So this past Black Friday, I took advantage of two deals which, at the time, seemed to be no-brainers. First was a $50 Steam gift card being sold by Best Buy for $40. The second was the Logitech G502 gaming mouse being sold for $80… with a $50 Steam gift card thrown in. Pretty sweet, right?
Well… I’m now having a hard time imagining what I’d buy with this.
It’s not that there are no games I want to purchase on Steam, it’s that there aren’t many games I want to purchase from Steam. My Steam Wallet money isn’t going to pay for purchases on GetGamesGo, or GMG, or Amazon, or Square Enix’s own website, or Humble Bundle, or wherever else. When you limit yourself to just the Steam store, I’m finding that the value just isn’t there in many cases. Or at least not to the same degree. And it feels real damn silly to knowingly pay $2 more or whatever for a digital product you could purchase cheaper somewhere else with a similar number of mouse-clicks.
Basically, I am really hoping that this year’s Christmas Steam sales are extraordinarily good, lest I feel dumb for locking up my dollars in Steam’s storefront specifically. Which is a scenario that would have been outrageous even a few years ago.
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.
A friend of mine still hanging onto WoW for dear life wanted me to see this news:
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.
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)?
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.
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…
I have been spoiled by other games’ betas. That is clear to me now.
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.
Alpha is alpha is alpha. But right now, Sir You Are Being Hunted is basically a crouching simulator and not much else.
Someone asked me the other day what I picked up during the Summer Steam sale. So here’s the list:
- Don’t Starve (of course)
- Far Cry 3 + Blood Dragon DLC
- Surgeon Simulator 2013
- On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
- The Swapper
- Civ 5 (upgrade to Gold edition)
- Strike Suit Zero
- Dungeon of Dredmor (DLC)
- Rogue Legacy
- 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…
I take no credit for either the title nor the picture:
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?
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.
(This is followup to my In Defense of Used Games post.)
I believe that eventually we will see the resell of game licenses. Given how our present trajectory is clearly in favor of restrictive limited licenses, games-as-services, and exclusive accounts everywhere, from whence does this optimism spring? Basically, it springs from what I imagine to be an inevitable reconciliation between what is legal and what consumers see as reasonable and/or how they play games in the real world.
I am going to divide this model into roughly two parts: the Practical and the Legal.
The Practical Disconnect
There is an incredible disconnect between what companies write in their ToS/EULAs and how people actually use the products in question. In fact, even the question of what amounts to game piracy is not as clear-cut as you might think. If you download the Tomb Raider reboot off of Pirate Bay, that is clearly piracy, sure. But suppose you let your little brother play the copy that you legally purchased. Is that piracy? Instead of it being a family member, suppose you let a friend come over and play it. Is that (still) piracy? What if you let a complete stranger play your copy of the game?
Now suppose this copy of Tomb Raider in question was purchased on Steam. Does that change anything at the family/friend/stranger level? It does:
“When you complete Steam’s registration process, you create a Steam account (“Account”). Your Account may also include billing information you provide to Valve for the purchase of Subscriptions. You are solely responsible for all activity on your Account and for the security of your computer system. You may not reveal, share or otherwise allow others to use your password or Account. You agree that you are personally responsible for the use of your password and Account and for all of the communication and activity on Steam that results from use of your login name and password. You may not sell or charge others for the right to use your Account, or otherwise transfer your Account, nor may you sell, charge others for the right to use, or transfer any Subscriptions other than if and as expressly permitted by this Agreement (including any Subscription Terms or Rules of Use).”
In our all-digital future, everything is tied to accounts. Ostensively, account-sharing is a bannable offense. In fact, if Valve suspects you shared or sold a given Steam account, it will ban all accounts in your possession, even if nothing untoward was happening in the others. And yet the problem with account-sharing is that it shouldn’t actually be any company’s business who is sitting in the chair, behind the keyboard/controller. I mean, it is technically their business – because they say it is – but it shouldn’t be.
I am not playing WoW right now, despite having multiple level-capped characters and a large sum of gold doing no good to anyone. If I resubscribed and started playing again, Blizzard would be happy. If I resubscribed and let a friend play my character, Blizzard would still be happy… up until the moment they realized what I was doing. But provided we did not alternate log-ins from multiple IP addresses or whatever, there is really no way for Blizzard to tell the difference between us. And yet that is “illegal.” Why? Because presumably the threat of account closure is supposed to induce the friend to purchase their own account/expansions/etc and work their way from scratch.
If letting friends and family members play your games does not count as piracy, neither should letting them log onto your account(s). Indeed, the only way the company would be able to ascertain a difference between users is with intrusive biometric privacy measures like… an always-on IR camera powerful enough to measure your heart rate via body heat to ensure only the True Owner ™ utilizes the account. Otherwise, these measures simply fail unless you attempt to log in from two places simultaneously. These companies are writing rules and contractual terms they have no means of enforcing outside the most heinous of nightmare scenarios. Or, I guess the Honor System.
Perhaps you do believe that your little brother playing your copy of Tomb Raider counts as piracy. In which case I have two questions: 1) why haven’t you turned yourself in, and 2) how far does that really go? Is it piracy for him to watch you play? Or is the crime committed only when he touches the controller? What if it is a strategy game in which he tells you what moves to make, and you simply act as his inputs? Still probably worth a $150,000 fine, wouldn’t you agree?
If companies could go this far, they would. That is the copyright endgame: the limitation of the experience to a single, paying mind. Thankfully, they lack the ability to dictate what happens in the privacy of our homes. Except, you know, for all the times that they can.
The Legal Aspect
“Notably, the ReDigi case turned in large part on the same phrase at issue in Kirtsaeng—whether the copies at issue were “lawfully made” under [the Copyright Act]. In ReDigi, the court held they were not. “The first sale doctrine does not protect ReDigi’s distribution of Capitol’s copyrighted works,” Sullivan held, because the files at issue are “unlawful reproductions” and therefore not “lawfully made.” And, also like Kirtsaeng, the court said the proper venue to decide the core issue—whether buyers of digital products can resell them—is Congress.
“ReDigi effectively requests that the Court amend the [the Copyright Act] to achieve ReDigi’s broader policy goals—goals that happen to advance ReDigi’s economic interests,” Sullivan observed, adding that “amendment of the Copyright Act in line with ReDigi’s proposal is a legislative prerogative that courts are unauthorized and ill-suited to attempt.”
The hinge of the case was that even though ReDigi’s process involved removing the music file from the original computer, technically ReDigi was still “creating” a copy on their own servers by virtue of the transfer process. That was the entire hang-up, or more accurately, the technicality. Even Google tried to get involved in the case by coming to the defense of ReDigi, arguing a judgment against ReDigi “would put the entire cloud computing industry, worth an estimated 41 billion dollars, at risk.”
Incidentally, as pointed out in the concluding paragraphs of the same article:
To make his point, Sullivan stressed that the first sale doctrine does still protect the ability to resell digital music—you can still sell your “computer hard disk, iPod, or other memory device” onto which the file was originally downloaded, he wrote. While conceding that practice might prove to be “onerous,” he suggested there may also be reasons why such “physical limitations” are desirable. “It is left to Congress, and not this Court,” he concluded “to deem them outmoded.”
In other words, you can resell your digital music, as long as you originally downloaded them onto, I dunno, say a $6 MicroSD card. Or a $2-$5 USB stick (which are 1gb in size… Jesus, time flies). Preferably we could cut the bullshit and just print the CD/DVDs ourselves, but I imagine there is no direct-to-CD argument that can be made, else they would have made it.
The salient point here is that the current system is, at best, untenable. As more and more aspects of our lives migrate more fully into the digital realm, Congress will revisit this subject again. Honestly, they really should not have to – it would be better for everyone involved if companies came to this voluntarily. Hell, I have been shitting on the Xbox One pretty often, but Microsoft is apparently putting in a “used digital game” framework, in some murky form or another. It would be the height of irony if Microsoft ended up starting a revolution in the same way that Steam made digital games mainstream. Both Apple and Amazon have patented second-hand digital marketplaces, by the way, but have yet to actually do anything with them.
Some people get the impression that I am anti-IP, or that I am antagonistic to copyright. That is not really the case, although I do believe “life of author + 70 years” is absurd welfare for corporate rent-seekers rather than to the actual benefit of society, e.g. the entire original purpose of copyright. I mean, are there really artists out there that would look at something like Life + 5 years and go “fuck it, I’m not going to bother”? Give me a break.
Anyway, what I desire is for the designers to partner with consumers, for all of us to cooperate for the common good. I don’t like GameStop any more than game designers do – they really are just parasitic middleman – but only one of those two parties actually make efforts to improve consumer surplus, even if it’s just by accident. And if there was any enduring message that came out of the wild internet heyday, it is that you Can’t Stop the Signal. Revenue models are going to have to change, whether you like it or not. If game designers want a piece of the the new paradigm, they have every opportunity to get aboard the train.