Sam seem to have their work cut out for them.  Through clever and somewhat crude means, the boys point to Dylan’s innocence, with silly things like the lack of ball hairs, and the different shape of the head than Dylan’s usual drawings.

The idea for American Vandal came to creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault in 2016 after seeing the success of the Netflix original documentary How to Make a Murderer.  They set out to emulate such documentaries as How to Make a Murderer, Serial and The Jinx.  In many ways, American Vandal makes light-hearted fun of the way documentaries like these are set up.  An article from Vanity Fair does a great job discussing this.

When they went to Netflix with the idea, they had to assure the creative executives that their series would be “more than just a dick joke sketch”.   American Vandal premiered on Netflix on September 15, 2017.  Ever since its release, critics and audiences alike have been raving about American Vandal.  It has a critic review consensus of 96% and an audience rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.  It also received 8.3/10 on IMdb.

One of the greatest things about American Vandal is how relatable it is to actual high school students.  Through social media and obvious, but classic, stereotypes you really feel immersed in their world.  Yacenda was quoted in an article on The Verge saying:

“The common threads were that high school kids don’t use Facebook much. Certainly not with their own friends. They use a lot of Snapchat. Instagram is the main one. But I guess you learn that kids have their public Instagram, and then they’ll have a private Instragram for just their close friends, so they  can post memes or whatever.”

Yacenda and Perrault do a great job of showing all types of high school students.  Alex Trimboli is the brown-nosing honor student who is referred to as “a little bitch”, Christa Carlyle is the student body president and is always doing crazy stunts for charity, Sara Pearson is the popular, hottest girl in school and Dylan and his friends are the burn out stoners.

American VandalSo what do you think?  Does this sound like a show that you’d be interested in?  Is the idea of minors at parties and hooking up something that should be on television?  If you have seen the show, try not to spoil it for others.  I hope you are convinced enough to watch this mystery of the spray-painted dicks.

-Mitch Diamond