felice-standifer.jpgThis week I've been posting interviews with various black professionals in the games industry.

We've heard from Newsweek's N'Gai Croal, Crystal Dynamics' Morgan Gray and Nerjyzed's Brian Jackson.

Now we have Felice Standifer, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment of America. Working in the industry since 1993, Standifer has been a producer on several racing titles, including the "ATV" series and "MotorStorm" as well as the non-racing "Eye of Judgment."

During our conversation, we talked about her personal experiences working as a black woman in the industry. I asked her if gender or race has played a more significant role in her career:

I would say gender [has affected my career] more so than race. I think sometimes [people] aren't sure if you really play games or if you really know what you're doing. So I wouldn't say race, I would say gender because you still run into those kinds of people that can be surprised or "What kind of games do you play?"

Read on to learn about how she was mistaken for a booth worker at E3 and why she has a problem with "Grand Theft Auto" ...
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bjax_cover.jpgIn this week's special Multiplayer series, I spoke with different black professionals working in the game industry.

First, Newsweek's N'Gai Croal talked from a game journalist's point of view. Then "Tomb Raider" producer Morgan Gray shared his thoughts from the game development side at a major studio.

Today, Brian Jackson, creative design director at urban-focused upstart Nerjyzed Entertainment, gave me his perspective on working in the industry. I first met the industry veteran, who's worked at EA, Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks, at a GDC roundtable called "What Would a Black, Latin or Caribbean Game Really Look Like?"

When we spoke on the phone several weeks later, he talked about why he and his company decided to make "BCFX -- Black College Football: The Xperience":

"I feel that the other football games that were out there just put out a quality football game. As far as I could tell, they didn't want to go in any deeper than just a football game and the things that are associated with a football game, like managing stuff that's within the realm of playing the football game. With 'BCFX,' we actually made the halftime show into a mini-game. ... If you looked at the way that the schools in our game were portrayed in other video games, how they didn't really capture the essence and the spirit of black college football. ... At a HBCU game, when you're playing your rival, if you actually lose the game but your band is better then your rival's band, you actually feel as though you've won the game."

Read on to see learn more about Nerjyzed's vision, why Jackson doesn't like Jar-Jar Binks and how he almost created a hip-hop fighting game before any of the Def Jam titles.

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gtaiv-swag-281.jpgYesterday, Stephen Totilo and I received special packages from Rockstar.

Joy! It was "GTA IV" swag.

But when we discussed the loot, we were surprised that we received different items.

His package included a large "Swingers" baseball jersey (with the number four emblazoned on the back), a "Swingers" ball cap, a license plate with "N1K0" on it, foam fingers in "Shocker" mode (try explaining that to Totilo), a mousepad and two "GTA IV" stickers (one the size of my hand, the other bigger than my face).

Meanwhile, I received a small "GTA IV" sticker, the foam fingers and an XL "Burger Shot" T-shirt.

The only other outlet we've seen receive a package thus far was UGO; it looks like they just got the foam fingers and a white "GTA IV" T-shirt.

So why the difference in swag? And is Rockstar trying to tell me that I'm fat?

Click onward to view our "GTA IV"-related items with the real-life Liberty City as the appropriate backdrop...

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ngai-croal.jpgLast year, I interviewed five different women working in and around the video games industry.

Throughout my conversations in the special week-long series, we also spoke about diversity in general; all kinds of people play games, but it doesn't seem that all kinds of people make them. This idea led me to my latest series where I talked with several black professionals working in the industry. They reflected on their personal experiences, talked about diversity and shared their hopes for the future of the industry.

First, I sat down with prominent games journalist N'Gai Croal, General Technology Editor at Newsweek (and friend to Multiplayer). In his tiny, video game-filled office, the Canadian-born, 35 year-old told me his career in journalism began in part because of race. A writer for the Stanford University newspaper during his undergraduate years, Croal once wrote a column criticizing Newsweek's cover story about gangster rap. Soon afterwards, the then editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine contacted Croal about his column and offered him an internship. Croal didn't accept at the time, but after a brief stint at The Washington Post, he's worked at Newsweek ever since.

We spoke about everything from his career to his thoughts on specific video games ("Gears of War," "GTA: San Andreas") to how diversity could benefit the industry...

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Grand Theft Auto 2The past few days have not been the relaxing post-GDC weekend hoped for by the Multiplayer crew. Thanks, Electronic Arts!

The blogosphere has been digging deep into EA's public attempt to purchase Take-Two Interactive, but while most of the world is wondering "what's next?," Multiplayer figured it was worth a trip into the past, too.

How did a company responsible for some of our industry's most influential and controversial video games become a source of financial instability and a revolving door of managerial problems?

Take-Two emerged in 1994 with FMV-heavy adventure game "Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller" (a project we're sure Dennis Hopper was quick to forget) and 3D space combat title "Star Crusader." Both actually appeared on the ill-conceived 3DO platform.

Their first notable move -- in retrospect, at least -- came during the release of 1996's "Grand Theft Auto" from then-DMA Design (who they eventually purchased in 1998, when picking up BMG Entertainment's games division). Knowing how big the series would eventually become, the box art's description of the game is especially funny:

"Grand Theft Auto -- Murder, road rage, pimping, bank raids, hijacking, armed robbery, extortion, adultery, smuggling, petty thievery, drug busts, police bribes, unlawful carnal knowledge and double parking!"

I wonder if they'll bring back pimping in "Grand Theft Auto IV"?

While Take-Two is best known for "GTA" these days, that hasn't always been the case. Read on for more about how Take-Two became the Take-Two of today, and a look at the strangely simultaneous rise of "GTA" and corruption within the publisher's upper echelons.

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In a conference call to further detail plans to purchase Take-Two Interactive, EA CEO John Riccitiello offered some insight about his plans for the combined company, if the deal went through.

First of note for gamers is that Riccitiello said "I wouldn't change a line of code in 'BioShock' nor would I in 'GTA' or 'Max Payne'... what we would do is sell more of it." He said EA's distribution network could get those games in places Take-Two doesn't reach.

He also said the purchase was enticing for EA because his current company is "underrepresented in M-rated content." Getting the creators of "GTA," he noted, would suddenly give EA the top M-rated content in the world.

Riccitiello also name-checked Sid Meier of Firaxis and Greg Thomas of 2K Sports studio Visual Concepts and as valued members of Take-Two. Regarding the potential combination of EA and Take-Two's sports business, Riccitiello said that he thought highly of Thomas but that "in terms of the sports business, from any sort of organizational perspective, we think it is way too early to comment." He also shot down the idea that the purchase would leave EA without competition in sports, naming "Wii Sports" and "Hot Shots Golf" among the company's apparent rivals.

The lion's share of Riccitiello's praise during the call was for the top men at Rockstar Games, whose distinct publishing labels were cited as an inspiration for EA's current structural division. Financial analysts on the call tried to get Riccitiello to address their feelings that it would be expensive to bring Rockstar Games' management into the EA fold, but the EA CEO said the conference call wasn't the proper forum to discuss how EA could pull that off.

Riccitiello did reveal that EA's interest in Take-Two goes back quite a bit. He said that his first inquiry into Take-Two began last summer and noted that he put the brakes on an attempt by EA to buy Take-Two when he took his CEO spot at EA last April. "At the 11th hour I recommend the board not to pursue it," he said. He felt his own company needed to shift its own structure into its current four-division set-up before taking on Take-Two.

Riccitiello and CFO Warren Jenson also stated on the call that they were surprised at Take-Two's rejection of EA's offer. "It is our objective to make this a friendly deal," Jenson said. They said they expected someone to buy Take-Two, whether it's EA or not.

(On a side note, tomorrow will mark one year since Riccitiello was announced as the next CEO of EA, though he didn't assume the position until April. The executive has written quite a first year for himself at the publishing giant. )

take_two_logo.PNGWhen big financial news is breaking in the gaming industry, I look to Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter to break things down. I caught him on the phone today while he was having brunch at a yacht club (the same yacht club he was last brunching at when the Activision Blizzard deal was announced).

Who is this EA-Take Two deal good for? What would happen with sports and the cost of sports games? And why does he think Rockstar won't necessarily be a part of the deal?

Pachter broke it down for me…

Multiplayer: Is this a good deal for EA? Good for Take-Two?

Michael Pachter: Probably yes and yes.

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gtaivnba2k8As part of its public announcement to purchase Take-Two Interactive today, game publisher Electronic Arts has launched a website that addresses the possible fates of the most prominent parts of Take-Two's business. You can read the lengthy EA-to-EA interview at EATake2.com, but here's how they answered a few of our questions:

  • Would this deal mess with the makers of "Grand Theft Auto"? EA asks and answers as follows:

Do you intend to kill or restrict any of the R* franchises?
We strongly believe that behind all the controversy is a core of great intellectual property and development talent. These titles don’t sell millions because they’re controversial; they sell because they’re great games. We have no plans to change that.

  • But doesn't EA already have a sports division? So wouldn't this crush Take-Two's baseball, basketball and hockey franchises?

Would you kill 2K Sports?
Any integration starts with our respect for the teams and people that make great games. Beyond that, it’s too early to discuss plans for managing Take-Two.

  • EA just bought Pandemic and BioWare, so why reach for Take-Two now?

Why now?
We’ve waited to ensure that our proposal did not disrupt development on GTA IV. The game is scheduled to launch in about two months, which means the core development should be essentially complete.

At the same time, the reorganization of the EA Labels is basically done and our newest studios – BioWare and Pandemic – are settling in. Under the reorganization, creative teams at EA have a new sense of freedom and responsibility. There are more brand-new titles in development today than at any time in our history.

Finally, this is a good time to align our publishing strengths to Take-Two’s game roster. A timely integration would give a big boost to Take-Two’s games that are scheduled for release later this year and for their entire catalog leading into the holidays.

Okay, gamers, time for you to weigh in. Which games' fates and which studios' futures are you most curious about?

carlokid.jpgLast week I asked, "What's the best age for someone to start playing video games?"

Some say seven is the right age, while others don't think kids should play video games at all. Recently I interviewed two mothers about video games and their children; they each had different opinions. One mom didn't allow consoles in her house, the other said games had a positive impact on her family.

This week, I spoke with two fathers on the subject. See why a gamer dad is uncomfortable with letting his kids see the pain inflicted in "Pain" and how "World of Warcraft" finally made another father put his foot down...

Carlo, 30 year-old creative director at an ad agency from Edison, NJ
Children: Two sons, ages 3 and 5
Systems Owned: VTech, Leapfrog Leapster, PC, DS, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: Let kids play VTech at ages 2 and 4
Games Allowed to Play: E-rated games
Time Allowed: Up to 3 hours per weekday; more on weekends
Would Never Let Kids Play: "Shooting games with guns, explosions, limbs, blood;" "cartoony" violence

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mariogalaxyandchildWhat's the best age for someone to start playing video games? That's a question that's been asked quite a bit lately.

Is it seven? According to educational psychologist Jane Healy, who spoke at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, children should be kept away from video games until the age of seven to "allow their brains to develop normally."

The paperback edition of "How Computer Games Help Children Learn" by David Williamson Shaffer hit stores this week, basically explaining how video games can be good for children. We've also heard firsthand accounts from people -- video game legends, even -- who began playing games at an early age, and they seemed to turn out pretty normal (or in some cases, brilliant).

In light of all this, I wondered what actual parents thought. We know what a lot of children's specialists, media watchdog groups and industry researchers think. I decided to ask some parents I knew (and parents that friends and co-workers knew) about their opinions on the subject.

First up, I spoke with two mothers with very different answers.

Who: Alisa, 38 year-old business owner from Boston, MA
Children: Two daughters, ages 6 and 9
Systems Owned: LeapFrog, Mac computer
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: Let her daughter play LeapFrog at age 4, but only web games since
Games Allowed to Play: Pre-approved web games only
Time Allowed: 30 minutes, several times a week
Would Never Let Kids Play: Any violent games or games that let you "beat up or say crude things to a woman"

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