The Epic Game Store has poached another high profile new release from Steam: The Outer Worlds.
As with Metro: Exodus, this is a timed exclusive meant to expire after 1 year. Unlike Metro though, Outer Worlds is also slated to be released on the Windows Store as normal. So if you really wanted to play it Day 1 without using the Epic Store, you can. Of course, that means… you have to use the Windows Store, which comes with its own issues.
The backlash from the continued poaching of games is pretty widespread on Reddit (and Youtube comments, etc) although there is also a tremendous amount of counter-backlash. Most of the counter-arguments seems to boil down to “why so serious?” Which should not be unexpected from /r/SubredditDrama or /r/GamingCircleJerk users, of course. Nevertheless, it is question worth asking.
But before I get to answering it, let’s review why Epic is doing this in the first place:
When asked for his take on these reactions, Sweeney reiterated the aim of the Epic Games Store is, “breaking the 70/30 stranglehold that’s pervaded the industry for more than a decade,” and that its methods in doing so were never going to please everyone.
“Changing the way that games are sold is a big disruption to everybody,” he says. “I understand that — I’ve personally unsubscribed from Netflix twice as their selections of movies changed. But this is a necessary step forward for the games industry if we want to enable developers to invest in building better games, and if we want the savings to ultimately be passed on to gamers in the form of better prices.
Ah, it’s all pure altruism for the good of all gamers.
On Sweeny’s Twitter though, he admits:
UbiSoft agreed to a co-exclusive on UPlay and the Epic Games store. Epic Games seeks exclusive games in order to have a unique lineup of games so there’s another reason for gamers to come to our store.
In fact, here are the brass tacks:
That’s one of the biggest complaints about the Epic Games Store: it lacks features. Indeed, it didn’t even have a search tool until recently. But Sweeney points out that there’s no use taking on a “dominant storefront” (ie, Steam) unless the exclusives, prices and developer relationships are there.
“It’s nearly perfect for consumers already… There is no hope of displacing a dominant storefront solely by adding marginally more store features or a marginally better install experience,” he said. “These battles will be won on the basis of game supply, consumer prices, and developer revenue sharing.”
It may seem like a “duh” moment, but I just wanted to reiterate the fact the Epic CEO admits there is no other way to compete with Steam on the merits. That the Steam store is “nearly perfect for consumers already.” And thus, the only way that the Epic store can hope to compete is by restricting the game supply via exclusivity agreements.
Which is a bit of a weird way to foster “competition,” don’t you think?
If you want to know why I consider Epic’s shenanigans as anti-consumer, timed exclusives is it. Competition between storefronts means I have the choice to purchase it from Steam or from Epic or whomever. For some reason, Sweeney feels like competing on price or developer revenue sharing isn’t enough. Possibly because Epic has a shitty store lacking in basic functionality. Forcing people to use said store if they want to play X game isn’t doing consumers any favors, even if it’s hypothetically “for our own good” years from now.
I get it. Disruption is required to break into mature markets. But typically – or at least ideally – the disruption comes out in favor of the consumer right away. Uber and AirBNB and Netflix and all the rest broke monopolies by offering not just lower prices, but superior service/opportunities in most cases. Uber didn’t just swing big-dick Fortnite money around and buy up all the cabs around the airport and tell people that the next five years are going to be super exciting for cab drivers.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2) has a terrible crafting system.
At first, I felt like this was okay. Crafting in the original game was often a bit overpowered, such that most of the time you were better off crafting upgrades than you were trying to loot them. This was a problem in Skyrim too, which I talked about back in 2012:
Short of the sandbox-esque nuclear option of destroying gear and/or permanent durability loss, I do not see a worthy payout for the costs of strong player crafting. I just completed a long questline to reconstruct a 1,000+ year old amulet whose power started a war and led to it being split into three parts and sealed away; the names of amulet keepers were to be forgotten under the pain of death. After finally reforging it, I held it in my hands and… oh, +30 to Health/Mana/Stamina? I created an amulet with +67 to Health and +40% extra Bow damage nearly 50 hours ago.
I am not sure any game has gotten the craft vs loot tension correct. If the best items come from looting, players are incentivized to kill things for loot and ignore crafting. If the best items are crafted, players craft them and don’t care about killing stuff. Sometimes you can make hard enemies drop exclusive crafting material instead of loot, but that’s just loot with extra steps.
The problem is when game designers decide to have a weak crafting system, then seed their game with thousands of random pieces of debris. There is shit everywhere in DOS2: flowers, mushrooms, plates, cups, parchment, individual keys that exist forever for some reason, nails, hammers, and so on and so forth. Well over 90% of it is completely useless, despite it being integral to some crafting recipe or another. The existence of these items and your ability to interact with them is an invitation to their collection. Which, ultimately, just serves to pad game time and make inventory management a chore. It’s all a designer trap, outside maybe 2-3 arrow/scroll recipes.
So why not just get rid of crafting, if it’s going to be nigh-useless? Well… what are they going to do with all these cups and silverware so meticulously seeded on every table? Seems as though if you want interactable widgets, you need a crafting system of some kind to justify it. We’re well past the Metal Gear Solid 2 days when breaking single wine bottles or watching ice melt was an innovation.
Just because it’s an RPG doesn’t mean you have to be able to pick up all the things. But you damn well better have a useful reason to pick stuff up, if you allow it. Which makes crafting required.
No matter the dire economic news surrounding Activision Blizzard, one thing always keeps me grounded: when there’s a WoW “sale.” Then it’s made clear they aren’t hurting enough.
Stock price of ATVI was $83.19 in September 2018, and it closed $42.92 Monday. That’s damn near half the value in six months.
Now, obviously, cutting prices for (apparently) extremely lucrative services will cut into profits, but it nevertheless boggles my mind that twenty-one dollars ($21) is the sale price of this sort of thing. Or that moving servers – which is a cell on a data table somewhere – costs seventeen fifty ($17.50) on a discount. Especially when you can buy an entirely new copy of same goddamn game for $40. And that comes with all the expansions, 30-days of game time, and a level 110-character boost.
Blizzard has gotten a bit clever over the years though, as it says “new account required.” It used to be that you could buy another box and basically merge them under one account, thus netting you a level 110 boost token for the sale price of a box instead of the $60 or whatever nonsense they sell it for in-game. Maybe it still works that way? Regardless, the process is obfuscated enough to likely dissuade most from realizing it.
As for me, it’s a bit of a moot point. Even if the BfA expansion was any good at all – it isn’t – I have less than zero desire to head back to WoW at the moment. Seeing the naked hubris of “sales” like this though, only reinforces my resolve to stay away from a game in which people are so invested that these prices “make sense.”
I have not had much time for gaming for the past week or so, much to my dismay, and the next few weeks aren’t looking either. And by “time for gaming” I mean uninterrupted time specifically. This uncertainty has changed my usual gaming M.O.
For example, I now float between a number of titles. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a meaty title that I prefer to digest over time. It’s entirely possible to play it for 20 minutes or whatever, but you often lose the narrative in the process – it becomes much easier to start treating it as just another dungeon crawler than some kind of grand RPG.
Other times I will boot up ARK and collect resources until (in-game) nightfall and then get bored.
I have been actively trying not to play Oxygen Not Included, because while it is still engaging as hell, my base is hopelessly riddled with the equivalent of spaghetti code, and I get caught in priority loops that paralyze my planning. “I really need to get some plastic up and running. But that requires converting crude oil to petroleum. Maybe I could use that Iron Volcano to boil it? That means I need to prep the area to handle the 2000+ degree heat. Definitely need to solve the Polluted Water situation first though. Oh, and some Heavi-Watt Wire…”
This is not, strictly speaking, a very satisfying scenario. Each day, I am playing the game that I want to play in that moment and having fun. But it’s a shallow sort of fun. These sessions do not engage my mind, keeping me thinking at work about what I’m going to do when I get home. I very much prefer games that consume my life and take up residence in my mindspace. I need games that I look forward to playing, to the exclusion of all others.
And I have those games, technically. Just not the means (e.g. time) to satisfyingly play them.
Pebbles are small, but if one finds its way into your shoe and you can’t get it out, it can be enough to ruin your day. Or in this case, your gaming experience.
I started playing Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2) recently, and it’s been fun thus far. There are a lot of interesting new design directions this time around, and I might talk about them in a different post. In this post though, we need to talk about a pebble: inventory management.
…actually, that might not be the root of the issue. This pebble has layers.
DOS2 and the series in general makes a big deal about the autonomy and uniqueness of each character. Characters have origin stories, personal quests, unique special abilities, and their own dialog options. Talk with one distraught woman as Ifan and she shouts “stay away from me you disgusting pig!” Talk with the same woman as Sebille, and you’ll hear her story. It’s immersive… to a point. It’s also awkward, considering you are a player controlling four unique beings, one of which is supposed to be the “main” character.
The awkwardness extends out into the game proper too. Some of the “Civil Abilities” you can put points into are Persuasion and Bartering. The former will let you overcome conversation checks, while also improving your discount with a vendor; the latter improves just the latter. That’s fine, right? It’s typical for CRPGs to essentially encourage specialization, such as you have someone really good at disarming traps, someone running interference for your wizards, and so on.
The problem is when the “main” character isn’t the one with the Persuasion skills. I had been playing for about 5 hours and wanted to offload some goods at a local vendor, only to realize that the person with the biggest discount wasn’t carrying any of the merchandise. And there was zero way to move items around except one at a time. That’s the pebble. There’s a “workaround” where you stash everything inside a backpack that you can then pass around, but that still involves manually moving one item at a time into the backpack. Why isn’t there a “move all items” option?
My characters are like level 3, and the difference between the “main” character I had been controlling and scooping up all the loot with and the guy with the highest discount is 2%. No big deal, yeah? Also, there is apparently a magic mirror in Act 2 or whatever that allows you to freely respec all your characters any number of times, so I’ll be able to solve this Persuasion situation to make my “main” character also be the primary seller.
Like I said, it’s a pebble, not some bottomless chasm.
…at the same time, this little pebble is drawing my attention to the fact I’m walking on a trail full of them. With sandals. I made Ifan a Summoner, who is apparently going to need to be the most Persuasive out of the bunch if I want to be using him to click on treasure chests and dead bodies. Or I could keep the Red Prince as the sell-bot since he’s already the best at it, but that would mean I’ll need to be using him to pick up stuff and talk to people. That would mean I’ll miss out on Ifan’s dialog options though, so I’ll need Ifan to be the sell-bot. But he’s a Summoner, not a warrior, so my carrying capacity is lower. I guess I could move crafting material around to compensate…
By the way, there’s another Civil Ability called Lucky Charm that gives you a chance of finding special loot in every container you check. Originally, this proc’d only if the character who had the skill checked the container. It’s since been patched to be party-wide, which is nice. Because that is otherwise insane. Which is what is kinda feels like for the rest of these abilities.
All of the above because I noticed a 2% discount between characters. But try walking for 80+ hours with a pebble in your shoe and tell me it doesn’t become a big deal over time. And make you question why you can’t just take off your shoe for a second and get it the hell out.
Sometimes gaming progress does not happen smoothly. Instead of one thing immediately leading into another, there is a sort of gap that must be leapt across. While not insurmountable, this break in progress can become a source of resistance to continuing to play a game at all.
I am playing Oxygen Not Included (ONI) again. As I have described before, the game is deceptively easy at the start, but there are disasters looming in every detail. Some things are obvious, like your Dupes running out of Oxygen. Other things are much less so, like the fact that your Dupes just dug out a section of rock – which you told them to do – and then placed the 40°C (!!) rock in a storage container in the middle of your base, and now everything is heating up. Oops.
For the most part, it is generally easier to start a new game with a new map than it is to try and fix a disaster in progress. Plus, it’s fun seeing what goodies the RNG fairies might deliver to you. Cold biome nearby? Natural Gas Geyser ready to be tapped? Awesome.
Nevertheless, there is a specific transition gap that I inevitably reach and often quit playing rather than make the jump. In ONI, that gap is the Electrolyzer. This is a device that turns water into Oxygen and Hydrogen, and is pretty much the solution for breathable air for the rest of any ONI run.
It’s also a pain in the ass.
Up to this point, you make air by burning Algae, and it’s relatively straight-forward. With the Electrolyzer, you have to worry about piping the Hydrogen somewhere else, as otherwise it will clog the ceiling of whatever room you are in.
In ONI-land, there is the mythical SPOM, or Self-Powering Oxygen Module. This is a solved solution for creating an effectively infinite air source with no maintenance or upkeep aside from water; a Hydrogen Power station powers the Electrolyzer, which supplies the station with fuel.
Despite there being a ready-made solution to the problem, or perhaps in spite of this fact, I typically end my ONI runs here. The SPOM is not particularly intuitive, so I basically need to copy it part-by-part from a Youtube guide. Even if I don’t create the SPOM specifically, the Electrolyzer still necessitates your base to account for mixed gases. Ignore the problem long enough, and it’ll be even more a pain in the ass later.
Finally, even with a cut-and-paste SPOM, you still need a ton of water at the ready to feed the beast. Where will all that water come from? Typically, the only long-term solution is to find a Steam Geyser somewhere on the map, but that could take a while, and possibly be nowhere close to you. If you set up a functioning plumbing system, you can technically harvest some additional H20 via that route. Of course, that will also require extensive planning of your base, and how you’ll be handling the hot water that comes out of a Water Sieve.
Good times. Or, maybe not so much.
I have bridged the the Electrolyzer gap before. It’s not an insurmountable problem, especially considering the ubiquitous of the SPOM design in guides. It just takes a lot of mental headspace at a very specific moment in an hitherto casual colony management sim. Or rather, it is at this moment that Oxygen Not Included reveals itself to be a more complicated beast than you have imagined.
Many games have these transition gaps. The best designed among them either shorten the gap, or get you in the habit of hopping long before you reach the gap that matters. Otherwise, the devs risk players landing on their face. Or perhaps worse: practicing to make the leap, doing so, and then being bored on the other side.
I have always had mixed feelings when it comes to Early Access games, but not always for the same reasons as everyone else. For example, one of the biggest dangers is getting hooked on a game that just never gets completed. Money dries up, development stops, you never get any sort of conclusion. I’ve never been too worried about that – either the game was fun when you played it, or it wasn’t.
No, my biggest concern is when the game gets better or more balanced… but I’m already done.
Oxygen Not Included (ONI) is a colony-management game from Klei that I started playing last year and it has gotten significant updates on the regular. Some new buildings, some new creatures, a sort of end-goal to strive for, and so on. Other things have not changed over the year, and it’s questionable whether they ever will. And that bothers me because some of the things that haven’t changed are broken mechanics.
One of the mid-to-late game threats in ONI is heat. In the beginning, you’re worried about Oxygen (hence the name), so you burn algae for air. Then you run out of algae. Switching to an Electrolyser allows you to turn water into Oxygen + Hydrogen, so you focus on getting clean water to burn, while finding a use for all the unbreathable Hydrogen (generally via Hydrogen Generator to power to the Electrolyser). This is another trap though, because the “free” Oxygen getting piped out is hot, and as your base heats up, your crops will fail. Thus, cooling things becomes a top priority.
While there are a number of “legit” ways to cool things down, the Water Sieve method is straight-up broken. Water Sieves are used to turn Polluted Water into normal Water, for use in bathrooms and such. The supposed downside of this is that the Sieve itself outputs relatively hot water at 40°C, which will gradually heat up your base and ruin your crops (which typically stop growing at 30-35°C). The real issue though is that the Water Sieve always outputs 40°C water… even if the Polluted Water was at a much higher temperature. Thus you get physics-bending/game-breaking (IMO) solutions like piping your clean water out of a Water Sieve and into an Aquatuner (which cools liquid down at the expense of heating itself up)… which is being liquid-cooled in a tank of Polluted Water… that you are piping to the Water Sieve.
Clever use of game mechanics, indeed.
Along the same lines, I have a 100% zombie-proof base in 7 Days to Die. It’s a tower with a nearby ramp and fence, along with a half-block on the other side of the fence. To the zombie AI, this half-block would allow them to jump again and land on the tower and start eating my face. In reality, once they hop over the fence, they miss the half-block, and plummet to the ground, taking damage. From there, they run back up the ramp and try again until they die again. I still try and kill them myself for the XP, but I have all the time in the world to line up the shots or try again if I miss. The devs have added a “tantrum” mechanic whenever a zombie tries to run a path and fails, but that just means the zombie will wail on a bunch of iron spikes.
There are two “easy” solutions to my “problems”:
- Don’t use these mechanics, and/or
- Don’t play these games yet
To which I would say:
- Handicapping myself via willpower alone isn’t fun, and
- These are precisely the type of games I want to be playing at the moment
If you have a list of non-Early Access survival/crafting games that I haven’t already played, by all means, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to be over here stuffing my face with delicious cheese, and paying for it later.
I really wish game developers would just let us eat the damn marshmallows already.
If you have never heard of the test before:
The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (Wiki)
I have been playing Prey lately, and noticed it does something similar. Over the course of gameplay, you accumulate a number of Neuromods, which are essentially skill points. At the beginning, you can only assign these points in “traditional” skills, such as hacking, increased weapon damage, more inventory space, and so on. A few more hours of gameplay later, you will be able to invest points in “alien” skills, like Kinetic Blast, short-term mind control, flame traps, etc. The game warns you though, that if you start gaining alien skills, the security system (e.g. turrets) in the space station will start registering you as an alien. It might also affect which ending you receive, although I have resisted looking at spoilers for that.
That is basically the marshmallow test. You can either be rewarded with fun new toys now… or you can abstain and be “rewarded” with a better ending later.
Prey is nowhere near the worst offender here. I have also been playing through the DLC of Dishonored off and on, and it’s a thousand times worse. In Dishonored, killing people (instead of knocking them out) increases the “chaos” of the city, which not only leads to a bad ending, it also makes the game harder by spawning swarms of rats that attack you on sight (and are immune to typical assassination skills). Which would be somewhat fine, if it were not for the fact that damn near 95% of the abilities and skills you unlock through gameplay revolve around killing people.
Life is full of delayed gratification. Most of us spend ~40 hours a week doing something we’d prefer not doing, in order to receive money weeks from now to finance the things we actually do want to do. Delaying our already-delayed gratification is some Inception-style nonsense.
Now, I do not necessarily have an issue with the best endings being difficult to achieve, or the existence of Achievements, or even just choice in general. What I have an issue with is a game that gives you a carrot and then beats you with a stick for eating it. The original Deus Ex made you choose between invisibility to humans and invisibility to robots. That’s a good choice! Note how the designers didn’t give you access to invisibility and then tell you there would be dire consequences to using it. That would be dumb.
Do not make your players choose between Fun and No Fun. Because some of them are dumb enough to choose No Fun, even when they hate marshmallows. Save us from ourselves.