Category Archives: Miscellany

Plate Spinning

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether my resolution to “continue to be a passably responsible gaming dad” meant not posting anything in 2020. Luckily, that is only partially the case.

I don’t actually know how other people do it. My wife and I both work, which means that gaming time is typically limited to when she and the baby go to sleep. But said gaming time is really “do everything else time,” so in practice, it’s like 30 minutes. What can you meaningfully play in that amount of time?

The kicker is work changes. I used to have some downtime in which I could write posts. Now that I’m in an interim position, that’s out the window. It’s been out the window for a while, but not all the plates had stopped spinning. Now that they are slowing down, well… I should probably learn how to spin them, yeah?

I’m kidding – I’m amazing at everything I do. It’s the choosing to do things that needs some work. So I’m going to do that.

And maybe shorter posts? We’ll see.

Niiiiiiice

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

HB_Timing

I submit that there is not!

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

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

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

Path of Self-Exile

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

POE_Grid

Ain’t nobody got time for this.

…shut the game down.

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

Oh. Just literally pressing one button and running around.

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

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

[F76] Sidenote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down Steam

Well, I guess that’s one way to highlight the fact that maybe multiple launchers are necessary.

SteamDown.JPG

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.

 

State of Play

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.

Do Nothing, Save Money

It’s amazing the value of doing nothing.

Recent Steam sale? Bought nothing. There are like 30 items on my wishlist, but none of them are particularly… buyable? For example, I have Sekiro on there but A) it’s a newer game that won’t see a deep discount, and more importantly B) I have no means of playing. I’m actually coming up on the end of my 4-week baby probationary period (i.e. paternity leave), but that just means a new reality of daily babysitting and the same lack of any ability to do much of anything after work still.

Recent Amazon Prime Day? Well, I did buy some house stuff because I’m a bleeding heart liberal that nevertheless enjoys next-day delivery of… let me check… 100 ft extension cords, razors, fish food, and USB chargers. More importantly though, I did not buy that PS4 Pro $300 bundle despite the fact that I was actually browsing Amazon right when it went up.

If I’m honest, it was less willpower and more dithering. “Surely I would play it! Totally different scenario from the PS3 I have hooked up next to the monitor I’m currently typing on.” “If I’m buying a console for no reason, why not a Switch instead? There are fewer Playstation exclusives I’m interested in, plus it’s portable when watching the baby!” “Yeah… but Final Fantasy 7: Remake.”

“…aaaaaaand it’s gone.jpeg.” “Success baby.jpeg.”

I have talked in the past about my digital hoarding predilections, insofar as it is more centered around avoiding paying MSRP. A good deal on a game that I want to play eventually is very enticing, because when the mood strikes, it strikes hard and turns any other game into ash in my mouth. This used to be a big problem.

Now? I have accepted my fate. I play phone games and browse Reddit for nine hours, then maybe play something equally mindless, like Fallout 76 or now Graveyard Keeper when off baby duty. Could I jump back into Divinity: Original Sin 2? Not really. I mean, I could play it, but I’d probably be interrupted every 30 minutes or so, and only have about two total hours in any case. When that becomes your gaming time horizon, your tastes shift.

I am hoping that things will eventually settle down. My child doesn’t sleep through the night, or even in a crib for longer than 15 minutes yet. I think babies are supposed to though? I have no idea. All I do know is that sometimes doing nothing is the correct answer, which just so happens to correspond to my existence at the moment.

Christ, I just want to sleep. And play videogames.

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.