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Microsoft Buys Bethesda, the World

File this under Holy Shit, Batman:

Today is a special day, as we welcome some of the most accomplished studios in the games industry to Xbox. We are thrilled to announce Microsoft has entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks.

As one of the largest, most critically acclaimed, privately held game developers and publishers in the world, Bethesda is an incredibly talented group of 2,300 people worldwide who make up some of the most accomplished creative studios in our industry across Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios. These are the teams responsible for franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, DOOM, Dishonored, Prey, Quake, Starfield and many more.

https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2020/09/21/welcoming-bethesda-to-the-xbox-family/?ocid=Parterships_soc_omc_xbo_fb_Video_buy_9.21.1

As it says, Microsoft is buying ZeniMax and all its subsidiaries, of which Bethesda is a part. Among other things, this means that Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout 5, etc, will be coming to Game Pass on Day 1. That link also indicates the deal was for $7.5 billion. Which is like… 3.5 Minecrafts.

Another amusing detail is that Bethesda and Obsidian are going to be under the same roof again. Perhaps there could be another New Vegas-esque collaboration? Obsidian are good storytellers when they don’t have to build worlds from scratch. When they do, we get garbage like Outer Worlds.

What else could this mean? Well… since Microsoft is going all-in with the Game Pass, there’s a remote chance that Bethesda-specific subscriptions get rolled into Game Pass itself. For example, Fallout 76 has the Fallout 1st subscription and then there’s Elder Scrolls Online’s sub. Like I mentioned yesterday, Game Pass doesn’t include everything, like DLCs and such. That said, EA Play’s subscription is getting rolled into Game Pass for no extra charge. So who knows?

Overall, I am extremely excited. I feel the same way currently as I did way back in the day, when the first few Steam sales started. I hated that Valve was forcing me to download Steam just to play Half-Life 2 and otherwise jump through a lot of hoops. Then once the sales started, it all clicked that this was the future. Well, the future is happening again. And now instead a future heralding the sale of horse armor, we get a timeline where you can play AAA games on Day 1 for $4.99 $9.99/month.

PC Game Pass Price Doubles

I just received an email from Microsoft that the Game Pass is coming out of “beta” and will be increasing in price from $4.99 to… $9.99. This price increase makes it… still cheaper than the $12 legacy Humble Choice subscription, of which I have paused for the past five months in a row. It’s more expensive than EA Play ($4.99) but still cheaper than EA Play Pro ($14.99).

Will I continue to subscribe to Game Pass? Absolutely.

Looking at my account history, I have given Microsoft $60.96 over the last eight months. The two biggest games I played were Outer Worlds and Metro: Exodus, but there were a slew of “smaller” titles like Carrion, Into the Breach, Children of Morta, Nowhere Prophet, Forager, and Undermine. I’m looking forward to playing Spiritfarer, going through Halo: the Master Chief Collection, Astroneer, Grounded (I may wait until it’s out of Early Access though), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Frostpunk, and possibly Disgaea 4.

The above isn’t taking into account the games on the service that I already own elsewhere. Fallout 76, My Time at Portia, ARK, Dead Cells, Dishonored 2, Don’t Starve, Final Fantasy 15, Hollow Knight, No Man’s Sky, Slay the Spire, Stellaris, Subnautica, The Long Dark. Shit, I just realized how many crafting/survival games I could have gotten for (relative) free. Oh well.

I don’t know why I continue to shill for this service, other than perhaps to reassure myself that this is actually a thing that exists in this world. I have long railed on the concept of Consumer Surplus and how gaming companies have systematically been extracting every last ounce via DLC, Season Passes, Loot Boxes and so on. This trend towards a Netflix model for gaming has been the one bright spot this decade, it seems, eclipsing even the Humble Bundle model before it.

Will it solve all our (gaming) ills? No. Stellaris is on Game Pass but just as the base game – it still has $100+ worth of DLCs in typical Paradox fashion. Same with ARK. But there is a natural tension surrounding extra purchases for “rented” games such that I can see perhaps a higher-tier subscription beginning to include DLC. Or maybe Microsoft will be dicks and force you to purchase the game years after launch for near MSRP to get continued use out of already-purchased DLC.

Nevertheless, companies will need to make the base game worth experiencing if they hope to grab gamers’ attention without leaning on the Sunk Cost/dissonance of ownership. Not every game is going to be on Game Pass, but I absolutely believe that there will be more of these subscription options from other companies, the same way that Netflix is no longer the only, ahem, game in town.

Who Buys Games Anymore, part 72342

Carrion came out a few days ago, and I was intrigued after reading a review. Basically, it’s a “reverse horror” game where you control the writhing mass of teeth and tentacles as you eat your way out of a research facility. Probably not groundbreaking, but seems like a fun little game to pass the time. Was it worth $20 though? Maybe I’ll just add that to my Steam wishlist and call it a day.

Oh… or I can apparently play it right now on Xbox Game Pass.

I honestly can’t even. How does this business model work? I have the following games installed and ready to be played at a moment’s notice:

  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Carrion
  • Gris
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Astroneer
  • Frostpunk
  • Forager
  • Neon Abyss

Those are mostly indie-esque games, but they could be Dishonored 2, FF15, the Gears series, etc.

There apparently was an Xbox or Microsoft or whatever event a week ago, where they demoed a few of the upcoming games. I hadn’t been paying attention at all, until I started hearing people talk about STALKER 2. I enjoyed all three games of that series, jank and all, so hearing that there was a, erm, “sequel” coming out was great news. Bottom text, though? “Coming to Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.”

Also? State of Decay 3. Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.

Also? Destiny 2 and all (?) its expansions coming to Game Pass in September.

I’m paying like $5/month for this shit. How? The “catch” of course is that games rotate in and out all the time. I own none of these games. There really isn’t any modding supp… oh wait, there is. What? 

The last time I used this title was a year ago, when I waffled on whether I wanted to buy Forager. Guess what’s on the Game Pass now? That’s right.

It’s kind of an open question on how much I would be willing to pay Game Pass, if it were not actually only $5. People still pay $15/month to play Battle for Azeroth for some reason, so that’s probably the floor. $30/month? I’m halfway to completing a $20 game that just came out, so maybe. Especially if it was a scenario in which I could sample/beat a lot of high-profile games all in a row. 

Microsoft is not sponsoring this blog, I swear. But at these prices and with these games, they don’t need to.  

What Competition Looks Like

After nearly a year, we’re starting* to see what actual competition looks like.

Outward_Sale

A bargain at… the same price?

Outward has been on my (Steam) wishlist for a while, despite the lukewarm reviews. During this Winter sale period, it is the same price both in Steam and the Epic Store. In a tie, victory goes to Steam. However, the Epic Store is currently running a promotion where you get a $10 coupon applied to the first game you buy that costs $14.99 or more.

Ergo, Outward on the Epic Store costs $5.99 and thus was bought there.

Outward_Sale2

First blood. I hope it’s worth it.

This is indeed the first time I have spent money in the Epic Store, despite technically owning 28 games there. I suppose this means I will have to turn in my Steam fanboy card, eh?

…if only I had one. The only brand I’m loyal to is Consumer Surplus. After a year of dicking around with pernicious exclusivity deals, Epic finally came around. As I said in that post:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all.

In this case I saved $10, which is absurd, comparatively. And it appears that each time you redeem this coupon, you get another one. There does not appear to be a limit either.

The real difficulty at this point is determining what other games are out there that I would possibly want to buy. It’s a bit hard remembering because the Epic Store still doesn’t have a wishlist feature in a gaming storefront in 2019. No, seriously:

Wishlist

We’re working to bring Wishlist to the store. You’ll be able to wishlist any offer on the store and you’ll be notified of sales or promotions for that offer. This has been previously listed as work-in-progress development, but is requiring more work than originally planned. We’ll keep you up to date as we move the Wishlist feature along.

That “minor” detail aside, most everything else comes down to bigger titles that don’t have deep (enough) discounts in my mind. For example, Borderlands 3. After the coupon, I could pick that up for $28.99. But… is that really a deal at this point? Having already waited this long, I may as well wait some more. Same issue with Control, which has gotten some good word-of-mouth. By the time I get time to play these games, the Spring Sale will have sprung and the price will likely be less. Plus, you know, this Epic coupon is valid until May for some reason. Time to hurry up and wait.

* I’m vaguely aware that the Epic store might have already had a similar $10 coupon deal back in the Summer.

Subscription Pass

When the videogame historians look back on this particular monetization strata, it will undoubtedly be the Season Pass era. Or perhaps the Microtransaction era more generally, to include loot boxes, but with legislators and science slowly turning against loot boxes, I feel like more and more games will be making a hard turn into the Season Pass model.

To be clear, I am not referring to the Season Passes of yore, in which you essentially pre-ordered DLC. The new hotness is basically a month-to-month subscription. This most recently slapped me in the face in Clash Royale:

Clash-Royale-Update-Pass-royale-1147670

The new troop doesn’t even officially get released until Season 2…

Someone on Reddit wrote up all the incentives that your $5 will purchase, and the list is somewhat enticing. None of them are technically P2W, which is itself a moot point because you could drop $99 on shit from basically day 1 in Clash Royale anyway. Indeed, if you look at the package in comparison to what your hard-earned cash could buy normally, you’re effectively getting 10x-11x the normal value. Five dollars will get you 500 gems, which can convert to 10,000g or two emotes or two Lightning Chests… or basically give you 40,000+ gold, 800 more cards (including 60+ Epics) and a bunch of other stuff.

Of course, Supercell doesn’t want it to be an either/or scenario. You can do both. Having an exceptionally generous Season Pass can lure F2P players into making their first purchase, after which it is easy to make another. One of the “perks” of the one in Clash Royale is an auto-announcement in Clan chat that you purchased the pass, and thereafter your name shows up in gold coloring in chat and battling. Turns out that adding gold leaf to a scarlet letter makes it rather desirable.

The dilemma I face is the same as always: I am caught in eye of the monetization storm.

ClashRoyale_AlmostMax.jpg

Could I be any more off-meta?

As the screenshot shows, I am one Miner card away from having a fully-maxed deck. I am sorely tempted to purchase the Season Pass entirely to get that last Miner card. It would normally not be too difficult to trade for it within my current clan, but there are at least three other members currently asking for Miners themselves, and none seem keen to trust me in giving up one of their so I can max the card and satisfy an effectively infinite number of trades thereafter.

After that though… what then? I have dozens of technically maxed cards that I cannot actually max out because I lack the gold to upgrade them all. Not that I would need to max them out in the first place, considering I don’t use them in decks. The deck I have is the one I enjoy the most. The last two slots are technically flex slots, but I have tried a bunch of alternatives and found them lacking.

Would the new Fisherman legendary card be a good fit? Completely irrelevant. New legendaries may as well not exist, because I would need literal dozens of them to get them anywhere near usable levels where I’m sitting on the ladder (~5800 last season) and in 2v2. Granted, the Fisherman has some utility outside of his base HP and damage – the ability to hook and pull troops around like Roadhog from Overwatch – but I’m still not bringing that to match that matters.

In any event, the Season Pass model gives me pause. In the context of cash purchases within Clash Royale, it’s a great deal. Would I pay a $5/month subscription to Clash Royale though? Nope. It’s not a subscription though, as there are no reoccurring payments. “Cancel any time!” And yet there will be tens of thousands who do re-up every month, for the rewards or the conveniences lost.

Technically this should be positive Consumer Surplus territory… so why do I feel so dirty?

Possibly because I felt the hook twitch. Supercell isn’t reeling in the line yet, but it’s there. Subscription versus Season Pass is a distinction without a difference, and yet those who would riot about the former in their game are praising the latter. It is a trick of psychology, a stark reminder we can be tricked, and evidence that we face amoral corporations that have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to trick us out of as much money as possible.

For however bad loot boxes may seem, never forget that loot boxes are apparently not enough.

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.

Epic Shenanigans

In case you haven’t seen the news, the Epic Store has poached another timed-exclusive game release: Metro Exodus. The wrinkle this time is that rather than being planned from the start, Deep Silver must have been given a fat stack of secret cash because the game was already available on pre-order from Steam (which are still being honored, until removed from the Steam store). And, you know, the game was all set out to be released in 2.5 weeks.

I mentioned “fat stack of secret cash” because while the revenue split is more generous in the Epic Store, they are actually doing the only thing I said would matter in the competition space: Metro Exodus had its MSRP lowered from $60 (on Steam) to $50. Which means the gross revenue from this game would be:

  • Steam = $60 * 0.7 = $42
  • Epic = $50 * 0.88 = $44

That calculation demonstrates how a developer could still make a higher profit on the Epic store by dropping the price to $50, but here’s the thing: they are going to be losing a non-trivial amount of sales for not being on the PC’s largest storefront. Enough to matter? Remains to be seen. The Metro Redux (aka remasters) of the first two games sold 1.5 million copies back in 2016. That would be $3 million more in Deep Silver’s pocket if they sold the same amount of games… at full price… as the remasters of the last two games combined.

That $2 difference between revenue is 4.5%. If Deep Silver sells 4.5% fewer copies due to not being on Steam, then they lose almost $3 million. I mean, without even doing much calculations, you gotta know that for every Steam sale lost, they have to sell 22 copies in the Epic Store to break even. Ergo, I suspect that Epic was waving something more than simply the 88% cut in Deep Silver’s face.

And that’s kinda the baffling thing about all this. I’m not opposed to competition between companies, especially when it results in a gain in consumer surplus. Competing on price is a huge deal, and I’m sincerely amazed that Deep Silver pulled that trigger to sell at $50. But… why then yank the title from Steam as a “timed-exclusive release”? That isn’t consumer friendly or useful to anyone at all. Why not let the same title be purchasable on both platforms, and allow nature to run its course?

We’ll have to see how things shake out a year from now, when the game is finally released on Steam… presumably at a huge discount because it will have been a whole year.

Loot Boxes, Supplemental

We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:

If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:

Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.

If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.

Yeah, that.

Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.

If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.

Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”

You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Often unnoticed, but never unfelt, matchmaking in multiplayer games forms the invisible core of our gaming experience. In the old days, happenstance determined the characteristics of our neighbors. Maybe one server was labeled “Recommended,” but for the most part players were left to their own devices. If you were lucky, you might discover that mythical “Good Server” which featured players with similar skill levels as yourself. If not, perhaps there was some means of at least balancing the teams occasionally, by forced shuffling or similar. Otherwise, players were left to “self-deport.”

Automated matchmaking has been around for a long time now; long enough to demonstrate both its virtues and its vices. The virtue is, of course, being intelligently matched based on a whole raft of heuristics. The vice meanwhile… is being maliciously matched based on those same heuristics. Gevlon has long warned about overt rigging of games for monetary profit, but we have truly crossed the Rubicon when Activision itself has submitted (in 2015) a patent specific to that purpose.

And it was granted a few weeks ago. Feel free to read the whole patent yourself.

Granted, it isn’t entirely an engine of evil. The patent covers a process in which matches are made on a variety of characteristics. For example:

In another example, if a player has been performing poorly (e.g., getting killed at a rate higher than the player’s historical rate), the scoring engine may dynamically adjust one or more coefficients to match the player in a game that will improve the player’s performance. For example, the player may be matched with easier opponents, matched with better teammates, and/or placed in a game that is more tailored to the player’s preferences (e.g., players that play in games more closely aligned with their preferences tend to perform better).

This sort of balancing matchmaking is not hypothetical – Supercell, makers of Clash Royale – have already admitted in a Reddit AMA last month that there is indeed a “losing streak” pool in which you are placed after X numbers of losses. Why Supercell thinks this is a particularly good idea in 2v2, I do not know. For every person who just happened to statistically fall into a losing streak (e.g. 50% win rate), there are many more who are losing because they are tilted, trying out new decks they have no experience with, and so on. Grouping people this way is a sure-fire method of condemning players to ELO Hell, until and unless they happen to be paired up with truly abysmal opponents. So, in this regard, I prefer Activision’s method of “correcting” winrates.

Of course, the problem with picking winners and losers is when you are selected to be the loser. For every time you are gifted strong teammates to help you out of a losing streak, your opponents are punished by withholding of the same. We all want fair fights, being matched not just on skill levels but progression level too. It’s cruel to have new Hearthstone players face people with dozens of Legendary cards, even if the impartial ladder states they are equivalent players. Actively sabotaging games, though? We want fair fights, but not like this.

That is not even the most nefarious part of this engine, though. The true evil arises in plain text, in an approved US patent application:

In one implementation, the microtransaction engine may target particular players to make game-related purchases based on their interests. For example, the microtransaction engine may identify a junior player to match with a marquee player based on a player profile of the junior player. In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile). The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player.

“Matched” in this case, largely reads as matched against. In other words, the matchmaking system will notice you choosing the sniper role, then placing a more-skilled sniper opponent with a P2W rifle on the other side, for the express purpose of “encouraging” you to also purchase the rifle. It is bad enough having P2W elements in a game generally, but here we have a mechanism by which it can specifically be rubbed in your face. On purpose. To get you to buy shit.

This level of evil is not Google reading your email and popping up ads for dandruff shampoo. This is Google sending Fabio to your workplace to specifically call out the dandruff on your shirt, in front of your coworkers.

Could things get any worse with this patent? Activision is asking you to hold their beer:

In one implementation, when a player makes a game-related purchase, the microtransaction engine may encourage future purchases by matching the player (e.g., using matchmaking described herein) in a gameplay session that will utilize the game-related purchase. Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases. For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen. Activision settled the debate. Because now even in scenarios in which in-game purchases don’t directly increase one’s power (e.g. naked P2W), it’s quite likely that a matchmaking engine engineers a scenario in which you are more likely to win. For having paid. So even “purely cosmetic” purchases can end up becoming de facto P2W.

And much like loot box reward odds, companies will obfuscate the inner workings of their matchmaking systems such that it will be impossible to know either way. Are we to just trust their word that no matchmaking shenanigans are taking place, when they otherwise have every possible economic incentive to do so? Activision is just the first company openly patenting the process, not the first company to use these methods. Who would actually go on record to admit it?

Patent

Actual diagram from the Activision patent.

Do you see now? Do you see it? This is precisely why you should be caring about Consumer Surplus; this is why you should be up in arms about gambling loot boxes; this is why you never act as an Apologist to a game (or any) company. There is a straight fucking line between Oblivion’s infamous horse armor and Activision (et al) literally patenting the rigging of games for cash. And that line is still going lower, and will continue to do so, until acted upon by an outside force.

We are nowhere close to bottom.

The days in which game companies made their money by selling more copies – and thus had every incentive to make the best possible game – is over. Voting with your wallet isn’t going to bring it back either; in the US, where money is speech, the voice of the guy spending $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer loot boxes drowns out everyone else.

“You need to understand the amount of money that’s at play with microtransactions. I’m not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that when Mass Effect 3 multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant that’s the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that’s the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that hadn’t really had them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money. It’s repeatable income versus one-time income.

“I’ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.”

When every economic incentive is directed towards Consumer Surplus extraction instead of, you know, improving the gameplay experience… this is what we get. Always-online multiplayer in every game, single-player game studios getting shut down, loot boxes everywhere.

Play stupid games, (pay to) win stupid prizes.