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Gray Friday

I’m getting into a weird place when it comes to sales. This past Black Friday consisted of…

  • Shadow Warrior ($5)
  • The Banner Saga ($5)
  • Logitech G502 Proteus Core Optical Gaming Mouse Black + $50 Steam card ($80)

I do not anticipate anything worthwhile happening on “Cyber Monday.”

There were indeed deals on games I technically want to play. I have heard good things about AC4: Black Flag, for example, and it was discounted down to $20. The problem I have – and arguably always had – is the fact that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to specifically purchase a game if I’m not going to play it right away.

My “currently playing” list in the sidebar hasn’t be accurate for a while simply because I find myself cycling through games much faster these days. Cycling either because the games aren’t grabbing me (and I’ve finally acquired the intestinal fortitude to just abandon un-fun games) or because they end up being short, 5-10 hour experiences. While I am glad to finally start working on my backlog in a more serious manner, it also means there isn’t much motivation to drop $20+ on something right now.

There was no discount on Warlords, which means I didn’t purchase it either.

SOE technically had a Double Station Cash sale on Friday, but I resisted that siren call as well. Primarily because I was miffed that I had used my Walmart SOE card about a month ago after holding onto it for all of last year (it’s a 1500 SC card with a bonus 500), and I wasn’t about to physically go to Walmart on Black Friday to pick up another. There was that reason, and the follow-up to what I would actually spend SC on these days. PlanetSide 2? The upcoming H1Z1? EverQuest Next, released 20 years from now, or whatever? I can wait.

And that is really what it all comes down to these days: I can wait. There’s an indie game on my Steam wishlist called One Way Heroics and it was discounted down to $0.87. Didn’t buy it. Why? It would make the inevitable Humble Bundle it is a part of that much less of a value. Same with Not the Robots, currently 75% off at $2.49. I am not actually that cash-strapped that it matters in a financial sense, but the question I always ask myself is “do I need this right now?” The answer used to be “No, but I might want to play it later when it’s no longer on sale and I’d feel dumb for letting the deal go by.” These days, the answer is more simply “No.”

Besides, worst-case scenario: just wait a few weeks for another sale.

Good Guy SOE

So, I find myself playing PlanetSide 2 again. Yes, I had stopped for good. Probably more than once. I might be what they call an “unreliable narrator.”

What brought me back into the fold (for the time being) were forum tears. Specifically, I saw a veritable rash of QQ posts on Reddit concerning how overpowered A2A missiles are, how unfair it is that skilled pilots (presumably packing lolpods) are being blown out of the sky by noobs, and so on. So I did what every rational gamer would do in such a situation: log on and run the flavor-of-the-month gravy-train all the way to cheeseville.

Let the hate flow through you.

Let the hate flow through you.

11 kills in 43 minutes may not sound like anything – and it’s not – but they were 100% other players in jets, which I can assure you is a feat I have never remotely came close to before. Indeed, the time was inflated a bit because I had to go in search of more jets, having destroyed the gate-camping ecosystem I was hunting in.

In the meantime, there was another controversy brewing on the Reddit forums in the form of John Smedley changing the way subscriptions work at SOE. Currently, you can subscribe to Ps2 for $15/month, receive some membership perks, and then receive a monthly stipend of 500 Station Cash (SC). As Wilhelm has detailed previously, SOE has had a ton of issues with people hoarding currency from triple SC sales, to the point where they had to stop letting you redeem SC for expansions, subscriptions, etc. For the less economic-minded, the problem with SC hoarding is that SOE can’t actually count the cash you used to purchase SC as revenue until you redeem it; until you do, the SC technically counts as a liability. Indeed, since the introduction of Player Studio items, SOE faces the additional uncertainty of having to potentially pay out an unbounded amount of cash to players once per quarter, depending on how many people redeem their SC for those items. We aren’t talking about virtual money for virtual items anymore, we’re talking cash payments to player artists.

If that still sounds confusing, an example I’ve heard is this: imagine what would happen if 100% of EVE’s playerbase used PLEX for their subscription next month. Sure, CCP technically already has the money, but they are unlikely to have enough cash on hand to cover a full month’s worth of payroll, server costs, etc, with nothing coming in that month. Companies do end up estimating “breakage” (e.g. gift cards that are never redeemed and the like) but they can’t claim all of it without running afoul accounting principals.

The first solution Smed presented was interesting. Instead of a 500 SC stipend that simply accumulates, they would allow you to purchase one item a month that costs up to 2000 SC. A voucher, if you will. The primary issue under that scheme is that there is next to nothing in the Ps2 store that costs 2000 SC aside from the ocassional bundle, which you cannot even buy with it. Most player-created items – which, incidentally, are so much cooler than SOE-designed items that its sickening at this point – cost 1000 SC apiece, so ostensibly you would be coming out ahead under this rubric… but Player Studio items were also excluded. Even if Player Studio items were allowed, the creators would see zero reimbursement since the 2000 SC voucher was “free” – Smed stated in the thread that SOE was seriously considering eating the cost and paying the item creators anyway.

If you weren’t interested in fancy hats and cosmetic items though, you were going to be boned as a Ps2 player under this system. One of the perks of subscribing to Ps2 was getting access to a 2nd Deal of the Day, and said deals frequently put items at price points below 500 SC. Indeed, there were two items last week that were selling for 99 SC. If I wanted both, I could either spend an extra dollar and use the 2000 SC purchase on the other, or I could get both with the 500 SC stipend and have some virtual change left over for next month. And on the other end of the spectrum, if you have been playing for a while, there isn’t liable to be anything you want to buy in the store in a given month – especially since the devs decided to take their content-free optimization break. Each month you didn’t purchase anything as a Ps2 player was 500 SC you weren’t ever getting back.

After going back and forth across a 200+ response Reddit thread, Smed dropped some interesting information. The plan going forward for SOE is for the All Access Pass to be lowered to $14.99/month and to automatically apply to all SOE games (on the PC, for now). In other words, one subscription to rule them all. It sounds a bit weird at first, given how many of the games SOE offers are F2P to begin with. But that sort of makes it subtly brilliant: the fact you are receiving “premium” bonuses for games like DCUO might make you more inclined to download the client and take advantage of them. But what if I don’t care about DCUO or EQ1/2 in the least? Hmm. Maybe you have heard of EverQuest Next: Landmark & EQN proper?

The plot… it thickens.

As for the stipend, Smed will be bringing up a compromise to the suits: subscribers will get the 500 SC like usual, but you have to log on each month to claim it. While it seems silly that that solves anything, I wouldn’t be surprised that there are a non-zero amount of people that have auto-renew subscriptions and do nothing with them. After all, that’s kind of the point of auto-renew subscriptions as a business model. For every heavy Netflix user, there is someone like me who has booted it up for about two months out of the entire last year.

In any case, mad props to John Smedley for coming to Reddit of all places and laying down the behind-the-scenes facts. There are some people who are not happy with the way things shook out (the 2000 SC voucher sounded better to them), but no one can deny the fact that SOE climbed down the mountain and took the feedback of its players seriously. If you were going through Ghostcrawler withdraw like I am, look no further than… the PlanetSide 2 Reddit forums, apparently.

Cert-Gate

SOE dropped the bomb on Planetside 2 a few hours ago. In the latest 38mb patch, these seemingly innocuous patch notes appeared:

  • A certification grant has been done for players who purchased duplicate weapons on multiple characters.
  • Please note that if this causes a player’s certifications to go over 10,000 they will not accumulate any more certification points until some have been spent to bring it below the cap.

When Ps2 first launched, all the weapon unlocks were on a per-character basis. Fairly recently, SOE decided that one of the perks of purchasing faction-agnostic weapons with Station Cash was that it would unlock the weapon on all of your characters. Usually, the choice is 700 SC (~$7) or 1000 Certs for a weapon, with 1000 Certs representing a pretty significant investment both in time (I accumulated around 9,000 Certs after 150+ hours) and opportunity cost (spending Certs on class upgrades, like more fuel for your jetpack). Still, using Certs to unlock weapons means you can play for free; so being able to unlock one weapon and use it on every faction makes the Station Cash option that much more competitive. “But wait,” players reasonably asked, “what about all that Station Cash I spent on weapons I now have a useless duplicate of?”

Well, today we have SOE’s response: Certification reimbursement. But something has gone horribly, horribly wrong:

Spot the differences.

Spot the differences.

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. SOE has reimbursed me twenty-six thousand (26,000) Certs.

Holy mother of god.

Holy mother of god.

The official version of things is exactly what I wrote above: SOE decided to reimburse the people who bought two of the same gun on two same-faction characters at a 1 SC for 2 Cert ratio. Did I spend $130 on, frankly, poorly-planned purchases on redundant toons? Of course not. As it turns out, the database query also captured all transactions in which you bought an item that was later a part of a bundle that you purchased anyway. For example, I bought the rocket pods for the jet only to find out they were included in the “Vehicle Starter Bundle” along with a lot of other juicy weapons; while I did not get a discount for already owning the rocket pods, the rest of the bundle was still a good enough deal to purchase.

The result is 26,000 Certs. On each of my three toons. And SOE has said they aren’t going to roll them back.

This is a literal case of the common WoW “log on, collect epix” hyperbole. The only thing I cannot buy with these Certs are helmets, camo, and other such visual extras. Oh, and XP boosts, but I don’t think I will ever be interested in such things again.

So I bought things. Lots of things. And upgraded everything else. A new pump shotgun came out today, this time with 11 pellets to the standard 10 at the expense of a slower rate of fire. Just last week I bought each faction’s pump shotgun for SC as they were 50% off. But who cares? I need to chew through these Certs because there is actually a 10,000 Cert cap beyond which you can’t earn any more.

Pretty much everything useful.

Pretty much everything useful.

I stopped spending Certs after going down to around 4,700 as I found myself starting to purchase ridiculous shit. Did you know the Medic can carry around two sticks of C4? I would never have unlocked such nonsense for 700 total Certs, but now I have it. Forever. I can also give out Empire-wide orders and listen in on Commander chat now. Just ’cause. I was actually starting to worry about squandering my giant pile of unearned Certs – it is small enough to only purchase four new weapons – but it occurred to me that I still have a bit over 50% of the total amount of Certs I have ever had.

Let that last sentence wash over you for a second.

The big question mark, at least on a personal level, is where things go from here. After the 1.5 hour spending spree, I still participated in one of the newfangled Alerts. Let me tell you, it was great fun zipping around in a kitted-out Scythe with a 5-minute timer instead of a 9-minute one. Prior to today, I had been conflicted as to whether my next big purchase was going to unlock a second stick of C4 for the Light Assault (finally allowing me to potentially take out a Sunderer solo) or if I was going to unlock Rank 3 of my Scythe’s hover frame. I had previously waffled so much over the decision that I ended up hitting 1200 Certs a few days ago and purchased a submachine gun for my Infiltrator instead, practically unlocking a brand new play-style for the class.

But… now? Will I feel the same way about Planetside 2 without the progression angle? After all, I lost complete interest in WoW PvP once I had full Honor gear last time around. For now, I think SOE is safe; the core mechanics of shooting people in a wide-open world is great fun.

It is an open question though, how SOE will weather the building rage on the forums and Reddit. Not everyone got 26,000 Certs, and I can imagine what all those Battle Rank 90s are feeling to have my BR 38 ass flying/driving/shooting circles around their more generalist loadouts.

Hyperinflation has come to Auraxis in a major way, and the future is looking quite a bit grimmer than it was just yesterday.

As the PlanetSide Turns…

A few weeks ago, SOE released a new weapon: the pump-action shotgun. New weapons in a F2P game is somewhat expected, with two different SMGs having been released the month before. I am starting to get the impression that a metaphorical corner has been turned with these shotguns though.

The problem? The shotguns offer a one-hit kill (OHK) at ~7 meters and less. A one-bodyhit kill.

It is nothing new that some guns are better at others at various ranges. Bullet damage decreases the farther it travels, and there are wild swings both in terms of Rate of Fire and Bullet Velocity amongst each factions’ arsenals. The difference this time, IMO, is reaction speed. If I see an enemy at the same moment he sees me, the fight comes down to a number of factors. Sometimes pulling the trigger first is the difference, especially when “bullet flinch” (which has thankfully been decreased) can cause your counter-attack to miss its mark. Of course, even if the enemy has a gun advantage over yours, you can still win with either better aim (headshots), luck (headshots), or environmental awareness (ducking behind cover, etc).

With the new pump-action shotguns, this has all changed. The outcome of any encounter is boiled down to a single variable: did the guy with a shotgun miss? If he didn’t, you’re dead. If he did… you’re probably still dead a few moments later. Your gun having a 1.27 second Time-To-Kill is meaningless when the shotgun’s is 0.00 seconds.

If you believe that the short OHK maximum range is a good enough downside, well, I would ask whether you play PlanetSide 2 at all. You see, for however large the “maps” are – and they are extremely huge – all of the infantry action typically takes place within 7 meters anyway. There are medium engagements, sure, but they are either always brief or consist of steady exchanges of fire from cover. The latter is necessary because tanks and jets will murder you in moments if you are spotted on open ground. Ergo, between the need for cover and that all capturable objectives are located in small sheds, a short-ranged weapon is no downside at all; especially not one with such a high payout.

In PlanetSide 2, you are either sniping or in bayonet range.

Honestly, something like this is probably less nefarious than it is inevitable. There are only so many “sidegrades” a design can accommodate before the number of permutations reveal downsides that aren’t downsides at all. Care has to be given to how the game itself plays out most commonly. A 30-second cooldown that increases damage by 10% is not the same as 100% damage cooldown every 5 minutes, no matter what it says on paper. Similarly, a gun with a low rate of fire and a high reload timer is irrelevant in a firefight that ends as soon as it begins.

There undoubtedly would be havoc unleashed should SOE come out and nerf the $7 shotgun, so I am not entirely sure what the solution to this newfound problem can be. Indeed, I have already resolved to purchasing the shotgun myself; not to fight fire with fire, but to eliminate the fire-starter before he can even react to the heat of my flames. The only reason I have hesitated is because, much like the SMG before it, another pump-shotgun variant is slated to be released soon. And it is entirely possible it will be more powerful than the original, which is how it worked out for the Vanu SMG.

Perhaps this new one will hit so hard it kills you again on the respawn. Or shoots explosive shells that damage tanks. Or both. The sky (up to 7 meters) is the limit.

PlanetSided

PlanetSide 2 continues to be a part of my daily gaming routine. It’s a tough game to nail down though, balanced as precariously as it is between FPS and “MMO.” Battlefield 3 is probably the better shooter, and certainly can be paced better, but there are moments in the epic firefights of Ps2 that simply cannot be replicated in any other FPS that I have played.

Flying around in one of the “jets” is how I usually start any play session. Sometimes – more often than I like to admit – I die within a minute of taking off. Since my timer on the jet is 8 minutes long (I spent some Certs to bring it down from 15), I usually try and spawn at some sort of hotspot, hopefully in an already-filled platoon. Sometimes that is enough for the rest of the night. Other times we either win or are pushed back, and it becomes difficult to tell where to go afterwards. If I am more than 5 minutes away from any sort of action, I usually just log off.

I inadvertantly joined an Outfit (aka guild) a few weeks ago during the Double XP weekend. During that time, the coordination resulted in Certs raining from the sky and was pretty awesome. Other times… well. To be quite honest, actual coordinated “fights” in Ps2 are pretty boring. It is like running around in premades in WoW BGs: a lot of time spent rolling over a handful of randoms, while actively avoiding other premades. Capping empty, undefended bases is about the most boring thing you can imagine. At the end of the night, you have “claimed” territory that is fairly irrelevant to your gameplay the next day, barely getting the equivalent of 2-3 kills worth of XP per base. I caught myself thinking “I should have been doing daily quests in WoW instead” the other night.

That’s the macro view. On the micro view, I’m having tons of fun in the actual shooting.

For the longest time, I was stuck in a limbo zone of wanting to buy a new gun, but wanting it to go on sale first. About a week ago I finally buckled down and bought my Engineer (some guns can only be used by certain classes) the Solstice SF, which is basically a slightly-worse default gun… with the possibility of an under-barrel grenade launcher. It cost 700 Station Cash, i.e. $7, or technically $2.33 since all my Station Cash came from a Triple SC day.

I have an extremely hard time justifying purchasing anything in F2P games as I end up second-guessing everything. “Do I really need this gun?” “Remember that one time you threw down money on a F2P/DLC purchase and then quit the game two days later?” “Will I even be playing this game 2-3 weeks from now?” It is kind of a vicious cycle, or perhaps more of a self-filling prophecy – the longer I deny myself fun, the more likely it is that I quit playing. It is not as though I even need to be so miserly with my IRL money, I just derive zero pleasure from spending money on non-deals. It’s why I can have hundreds of dollars in Steam purchases for games I have never played, but waffle for weeks on a cash shop purchase for a game I’ve got 51 hours into and counting. My hesitation is actually even dumber than that, considering the SC was already bought and paid for months ago; why I cannot see the $30 as being a box purchase of Ps2 instead of dollars I can hoard instead is beyond me.

But, yeah. Otherwise, I am having inordinate amounts of fun in the jets, and now sitting on my own engineer’s ammo boxes shooting endless grenades at my foes. Now all SOE has to do is stop releasing patches that drop framerates.

Of Station Cash and Shift Codes

If you were not already aware, SoE is running a Triple Station Cash day this Friday, the 21st of December. The normal exchange rate is basically 500 SC = $5, so this is a pretty outstanding deal… provided you are into SoE games like, I dunno, PlanetSide 2. I already picked up two $15 prepaid cards at Walmart, which comes with a bonus 500 SC on top of the book value of 1500 SC. On Triple Station Cash days, each $15 card gives 6000 SC. With 23 hours already invested in the game, I figure $30 to unlock (nearly) ALL the things is fair play. If I hold out until another weapon promotion (e.g. they bundle 4-6 weapons together at a discount), those dollars stretch even farther.

In other news, if you have been playing Borderlands 2 lately (or stopped and plan on picking it back up), you should know that they dropped a Shift Code on their Twitter feed that awards 5 Golden Keys. Additionally, there is another Shift code as part of their Claptrap video promotion, bringing the total Golden Key haul to 6. If you have Borderlands 2 on PC, I’ll go ahead and save you some clicks:

  • 5 Keys: WT5TB-XC5ZC-CX3T3-BBT3B-B35WB
  • 1 Key: KJ5BT-FBKSK-KXJ3T-3BTJT-FJX5C

I haven’t played Borderlands 2 in a few weeks, but plan on booting it back up when the next DLC rolls around (I have the Season Pass); this amount of free uber-gear was enough to get me to log back in to at least redeem the codes. To be honest, I have been increasingly amazed that Gearbox hasn’t been selling Golden Keys for $1 apiece or whatever, as there was definitely a time period in which I would have bought some. On the other hand, I sort through their Twitter feed on a daily basis on the hunt for Shift Codes, so I guess that comes out as a bigger win for them.