Category Archives: Commentary

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

Moving and Ownership

All this week I have been in the process of packing up my apartment in preparation for a move in meatspace. It is just a move across town, and there isn’t too much stuff, but the process always feels exhausting. Packing up the essentials feels really easy, but then you get to all the miscellaneous stuff that you hardly ever use, but would likely miss if it were discarded. For example, how many of your pots and pans do you use on a weekly basis? Do I really need a colander, much less two of them?

What really struck me though was when I packed up my PlayStation 2. Both the system and the games didn’t take up all that much space, but I pretty much turned on the system once in the last year, during an abortive attempt to play FFXII. I kept the system around because at some point console designers decided backwards compatibility wasn’t a priority, and why get rid of it if I still have all my classic PS1 gems?

It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t really need these things anymore. In fact, why I had physical media of any type was a hold-over from what feels like ages ago. I am pretty sure that all the PS1 games I own are also on the PlayStation Network, or even on Steam. All the games and systems and movies I own could easily fit on the external HD the size of my hand. I should be finished packing by putting on a backpack, minus that behemoth of a PC I use.

At the same time… it’s hard. First, you have to fight against the feeling of conservation. Why throw anything away? It’s something that still has use, still has value, albeit diminished by the passage of time. Second, there are all the what-if scenarios and general optimism. Maybe I’ll suddenly find myself on a retro-gaming kick, yeah? Playing old games in 640×480 resolution blown up on my wall via 100″ projector screen… that’s the life. And what if I suddenly drop everything and go teach English in Japan? Surely I’ll want to pack… err… uh.

The interesting thing to me about this whole experience is my evolving concept of ownership. Back in the day, I fought hard against “all-digital media” and the notion that nobody ever really owned anything, they just licensed it. I was there jeering at Microsoft along with everyone else during the Xbone E3 reveal. The curbing or removal of the secondary game market was an existential threat in my mind.

Now? In the middle of packing up my life, I feel I’d be better off owning less. I’m not going to play Kagero: Deception 2 again. Or any of the Tenchu games. Even if I felt like I had the time and inclination, it’s tough going back to anything less than 720p at this point. The game discs might have retained some value – I certainly made a few hundred dollars selling my SNES classics a few years ago – but is that value worth the time and eBay headaches? When I finish a Steam game, I delete it and then set the Category to “Finished,” which I keep minimized. I don’t think I have ever gone back and played any Finished games.

Games are largely experiences and experiences only. Some have replay value, sure, and others (like MMOs) can keep you entertained and experiencing them for weeks/months/years to come. The vast majority though? One and done. The more time passes, the more I feel these accumulation of games are no different than old newspapers; the hoarding of which is something less deserving of a nostalgic nod and more of a questioning eyebrow.

I’m going to lug around my box of historical gaming debris this time around – there’s no sense to unpack what I’ve already packed – but the odds are good that this will be the last trip they make in my possession, one way or another. And I am becoming increasingly okay with that.

Non-Customization

I don’t know if you’ve been following the new ground the developers of Rust have been breaking, but it’s both interesting and hilarious. The short version is that instead of customizing your character, all of your character’s physical attributes are randomly assigned and permanently tied to your Steam ID. This includes race, penis size, and now gender.

As you might imagine, some corners of the internet are melting down.

There are multiple layers of this design which are fascinating to me. The first is the sheer amount of free PR this generates. I mean, when was the last time you actually heard news about Rust that wasn’t about the size, color, and/or existence of the male sexual organ? Last thing I remember reading was from what feels like years ago, when Rust removed zombies… and people were crafting C4 to break into peoples’ shacks? It’s still a crafting survival game, right? I wouldn’t know.

Philosophically, the intended inability to choose your avatar’s features is also interesting. The money quote from the devs is this one:

To clear up some confusion, when we it does go live you won’t get a choice of whether you’re female or male. We’re not “taking the choice away” from you. You never had a choice. A man’s voice coming out of a woman’s body is no more weird than an 8 year-old boy’s voice coming out of a man’s body.

Some of the criticism is coming from people who don’t want to feel restricted in their character creation, or people who want their avatar to look like them (for RP purposes or otherwise). But in a sense… is this any different from, say, Witcher 3 or any other game with fixed player assets? As the dev mentioned, you never actually had a choice at character creation, so nothing is being taken away. Is it about historical gametype precedent? Or about the fact that the devs could have added customization options but have clearly decided not to?

In any case, I like the cut of this dev team’s jib. They are doing bold things that could go horribly wrong, which is the heart of soul of R&D. Plus, listen to this bit:

“We wanted to lock people to an identity so they could be possibly recognized for their misdeeds, just from their avatar,” he explained. “The idea being that eventually we’d take away player names, and emergent stuff could happen like mistaking someone for a friend, impersonations, etc.”

That sort of “reputation” is asinine in a multi-server scenario IMO, but good for them for going for it. And removing character names altogether? That’s a pretty brilliant social experiment.

I’m not invested in the outcome of Rust, but damned if I don’t feel a tiny bit compelled to see what kind of character gets rolled for me. Not going to lie: if I end up getting stuck as generic white dude #476, I’ll be pretty disappointed.

This Peeve of Mine: Blind Choices

It is amazing how many games you can work through when you aren’t playing an MMO. For example, I cleared through Metro: Last Light, StarCraft 2, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Swapper, Wolfenstein: the New Order, and am currently plowing through This War of Mine. All in the last two weeks. Granted, many of those all had completion times below ten hours, so perhaps that isn’t too surprising, but nevermind.

While I am not entirely done with This War of Mine yet, I did want to talk about it a bit. Specifically, about how the game has one of my least favorite “features”: blind choices. Or maybe “blind choices” is not entirely the correct term, but rather (unintentional?) obfuscation.

I first complained about blind choices nearly four year ago:

Perhaps I am simply too far down the metagame hole at this point, but how can anyone consider a choice with unknown consequences as meaningful? I mean, fine, all decisions and choices we make technically have unforeseen consequences. But these game designers are literally giving you nonsense to choose between on top of said unforeseen consequences. I don’t consider the choice between door #1 and door #2 to be meaningful at all – I may as well flip a coin or roll a die for as much thinking as it requires.

The game I was referring to at the time was the original Witcher, when the game asked me which quest reward I wanted to choose. While the game didn’t hide the the rewards themselves, the relative utility of each choice was very much in question. A book about vampires, your own hut, or the Wreath of immortelles? I chose the latter because italics, and it allowed me to easily bypass a long, involved quest.

Despite having chose the one with the most overall utility, I did not feel particularly clever because the choice itself had no real meaning. Do we praise the stopped clock for being right twice a day? Avoiding a designer trap only highlights the fact that the designers included a designer trap in their game in the first place, which automatically lowers my view of the overall design. It’s a cheap gimmick – one that is overcome only with knowledge that a player obtains after the choice is made. “Giving players the choice to fail” really just means the designers were unable to give players two or more good (or bad) options to choose between.

This concept get a bit murky when it comes to the roguelike genre though. Many roguelikes specifically include things like colored potions that have randomized effects on each playthrough. Sometimes you can minimize the mayhem such potions can cause, by being at full health and in a safe place before sampling the rainbow of colors you have collected. Such testing technically involves risk assessment and valuing the odds, which are pretty high-brow player skills. I was fine with The Bind of Isaac’s random pill effects, for example, largely because everything else about that game was so random it almost didn’t matter. When you could find out early which pills did what though? It sets you way ahead of the curve.

This War of Mine is more or less a roguelike. While the loot you can scavenge is random, it is also random which “scenario” you might encounter when going to a new location. This is generally fine. Roguelikes need randomness to maintain replayability in what otherwise would be short playthroughs. What I found less fine was when I realized that you didn’t need a lockpick to open locked doors, you simply needed a crowbar. That “makes sense” in a sort of logical way, but not always in a game logic way, especially not in a game that also features vegetables that grow to maturity in four days under a heat lamp.

Should the crowbar’s in-game description mention it opens locked doors? I would say yes. There is still a meaningful choice between crafting a lockpick over a crowbar (specifically the amount of noise it generates) when you know the full depth of information about the two. At the same time… well, Minecraft certainly doesn’t give you all the information you might need for a successful¹ run. I haven’t played it in a while, but the last time I did, I knew there was no way I would have ever guessed the correct configuration of materials necessary to craft a bow or shears.

Examining my discomfort in more detail, I suppose it comes down to wasting resources when outside knowledge is readily available. I had no problem playing Don’t Starve for hours and hours despite dying and losing all progress to the most mundane of causes. Murder Bees are serious business, after all. But chasing down the mats to build a blowgun and darts in what ended up being a nigh-useless tool? That pisses me off. I will happily fail in service to muscle memory, even if I lose progress along the way. I will not, however, be so keen to fail because I didn’t read the Wiki first.

There is a distinction between the two that I can feel, even if I cannot enunciate it clearly.

¹ With what constitutes success in Minecraft being left undefined.

Games as Services

If you have forgotten, Scrolls is that one card game from Mojang that no one ever played. And after July 2016, no one else ever will.

I actually had a Beta review up of Scrolls nearly two years ago, and that more or less marked the last time I spent any serious amount of time with it. I did pick it up again for a hot minute last year (I think), but the structural problems I already talked about were still present, so I stopped again. Probably because of Hearthstone. But, the CCG genre is not a genre one can go in half-assed anyway- it is strictly full-ass or bust.

While Scrolls getting an expiration date is not even remotely similar of an impact as an MMO shutting down, it is example #1765783 of the dangers of Games as Services. This is a game that I paid $20 for (two years ago, admittedly) that I will not be allowed to play in another year. Do you know what I played last month? Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, an RPG that came out in 2004. And while it certainly costs money to keep an MMO server running each month, Scrolls had a perfectly fine single-player experience against the AI. Hell, I’m not even sure what the cost of running Scrolls matchmaking software would even be. Surely not that much?

Alas, it is not meant to be. While we can question whether it was Microsoft swinging the ax or normal market forces, the fact remains that the ax was always there. A veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over every game-turned-service, not threatening mere removal, but extinction. Will there even be a museum where these games could be played in the future? Or will these orphaned blog posts be all that exists, a Google search result that becomes less relevant with each passing year?

Nothing is permanent. But clearly some things are more impermanent than others.

PR Disaster Watch: Destiny Edition

June has not been a good month for game company PR departments. Or maybe it has been an excellent month in demonstrating the necessity of their existence in the face of designers with a bad case of verbal diarrhea. But while I have been focused on ArenaNet and Blizzards’ debacles, the true disaster that is Destiny’s expansion, The Taken King, has slipped me by. Until now.

The story is more or less the same, as if ripped from an identical playbook: an expensive expansion, and an even more expensive version with includes content that the player already owns. The deal this time is with Destiny’s Collector Edition, which includes the base game and prior expansions along with emotes exclusive to this package. There is no way to purchase these emotes individually, and no value whatsoever added if you already own everything already released to this point. So, basically, Heart of Thorns 2.0.

What elevates this to another whole level was this interview with Luke Smith, Bungie’s creative director for the expansion. I highly, highly recommend you read the entire thing because it is comedy gold. Or you can simply read this exchange, and despair:

Eurogamer: I get that it is big but it is also the same price as the base game. That had four areas rather than one and more missions than the Taken King. Why is it the same price?

Luke Smith: All I can do is answer that with the same thing I just gave you… We’re really comfortable with the value we’re giving to players this autumn. I believe that once we begin to share more, players will be even more excited. And for existing players it also comes with the Founder’s pack with a new Sparrow, shader and emblem.

Eurogamer: Just not the emotes.

Luke Smith: It doesn’t because they come with the Collector’s Edition.

Eurogamer: Final question on prices –

Luke Smith: Is it also the final question on the emotes?

Eurogamer: I’m not going to mention them again. I can’t get them.

Luke Smith: But you can if you buy the Collector’s Edition.

Eurogamer: I’m not going to buy the game and the two DLCs all over again.

Luke Smith: Okay, but first I want to poke at you on this a little bit.

Eurogamer: Poke at me?

Luke Smith: You’re feeling anxious because you want this exclusive content but you don’t know yet how much you want it. The notion of spending this money is making you anxious, I can see it –

Eurogamer: I do want them. I would buy them –

Luke Smith: If I fired up a video right now and showed you the emotes you would throw money at the screen.

Eurogamer: What I’m saying is that fan frustration is not because they don’t understand the proposition. It comes regardless of how cool the exclusive content is. The frustration – and mine as a fan – is that the method of acquiring it requires me to re-buy content I bought a year ago.

Luke Smith: [Long pause] It’s about value. The player’s assessment of the value of the content.

I would like to imagine that the “long pause” moment included a return to sanity for Luke Smith, the awakening from a fugue state. Or just a realization for how unconscionably stupid he was just moments prior. I say this because he would finish the interview with a somewhat rational approach to the nature of time-sensitive content and the noting that one cannot go home again.

In any case, Bungie’s now-existent PR department rang up Eurogamer at 9am the next day to update everyone that there will be nameless Veteran rewards forthcoming with the expansion, that will be “even better” than the ones found in the Collector’s Edition. Which really makes you wonder about all those Veterans who already “threw money at the screen” over exclusive emotes, and if they can get refunds of said Collector’s Edition.

Or not, at least according to Bungie community manager David “Deej” Dague, who says in the updated post:

“The Collector’s Edition is mostly sold out, so the people who found that stuff valuable jumped at the chance,” Deej added in a separate post. “You’ll likely see it sold on eBay for much more than what we’re asking. But that’s not the point. Right?

Right.

I suppose the takeaway here, besides the entertainment value of all these high-profile face-plants, is that players are going to likely (successfully) call bullshit when they see it going forward. And a large part of that is going to be any expansion being released without some sort of added value given to the very people that made a game or franchise successful enough to warrant an expansion in the first place.

Is that player entitlement? Or is it a renegotiated business transaction with more favorable terms? I dunno, maybe haggling indicates a deep, moral failure on the part of the buyer. What I do know is that all current and future Destiny players are better off today than they were two days ago. And that’s enough for me.

Edit: Also, apparently you get an exclusive quest in the expansion if you buy a can of Redbull. You can’t make this shit up.

Hyper Hype

I can’t remember the last time that E3 felt relevant or interesting. But now? I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt as hyped up as I do right now. Like holy shit whoa. All of these news items could turn out to be soul-crushingly disappointing, but… I choose to believe. I’m officially abandoning all rational arguments against the following and reveling in the ecstasy of fanboyism in its purest form.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

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Just knowing that this is a real, actual thing that will exist at some indeterminable point in the future brings me unbridled joy. I have talked about FF7 many a time over the years, and it has maintained its position in my Top 3 games of all time ever since I first played it in high school. Does the original hold up to modern RPG standards? Probably not. Am I tiny bit worried that “remake” will entail removing everything recognizable about the base game? Yeah, I am – that trailer narration was quite bizarre.

But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. A Final Fantasy 7 remake is going to exist. And by existing, it validates all those feelings I had damn near twenty years ago and have remembered ever since. The game was a cultural milestone that marked the turning point in gaming when RPGs went mainstream. And I was on the ground floor for that.

God, I still remember playing it Christmas Day and my father quipping “Oh, they’re showcasing interracial marriage now?” when he saw Tifa and Barret talking with Marlene in the bar. That… was a different time.

So yeah, you are either as excited about this as I am, or… well, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can warm your cold, dark heart vicariously through my joy. Or, you know, by envisioning my reaction when/if Square Enix buckles under the collective nostalgia of ten million people and fucks it up. There will be plenty of heat to go around in either case.

Fallout 4

Everyone knew this was coming. I don’t think many people imagined this coming out November 10th. At least not me.

This is honestly another one of those games in which the designers would have to go way out of their way to screw up before I would even notice. Fallout 3 was such a home run for me on so many levels. First, as someone who played Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics, I had a measure of extreme skepticism that the franchise could make the transition into the third dimension. I mean, maybe I should have learned from Metroid Prime that such magic was possible, but that moment when you first emerge from the Vault, blinded by the sun… yes. Yes, the world is fundamentally good and just.

New Vegas is often praised for being the better of the two, but I still disagree in a rather fundamental way. Simply put, you were on rails for a not-insignificant amount of time in New Vegas, funneled down a highway arbitrarily surrounded by level 20 Radscorpians and Super Ghouls. Compare that to Fallout 3, where you can explore every non-D.C. corner of the map starting from the Vault entrance. And that’s what I did, in every playthrough: striking out into the wasteland, investigating any landmark that caught my eye.

And hoarding all the things. So, so many things.

So seeing that video showcasing the insane level of customization for every weapon, utilizing every random piece of trash you have squirreled away? I’m already there. I’m sold. Not preorder sold – that would just be silly – but “Day 1 sold even though the game will be unplayable until the first patch two weeks later” sold. The base-building is cool, of course, and I’m looking forward for the zany Fallout plot as well. But I would pretty much play any post-apocalypse game where I could scavenge and hoard trash, and Bethesda certainly has my (credit card) number in this respect.

The Last Guardian survives

Much like a FF7 remake, The Last Guardian has become somewhat of a running joke at E3 and elsewhere. As the article notes, it was originally announced back in 2009 for the PS3. As the article also notes, however, it’s coming out 2016. For real this time™. Hopefully. Please.

While not on the full caliber as FF7, I have long considered ICO to be one of those games that best exemplifies Games as Art. Not just in aesthetics, but in the purity of its design. You were a little boy who used a stick to chase away the shadows of an impossibly large castle. Everything about that game was great. And Team Ico has been working on this game ever since Shadow of the Colossus (which I am still working my way through).

Some people on the internet have been complaining about the dated graphics, or at least pointed out that it looks like a game designed on the PS3. Which is likely the case, honestly. But you know what? I’m not going to criticize those uncouth Philistines for being incapable appreciating the finer things in life. Given their miserable condition – the rote, listless way they carry themselves in life – the only proper response to their proclamations is pity. If this game was merely ICO 2, same graphics and all, I would still play it, and have my life enriched thereby.

…and more

I’m pretty happy that Mirror’s Edge is getting a sequel, or prequel, or reboot, or whatever. It was one of those games whose fingerprints you can still see being left on game design today. Horizon looks pretty keen too. Oh, and I guess Mass Effect 4 is a thing. Although in regards to that, I feel no particular sensation of hype because Mass Effect is Shepard, and the Commander’s story is over. Whomever is wearing that N7 uniform has some mighty large boots to fill. Unless that person is actually Shepard and Liara’s (or Tali, or hell, Garrus’) child, in which case, game on.

In any event, I’m feeling kinda spent right now. The only thing that could possibly have made things better would have been… I dunno. Cold fusion and world peace? A Xenogears remake? I don’t want to get too greedy though.

On Mods

As you may as heard, Valve’s grand experiment with paid Skyrim mods debuted and shut down in three business days. At one point the untouchable darlings reddit, both Gabe and Skyrim itself has taken a huge beating in the eyes of the horde; Skyrim went from a 98% positive feedback rating on Steam down to 86%. Gabe confirmed that the number of emails his staff received will cost them literally $1 million to comb through.¹

From my seat up in the peanut gallery, the entire issue of paid mods seemed to be a solution in search of a problem. Was there some crisis in the modding community preventing mods from being developed? Were popular mods being abandoned? What, exactly, was the issue with the status quo?

To be clear, I’m not against people getting paid for their work, in the same way I’m not against, say, religious liberty. At the same time, I don’t think the concept in of itself justifies every means of expressing it. The modding scene was already a healthy ecosystem built upon passion, collaboration, and natural curation. SynCaine points out there are some mods out there more elaborate and fun than the game they’re built upon. Just imagine how many more, better mods would be generated if said people were paid for their work?

Well… err, maybe eventually.

The Skyrim paid mod section was not active for long, but the future cesspit of theft and profiteering was clear to see. Who looked at Steam Greenlight or Early Access and thought, hey, let’s introduce that to the modding community? Under a paid mod paradigm, you literally can’t give your mod away for free, because someone else can and will turn around and try to sell it for cash.

During Gabe’s AMA on reddit, the creator of the Nexus website point-blank asked what Valve was planning on doing in terms of, you know, not single-handedly monopolizing the modding market. Gabe had no real answer. Which is a problem considering paid Steam mods would give even ambivalent modders every economic incentive to pull their mods from Nexus and any other site to exclusively use Steam Workshop. I mean, what, is Nexus and all the other sites supposed to suddenly create their own mod marketplaces?

With the paid mods plan on ice (for the moment), there has been some further crying about how “freeloaders” and “trolls” have won the day. Out of the entire fiasco, that sentiment bothers me the most. Erecting pay-walls around hitherto free content is an erosion of Consumer Surplus, full stop; it doesn’t matter whether modders “should” have been getting paid this entire time. Splintering the modding community into factions with negative incentive to cooperate is an erosion of Consumer Surplus. Maybe we get really well-done, professional mods out of the paid system eventually. But considering you are paying extra for that value, the Consumer Surplus gains may be a wash. In which case you are no better off than before, minus a thriving modding community.

Nevermind about all the bizarre arguments surrounding mods like DotA and Counter-Strike. Would those mods have achieved their meteoric status had they been priced “fairly” at the start? I don’t think anyone believes that that would be the case.

Do modders deserve to be paid for their work? Probably. Do I deserve to be paid for writing posts for the last four years? Feel free to Paypal me as much money you want. But as a consumer/reader, you are under no obligation, moral or ethical, to pay for something someone is giving away for free. And as a consumer/reader, you have every right to complain when your net Consumer Surplus is being reduced in any way. “Freeloaders” and “entitlement” are specious non-arguments, and especially absurd given how we’ll all talking about people who already bought a videogame.

If you want to pay modders, there is nothing stopping you. As in, right now. Go for it. I’m sure their contact information is listed somewhere on the mod page. Just don’t pretend this change was anything less than a fundamental redesign of the entire concept of modding. Or that this particular implementation was at all going to work, logistically or conceptually. In fact, I doubt that it ever does, even when Valve comes back to “iterate” the process later on. And by “work,” I mean generate more value in the aggregate for gamers and (free) modders alike.

¹ As opposed to Support tickets, which no human ever reads.

Age of the MOBA

According to EEDAR, by the end of 2015 MOBAs will generate more revenue than (F2P) MMORPGs in the North American market:

"Meteoric" pretty much covers it.

“Meteoric” pretty much covers it.

The difference is small – $501m vs $499m – but it’s impressive nonetheless for a genre that didn’t (formally) exist five years ago.

One thing is for certain though: MOBAs are the “new” hotness and are poised to overtake F2P MMOs either this year, or Soon™ in any case. Which is a fascinating turn of events for someone who really has less than zero interest in MOBAs specifically. Indeed, nearly every mechanic that make MOBAs “deep” are the same mechanics that make many MMOs terrible. For example, the whole Last Hit mechanic. Or having over a hundred different characters, many of whom are direct counters to others, requiring one to memorize a truly voluminous amount of minutia to succeed. You thought the whole Raid Dance memorization was dumb? Just wait until you spend time researching dozens of characters who don’t even get picked. Oh, and hey, I heard you like 40+ minute LFG fights were you (ideally) lose 50% of the time.

On the other hand, in the Venn Diagram for MOBA and MMO I wonder how much overlap there really is. Did some people leave WoW for League of Legends? What did they find on the one end that they did not on the other? Perhaps nothing, and the audiences are from two entirely different sources. Which really doesn’t answer the question of where the MOBA audience came from. Is this an entirely different generation of gamer coming to age during the rise of MOBAs? Or was this a deep pool of potential players who hitherto weren’t being serviced by existing products?

Maybe the answer is less complicated than I am making it out to be: MOBA players seemingly sprang from the earth because it’s all F2P. Easy to get into, easy to get hooked, and then easy to get monetized. As revenues approach half a billion dollars in NA alone though, this clearly is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. Despite the MOBA saturation, revenue still increase almost 20% last year, according to the chart. You will undoubtedly have winners and losers in the market, but MOBAs are here to stay.

Which is… well, good for them. I’m going to play something else.

Performance Enhancing F2P

As I was browsing reddit a few days ago, I found my way into a thread talking about how you can play the Star Citizen alpha for free until March 15th (or March 20th depending on the code used). This is a game that I am somewhat interested in playing, but not 22gb of files interested. Makes you wonder about what the final download size is going to end up being. The Secret World is already over 40gb and making me think deleting it would be better than keeping it around in the off-chance I feel like… Googling the answers to ridiculous in-game riddles.

In any case, I continued reading the various comments to try and glean where Star Citizen was in development. As it turns out, they’re still in the “sell $2700+ ship packages in the store like it ain’t no thing” stage.

A bargain at twice the price.

A bargain at twice the price.

The Completionist Package is actually much more expensive at $15,000, although for some reason the $2700 tier galls me a bit more than the other. I think it’s because at some point the amounts are too ridiculous to contemplate, but these smaller ones are more “reasonable.” Could you even build a gaming PC that cost $15,000 without spending money on the equivalent of Monster Cables?

Once the game officially launches, the idea is that the cash shop for ships is going to close; thereafter, the only things sold for real dollars will be customization options… and a “small” amount of in-game currency, with a daily cap. The amount is supposed to be “miniscule” and the equivalent to whatever it costs to refuel and rearm a ship. Whether that amount will just cover a normal ship maintenance cost or one of the $200+ ships you can outright purchase right now, is anyone’s guess.

What is not anyone’s guess are the fascinating arguments being made that such purchases aren’t P2W:

There is insurance on the ships, if you bought the ship early you are granted free insurance.

Insurance will be cheap though, so if you lose your ship without insurance you kinda have to blame yourself. You won’t get a huge advantage with free insurance.

And what’s the problem with buying ingame cash? If I only have 6 hours/week to play the game I should be able to spend cash so I won’t get left behind by the players sitting 6 hours/day.

This bolded sentiment simply boggles my mind. I don’t even know where to start.

Perhaps I could start with an analogy: performance enhancing drugs in sports. If you only had six hours/week to train for a competition whereas your opponent trained six hours/day, I think everyone would still say that that is fair; if you wanted to legitimately compete with this person, you would put in the necessary hours to do so. I don’t think there is anyone here that would say you should just pop some steroids so you “don’t get left behind” by the person who is clearly more committed to playing the game than you. But suppose you do believe it’s fair, and everyone should have freedom to take whatever drugs give them an edge. In such a scenario, what happens to your advantage when the 6 hours/day person just, you know, takes performance enhancing drugs themselves? You end up where you started, except now everyone with even a modicum of desire to win is taking drugs.

Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.

The other problem I have with the bolded sentiment is what it says about time spent playing the game. If you are paying dollars to skip content, that implies the content being skipped is the unfun, grindy parts of the game. Which means all the players you are bribing your way past are stuck doing content they probably don’t find fun either. Which means that the game designers have a dilemma: they can either make the unfun, grindy parts more fun for everyone (and lose money), or they can do nothing and make more money. Or, you know, make that payslope even steeper.

This is not even my final form.

This is not even my final form.

Is that a little too tinfoil hat thinking? Maybe. Maybe there are good, legitimate reasons why my Air Defense tower in Clash of Clans takes six real-world days to upgrade. Whatever those reasons are, they can’t be too important though, as I can buy my way past the timer. As I’ve mentioned before, these sort of cash shop designs immediately throws every designer action under suspicion.

The final problem I have with the bolded sentiment is difficult to put into words. It’s like, when did we start expecting to have better outcomes than other people who play a game more than us? I would agree that a design in which no one can catch up to Day One veterans is bad, but I feel like there is a crazy expectation that skill should triumph over time-spent and yet the game still have character progression somehow. How would that work, exactly? And when did it become unfair for someone else to spend six/hours a day playing a game? And then fair for you to bring resources completely outside of game (i.e. cash) to make things even?

Sometimes I feel like we’re all just lost in the woods here.