retroity

Made By Google 2019 Event Thoughts

Google held another Made By Google event today, revealing many new products, most them were leaked well before hand and all of them were at least rumored. Here's my thoughts on everything announced.


Stadia

Google briefly talked about Stadia, reiterating that it will launch on November 19th. It was only a brief mention, but it was there to remind us that it's coming. To me, Stadia is the culmination of every single piece of restrictions, DRM, online-only games, and more that the industry has been pushing for the last decade. It represents a future where consumers lack any control over their games, and where access to those games is dependent not only on a fast, stable internet connection, but on Stadia continuing to exist. It represents a future where games can be easily taken away from consumers, and where the consumer is always dependent on the provider. Maybe I'm just being pessimistic, who knows. But what I've seen from Stadia makes it hard to be optimistic.

Nest Mini

The Google Nest Mini is part upgraded Google Home Mini, and part of Google's continuing efforts to integrate all of it's home products into the Google Nest brand. There isn't really much new about the Nest Mini. The Nest Mini has better speakers, improved touch controls, some new colors, and a hole at the bottom so you can hang it on a hook. It's the same price as the Google Home Mini ($49) and it comes on October 22nd.

Although the Nest Mini itself is a bit boring, Google did use it to talk about general improvements to their smart home ecosystem, and to tout the various commitments that it mentioned at the beginning of the presentation. As part of Google's sustainability push, the Nest Mini's fabric top is made from recycled plastic bottles. Furthermore, for products that use Works With Nest, Google is allowing those products to move to Works With Google Assistant, but is requiring those partners to go through a security review first. Google is also introducing new Works With Google Assistant functionality, such as allowing direct control over Nest devices, after explicit user permission. With this, Google is hoping to simplify and integrate everything into the Nest brand.

This hopefully means a future for the Google Home ecosystem that makes devices, especially third party devices, work better in the future. This feels similar to Amazon's efforts to simplify the Alexa ecosystem, such as creating a simple setup process within the Alexa app, among other programs. I sincerely hope that Google actually follows through with these efforts.

Nest Wifi

Google is redesigning the Google Wifi and bringing it into the Nest brand with all of their other smart home devices. The new Nest Wifi is totally redesigned, and works more like Amazon's Eero routers, with it working on a router and extender system. Because Google is determined to stuff the Google Assistant into everything, all Nest Wifi points are also Google Assistant smart speakers. Through this and it's design, Google is attempting to get people to put their Wifi routers in the open, and this is their strongest argument for that yet. I hope that there is an option to disable the Google Assistant for people who already have Google Assistant speakers in their home. The Nest Wifi is also supposed to work as a smart home hub, with devices connecting directly to it, and in the future devices using the Thread wireless technology will supposedly work seamlessly with the Nest Wifi for local connections.

Speaking of the Google Home app, it's getting a redesign with what Google's calling the home feed, and will also be able to control the Nest Wifi, effectively merging the Google Home and Google Wifi app.

Google is really going to have to justify the Nest Wifi's price, considering that a 3 pack of Eero routers costs $100 less, at $249 compared to $349 for a 3 pack of 1 Nest Wifi router and 2 Nest Wifi points. (the Eero router 3 pack is not to be confused with a 3 pack of Eero pros which costs $499.)

Nest Aware

One of the last Nest/Google Home updates was a update to the Nest Aware subscription tier. Google is redesigning the tiers and pricing to go from a model that is per Nest camera to one that is only one subscription for unlimited cameras. This is a significantly better deal, and the extra $1 a month (making the lowest subscription tier $6 per month instead of $5 per month per camera) is totally worth it, especially now that all cameras get 30 days of video storage with Nest Aware and 60 days with Nest Aware Plus. This makes Nest camera storage significantly less expensive and makes it way less costly to invest in Nest cameras. This is a really positive change and I'm glad Google is doing it.

Pixelbook Go

The Pixelbook Go is a new version of the Pixelbook Chromebook laptop that features a new design and less beefy specs than the normal Pixelbook. It's available starting on October 28th and starts at $649 (but has configurations that go up to $1,399). It's still a bit expensive than the original Pixelbook, but it's finally starting to feel like the pricing is somewhat reasonable.

Pixel Buds

3 years after the original Pixel Buds, "wireless earbuds" that attempted to be Google's answer to AirPods yet had a cord between them, Google announced a totally redesigned Pixel Buds that are actually wireless earbuds. They feature the Google Assistant (of course), 5 hours of continuous battery life and 24 hours with the charging case, long range Bluetooth (apparently up to a football field away according to Google's claims) and adaptive sound with a vent design at the bottom of the buds to adapt the sound based on the environment you're in. The Pixel Buds cost $179 and despite the new them being announced today, Google says that they won't be available until Spring 2020. It's a shame that they would be available for a while as they actually look pretty exciting. I'm definitely glad that we're finally getting proper Android competitors to AirPods.


Google Pixel 4

Last but not least, the Google Pixel 4 phone. We're pretty much known everything from this Phone due to a multitude of leaks, and now it's finally been officially announced. Gone is the very large (and frankly very ugly) notch, with Google instead having a bezel containing all the front cameras and sensors at the top and a much smaller sensor at the bottom. The Pixel 4 has an 1080p display while the Pixel 4 XL has a Quad HD display, but both feature a 90hz refresh.rate (so glad this is finally becoming more common in flagships). It has a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of ram, and comes in either 64GB or 128GB storage configurations. The Pixel 4 features improved Camera software, and 2 cameras despite Google's statements in the past that 2 cameras are unnecessary as it can do more with just 1 camera. This is in an attempt by Google to get it's "best smartphone camera" crown back after having it chipped away from the likes of Huawei, Samsung, and Apple.

The main selling points however, is the new facial unlock feature, which works very similar to Apple's Face ID (and is not to be confused with previous facial unlocking in past Android phones, which was really just comparing your face. to a photo that your phone has stored) and motion sense, which is the culmination of Google's Project Soli project that we've been waiting years for, enabling gestures to be performed on a Pixel 4 without touching the phone.

Pixel 4 ships globally on October 24 and starts at $799 (or $899 for the Pixel 4 XL). The Pixel 4 is also the first Pixel to be carried by all 4 major US carriers, finally joining the likes of Apple, Samsung, and LG. In the past, Pixel phones gave unlimited original photo storage on Google Photos, however the Pixel 4 only provides 3 months of the 100GB tier of the Google One subscription. Overall I think that the Pixel 4 actually does a really good job of justifying it's own existence and the upgrade from a Pixel 3. The lack of the unlimited original quality Google Photos backup is a major disappointment however.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I quite liked this Made by Google event, especially in comparison to previous events. Many of the devices that were announced are much stronger choices than before, and for once it kinda feels like Google actually has a vision or at least some sense of direction with these products.

The Cynical Monetization of Mario Kart Tour

Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo's latest mobile game, is now available. It's an ok Mario Kart game, the controls are a bit wonky but otherwise they work reasonably well, and the game feels a bit bland but still with signs of typical nintendo polish. But the main issue that I have with it is it's exploitative monetization scheme. The game utilizes gacha mechanics, where players can use in-game currency to unlock certain karts. This in-game currency can be purchased using real money. There's also a shop, in which players can obtain items using coins, a currency gained from playing the game normally.

The real kicker however, is the $4.99 monthly subscription. It gets you some items and unlocks the faster 200cc speed. To price it as $4.99 per month, the same price as Apple Arcade, a surprisingly excellent game subscription service from Apple, is downright insulting and blatantly out of touch with reality. This game is essentially Nintendo fully indulging themselves in the manipulative monetization schemes that put monetization and profit over gameplay that have plagued the mobile games industry for so long and that in some ways, are currently creeping in on the larger AAA games market. The kinds of monetization schemes that rely on addictive mechanics, whales (individuals that spend large amount of money in comparison to other player), and preying on children to use their parents money. For that reason, I find it incredibly difficult to enjoy Mario Kart Tour, despite how much I wanted to like it.

One of Nintendo's first mobile games, Super Mario Run, was offered as a free download but requiring a $10 purchase to play the full game. Super Mario Run never did that well, likely due to it's high price and it's inability to be played offline. I see Super Mario Run as what turned Nintendo off of what could've been a relatively decent and ethical monetization, one where they player pays once to play a game. Other mobile games from Nintendo such as Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which came along and made massive profits for Nintendo, have chartered this current path of mobile monetization that Nintendo is on.

It's disturbing to me that even Nintendo, a company that's known to be relatively ethical with it's monetization schemes, especially in comparison to the rest of the video game industry, can be lured by the massive profits of these types of mobile games. I sincerely hope that subscription services like Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass, services that charge the consumer a simple monthly subscription fee and provide high quality mobile games free of in-app purchases and ads, take off and become bigger forces in mobile gaming, ideally incentivizing companies to make better and more ethical mobile games. Mobile games deserve to be better.


Nintendo Finally Addresses the Joycon Drift Issue

After much controversy regarding reports of Nintendo Switch Joycon controllers experiencing drift issues, a memo to customer service representatives from Nintendo that was leaked by Vice Games reveals that Nintendo has instructed customer service representatives to fix Joy-Con controllers suffering from drift for free. This also removes the requirements to provide proof of purchase and for the customer to have a warranty, and also states that any customer who previously paid for a drift-related repair should receive a full refund if they ask.

I'm glad that Nintendo is finally addressing this issue after all of the controversy surrounding it. This issue has gone unaddressed for far too long and Nintendo let it become a far bigger issue than it needs to be. It's a shame that this only comes after a lawsuit was filed against Nintendo for these issues. Hopefully this applies worldwide and not just for Nintendo of America, which is the branch currently being sued.

The Switch Lite is a Decent Device for Budget Buyers

Today Nintendo announced the Switch Lite, a cheaper, lightweight Switch that lacks several features, including hd rumble, detachable joycons, and stand and tv modes, making it a portable-only device. The device is priced at $199.99 and is available starting September 20, 2019.

To me this device makes a lot of sense. This is obviously not targeted towards existing Switch owners. If you already have a Switch, you have no reason to buy the Switch Lite. What this good for, however, is young children as a good introduction to the Switch as a cheap first console, or people on a budget looking to get into the Switch (who primarily want to use it in handheld mode)

With it's low price and commitment to being a good handheld device (including apparently having an average extra battery life of 1 hour) it's clear that this is a replacement for the 3DS, which also shows Nintendo's commitment to the Switch as the 1 stop shop console for everything. This is despite the fact that Nintendo has apparently stated that the 3DS isn't going anywhere. (Which roughly translates to "please don't stop buying 3DS consoles and kill whatever sales we still have on it, the Switch lite isn't out yet", which is similar to Nintendo's "third pillar" comment regarding the DS)

The timing for the Switch Lite's release couldn't be better as well. With it releasing in September, it's clearly Nintendo's big offering for the holiday season and will likely serve to introduce many new players to the Nintendo Switch ecosystem.

One last thing that I want to note is that in the advertising, Nintendo seems to demonstrate the Switch as a social, active lifestyle device, with much of the announcement video demonstrating people taking their Switch and Switch Lite consoles everywhere with them, and use of social features such as local wireless multiplayer. To me this not only further demonstrates the fact that Nintendo is trying to also market the Switch line to a more mature audience, but also shows to me that the Switch lite would be a perfect device for people always on the go or people who frequently travel.

I doubt this will be the only other iteration in what is now the Switch line, so only time will tell how the Switch evolves.


Junichi Masuda's Response to Dexit is a Terrible Nothing-Burger

After fan furor resulting from the decision to not include all pokemon in a mainline Pokemon game, we finally receive a official response from Gamefreak, directly from Junichi Masuda himself no less. Here's the statement as released on pokemon.com:

"Thank you to all of our fans for caring so deeply about Pokémon. Recently, I shared the news that some Pokémon cannot be transferred to Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. I've read all your comments and appreciate your love and passion for Pokémon.

Just like all of you, we are passionate about Pokémon and each and every one of them is very important to us. After so many years of developing the Pokémon video games, this was a very difficult decision for me. I'd like to make one thing clear: even if a specific Pokémon is not available in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, that does not mean it will not appear in future games.

The world of Pokémon continues to evolve. The Galar region offers new Pokémon to encounter, Trainers to battle, and adventures to embark on. We are pouring our hearts into these games, and we hope you will look forward to joining us on this new journey.

June 28, 2019

Junichi Masuda"

First of all, it's great to see that Gamefreak/The Pokemon Company is aware of the controversy and is responding to it. However, after reading it, I can't help but feel like this response is the worst one that they could've possibly made. What did this statement add, exactly? All this statement just does is restate their position. If anything, this is only helping to fuel the fire by reigniting the controversy.

This furor has been building for years. It didn't come out of nowhere. For years, fans have felt that each Pokemon game has been lazy, between cut features, copy/paste stories, low-fidelity graphics, low-effort animations, npcs, etc. Now, when you add this, in which a main series Pokemon game will not only allow you to transfer certain Pokemon, but also will flat-out not contain all Pokemon, which has been a staple of the series for well over a decade (gen 4 was the first generation to allow you to transfer Pokemon, but the Pokemon games have contained all previous Pokemon since Gold and Silver), of course people are going to be angry.

The Pokemon Company and Gamefreak has spent years of time, talk, and effort on how Pokemon were more than just data, on how people really loved and cherished their Pokemon, and why they would be able to take their Pokemon with them. The Pokemon Company and Gamefreak spent tons of time and effort to achieve this, between making future-proof models and animations for every single Pokemon, giving each game a transfer feature, and making services like Pokemon Bank and now Pokemon Home. It's hilarious to me that they announce Pokemon Home, a service to hold all your Pokemon (which will most likely be paid), and then a month later they announce a change that defeats the purpose of Pokemon Home, making it into more of a retirement home for your Pokemon than an actual storage service.

Furthermore, there is no justification in the game itself for this decision. Between it having the same low-fidelity graphics, the same basic, unchanging NPCs, the same basic, formulaic story, the same attack animations, and more. If this was a high-fidelity, upgraded Pokemon game, it would have a justification. But Pokemon Sword and Shield are none of those things, so those justifications do not exist.

Also, I might add that the statement has some concerning implications for the future of the Pokemon series. First, it seems to imply that there will not be a future update for the game post-launch that adds all the missing Pokemon, which is a flat-out denial of a major request that many fans have made. Furthermore, while the part in which Masuda states "even if a specific Pokémon is not available in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, that does not mean it will not appear in future games" might seem to be reassuring, it also implies that this is the future of the series. That never again will we see a Pokemon game that features all of the Pokemon that fans know and love, and rather that each game will have a rotating cast of Pokemon based on the region. That is a dangerous implication for the series, one that would turn off many fans from the series, would entirely defeat the point of Pokemon Home, and I feel would ultimately be harmful to the series as a whole.

I sincerely hope that Gamefreak sees where fans are coming from and realizes that the future of the series should not be one in which Pokemon are prevented from coming with their trainers in new games for artificial reasons. Such a future would be deeply destructive for the franchise. But I'm not holding my breath.