It Also Gets Harder

You know, I used to look down on “mobile gamers.” Or rather, they just never figured into my headcanon for what a real gamer was. Your mom playing Candy Crush is not the same as you playing a MMO for a decade on a $1200 PC. Nevermind how both developers are technically under the same corporate umbrella these days.

This past week, I went three days in a row without playing games.

Some of that was due to literally not having the time. My window these days is precisely between 8:30pm and 10:30pm, which is after the baby goes to sleep the first time, and when he wakes up for another bottle right before I should be going to sleep. Two hours seems like a decent chunk of time, but that is also the time I have to burn to get chores done around the house. By the time my ass hits the computer chair, it’s 9:50pm and… what then? What am I meaningfully playing for 40 minutes?

Of course, I am not counting the time spent playing Clash Royale. Or sometimes Hearthstone (Adventures). Those ~12 minute increments add up throughout the day in ways they could not via any other games. But these are not real, substantial narrative experiences.

After a while though, I have to start asking myself if that is what I even want. Maybe not in 40-minute increments, but surely I could make time elsewhere, if it were that important to me? I certainly seem to default back to Reddit browsing and low-effort time-killing readily enough. Almost as though I’m enjoying myself.

Luckily enough, I got through the ennui by the end of that week. But it did get me to thinking about what kind of gaming experience I was looking for.

It Gets Easier

In years past, I always experienced surprise when coming out of a holiday season sans holiday loot. Maybe it is because I’m older, maybe it’s because I have exactly two hours of “free” time each day now (in which I also have to fit chores), or maybe things like Humble Bundle and sales in general have spoiled me, but… it’s easier than ever to let things slide right on by.

My decision point this past Black Cyber Fronday was two-fold: PS4 or Switch. The PS4 had a lot going for it… sorta. There are basically five games I want to play that are PS4 exclusive, and two of them haven’t released yet. Given how the console deals have actually gotten worse over the years, it stood to reason that I could just continue to wait. All the way into March, if necessary.

The Switch is not something I talk much about here, which makes some kind of sense considering I do not own the machine. Nor any Nintendo console since the GameCube and the DS, really. I don’t have anything in particular against Nintendo, I just don’t have friends coming over to play games anymore. I guess Mario Kart and Smash Brothers can still be fun solo, but having the possibility of 2P, 3P, and 4P joining the field is what sets the value over the top. Without that bonus, you have a console that costs the same as it did three years ago and ports of Wii U games that grab headlines when they hit 50% off.

Despite all that, I was very sorely tempted by the Switch Lite when it was going for $163. I don’t have commutes in which I could reliably play it, or really even any opportunity to play at all that would not also allow me to play PC games instead. Still… how else will I ever experience Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

Then a thought occurred to me. “I know some Rent-A-Centers nearby. I wonder what they charge?”

RentACenter1

Holy shit

Technically there is a non-bundle version with just the console for the low, low price of $19.99/week. Which might even be a “deal” compared with old-school Blockbuster prices back in the day. But holy shit, you guys, the fine print says that actually renting to own this bundle is $1,949.35 (65 total payments of $29.99). Meanwhile at GameStop, that bastion of charity, you can resell a PS4 1TB console for $150 store credit as of today. So, conceivably, buy a used one for $190 and even if you turn around and trade it in two weeks later, you’re getting at least as good of a deal.

Or, you know, continue doing nothing but playing the same games you were already playing for $0-$15/month. Sometimes analysis paralysis pays off.

2PS4 or Not2PS4

There’s a $200 PS4 bundle around for Black Friday that comes with:

  • 1TB PS4
  • God of War
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition
  • The Last of Us (Remastered)

As I sat here pondering whether this would be the year I finally buy a PS4, I vaguely recalled having spent time thinking about this very subject previously. Many times previously, in fact.

In 2018, it was $200 for:

  • 1TB PS4
  • Spiderman
  • 20% off PSN coupon

In 2017, it was $200 for:

  • 1TB PS4
  • $50 voucher

It is debatable as to whether the deals have been getting worse. Three games is more than one game, but all three games can be purchased for $10 apiece this week and only one of them is actually physical, e.g. has resale value. Which can’t be all that much, given that it can be bought new for $10.

One might question why this is even a thing for me. Clearly, I have resisted whatever urge I had for a PS4 two years running. It is even to the point that the PS5 is coming out next year, and it will be backwards compatible with PS4 games. So, again, what’s the point?

Well…

FF7Remake

The FF7 Remake is releasing 3/3/20. A PS5 will be coming out 8+ months later at best, and then I’m in the position of purchasing a brand new console at full MSRP to technically play one PS4 game. I mean, I want to play God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn too, but you know what I’m saying. Is a full-price PS5 a year from now somehow better than just buying a $200 console this month and then playing what I want to play as it comes out?

I dunno. Maybe? Technically the PS5 will have better load times (SSD) and will essentially be like a PS4 Pro (but obviously better). At some point, I may as well wait for the PSX, amirite?

In any case, considering I wrote this post instead of pressing Buy, I think this decision has since been made for me – looks sold out everywhere now. Again. But for posterity’s sake, the list of actual (exclusive) PS4 games I would want to play would be:

  • FF7 Remake (future)
  • Last of Us Part 2 (future)
  • God of War
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition
  • The Last Guardian

…and that’s it. Huh. I have a few “free” games on my PS+ account (Nioh, Detroit: Become Human, Heavy Rain), but just listing these sort of puts things in perspective.

7D2D: Alpha 18, Asinine Developer Edition

Let’s play a game. Taking this Perk, would you expect to be able to craft a Wooden Bow?

7D2D_Archery

If you answered No… you’re wrong! You can actually craft a Wooden Bow after taking that Perk. Trouble is, a Wooden Bow requires:

7D2D_WoodBow

That’s right, Bow/Crossbow parts. Can you craft those parts? Nope! You can only find them from looting, purchasing from vendors, and/or dismantling already-constructed bows/crossbows.

My first reaction to this was shock. I have been playing 7D2D for a number of years now, and this was perhaps one of the most unintuitive things ever added to the game. In prior Alphas, you could not just construct guns or compound bows from nothing, which made some sense. But as updates have progressed, the amount of things you can otherwise craft, and their complexity, has increased.

This all might have just been whatever. But when I started searching forums to see if I was missing something, I came across this series of Roland (one of the Fun Pimps) posts pushing back on someone complaining about Bow parts:

Even beginners should know that crafting involves both the knowledge and also a recipe. What craftable item in the game can be made with knowledge only and no recipe? None. There is nothing disingenuous about it. You gain the knowledge and then gather the mats to craft. You cannot craft wood or stone or feathers– you go out and find them. You also cannot craft bow parts– you go out and find them. There is nothing different about this than any other part of the game.

Later on, he says:

[…]Sounds like the frustration comes from not getting an immediate payoff for spending the point. You wanted to spend the point and then make your better bow and you couldn’t because you were missing some recipe items. So what? That should give you purpose. It is like an emergent quest for you and you alone.

Guess what? When you perk into the Workbench you aren’t going to immediately be able to make everything on the list. You’re going to have to go out and gather mats.

This line of reasoning is incredibly asinine. Instead of actually offering up the real reason Bow parts are a thing now, e.g. for balance/time-gate reasons, Roland here is getting all sanctimonious over shit that doesn’t even make sense in the rest of the game. Here is a non-exhaustive list of shit you can craft in this game from basic materials:

  • Gyrocopter
  • 4×4 Truck
  • Radiation Removal mod
  • Laser sight mod
  • Lead Car Batteries
  • etc

Do those require a found schematic or Perk? Yes. Do they require “Gyrocopter Parts” found via RNG? No. The fact that I can make a functioning laser from Scrap Plastic and other debris I can wrench out of a car on Day 1 – nevermind what science-fiction a “Radiation Remover” is attached to a spear – but can’t actually craft a baseball bat without a Perk AND baseball bat parts is ridiculous.

7D2D_Bat

Thought I was joking, did you? “Baseball Bat parts.” Meanwhile…

7D2D_RadRemover

For context, Irradiated Zombies are a class of special zombie you can encounter that otherwise rapidly heals itself. This can make them all but immune to traps, as they out-heal the damage. Adding this mod to a weapon though, disables their healing for like 60 seconds. Just some steel, glue, springs, and “mechanical parts.” Meanwhile, you are physically incapable of crafting a baseball bat without special parts found in the world.

Look, I understand the actual reason for these changes from a game design standpoint. The devs are worried about the game being “solved” before Day 14 as veterans craft all the endgame goodies from the debris around their starting location. Why leave your spider-hole when everything you want is within reach?

The tension of the 7th day Blood Moon comes not just from the zombies themselves, but whether you can find enough materials within the six days to outlast the night. Forcing people to go out and loot buildings lets you treat each house like a mini-dungeon (which they are these days) plus adding the time element to things. Do you spend the morning of the 7th day reinforcing everything, or do you roll the dice and loot one more place?

The issue is when the devs won’t just say that. Is it because that would be too “gamey”? Or do they not actually know themselves? There will be complaints whether the devs are straight-forward or not, but at least telling the truth will save them from embarrassing themselves on the forums and insulting their fans besides.

Niiiiiiice

Is there a better feeling than pondering buying a game, deciding it’s not quite at the right sale price for you, then finding out it’s a front-runner for next month’s Humble Bundle?

HB_Timing

I submit that there is not!

As always, I’m starved for survival/crafting games not already consumed, and My Time at Portia was something that had hitherto not been on the radar. Then it was… but at $30. Seeing as how I missed all the historic low prices of $12-$15 some time in the interminable past, I resigned myself to wait things out further. Then, Humble Bundle. I care nothing for Soul Calibur or (probably) the Yakuza game, but I will snap up a $12 copy of the game I was looking for and possibly 6-7 games I wasn’t.

You know, aside from the exploitative microtransactions and design-destroying loot boxes, I’m enjoying this age of novel payment methods. Between monthly bundles, Epic’s bribes, Twitch’s giveaways, and Microsoft’s increasingly desperate attempts to sell you months of Gamer Pass for $1, I think we’re more saturated with games now than we were during peak F2P. At least, I know I am.

The trick will be to actually play them, rather than looking at the library with glazed eyes and then booting up the same game I had been playing for the last two weeks.

Path of Self-Exile

Browsing through my new-and-improved Steam library, I notice Path of Exile sitting there. Looking for something different, I download it and boot it up after like… damn, six years ago? My characters are still there, so I load up my Witch and…

POE_Grid

Ain’t nobody got time for this.

…shut the game down.

I ended up going to some websites to look at what constitutes some good Witch builds. What I found were builds labeled “3.8| Stress Free PoE – COLD-HEARTED CURSER |Clear the Atlas w/ YOUR Items @ YOUR Pace (SSF & Co-op).” Sounds good. Let me just look at the video of its gameplay…

Oh. Just literally pressing one button and running around.

There were other builds, of course, but most of them were, shall we say, thematically similar. Plus, knowing that the above build is possible, what motivation would you have to do something else?

As it turns out, very high. Just in a different game.

ApoligiCon

So how ’bout that BlizzCon?

Let me dedicate some space to the The Apology. Or, rather, “apology.” A lot of my fellow bloggers seemed surprised that one was offered right in the opening ceremony, but it seems unthinkable that Blizzard would have tried to not address the one thing that threatened to overshadow their whole trade show. Can you imagine the headlines all weekend if Brack said nothing?

Which is amusing to think about, because he did say nothing:

Before we start the opening ceremony, I want to say a few words. Y’know uh Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone Esports moment about a month ago and we did not. We moved too quickly in our decision making and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, there’s really two things. The first one is we didn’t live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves and the second is that we failed at our purpose. And for that I’m sorry and I accept accountability.

I’m going to pause here, as it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine whenever someone says “I accept accountability” when there aren’t any consequences to account for. Imagine a parent saying that to the store manager when their child knocks over a display case, but then just leaving without, you know, paying for the shit that got broke. Brack “accepts accountability” and that means… what? Nothing. Is he going to take a pay cut? Resign? Maybe this will be filed in his Permanent Record?

[…] We will do better going forward. But, our actions are going to matter more than any of these words as we walk around this weekend. I hope it is clear how committed we are to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways and all kinds of places. I’ve actually seen and heard many of you expressing yourselves this morning.

This is likely a reference to the protesters outside, the people wearing Hong Kong tshirts, and possibly the person walking around in a Winnie the Pooh costume. Which SynCaine sees as a huge deal, for Blizzard allowing someone to do. Because allowing them through the door is surely more potentially damaging than ejecting someone for an obscure reference to China’s president.

Give me a break.

What this apology did was give enough cover for those that were only reluctantly boycotting Blizzard to go back playing games guilt-free. As Brack clarifies in this PCGamer interview, the 6-month ban on Blitzchung (and the casters!) is staying. Would people have boycotted at all if this was the initial punishment? I don’t know – you tell me. The prize money confiscation was especially egregious in my mind, but the whole thing kind of reeks. At the same time, having no policy at all regarding non-Hearthstone speech during a Hearthstone victory interview seems untenable as well.

But, whatever. If an apology with nothing behind it is good enough to allow you to have fun playing videogames again, then have at it. I never joined the boycott myself, because half the items in my house come from China so it all seemed kind of hypocritical. Yes, Blizzard said the quiet part out loud. But if you think the makers of your George Foreman grill would not have also done the same thing in a hypothetical grilling tournament scenario, you are naive to the extreme. Same with the people flocking to Final Fantasy 14 after the controversy, as if Square Enix made some kind of heroic stand against China. You know, what with their partnership with Tencent and all.

I have nothing against principles. I love’em, in fact. But they only ever mean anything when you actually stick with them. If what Brack said at BlizzCon was enough to move your needle, well… maybe you were better off in the peanut gallery with the rest of us.

[F76] Sidenote

File this under “It’s all starting to make sense” (from Wikipedia):

BattleCry Studios was founded on October 3, 2012, as subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, headed by Rich Vogel as its president.[1] Initially, BattleCry Studios was seeking employees with experience in microtransactions and free-to-play games.[2]

On May 28, 2014, BattleCry Studios announced their first game, BattleCry.[3] On September 10, 2015, it was reported that BattleCry Studios had laid off a “substantial portion” of their staff.[4] On October 7, 2015, the development on BattleCry was halted for the studio to work on different projects.[5] One of the studio’s first projects following the hold of BattleCry was the modification and restructuring of Bethesda’s Creation Engine (in conjunction with sister company id Software, utilizing netcode from Quake) to support multiplayer functionality in anticipation of then upcoming Fallout 76.[6]

When you follow the [2] link, you get an Engadget article from 2012 that states:

Bethesda may be known for its one-of-a-kind offline RPGs, but its new Battlecry Studios division is looking to ride the online free-to-play gravy train.

Eurogamer has sussed out a few details based on the firm’s job postings, which include a “monetization designer” and a platform lead position that requires experience with “design and implementation of microtransaction systems and services.”

The advertisements also suggest some sort of console release, as Bethesda notes that “console experience — preferably next generation (PS3, Xbox 360)” is preferred.

Battlecry is headed by former Star Wars: The Old Republic executive producer Rich Vogel.

While the hotbar-selling SWTOR is kind of a hilarious gotcha moment, Rich Vogel also did Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. So… he either sold out or allowed his vision to become corrupted by publishers, although those are basically the same in the end.

Maybe we can argue about how much each Bethesda Studio contributed to the overall Fallout 76 package, but my money is that the corrosive, microtransaction design came from the studio headed by the guy who introduced the world to selling hotbars in an MMO. And, of course, Todd Howard… who is either an empty suit or willing participant in this nonsense.

Nuked Frog

Remember last month when we were wondering about whether Bethesda’s latest monetization strategies were a boiling frog scenario? Well, they just tossed the frog in the microwave and nuked it:

PRIVATE WORLDS, SCRAPBOXES & MORE COME TO FALLOUT 76 WITH FALLOUT 1ST
Ever since Fallout 76 launched, we have consistently worked to improve and evolve the experience based on your feedback. That’s why we’re excited to launch Fallout 1st, a premium membership that offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends. In addition to this huge feature, Fallout 1st also includes a host of exclusive items and membership bonuses, all of which you can find detailed below. And the best part? Fallout 1st is available right now.

Yep, Fallout 76 now has a $13/month (or $100/year) subscription option.

F76_First

A bargain at… none of the price

Reddit is understandably losing its shit.

F76_Rage

That last post is a great tip, BTW

The subscription itself unlocks Private Worlds, e.g. your own personal game world that up to seven other friends can join, infinite Scrap storage, a tent to act as a mobile second base, a monthly stipend of Atoms (premium currency), and some lookalike NCR armor from New Vegas. And emotes or something.

While it came as a shock to most everyone, Bethesda did “prime the pump” last week though, when they flat-out said they’ll be selling utility in the Cash Shop going forward:

Our approach to [Atom Shop] items at launch was to keep them purely cosmetic. But after looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop.

While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collectron Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop. We’re also still working on all the previously announced items and new cosmetic categories.

[…]

Of course, players can also buy Atoms, and we’re careful with everything we add to not upset the game’s balance. Our main objective is to avoid a situation where players can spend money to gain a competitive advantage or make the game worse for other players. Even more so, we want systems that allow players who do choose to buy Atoms to make the game better for others, not just themselves. With these principles in mind, we make careful decisions about the items we offer to keep it fair for everyone.

That was the same News post that stated the much-anticipated Wastelanders update – which will see the introduction of actual NPCs – was delayed into Q1 of next year to, and I quote with heavy emphasis, “make sure the work we’re doing hits our quality bar, and yours.” Er, yeah. Sure.

The tragedy is that I can see where Bethesda was coming from.

Private servers and the eventual modding piece that goes with it has indeed been one of the most requested features since before the game even launched. Now it’s here. Considering that Fallout 76 basically runs off of Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was never going to be a “use your own hardware to host” scenario. Which means a subscription. So they made one. And if you already have a subscription offering, why not throw in a few additional features to try and entice the people who don’t care about private servers? Hence all the ancillary stuff like the Tent, infinite Scrap box, etc.

Where the dick meets the car door though is the timing.

Imagine if Wastelanders was coming out next week. A huge, sprawling NPC horde that changed damn near every inch of the game world with new quests, factions, and activities. Imagine that it was… at least passably decent. In the midst of all this positive press, imagine Bethesda rolling out this subscription, letting you have your private Fallout experience with no one killing the NPCs or starting quests before you get there. Some of the outrage would still be there – Bethesda has claimed Stash space is limited for server stability reasons, but the Scrap Box can also exist in public servers – but Wastelanders itself could be pointed to as being “free DLC” as promised.

Alas, it was delayed and the suits decided to roll out Fallout 1st anyway.

To be clear, I have no interest in defending Bethesda per se. This subscription was rolled out despite the Wastelanders delay because whatever dipshit suit in charge didn’t want to lose the holiday cash. Hell, the subscription was rolled out despite the “private” servers themselves being already-looted empty servers, with no control over who on your friend list can join. Oh, and the Scrap box is eating scrap too, I guess?

To an extent, none of this matters. Not because “it’s Fallout 76,” but because whales in gaming are not an endangered species and each dollar they spend on shit like this is a vote you never get to make with a boycott. People were calling bullshit on these lines from Bethesda:

We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collection Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop.

…but are you really sure that it’s bullshit? Does it really surprise you that utility items were added and that people buy them by the thousands? Shit, a while back I was logging into Guild Wars 2 every day for a month hoping that Character Slots would go on sale in the Utility tab of the cash shop. I barely even play GW2! That was just for Character Slots too, and not any of their actual Utility items like daily resource nodes, special zones with crafting stations, and so on. Fallout 76 is no GW2 or Elder Scrolls Online though, so the hubris is especially galling despite the methods being identical.

My prediction? The subscription details will eventually change, private servers will actually be private, and mods will change how the whole system works on a fundamental level. People who still don’t like survival games will continue to not play Fallout 76 anyway, and yet they will still buy Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 on release because self-control across a population that is 72% overweight/obese is clearly not a strong suit. And really, why wouldn’t you play games that give 40-400+ hours of fun just because another team in the studio keeps slamming their dick in a car door? 

Then again, maybe I have just been reheated one times too many.

Less Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle has released a new pricing structure and tacit plan to keep people subscribed:

Humble_Change

Basically, if you are currently subscribed you are grandfathered into the same $12/month plan you have always had. The upswing is that there will be no more mystery: you will know exactly what games are on offer each month.

For everyone else, you get jacked. Well, relatively. At the $15/month subscription plan, you get to see all 10 games and pick 3 that you want. Or pay $20/month and get nine. Not sure if there will be 10 games on offer or just nine, given the Classic subscription. Neither scenario makes sense.

There are several very weird elements to this change, aside from the Netflix-esque price increase.

The biggest in my mind is… doesn’t this just directly compete with the normal Humble Bundles? For example, there is currently the Post-Modern bundle that includes 8 games that you can all buy for $15. Granted, $15 is only for the top tier game – you can opt for four games for just $1. I would have to assume that the Monthly bundle would not include the “lower tier” games in the offering, because that would be quite the slap in the face if you had to choose just 3 and only one was worth it. But with the mystery gone, are we really going to assume that every bundle is going to start including three (or more) high-tier games for one low price?

Even seeing all the choices gives me pause. So… we’ll be able to see all the choices ahead of time with ample opportunity to cancel/pause the subscription, right? So we’re really just deciding on whether to buy three games for $15 or nine games for $20? I know that technically the subscription has other benefits, e.g. 20% off store purchases and the like, but let’s be real here, that discount barely covers the immense risk you take by purchasing Steam keys from a retailer you cannot easily (at all?) refund through.

Supposedly you can pause even your Classic subscription if there is a dud month, but I have no particular faith that that will last more than a year. And if you accidentally cancel instead of pause every month, you get kicked out of the club and have to pay $8/month more than you did before. Nevermind how many subs HB will get from people wanting to be grandfathered in “just in case.”

None of this really matters in the abstract, I know. But it’s nevertheless fascinating seeing all the novel ways game companies/retailers come up with to part you with your hard-earned cash. Makes me wonder why gamers are such a special case when the rest of the world is still selling boxes.