The Budget Gaming Awards.

Posted: January 6, 2012 by ryanlecocq in Features, Technology

Over the last 18 months, we’ve gotten a steady increase in hits and net cred with our coverage of the sort of shady back alley of gaming.  Cult games, resurrecting ancient games with new tech, a little light modding and cheap do it yourself guides have been our biggest draws.  Along the way, we’ve gotten our hands on a lot of new tech that lets you do something in a simpler way at a lower cost.  This is the heart of the Budget Gaming Awards.  The hardware, concepts and software that upset the current cost/expectation in the consumer’s favor.


Hardware Design Concept: The AMD APU


AMD did not by any means invent the System on Chip design.  What they did was basically adapt something that had become standard in tablets to the desktop market and add the benefits of that platform.  It’s not novelty however that sells a concept through, it’s results and price/performance.  AMD’s E series and then later A series APUs utterly changed the desktop and laptop markets in the last year.  Even the most inexpensive computers of any shape and size were now capable of 1080p video and moderate gaming.  Not only did this make even the poorest grad student able to play WoW and The Sims 3, it took huge market share from Intel in both desktop and laptop markets.  Even compact Home Theater PCs are going from Intel Atom to AMD E-3&450 chipsets, because they both perform better and cost less.

AMD has been much maligned by the elitist PC media in recent years for their decision to cater to the low end market rather than the enthusiast.  In late 2010 and 2011, we saw who was smart and who was wrong.  AMD sold nearly every chip they could produce last year and secured many prestigious contracts from Intel.  To see for yourself, go down to your local Best Buy or Costco and look at the laptops.  Notice that about half of them will say Fusion on them.  If you can remember a year ago, that number would have been maybe 10%.  Congratulations AMD for profiting while improving end-user experience and reducing cost.


Best Game for the Money: Order and Chaos Online by Gameloft


I wouldn’t consider this game one of the best games of the last year for one simple reason: it’s a World of Warcraft clone, so it can’t claim it’s own design.  This is actually what wins the game this category though; it’s a WoW clone on iOS and Android and it costs about as much to buy and play for a year as WoW costs for a month.  That’s right, there is a game people can play on their phones and iPods that provides much of the experience and compulsion of World of Warcraft.  Since you can play it anywhere, all the time and it only costs .99 a month to play, it could arguably be called a great evil as well.

The compelling point this game makes is that a lot of WoW’s appeal can now be offered at a fraction of the cost with much less investment to get onboard.  If you have an iPod, iPad, iPhone, Android phone, Android tablet or Kindle Fire, you are only $7 away from a surprisingly good clone of WoW.  Sure it lacks many, many features WoW offers, but you can scratch your questing, pvping or crafting itch anywhere you happen to have the time.


Best Service: OnLive


At first a lot of people foolishly compared OnLive to the desktop computer.  They didn’t really understand what it meant when Steve Perlman said: “We’re coming to every tablet, tv and smartphone.”  They just kept repeating “Why do I need Onlive when I have a desktop computer?”  Welcome to 2012 where my dad can be screwing around with the menu on his TV and end up renting and playing Lego Batman, something he would never, ever do otherwise.  You can be anywhere in the world that has 4G, stop and hook a blutooth controller up to your phone and play Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Anyone who can’t see how that has changed technology has obviously missed something important.

OnLive definitely took a few missteps.  The MicroConsole seemed to be OnLive’s way of slowly introducing people to letting go of the console.  It’s like they assumed people would need hardware to have faith in the concept.  Instead, the concept of “the cloud” was immediately assimilated by the public, despite the quips of clever web comics.  This made the MicroConsole rather redundant as people went straight to using OnLive on their netbooks, phones, tablets and blueray players with relatively little adjustment.  Overall though, Onlive has done an excellent job in becoming the cloud gaming service and making it abundantly clear that they are the innovators and the leaders and others are just imitators.


Best Handheld Device: The Kindle Fire


This was actually the easiest category.  Basically you have the 3DS, the iPad2, the Galaxy 10.1, the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet.  The 3Ds, despite amazing technology, was a flop, so it’s out.  The iPad2 and Galaxy would be laughable winning a “budget” award as they are high end devices that include extra features and raise cost.  This is the opposite of the budget philosophy.  That means it’s down to the Kindle and the Nook.  The Nook immediately shoots itself in the knee with an arrow by locking 90% of it’s storage for Barnes and Noble eBooks, requiring you to buy an SD card immediately to load anything else.  The Nook store also lacks almost all of the popular games and apps available on the Amazon store and finally cannot have other apps sideloaded as easily as on the Kindle.  With the Kindle Fire, you basically spend your $200 and within an hour you can be doing anything from emulating PSX games to playing a game you bought from the app market originally for your phone.

Hardware wise, the Kindle makes the perfect balance of sacrifices and splurges.  Amazon clearly put as much as possible into the processor and the screen while staying under budget.  You lose cameras, a gyroscope, 3/4G and many other fancy tablet features, but you have the power and screen resolution to do everything the $4-500 tablets do.  This is what wins the budget market.  The ability to just plain do something.  Many, many consumers will sacrifice bells and whistles to just be able to dip their toes in a market previously closed to them.  That’s the whole appeal of the Chevy Nova, which was very successful until that formula was changed.


Best Price Reduction: Nintendo Wii


It may have taken a while, but Nintendo is finally responding to the declining sales of the Wii.  Starting with the special blue models available on Black Friday, Nintendo is rolling out the stripped down, $99 Wii.  The things left on the cutting room floor were: pack-in games, Gamecube support and strangely the little plastic stands for the console and sensor bar.  The biggest loss here is Gamecube support, but honestly at this point it’s hard imaging anyone having held out this long to replace their Gamecube with a Wii and wanting to switch now.  Most people who would consider a Wii at $99 are the casual and fringe audience that Nintendo has already done so well with.

When considering the Wii as a system that only costs $50 less than the much more featured Xbox 360, it seemed like Nintendo had a pathetic year.  When considering the Wii as something that costs half as much as the cheapest Xbox, it’s a whole different story.  There’s also Skyward Sword to consider.  Even though 2011 was a completely dismal year for Wii software, now there’s a new Zelda game to buy and it actually delivers on the promise of Wiimote=sword.  A Wii and a new Zelda game for $50 less than a basic Xbox is an easy buy.


Dishonorable Mentions

Worst Hardware Design Concept:  The AMD Bulldozer platform.  Late to the party and nothing to show for it.  AMD balanced the best showing with the worst showing in this category.

Worst Game for the Money:  Final Fantasy XIV.  If you invested money in this once-promising game, you basically lost it.  Although Square apologized and offered some free game time, they didn’t do the smart thing and make it free2play.  People are still paying money basically for nothing, as the game is still not functional a year+ after release.

Worst Service:  Sony.  The huge network attack on Sony was big news last year.  What makes it most humiliating for the company is how poorly prepared for it they were in every part of their network.  Everything from Playstation Network accounts to DC Universe accounts were hacked and people even lost purchases on Sony’s music store.  It was a perfect example of what happens when you don’t invest in good network security and how much backlash can result.

Worst Handheld Device:  The 3DS.  Nintendo has always been undefeated in handhelds, but this may be soon to change.  The 3DS somehow failed to match it’s impressive technology with compelling software.  A few first party remakes and spinoffs were not enough to keep people playing through a whole year while promised third party hopefuls never arrived.  The trainwreck culminated with Nintendo fire-saling the 3DS at reduced cost and then pretty much ignoring it.

Worst Price Reduction:  DC Universe Online.  The only reason I complain at something becoming essentially free is because it should have been from the start.  DC Universe seems completely designed for f2p with it’s low level cap and emphasis on end-game competition.  It seems very much like Sony just pushed it out for sale and monthly fee to try and make a quick buck, always intending to make it free2play when sales dropped off.


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