Author Archives: Azuriel
These are interesting times we live in. And ones that seem to, on occasion, move very quickly.
The context, for posterity’s sake, is Blizzard confiscating the prize money from a recent Hearthstone event winner and banning him for a year due to a pro-Hong Kong Live interview statement. No, really. Here’s a link to the official Blizzard blog post, for however long that stays up:
Upon further review we have found the action has violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1 (o) and is individual behavior which does not represent Blizzard or Hearthstone Esports. 6.1 (o) is found below.
2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o)
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.
At least two prominent bloggers on my roll have said they will be canceling their subscriptions. If posts on Reddit can be believed, there are thousands of others doing likewise. Not a particularly good bit of PR right as patch 8.3 previews are making the rounds and Blizzcon is less than a month away.
Of course, none of it is likely to matter. Blizzard made a completely rational business decision.
Tencent owning a 5% stake in Activision Blizzard is almost wholly irrelevant in the broader truth that China is an insanely large market for games. Like $31 billion and growing to $41.5 billion in five years kind of big. By 2023 there will be more PC gamers in China than the entire population of the US. The latest news is that the US pulled ahead this year in terms of market size, but that is attributed to the fact that China freezed approval of new game licenses for almost a year and put restrictions on screen time for children. Even with zero investment from Tencent, losing access to that “second place” market would be a significant setback for any gaming company.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider China to be one of the most repressive, authoritarian regimes on the planet. But… up to this point, that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. It could be that this was just a particularly egregious example that shocked people into wakefulness, similar to certain phone calls to Ukraine. And that’s fine! Whatever it takes to get people to pay attention to the fact that corporations are not your friend, and that if it were profitable, these men and women board members would have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to destabilize the United States and/or any other country.
Canceling your subscription and deleting Blizzard games is one way to protest. I hope you don’t close Battle.net and boot up League of Legends (100% Tencent owned), anything on the Epic Games launcher (48.4% owned), PUBG (11.5%), Path of Exile (80%), Clash of Clans/Royale (84.3%), or any of the other games on the list though. Perhaps that is unfair, as I don’t think the Path of Exiles devs have banned pro-Hong Kong players for interviews. On the other hand, I don’t think these other companies were forced to let go of the tiger’s tail just yet. Nevermind any non-Tencent companies that would be willing to walk the same road for access to hundreds of millions of Chinese customers.
Incidentally, the makers of Gods Unchained (another digital card game) came out with this statement:
.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs. #freegaming
Cool, huh? I suppose it’s a bit easier to stand up to China when you build your card game around one-time printings of cards, including Mythic-rarity ones of which only four are printed per year, one of which just sold for $62,000:
Ultimately, I do hope that Blizzard reverses course. I hope that all the negative PR and boycotting is effective enough at providing change. I hope that American companies will stop bending over backwards to appeal to oppressive regimes.
I had also hoped in the last election that people who would have literally died without Preexisting Conditions protections would not have voted for politicians expressly running to remove said protections, but here we are. This is the world in which we inhabit… until it bursts into flames.
…in the movie department. Well, the in-game movie department, amirite?
The above is an “official” compilation of all of the cinematics in Battle for Azeroth proper. Clocking in at nearly 24 minutes, it’s quite a lot. This does not include the three Warbringers shorts (Jaina, Sylvanas, Azshara), or the copious amount of in-game animation. It’s almost enough to compel me back into the fold.
Alas, unlike my blogging peers, I have but 1.5 hours a day to play games, and I sure as shit ain’t playing Beta for Azeroth anymore. Maybe it got better since I last played… which was an entire baby ago. Ah well. We’ll see how things go an expansion or two from now.
Well, I guess that’s one way to highlight the fact that maybe multiple launchers are necessary.
While Steam being down has obviously happened in the past – maintenance or not – this is the first time I have actually sat down ready to play something and… not being able to. Wife and baby are sleeping, I have probably ~30 minutes of free time, and I wanted to get in some quick Kingdom Come: Deliverance action. “Oh. Maybe I’ll play Slay the Spire… err… Oxygen Not Included… uh… oh.”
Steam came back up before this got posted, but something to think about for the future.
Two months ago, I was pontificating on the Clash Royale $5 “Season Pass” scheme, and the broader context behind this type of microtransaction.
This month, I have completed my third Season Pass purchase in a row. That $15 is more Supercell has seen from me in almost two years of playing Clash Royal, so clearly they are doing something right. But what changed in my thinking?
Floors and ceilings. And defined value.
If you browse any of the Personal Finance subreddits out there, one of the frequent topics is renting vs buying a home. What is correct for your specific scenario is, of course, specific for your scenario. One of the interesting lines that comes up though is this: rent is the most you will have to pay a month; a mortgage is just the minimum. As any homeowner knows, you have to cut a check to the bank every month and then pay for whatever shit may have broke in the meantime. Last summer, for example, we discovered dry rot in the roof by way of water leaking down pipes into the basement. You might come out ahead in the long run with a house, but that depends on running a long time.
In games like Clash Royale, the payment ceilings are effectively nonexistent. Most of the time, you are paying cash for random results and could end up spending $100 or $1000 for whatever it is you want. With that much uncertainty, it is better to… spend nothing. So I have been, for years, minus some 10x value offerings. Those had been great deals, but they were not real floors either – just chests and gold and random goodies that got me a leg up in the front door, so to speak.
The Season Pass is a true Floor. For $4.99 you get X, Y, and Z. Someone broke it down back when it first released but there was some extra value above and beyond the defined benefits. For example, unlimited resets on some of the Challenges. Sure, that effectively means “you get all the Challenge rewards.” But you could technically get all the Challenge rewards if you play well enough. With the Pass though, the anxiety is gone. I can play a few rounds while watching the baby, because if I have to put the phone down I won’t be screwing up my only shot at completing the run.
Much like with Humble Bundles, there is a relief that comes from knowing one small payment obviates any “need” to pay more money for the month. You don’t have to think about it anymore.
Of course, it is all a mental trick devised by mercenary psychologist-economists to get people to part with their cash. Nobody “needs” to pay any money to Supercell, and the “value” that comes from the Season Pass is, in part, derived from the fact the company has hitherto been miserly with normal rewards. If, if, you have been worn down by the unceasing barrage of unfettered capitalism though… well, the Season Pass is not the worst possible capitulation.
It sure as shit is going to get you farther than $5 will in Hearthstone.
So it’s been a week, eh?
I am not going to go into too many details, but work has been crazy these last few weeks. More specifically, I was reassigned to an interim position after a string of terminations left a critical seat empty. This is not a promotion – in fact, the seat would technically be a demotion if I were taking it over for longer than the six months I am covering. It’s more work, less pay (I’m being paid the same as before), more stress, and I even have to supervise people. I am slowly turning things around, but there was a lot of cleanup to do. Luckily the remaining team is relatively solid.
Regardless, the position drives home the fact that we inhabit an absurdist universe in which “lower” jobs require more work and get paid less than their cushy, “higher” job counterparts for no reason.
In the brief time I have for gaming, I have been focusing on three titles.
Clash Royale is still a thing I play on a daily basis during breaks. I keep thinking I am approaching the end of my patience with the title – and I am certainly approaching the end of reasonable progression – but without it, there is a rather gaping hole in my mobile gamespace.
Slay the Spire has recently reeled me back in with the beta release of a 4th character. The Watcher has a lot of interesting cards and mechanics, although the balance is certainly off. Hard to complain though, given how you have to specifically opt into the beta, and there are almost nightly patches to introduce new cards and change the old ones. My play time here is approaching 150 hours.
A recent addition is Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I will have a lot more to say later, but it is an interesting game so far nonetheless. As you might expect though, I am playing it all wrong.
So here we are again: another Fallout 76 patch and another controversy. Unlike the previous patch in which a bug existed in the new raid that could delete all your character’s worn items, the focus of collective ire is on… a $7 fridge in the cash shop.
Reddit, of course, is having none of it. The fridge itself does not add to Stash space, but allows ~15 food items stored inside it spoil 50% more slowly. There is already a backpack item that you can earn via gameplay that has a fridge mod option (90% reduction) to slow spoilage of all food in your inventory, and there is a Perk under Luck that does likewise. Nevertheless, this is Pay 2
What happened to no pay to win?
…or is it? There have been some counter-current threads poking fun at the absurdity. Many of those people have been accused of being (paid) shills, as if Bethesda had otherwise demonstrated the level of sophistication necessary to coordinate an effective PR campaign of any kind despite every possible evidence to the contrary.
Between the extremes are more sensible concerns. For example, the general idea that Pay for Convenience incentivizes inconvenient game design. Or how the mere existence of these items permanently close off design space, because anyone who bought one would get rightly pissed if there was a 90% freezer added to the game later. I would also include under “sensible concern” the question of why there wasn’t a trashy, rusted out fridge added as a sidequest reward that anyone can get while the pristine $7 version peacefully exists in the Atom Shop.
It is a fair question to ask why we’re bothering to talk about this at all. There is a general, background radiation-level of concern around microtransactions and cash shops, but the primary impetus to rage was the simple fact that Bethesda said the Atom Store would be cosmetic only.
Here are the tweets from Pete Hines:
Or did they?
There is another Reddit post that highlights the fact that the context around the above Tweet matters. Specifically, the now-deleted question was asking whether someone could buy a legendary minigun from the Atom Shop, and Pete Hines replied “No. Only cosmetic.” In other words, specifying that one cannot buy guns, but only cosmetic skins for guns.
The “cosmetic only” takedown continues in this extremely well-sourced post that essentially shows that Bethesda never gave any particular indication that cosmetics were the only thing slated to arrive in the Atom Shop. The stress was no competitive advantages and no P2W items. When people questioned the existence of Repair Kits – which allow you to repair gear instantly in the field – Bethesda responded with allowing different versions to be found in-game, and stated “If we find that Repair Kits do offer any sort of competitive advantage once they are available, we will make any changes necessary to ensure that advantage is removed.”
In fairness, there are some counter-arguments in that last link that show other contexts in which Bethesda employees have stated “cosmetic only.”
For myself, I find the entire argument complex and interesting.
First, I have a longstanding hatred of microtransactions and the erosion of Consumer Surplus that results. You see this in Fallout 76 with the fridge and the junk robot that could have been in-game quest rewards, but you also see it more broadly… everywhere. Guild Wars 2 is an egregious example of how the fashion endgame is essentially co-opted by the gemmed endgame. Sure, you can technically farm in-game gold to turn into gems to purchase new armor models, but why all those extra steps? Because shareholders.
On the other hand, a fridge and repair kits are about the most benign bullshit that I can imagine getting worked up about. Yeah, something something boiled frog, but Bethesda has been exceptionally communicative regarding fan feedback to changes. It doesn’t stop them from slamming their dick in a car door every patch, but I am not getting a nefarious vibe here. Last patch they added an in-game Atom Shop kiosk despite the fact that everyone has to click through an Atom Shop screen on game startup. After fan outrage, that in-game kiosk was removed with the very next patch.
Second, it’s fascinating from the “they lied!” angle. Let’s put aside the question of whether they really lied or misspoke or whatever. Are developers allowed to change their minds? Probably… not, right? A Tweet or interview from before the game was released saying one thing and a change in strategy (to get more money, mind) would rightfully be considered a Bait & Switch. There are X number of people who would not have purchased the game at all if they knew there was a possibility of P2W items down the road (not that these are P2W by any stretch).
On the other hand, Bethesda brought all this up in an April 2019 blog post:
We read tons of feedback and suggestions from the Fallout 76 community, and Repair Kits were a popular request that we wanted to get into players’ hands. We also felt we could try out something new with these, both in-game and in the Atomic Shop. As we look to the future, we’re exploring ways we can bring other community-driven ideas to the game as well, such as refrigerators for C.A.M.P.s, ammo and food converters, and even the ability to send scrap to your stash without having to head home. Repair Kits are our first attempt at a utility item like this, and we plan to make adjustments based on your feedback, so we hope you’ll share your thoughts with us when they go live later this month.
Five months ago, utility fridges were on the roadmap. At some point we are going to see “ammo and food converters” and chances are good that we are going to be here again, having the same conversation about P2W when they come out too. Probably still absent any sort of indication about what someone is winning for having paid.
I’m conflicted with the whole thing. Part of that is probably because I actually really enjoy the Fallout survival game experience, and hate seeing Bethesda snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every patch. Another part is a sort of reflexive “Fake News!” reaction when everyone piles on the game just because that’s the game we pile onto now. It used to be No Man’s Sky and now it’s Fallout 76 until something else comes along. I thought it was still Anthem’s turn, but whatever.
I would say none of this matters and go on my merry way playing the game, but that’s not how games work these days. Even though Fallout 76 is very much a solo survival game for me, its continued development hinges on cash shop purchases and the community reaction to them. Plus, you know, it’s a shame when artistic resources are spent on paywalled material when it could have been integrated in gameplay instead.
So, Bethesda, for god’s sake man, be careful with that car door.
My blog roll is filled with WoW Classic posts, and I am loathe to add another one to the pile. But it was interesting to me scrolling through them, as there was a lot of words surrounding the sort of meta experience, but not so much the moment-to-moment or even the “but… why?” piece.
It was not until SynCaine tried to explain the difference between Easy and “easy” that I realized what WoW Classic is all about:
With that said, one major reason why Classic is fun is because it isn’t faceroll easy. Starting right at level 1, you simply can’t run into a group of mobs solo and expect to survive. When you are doing at-level content, you are always at least aware of where mobs are, about what you are pulling, and what keys you are pressing. Now don’t get confused, once you do those things, killing a mob or two is ‘easy’. But that itself is the point; you have put in the work to get a decent pull, so your reward is being able to kill said mob without too much fuss. That ‘simple’ combat is also its own strength; you really don’t want the most basic aspect of your MMO (combat), that you hope people experience for hundreds if not thousands of hours, to be tiring or require near-constant button mashing.
WoW Classic is Something To Do. Which is not to be confused with “something to do.”
Before I get into that though, I just have to laugh. “It only seems easy, because of all the work you have to put in.” Ehh… no. WoW Classic is easy. That rules exist at all does not make it any less easy. Pulling only one or two mobs at a time is the equivalent of Paint By Numbers – the hardest part is not becoming distracted by all the other things you plan on doing later while actually doing the thing you clearly don’t need to pay close attention to do. Notice how nowhere in the description of Classic combat is any hint of “engaging gameplay.” Methodical, sure. Engaging, no.
Sort of like rolling a boulder up a hill.
But that is the thing: it is Something To Do. I miss that. The other day I logged onto Guild Wars 2, walked around a capital city a bit, then logged off. There was nothing compelling to do. My characters are all max level, Ascended gear already farmed, literally nothing else than to grind out Legendaries or achievements or gold to buy Cash Shop clothes.
Meanwhile, gaining a level in Classic is also a chore, but a real one, like washing dishes. It isn’t as though there are more challenges between the start and finish, but more… stuff. Steps. Drag anchors. It takes more generic units of Time. Because of that extra time spent not engaged in anything, the cognitive dissonance is thus stronger and you end up feeling better about your life after completing the task as a defensive mechanism. It becomes Something To Do rather than something you did. More important. Certainly more meaningful than watching an episode of Big Bang Theory or scrolling past page 18 of Reddit.
It seems as though I’m making fun of people having fun in Classic, but I do in fact miss Something To Do. Yesterday I was playing Moonlighter, which is a game where you kill monsters in a dungeon at night and then sell the items during the day, so you can buy better items to do it all over again. Sound familiar? I was racking up some nice coin in the game and then… just stopped. Nobody cares, least of all me. I still had three dungeons to go before the end of the game, but I already saw myself at the end of it, with nothing to show for it but this shoehorned paragraph in a post about a totally different game.
Of course, that’s the other Classic secret sauce right there: timeliness. Leveling in Classic is Something To Do that is also exciting, as though it were a new MMO launch. I have pointed this out before, but Dark Age of Camelot is still a thing you can play in 2019. Same with Ultima Online. My blog roll isn’t filled with posts about those games though, because Classic is fresh and shiny and a game many millions of people have played. Just look at all the MMO posts from people who had otherwise stopped playing MMOs until literally last week. Amazing how that works.
I don’t think many of them will be able to Go Home Again, but if they are as starved as I am for Something To Do, maybe they will set up a tent in the empty lot. At least for a few weeks.
I was feeling the “play something else” itch the other day, and instead of scratching it with one of the 800 unplayed titles in my Steam library, I wanted to buy something new. In looking around, I found the game I had been subconsciously looking for: Forager.
But then… I paused. Doesn’t this seems like, you know, the sort of game that might end up on the free Epic Store list? Or as a front-runner for Humble Bundle? Or otherwise in one of the dozens of bundles around the internet? Same thing with my #2 choice, Fate Hunters, a Slay the Spire-esque game currently 25% off on Steam. I love Slay the Spire, I have 130+ hours with that game.
But, you know… Slay the Spire is currently a front-runner for the September Humble Bundle.
So, I didn’t buy Forager. Instead, I’m playing a few of the free games from the Epic store, like Moonlighter and Enter the Gungeon. They don’t scratch the itch in exactly the same way, but they also don’t cost $13.59. Or any amount of money, actually. All of which is making me wonder when again exactly that I will be back to purchasing games.
There is a slow-burning dumpster fire in the Guild Wars 2 subreddit, and it seems to have been set by ArenaNet.
For those just coming onto the crime scene, the stage is set thus: GW2 appears to be in decline. Revenue is down. ArenaNet lost ~35% of its staff in February of this year. While there has been semi-regular Living Story updates, the last full expansion was released almost two full years ago. So when there was an announcement countdown livestream event on Twitch, the dedicated fans were hopeful. Maybe there would be a new expansion? Or new elite specs? Or some WvW/PvP love?
It was not a complete nothingburger, but it was clearly not at all anything that a worried fan might take solace in. Living Stories are now “Living Sagas,” there are some new Masteries coming, and… 10m starter raids called Strikes? When you lose a third of your entire workforce six months ago and leave an awkward silence to the question of whether your company can even handle another expansion, people start using phrases like “maintenance mode.”
The Content Marketing Manager response over this holiday weekend has consisted of… throwing around lit garbage.
Hey friends, this industry can be a weird one to work in and this year has been an especially roller-coaster-y one for lots of companies. A couple of important things to remember: (1/5)
If you’re abusing your fellow human beings because you’re mad about your game, that’s not “passion”. You’ve lost perspective and crossed a line. It doesn’t matter why you think a game has wronged you–attacking devs or your fellow community members has no excuse. Ever. (2/5)
“Be professional” is not code for “I am allowed to heap every vile treatment I can think of onto your head, and you are required to thank me for it, ask for more, and always treat me with the utmost deference. If I even THINK you aren’t, there will be hell to pay”. (3/5)
If you have to resort to hyperbole, snark, fact omission, mild truth-stretching, creepy comparisons to Hitler, or metaphors about “It’s like if you paid the bill but they turned off your heat in winter” to explain your fury, perhaps the situation is not as dire as you say. (4/5)
Save the “But you have to understand” devs deserve abuse. I’ve been working in this industry for 10 years and playing in it since I was a little girl. I’ve been Mad At A Game. I never *once* exhibited the vile behavior I see daily. It can be done. (5/5)
This has been received by the GW2 Reddit community… poorly. Even though she later clarified that she totally wasn’t talking about reaction to the ArenaNet event – that rant was apparently just apropos of nothing – it became somewhat emblematic of developer communication these days. Specifically, react and pontificate on the toxicity of your game’s community instead of addressing the root causes of ire.
I mean, what does this Content Marketing Manager expect to occur as a result of her posts? Has there been a single successful chastisement in the history of the internet? Even if it worked the end result would still be Reddit threads filled with polite questions and criticism and radio silence from the company that absolutely wants you to continue giving them money but won’t give you a hint that it’s secretly cratering and can’t possibly swing an expansion anymore. Which, okay, business is going to business here – why tell players the $5 (character-specific!) bag slot they’re about to buy will never contain new items when you can say nothing and keep the money?
Nobody wants to upgrade to a 1st-class cabin on the Titanic. At least, not after it hits an iceberg. And make no mistake, Guild Wars 2 has hit an iceberg. Probably a few. The remaining crew yelling at the panicking passengers is the exact opposite of constructive. Something useful would be informing them that additional lifeboats (expansion) are being constructed as we speak. Here are some life jackets (elite specs). There’s a nice band playing over on Deck 7 (WvW stuff). You know, anything to make the transition a more pleasant experience when it is literally your job to do so.
We’ll have to see how ArenaNet management react when they swing back into the office today. This tweet-storm is not on the same level as the Jessica Price fiasco a year ago, but it’s in the same neighborhood of dumb. Why people keep insisting on driving that route, I have no idea.
At one point in time, I might have had an opinion or angle in talking about the pending (re?)release of WoW Classic. Something snarky about how damn near everyone is gravitating towards the classes that were actually functional back in the day – a tacit admission on how broken the design was back then – or general glee at the thought of rose-colored glasses being smashed with the brick of reality.
But you know what? You do you. Go have fun.
I didn’t have any fun three years ago, but I joined the WoW deathmarch in TBC, so maybe things would be different if… nah. What made WoW great for me was the time in which I played. Real life sucked, my IRL friends were scattered the four winds, and this virtual world offered the perfect escape vehicle to a kill an afternoon, a weekend, or entire years. I couldn’t tell you what else I was doing back in 2009, other than apparently uploading Naxx and Ulduar guild kill montages.
If you can log into Classic in 2019 and have the same fun you did more than a decade ago… well, I wish you the best. Much like Blizzard’s decision to actually go through with this release, I imagine that it will eventually be a Win-Win-Win for everyone. Whether it will keep veterans’ attention for years, or lead to nostalgic crashing and burning, or somewhere inbetween, at least the option exists.
That ain’t nothin’.