Sunday, October 28, 2018

Video Game Help for Parents

Last year when my nephew was asking for a PlayStation 4 I wrote a couple emails to my sister to inform her about the way video games are today as a lot has changed over the many, many years since we were kids (I was born in '75 and she is a year and a half older than myself). With the upcoming shopping season fast approaching I thought it might be useful to post those messages here. Although I'm not a parent and I won't tell anyone how to raise their child, I do know a fair amount about games and believe I can help others understand the content in games and the retail aspects of the industry. This is going to be large blocks of text as I don't currently have any images for the post. I'm mostly copying and pasting what I wrote previously in the aforementioned emails so the writing is a bit more casual too. As I mentioned, this is in regards to a PlayStation 4 but the Xbox One is very similar. Nintendo Switch is different in some regards, however, the basics about how games are sold and digital content all applies.
Video games are very different than 30 years ago and even 20 years ago. Times have changed and games have grown up, and it is important to read the ESRB ratings and descriptors on the back of the boxes. Definitely avoid M-rated games and probably many T-rated games. It's tough because Star Wars games will likely fall in the "T" category, though at least those are only for violence and not swearing or nudity (yes, that's a thing in some games). Star Wars likely won't have blood either so those are probably okay. However, games with comic book characters might not be. The Batman Arkham series has bad language and a lot of violence. Injustice is a fighting game with DC comic book characters but also has bad language and excessive violence. Superman kills Shazam in the first game; he uses his heat vision to turn him to ash and Shazam is a child when he isn't in super hero form so this isn't for young kids. 
The way games are sold is quite different too. Not every game goes to retail as every console now has its own digital store where you can purchase games. You can purchase the retail $59.99 games through the online stores but they are large and take a while to download. Many digital games fall in the $4.99 to $19.99 range, like the $14.99 Power Rangers game. That link goes to the online version of the PlayStation store where you can look up what has been released. They also have sales on digital games and if you subscribe to PlayStation Network every month they give out games that remain yours for as long as you are a paid subscriber. That's $59.99 per year but you can buy subscription cards at stores and they do go on sale. You can also buy gift cards at stores to avoid having to use a credit card.

My first recommendation is don't buy any games near their release date if it can be helped. Games tend to drop in price fast or go on sale within the first couple months. Within six months you can probably get them for $10-20 less at least. Today just about every game has a pre-order offer too (they want you to buy before that quick price drop I just mentioned) but those are not significant (never pre-order I say -- I pre-ordered two times in my life but not since 2004). I can see a child being tempted by them though. They typically offer free downloadable content (DLC) like an extra weapon or outfit for the main character. DLC is a pain and I never purchase it but that's how publishers make enough money to the cost of the base game down. $59.99 may sound expensive for a game, however, when we were young games were already $49.99 and some actually were much more due to the expense of manufacturing large capacity cartridges or localizing the text-heavy role-playing games. Therefore, the price hasn't gone up a lot when considering inflation and the size of game development studios (a lot more people to pay and it takes a lot longer to make AAA games now). Instead, companies hold back content from the retail release or plan for add-ons to release over the first six months or year following release and charge $9.99 to $19.99 for DLC that adds more missions or more to a story or more gameplay modes or more characters depending on the type of game.

What you'll also see are what they call season passes. A game might cost $79.99 or more because it includes a season pass which means you are paying for all of the future DLC up front and in most cases are saving $5 or $10 down the road. Some other types of games are Day One Edition, Limited Edition, Gold Edition, Collector's Edition, Definitive Edition, Game of the Year Edition, etc. They've got names for everything. Most are the game plus some DLC or maybe a soundtrack or physical item like a statue (Collector's editions get expensive, some over $200!). Definitive and Game of the Year editions are usually great buys if you can wait. Those are generally $29.99 or so and include a lot of the DLC; they are bargains because the game is already a year or more old. The first month of release is big for games, especially those with a heavy focus on online multiplayer. It's not like movies where you still buy Star Wars movies from the '80s and they are the same price as new movies. Old games get cheap because they don't sell well when they get old. It's kind of like smartphones in that most people want the latest thing.

Maybe your child won't really notice all the digital content available but some games stick buy now options within the games themselves so make sure you don't have a credit card on file through the console. You don't have to have the system connected to the Internet but many games have patches (game updates to fix bugs a game may ship with) that make the game work better and going online would allow them to play games with friends and family. On the plus side, consoles have parental controls: Although the ESRB is helpful, I don't always agree with them. I think parents should play every game their kid wants to play but I know that's unrealistic, at least as far as playing games to completion. Even if a game doesn't have any bad content it might be too complex and frustrate a child. That's something I don't really know about though; it likely varies for each child on what they would find difficult as far as puzzle solving or figuring out how a game works. A lot of games do have simple puzzles though some can be complex.

When setting up a PS4 you should give every one in the family their own PlayStation Network (PSN) user name. It's what you'll use to log into the system and if you play online games then that's the name that displays. The main user will need to register an email address though I'm not sure if each individual needs to. PSN names are permanent though Sony is currently testing name changes. However, it sounds like Sony chose a poor way to manage its user database and changing a name could affect saved files. It will also likely cost money to change a name (Microsoft charges $10 to change a user name) so choose wisely. The alternative is to just abandon an account and create a new one but then you lose your friends list and trophies (you get trophies when doing things in games, they aren't important but I like getting them -- they are called achievements on Xbox).
That's probably a lot to take in if you're not familiar at all with video games today. I didn't get into the need for Internet too much either but you'll want to plug the game console into a network. Unfortunately, to play a game is not as simple as buying it and putting it in the system. Most games need to be installed on a console and some games require files to be downloaded for the game to work properly, especially on the Switch where games may be too large to fit on the card. I do have one other email I'll post now that is about massively multiplayer online games as my nephew once asked to play DC Universe Online.
DC Universe Online is the type of game you play for hours at a time to make any progress (a lot of time is spent traveling between locations). It's a MMO (massively multiplayer online game) and those are far worse than online shooters like Star Wars and Fortnite. MMOs are huge time sinks and of course they are intended for people to play together so someone needs to make sure he isn't interacting with strangers. Well, he's probably going to interact in some way with others even if it isn't speaking to them. On a console the environment is better controlled than on a computer, however, I'd still be concerned since MMOs typically have thousands of people on the same server and socializing is encouraged as it is difficult to do many missions solo. MMOs do get people addicted and in extreme cases adults have neglected their children while playing MMOs like World of Warcraft and I believe one or two people have even died for playing a day or two straight rather than stopping to sleep. The addiction is high even though the games really aren't much fun at all; I guess part of it is the social aspect though I usually end up playing alone when I have tried them which is probably why I don't like them. Most I have only tried once or for a couple weeks but I did play the Star Wars one for three months solo. Yeah, there is a Star Wars MMO (second one actually) but it's only on computers so maybe he'll never learn of it (my nephew loves Star Wars!).

Something else to watch for is in-game transactions because if the game is free then there will be a lot to buy inside of the game (this certainly applies the Fortnite which while not a MMO, the extremely popular battle royale mode is free). MMOs actually all had monthly subscriptions at one time and there were dozens of them fighting for players' money but now most are free to more easily get people to try a game and get them hooked. Money still needs to be made of course, so in-game there will be items and outfits to buy (gotta show off to the other players on the server) and probably character classes or for DC maybe super hero types or actual characters. I don't know how DC works; I think you make your own hero though you can play as a comic book character in the Marvel one (there was a free Marvel one but it has since shut down). The main thing is more content really. For free you get a basic game but then you have to spend money to get more missions or areas in the game and if you play with a group of people then you'll have to buy the content or get left behind. That link goes to the items that can be bought out of game, like currency to spend in the game on the stuff I mentioned.
I hope that helps and feel free to ask questions below or via the contact page.

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