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Serious Time

A handy guide to finding time to play videogames

May 04 // Chris Carter
Manage your time This is easily the biggest way to maximize your gaming -- breaking down your daily schedule, and find time to fit it in. It sounds so simple right? Well, obviously depending on your mindset, it may be extremely difficult. Now, I personally don't get a lot of downtime, by my own design. If I'm not working or spending time with my wife, in all likelihood I'm consuming media, or at the very least, researching something, so I don't have to spend hours learning about basic mechanics when I pick up a future game. That's not to say I don't relax -- everyone needs to relax -- but when I feel the need to unwind and I feel like playing games, I find games that do the trick (grinding in MMOs while listening to trance music works great). Not everyone is that tenacious, but if you find yourself wanting to game more while relaxing in other ways perhaps finding a genre that you can casually enjoy in bits is the best way to fit things into your busy schedule. Smartphones and portables have an increasingly large amount of games that make it easier to experience in small chunks, but they're not the only thing you can partake in. The easiest way to eliminate a backlog, I've found, is to arrange your games in order from shortest to longest. Starting with Xenoblade (a common backlog perpetrator) is generally not a good idea if you want to start chipping away at your library of unfinished titles. As you start to clear the games that are under ten hours, you'll find yourself getting in a groove, and normalizing your schedule around playing shorter games. Eventually, you can work the longer games in, but you'll also have to face facts -- some of the larger JRPGs you cleaned out as a child just won't make the cut. Don't stress about it, just come to terms with it, and adjust accordingly. Of course, if you took those RPGs on the go, it may be a different story. Embrace portables Portables are by far the easiest way to get more gaming in. Ages ago, many people would call portable experiences "inferior," but this is by and large a notion of the past. The 3DS, smartphones, and the Vita are all capable of great experiences that can rival or in some cases surpass any other machine out there. For instance, instead of slowly plodding through your Persona backlog on your PS2, think about investing in a Vita and playing Persona 4 Golden, or any number of downloadable PSP Persona ports instead. As a reviewer, I love when I'm assigned portable games, as I know there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be able to complete the game and deliver on time. Portables allow a convenience I just can't get anywhere else, as I'm able to play them in bed, spending time with my wife while she reads, on vacation or day trips, and on the go. Even if you're at work, and you don't like the idea of playing a portable at your desk, use your lunch break to drive out somewhere, and just relax while playing something. Use our reviews landing page to find a ton of great games on all three of the major portable platforms. You may be resistant at first, but I've met plenty of people who now almost exclusively game on portables. By the same token, don't underestimate the power of remote play on the Wii U -- you may find yourself wanting to play more when you're not tied down to the TV, even if you don't share it with anyone. It's a psychological effect that may allow you to justify more gaming, or at the very least, make you feel more comfortable during your sessions. Manage your sleep As a general rule, it's important to get plenty of sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Of course, not every human being needs eight to ten hours of sleep every night. Every person is different, and studies vary, but the "sweet spot" in many instances is six to seven hours of sleep per night. Learn your sleep cycle and build around it. If you don't wake up that well, play games at night and force yourself to wake up -- always shower, even if you aren't planning on going out that day, as it helps you normalize your routine and keeps you energized throughout the day. If you find yourself in bed fairly early, wake up a little earlier and get some time in with a game before you go to work or get ready for your weekend duties. You may find yourself more refreshed if you're mastering your sleep cycle, and able to get more gaming in. While I don't recommend energy drinks or caffeine pills for health reasons, trying out tea or coffee can be beneficial in moderation. If you aren't a fan of either beverage, you can modify both in plenty of ways to suit your needs. Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of iced tea, which has gotten me through many mornings. Manage your relationships Similar to giving advice on sleep, giving general relationship advice can be counter-productive. Every single couple is different and to act like there's some golden ticket to relationships is naïve. But if you're in a relationship right now, being upfront about where your passions may lie (in this case, videogames) is always important. In many cases, easing non-gaming significant others into your hobby isn't easy. But with the right games (mindless hack-and-slash titles like Champions of Norrath, or easy-to-pick-up puzzle games like Layton), they may develop a more casual interest. The rise of smartphones has made this even easier with an increasing amount of social games. Not everyone is going to want to marathon a hardcore JRPG -- some people just don't like videogames as a hobby, and you have to be prepared to be at peace with that. But by the same token, most significant others will be receptive and supportive if you're upfront with them, and more open about it. If they absolutely positively do not want to play games with you, more likely than not they will be okay with your hobby in moderation. My wife grew up playing games casually with her father (NES and SNES), but isn't into as gaming as much as I am. So I attempt to ease her into other genres and play co-operative games whenever possible. If you're finding your significant other resenting you for hoarding up and playing 80-hour JRPGs all the time, try to be more inclusive, and offer her a controller in a multiplayer game. You may not only get more gaming time as a result, but you'll develop a healthier relationship. Wheel and deal What good is time when you can't afford to buy games? I've spoken about this subject in the past, but this advice is eternal -- be thrifty when it comes to purchasing media. In the age of the Internet, a deal is always a click, or a day away, and patience is a virtue. Many, many games have dropped from $60 to $40 in a matter of weeks, so if you find yourself spending too much on games, just wait. Really, stop and think about whether or not you need that game with massive quantities of day-one DLC, and ponder on whether or not that publisher usually does Game of the Year editions. Don't count out one retailer or outlet just because of perception. I've picked up many rare games through GameStop, and I've made tons of profit from trading in things at the right times. Through careful deliberation, utilizing the "50% extra trade-in" offers in conjunction with other promotions can earn you tons of extra cash. Always check aggregate deal websites like Cheap Ass Gamer, as well as general outlets like Amazon, Green Man Gaming, and Newegg (yes, Newegg has tons of great gaming deals). Also, don't underestimate the value of GameStop, Target, or Walmart brick-and-mortar cold-calling for trade-in values or prices, and the value of an in-store price-match. Thrift stores can also net you crazy deals if you take the time to explore them. Keep in mind that many outlets will sell you a Steam code, even though they don't advertise it upfront (Amazon and Green Man Gaming do this often). A thrifty shopper uses all of their options, not just the ones in vogue at the time. My rule of thumb is "research before you buy, then research some more." Don't just look up things like replay value (if that matters to you) or quality -- research prices, deals, and deal patterns. While you're waiting for deals to happen for bigger titles, check out Steam, XBLA, PSN, the App Store, or the eShop for cheaper games to pad the time until that next big AAA sale. Massive Steam sales are one of the best ways to pad your gaming collection, and hooking up a controller and HDMI connection to your TV is an easy way to get more involved with your PC backlog. Another great tip is to amass a collection of free iTunes games, even if you don't currently own an iOS device. If you create an account and "purchase" all of the free games you can (whether it's a one-day offer or not), somewhere down the line if you ever pick up said device or get one as a gift, you'll have a ton of free stuff to play. You can do this to some extent on the PSN or other places as well, but many of them restrict registration to people who actually own the device. Play more games! If your goal is to game more, there are any number of options available to meet that goal. Don't let anyone set your individual parameters, and don't be ashamed if you're going to miss out on a certain game -- it can always wait. Whether you go on this journey alone or with others, everything is up to you. But always remember -- you have plenty of communities at your disposal, so never be afraid to open up and talk to others about your passion.
Time management guide photo
Clear out your backlog
Hi, I'm Chris Carter. I play a lot of videogames. I mean, seriously, a lot. Specifically, this year I've played about 100 new games in 2013 (and by "new," I mean released after January 1st, 2013). Over the past few years, I'v...

Zelda comic photo
Zelda comic

It's dangerous to go alone

Take this
Apr 21
// Tony Ponce
It's been a while since we shared a piece from our artsy pal Zac Gorman, but his latest deserves your attention. Based on the famous opening scene from The Legend of Zelda, this comic turns what we thought we knew completely ...

A Linux version is next for Serious Sam 3: BFE

Jul 24
// Jordan Devore
The latest update on Valve's interest in bringing Left 4 Dead 2 and Steam over to Ubuntu was a spot of bright news for Linux users, and there's more where that came from. Croteam and Devolver Digital have announced that Serio...

The importance of sitting properly while gaming

Mar 05
// Fraser Brown
I spend a lot of time sitting down, as typing would probably be a bit uncomfortable if I was standing up. Sometimes, just to mix things up, I cross my legs. I'm a maverick. I never once thought that I was putting my big ol' ...


'Legal'sounds illegally selling OC ReMix albums and more

Jan 25
// Tony Ponce
It's a good thing the government shut down Megaupload. With those crooks out of business, content creators can finally earn money for their hard work. People should be paying for their digital goods on a site like Legalsounds...

The Game OverThinker examines the future of piracy

Jan 23
// Tony Ponce
If you visit The Escapist (which you should be doing anyway to check out Jimquisition!), you might have heard of Bob Chipman and his series Escape to the Movies and The Big Picture. Both are really good shows, but I much pref...

Xbox Live hacking is a very real problem

Jan 13 // Jim Sterling
Microsoft has indeed tried to blame a variety of third-party services. One of my contacts said that a customer service rep blamed third-party servers, while FIFA 12 has been accused of allowing exploits to take place. The one unifying strand in all these stories is Xbox Live, however.  A security flaw on has allegedly been discovered by one victim, who learned that indefinite password attempts allows a hacker to force his way into any Gamertag they like, just by learning the corresponding email address (which Microsoft itself makes easy) and assaulting the site with a password generator. Whether this is how the hackers are getting in remains to be seen, but it's the most credible idea so far, and it once again points to Microsoft.  For right now, the only advice one can give to those users wishing to protect themselves is this -- do not have a credit card attached to your Xbox Live Gamertag. You can renew your subscription or add Microsoft Points using pre-paid cards bought in stores, without the need to open a conduit to your bank account on Microsoft servers. It seems to be the best way to keep yourself safe. From what we've seen, this is a very real problem, but there are practical steps you can take to defend yourself. You're going to have to, because it seems Microsoft doesn't have what it takes to look after its own customers.

Microsoft says that recent thefts targeting Xbox Live users are isolated incidents, and often tries to portrays the problems as phishing scams -- effectively blaming the consumer. However, an eyebrow-raising amount of comment...

Hate SOPA? Tell the ESA and its members!

Jan 07 // Jim Sterling
A letter for the ESA Dear Entertainment Software Association, Last year, when free speech in the videogame industry was threatened, you asked for help from gamers. The famous Brown vs. EMA/ESA case provided a landmark ruling that protected videogame content under the First Amendment. You appealed to gamers for their support and coverage, and many gamers rallied around the industry. Now, when free speech at large is threatened, you not only refuse to fight the threat, you actually join forces with it. You operate a group that claims to protect free speech -- the Videogame Voters Network -- and pretend to champion the rights of gamers, but until you stop supporting the Stop Online Piracy Bill, that's all the VGVN is -- a pretense. It is hypocrisy on a most despicable level to continue supporting SOPA after asking gamers to fight for the rights of the game industry. You are sending the message that you want exclusive freedom for your stable of publishers, while the freedom of others means nothing. You are sending the message that the ESA is an organization that begs for help from a community, only to abandon and betray that community at the earliest convenience. It is a terrible message to send to the countless gamers that supported you in the past, and who deeply love the entertainment produced by those you represent. You have told us that you wish to protect free speech. If you do, then please discontinue your support of a bill that could damage it so recklessly. As other companies dissolve their allegiance with this poorly written, glaringly broken bill, I ask you to do the same and to do for the Internet what you asked the Internet to do for you. Faithfully,A Concerned Gamer. A letter for publishers To Whom It May Concern, As you may already know, the Stop Online Piracy Act is currently attempting to steamroll its way into law. This vaguely written bill claims to want to protect American intellectual property, but its potential to significantly damage the Internet as we know it is too great to blindly support, no matter your stance on piracy. You are a member of the Entertainment Software Association, which means you support this bill regardless of your own individual sentiment (or lack thereof). Yes, theft of intellectual property is an issue, but aligning with SOPA is not the way to go. SOPA will allow corporations to force websites offline with very little due process, and could make felons of users who share content in even the most benign of ways. A chilling effect could be seen across the Internet, as important social networking sites like Twitter, Reddit and YouTube become directly threatened and creative individuals grow to fear the invisible boundaries placed around them. Jobs will be at stake in one of the most dynamic and successful sectors of this nation's economy. Internet service providers oppose this bill. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation all oppose this bill. More importantly, developers in the games industry, not to mention millions of gamers around the world, oppose this bill. I am one of them. I love videogames, and I love this industry, but I also love the Internet and what it has become. It pains me that the industry I love wants to threaten the Internet, and freedom of speech at large. I like to think better of this industry and of you. As a videogame publisher, there is no doubt that your own marketing departments have utilized the Internet to promote your products -- be it via social networks such as Twitter, videos on YouTube, or even live streaming games through sites like Twitch TV. I fear many companies do not understand that SOPA could work counter to their own interests, as these wonderful methods of advertising and communication come under fire. By supporting SOPA, even indirectly, you could be cutting your own legs out from under you. I ask, humbly, that you therefore raise awareness of this bill among fellow ESA members, and help us pressure the ESA into withdrawing its support. As SOPA's allegiances continue to dissolve in the face of overwhelming popular opposition, we ask that you do the right thing and help protect the freedom of your customers, as well as preserve the open, creative, dynamic nature of the Internet. It is doubtful that SOPA will significantly harm piracy. What is less doubtful is the harm it could do to everybody else, no matter what side of the debate they occupy. Thank you,A Concerned Gamer  A list of contact details for the ESA and its members (I tried to find as many email addresses as possible, but substituted contact pages for those without. If you have more contact details, let me know and I can edit them in! I did my best to find good details, but I know we can find more);en;1539&ws=corpinfo!/us/contacts/bizdev/ [email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected] And of course ... [email protected]

Destructoid officially stood against the Stop Online Piracy Bill last week, to a round of applause from its readers. The message seems to be that you care about stomping on this horrible little bill as much as we do. With tha...

Anonymous promises vengeance on Sony for SOPA support

Dec 30 // Jim Sterling
I'm not going to explicitly approve or condemn Anonymous, but if you support a bill that threatens to take people offline, I can't bring myself to cry over the idea of you getting taken offline. At least it means you get to experience SOPA from the other side of the fence.

Although rage against SOPA has been bubbling for a long time, things didn't truly get real until recently. While GoDaddy has suffered for its long-running SOPA support, other companies are yet to face retribution, including ...

Destructoid officially stands against SOPA

Dec 29 // Jim Sterling
More useful links: Keep The Web Open: For news on the SOPA hearings as and when they happen.  Reddit SOPA: For all your angry, anti-SOPA needs. 

Destructoid has posted editorial that criticizes SOPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act -- but until now, it has not offered an official company stance on the matter. Today, it is my honor and distinct pleasure to relay the offic...


Nintendo employees alleged to be 'losing hope'

Sep 21
// Jim Sterling
The business analysts at 24/7 Wall St. have compiled a list of companies in turmoil, and Nintendo made the cut. According to the site, the rise of smartphones is to blame for Nintendo's troubles, and it claims that employees ...

Serious Sam 3: BFE has 'crazy ass split screen'

Aug 09
// Jordan Devore
The hot news to come out of Croatia today is that Serious Sam 3: BFE will feature "crazy ass split screen." Translated, that roughly means the PC version does up to four-person split screen in the cooperative campaign and mul...

Farewell, Mega Man

Jul 20 // Tony Ponce
What happened to Legends 3 is an unfortunate shame, but you can't really lay all the blame on Capcom. You might be tempted to point fingers at market uncertainty surrounding the 3DS, but it's not that either. Mega Man games just don't attract much of an audience anymore. The biggest success for the franchise in recent memory was Battle Network 4 on the Game Boy Advance, but that success was quickly followed by decline. Remember Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X on the PlayStation Portable? Those were supposed to lead a string of remakes that spanned the entirety of the Classic and X series, respectively, but inadequate sales halted those plans. Star Force, the DS follow-up to Battle Network, only lasted half as long as its predecessor before being placed on indefinite hiatus. The other DS sub-series, ZX, managed all of two entries before flatlining. In hindsight, Mega Man 9 and 10 seemed like tests to gauge the franchise's viability going forward. Inti Creates worked hard to emulate the NES style faithfully in the hopes of recapturing the essence of Mega Man in its prime. From what I gather, Capcom was apparently pleased by 9's sales and slightly less pleased by 10's. The 8-bit throwback design might have worked to bring lapsed players back initially, but it's obviously not a technique that could be used repeatedly without generating brand fatigue again. Despite Capcom's insistence otherwise, it's clear that Keiji Inafune was the only senior staff member with enough pull to get these various Mega Man projects green-lit. After he stepped down from his position as global head of production, there was no else with the same level of influence to fill his shoes. Mega Man Universe was already on the chopping block the minute Inafune cleaned out his desk, and it's only by some grand miracle that Legends 3 lasted as long as it did. Capcom has essentially closed the gate on every possible path the Mega Man franchise could go down -- retro sequels, remakes, user-generated content, spin-offs, and revivals. Maybe we'll see some kind of return in the future, but again, its current state doesn't fill me with much confidence. Game development these days is too risky, unfortunately, and Capcom is one of many big dev houses trying to consolidate their properties. Here is a franchise that was once famous (or infamous) for its umpteen annual releases. In its later years, each game was an anomaly, straddling the fine line between existence and vaporware. Critical mass had to be reached at some point, sure, but it's nonetheless a mind-blowing turn of events. It definitely was for someone like myself, who actually didn't mind the constant influx of software. Ironically, the entire franchise was almost dead on arrival. The story goes that the original Mega Man sold under expectations, but Capcom granted the development team permission to work on a sequel in their spare time. Truly, it was a labor of love that payed off in spades. By the will of a few, a gaming icon earned a second chance at glory and succeeded. Come to think of it, there are no more fitting themes for the series than "will and perseverance" -- you have a relentless madman, an indefatigable robot, and their immortal legacy across the centuries. Each game was a chapter in a grand saga, not unlike an anime serial in which viewers would anxiously await the following week's episode. It was that combination of the familiar and the exotic that inspired fans and helped them to endure. More so than nearly any other major franchise, Mega Man owes a great deal of its legacy to direct fan input. We've witnessed this collaboration first hand in the Mega Man Legends 3 devroom, but this partnership extends back all the way to Mega Man 2. Starting with the second game, Japanese children would submit Robot Master ideas, and the best would become Mega's new rogue's gallery. North American kids even got a crack at glory when Nintendo Power hosted a design contest for Mega Man 6, resulting in Knight Man and Wind Man. How cool were you if you could tell your friends that you designed a boss in a videogame? Those little nods are what made Mega Man such an endearing icon. His games were so chock-full of personality, made more amazing when considering how fast the franchise roster would expand. Whenever you'd think all ideas have been exhausted, there came a Sheep Man or an army of adorable yellow henchmen looking all the world like LEGO minifigs. Then there's the gameplay itself, which surprisingly changed very little throughout Mega's history. Taking on enemies in any order you choose, obtaining new weapons and techniques, then using those acquisitions to conquer other foes was such a simple concept, yet it opened up so many avenues for customizing the experience to suit the individual. Even when the series spun in wild new directions, as with Legends, Battle Network, and Star Force, that freeform spirit remained. I was on board with the series right from the very beginning. I might not have been able to articulate why I was so enamored with it at the time, but I knew almost instantly that I would be in this for the long haul. Every new adventure was a pure joy, every death a humbling frustration. There were memorable battles around every corner, like the Mecha Dragon in Mega Man 2 or the invincible Vile at the end of the intro stage in Mega Man X. This is what videogames were all about to me. My parents knew how passionate I was for these games and used that knowledge to surprise me many times. They threw me a Mega Man-themed birthday party one year, complete with hand-made invitations of my own design and a Mega Man and Rush-adorned cake. Since I owned a Famicom from our years in Yokohama, my dad would keep an eye for titles I might enjoy every time he embarked on a business trip back to Japan. I couldn't be more excited the morning I woke up to find both Rockman 5 and 6 at my bedside, deposited there the previous night by my late-arriving father. My favorite story came years later while I was a sophomore in high school. I had fallen off the wagon for a bit, thanks to my decision to get a Nintendo 64 rather than a PlayStation. I envied those players who were enjoying the latest Classic and X installments, not to mention that new Legends game I'd heard good things about. One day, I caught wind that Legends was coming to the N64. Even though the sequel would be out by the time the port dropped, I didn't mind! Also around this time, I had signed up to take part in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a 5K run for breast cancer awareness. Normally, 5K wouldn't be a big deal, but I had recently joined my school's track team and endured conditioning the week of the race. By the time Saturday rolled around, I could barely stand, much less jog. I was regretting ever slapping on a pair of cross trainers. Thankfully, my friend Chris was in the same boat as me. It was perhaps the most physically demanding event in my entire life, but we encouraged one another to not give up and to push through the searing pain. That evening, my parents had a surprise for me -- a copy of Mega Man 64. I was overjoyed! After the morning's challenge, this was the greatest reward I could have hoped for. Those themes of "will and perseverance" were resounding in my head, and I felt pride well up inside. This was one of those personal achievements that makes a person look inward and give thanks to the great influences along the way. I was thankful for having parents who instilled strong values in me and for having a friend with whom I could share the good and the bad. And yeah, I suppose a little robot boy in blue deserved some credit as well. We may never see another original Mega Man game again, but that's not to say that the Blue Bomber is gone! There has been an amazing upsurge in the availability of Mega Man merch these past few years, a lot even finding its way out West. UDON has done a wonderful job localizing manga, particularly Hitoshi Ariga's spectacular Megamix and Gigamix series, and releasing art books, like the upcoming Mega Man Tribute. There are figurines, model kits, and even new CDs straight from the Inti Creates sound team. Just a couple months ago, Archie Comics launched a new Mega Man series, which is already being praised for its art and writing. These ancillary materials may not take the place of full games, but they do demonstrate that Mega will be with us for many, many years to come. It's been a fun ride, Mega Man! Thanks for the adventure!

Normally, the cancellation of an anticipated game would send me off on a furious Internet rampage with no grasp on logic or coherency. The cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, however, triggered an entirely different set of&nb...


Fleshy new Serious Sam 3: BFE screenshots

May 18
// Jordan Devore
The Headless Kamikaze from the Serious Sam series have got to be up there with the Medusa heads and Fleamen of the gaming world. They're obnoxious in seemingly every way possible, and there is no greater shame than when one o...

Steam sale: Serious Sam HD titles, Kalypso Strategy Pack

May 12
// Jordan Devore
A bunch of smaller sales are taking place on Steam right now. First, there's the Kalypso Strategy Pack -- purchasable as a bundle or individually -- which ends later today. Given the company in question, we're talking stuff l...

Serious Sam 3 screenshots are ready to rock

Apr 20
// Jordan Devore
New screenshots for Serious Sam 3: BFE, everybody! As far as I can tell, they still haven't told us what BFE stands for. "Beyond First Encounter" makes the most sense, since Serious Sam 3 is a prequel, but I'm hoping Croteam ...

Stardock's CEO on the Impulse/GameStop deal

Apr 09 // Maurice Tan
For starters, Stardock will be actively involved with the transition of Impulse to GameStop and run much of it from a day to day basis, with the whole Impulse team transferring to GameStop in its entirety. Wardell himself, a key driving force behind the service, will stay involved with Impulse for the next year to advise and consult on the platform's future. So worries about the lack of his leadership being a detrimental factor in the digital distribution service's future would appear to be mostly unfounded. For the time being, at least. When asked about how he thinks Impulse will affect PC sales in the future -- and indie game exposure in particular -- after GameStop takes over, Wardell was keen to point out the shelf-space issue that brick and mortar retailers traditionally have. Having worked in a retail bookstore as a youngster, and later at Software Etc. and Babbage's (which later merged into GameStop), he experienced first-hand how only the highest selling products get shelf-space in these mall stores. Wardell elaborated that "there's never really been a time, even going back to the CompUSA days, where indies were getting their titles in a store. That time never happened. It's not like I went in there and I was getting Space Empires III at Best Buy, even though it's one of the best games ever." But the emergence of digital distribution is where indies have gotten their chance to shine. One could argue that looking back on the past five years or so, the acceptance of digital distribution by consumers has gone hand in hand with the rise in indie games development. Of course, the emergence of easy and cheap (or free) tools has had a hand in that as well. But without a way to sell your game without being drowned out, those tools by themselves aren't all that useful for keeping you off a ramen-only diet. Naturally, Wardell was happy to explain that Stardock's Impulse infrastructure makes it really easy for developers to release multiple titles per day. The tech behind Impulse, in particular Impulse::Reactor (basically a Steamworks platform variant) and its GOO DRM solution (which combines an executable with Impulse::Reactor into a single encrypted file) are meant to facilitate indie game publishing rather than obstruct it. "When we say that Impulse is very technologically advanced, this is one of the areas I'm talking about. [...] I think most developers and publishers -- especially smaller ones -- who've had to update their game can attest that getting something updated on Impulse is very quick versus other platforms. And that's because our system has been designed over the years and years, when we were doing just our own stuff with Object Desktop where we might do multiple updates per day, to make it very inexpensive and easy to update things. "And that's really important to indies, because if you're making a small game and you want to get it up, let's face it, all these digital distributors are businesses, they're in it to generate profit. So by having a system where it's very inexpensive to release updates and get new titles up is one of the reasons why I have no fear of indies going by the wayside with Impulse." Of course while Impulse itself might be a fine digital distribution service for developers, the concern of indies in particular, and the vocal online community in general, is not with the service itself, but with GameStop. Wardell doesn't blame users for being anxious about the impending takeover: "[With] Any sort of change you don't know what's going to happen. I worry about stuff all the time [and] I spent a lot of time when I was younger worrying about OS/2 vs. Windows so I can relate. I guess the best thing I can say is just wait and see. Give them a chance to prove themselves, or to fail to prove themselves. "But either way, no matter how you slice it, having more than one option for PC gamers is just so critical. It doesn't require any leap of faith to look at the pricing of PC games and compare it to console games over the past 10 years. And there's a reason why PC games have come down in price and the reason is competition. There's so much there to keep prices from going out of control. And that's why you want to have as many places as you can to buy these things and as many developers as possible to get their stuff out there." Since I'm a cheap Dutch bastard I pointed out to Brad Wardell that some games, like Crysis 2, were recently launched as $60 PC games, the same price of the console versions. Being the eternal debater he is, Wardell countered this by reminding me that PC games were even more expensive in the past. "I remember paying $59,95 for some of the later Ultima games, and add in inflation and you get about a $90 game by today's standards. [...] I believe that if you have enough consumers out there making decisions, that they'll vote with their buying dollars and that's what is making the prices go down. It's not because of any benevolence by any company, it's because the consumers are making conscious choices. "That's one of the reasons I'm happy to see Android games and iPhone games, because the more channels that we game developers have to get our stuff out there, and the more places that gamers have to be able to buy our stuff, the better off we both are to keep anyone from becoming too entrenched." But how does Impulse factor into that, and how will it factor into increased opportunities for consumers? In other words, will the GameStop takeover of Impulse turn it into a stronger competitor to Steam? Wardell thinks it does stand a good chance, and that while Stardock has been working on a lot of technology like Impulse::Reactor over the years, the company just doesn't have the resources to continue down that road by itself. "I mean let's face it, you're running major publisher XYZ and in front of you, you have three platforms. You have Steamworks, Games for Windows Live, and you have Impulse::Reactor. One's made by Microsoft, one's made by Valve, and one's made by... what are they, Stardock? Starrocks or something? Which are you going to pick? "The technology isn't what determines the winner. Building the best mousetrap on its own isn't enough. You have to [be] on the cloud and [have] the sales force and the support infrastructure to really go out and make it successful. And that's something that GameStop really takes to the table on that." The new Impulse might be more competitive through the support GameStop can provide, which is what is required to drive it forward in the future. But it also raises the question of whether that future will have fewer, more dominant digital distribution channels for developers and consumers, which would actually lead to less competition. Being able to support a digital distribution platform is what appears to be most important in securing its future, as Wardell explains when I asked him where he sees the current five largest digital distribution services in two years time. "Oh I think they'll all still be there. One of the things is that [concerning digital distribution services] I think there could even be more than that. I think it could even be more fractured, if anything. So it'll be interesting to see how that goes, because it's so lucrative. I can't speak for GamersGate or Direct2Drive, but I imagine that all of them are running very high margins. Because running a digital distribution service is a lot like a casino, except that you don't have to hand out free margaritas. "I mean, you're dealing with virtual goods. There's no shipping, there's no manufacturing involved, there's no sales people, it's all handled by machines. And the cost [...] is really on the back end of having account managers and having developers to keep extending the platform. "But if you'd ask me where I see things going in 5 years, the next big battle is going to be the Platform War. And that is, on the one side you have essentially the web stores, which I don't know what's going to happen to them. I don't think they're going to go away, because the margins are so high. "But if you're just a web store, that's going to put you at a disadvantage to someone who has a platform like a Steamworks or an Impulse::Reactor or Games for Windows Live. Because when you have those things, then there's a mechanism for developers to integrate features into their games that can build communities and that sort of thing. Whereas if you're just a web store you're gonna ultimately have to bundle a third-party platform [...] onto your store." The concept of an impending Platform War is interesting enough and given the current integration of services into digital platforms, like we see on things like Steam, Xbox Live or even Facebook, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched. Which is probably one of the reasons GameStop is jumping on Facebook as well. But that's the future, and this is the present. Or this is. Or this is. What's more important right now is how the sale of Impulse to GameStop will affect Stardock as a company, and how GameStop is approaching the platform's future. "We're a relatively small company. And I really like digital distribution, but that's not what I want to wake up to in the morning and do as my job all day. I like making tech, and I mean if you look at Stardock's homepage, people are always shocked at how many products we have. We're around 50 people and we have dozens of products. It was never my intent for one particular product or service to dominate the company. "And in the past year, our company's had more and more resources put into Impulse because, frankly, it was generating so much money that it was really hard not to put in that kind of focus. But that meant our Object Desktop programs (the kind of software that gets packed-in with HP and Dell pre-built computers - Ed.) were not getting any attention they would get, our gaming products were starting to not get the attention they should get, and there's been some effect on that that's been reported in the past year on our other non Impulse-related endeavors. "And you know, I like making tech. Stardock is a technology company, and we have a lot of really cool things that are in the pipeline that we want to be able to focus on. And in order for Impulse to remain competitive, for 2011, 2012, Impulse is in good shape. But to take it to the next step, you really need to have account managers, sales people, lots of sales staff, account engineers, and on and on and on. Those are things that we were just not prepared to do. "But on the other hand, GameStop already has these kinds of people. And they've assembled an amazing team of people from our industry. A lot of people don't realize this, but besides the fact that the Impulse team is going over as an intact team, GameStop has assembled some amazing people with it, I mean they have Steve Nix from id over there, he's my successor! "I'd like to think that people would feel that it's in pretty good hands. Just because a company is a public company doesn't mean, I mean, one should always remain skeptical but at the same time there's a line between being skeptical and cynical." And does that mean that now that Stardock has sold Impulse, it can focus on more fun things like developing games? Wardell says: "Yeah exactly! I've been having a lot of fun doing heap fragmentation coding! Here's something people talked about, [and] I wouldn't be surprised if you'll feel similar to how I do, people always say that money isn't the only goal in life. But it's amazing how skeptical they are when they see someone actually choose. I mean obviously we were well compensated too, but my goal in life is to do cool interesting things. I'm not looking to run a multi-billion dollar company. So if I can go and spend time doing cool stuff, that's what makes me happy and that's what makes our team happy." So, Stardock has sold the profitable Impulse digital distribution service -- for quite a large amount of cash one would imagine -- to a company that was better suited and more willing to grow it and remain competitive, with all the sales and support infrastructure that requires, in order to focus on the core products like it did before Impulse started to eat into their time. Rather than choosing to try and become another Valve, Stardock chose to sell Impulse and focus on what they used to work on instead. Which probably also means that something like a future 'third episode' of a game franchise shouldn't take a huge amount of time to release. Hell, it it means I'm getting Galactic Civilizations III faster, I'm all for it. Brad Wardell also had some interesting things to say about Stardock's future in gaming in particular, and his vision on the future of gaming technology, but you'll have to check back tomorrow for that.

Earlier this week, one indie studio had to make a snap decision (based on a lot of factors) and decided to stop selling its game on Impulse, Stardock's digital distribution service, after GameStop officially takes over. When ...


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