Temporary EAnity

EA has temporarily removed the loot boxes from Star Wars: Battlefront 2, right before the official launch of the game:

We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.

I am honestly quite surprised. The negative press surrounding GTA Online’s Shark Cards or Shadows of War’s single-player loot boxes affected zero change, but here we have EA, of all people, turning off the cash spigot right before the water main gets connected. Then again, EA did get mentioned in half a dozen news article for having the most-downvoted comment in Reddit history (-676,000 at the time of this writing). Not exactly the narrative you want to be having right before the game’s release.

It’s tempting to pat ourselves on the back, at least those of us who actually care about game design and our fellow human beings. But the victory feels… well, like EA says, “temporary.” They did the right thing… under withering criticism. It’s like a politician apologizing for a decades-old scandal – an apology is more than we can expect these days, but it would have been nice if they had apologized before it was news. Or, you know, never did the action in the first place.

Alas, here we are.

It will be interesting indeed to see under what conditions the microtransactions return in SWBF2, and what possible new permutations they might take in other EA games. Will Battlefield Whatever’s design be impacted by this learning experience? Is this a learning experience at all, or simply an unfortunately-timed (for EA stockholders) zeitgeist?

We already know that the suits from TakeTwo don’t give a shit:

It appears that the GTA Online/MyCareer model is going to be the standard for big Take-Two Games going forward. People have expected a GTA Online type environment for Red Dead Redemption 2, which launches next year, though Rockstar has not announced what its online features will be.

“One of the things we’ve learned is if we create a robust opportunity, and a robust world, in which people can play delightfully in a bigger and bigger way, that they will keep coming back,” Zelnick told investors. “They will engage. And there is an opportunity to monetize that engagement.”

And that sort of underscores the vice gamers are put in to begin with. SynCaine pointed out that anyone buying SWBF2 is complicit with its monetization scheme, even if they don’t spend cash on loot boxes. That is technically accurate. But by that same token so is anyone who bought GTA V, given the Shark Card shenanigans. Do we really need to commit to never touching Red Dead Redemption 2 or the inevitable GTA VI?

I dunno. On the one hand, I am obviously an idealist when it comes to the purity of elegant game design. When the pieces fit together, when the various game systems synergize so perfectly… it’s orgasmic. Microtransactions have literally no place in any such gaming schema, any more than the concession stand does for the symphony performance. The symphony or game might rely on outside money in order to exist originally (artists have to eat), but once created, the art does (and should) exist independently.

Also, Consumer Surplus. It’s a thing.

On the other hand, we live in an absurd universe in which any sort of meaning or value is surprising. Thus, EA’s capitulation here, however temporary, is something to be celebrated. I certainly don’t think any of us expected it, especially given the likelihood that whales would have justified the PR hit by buying thousands of dollars of loot boxes on Day 1. And even if EA hadn’t backed down, if it’s possible for you to enjoy playing the game, what particular sense does it make to deny oneself? They’re microtransactions, not blood diamonds. Go have fun – nothing matters anyway.

All things considered though, I do think I’m giving SWBF2 a pass for now. Who is buying a game at full MSRP a literal week before Black Friday? Wait a month or two, save some cash, play your thirty other Steam games, and see how it all plays out. At least, that’s my plan. You do you.

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Wishlist

Black Friday and the frenzied consumerism of the holidays is close upon us. It’s probably a bit silly to be thinking about buying more things considering I have more Steam games to last two lifetimes, but… Capitalism, ho! Here’s what I will be keeping my eye out for:

  • Playstation 4 ($199 + $60 Kohls Cash)
    • Final Fantasy XV
    • Horizon Zero Dawn
    • The Last Guardian
  • Huawei Honor 6X Phone (< $150)
  • Steam Games
    • Far Cry 4
    • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
    • Divinity: Original Sin 2
    • Oxygen Not Included
    • NeiR: Automata
    • Dead Cells
    • Salt & Sanctuary
    • No Man’s Sky
  • MMOs
    • GW2: Heart of Thorns & Path of Flame

The PS4 purchase is probably the most excessive of the bunch, considering how infrequently I have used the PS3 since purchasing it five years ago. Of course, I didn’t really have a good setup at the time – projectors are cool, but sitting down and pressing a button is easier – and things have changed since then. There is a certain symmetry in how I basically bought the PS3 for The Last of Us, and The Last of Us 2 is one of the driving factors for a PS4 purchase (albeit a few years from now). If/When I end up getting Destiny 2, it will be on PC though.

Phone-wise, I’m in the stereotypical “my phone works, but there’s a better one out there” pinch. My SO’s phone died a couple months ago, so I of course created a Google doc comparing all the different phones available to map out the best bang for the buck. That’s when I realized the upgrade potential between my 5X and the 6X: +600MHz processor, +1GB RAM, +16GB storage, and +340mAh battery. Is that worth $180? Ehh. Is it worth $150 or less? That’s much closer, especially considering how much gaming I do on my phone.

The Steam list is a bit eclectic, but they are all games that weren’t on sale, not on sale far enough, and/or not out of Early Access yet. No Man’s Sky is a bit odd on there considering how much negative press it has received over the last year, but the last sale had it at $24. If it hits $15, I feel like it’d be an easy decision for a kinda-sorta temporary Minecraft experience. I have certainly made worse purchasing decisions.

Finally, the MMO section is just GW2. There have been a few Heart of Thorns sales for $15 that I have missed, but I feel like we might see a combo deal better than the original $50 set. I’m sure there will be yet another sale for the FFXIV expansion too, although every day I become less and less interested in the supposed great plot in the game. If your call to fame is a great story, but the only way to get to said story is to spam dungeons… yeah. No thanks.

Loot Boxes, Supplemental

We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:

If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:

Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.

If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.

Yeah, that.

Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.

If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.

Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”

You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.

Persistence

In a recent debate with Gevlon, he replied with the following:

You still don’t realize how obsoleting content is against the defining feature of the MMO genre: persistent world, defined as “previous gaming sessions significantly affect the current”. It’s a genre. It’s not for everyone. But if you throw it away, you are competing with MOBAs and I think LoL is a better MOBAs than WOW.

Now, the topic was at hand was a criticism of catch-up mechanisms. I, of course, disagree that there is anything wrong with the “End Game Content” model, but that is neither here nor there.

What I want to ponder on though, aside from the question of whether WoW has a persistent world, is whether a persistent world is actually a feature of MMOs, should be a feature, or ever really works as a feature. As I see it, there are three elements of persistence: Space, Consequences, and Advantage.

Persistent Space

In strict, technical terms I do believe that a “persistent” world is a defining feature of MMOs. Specifically, that the world exists. The alternative to a persistent world is a lobby-based world featured in a lot of otherwise throwaway action RPGs – the world exists as little arenas, created on demand, which disappear when you exit the stage. In WoW, Goldshire exists independently of whether or not you are to witness the shenanigans which transpire in the Inn. In fact, that shenanigans can transpire at all is because the world is persistent, e.g. meeting other people in virtual space.

At the same time… phasing and shard technology exists. Can we really say that Goldshire is a part of a persistent world if there exists Goldshire 1, Goldshire 2, etc? I am even conceding that Goldshire on Server 1 counts despite there being another Goldshire on Server 2. But these days, the Cross-Realm technology is almost a strict “Channel” system which (albeit seamlessly) drops you in a shared instance of the world, rather than “the” world. Does it really matter that there exists a Goldshire Prime somewhere that doesn’t turn off when you leave, considering you’ve never been there? So, arguably, we’re kinda already in a lobby-based experience, and it’s only shared insofar as other people get dropped in our lobby.

I’m not so much trying to argue against the notion that WoW’s world is persistent, but rather that the distinction is kind of moot these days. I do find that Azeroth is more overtly contiguous than many other MMOs, like FFXIV and GW2, which feature hard breaks at their borders. Cramming thousands of people into a singular space doesn’t exactly improve the gameplay experience, so I’m not sure what benefit that is supposed to provide in the first place. As long as people can naturally congregate and interact at will, I believe that’s enough to count as persistence.

Persistent Consequences

Way back in 2011, I pointed out the following:

One of the hallmarks of the MMO genre is a notion of a persistent world, but that persistence is always in tension with the fact that other players exist. Players say they want a world where consequences matter, that if a town gets burned down it stays burned down. But do they really want a world in which the choice of saving the town is never given to them because some noob 4 years ago logged off in the middle of the quest to put the fire out and the town burned down?

Persistence, on a more metaphorical level, means lasting consequences and mutual exclusivity. The town cannot be both burned down to you and not burned down to me, and still be considered persistent.  However, what is the desirability or utility of that persistence in the first place?

On the one hand, it can be used to good effect in games like EVE. If some Corp muscles into your star system, blows up your space station and then places their own… well, you’re out. That star system is now theirs, until the same thing happens to them at some point in the future. There are tangible consequences to game world actions, which persist beyond you switching accounts or logging off. There being finite space to fight over also underpins the gameplay loop of full-loot PvP – you care about moon goo because your ship blowing up tangibly reduces your wealth, so you need to control wealth-generating resources.

On the other hand, look at the player housing situation in FFXIV. The housing plots are finite and exclusive – if someone bought the plot you want, well, tough shit. The developers’ goals appear to be for these “neighborhoods” to feel real, and anchored into the game world. You aren’t just buying a house, but this particular house, situated in this particular location, exclusively.

And that’s dumb. Unimaginably dumb.

In FFXIV, it’s dumb because it serves no gameplay purpose. Getting a housing plot is a matter of having the money and clicking faster. After that, you simply continue paying the upkeep fee and that’s it. There are no gameplay elements to the neighborhood around you, and no homeless player is going to walk around gawking at your decorations. There is no reason to be there, specifically there, even for the homeowner themselves. Absolutely nothing changes if housing were instanced.

So, the only time persistent consequences makes sense is in player-directed ways, underpinning core game mechanics. And, as the term implies, the only way for persistence to make sense is for it to be consistent. Nothing else about the FFXIV world is exclusive or provides lasting consequences. So why have it?

Persistent Advantage

The final element of persistence is really an off-shoot of the previous one: persistent advantage. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because, conceptually, it does nothing good for any game. I mean, I guess it could be argued that in EVE it’s nice to be able to log into the game years later and fly around a reasonable ship. But I would argue that that is not so much because one’s advantage has been maintained than there being a low barrier to (re)entry. Sort of like, I dunno, logging into WoW and breezing your way back up to the current level cap and snagging some easy gear from a vendor.

The truest form of persistent advantage is essentially the attunement. And it’s terrible for all the same reasons it was in 2012 and earlier. It gates content arbitrarily, based not on skill or merit, but seniority. It squeezes out the middle class gamer, who either gets into a guild that carries them through the attunement, or they forgo whatever is gated behind it. In this case – and in all cases, really – the “challenge” is one of logistics. It’s difficult enough corralling 10/20/40 people into one place at the same time, much less adding pointless bureaucracy on top of it.

———–

So, taken together, the desirability of persistence is vastly overstated, honestly. Persistence is a tool to achieve a specific effect, not some ideal or higher calling. WoW and all the rest are still MMOs by any reasonable definition of the term, in spite of allowing you to actually quest and explore locations without having it all be destroyed by a failed Deathwing raid years ago.

Hard(ly) Drive

I’m running out of space on my gaming SSD, which is 500 GB.

The primary offender is Ark, which at this moment is sitting at 104 GB. I have The Center and Ragnarok “expansions” installed too, but I mostly recall that the original install was north of 60 GB by itself. There is actually another expansion that is coming out soon, that I confess to be mildly interested in. Not sure that I would pay full price for it, whatever that ends up being, but I find it unlikely I would reinstall the whole game all over again in the future, just to play the expansion.

FFXIV is still installed, of course. That’s around 21.4 GB right now, as I do not have either of the expansions. Deleting it would effectively end the FFXIV experiment for good. Which gets more tempting by the day, honestly, as I have discovered that questing is no longer sufficient to reach necessary level milestones. Old news, I’m sure, but it’s still a little surprising that in such a story-centric MMO, one must explicitly farm dungeons, Leves, or FATES in order to progress. Side quests do not even remotely help anymore.

GW2 is sitting at around 35 GB. Just as before, I do not own either of the new expansions. However, I have been rather consistently logging on each day for the daily chest, for about the last three months. Each month means 10 Tomes of Knowledge, which is 10 free levels you can distribute around. I could probably power-level crafting professions to bypass any grind I wanted to, but I enjoy the ease and utility of the Tomes. I plan on coming back to GW2 for a bit once the expansion prices come back down.

WoW (43.7 GB) remains installed, of course. I don’t remember if I ever uninstalled the game; it’s possible it has persisted in some contiguous form since TBC, albeit copied a few times. In any case, that portion of my hard drive is reserved, even if it’s been almost a year since I’ve logged in.

Overwatch (13.8 GB) is a bit more dicey. The Halloween skins caused me to log in for the first time in years, but the game does not scratch any itches for me anymore. It’s a small-team arcade hero shooter… and that’s it. This one can probably go.

I bring all this up because there are games on my time horizon in which storage space will be relevant. The biggest one is Destiny 2, which requires 68 GB. Expansions to any of the MMOs will be 10-15 GB. If Nier: Automata ever goes back on sale, that will be 30-40 GB. I have a few Steam RPGs purchased but never played that clock in the ~30 GBs range as well. Deleting anything I am not actively playing is an option for a reasonable human being, but my gaming whims tend to brook no argument – I either play what I want to play right then, or the alternatives seem a waste of time.

Ark is the most reasonable sacrifice here, as over 100 GB for one game is truly absurd. But will I ever download it again? Hmm.

Quick Update: BlizzCon

In this interview, the last question was:

Q: Will the team address faction imbalance on realms?
A: The new WPVP system will solve a lot of these issues as sharding technology will place you into shards with others who have opted into WPVP.

So there you have it. World PvP in WoW’s next expansion won’t quite be as dead as suspected, although the lines between what constitutes “world” is becoming quite blurry. It will also be quite interesting to see what becomes of gankers when they are suddenly thrown into the same waters as other gankers.

Nevertheless, I can still see a carrot existing for the otherwise carebear player. Presumably, these “PvP shards” will be less populated, which might make finding and claiming those rare spawns just a bit easier. Or, you know, even scaring/killing off the competition.

Impressions: BlizzCon Day 1

Well, now. I didn’t really see this coming.

The biggest news of the day, based on Reddit traffic, was clearly Blizzard’s teasing of WoW Classic. As in, they are actually making a vanilla server. Everything is still in development, so it’s technically possible that it won’t actually happen, but that would be pretty embarrassing given that they spent time on stage and even created a video about it. Important details such as cost and which patch stage they will be basing it on are still unknown – based on “server” language though, it’s possible it will just be, well, a server option in your normal WoW subscription.

Some people will undoubtedly be overjoyed. None will probably play a paladin.

In other news, the next expansion in WoW Prime will be… err…

WoW_BFA

Uhh…

Now, I’m sure there be a lot of people excited for WarCraft to get back to “roots” as a Red vs Blue RTS trope, but this is literally the most generic title and expansion theme they could have done. Sequel Escalation can be difficult to manage when there is no formal end planned – there are only a few more tricks Blizzard can pull once the Burning Legion itself is extinguished – but… this? “Battle for Azeroth” is something you write on a whiteboard with an underline, to denote that a series of actual title ideas will follow. Is this what people felt like almost exactly six years ago when Mists of Pandaria was revealed?

Looking at the MMO-Champ coverage, about the most interesting set of bullet points were:

World PVP

  • The PvP vs PvE server division is going away, replaced by an individual toggle. You can choose if you want to opt in to PvP or not when you are in town. Players that feel trapped on PvP servers have a way out. This opens up the game to changing and improving the world PvP ruleset.
  • New content like bounty hunting or assassination quests will become an option.
  • There will be bonuses to experience, reputation and other things when you are questing with PvP mode enabled to offset the inefficiency.

This is almost a complete game-changer for me. And probably anyone else trapped on an imbalanced PvP server. My primary server at this point is actually heavily skewed to the Alliance, but that just makes the Horde I do encounter especially surly while leveling. Or, you know, when faceless Cross-Realm hit-squads phase into your area. Now that problem is permanently solved.

It also, rather cleverly, creates world PvP hotzones with the carrot of increased Reputation (etc) gains. You could argue that these Reputation-farming zones would already be hot in a normal, always-on PvP server, and you would be correct. But now everyone there would be consensually engaging in (or preparing for) PvP, likely putting up more of a sport of it. And since the change in flagging requires one to be inside a town, you avoid opportunistic ganking, and presumably accidental flagging in the same design. Win-win.

There will be more to talk about in the coming days, I’m sure, but those are my first impressions.

[SWBF2] Loot Shift

While not exactly a change of heart, EA is making some cursory changes to its loot boxes in the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront 2:

  • Epic Star Cards, the highest tier of Star Cards available at launch, have been removed from Crates. To help keep everyone on a level playing field, these Star Cards will primarily be available through crafting, with the exception of special Epic Star Cards available through pre-order, deluxe, and starter packs.
  • You’ll need to reach a certain rank to craft upgraded Star Cards. You won’t be able to buy a bunch of Crates, grind everything up into crafting materials, and immediately use them to get super powerful Star Cards. You can only upgrade the ability to craft higher tier Star Cards by ranking up through playing the game.
  • Weapons are locked behind specific milestones. While a select few will be found in Crates, the rest can only be attained by play. Want to unlock a new weapon for your Heavy? Play as a Heavy and you’ll gain access to the class’s new weapons.
  • Class-specific gear and items can be unlocked by playing as them. As you progress through your favorite class, you’ll hit milestones granting you class-specific Crates. These will include a mix of Star Cards and Crafting Parts to benefit your class’s development.

Mission Accomplished, eh?

Well… maybe. It’s certainly a better situation than we were in before. Just keep in mind that each Star Card has four levels of potency, and you can in fact randomly get higher potency Cards from the loot box. At least, I did during the Beta. Perhaps the above information can be taken to mean each Card is always going to be the lowest level one, or that you can get a higher-level Card and simply not be able to equip it until you’ve ranked up some more.

In any case, this might be the moment at which we can call a ceasefire. EA is committing to free map packs/content, and always-relevant loot boxes is an alternative method of replacing that revenue. Of course, paid map packs are abysmally stupid and just segment the playerbase, but… baby steps. We may have to see how it plays out in practice.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Often unnoticed, but never unfelt, matchmaking in multiplayer games forms the invisible core of our gaming experience. In the old days, happenstance determined the characteristics of our neighbors. Maybe one server was labeled “Recommended,” but for the most part players were left to their own devices. If you were lucky, you might discover that mythical “Good Server” which featured players with similar skill levels as yourself. If not, perhaps there was some means of at least balancing the teams occasionally, by forced shuffling or similar. Otherwise, players were left to “self-deport.”

Automated matchmaking has been around for a long time now; long enough to demonstrate both its virtues and its vices. The virtue is, of course, being intelligently matched based on a whole raft of heuristics. The vice meanwhile… is being maliciously matched based on those same heuristics. Gevlon has long warned about overt rigging of games for monetary profit, but we have truly crossed the Rubicon when Activision itself has submitted (in 2015) a patent specific to that purpose.

And it was granted a few weeks ago. Feel free to read the whole patent yourself.

Granted, it isn’t entirely an engine of evil. The patent covers a process in which matches are made on a variety of characteristics. For example:

In another example, if a player has been performing poorly (e.g., getting killed at a rate higher than the player’s historical rate), the scoring engine may dynamically adjust one or more coefficients to match the player in a game that will improve the player’s performance. For example, the player may be matched with easier opponents, matched with better teammates, and/or placed in a game that is more tailored to the player’s preferences (e.g., players that play in games more closely aligned with their preferences tend to perform better).

This sort of balancing matchmaking is not hypothetical – Supercell, makers of Clash Royale – have already admitted in a Reddit AMA last month that there is indeed a “losing streak” pool in which you are placed after X numbers of losses. Why Supercell thinks this is a particularly good idea in 2v2, I do not know. For every person who just happened to statistically fall into a losing streak (e.g. 50% win rate), there are many more who are losing because they are tilted, trying out new decks they have no experience with, and so on. Grouping people this way is a sure-fire method of condemning players to ELO Hell, until and unless they happen to be paired up with truly abysmal opponents. So, in this regard, I prefer Activision’s method of “correcting” winrates.

Of course, the problem with picking winners and losers is when you are selected to be the loser. For every time you are gifted strong teammates to help you out of a losing streak, your opponents are punished by withholding of the same. We all want fair fights, being matched not just on skill levels but progression level too. It’s cruel to have new Hearthstone players face people with dozens of Legendary cards, even if the impartial ladder states they are equivalent players. Actively sabotaging games, though? We want fair fights, but not like this.

That is not even the most nefarious part of this engine, though. The true evil arises in plain text, in an approved US patent application:

In one implementation, the microtransaction engine may target particular players to make game-related purchases based on their interests. For example, the microtransaction engine may identify a junior player to match with a marquee player based on a player profile of the junior player. In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile). The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player.

“Matched” in this case, largely reads as matched against. In other words, the matchmaking system will notice you choosing the sniper role, then placing a more-skilled sniper opponent with a P2W rifle on the other side, for the express purpose of “encouraging” you to also purchase the rifle. It is bad enough having P2W elements in a game generally, but here we have a mechanism by which it can specifically be rubbed in your face. On purpose. To get you to buy shit.

This level of evil is not Google reading your email and popping up ads for dandruff shampoo. This is Google sending Fabio to your workplace to specifically call out the dandruff on your shirt, in front of your coworkers.

Could things get any worse with this patent? Activision is asking you to hold their beer:

In one implementation, when a player makes a game-related purchase, the microtransaction engine may encourage future purchases by matching the player (e.g., using matchmaking described herein) in a gameplay session that will utilize the game-related purchase. Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases. For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen. Activision settled the debate. Because now even in scenarios in which in-game purchases don’t directly increase one’s power (e.g. naked P2W), it’s quite likely that a matchmaking engine engineers a scenario in which you are more likely to win. For having paid. So even “purely cosmetic” purchases can end up becoming de facto P2W.

And much like loot box reward odds, companies will obfuscate the inner workings of their matchmaking systems such that it will be impossible to know either way. Are we to just trust their word that no matchmaking shenanigans are taking place, when they otherwise have every possible economic incentive to do so? Activision is just the first company openly patenting the process, not the first company to use these methods. Who would actually go on record to admit it?

Patent

Actual diagram from the Activision patent.

Do you see now? Do you see it? This is precisely why you should be caring about Consumer Surplus; this is why you should be up in arms about gambling loot boxes; this is why you never act as an Apologist to a game (or any) company. There is a straight fucking line between Oblivion’s infamous horse armor and Activision (et al) literally patenting the rigging of games for cash. And that line is still going lower, and will continue to do so, until acted upon by an outside force.

We are nowhere close to bottom.

The days in which game companies made their money by selling more copies – and thus had every incentive to make the best possible game – is over. Voting with your wallet isn’t going to bring it back either; in the US, where money is speech, the voice of the guy spending $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer loot boxes drowns out everyone else.

“You need to understand the amount of money that’s at play with microtransactions. I’m not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that when Mass Effect 3 multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant that’s the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that’s the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that hadn’t really had them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money. It’s repeatable income versus one-time income.

“I’ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.”

When every economic incentive is directed towards Consumer Surplus extraction instead of, you know, improving the gameplay experience… this is what we get. Always-online multiplayer in every game, single-player game studios getting shut down, loot boxes everywhere.

Play stupid games, (pay to) win stupid prizes.

[FFXIV] The Long Road

Implausibly, I continue to pay for a FFXIV subscription.

In the last week or so, I have made some progress both in the story and in the Job system, hitting level 35. It is slow going though, as I do not consider the game anywhere near the top of my evening entertainment preferences. I will typically play for about an hour or two, run into so kind of roadblock, and then log off and play something else.

The roadblocks are generally the pointlessly forced dungeons – I seriously had to run a dungeon because the Main Story Quest called for cheese, literal cheese – but I am also running into level breakpoints too. My understanding was that XP was sped up so that the sidequests were no longer necessary to complete. That seemed to be true under level 30, but since then, I have consistently been between 50%-60% of a full level behind.

So, yeah, do those sidequests.

Story-wise, I have certainly hit that stage at which the plot supposedly picks up. And it certainly has, comparatively. I do find that the greater focus on Empire soldiers is more able to keep my attention. Traditional fantasy is not especially interesting to me, except when it tends towards more grimdark themes or “realism.” Fantasy + Magi-Tek shenanigans though, have been interesting to me since I first booted up FF6 in my SNES.

Gameplay-wise, not much has changed. My Archer is now a Bard, and that means… more damage cooldowns. I do actually enjoy having group buffs, as it reminds me of the old WoW paladin days. Beyond that, combat is formulaic, boring, and completed in a daze-like trance 100% of the time. It’s still worlds better than my experience as Monk, but I think most of that is because melee in FFXIV feels terrible. And that is probably mostly to do with the high-pitched squeals and screen-flashes that constitute FFXIV attacks. Nothing feels particularly weighty or anchored to the world.

While the sale has since closed, Amazon and a few other places had the Stormblood expansion on sale for $25. I was tempted to purchase it for all of two seconds. The very real problem is that I am ages away from even getting to the end of the ARR storyline, let alone getting to the required Heavensward stuff (which is thankfully included in Stormblood). There is no guarantee that I make it to level 50 at my current pace, so it seems a bit silly to be buying expansions. At the same time, not buying the expansion sort of depresses my desire to hit the end of the road, as that would mean either taking a break until the next sale or giving up.

Oh, well. I shall continue as time and interest permits.