When the GAME’s no longer fun

Towards the end of the evening while volunteering for SpecialEffect at the Twitch LDN meetup recently, I got into a conversation with a couple of others about GAME. This shop was a highlight on our highstreets here in the UK during the 1990s and 2000s while we were growing up and stores can still be found in shopping centres around the country.

I’d like to point out here that this post consists of my own opinions and doesn’t reflect the views of anyone currently involved with company. I have no affiliation other than as a past customer.

Every British gamer of a certain age has at least one fond story about a GAME. Perhaps it was where they met a stranger who became a good friend; the place they found a copy of a title they’d been hunting for forever; maybe even the company they had a part-time job with when they were a teenager. For myself, it was where I bought The Longest Journey and fell in love with the series – and also where I laughed at the assistant who told me I’d really need a copy of the guide to go with Fable 2 otherwise I’d get lost in the world of Albion.

I asked some of my blogging friends for their own memories and they had plenty to share. Both Chris from OverThinker Y and Luke from Hundstrasse said they spent a lot of time there as kids and it was a highlight of childhood shopping trips. Tim from GeekOut South-West told me he used to buy toys and other non-video-game items from GAME. And Nathan from Hurricane thought process worked in his local branch in the past, and still remains good friends with the staff who now give him personal recommendations.

GAME, shop, store

When you consider all that nostalgia, it’s strange many of the opinions I received about GAME in the present day weren’t so positive. Almost all of the people I spoke to mentioned the word ‘overpriced’ and said they rarely visit the shops any longer. Rob from I Played The Game! only goes because it’s the one major dedicated video game store on the highstreet nowadays; and Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie said she didn’t like the current focus on second-hand mobiles, as the shops are now full of people who have no interest in gaming.

I know what my blogger friends mean. The last time I went into a GAME was shortly after the release of Horizon Zero Dawn and I walked straight back out again out of principal after seeing they were charging only £2 less for a pre-owned copy. I won’t go anywhere near their online store because it’s just so confusing and cluttered: it’s always a struggle to find what I’m looking for and when I do, there’s never just one simple listing or cost. It almost feels as if I’m being tricked into paying more for the same product.

Now most of us understand that physical copies of releases are always going to be more expensive than their digital counterparts. And the stores need to turn a profit in order to survive, as well as paying ridiculously-high rent for retail space and giving a proper wage to their staff. But price is important to many gamers in the current economic climate of rising bills and falling pay-rises; we can no longer afford to hand over £50 or more on a whim and every purchasing decision is given plenty of consideration.

The one thing that GAME therefore has over its online competitors such as Steam or Amazon is a physical presence. As pointed out by Nathan, you might be able to find video games cheaper elsewhere but you don’t get that instore help or ‘shopping experience’. Since the Fable 2 incident, every member of staff I’ve spoken to has been genuinely lovely and knowledgeable, and there’s no more of the girls-must-be-shopping-for-somebody-else approach there used to be in the past.

GAME, store, shop, video games, shelves, aisles

But even that real-life presence seems not up to scratch at the moment. Stores are full of promotions for mainstream releases such as Call of Duty and FIFA – the sort of titles which generally don’t appeal to me or a lot of the people I know. As said by Tim, GAME likes to think of itself as a shop for gamers and the staff clearly love the hobby themselves; but the products they push are those which are popular but more ‘casual’ in nature, and this alienates individuals with more diverse tastes.

It always gives me the impression that the store is trying to reach out to parents who aren’t so knowledgeable when it comes to gaming. Those promotional posters may as well be replaced by big neon signs shouting ‘We know just what your kid wants for their birthday even though you don’t – and it’s this shiny thing right here!’ Pretty ironic when you think about it, seeing that most of those popular-but-casual titles on display have a red PEGI 18 sticker attached to their cases.

Maybe I’m being hard on GAME. But I miss those days when walking into a shop was an adventure in itself; when you could spend hours among the aisles because every shelf held epic quests, brave battles and courageous goals to save the world. Those times when you actually came away with a purchase, even though it may have been slightly cheaper elsewhere, because the shopping experience had won you over and you’d found a game you couldn’t wait to get home to play.

To use the words of Khinjarsi from Upon Completion: “I’m not suggesting GAME will go into administration again any time soon, and it seems to be managing ok since it survived [in 2012], but holding onto that core group of gamers seems to be something it is struggling to do.”

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Video game series: NOT dealing with the Fallout

In late October, I published a post called Video game series: dealing with the Fallout about my weird gaming habit. It sounds odd, and it’s prohibitive in that it prevents me from playing well-loved titles others rave about. I’m unable to play a game in a series unless I’ve played all previous instalments, even if they’re now unavailable or absolutely terrible.

It’s meant I haven’t yet completed a single entry in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic RPG series. I’ve tried several times to get the original Fallout working on my PC but all it wants to do is crash after two minutes (although several bloggers have recommended trying the GOG version to resolve that). As a result, I’ve never made it through the franchise despite it now being over 20 years old and one of the most popular – and I’m well aware I could be missing out on something special.

So after publishing that post last month and receiving a lot of positive comments, I geared myself up to try once again. All I needed to do was finish off the final Myst game so I was done with one series before moving on to the next. But in the couple of weeks between that happening and the release of Fallout 76 on 14 November 2018, something changed; now the last thing I want to do at the moment is visit a nuclear wasteland and deal with super mutants.

All the way back in March 2017, Ben wrote an article entitled Too much, too soon? about the sheer amount of information available on upcoming releases before they’re out. He summed it up nicely with this paragraph: “Games, especially the big blockbusters, are revealing more and more about themselves in advance of a formal release. Usually I can deal with the barrage of trailers, demos, beta trails and social media exposure but there have been a couple recently that, in my opinion have gone too far.”

Since the beginning of the month, the feed on my mobile has been rammed full of articles about Fallout 76. I’ve just taken a look and eight of the first 20 entries have been about the title, with another five being about a certain other release. Professional websites aren’t the only guilty party as the WordPress reader suffers the same fate: seven out of 20 posts there. Everyone wants to get out as much information as they can about the title to bring in the views, even if it’s not particularly news-worthy.

I’m sick of hearing about Fallout 76, and I’m tired of hearing about Rockstar’s Red Dead Resolution 2 too. So much so that I now have absolutely no desire to play either of them despite not reading a single article, and it’ll be a very long time before that feeling of reluctance changes. It’s not my weird gaming habit preventing me from starting a series on this occasion but an over-saturation of pointless details, clickbait headlines, annoying spoilers and exaggerated reactions.

As Ben wrote himself, I long to explore vast worlds and meet the people within them for myself. Those moments when you watch an opening cutscene and see a new story unfold in front of you are some of the most magical; and having too much information before I’ve even picked up the controller takes away some of their mystery. Similarly, I want to read news articles and blog posts that open my eyes to video games I as yet know nothing of – without removing any of their wonder.

Super mutants and cowboys have been put on the back-burner and will both have to wait until some undeterminable date in the future. Right now I’m off to find a new adventure, one full of magic that hasn’t yet been spoiled.

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Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
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Twitch LDN 2018: volunteering for SpecialEffect

I‘ve supported SpecialEffect since 2013 and try to volunteer for the charity at events across London several times a year. Unfortunately though, family birthdays and work projects had caused date clashes in 2018 so I hadn’t done anything before September.

But I’ve made up for it during the past couple of months by helping out at the ESI Super Forum and Comic Con, and then again at the Twitch LDN community meetup at the Bloomsbury Big Top on 17 November 2018.

It was the first Twitch event I’d ever been to so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and it was indeed different from the other occasions I’ve volunteered. Usually the focus is on the adapted controls at the SpecialEffect stand and the games they’re being used to play; but this time around, the volunteers’ presence was spread throughout the venue and we were also involved in set-up and entry. It was great to see a few people I’ve met before including the gorgeous Kat who’d joined me previously at the ESI Super Forum.

I ended up looking after the raffle for the evening – and it wasn’t hard to persuade attendees to part with a couple of quid for the chance to win a 500 Million Limited Edition PlayStation 4 Pro. We must have got through around 200 tickets so that meant £400 raised for the charity which was simply awesome! I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of lovely streamers who either wanted to find out more about SpecialEffect or already supported them: props to the guy who gave me a cat sticker, and the girl who showed me her GameBlast logo tattoo.

The event itself was basically one big party. Rooms around the outside held bars and free candy-floss (I spent most of the night on a sugar-high), and in the centre hall was a dancefloor and DJ for those who wanted to get their groove on. Sea of Thieves was one of the major sponsors so it wasn’t a surprise to find several consoles dotted around where the title could be played, and a pirate-y photo-booth for anyone looking for the perfect selfie. There were a lot of hyped-up attendees wearing eye-patches by the time I left.

I spoke to more people than ever before who had already heard of SpecialEffect’s amazing work and each of them had a story to tell about the ways in which they’ve shown their support. Most were planning to participate in GameBlast19 next year and Later Levels is no exception: my other-half and I will be joining forces with Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West to stay live on Twitch for 24-hours from 08:00 on Saturday, 23 February 2019.

We’re asking everyone to help us decide on the games to play during our stream, and you can get in on the action by voting for your favourite titles in these polls. There’ll be another update on our progress towards the event later in December and in the meantime, why not check out our photographs from Twitch LDN below?

Twitch LDN 2018 photo gallery

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Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
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GameBlast19: get voting!

Here’s the latest on our plans for GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon for SpecialEffect. This amazing charity puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical difficulties by helping them to play video games using a range of technology, making a positive impact on confidence and rehabilitation. Take a look at this update on the SpecialEffect website or click on the link to see all Later Levels’ posts about the event.

A few things have happened since our last GameBlast19 update in October and there are a couple of bits of exciting news. First up, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a new menu item added to the top of the blog – that’s because Later Levels has now officially signed up for the event and has its very own JustGiving page. We’ve also created a Twitch event for anyone who wants to get social and stick a reminder in their diaries, so we’re well on our way to putting on a great stream in support of SpecialEffect.

We won’t be doing it alone however. It’s my pleasure to announce that we have some very special guests joining us for next year: say hello to Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West! This awesome pair have jumped on board with their support and will be helping us stay up for 24-hours from 08:00 on Saturday, 23 February 2019. My other-half and I will be visiting them in Bristol very early in January to talk about our plans – no doubt over a few games, some great food and a drink or two.

In the meantime, we’ve been collecting your suggestions on the titles to play during the stream through The GameBlast Genre Generator and it’s now time to make them battle it out for glory. After sifting through all the recommendations received, Pete and I have both selected our favourite options in each of eight genre categories and we’re now competing to see which get the most votes. Make your decisions in the polls below by 18 January 2019 and help decide what we’ll be playing in February!

🎮   The GameBlast Bytes Battle   🎮

Although we’re not sure exactly what we’ll be playing just yet – because that’s down to you guys – it looks as though we’ll end up with a nice, varied selection of games. There are a few multiplayers on the list so others can join in, along with titles which could inspire a bit of banter in the Twitch chat when we get stuck or mess up. We’ll be keeping an eye on the results over the next couple of months and announcing the final results in our January update, a month before the big event. Get voting!

UK Blog Awards, UKBA19, logo, voteHello there! If you like what you see in this post, why not take a moment to vote for Later Levels in the UK Blog Awards 2019?
Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

UK Blog Awards 2019: those F-bomb moments

One evening in September, my other-half and I were sitting in our kitchen with a cup of tea after work. While checking my email, I saw something which caused me to let out a loud F-bomb: I’d received a message to let me know that someone had nominated Later Levels for a UK Blog Award.

A similar event occurred two months later. I was sitting in a three-hour long presentation recently when my phone alerted me to a new email. In case it was something to do with work, perhaps a notification that one of the IT systems had gone down, I had a quick look to see what was going on and what I found caused me to utter another F-bomb under my breath. At least I thought it was under my breath – but a colleague turned around to laugh at me so I maybe wasn’t as quiet as I thought (oops).

You see, I found out last week that Later Levels had been put through to the second stage of the UK Blog Awards with ten other sites in the ‘Gaming’ category. My other-half swears blind that he had nothing to do with it and I have absolutely no idea who the extremely kind person was who submitted the original nomination. I’m still in a state a shock and it’s incredibly hard to believe that a blog which started as a bit of fun, and something I don’t intend to turn into anything serious or a career, has received that kind of recognition.

Each category in the competition is being judged by one expert and one blogger judge, and their scorecards account for 60% of the overall vote. The other 40% is down to the public so that’s where you guys come in. You can make your selection by heading to the UK Blog Awards website, clicking on a category, and then clicking on the heart symbol next to your favourite entry. You can also find out more about the sites and links by clicking on the ‘i’ icons.

So is this a post to ask everyone reading to vote for Later Levels? I’d be lying if I said no. But then it also wouldn’t be the compete truth if I said yes.

UK Blog Awards, UKBA19, logo, vote

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you vote. These annual awards are a celebration of blogging, the community that surrounds it, and the whole lot of good we can do with the power of our words. Whoever comes out on top in our category, they’ve helped show the world that video games can be more than simply entertainment and colourful pixels on a screen – and it’s an absolute honour to even be mentioned in such amazing company.

So whether Later Levels makes it through the second stage or not, I’m happy. I’ll keep blogging regardless, keep collaborating with you awesome lot on community projects, keep playing video games and keep enjoying everything that comes from our hobby. And f**k me if that isn’t the best thing about the UK Blog Awards.

Office politics: a follow-up

Last year I wrote about the personalities in my workplace with regard to video games. I myself identified as ‘the secret gamer’: someone who doesn’t discuss their hobby due to the attitudes of management above them and the need have to constantly justify their part in it.

Since that time however things have changed somewhat and even ‘the sexist gamer’ has mellowed, now accepting that women play too (but obviously ‘more casually than men’). It means that occasionally I’ll participate in a conversation although more often than not, I’m content to just sit and listen. It’s liberating to have recently found out that my new boss is a gamer herself too; she knows her stuff when it comes to the best practice framework we make use of at work, and the fact she plays video games herself just makes me respect her even more.

There’s also the fact that my team moved into a new office a couple of months ago so we could be closer to another group we work with frequently. As luck would have it, I ended up being placed opposite ‘the inclusive gamer’: someone who has a healthy attitude to gaming and those that play, and who’s open to trying new types of releases. We’ve had a few discussions now about indie games and although he hasn’t heard of many I’ve played, he has tried Celeste and Hollow Knight and has started branching him out of his triple-A comfort zone.

He attributes this change mainly to getting a Switch shortly after it was released in March 2017. Not only has the console raised his awareness of titles from smaller developers due to its eShop, he now has more opportunity to play; his commute into work is a couple of hours each way and having the portability of the Switch means he can use that time to get stuck into a game. Like many of us, it’s not always possible for him to sink hundreds of hours into a release so Nintendo’s machine is fitting in nicely with his adult lifestyle.

A colleague from the other team we’re now based with overheard us chatting about this subject and came over to join in with the conversation. He agreed with the inclusive gamer: the Switch allowed him to play while his other-half ‘watches her crime-dramas’, and he’s enjoying it so much that he hasn’t logged into his Steam account for over a year now. This then prompted 30-minutes of him explaining to me exactly why I needed this console in my life and how I was missing out by not having a Switch.

His arguments:

  • Argument one: you can play video games and not hog the television, so you can sit with family while they watch whatever it is they want to watch.
  • Argument two: you can take the Switch on your commute or to other places, so you don’t always need to be at home if you want to pick up a title.
  • Argument three: the console makes indie titles more accessible through its eShop, and you find out about games you might not otherwise have heard of.

  • And my responses:

  • Response one: playing video games don’t mean hogging the television in my house. More often than not, my other-half and I can found playing something together.
  • Response two: I don’t like playing titles on my commute. I use that time for blogging and getting Later Levels in order, so I’ve got more spare time at home for games.
  • Response three: I find out about indie titles through other blogs, gaming websites, expos and word-of-mouth. I don’t really need a Switch to put them front and centre for me.

  • He’s adamant he’s going to manage to convince me to buy the console before Christmas but I doubt he’ll succeed. It’s mainly down to the way video games are viewed in my family; they’re our preferred form of entertainment, and we’d much rather play something or watch a stream than gather around a television show. I’ve come to realise I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who shares my love for the hobby and who wants to participate in it together.

    But it’s also good to have colleagues with whom you can discuss games – even if they do try and talk you into getting a console you don’t want or need. As written by Fitzy over on Game Time recently: “There are people I can talk to comfortably and that alone makes my job so much more enjoyable. It’s still work at the end of the day but now I have people to talk to whilst we share that misery. Yay!”

    UK Blog Awards, UKBA19, logo, voteHello there! If you like what you see in this post, why not take a moment to vote for Later Levels in the UK Blog Awards 2019?
    Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)