Author Archives: Azuriel

Digital Resell, 2019 edition

In doing some research on my last article about digital reselling, I found this article talking about Robot Cache, a new storefront coming out in roundabout competition with Steam and Epic. The primary selling point of this store is… reselling. Specifically, you can resell digital games you purchase and get 25% of the cost back.

The gist of Robot Cache is that it’s a new store that uses a blockchain certificate as a form of DRM. That certificate allows the store to track individual copies of a game so they can be resold. The price is the same as a new copy—you’re really just selling a license to a digital good, so it’s never really “used”—and you get a 25 percent cut put on your credit card, while the publisher gets 70 percent and the store takes 5 percent.

“Used” copies up for sale are put into a queue alongside brand new ones and the sales alternate between new and used copies, so on some sales publishers will get 95%, and on others 70%, as long as there are players selling their games back. Crucially, Jacobson says, you can’t sell a game back in the first 90 days after release, when publishers make the most money.

The “used game sold at retail price” thing kind of threw me for a loop at first, but… no, actually, I’m still looped. I understand the concept that used goods are generally cheaper to account for diminished value, which is not entirely relevant with a digital game. I can also appreciate the obfuscation going on insofar as you never really buy explicitly “used” games on this new store, as the keys will be mixed together with new ones.

But it’s difficult to grok how all this works in practice. Is the resell basically guaranteed then? Or will it sit in a queue until enough licenses have been sold/resold? Are there mechanisms in place for banning users instead of revoking licenses? What happens when you go to resell and there’s a sale on the base game? Hell, that 90-day stipulation all but guarantees that the base game will be at a lower MSRP by the time you’d be eligible to sell your own copy.

What I do enjoy though, is the candor:

While Jacobson said Robot Cache’s goal isn’t to compete with Epic or Steam, it’s notably not a reseller like Humble or GreenmanGaming, selling Steam keys at reduced prices. To some extent it has to compete, because its games will be sold elsewhere, too, sometimes with superior features like the Steam Workshop’s mod support. But it does seem like out of the gate, Robot Cache will actually be more fully featured than Epic’s store with an SDK meant to replicate most of Steamworks’ major features, from multiplayer to chat to cloud saves.

I do not expect Robot Cache to succeed as a storefront. But I am hopeful that it will be enough of an agitator to possibly move the needle on digital resells in some small way.

GameStopped

Gotta love this news headline: GameStop’s stock in free fall ‘as business burns to the ground‘.

Couldn’t happen to a better company, am I right?

Still, I am a touch concerned. As the article notes, GameStop revenue is down as more and more gamers rely on digital purchases and streaming services than physical games. It’s been more than five years since I bought an actual physical game, myself. But it is vitally important to me that physical gaming continues to exist because otherwise we consumers lose the ability to resell our games.

While there have been attempts to make inroads in digital resell, the lack of recent headlines leads me to believe things have stalled. The most recent article I could find was from last year, wherein a new storefront (sigh) was going to be launched that could allow digital resell based on blockchain technology. Except, you know, the consumer’s own cut was going to be only 25%.

Which kinda makes GameStop look downright charitable in comparison, yeah?

In any case, if GameStop goes away, I am not entirely certain what fills the gap. There are a few off-market used game stores in my area, but none of them have any particular web presence or meaningful sales. Perhaps we will see more eBay storefronts open up, but where are they sourcing the games? My fear is that once GameStop goes under, there won’t be a big enough lobbying voice to dissuade game makers from pushing an all-digital future and thereby removing one of the last bastions of gaming Consumer Surplus.

Nickeled and Quartered

I was browsing /r/GameDeals and came across a post about Destiny 2. I think this is one of the first times I have experienced a game sale in which I walked away more confused than I started.

The short version is that Destiny 2: Complete Collection is $40. This includes the base game, the “expansion pass” that contains the first two expansions, the third large expansion “Forsaken,” a character boost, and then the “Annual Pass” which covers three additional expansions (Winter 2018, Spring 2019, Summer 2019).

That’s fairly straight-forward, I guess. The issue is that in September, parts of Destiny 2 are going F2P. Specifically, the base game, the first two expansions, and a portion of Forsaken, e.g. the patrol areas, but not the raids and more formal missions. Or something. Also, it’s leaving the Blizzard launcher and going to Steam instead.

Having the base game, as I do from an earlier Humble Bundle, doesn’t appear to be relevant to the primary deal. But what about when it goes on Steam? When there is a Steam bundle, you typically get a discount for pieces you already own. Now, the base game and the first few DLC will be F2P so maybe future Steam deals won’t take those pieces into account.

In this midst of this pondering, it dawned on me how completely unnecessary all of this was. This was a $60 game that had two paid DLCs, one major expansion, and three additional DLCs. On top of a cash shop. Why not just have a fucking monthly subscription and call it a day?

None of this is news, but sometimes it is good to be reminded how far into the weeds the developers are willing to go to monetize every inch of available space.

Bygones

It was once said:

“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” -Shigeru Miyamoto

These days, we have this:

“All of the games like this… It’s not how you launch, it’s what it becomes.” -Todd Howard

There are a number of interesting articles out this week, including this one, which covers a candid interview with Todd Howard regarding (among many other things) Fallout 76. Specifically, how he and the entire team knew it was going to be a widely panned shitshow… but released it anyway. Because eventually it could be made better.

…and it has. Even if you were hostile to the idea of a Fallout survival game in the first place, it is undeniably in a better state than before. It may still not be your cup of tea at all, but it’s better.

None of this is particularly ideal for anyone though. As consumers, we should not be offered half-completed games riddled with bugs and half-baked design philosophies. On the developer side, while they do indeed get cash for a half-completed game, they also get (well-deserved) bad reviews and negative press for releasing a shoddy product.

The thing is… this method appears to work. As pointed out in the Ars Technica article:

The examples are almost too numerous to list. There are the games like Evolve, Paragon, Battleborn, Artifact, and Lawbreakers that were never able to turn things around after moribund launches. Then there are titles like Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, Final Fantasy XIV, and Bethesda’s own Elder Scrolls Online that have found long-term success despite some early troubles. Right now, Bioware’s rough launch of Anthem seems to be sitting on the razor’s edge between these two possibilities.

The other two poignant examples listed earlier in the same article are Diablo 3 and No Man’s Sky. While we can quibble over whether No Man’s Sky is any better conceptually than it started, the game is undeniably a huge success now, with each content update pulling 100,000 concurrent Steam users. In other words, it did not crash and burn – the poor initial showing was only a flesh wound. And Diablo 3? The game that launched with literal P2W in the form of Real Money Auction House? Blizzard was punished with… 30 million copies sold by 2015.

And, really, at what point does it all end up sounding like sour grapes? I had to look back, but apparently the Diablo 3 RMAH was removed back in March 2014. Are we still mad five years later?

I mean, the RMAH was absolutely a terrible idea and Blizzard should have known better and we’re all so terribly disappointed in them. But if someone asked you whether they should play Diablo 3 today, is the RMAH really something you would legitimately bring up? What’s the statute of limitations on poor game design that no longer even exists in the current game?

It’s a struggle, I know. If you buy/play/enjoy Fallout 76 or No Man’s Sky or Diablo 3 or anything else today, you are indirectly supporting the (usually) same people who screwed up these games the first time around. “How will they learn, then?!” Well… they did learn. As evidenced by the game getting better. It will probably not prevent them from releasing a half-baked mess with their next game, but that may simply be the unfortunate reality at this point. We can hope that by delaying our purchase until the game is fixed – instead of preordering or Day 1 purchasing like a chump – the devs get the memo on what stage of completeness we are willing to accept. On the other hand, giving them money later on kinda justifies the whole “Release Now, Fix Later” approach.

And on the third, mystery hand? Taking a principled stand is exhausting when you could just sit down and play some damn games. If it’s fun now, play; otherwise, don’t.

HearthPwned

HearthPwn is closing down at the end of June.

While this came as somewhat of a shock, it was not due to any sort of issue with Hearthstone itself. Indeed, as Wilhelm points out, Hearthstone is the only Blizzard game still on the Top 10 PC revenue list (per SuperData). The issue appears to be a “strategic” change by the owners, e.g Curse / Fandom:

Fandom/Curse employee throwaway account here.

It’s a decision from higher ups/Perkins Miller (new CEO from Stubhub) to focus the company on the Wikis and D&D Beyond because money. They want the community to move to the gamepedia wiki, they’re the same sites in their head (source)

The spiritual successor site is… OutOf.Cards. As in, Out of dot Cards. Not wanting to be pigeonholed into just Hearthstone is fine, but… “dot Cards?” I guess…

There are probably much better Hearthstone content sites out in the world even before HearthPwn’s closure, but this sort of thing still brings me pause. We are constantly told that “the internet is forever,” but that’s not quite as true as it seems. Sites close all the time, for sometimes entirely random reasons, and while they might still technically exist like my first-ever Angelfire website created over 15 years ago, information often has an expiration date.

Watching it expire right in front of you though, is… uncomfortable.

Treading with Purpose

I continue to “play” Fallout 76 (F76). It’s really more akin to treading, but it suffices.

Caps are the universal currency in F76, and there is a daily vendor cap for… Caps. Basically, since nearly everything that isn’t nailed down can be sold, Bethesda decided there should be some limiter involved so someone doesn’t grind or glitch their way to the hard, player cap of 25,000c. It used to be each faction vendor had a 200c limit, but that was changed to be a universal 1400c, resetting daily.

Actually having 1400c worth of shit to sell isn’t impossible, but it requires some grinding slash borderline exploitative practices. One of the easier methods is finding the plans for the Marine Tactical Helmet and then crafting a bunch of those. I just so happened to locate the plans the first time I looked for them, and now can create a helmet for 1 glass, 1 plastic, and 3 rubber, then sell it to a vendor for 28c apiece. Getting 150 Rubber each day is not technically a struggle, but it has been. One of the best sources of Rubber is a school building that spawns a bunch of Kickballs in the gym. Alternatively, there is also a river shop that has a bunch of life preservers that can also be scrapped for Rubber and Plastic.

Unfortunately, as these are the best places for collecting vast amounts of these resources, and the Marine Tactical Helmet is the most straight-forward way of getting Caps, they are often swept clean before I ever show up. One can “server hop” by exiting to the main menu, but that’s also what everyone else does when they find those places empty too.

There is technically an easier helmet to craft and sell – the Civil War Hat – but the plans for those are a random spawn on a corpse that is itself a random spawn.

The end result is that I spent a not-insignificant amount of time in loading screens as I play F76. Checking the school gym, fast traveling to the Overseer’s Camp (near one confirmed random spawn location for the Civil War Hat), fast traveling to the river shop, then server hopping. To break the monotony, I’ll also hit up player bases along the way and check out their wares. Then repeat.

“But… why?”

Part of it is fear of missing out, specifically regarding the 1400c from vendors. With an angry baby at home, I do not always have the opportunity to play F76 or any game each day. So when I do find 30 minutes or less, I definitely want to drain those vendors before doing anything else. Considering that players can and are selling 3-star Legendary items in their Camps, gaining these Caps is basically the equivalent of farming Legendaries without actually having to do so directly. There is a question about why I care about better gear when I’m not actually “playing the game,” but that conundrum exists in any MMO anyway. “Defeat the boss for gear that makes it easier to defeat the boss.”

The other part is that playing F76 this way is still better than playing any other game at the moment. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is right out if I can barely finish one fight and one dialog box before having to put the game down. Oxygen Not Included could be an option, but there is a big content update that was scheduled for this month, but got moved to July. The latest Humble Bundle includes Streets of Rogue and Graveyard Keeper and a few other games that I was interested in, but I just sat and looked at the purchase button before closing the window. When could I even play these games? Can all them be paused/saved at any time?

Fallout 76 is perhaps worst out of those options given there is no pausing or saving at all. But in terms of “value” for time spent, it definitely is at the top of my list, still. Plus, you know, I still like the game. So I will keep treading, and do some swimming when I can.

“Bad Conduct”

I was recently given a temp ban (1 hour) for “bad conduct” in Clash Royale 2v2. Said behavior was closing the app in the middle of a battle. This was actually fairly surprising, on multiple levels.

BadManners

Oh, now I see…

For one, I had never even heard that this feature existed. After some Googling, it appears that they added this feature back in April 2018. I’m not sure how much it scales up, or when it triggers, or when it might reset… but it’s there. Supposedly it happens when you quit two battles in quick succession, but that doesn’t seem to always be the case. I have certainly quit plenty of times mid-battle before this, but perhaps it only trigger specifically off closing the app.

For two, this explains why I have seen a lot more people not drop games. Instead, they will sit there at max mana and do nothing, or activate the opponent’s King Tower – which I actually see as polite, if you’re giving up – or perhaps be extra fancy with Tornado to end the game faster.

For three, it has been surprising how filled with (self-)righteous fury I am over this.

The 2v2 format in Clash Royale is not competitive. By which I mean there are no penalties for losing. The format exists for fun purposes, and Crown/Chest purposes. You always want a chest to be unlocking when you aren’t actively playing the game, and to get chests you either need to play 1v1 on ladder, risking your trophy count, or you can play 2v2. I can also maybe see the 2v2 format being conducive for deck-testing purposes. No penalties for losing, so you can save your trophies until you’re sure your off-meta deck has a chance.

So we have three reasons: fun, rewards, testing.

Tommy98

Pictured: not fun

I left the game I did because my random partner played a level 10 Wizard directly into a level 13 Tesla. Like not accidentally played, but deliberately played, as if the Wizard would destroy it and live. The max level is 13. I am level 13 with a trophy count of 5023. At this trophy count, pretty much everyone has max-level cards; anything less is generally a liability given card interactions. For example, a level 13 Fireball will one-shot a level 12 Wizard (or Musketeer). For this reason, I actually did not run a level 12 Musketeer for months until I leveled her up the rest of the way.

My partner brought a level 10 Wizard to battle. I almost can’t even blame him, because when I looked at his profile afterwards, it turns out he’s level 10. I was paired with a level 10 against two level 12 opponents with an average of 5139 trophies each. In this scenario, which has repeated for the game before this one and the one after, it was bad conduct of me to concede the fight.

I am not sure what sort of matching algorithm Supercell has going on behind the scenes. It could be that this is a method of enforced win-rate balancing working against me, pushing me down closer to 50-50. It could be that the enemy team is currently in the “losing bracket” and I just happen to be their free win. Or perhaps my historical bad behavior has placed me in some kind of circle of purgatory until I atone for my sins.

Oktay_Complete

What the literal shit, Supercell?

All that I know, what I feel in my very bones, is that the true bad behavior is “matching” me with a teammate with a fucking level 10 whatever in their deck. It isn’t fun, we have a zero chance to win, and they aren’t testing anything. It’s difficult to even suggest that, had I played seriously and poured my heart and soul into that battle, that the opponents would have even had fun. They had level 12-13 troops! If fun was to be had, they would have the same experience with neither of us playing anything at all.

But, whatever. If Supercell wishes to discourage rage quits by requiring the app to still be running, I shall set my phone down for a few minutes, still running. If Supercell wishes to be a bit more clever and require spending elixir during the entire battle, I will acquiesce with some mindless troop drops too. But if Supercell continues matching me with literally useless teammates? I shall craft a deck with my own, lowest-level cards and spread this misery as far wide and deep as it can go. Because if I cannot have real, legitimate fun, all that’s left is mischief and cruelty and trolling.

No Man’s 76

The development redemption arc of No Man’s Sky is perhaps one of the best gaming, dwarfed only by Final Fantasy 14. Insane hype followed by a PR disaster as the game cratered, was meme’d, and then… practically born again. I would not say that No Man’s Sky has become some wildly successful game – it apparently sells well with each update – but the fact that it was not abandoned altogether is an immense testament to the will of devs wanting to make things right. And it is undeniable that the game is better than it has ever been before. The Beyond Update slated for this summer, for example, is set to introduce VR support and 16-person multiplayer. Yes, multiplayer that was advertised to exist years ago. But still! It’s getting closer to that original vision and potential.

Reading some of the latest updates regarding Fallout 76 is giving me similar redemption vibes.

For example, you may have read about how there is a PvP mode now. What you might not know is that they have eliminated the “slap” damage from the non-PvP mode, essentially giving people the PvE mode they always wanted. Granted, you can still get shot defending/attacking a Workshop or if you don’t have Pacifist mode turned on, but it’s immense progress.

Also immense progress? Player vending machines. Set one up in your camp, power it, and it’ll highlight your camp on the map for everyone to see and visit. Not only will this give you a means to sell your useful items and Legendary gear, but also give you a reason to make your camp look cool. That’s classic Show & Tell! I have a perfectly functional mountaintop base currently, but now I have an immense desire to relocate to a more convenient location and rework my entire camp.

Oh, and did you read about the Purveyor? Basically you can now scrap your unused Legendary gear for Scrip, which you use to purchase random Legendary items. At first, I was not particularly excited about such RNG layering, but then I started thinking about the current state of affairs. In the old system, you… tried to farm Legendary mobs for random drops, then get pissed every time a 3-star wood armor dropped. Now you can farm those same mobs and Legendaries and eventually earn a second chance to roll the dice.

Or, you know, sell the useful-but-not-for-your-build Legendary items in your vending machine for Caps instead of Scrip. Then use Caps to purchase your dream drop from someone who rolled differently. Or go farm Caps yourself and buy other peoples’ crap Legendaries and scrap them for Scrip to fuel your own rolls.

Are there still issues? Of course. Some are clearly bugs, such as not being able to inspect 3-star Legendary items in vending machines without the owner nearby. Others might just be terrible design decisions, such as being unable to text-chat other players on PC. And were is a “Sorry” emote?

If you hate the entire idea of Fallout 76 or what it represents, then okay, no updates will likely improve the game for you. But it is undeniable that the game has improved, in subtle yet significant ways. That player vending machine thing practically carves out an entirely new endgame by itself, nevermind the Diablo-esque Legendary gambling endgame now. And nevermind the continued release of dungeons and new events and so on.

There will be people who say that Bethesda deserves no praise for making (baby) steps to correct an initially poorly-developed product. I agree, for the most part. Yet I must say that the game is in a wildly better state than it has ever been, and I am looking forward to how much better it can become.

Disposable Progression

As I am playing a lot of mobile games lately, my nose is being rubbed in perhaps the most annoying design “feature” I have encountered in years: disposable progression.

The game in question is Gems of War, but it’s not specific to this title. Basically, you create a four-member team of monsters and use their abilities to fight your foes. There are hundreds of different monsters available, across a number of rarities, with all sorts of possibly interesting combinations. Each monster can be upgraded with a certain currency, special traits unlocked with a separate currency, and a third currency (extra copies) can upgrade the rarity of the card itself.

The problem is that you aren’t likely to use the first four monsters you pick up. So any currency you use to level them up and otherwise bridge the gap between completing missions and unboxing better monsters is effectively wasted. Maybe it can be considered “the cost of doing business,” but it nevertheless creates perverse incentives when I play. “Do I really need to level this guy up?” The answer is generally no, or at least never feels like a solid yes, so I don’t. And thus not only do I make the game more boring and harder for myself, I also rob myself of whatever pleasure can be derived from improving one’s characters.

I mean, it’s possible things were designed this way with the goal of actually getting players to waste currency in a bid to pad out game time. After all, if you sufficiently hoard currency, it’s technically possible to max out a new monster the minute you unbox it. That is not a particularly good outcome for anyone. And perhaps there isn’t really a way around things anyway – this may be a systemic issue the moment you design a game to have dozens and dozens of party members.

Regardless, it still feels bad. I have used the same monster team for the past two weeks, so I possibly should just bite the bullet and spend all my currency leveling them up. But the moment some cool legendary monster or whatever pops out of a box, I’m going to be quite miffed. And miffed to me is not opening the wallet to spend real currency buying fake currency, but uninstalling the game.

Time-Broke

Know what’s downright quaint? This Time-Poor post from back in March.

LastPlayed1

Two or three weeks sans gaming isn’t too bad in the scheme of things. Or wouldn’t be, if there was some kind of known endpoint. I’m a planner, a schemer, an optimizer. Meanwhile, my baby is an agent of chaos. Sometimes he’ll go three hours between feedings, and other times I’m feeding him every 30 minutes for an hour and a half. And since you can’t really do much else, the TV is on in the background, and when he finally calms down, you might be interested in the rest of the show.

This whole experience thus far has given me some first-person views of the gaming edifice though.

On Sunday, I actually had a solid 1-2 hour chunk of time to do non-baby, non-household chore things at like 11pm. The whole world felt like my oyster! Unfortunately, I hate oysters, and I found myself browsing Reddit – which I do on my phone anyway – and then playing a few games of Slay the Spire. The thought of diving back into Divinity: Original Sin 2 was, well, unthinkable. What would I do? Walk around, get in one combat, then turn the game off?

It got me thinking about uninterrupted time, and how often some games require it. The traditional expectation of it being required is when a game functions on Waypoint Saving. But if you have a narrative experience that you care about at all, then uninterrupted time is required. But even if a game doesn’t have a narrative, you might still need uninterrupted time in order to progress in the “what was I doing?” fashion. Or perhaps even the mundane “what buttons do what again?” sense.

Games with grinding are also right out. It used to be “ain’t nobody got time for that” was because life is full of so many other, better games you could be playing instead. Nowadays, for me, it’s literal.

Having said all that, I find time for mobile games. Clash Royale is still an hourly diversion. I bought You Must Build A Boat and also downloaded Gems of War, both of which can be played in small chunks. I was looking at Terraria, but was scared away by a review stating the last update was in August 2016. Instead, I (re)bought Stardew Valley. While I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m hopeful that it can also scratch the progression itch in a more nutritive way that gacha games cannot.

We’ll see how it goes.