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Nuked Frog

Remember last month when we were wondering about whether Bethesda’s latest monetization strategies were a boiling frog scenario? Well, they just tossed the frog in the microwave and nuked it:

PRIVATE WORLDS, SCRAPBOXES & MORE COME TO FALLOUT 76 WITH FALLOUT 1ST
Ever since Fallout 76 launched, we have consistently worked to improve and evolve the experience based on your feedback. That’s why we’re excited to launch Fallout 1st, a premium membership that offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends. In addition to this huge feature, Fallout 1st also includes a host of exclusive items and membership bonuses, all of which you can find detailed below. And the best part? Fallout 1st is available right now.

Yep, Fallout 76 now has a $13/month (or $100/year) subscription option.

F76_First

A bargain at… none of the price

Reddit is understandably losing its shit.

F76_Rage

That last post is a great tip, BTW

The subscription itself unlocks Private Worlds, e.g. your own personal game world that up to seven other friends can join, infinite Scrap storage, a tent to act as a mobile second base, a monthly stipend of Atoms (premium currency), and some lookalike NCR armor from New Vegas. And emotes or something.

While it came as a shock to most everyone, Bethesda did “prime the pump” last week though, when they flat-out said they’ll be selling utility in the Cash Shop going forward:

Our approach to [Atom Shop] items at launch was to keep them purely cosmetic. But after looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop.

While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collectron Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop. We’re also still working on all the previously announced items and new cosmetic categories.

[…]

Of course, players can also buy Atoms, and we’re careful with everything we add to not upset the game’s balance. Our main objective is to avoid a situation where players can spend money to gain a competitive advantage or make the game worse for other players. Even more so, we want systems that allow players who do choose to buy Atoms to make the game better for others, not just themselves. With these principles in mind, we make careful decisions about the items we offer to keep it fair for everyone.

That was the same News post that stated the much-anticipated Wastelanders update – which will see the introduction of actual NPCs – was delayed into Q1 of next year to, and I quote with heavy emphasis, “make sure the work we’re doing hits our quality bar, and yours.” Er, yeah. Sure.

The tragedy is that I can see where Bethesda was coming from.

Private servers and the eventual modding piece that goes with it has indeed been one of the most requested features since before the game even launched. Now it’s here. Considering that Fallout 76 basically runs off of Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was never going to be a “use your own hardware to host” scenario. Which means a subscription. So they made one. And if you already have a subscription offering, why not throw in a few additional features to try and entice the people who don’t care about private servers? Hence all the ancillary stuff like the Tent, infinite Scrap box, etc.

Where the dick meets the car door though is the timing.

Imagine if Wastelanders was coming out next week. A huge, sprawling NPC horde that changed damn near every inch of the game world with new quests, factions, and activities. Imagine that it was… at least passably decent. In the midst of all this positive press, imagine Bethesda rolling out this subscription, letting you have your private Fallout experience with no one killing the NPCs or starting quests before you get there. Some of the outrage would still be there – Bethesda has claimed Stash space is limited for server stability reasons, but the Scrap Box can also exist in public servers – but Wastelanders itself could be pointed to as being “free DLC” as promised.

Alas, it was delayed and the suits decided to roll out Fallout 1st anyway.

To be clear, I have no interest in defending Bethesda per se. This subscription was rolled out despite the Wastelanders delay because whatever dipshit suit in charge didn’t want to lose the holiday cash. Hell, the subscription was rolled out despite the “private” servers themselves being already-looted empty servers, with no control over who on your friend list can join. Oh, and the Scrap box is eating scrap too, I guess?

To an extent, none of this matters. Not because “it’s Fallout 76,” but because whales in gaming are not an endangered species and each dollar they spend on shit like this is a vote you never get to make with a boycott. People were calling bullshit on these lines from Bethesda:

We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collection Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop.

…but are you really sure that it’s bullshit? Does it really surprise you that utility items were added and that people buy them by the thousands? Shit, a while back I was logging into Guild Wars 2 every day for a month hoping that Character Slots would go on sale in the Utility tab of the cash shop. I barely even play GW2! That was just for Character Slots too, and not any of their actual Utility items like daily resource nodes, special zones with crafting stations, and so on. Fallout 76 is no GW2 or Elder Scrolls Online though, so the hubris is especially galling despite the methods being identical.

My prediction? The subscription details will eventually change, private servers will actually be private, and mods will change how the whole system works on a fundamental level. People who still don’t like survival games will continue to not play Fallout 76 anyway, and yet they will still buy Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 on release because self-control across a population that is 72% overweight/obese is clearly not a strong suit. And really, why wouldn’t you play games that give 40-400+ hours of fun just because another team in the studio keeps slamming their dick in a car door? 

Then again, maybe I have just been reheated one times too many.

Time and Place

One of the definitions of nihilism is “the belief that nothing can be known or communicated.” I was thinking about this the other day, when I was watching the anime Cross Game. See, I was watching Cross Game because someone had rated it very highly, 9 out of 10, and I am always on the lookout for such recommendations. As I talked about in my review of it though, I personally thought the show was okay… but not a 9 out of 10.

Which is fine, of course, as everyone has differing tastes in entertainment. For example, the acclaimed Breaking Bad series which I stopped watching around Season 2. I’m not sure whether it gets better or not, but I had a hard time getting over the initial premise (I didn’t buy into the main character’s reasoning) and I don’t much care for the whole “double-life tension mechanism” as a whole. I was able to put up with it in Dexter, but that’s about it.

So I then realized that for the people who were deeply moved by Cross Game or Breaking Bad or what have you, I will never be able to experience their same joy. I can certainly empathize with it, and of course I have my own personal joys as well. But in a sense, we’re alone.

And the problem isn’t just what we find meaningful, but also when we were exposed to it.

It should come to no surprise to anyone that one’s favorite games/movies/etc are generally correlated with what they watched first, typically when they are younger. It makes perfect sense after all – games and movies and so on are experiences too, occurring in a specific time and place in one’s life. There is a fundamental difference between playing FF7 back in 1997 when it was bringing the entire RPG genre into the mainstream… and playing it for the first time in 2015. Even putting the graphics aside, one would miss the zeitgeist, miss the novelty of a lot of its systems and character design, missing the power of one of the most recognizable spoilers in gaming history, and so on.

For me, FF7 ties with Xenogears for my favorite games of all time. The majority of that goodwill however is tied up in personal experiences unique to me. I can indicate to you that these two games are my favorites, and perhaps even attempt to explain why, but unless we shared similar experiences back then, the actual feelings would not be transmitted. You will not be able to feel what I felt; in that or any experience.

I am finding this realization incredibly tragic. Not just because my tastes in entertainment are clearly the best, but also because I could not even really begin to understand yours on a coherent level. Why was Cross Game a 9/10 for that person? What is it about EVE that is in any way appealing? Or Dark Age of Camelot? We can use words and arguments and perhaps even sales figures to convey as much as we can, but the words themselves aren’t experiences.

It seems the best we can do while stuck in the back of Plato’s cave, is to desperately use shadows to express to others the objects only we can see.

SimCity and Meta-Criticism

After a long period of reflection, I had originally decided to not join in on all the schadenfreude surrounding the SimCity debacle beyond my post two weeks ago. Not out of any moral sensibilities – heavens no! – but simply out of a lack of fucks given. That, and I certainly couldn’t keep up with the torrent of other blogger updates on the developing story, when it seemed some new embarrassment was revealed daily. Kotaku even had a SimCity Disaster Watch graphic created to handle all the articles.

At one point though, I was almost tempted to purchase SimCity myself out of a longing for gonzo journalism combined with the thought of a free EA game. Then I simply browsed EA’s catalog, realizing that unless they gave away Dead Space 3 (they did, dammit), I either had all the games or the value’s promotion was $20 max.

I do, however, want to commit to internet posterity my intense loathing regarding articles like this one from Time.com. These middle-road Apologist articles and their asinine, straw man arguments infuriate me to heights even EA cannot hope to surmount. Consider the following:

EA was never, ever obliged to make SimCity a single-player game, nor do these accusations (accurate or no) from modders that the existing code is just a few steps away from being a single-player game hold much water when it comes to EA’s obligations. So what if the game could have been a single-player game.

First, who said a single goddamned thing about obligation?

Look, I can follow the twisted derailment of thought that conjures forth the implied “obligation.” Someone stating that SimCity should have had a single-player mode is assuming a sort of game design high ground, harkening towards a moral edifice that does not strictly exist. Because the game should have been a certain way, Maxis/EA has an obligation to Comment out Line #22 in the code design a single-player mode. That’s where the implied obligation comes from, right?

If so, we live in a terribly nonsensical world, one immune to criticism or judgment of any kind. Did McDonald’s give you cold french fries? Too bad, because they aren’t obligated to give you hot ones. No complaining! Did you tell the waiter you wanted a medium-rare steak and they gave you well-done? The chef isn’t obligated to bend to your whims, knave! He or she is an artiste! Movie previews aren’t obligated to represent the actual feature film, and if you don’t like it, go back in time and don’t buy a ticket!

Of course, the author clearly is being pedantic here. The point most people are bringing up is that SimCity, both conceptually and literally, doesn’t need to be always-online. There is no requirement for it to be so, despite the rather flagrant falsehoods claimed by the development team and embarrassingly contradicted by the modding community and a Maxis insider. Maxis/EA has no obligation to accede to reason, of course, but they certainly invite the valid criticism that accompany such quests for profit at consumer expense.

Which segues nicely into this nonsense:

You can ask, you can even petition, but I’d like to think we’re not at the point where we’re now telling painters, musicians, writers and artists of whatever stripe — game designers included — what they have to do.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t shake your fist indignantly and shout “but games are art!” then hold game designers to a different standard.

This is truly an despicable appeal to diversion. “Stop complaining about game design direction, or else games won’t be art anymore!” First of all, there is nothing sacrosanct about art. Authors have editors. Directors have focus groups. Fundamentally, all art is an exchange, and every artist considers his or her audience when making a piece for presentation (even if they imagine it is an audience of just themselves). And this is besides the fact that these game companies are businesses selling a product for profit. Games can be artistic products, but these companies are selling them to consumers, not putting (selling?) them in museums.

The pernicious worm at the core of this abhorrent article is the same one I have seen in similar, depressingly frequent articles: an implicit admonition of criticism itself. “Stop complaining,” these authors say, “you are lucky the artists deign to create anything for you filthy plebs.” No, I deny your thinly-veiled nihilism. Gamers have a right to reject anti-consumerist design. Gamers have the right to call out poor gameplay. The gamers who made the SimCity franchise successful in the first place have a right to protest design they feel is taking said franchise in the wrong direction. Is EA/Maxis or any game maker obligated to do anything? Of course not. Does that make levied criticism illegitimate? Hell no.

You are always entitled to your own opinion, and people can judge for themselves whether it an opinion worthy of consideration. And it is my opinion that Time’s article of meta-criticism – and all articles in the same vein – are specious nonsense, and nihilistic besides. Nothing is beyond reproach, else it demonstrates a perfection impossible to manifest in a universe of subjective minds.

I can only hope that the next EA CEO coming in can spare the 5 minutes of his or her time to understand why the company continues topping the worst company in the world charts. A quick memo to Maxis authorizing an offline mode would pull the teeth out of this endless negative PR; a gaming policy of not monetizing every single pixel with endless online passes could even get gamers to forgive Origin (or maybe just running some goddamn sales).

Bam, done. You’re welcome, EA.

P.S. While writing this article, a friend of mine pops up on Steam chat saying that the Mass Effect 3 servers were down, meaning he couldn’t play the single-player DLC he legitimately purchased through Origin weeks ago. This is the world we live in, folks.