Blog Archives

Goose, but not Gander

It was recently reported that Epic, the guys behind Fortnite and the Unreal engine generally, will be spinning up their own storefront in (yet another) bid to give Steam some competition. The most reported takeaway is that the store cut will be just 12% of sales, instead of the industry-standard 30%. That fact, along with a more curated experience with opt-in user reviews (e.g. can’t review-bomb games), no forums, and so on, is supposed to entice developers to jump ship.

The funny thing to me is that the conversation on the topic seem ass-backwards. Who gives a shit about developers? Where is the incentive for gamers to care about and download yet another proprietary storefront? That is literally the only thing that matters.

As a consumer, having to interact with another launcher is a net negative experience. Developers might very much love the larger cut of revenue, but will they love it enough to move exclusively to the Epic storefront, selling their game nowhere else? If not, I’m going to continue buying my shit on Steam when possible.

And even if they do go exclusive, the game would have be extremely fucking good to make me bother in the first place. I have Origin because of Mass Effect 3 and the Battlefield series. I have GOG because of Witcher 3. In all other cases, I buy from Steam or from sites that give out Steam codes, even if GOG (or whatever) versions are available.

The ONLY thing the Epic has going for it is price potential. Imagine if every game was 10% cheaper on the Epic storefront than Steam, permanently, irrespective of sales. The developers still get 8% more of the revenue than they had before, and by every principle of Econ 101, more copies will be sold, so it should be a win-win, right?

Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen.

The irony of ironies is that cheaper prices might not even be enough at this point. Epic is offering a “curated experience” and the groundbreaking ability to send out newsletters (comes with a free pager!), but none of that means anything if you are not actively playing a game in the Epic launcher. That newsletter might remind you that developer X has Y game coming out tomorrow, but what about all those other indie devs sitting in the wings, hoping that you see their title in the “Similar game to…” window? They get nothing, assuming you aren’t still playing their 2-hour walking simulator that you get 14 days to refund (lolwut?). I suppose the idea is to try and lure bigger developers to release their AAA game on Epic for some downstream benefit… but guess what? All the AAA devs already have the same idea and are doing the same thing with their own launchers.

Tragedy of the commons, indeed.

Tabletop Simulator

In case you were unaware, there is a Steam game out there called Tabletop Simulator (hereafter TS).

TS is basically an emulator for board games, with the Steam Workshop operating as a ROM storefront. In fact, I’m not even sure how any of this is particularly legal. TS by itself is “merely” a toolset… but it is fairly robust and powerful to the extent that it’d be difficult to find some board game that it couldn’t recreate.

Tabletop-Simulator-Agricola

Hand sizes of 14 cards is a bit much though

The first time I used it, my wife and I played Agricola with a friend on the West Coast. The version of Agricola we played did not have any scripting beyond the starting board state, so we still had to manually place the extra resources on the board each turn.

Something I really appreciate about the game is the ability to see the “hand” (i.e. mouse cursor) of other players – it allowed us to point to cards, see who was already moving a piece, and so on. The 3D nature of the simulator itself obviously leads itself to some exciting possibilities in custom games (or presumably in VR), but it is more of an annoyance in traditional scenarios. For example, it’s sometimes difficult to pick up only one card from a stack, or place down multiple cards, or accidentally stack pieces that you did not intend to stack.

Tabletop-Simulator-Catan

Classic millennial gaming.

The second session a few weeks later had us playing a semi-scripted Settlers of Catan game. The starting tiles and numbers were already randomly placed for us, and the roll of the dice would highlight exactly which tile produced resources that turn. Settlements and roads also snapped into place, so there was not a bunch physics-based fiddling necessary. Oh, and scoring was semi-automated as well. I was somewhat disappointed that resources did not automatically arrive in our hand, but I suppose there should be some sort of interaction going on. I did like how you can take cards out of other players’ hands, for when you move the Robber.

Tabletop-Simulator-Robots

Good thing we already knew how to play…

After Catan, we played a few rounds of Ricochet Robots. This used to be a fairly obscure board game that sold for $80+ on eBay, but it looks like it was reprinted here recently as it’s selling for about $40 on Amazon. There was not particular automation here either, as there really isn’t any need for any. There were a few features that I wish were available, and depending on how difficult it would be to code, it’s probably possible to add them myself.

Having played about ~10 hours of board games using Tabletop Simulator, I will say that there is no substitute for sitting around an actual table with real people in the room. Right-clicking and rolling dice will never be the same as rolling them yourself. But if you are in a scenario in which remote gaming sessions were the only option, Tabletop Simulator is an extremely viable option. To say nothing about its usefulness in testing new games before buying them, or using it in the wild ways of creating your own games, running D&D campaigns, and so on.

Every Moment is a One-Time Event

Is something you never experience special to you?

Is something you experience only special when few other people experience it?

I have seen a lot of praise for ArenaNet’s one-time Halloween event. I cannot be sure whether said praise is coming from the same individuals that lament the obsolescence of last year’s raids, but nevermind. ArenaNet’s tortured logic is pretty well deconstructed elsewhere, so let us set that aside as well. What I am curious about is this fanciful notion that it is a good use of designer manpower to specifically construct one-off events.

To me, it’s redundant.

When I think about one-off content, I remember back to the plague event that lead into Wrath’s release. Players could get infected, eventually turn into zombies, and the go infect other players. The griefing in Shat was immense. As paladins, a friend and I decided to roleplay/grief the players actually trying to infect themselves and/or start those zombie raids against Stormwind. Never before has someone raged so hard at being targeted with Cleanse. “The power of the Light compels you!” Turn Evil was also liberally applied. Around this same time, there was a special boss in Kara that dropped the Arcanite Ripper, and I believe there was only the one reset where it was available. In any case, I was the only person to get it in my guild. I busted it out pretty regularly all the way up until I unsubbed.

Here’s the thing though: how different was any of that from, say, completing Ulduar when it was current?

The Wrath lead-up event was fun because it was fun, not because it was never going to happen again. Similarly, it would not bother me one iota if the Arcanite Ripper was mailed to every player that logged in once in the last four years – nor, incidentally, does it bother me that the Arcanite Ripper is now on the Black Market AH. In many ways, I consider Ulduar (or any raid) to be more “rare,” because while these places still exist, it will never been the same as when it was newly released. Even if Ulduar was still relevant to current endgame progression somehow, it would not be the same as it was when it was new.

It is not the item or the event that matters, it is the zeitgeist. And the people. ArenaNet could have looped the Mad King event like they loop everything else and it still would have been exactly as meaningful for those first players as it is now. Every moment is a one-time event. Ergo, I see little reason to layer artificial scarcity on top of temporal scarcity. The devs could have safely shared their work with a wider audience with no lack of impact to anyone worth caring about.

But, whatever. If you consider content you never see as content, then GW2 has enough content to keep you busy for quite some time.

Turning Off Sales

File this under Double-Take (emphasis added):

Mike O’Brien: […] My priority — our priority — is ultimately making sure that players have a great experience. We spent five years working on Guild Wars 2, and we’re going to spend years and years supporting it. If we got to a point where sales continued to be off the charts, and it threatened the experience that players are having with the game, then we’d just turn off sales.

Q: Turn off sales?

To clarify what I mean by that, we sell the game on our website and we also sell the game at retail. And we know how many boxes we’ve created, so we know how many copies can possibly sell through retail. If it gets to the point where sales are so high that it would be unwise of us to keep selling on our website because it wouldn’t leave enough slots for all the people who’ve already bought and all the people we know are going to buy, then we’d just turn off sales.

That would be a shocking thing to do, obviously — not something that you ever see in the games industry — but for me it’s an easy decision, because for me, Guild Wars 2 is a long-term project. I want players to keep having a great experience, and I know if we had to turn off sales temporarily, it’d be okay. (source)

Wha… err… I don’t even…

Remember waaaaaay back on May 1st, when I did the Guild Wars 2 Preview for the Rest of Us? My first screenshot was this:

Please take… my… money?

As it turns out, it may have been a harbinger of things to come.

This sort of news story can probably be a pretty good Rorschach Test for people. Another sign of of ArenaNet’s “dream team” working outside the box? Baffling corporate hubris? Turning cash-strapped business model lemons into delicious PR lemonade? I mean, presumably, the standard sort of business reaction would be “open more servers,” even if the WvW interaction necessitates opening them in increments of three. Then again, I suppose if they had to close servers down later, they would similarly have to do so in increments of three.

As of the time of this writing, there are 7 Full, 13 High, and 1 Medium population US servers. At 3:30pm EST in the afternoon. [Update] Eleven hours later, there are 17 Full servers and 4 High population ones. Yikes. [/Update]

The game has not been out for a full week yet, of course, so there is understandably going to be some level of churn to reduce the load. Or maybe not, if GW2 is a runaway hit. Either way, my immediate reaction to Mike O’Brian’s words is one of… well, not exactly suspicion, but definitely a cocked eyebrow. Are they truly going to stick with just 21 servers no matter the load? Is the “increments of three” thing the concern for them?

Given my prior predictions vis-a-vis Dynamic Events, I almost wonder if keeping what population exists tightly packed into each world is exactly the business model ArenaNet is going for here. No one buys clothes for a ghost town stroll, and Events become increasingly asinine (if not impossible) when done alone. Keeping servers dense by artificial scarcity ensures that a critical mass of sorts is maintained, solving both problems.

Either way, pretty unusual news.

[Update] Yep, there is an “official” Facebook post (sigh) about them taking down GW2 sales from the website.

[Update 2] There are now 3 additional servers on the list: Devona’s Rest, Kaineng, and Eredon Terrace. How do I know they’re new? There are 24 servers now instead of 21, and those three are listed as Low population when there isn’t even a single Medium pop.