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An Interview with Videogame Expert Scott Steinberg

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, the holiday videogame slate is approaching quickly, so before you grab those blockbuster and eclectic games, get some expert opinions and industry updates from Blogcritics’ interview with Scott Steinberg, DigitalTrends.com publisher, Get Rich Playing Games author, and all around videogame expert .

Let’s start with a high profile game that will be on shelves soon – Beatles Rock Band, which has some impressive visuals to match the familiar music.

This game looks to introduce a whole new legion of fans to the hobby. It could bridge the gap between ages, genders, cultures, and backgrounds, and is essentially a title that transcends our traditional concept of what a videogame can be. We’re talking about two very popular media brands. The duo could make sweet music together and even become a “system seller” where people would buy a console just to play this game. So it’s easy to see why the potential for a big success is high. It’s about the very essence of what today’s games are – fun, social experiences that bring people together. Keep in mind that the game is also being supported by an immense media and advertising blitz. You’ll see it plastered across print, online, radio and TV, with the title guaranteed to receive a huge boost by piggybacking on the simultaneous launch of The Beatles’ newly remastered CD catalogue. The game will also ship with special edition bundles and instruments modeled after the Fab Four’s own, which are basically luxury pieces of memorabilia targeted at the band’s most ardent admirers. Few and far between are the videogame launches of this magnitude, let alone those so readily capable of reaching out to a mainstream audience.

How does overall holiday videogame calendar look this year?

Games have certainly come into their own as entertainment. The stereotype of introverted people huddled in their basement is fading away. Men and women, young and old coming out and saying we’re proud to call ourselves gamers. Gaming is becoming more culturally acceptable with the Nintendo Wii, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band where nearly every person has been exposed in some way. The sequels or familiar concept games have less risk. We can see some amazing things in social, mobile, independent, and online games. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 will be especially good in home theaters. Assassins Creed 2, Halo 3 ODST, DJ Hero, and New Super Mario Bros. will be big. Many games allow multiplayer options. Nobody will come up short on options.

What are your impression of UbiSoft’s upcoming Avatar videogame?

The common adage of adapting videogame[s] from movies has had a fair stigma since the E.T. game in 1982. A game was just another licensed product rushed out to market under unrealistic deadlines and treated like merchandise instead of its own entity. Now, many filmmakers see games as another way they can represent their intellectual properties. They have become complex endeavors taking two to three years to complete with budgets comparable to independent films. A great benefit for UbiSoft here is an unprecedented access to talent, stars, and freedom to expand the original story. It’s a truly collaborative work, not a straight license. Movie game developers also understand they don’t want to play through the same story and instead recreate some of the finer moments while expanding into [a] 30 hour-plus experience that has a high replay value.

What do you think about more practical themed games and fitness games?

They can be playful spins on reality. My SAT Coach and future U can assist with learning, help retention, and improve memory. These games are based on concepts that everyone recognizes and are comfortable and familiar with. Cooking Mama, Guitar Hero, and DJ Hero focus on profession[s] that many people want to be [in]. Not everyone can be a shooting expert… many fitness games like Daisy Fuentes Pilates, Biggest Loser, Wii Fit Plus, and Jillian Michaels make great fitness supplements. Fitness games are a great way to show people fitness can be fun. The games introduce players to the concept of exercise and healthy habits.

How do you see the tough economy playing into this year’s game cache?

Value seems to be what games are about now and money is tighter than ever. WiiWare, Sony PlayStation Home, Xbox Live, iPhone…we’re seeing value stressed across the board with continuous downloads and expanded experience in MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) games and blockbuster games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Little Big Planet and Fallout 3. The iPhone currently has more than 1300 applications, with 20% or more being games at $7 or $8 each. Classic games, like Oregon Trail, are fast, fun, and simple to play, providing a fully gratifying experience in 10 minutes. Games are fitting more into people’s lifestyles. We all have less free time, so we want value and high quality. Community games that can be played with friends.

What can we look for in the simulation game genre?

Many exciting experiences like Free Realms, Second Life, and The Sims 3 make great simulations, like a “virtual dollhouse”. Also, many games let users create and share their own content, which adds even more value beyond level editors and other game customizations. High quality is the biggest determinate for success. The Spore game has over 110 million creations available for use… the users are getting greater roles as game creators. Users get a greater sense of ownership and attachment to the games. We’re not confined to what we get as much anymore. If you’re dealing with any game product, you don’t want to feel like customer, you consider your contribution even legacy to the experience.

How about those “hidden” gems and special extras/special game editions coming out?

Gamers can always find little gems. The spectrum of games splinters, which has created some high activity on lower priced games ranging from 99 cents each to under $20 dollars. High end games are offering some pretty unique extras like the night vision goggles that come with Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Prestige Edition. That doesn’t leave much middle ground. Developers must really consider their audience and perceptions in the market. They must be careful [about] who they’re targeting. Scribblenauts is one gem I’d like to see catch on. In this game, you can write what object you want to use in a puzzle/problem solving scenarios and there are thousands of objects. A very inventive idea for all ages. A new approach to puzzling.

Look for the upcoming Blogcritics Gaming annual gift guides, which cover all the major consoles.

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