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Season Pass, Revisited

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.

Reviews: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale; Deadlight

Game: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 82
Completion Time: ~16 hours
Buy If You Like: Japanese indie games with funny localizations

Seriously, even a Lost joke?!

Seriously, even a Lost joke?!

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is a Japanese indie game localized in the Working Designs (RIP) tradition, wherein you take control of Recette as she turns her lonely house into an item shop to pay off her missing adventurer father’s defaulted debt. With the aid of the loan shark fairy Tear, you can either buy weapons, armor, and other goods at wholesale prices from the markets to sell at a premium, or hire out adventurers to go clear dungeons and sell those drops in your store. Time is limited however, and you must make each week’s increasingly crazy payment lest your home get repossessed.

I found the general gameplay and underlying mechanical tension surprisingly fun. Each day in Recettear is divided into four slices, which you can use to run your shop, spend going out shopping, or use two at a time to go through dungeons. I frequently found myself in interesting dilemmas: with the 80,000 payment due tomorrow, should I spend all four time slices to peddle my dwindling wares? Should I gamble that a dungeon run will net be some expensive “free” items, and that I still have time to sell them? Or should I actually spend money at the market in the hopes that I can recoup with profit before tomorrow?

These dilemmas even extend to the actual selling of items too, as you must decide what markup percent your customers are willing to accept. Shoot for the guaranteed 110%… or stretch to 130%? Finally, at random intervals the market for weapons/consumables/etc will either crash or spike, which can force you to sell at half price or lets you double your profits respectively.

Overall, I enjoyed the game while it lasted, or at least the first 8-10 hours. Defaulting on the loan actually leads to a Game Over screen, but you can start again at Week 1 with your full inventory, same adventurer levels/equipment, and same Merchant Level and other unlocks. While this makes beating the game an inevitability, you are likely to understand the underlying systems well enough to make beating the game a forgone conclusion before the end of Loop 2. For those who find themselves obsessed, Recettear does offer a quite a selection of post-game activities, including New Game+, Endless mode, and even Survival Hell mode where you have to keep making six-figure loan payments until you finally default.

If you want a unique, quirky indie game with an amusing localization, Recettear has you covered.

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Game: Deadlight
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 78
Completion Time: ~3 hours
Buy If You Like: A less artistic LIMBO, or short side-scrolling puzzle games

Somehow, this is easier than walking around the electricity.

Dude… couldn’t you just walk 10ft into the background?

Deadlight is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer in the tradition of Out of This World or LIMBO, to use a more recent example. You control Randall Wayne has he navigates his way through a 1980s version of a Seattle zombie apocalypse on a mission to find his family. Amidst the frankly ridiculous jumping scenarios that Randall solves with Assassin’s Creed-levels of aplomb, you will frequently be harassed by zombies (or “Shadows” as they are termed here), which creates an extra level of tension and danger to the side-scrolling navigation.

It is worth noting that this game is stunningly beautiful; clocking in at 4.1 gigs, I suspect that the characters and environments are actually rendered in full 3D, with the camera merely forcing a 2D perspective. Aside from the graphics though, my comparison with LIMBO remains apt: Deadlight is an incredibly short game whose merits largely reside on the artistic side of the spectrum, rather than gameplay. Whereas LIMBO’s style accentuated the gameplay though, Deadlight’s more realistic bent strains credulity and breaks immersion in a few places. An example is in the screenshot above, where Randall had to leap from a building onto a series of cranes, then jump down to wire before launching himself over a barbwire fence. While platformers require a healthy degree of suspension of disbelief in general, I had a hard time getting over the fact that there is clearly a perfectly safe pathway not 10 feet in the background of that very screenshot.

Despite the immersion breaks, Deadlight isn’t a bad game – it is simply something I would not recommend picking up outside of a bundle. Even if you pick it up on a $5 sale as I did, the dollar-per-hour of entertainment is not particularly impressive.

Entitlement

“Entitlement,” like “casual” before it, is such a loaded word these days that I consider any gaming argument in which it is included to be a lost cause. How can you reason with someone who sees no merit in criticism, or (apparently) believes the rightful state of the consumer is to be one of permanent, ingratiatory groveling? I suppose we should be happy developers deign to part with their digital goods at all, yes?

Keen made a recent post on the subject of people being skeptical about proposed game features that have already been “proven” to work in older titles; things like 500 people fighting over keeps in DAoC, non-instanced player housing, and so on. I was going to write on the subject, when this section of a user comment jumped out of nowhere:

For an entitled gamer, why play a game where you can’t have something when there are plenty of games that will bend over backwards to hand it all to you on a silver platter? And unfortunately, the majority of gamers are entitled. Note that I am not using the word casual here because there are some casual games who are not entitled and some serious gamers who are.

I hate this system. I hate that the vast majority of new games shoot for the lowest common denominator to get as many subs as possible rather than finding a niche in the market and shooting for a reasonable slice of the pie.

At first blush, you may be tempted to agree. Don’t.

It’s dumb, it’s contradictory, it’s asinine. Look at all the whiny, entitled gamers in these sort of comments wanting player housing and 100+ player PvP battles, amirite? Having a preference does not make someone entitled. Wanting to be catered to as a consumer does not make someone entitled. Seeking maximum value for one’s gaming dollars does not make someone entitled. Buying/supporting only the games you like is not being entitled.

I wonder if people even understand what they are saying when they type things like “the vast majority of new games shoot for the lowest common denominator to get as many subs as possible.” That presupposes there is a “higher common denominator” that is being neglected when their own desires are equally fantasy bullshit. It is suggesting that games and mechanics these days are not being built to the satisfaction of their own refined palate, as if they were entitled to that.

You can’t have the argument both ways.

I understand and empathize with the sentiment. We live in a world where Firefly gets canned after a dozen episodes while Jersey Shore will be running its sixth season. Shit is unfair. And I would also agree that (MMO) gaming is in an era of extreme loss aversion; if something like Darkfall could make enough money to finance a sequel, surely that is “successful” enough, right? An investor flight to AAA quality has, in many respects, killed off the “middle class” of game designers. Without said middle class, it is entirely possible there are no designers catering to your preferred play style, and indie games can only go so far.

That said, twisting “entitlement” into (even more of) a pejorative and otherwise demonizing your fellow consumers is ultimately counter-productive. Begrudging them their satisfaction of capitalism working as intended (to them), gets you no closer to your dream game sequel. Instead, it leaves us all bitterly divided, rooting for each others’ failures, while those actually responsible continue eroding consumer surplus in the form of on-disc DLC, always-online DRM serving no other game purpose, and similar nonsense.

In other words: don’t blame the players, blame the game (designers). It is the latter saying your money isn’t good enough.