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Smith: Cycling through the gaming headlines

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It’s been far too long since I’ve taken an in-depth look at video game news, and there’s plenty to talk about.

Atari announces new video game console

In an industry where new video games and the consoles they run on are anticipated years before their actual release, Atari’s recent declaration that they’re reentering the console wars came out of nowhere.

Little is known about the Ataribox, other than the physical look of the console itself. It looks a lot like the Atari 2600 from back in 1977 (in a stylish way), but no specs or games have been released, other than a promise that the console will be dedicated to classic games and new games. Whatever that means.

For those who only remember the classic era of Atari from the late 70s and early 80s, this likely sounds like exciting news. Atari ruled the video game roost before the crash of 1983, capturing the hearts of teenagers and children who mostly abandoned the hobby after entering adulthood.

I’m up for anything that brings former gamers back into the fold.

Unfortunately, those of who have followed the video game industry for the past 30 years are a bit more skeptical. The Atari the world remembers was chopped up and sold years ago, surviving on life support as a game publishing label and popular T-shirt brand. The last time Atari made news was when they filed for bankruptcy a few years ago, this time surviving through mobile casino games.

At this point, all we can do is speculate about the nature of the Ataribox. Many wonder if Atari is in a financial position to support a game console. If so, how will they compete with the already entrenched brands of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo?

I’m highly doubtful, but I wish Atari the best. More video games are never a bad thing. Unless….

Sony continues to degenerate consumer trust with shovelware and tone-deaf antics

Sony has been king of the video game world for the past four years, earning a healthy lead over Microsoft through numerous console exclusives for the PlayStation 4. Their consumer friendly attitude concerning used games vaulted Sony to the front of the pack when the PlayStation 4 was launched in 2013, and they haven’t looked back.

But as many kings before them, Sony has grown arrogant with power, and is degrading that consumer trust with stupid decisions. Just take a look at all the shovelware that’s appearing on the PSN store.

The urban dictionary defines shovelware as “software that is hastily made, without proper testing, and ‘shoveled’ down consumers throats in order to make some quick cash.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Until four weeks ago, you could buy the atrocity known as “1000 Top Rated” on the PSN store — a game that consists of nothing more than sliding tiles designed to give players a ton of achievements in as short a time as possible.

Sony finally had the good sense to pull the game from its marketplace, but the overall lack of quality control has turned the PSN store in a mounting mess that could become as chaotic as the online Steam store for computers. I buy quite a few digital games in the $10 to $20 range, but when it’s impossible to differentiate the crap from the quality, I’m hesitant to spend any money.

Then there’s Sony’s sudden inability to play with others. The popular game “Rocket League” (which has you controlling remote control cars that play soccer) allows players from every other platform — including the Xbox One and PC — to play with and against each other.

But PlayStation 4 owners can only play with other PlayStation 4 owners. The same goes for “Minecraft.” As my favorite game critic Jim Sterling is fond of saying, the lack of functionality has made the PlayStation 4 versions of “Rocket League” and “Minecraft” far inferior.

Sony’s latest act of tone-deaf defiance concerns the company’s seemingly lack of interest in preserving classic games through backward compatibility. While the company is happy to charge you for old PlayStation 3 games through their streaming service (my rural Internet isn’t powerful enough to handle it), they balk at the free backward compatibility offered by the competing Xbox One.

That’s the way it goes in the video game industry. Nintendo lead the pack with the Wii a decade ago, but their follow-up console, the Wii U, was an under-powered disaster that few bought into.

Microsoft stood nearly as high with the Xbox 360, then squandered years of good will with one E3 press conference. They tried to sell the Xbox One as a multi-purpose entertainment box rather than a dedicated gaming console with oodles of exclusives, and the gaming public revolted.

It’s easy for gamers to feel a sense of brand loyalty to their favorite console, but even the biggest fanboys have their limits. In my experience, it’s never a good idea to put too much trust in corporations. They’ll only let you down.

Analyst predicts PlayStation 5 is only two years away

Though I don’t know him personally, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s a gamer and a numbers guy, and his now-defunct YouTube show about video game financials was fascinating. He isn’t always right, but his industry analysis is always insightful.

So when Pachter recently predicted a PlayStation 5 will appear two years from now, it seemed like a pretty reasonable guess. What I wasn’t expecting him to say is that the new console will likely be a half-measure, much like the PlayStation 4 Pro.

The question is, how much of a half measure will it be? Since the PlayStation 4 Pro provides a graphics upgrade to the base PlayStation 4 without an exclusive library, I didn’t bother to get one. I’m not made of money, and I generally only buy a new console when it gives me access to games I can’t get anywhere else.

I’m assuming the PlayStation 5 will have an exclusive library. If it’s just another graphical upgrade for 4K TVs that doesn’t sport any games of its own, I’ll be taking a pass.

Casey Hudson rejoins BioWare game studio

Now this is a pleasant surprise. After a three year absence, Casey Hudson has resumed his 16-year stint as general manager of one of the most respected game studios in the industry. I’ve been a BioWare fanboy since playing “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” back in 2003, and I’ve devoured their long running series such as “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect.”

It’s the sorry state of the once vaunted “Mass Effect” franchise that likely brought Hudson back to the company. After three excellent “Mass Effect” games (not everyone is a fan of the third one), BioWare churned out the very mediocre “Mass Effect: Andromeda” earlier this year.

The game was so unimpressive that you can now find it for half its original retail price, a few short months after its release.

A lot of gamers enjoyed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” more than I did, and I hear it really picks up around the 30 hour mark. I didn’t make it nearly that far, and since I pre-ordered it, I’m stuck with a game that I’ve invested less than 10 hours into.

I figured the “Mass Effect” series was dead, but Hudson rejoining the team may point toward a meaningful resurgence. If it does, I’ll definitely be renting before I buy. I can only be burned so many times.

Will Smith is a reporter for The Hawk Eye, a GateHouse Media Company in Burlington, Iowa. His column is printed each week in the Sunday edition of The Hawk Eye. 

Smith: Cycling through the gaming headlines | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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