Noor Naem: Catching up with one of ’em ‘social media influencers’

By Kelly Clarke

I’m fairly inept when it comes to all things social media. I realise that claim may be a form of social suicide as far as my status as a journalist in the digital era goes, but I’m not averse to taking risks. So here it is, in plain sight; printed for all to see. Continue reading Noor Naem: Catching up with one of ’em ‘social media influencers’

A case for judging a photo by its emotional impact

By Karen Ann Monsy

If there is one thing you take away from a conversation with National Geographic photographer Karen Kasmauski, it’s that she isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. Unabashedly candid, she will speak her mind on everything from the problem with photographers today (“our competition is anyone with an iPhone”) to her difficult relationship with her mother, one of the subjects of Karen’s acclaimed 2015 documentary Fall Seven, Get Up Eight on Japanese war brides. Continue reading A case for judging a photo by its emotional impact

Why March 16 is a victory for gamers worldwide

By Keith Pereña

Unknown to some, today’s gaming scene is quite different to what it was back in the 90s — up until the early 2000s. During those times, I remember having a single notebook containing cheat codes, folded pieces of gaming magazine photocopies which contained guides. That ‘sacred text’ helped me get an edge in every game I played and also guided me to find several ‘secrets’ hidden in some of them (like the plethora of collectibles in GTA: San Andreas).

But this is not about that notebook, this is about what replaced it — cold, hard cash. Microtransactions or ‘MTxs’ are items which are completely optional for the player to purchase inside the game with real money. It began with small, pocket games in the early generation of smart phones which revolved around the same idea — pay cash to get better stuff. Oh, it also spawned various reports of kids ‘accidentally’ using their parents’ credit cards to get an edge in their games.

Nowadays, microtransactions come in every shape or form. There are some where you pay cash and get premium currency to buy powerful items; DLCs, where making a payment will give you a side story or bonus looks; then there’s loot boxes where you pay for something you don’t know yet and is completely randomised, and it’s also not guaranteed to be better than the items you have already. The latter has been at the heart of a revolt within the gaming community and on Friday, we won.

It was on Friday, March 16, when EA Games — a gaming megacorporation decided to completely remove loot boxes from Star Wars Battlefront II. To get you up to speed, here’s what happened: EA announces the game, fans get excited, EA then shows that you have to purchase the ability to unlock iconic characters such as Darth Vader, fans then nitpick the game and discover that unlocking a hero requires weeks of playing — or pay $80 to get him instantly. That $80 is on top of the upfront you pay in order to play the game which is around $60.

In a way, Battlefront II’s pay system made it feel that in order to become better at the game, you had to spend extra cash on it. Their system unleashed a firestorm of events and was even covered by international media and governments.

Initially, the company decided to defend the gaming mechanism by saying that ‘grinding,’ — playing it until you earn enough to get what you want — gives players ‘a sense of pride and accomplishment’. This statement which was released by EA on Reddit quickly became the most disliked comment in history — as of the time of writing this feature, it has been  downvoted 670,000 times.

Why was it a big issue? Well for yours truly, gaming is a pastime — I turn on my PS4 to unwind during the weekends and immerse myself into a compelling story, or regale myself with some mindless fun. With the system Battlefront implemented, the game becomes more than that — it becomes a full time job.

Back to Battlefront II. When the game released late 2017, nobody flocked to the stores to buy it. Several gaming communities boycotted the game because it was the zenith of EA’s quest to make money — sure they’ve had past and current games with microtransactions but Battlefront II took the cake by having all the powerful items locked behind loot boxes and heroes locked behind a paywall. If you paid for such services, rest assured you were completely unstoppable in multiplayer, which resulted in a completely unfair fight.

The gamers were also backed by several governments. Around the time of Battlefront II’s release, Belgium, Australia and the US probed the issue of loot boxes and felt that these performed in an eerily familiar way to a slot machine. This observation highlighted a discrepancy — gamers (who are predominantly young), gambling their (or their parents’) money for the sake of game-changing gear.

With everyone from gamers to the government taking notice, EA made changes to appease the community. Not long after the game’s release it announced a temporary withdrawal of all in-game purchases. It also lowered the prices of some heroes so they’re easier to earn. While some lauded this as a step in the right direction, many still feared that this was only a respite before it was introduced again.

But EA showed that it can change for the better. Just this Friday, came the official announcement that Battlefront II will no longer have loot boxes. The news spread like wildfire throughout the community with chants like ‘victory!,’ ‘we won!’

It was indeed a victory. At that moment, the gaming community truly became a community. We came together and called out a game for being a money trap and they in turn responded by allowing players to earn everything via effort, just like the good old days, sans the ‘sacred texts’. It was also nice to see that in these times, a company can still listen to its audience and make changes for the better.

But just to have one last hurrah, at what could be a dead joke later on — I must say that this change that Battlefront II implemented gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Keith bonds with his brothers back in the Philippines through gaming

keith@khaleejtimes.com

In celebration of the flaky perfection of porotta

By Suresh Pattali

Raise your hand. Which one  would a Malayali housewife like most — gold or husband? All hands go for gold. Raise your hand. Which one would a Malayali husband like the most — porotta or his better half? The quintessential, flaky Kerala flatbread wins hands down. Jokes apart, this classic from the small south Indian state, marketed as God’s Own Country, meets no dissenting voice, except from television health vigilantes.

Continue reading In celebration of the flaky perfection of porotta

I am not tickled by tech, or being recorded

By Sushmita Bose

Disclaimer: I’m a tech laggard, and I studiously stay away from reading up frequent upgrade reports. Forbidden Fruit has launched yet another new (version of) phone or tablet or a South Korean giant has released something equally compelling or Amazon has come out with Alexa that promises to do all your thinking (and doing) for you — that kind of stuff puts me to sleep instantly… I don’t need the Fitbit sleep monitor to assess my claim.

Continue reading I am not tickled by tech, or being recorded