FirstPlay: beta impressions

Take a look at the ABC figures, and you’ll see that sales for UK videogame magazines are dropping. A few (notably the cheaper ones) are actually increasing sales; but most are losing them, and it’s been the same story for the last 5 – 10 years. This is mostly due to the big bad interweb. How can monthly paper magazines, costing £3 – £6, hope to compete with free websites that are updated five to seven days a week?

Say hello to FirstPlay.

Future Publishing is the biggest name in UK magazines; but people forget that it’s just one tentacle of the Future plc behemoth, which owns and runs magazines, websites, and events (not just in the UK, but the US and Australia too) for everything from cycling to playing the guitar. FirstPlay is mainly driven by the team behind the Future – published UK Official PlayStation Magazine. Nobody’s saying it out loud, but FirstPlay seems likely to be Future’s Plan B for OPM. With a cheaper price, direct – to – target – audience delivery, and no physical publishing costs, it may one day replace OPM rather than complement it.

FirstPlay is basically a UK, PSN exclusive, interactive Sony magazine. Our US readers may well have had experience of Qore which is, if you’ll allow us to slip into colloquial language for a moment, rather crap. Once you’ve grabbed whatever exclusive downloads interest you, you might spend another five minutes half heartedly flicking through the pictures and videos before exiting and immediately deleting it. Well, we’ve been through the final beta episode of FirstPlay with a fine journalistic toothcomb, and we’re happy to say it’s looking much better than Qore.

The first thing you’ll notice about FirstPlay – whether you like it or not – is the advertising. In the beta, the first advert crops up before the menu, and it’s distinctly unskippable. One advert also starts every time you want to watch a review or feature. Once you’ve watched a total of five in that particular episode, you can start skipping them. The choice of adverts seems a little odd. Mythbusters is on the Discovery Channel, is it? Er, okay, thanks for the info. Modern Warfare 2? Never heard of it. Assassin’s Creed 2? Oh yeah, I remember; bought it, finished it, traded it in before last Christmas. And so on.

Consider the advertising, however, as the inedible red stuff you’re inevitably confronted with whenever you want to get to the cheesy goodness of Edam. The beta features an HD video review of Bad Company 2. We gazed upon what OPM had created, and we were well pleased. Lots of gameplay footage, and no self important presenter to be seen (though a dev did appear briefly in a tidy little box to have a natter). Whenever the game was compared to another – and this happened elsewhere too – the game(s) in question were shown in a picture – in – picture style, though it seems that the team only did this because they could.

Look, the FirstPlay assets haven't been released and we don't have a screengrabber. Okay?

The script in both the Bad Company 2 review and the two previews is top notch; though it must be said that Lucy Porter’s delivery of the jokes is sometimes a little flat (though never enough to stop you laughing). It’s good to be reminded that there are still journalists out there who can tell you about a game, and keep a smile on your face while they’re doing it.

An excellent idea included here, is the roundup of PSN downloadable games, including Minis. If you have a PS3 and an internet connection, then surely at least once or twice one such title has caught your eye, and you’ve said to yourself ‘Hmm, I dunno, it sounds good; but I just can’t tell from one picture and some advertising gumpf’. FirstPlay allows you to see some of the latest titles in action, and in the beta brings what they consider to be the best one to your attention in particular. Of course, the upshot of all this will probably be you saying to yourself ‘Hmm, I dunno…’.

The highlight of this final beta episode is possibly the Singstar section. Here, the OPM team count down what they consider to be the best ten submissions they’ve had. They talk over the singing until the clip is almost finished, but that doesn’t really matter. You can still tell that some of them are surprisingly good but, in this particular episode, that doesn’t matter either. One of the clips was a woman singing a Gwen Stefani (and therefore terrible) song. Why does this stick in our mind? Not because it was number one, which it wasn’t – but it should have been. Why? Because there was somebody dressed as Chewbacca riding a bicycle. Come on! A video with that image in it should be number one, no matter what the context.

Was the woman any good? We can’t remember; all we remember is the image of Chewbacca riding a bicycle around her living room. Sort of like that dream Luke had when he swallowed the Listerine…

Riding a bicycle. In somebody's living room.

Incidentally all the featured entrants had their PSN IDs displayed and, this being Singstar, there were plenty of ladies taking part. We shudder to think how many ‘u r hot pls axept my friend request’ messages have already been sent.

There’s also a movie review, and a video store roundup. Whenever a chosen movie or game that can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store crops up, a message appears cheerfully telling you that you can press Triangle to go straight to the Store and buy/rent it. You can’t actually hear the ‘ker-ching!’, but you know it’s around somewhere.

So from Future’s point of view it’s a fresh, new, potentially very profitable venture with no direct competition. From the proletariat – sorry, from our point of view – it’s actually shaping up to be a quality product, and we’re promised that future episodes will include exclusive downloads. You might think it rather cheeky that you’re still expected to pay with all the (mostly unavoidable) advertising, but it clearly wasn’t made on the cheap; and each weekly episode will cost just 99p. Subscribers can get “90 days” of FirstPlay for £8.99.

The first episode hits the PlayStation Store Thursday 8th April, and we’ll give you our two shillings on that as well.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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