H1Z1, HotS, TESO

There have been a number of gaming developments in the past week, but I find them difficult to write about. First, because I remain distracted with the whole television vs projector search. Indeed, I went from 98% gung-ho for a projector to finding out I could get a 40″ TV for ~$205. For such a value-crazed individual as I am, it’s tough to imagine a better deal. But, projector, man. I could be playing Shadow of the Colossus on my wall, instead of on a TV a mere CD-length wider.

Secondly, I just don’t know how to feel about some of these news items.

For example: H1Z1. Much has already been said about SOE reneging on their promise of no P2W shenanigans, which the airdrops certainly were. Originally. The airdrops have since been nerfed to basically have a 10% chance of containing a pistol or shotgun, so… now what? Do we pack up the pitchforks and go home? Or do we stick around and stab some things since we’re here?

One of the terms being thrown around regarding the airdrops is “Pay 4 Content,” in the sense that buying an airdrop means luring other players to come fight you and/or others for supplies. I find it difficult to argue with that bit of cash shop jujitsu. Similar games like Rust already have random airdrops, so is there much of a difference beyond one’s ability to “advance the timer” in H1Z1?

Framed like that, it almost sounds cool. “This is boring – let’s shake things up a little.” If airdrops were exclusively a crafted or rare lootable resource, I doubt anyone would drop them out of boredom; the eccentric players would get one or two at most, instead of the effectively infinite amount they have under this scheme.

Aside from airdrops, I have been following the other bits of news from the game and it reminds me of why F2P is bad: it engenders cynicism and paranoia. For example, the looting system was described this way:

The lot [sic] system is very intelligent. It keeps track of where all the items are in the server and balances loot spawning accordingly. If everybody is all looted up and hoarding loot, then it’s time to hunt some players or steal from their stashes.

When a player logs out, the server knows that there is now less potential loot on the server and will begin spawning more. When a player logs in and puts the server over it’s limit, the server will stop spawning loot (of the kind that the player has) and you’ll need to begin fighting for it.

The first thing I thought of was: of course your looting system would be like this in a F2P cash shop game. Self-sufficiency isn’t profitable. Smedly was more than forthright in explaining the PlanetSide 2 implant nerf was intentionally done to squeeze extra cash out of players “to keep the lights on.” How would you trust any design decision under such a rubric? Your options are to imagine that SOE wanted a gritty, The Road-esque survival game with few resources, or… they’re just another exploitative F2P developer out to make a quick buck. I sure as hell don’t believe that there is a legitimate game design reason why my Town Hall takes six real-world days to upgrade in Clash of Clans, for example. Nor do I believe that Candy Crush’s candy placement/generation is entirely random either.

In the meantime though, it appears looting is getting buffed along with a number of other action items. The game is Early Access, which makes it difficult to feel justified in one’s outrage. This sort of thing is what Early Access is for, right?

Speaking of Early Access, there seems to be some internet consternation in regards to Blizzard charging $40 to get into the Heroes of the Storm Beta. Apparently, if Blizzard copies what everyone else is already doing, then… uh… er, isn’t that the standard Blizzard MO? People also seemed to have forgotten that paying Blizzard for Beta access already happened: the Annual Pass that granted Mists of Pandaria Beta access. While the Annual Pass was also tied to a “free” copy of Diablo 3, I know more than a few WoW players who bought it specifically for the Beta access.

The chances of Blizzard charging for HotS beta access having an effect on any other developer’s decision to charge for beta access is less than zero. Between Kickstarter and Early Access, the days of a privileged beta have long-since died. And even before those programs, people were selling GMail invites on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Beta access has value whether you choose to believe it or not, and I don’t begrudge these game companies cutting out the middle-man. As long as, you know, they slide me a few extra keys.

Finally, The Elder Scrolls Online has dropped its subscription and went Buy-2-Play. While such a scheme is dubious ethically, this sort of payment model trajectory could be a way out of the otherwise unfortunate design trap of $60 million MMO budgets for ~150,000 player audiences. Obviously these companies would prefer a million-plus subscribers, but chances are they wouldn’t be able to get their investment back if they released with B2P, or developed the game under a lower budget at the start. It sucks for the early adopter, of course, but life has always sucked for them.

We’ll have to see how this move plays out for TESO. The game has never been on my radar and more or less remains that way currently, even though I very much want Skyrim 2. When I start seeing it on sale for $20, perhaps I will take a closer look.

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Posted on January 23, 2015, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Both H1Z1 and HotS both cost to get in before launch. I think it’s pretty fair to say that H1Z1 will never be as “complete”, even after launch, as HotS is right now.

    I have no interest in paying for beta personally. I’ve been lucky enough to do it for free on pretty much every big online game for 15+ years. Betas are fun when you can help the devs. I can point to the game that ended that, STO.

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    • It sounds like there’s an interesting story about STO in there…

      And people only get confused when Blizzard does something that other companies are being critised for… until they decide that it must be OK if Blizzard does it too. (E.g. I don’t think anything normalised microtransactions quite like the sparkle pony…)

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      • I got into the beta for STO about 6 months before launch. At the time, I was writing a bunch of strategy guides for MMOs and this one looked promising.

        The game launched Feb 2nd. The majority of the content (levels ~20+) were not patched in until mid December. There was one mission that bugged so that you entered and left a zone you got completion for a quest. One guy did this to max level, from level 15 to 50. And that was one of the less troublesome bugs.

        There were tons of bug reports on the forum. I logged about 100 in-game. Of those, every single one made it to go-live.

        It became clear that the beta wasn’t about bug fixing for launch, it was about building a bug list for some future date as the actual content wasn’t even ready yet.

        SWTOR was extremely similar but a year later. I built a commonly used DPS calculator for Sorcerers and Bounty Hunters. There was a fair amount of back and forth with the devs too, which seemed promising. The weekly wipes and lack of boost to 50 meant that top level content wasn’t tested by the public, so some of the top tier talents couldn’t be clearly tested outside of the tooltips.

        You remember how haste (alacrity) was an actively avoided stat for all players? I was part of the team that built the case in beta, many months before launch, including the necessary fixes. IIRC, that fix didn’t go in until 6 months after launch.

        I use those two examples as how beta tests today mean next to nothing. Good beta tests are the WoW launch (BC too), Diablo2, EQ, DAoC and so on. Where there was less marketing push and the people you spoke with were the actual coders. Rift is the only recent game I can think of where the beta was actually a beta. Everything else is pretty much a soft launch to start making money without actually having to be responsive. “It’s just beta”.

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  2. First, I’m not sure you can do a projector cheap and do yourself justice. Having said that, the TV is probably crap, start watching for clearance deals on old models in the next few weeks at local retailers.

    Second, have you read Green Armadillo’s post on his HotS Alpha experience? Alpha might able to be called the Beta, but even that remains to be seen; there will have to be major changes to things I think to qualify as such. It also seems to have been the best time to buy in-game ($29 for a real “founders pack”). Definitely a perfect example of early access for a price, and not even a good price at that.

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