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It’s 25% Off!

A friend of mine still hanging onto WoW for dear life wanted me to see this news:

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

In other words, character transfers are 25% off for a limited time. Not quite the 50% discount Blizzard was offering back in June of last year, but hey, why would they? They got back 600,000 subscriptions in Q3. Can’t possibly stymie that value-added cash flow equivalent to any number of quality Steam games/bundles/etc.

I kinda get the argument that the value is there for players still invested in playing WoW; even at $18.75 there are only a few Steam games that could stand up to ~100 hours of play that WoW could easily generate in a month. On the other hand, my subscription ended 5/10/13. I am nearly a year and a half removed. And even if I came back tomorrow, all my toons are still stuck on no-Pop Auchindoun-US whatever merged PvP server nonsense exists with just about everyone else I know having abandoned ship to a PvE server. So the costs for me to get back into the game is, minimum, $15 + $18.75 + the expansion. That is a rather serious goddamn commitment for something I don’t even know I will find fun anymore.

So, no thanks, Blizzard: it’s still a wee bit ridiculous. If I could transfer my entire character stable wholesale for that price, sure, maybe. I simply got too much gold, too many alts, and not enough fucks to give.

BM Steam?

So what are the odds that Steam is selling RPG Maker VXA for $17.50 (75% off) the same day that RPG Maker VXA is a part of the Weekly Humble Bundle (i.e. buy it for $1)?

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

I mean, it can’t be all just some amazing coincidence, right? And I would imagine that the Humble Bundles are, err, less nimble than Steam sales. Then again, maybe this is actually Good Guy Steam for letting us use RPG Maker VXA for free before deciding if one American dollar is worth the risk. Tough call.

On a related note, I was all set to plunk down some monies on the bundle before I realized that I already owned RPG Maker VXA. I’m not sure how, when, or why, but I do. Back in the day, I used a similar program on the PlayStation to start up what would inevitably be The One game that broke me into the industry. But after spending literally 15 hours coding item stats via controller (Stone Sword –> Iron Sword –> Steel Sword –> etc) I decided that my dreams were dumb.

I still have a lot of ideas, but they are tempered in the reality of getting other people to do them.

The Turkey Haul

I had half a mind to forgo any videogame purchases this Black Cyber Fronday, because sometimes a 50+ game backlog just becomes ridiculous to consider adding to. (Un)Fortunately, the half of my mind that controlled the credit card was the other one. I picked up:

  • Battlefield 4 Digital Deluxe version ($26)
  • The Last of Us ($30)
  • 12-month PlayStation Plus subscription ($30)

It could have been worse, of course. I did exercise restraint in not picking up Shadowrun Returns and State of Decay; not because they might not be worth it, but because I have no particular reason to have them right now. Perhaps after, I dunno, I get around to finishing The Witcher 2. And Crysis. And the half-dozen indie games I started but not finished. And…

Alpha Impression: Sir, You Are Being Hunted

I have been spoiled by other games’ betas. That is clear to me now.

This part is okay.

This part is okay.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game I mentioned being excited about back in May, then promptly forgot about. Recently, it was up on Steam Early Access at a discounted rate, and I decided to take the plunge. A few hours of gameplay later, and I feel thoroughly soaked.

The problem I have with the game is that it is basically a sandbox without any sand. When you start playing, you are introduced to the core gameplay – find pieces of the Device, plug them into Standing Stone – given some binoculars and food, and sent on your way. As a veteran of Don’t Starve, this opening felt perfectly fine. What became readily apparent however, is that the game utterly lacks interactivity in its present state. Alpha is alpha is alpha, yes. But when I rummage through three entire villages and am armed with 3 alarm clocks, one bear trap, and two empty bottles against robots with shotgun sniper rifles, things feel lame.

Now, of course, the name of the game is to be, well, hunted. But the present AI behavior reminds me of the delicate, high-wire act that all stealth games must perform. If you have enemies patrol in a set pattern, it turns stealth gameplay into a sort puzzle game with logical, measured moves. It might feel less “realistic” to have the guard always look to the left for three seconds when he walks to the balcony, but as a game mechanic it is grokkable and feels “right.” Alternatively, you could have enemies who basically follow no pattern whatsoever, looking randomly in any direction at any time. More realistic? Sure. More frustrating? Absolutely.

Right now, Sir basically has the worst of all possible stealth worlds. The world is procedurally-generated and I’m not really certain one of the procedures is to place the Device pieces near cover. I basically spent the last 40 minutes trying, futilely, to grab a Device piece in the middle of a field where two robots were “patrolling.” And by “patrolling,” I mean they walked in random, jerking movements in a 3-meter radius around said Device. Tenchu, Dishonored, and Deus Ex this ain’t; the only possible solution is dropping an alarm clock, crab-walking as far away from it as possible, and grabbing the Device and running.

Of course, the robots run as fast as you do, are armed with shotgun sniper rifles as mentioned previously, and the only way to lose them is to be crouched in foliage. Which they immediately begin to search, because that’s the name of the game. But considering how you can’t really sneak through the foliage at any appreciable speed, they will find you immediately and GG.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

Alpha is alpha is alpha. But right now, Sir You Are Being Hunted is basically a crouching simulator and not much else.

Steam Haul: Summer 2013

Someone asked me the other day what I picked up during the Summer Steam sale. So here’s the list:

  • Antichamber
  • Don’t Starve (of course)
  • Far Cry 3 + Blood Dragon DLC
  • Surgeon Simulator 2013
  • Fez
  • On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
  • The Swapper
  • Gunpoint
  • Monaco
  • Civ 5 (upgrade to Gold edition)
  • Strike Suit Zero
  • Dungeon of Dredmor (DLC)
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Closure
  • Just Cause (hey, it was $0.27)
  • Sanctum 2

Altogether, that came to around $133.24. Is that a lot? Probably. Then again, that’s about the same price as Far Cry 3 and Civ 5 bought on Day 1. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

That, and Press™. In fact, couldn’t these just be considered business expenses? Hmm…

Xbox One Eighty

I take no credit for either the title nor the picture:

Sort of like SimCity's "cloud computing."

Sort of like SimCity’s “cloud computing.”

If you had not already felt the Earth’s sudden wobble from the magnitude of Microsoft’s about-face, allow me the pleasure of informing you: the Xbox One no longer has its ridiculous DRM. Namely:

  • No internet connection is required to play games.
  • No 24-hour online check-in.
  • You can buy/sell/gift/rent/lend game discs just like on the 360.
  • You can purchase digital versions of games on Day 1 and play offline (once downloaded).

One of the “casualties” of this Lance Armstrong-level backpedaling is that you can’t have that whole “10-person family sharing” plan or the ability to “take your games anywhere by logging in.” Often lost amongst the Apologist tears though was the simple fact that logging on from a friend’s Xbox One basically meant you would have had to wait for a 10+ GB download before playing anyway. And what were the odds that more than one member of the family could play the same game at the same time? In other words, you are not any worse off than the present system of just taking the disc with you.

Plus, you know, used games.

On a semi-related bit of interesting news, apparently Valve snuck some interesting code into the Steam software: shared libraries, e.g. lending digital games. Obviously nothing is formally implemented yet, but the premise seems to be that once you lend a game to a friend, they can play it until you log on to play it yourself (which then bumps them off). Which is… pretty remarkably clever if you think about it. Valve could just as easily went the other way, where you couldn’t play until your friend “gave it back,” which would probably discourage people from using the feature at all. Assuming there is no transaction fee or anything, I would feel comfortable giving one or two of my Steam buddies access to everything.

Regardless of which way the shared library plays out – if it plays out at all – today was a huge win for consumers everywhere. I am not quite ready to declare victory yet, but the future sure is looking considerably brighter than it was, oh, two weeks ago, eh?

WoW Finally Has Server/Faction Sale

In a move that I have been suggesting literally forever, Blizzard is slashing all character services by 50%… for one week.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

The prices break down as follows:

  • Server Transfer = $12.50
  • Faction Transfer = $15.00
  • Server + Faction Transfer = $27.50
  • Name/Appearance Change = $7.50
  • Race Change = $12.50

If there is not a clearer sign that Blizzard believes WoW still exists as luxury entertainment on a level all to its own, I don’t know what it is. Well, you know, beyond the fact that as absurd as these prices appear to be, given the proper distance from the game, they are normally 50% higher.

I mean… Christ. Is this the same MMO that lost 1.3 million subscribers last quarter? That’s a rhetorical question because of course it is. Otherwise Blizzard would have no cause to not still charge people $25/$55 to move off dead realms Blizzard kills with extreme negligence.

In other news, I just bought EVE Online for $4.98 on Steam. You know, for a rainy day.

In Defense of Used Games

I have talked about used games before. I am going to talk about them again, as a rebuttal against this video from Total Biscuit regarding how he justifies his belief that used games are bad.

Before I start, there is one fundamental truth that needs to be acknowledged: a used game sale is a new game sale at a lower price-point. No one is seeking out used games because they are used, they are sought because they are less expensive. Incidentally, this same principal applies if someone is able to re-sell a game they bought, as the ability to recoup part of the cost means the original purchase becomes less expensive.

Without further ado, let me examine each of TB’s arguments against used games:

1) Used Game Sales support shady/pushy retailers

Or, the GAME (in UK) and GameStop Are Bad argument.

It is absolutely true that retailers who specialize in used game sales push used games sales over new ones; the original sale is a recouping of an investment for the store, whereas each additional resell is nearly pure profit. I am not interested in defending the practices of GameStop (etc) though, primarily because it is irrelevant and red herring besides. No matter how much you swing the “games as licenses” argument, the fact remains that used game sales are legal in the United States and presumably elsewhere – GAME and GameStop would have been sued into the ground otherwise. The shadiness of any organization does not reflect on the product they provide. You can picket Wal-mart for all sorts of legitimate reasons, but that does not make cheap groceries immoral.

I have gone into a GameStop all of twice in my life, whereas I frequented a mom-and-pop used game shop next to the local theater for the better part of a decade. I went there because their used games were cheaper, and you received more store credit (or cash) than GameStop provided, all in a no-pressure sale environment. Ergo, any argument that uses the removal of used games as a vehicle to attack a retailer you don’t like is simply ridiculous. GameStop’s practices have nothing to do with the “question” of used games, as there are alternative stores which do not behave in similar fashion.

2) Used games do not depreciate

This honestly reminds me of the “you wouldn’t download a car” PSA. Even if we take this claim on face value… so what? Is the argument supposed to be that used game sales would have been fine if the AI started glitching out on its own five years from now?

To be charitable, I am going to assume instead that people are referring to how physical depreciation of goods naturally differentiates two otherwise identical products, potentially justifying the premium on the unused version. In which case, I’d argue that something similar already occurs even in purely digital products.

Videogames are not released in a vacuum – they are always a product of their times. While the actual data bits do not decay, the value and meaning of them in the mind of a player certainly can. There are whole classes of videogames that I literally cannot bring myself to play anymore, because the graphics are too primitive, or the resolution too low, and so on. Innovation in mechanics or design can render older titles feeling stilted or slow, even though nothing in the original game itself has changed. Some games hold up better than others, of course, and many older games are arguably better than new titles. But on a certain base level, videogames do depreciate, if not literally then culturally.

If you do not find this counter-argument particularly compelling, that’s fine, but allow me to make two final observations. First, no one expects a game to remain $59.99 two, three, four years after release. If games do not depreciate in value, why do you think we see the companies themselves reduce the price? Second, how much do you think your unopened City of Heroes or Battlefield 2 box will go for these days?

3) Music and Film industries are less harmed by secondary sales

TB’s point here is a roundabout justification for how videogames are a special case when it comes to secondary sales, despite music and movies also being digital goods without depreciation. Buying used movies is less harmful to studios, he argues, because a particular film can make the bulk of its money in the theater, followed by Pay-Per-View, DVD sales, rentals, and finally syndication on TV networks. Similarly, music artists get the bulk of their profits from concert tickets, in addition to (small) payments from streaming services and finally the default CD sales. In other words, music and movies have multiple revenue streams whereas videogames have just the one.

To which I must ask: whose fault is that?

As a consumer, you are not responsible for a company’s business model. It is perfectly fine to want the developers to be paid for their work, or to wish the company continued success. But presuming some sort of moral imperative on the part of the consumer is not only impossible, it’s also intellectually dishonest. You and I have no control over how a game company is run, how much they pay their staff, what business terms they ink, or how they run their company. Nobody asked EA to spend $300+ million on SWTOR. Nobody told Curt Schilling to run 38 Studios into the ground. Literally nobody wanted THQ to make the tablet that bankrupted the studio.

What is worse though is the implicit moral superiority that is derived for buying “legit.” If game companies and their designers deserve to be paid, and we have some moral obligation to do so, doesn’t that mean they deserve ALL the money? I cannot even begin to imagine the mental gymnastics Total Biscuit had to perform when he denigrated used games and celebrated Steam sales in the same breath. When you buy a game for 75% off, that is you robbing the game company of 75% of the money they deserve. Not even deserve, really, considering by many metrics they are entitled to much, much more than the purchase price given the total amount of enjoyment derived.

That sounds absurd, and it is, but that is my point; you cannot make the moral imperative argument and only go halfway. A company either deserves $59.99 or they don’t. Alternatively, you are not responsible for their business models at all, and are fully justified in maximizing your consumer surplus, e.g. by waiting for sales, buying used, etc. It is noble to wish these designers success, at least when such nobility is followed-up with busting out your checkbook. Otherwise, it is so many empty words.

4) Once used games are removed, games will be cheaper

No, seriously, Total Biscuit actually said this, presumably with a straight face.

Why in god’s name would anyone rationally assume that the removal of competition (in the form of secondary sales) would force or even encourage game prices to decrease? Everyone keeps pointing to Steam with its effects on PC gaming, as if Steam weren’t the exception that proved the rule. Everyone acknowledges that used games on the PC haven’t existed for quite some time, but no one seems to follow-up that thought with what should have been an obvious question to ask: were there big discounts on PC games back before Steam?

Good lord, no! You were at the complete mercy of retailers who almost never marked anything down from MSRP. And why would they? You literally could not buy these games anywhere else. If you found a good deal, it was likely because nobody was buying that game and the store wanted to liquidate their stock. Outside of fire sales, there was/is always going to be resistance from retailers over discounting a game’s price because there is a minimum cost involved with pressing a DVD, shipping it across the country, unloading it in the back, and paying people to sort and shelve it.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I don’t think future console games will be cheaper: there will still be hard copies sold. Do you think retailers would let Microsoft sell Halo 6 for $40 online and $59.99 in stores? Of course, there is a pseudo-analog that exists right now between PC vs digital download games, with things wildly alternating for no apparent reason. For example, it’s somehow $20 cheaper Amazon to ship me DVD of Bioshock Infinite than it is to download a copy of it. Or maybe that does make sense, insofar as what I explained earlier about retailers trying to liquidate stock.

If you legitimately believe Xbox One games are going to be cheaper, let me ask you two things. First, what kind of deals have you seen on XBLA titles? Similar in size, scope, and frequency to Steam sales? Microsoft has already dabbled in digital games for which no secondary sales exist, so their pricing behavior now may reflect any potential behavior in the future. Second, what kind of deals have you seen on Origin in the last, I dunno, two years? There have been a few recently, but very rarely more than 50%, and they are not nearly on a scale as Steam. That is a publisher who has as near a 100% profit margin on every digital sale as possible, and even they are not willing to compete on price with retailers who sell game codes on EA’s own platform!

The point here is that Steam is the exception that proves the rule. I bought Tomb Raider on the PC for $20 a mere three months – three months – after its $49.99 release. Granted, it was via Green Man Gaming, but it activated on Steam. Do you honestly believe that the only difference between our present console MSRP reality and a hypothetical all-digital future is the mere possibility of resell? That companies would be fine with a $30 markdown for a limited time a few months after release? Maybe. Maybe we don’t see similar sales because GameStop (etc) would buy a few pallets of discs at $20/each to sell at $40 after the sale is over. Then again, I could have done that exact same thing via GMG and just sold the activation codes. Actually… that’s not a bad idea…

Simply put, this argument requires a striking amount of faith in game publishers to work. Consumers are being asked to cede an enormous amount of implicit value, not just in resell value, but also in control over how they play these games (tied to accounts, phone home every 24 hours, no borrowing, etc). We are asked to cede these values all in the hopes that companies like Microsoft will not simply keep charging $59.99 out of… well, out of the goodness of their hearts. That is not enough for me. There is certainly every economic incentive to keep things running business-as-usual, after all.

5) Used games cost the companies money in terms of support/servers.

It is true that game companies “must” provide support to even non-paying (i.e. used game) customers in a way that movie and music companies do not. However, there are two things wrong with the argument TB is presenting. First, it sort of assumes that the game was not worth playing for very long in the first place. Total Biscuit’s example was how a company would need to provide support to a gamer for two months, and then a new player who bought the copy from the first guy for another two months, and a third person, and so on. The difference between that scenario and one guy who plays continuously for 6+ months is… what?

Total Biscuit’s second point about non-payers in multiplayer (presumably driving up bandwidth costs or whatever) caused me to facepalm IRL. Maybe he has never heard about why the Free-2-Play model works, or more importantly how it works? Someone playing the latest Call of Duty secondhand is providing content to “legitimate” players in a way that a no-longer-playing gamer by definition is not. I mean, that’s the premise of the argument, right? That the first dude sold his game, and is now an empty seat in a lobby somewhere. You do not even need to have the full F2P development plan set up to appreciate the fact that an extra body is making your multiplayer experience that much more worthwhile when it otherwise could/would have been nobody.

Summation

As I pointed out in the beginning, let me point out again: used game sales are new game sales at a lower price point. Nothing is stopping companies from lowering the prices for their games and otherwise being more competitive with used games. You might think that used game prices would simply adjust to compensate, and maybe they would, but that is an argument against selling at anything less than full MSRP, ever. Which is clearly ridiculous.

In any case, time marches on. Even though I see this forceful transition into all-digital games as a net-negative for gamers (and it is), I am obviously not against digital platforms themselves. I am just a bit miffed that the transition is being accelerated by Microsoft (etc) before the question on the transferability of licenses is fully settled, at least in US law. Believe me, the day will come when we shall be able to buy a Steam game (license) and then sell it to someone else after we are done.

At which point I’m sure the suits will pine for the days when it was at least possible for someone to lose their disc.

Edit: Removed incorrect “et tal” usage. Thanks, Tobold.

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.