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Epic “Competition”

The Epic Game Store has poached another high profile new release from Steam: The Outer Worlds.

OuterWorlds_Steam

As if trailers weren’t already misleading enough.

As with Metro: Exodus, this is a timed exclusive meant to expire after 1 year. Unlike Metro though, Outer Worlds is also slated to be released on the Windows Store as normal. So if you really wanted to play it Day 1 without using the Epic Store, you can. Of course, that means… you have to use the Windows Store, which comes with its own issues.

The backlash from the continued poaching of games is pretty widespread on Reddit (and Youtube comments, etc) although there is also a tremendous amount of counter-backlash. Most of the counter-arguments seems to boil down to “why so serious?” Which should not be unexpected from /r/SubredditDrama or /r/GamingCircleJerk users, of course. Nevertheless, it is question worth asking.

But before I get to answering it, let’s review why Epic is doing this in the first place:

When asked for his take on these reactions, Sweeney reiterated the aim of the Epic Games Store is, “breaking the 70/30 stranglehold that’s pervaded the industry for more than a decade,” and that its methods in doing so were never going to please everyone.

“Changing the way that games are sold is a big disruption to everybody,” he says. “I understand that — I’ve personally unsubscribed from Netflix twice as their selections of movies changed. But this is a necessary step forward for the games industry if we want to enable developers to invest in building better games, and if we want the savings to ultimately be passed on to gamers in the form of better prices.

Ah, it’s all pure altruism for the good of all gamers.

On Sweeny’s Twitter though, he admits:

UbiSoft agreed to a co-exclusive on UPlay and the Epic Games store. Epic Games seeks exclusive games in order to have a unique lineup of games so there’s another reason for gamers to come to our store.

In fact, here are the brass tacks:

That’s one of the biggest complaints about the Epic Games Store: it lacks features. Indeed, it didn’t even have a search tool until recently. But Sweeney points out that there’s no use taking on a “dominant storefront” (ie, Steam) unless the exclusives, prices and developer relationships are there.

“It’s nearly perfect for consumers already… There is no hope of displacing a dominant storefront solely by adding marginally more store features or a marginally better install experience,” he said. “These battles will be won on the basis of game supply, consumer prices, and developer revenue sharing.”

It may seem like a “duh” moment, but I just wanted to reiterate the fact the Epic CEO admits there is no other way to compete with Steam on the merits. That the Steam store is “nearly perfect for consumers already.” And thus, the only way that the Epic store can hope to compete is by restricting the game supply via exclusivity agreements.

Which is a bit of a weird way to foster “competition,” don’t you think?

If you want to know why I consider Epic’s shenanigans as anti-consumer, timed exclusives is it. Competition between storefronts means I have the choice to purchase it from Steam or from Epic or whomever. For some reason, Sweeney feels like competing on price or developer revenue sharing isn’t enough. Possibly because Epic has a shitty store lacking in basic functionality. Forcing people to use said store if they want to play X game isn’t doing consumers any favors, even if it’s hypothetically “for our own good” years from now.

I get it. Disruption is required to break into mature markets. But typically – or at least ideally – the disruption comes out in favor of the consumer right away. Uber and AirBNB and Netflix and all the rest broke monopolies by offering not just lower prices, but superior service/opportunities in most cases. Uber didn’t just swing big-dick Fortnite money around and buy up all the cabs around the airport and tell people that the next five years are going to be super exciting for cab drivers.

The Next Xbox May Have Always-Online Requirement

The rumormill is a-churning away on this piece of news:

“Unless something has changed recently,” one of the sources told us over email, “Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used.”

Durango is the codename for the next-gen Xbox.

“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,” the source continued. “If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time–currently three minutes, if I remember correctly–the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”

Lending a sort of credence to the entire affair, and once again proving that people become drooling morons on Twitter, is this series of Tweets from the Microsoft Creative Director, Adam Orth. I will go ahead and transcribe them here instead of just posting pictures of tweets like the dozen lazy websites I checked before realizing that no one else was going to do it:

Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an “always on” console. Every device now is “always on”. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit

I want every device to be “always on”.

Alex Wells: Off the top of my head I know 5 people who own 360’s who current have no access to the internet. They would be screwed.

@TheonlyAlexW Those people should definitely get with the time and get the internet. It’s awesome.

Manveerheir: Did you learn nothing from Diablo III or SimCity? You know some people’s internet goes out right? Deal with it is a shitty reason.

@manveerheir Electricity goes out too.

Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner.

The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.

Microsoft apologized for the tweets by someone “not a spokesman for Microsoft” a day later.

Personally, I feel this is one of those rumors stupid enough to be true. Microsoft is already requiring the Kinect to be running the entire time the Xbox 720 is on, because somehow it’s important to Microsoft for there to be a camera trained on your living room the entire time you are playing Halo 5. Besides, this is not even the first time we have heard about this – here is an article back in February from an insider saying that Xbox games will require an online activation code and installation to the HD, thereby making the disc worthless to anyone else. It is not much of a leap to go from online activation keys to always-online.

Lost in all of this, of course, is what possible benefit there is to the consumer. Always-Online is not a feature, no matter how hard EA’s COO spins it, it’s a restriction. You have to be online to pay an MMO, or PlanetSide 2, or whatever other multiplayer game, yes, but that is because those individuals are not in your house. The single-player campaign or indie game or whatever is in your house and doesn’t require outside intervention except arbitrarily. Remember the SimCity fiasco? There were zero server-side calculations, or at least calculations that needed to be sent out to EA’s bank of super-computers (…lol) to process. Even if you could argue that Leaderboards or cloud saving were worthwhile features, no rational arguments were given as to why they could not simply have been optional.

Adam Orth’s analogy with cell phones is particularly instructive in regards to these corporate drones’ idiotic thought processes. Does your smartphone simply shut down and become unusable the moment you lose coverage? Or can you continue playing Angry Birds or taking photos or listening to music you saved to the device? Whether I am always-online already or not, there is no benefit to the requirement.

In any case, I cannot possibly imagine a better advertisement for the PS4 than the next Xbox coming out with an always-online requirement. Will it sway a majority of people away from the Xbox? Probably not. But as the margins in the console business continue getting slimmer, perhaps there will be enough losses that these anti-consumer practices will stop making their way out of the fevered wet dreams of CFOs everywhere.

And if not, well, there is always the $99 Ouya, right?

Pandas As iPads, and Target Audiences

Simply put, I see the sort of backlash against Pandaren the same as the backlash against the iPad, when that was first announced. A tablet computer? Called an iPad? The jokes write themselves. Steve Jobs was clearly out of his mind.

A year later, making fun of the iPad’s name was like making a Your Mom joke.

To be clear, I do not expect Mists of Pandaria and pandas in general to take off and sell 15+ million copies like the iPad; this is not a full analogy. Part of that is because WoW has already peaked subscriber-wise, and it’s tough/impossible to break out of a decline when each lost sub severs social threads that kept people logging in long after the novelty of the game experience has ran out.

That being said, the absolute histrionics going on in the blog world regarding pandas has taken on a surreal, manic intensity. Look at this post over on Wolfshead Online:

If I wanted to kill a serious MMO, I don’t think I could find a better way than introducing a playable race of goofy looking walking bears. Any credibility that Blizzard had in the MMO realm has vanished with this horrible decision. What we are witnessing is the unprecedented transformation of an adult MMO into a children’s MMO right before our very eyes. (emphasis added)

I’m sorry, but if you can write something like that or agree with it without being a tad bit embarrassed later, I have a paper bag you can breath into. Credibility? Here is the credibility Blizzard has in the MMO realm:

WoW subs vs all other MMO subs

That's called expanding the base.

According to MMOData.net, the entire MMO field basically only grew by 4 million subs in the seven years WoW has existed. If even a tenth of ex-WoW players move on to try other MMOs, WoW will have done more for the genre than any MMO, ever. Credibility? Christ, how many times have you described something as an EVE-clone, or a Warhammer-clone? I guarantee you there are some very serious men in some very serious suits over at MMO boardrooms that will be seriously considering iconic animals in the future, simply because WoW is doing it. “Dammit Jim, they usurped pandas! How about… elephants? No, no: hippos! Make it so.”

I get it. Pandas happened. I was utterly convinced Mists of Pandaria was going to be an iOS game, perhaps a combo Fishing slash Archeology slash Sudoku premium app that would interface with the Mobile Armory so that what you caught/found/solved could be redeemed for in-game WoW items. Then follow that up with an announcement of The Emerald Nightmare expansion, which could be tone-appropiate sequel escalation to Burning Legion summoning –> Undead Scourge unleashing –> Corrupted dragon world-breaking pattern of WoW expansions.

Hell, considering the established lore of the Emerald Dream as a mystical pre-Sundering continent, complete with fantastical and extinct species mobs, that expansion practically writes itself. And they could even work in the (leaked) Horde vs Alliance war heating up as fueling the Emerald Nightmare’s destructiveness by the power of unhappy thoughts.

If you think about it conceptually, Mists of Pandaria is doing just that. You have the Sha, which are the physical manifestation of bad things, having hitherto been kept in check by the Taoist Pandaren before the two superpowers came and turned the island into a fantasy Vietnam. They also have the mystical continent with fantastical and extinct species mobs. Having mined the pseudo Gothic/Norse mythology to death, going East was simply a matter of time – even the “generally fantasy” Magic: the Gathering went to Kamigawa (aka Japan) eventually.

And now? They still have Emerald Dream as a follow-up option.

Target Audiences

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to touch on some bloggers’ mistaken notions that Blizzard somehow changed their intended target audience with this new expansion. I am not quite sure how else to put it than this: the target audience of WoW has never changed; you changed.

There is no actual indication that Pandaren are going to be a joke race in the expansion; they existed in Warcraft 3, and would have replaced draenei in TBC had the dice fell the other way. If you want an example of an actual joke race, roll a gnome. No, seriously, sign up for a free trial and play a gnome 1-20. There is no bigger joke race than gnomes, and they have been a joke since Day 1. I would argue that Tauren are also a joke race, but that is at least a case of a joke race with /seriousface lore. Gnomes never had serious lore – even the flooding of their capital with radioactive poison, killing off 80% (!!) of their entire race, cannot be presented without a wink from atop a smoke-belching Mechanostrider.

Don’t get me started on goblins, who deviate from being walking euphemisms for capitalistic greed long enough to establish they got their intelligence from mining rocks and turning it into Coca Cola on a volcanic island (that exploded). Or how about the Taunka, Tuskarr, or Tol’vir, all of whom are so cliche as NPC animal races that it would have been jarring if they did not exist in their respective cliche habitats. Remember the Wolvar and Oracles in Sholazar Basin? 90% of that entire zone was a total joke in a Serious™ expansion.

What I will not say is whether WoW was ever objectively serious or not, because that misses the point. WoW was, is, and always will be taken as seriously as you want it to be. MMO-Champion will be posting world-first T14 hardmode kills and hundreds of thousands of people will care, pandas or no pandas. There will be 6+ year veteran players who declare a Pandaria raid boss as their favorite encounter. Tankspot will likely be posting Challenge-mode dungeon guide videos. Petopia may completely transform into a Wowhead-esque database to handle the influx of traffic from the Pokeman battle system. Some of these features won’t be for you, just like new raids only appeal to less than 20% of subscribers. That doesn’t mean the target audience is changing any more than your mother giving a sibling candy first this time (or at all) means she stopped loving you.

If this is the way you normally act, though…

The ultimate bottom line is once you get past the echo-chamber sticker-shock of OMGPANDAS, a month after the expansion releases the game will be exactly as it is: fun, or not fun.

If fun, would pandas actually stop you from playing?
If not fun, did the pandas actually matter?

If you honestly would not play an otherwise fun game because of its tone or tenor, then ironically, maybe it is you who needs to grow up. Or at least breathe into this paper bag until you stop losing your shit, and remember why you play videogames to begin with.