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End of Year: 2021 Edition

Just like 2020, but with a little extra.

Aside from the still-raging pandemic, this has been a rather banner year, personally. Had some grueling work projects to grind through, but where they have passed, only I remain. For now. I’ve applied to some other places that are paying 30% more for the same job description. I’ve also taken up options trading as a side hustle, mainly because I got lucky with GME in January and now I’m an expert. I beat the S&P500 this year but also spent considerably more time developing ulcers in the process, so who knows with that. Think I might stick with something easier, like cryptocurrency.

Family is doing great.

Now, it’s time for what you really care about: my personal gaming habits for the year. First, Steam.

  • Chasm
  • Valheim
  • Battle Brothers
  • Card Hunter
  • Trials of Fire
  • Dead in Vinland
  • Tangledeep
  • Ring of Pain
  • Raft
  • Dishonored 2
  • Fate Hunters
  • ARK
  • Dreamgate
  • Dicey Dungeons
  • Dream Quest
  • She Remember Caterpillars
  • Undertale

A bit more than the seven games I played last year, but many were kind of one-and-done. Or perhaps more accurately “tried-and-dropped.” One of the standouts is Valheim, which continues to get updates. I have not played any more Valheim since I stopped though, and I am content to wait until its full release (whenever that is) before paying attention again. I was also very impressed with Trials of Fire, but perhaps not enough to play it again after sinking 13 hours into it. Really liked Ring of Pain too.

Next is Epic:

  • Celeste
  • Axiom Verge
  • Ape Out
  • Magic: Legends
  • Pathway
  • God’s Trigger
  • Outward
  • Crying Suns
  • Crashlands
  • Hades
  • Griftlands
  • Tharsis
  • Faeria
  • Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel
  • Death Stranding
  • Loop Hero
  • Inscryption

Epic’s twice-yearly $10 coupon insanity is finally driving me to spend more time in their ecosystem than any others. That and all the free games, but the coupon really sells the sales. I’m presently splitting my time between Loop Hero and Inscryption, with both being rather fun. Hades won all sorts of awards, but I was content with just beating it once. Griftlands was compelling for a time, even above other decking-building roguelikes, but it’s hard to stay as engaged when an average run is 7+ hours. Death Stranding is on the list for getting more attention, and I suspect I am still in the tutorial even after three hours of Amazon Prime deliveries hauling literal garbage around the haunted landscape.

Finally, we have Game Pass:

  • Monster Sanctuary
  • Neoverse
  • Star Renegades
  • Greedfall
  • Supraland
  • Deep Rock Galactic
  • Second Extinction
  • Frostpunk
  • Slime Rancher
  • Monster Train
  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Grounded
  • Control
  • Solasta: Crown of the Magister
  • Atomicrops
  • Curse of the Dead Gods
  • Library of Ruina
  • Medieval Dynasty
  • Subnautica: Below Zero
  • Into the Pit
  • Tainted Grail: Conquest
  • The Riftbreaker
  • One Step from Eden
  • Crown Trick
  • Unpacking

Laid out like that, were the 25 listed games worth $120ish to access during the year? Eh, maybe. Looking back, it’s clear that I got more overall value in 2020. Then again, presuming that I would have paid to play some of these games, I probably did end up saving money overall. In any case, some of these games will be on the 2022 list as they receive updates and/or I get around to focusing on them.

I am tempted to entertain the notion of identifying a Game of the Year out of the ones I played… but nah. Hades would certainly be a safe bet and conform with all the critics. It’s good and I certainly see the argument. Looking at what actually impressed me though, are games like Valheim and then stuff like Ring of Pain, Inscryption, and so on. I don’t usually play relevant games in the year they release, so it’s kind of a futile exercise anyway.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Continue working on the Steam backlog [Yes]
  • …but don’t get bogged down with mediocre games [Absolutely yes]
  • Maybe buy a Switch. For the wife. [Nope. Probably not even in 2022]
  • (Re)Play through the Halo games via Master Chief Collection [Did Halo Reach]
  • Give FF14 another shot [Didn’t, and now couldn’t anyway]
  • Resist the urge to buy a new gaming PC [Success!]

I don’t see much of a point in identifying gaming goals for 2022, and this post is plenty long anyway. What I anticipate happening is buying a new prebuilt PC – prebuilt due to graphics card shortages and not being super comfortable replacing motherboards/CPU – getting a new monitor, and otherwise sprucing up my battlestation. After that, I’ll pick up Cyberpunk, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Red Dead Redemption 2 for $15-$20 apiece from the Epic summer or winter sale, depending on when a value prebuilt come available. Then, I will bask in the glory of #PCMasterRace or cry in an empty wallet.

Here’s to another year of running my mouth. And thanks for listening.

GW2: Full Steam Ahead

Guild Wars 2 is heading to Steam in November.

The details are sketchy at the moment, but it does appear that GW2 will have the same sort of account restrictions that Final Fantasy 14 had when it made a similar move back in 2014. Specifically, you will NOT be able to migrate your existing GW2 account to Steam, and you will likely be locked into the Steam ecosystem if you do end up spending any money. For example, you will need to purchase the expansions within Steam and not from other vendors or ArenaNet directly. 

Speaking of expansions, ArenaNet also teased a 3rd one coming out in 2021.

But that isn’t the interesting bit though, is it? Why is GW2 coming to Steam in the first place, 8 years after its launch? Are the financials in that dire of straits? 

Based on the above figures, things don’t appear too far off from their historical levels. Which, of course, is always a risk when it comes to NCSoft and their predilection to axing “just okay” titles (e.g. Wildstar, City of Heroes). If something happens to Aion, ArenaNet should start sweating.

In any case, perhaps we should not be surprised by the move to Steam. Like already mentioned, Final Fantasy 14 has been on Steam for quite some time. And if you missed it, even EA seems to have finally capitulated and are bringing over not only their hitherto walled-off Origin library, but even their EA Play subscription. At some point the math must have worked out: additional revenue from an expanded audience > Valve’s 30% (or whatever) cut on in-game purchases.

Interesting how nobody is heading to Epic… yet?

Having said that, I’m not entirely sure how successful the GW2 transition to Steam is going to be due to two systemic issues. The first is that GW2 is still using DX9, with no particular indication that it’s even possible for them to update. This is going to lead to some very negative Steam reviews (for what those are worth) for performance reasons. It’s 2020 and GW2 is still using single-thread drivers that came out in 2002.

The second is more insidious: ArenaNet’s insane Gotcha! paywalls. The Living Story updates that occur a few times a year are free… if you happen to log into the game and unlock them before the next one comes out.

Everyone else, including 100% of all Steam players, are going to face a screen like this one:

That’d be $20 for all of them

I suppose it could technically be argued that these are optional story content, but really the overarching plot in GW2 makes (even-) less sense if you are sticking just to the expansion pieces. You will be seeing completely new characters while your own character talks to them as if they have known them for years. Plus, there are certain maps and vendors thereon that make gearing up incredibly easy in comparison to the alternatives. 

Steam already has a lot of “F2P” exploitative cash grab titles available, and I don’t think GW2 does itself any favors so obviously slotting itself into that crowd. But a lot can happen between now and November, so perhaps we will see a surprise bit of competence from ArenaNet. Either including the Living Seasons for free (ha) for everyone or bundling them with the expansion purchases (which should have occured from the start). We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rent to Never Own

It has been a long time coming, but I have fully surrendered into post-ownership mindset.

The transition is largely semantic. Nobody “owns” a Steam game in their library and never have – just a non-transferable, revocable license… unless you lucked out and live in a sane country that allows resellable digital goods. Nevertheless, a game library was a thing that had value and meaning, you know? It was exciting seeing Steam sales and bargain hunting so you could accumulate stuff.

At least that is what it felt like.

The final, frictionless step was seeing Final Fantasy XV appearing on the Xbox Game Pass. I was already a bit crestfallen seeing how Kingdom Come: Deliverance was on the Epic Store free-game docket, but FF15 just flipped the metaphysical lights off. It’s not that I felt like a chump for spending $12 on the Humble Bundle that included Kingdom Come or, well, however the hell I acquired FF15. It just became increasingly obvious that I don’t need to do anything anymore. Games just happen.

I beat The Outer Worlds on the Game Pass, and I will never play that game again. I also beat Children of Morta, and I will never play that game again either. I just started on Metro: Exodus, and it’s possible I don’t even bother getting through the tutorial. Why force myself to? The game cost nothing other than download time. Compare that to Outward, the first game I purchased in the Epic Store, and how getting my $5.99 refund request denied made me very salty (bought during the Winter sale and first played much later than 14 day limit).

It’s rote to say Netflix obliterated any desire of mine to own physical movie DVDs. And not even really all that accurate – it was Netflix and Hulu and HBO Go and Disney+ that obliterated all desire. Your favorite movie might have fallen off one service, but likely landed on another. Or perhaps the sheer number of choices, which would keep you busier than any free time you had available, simply made the concept of “favorite” meaningless. Who is rewatching movies anyway?

I will, of course, still be purchasing games on occasion. Probably. Final Fantasy 7 Remake isn’t going to just show up Day 1 on PS+ or wherever. Probably. But what I’m getting at is that if my Steam library just up and vanished – which is entirely possible, and unable to be appealed – I don’t know if I would be mad. Or even really notice. The last time I played something on Steam was December 8th. And damn near everything I would play is already on the Game Pass.

End of Year: 2019 Edition

Another end of year, another end of year post.

This has been a rather busy year on the personal front, what with the birth of my son and all. Our little family unit has settled into a reasonable routine that affords me exactly two hours to play videogames each day. And do chores. And any other house projects. So, basically, about 40 minutes of gaming at most. Have I mentioned that I can’t wait for this little guy to grow up into a proper Player 2?

We did this on purpose, for the record. Anyway.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Seriously, dude, play some of those PS3 games [Nope]
  • Clear at least one story path from SWTOR [Never got off the first planet]
  • Finish up the PoF story content in GW2 [Got distracted doing Season 3 stuff]
  • Clean up Steam library by removing titles not likely to play [Yes!]
  • Be a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Absolutely]

I talked about Guild Wars 2 last year for a while, and I find it interesting that it remains a topic at the end of this year. Here lately, I have even taken to logging in for two minutes just to click on the calendar rewards and then log off to play something else. Story progress has stopped for me, but I did spend a few weeks (loosely) transitioning my Necromancer into a Reaper, e.g. greatsword elite spec. We’ll see if it remains a topic into 2020 though, or if I abandon it like ArenaNet.

Zero progress on ye olde PS3. It has successfully prevented me from purchasing a PS4 though, so that’s nice. What’s also interesting is that some of best games I played on it back in the day are coming to PC again. For example, Journey. It’s an Epic Store exclusive, but it’s there. I’m sorely tempted to buy it again, actually.

The SWTOR thing was a rather passing fancy. I think I logged in twice. It’s still installed.

Cleaning up my Steam library is actually something I have committed to and have continued to this day. Things are a bit weird with subscription services like the Game Pass, but in 2019 I have played:

  • TERA
  • Quantum Break
  • Terraria
  • Empyrion
  • 7 Days to Die
  • RUINER
  • Path of Exile
  • Surviving Mars
  • Tooth and Tail
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Heat Signature
  • Slay the Spire
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Oxygen Not Included
  • Streets of Rogue
  • Graveyard Keeper
  • Moonlighter
  • Fallout 76
  • Outer Worlds
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2
  • No Man’s Sky
  • ARK
  • Warhammer: Vermintide 2
  • Cultist Simulator
  • Tangledeep
  • Prey
  • Sundered: Eldritch Edition
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Ryse: Son of Rome
  • Skulls of the Shogun
  • Mini Metro
  • Starbound
  • Dishonored
  • Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
  • Staxel
  • Far Cry Primal
  • Hearthstone
  • Hotline Miami 2
  • Guild Wars 2

That’s about 40 games I spent at least an hour or two playing through the year. Of those, it’s been 7 Days to Die, Oxygen Not Included, and Slay the Spire that I have played the longest. Which is amusing to me because I typically balk at playing games like Civilization wherein there’s no “point.” Perhaps I just don’t like the Civ series as much as I did way back in the day.

Looking towards 2020… wow… 2020, eh? Who’d have thought we’d make it?

Anyway, I definitely see 2020 as the year of the subscription gaming service. We have gone from having an embarrassing Steam backlog to an embarrassment of riches between the Game Pass, Origin Premier, and Uplay+. Nevermind Humble Choice, which similarly delivers just short of a dozen games each month.

Beyond that, there are a number of high-profile releases I’m looking forward to playing. Final Fantasy 7 Remake (March). Cyberpunk 2077 (April). Last of Us 2 (May). Then you have the PC release of Death Stranding and Borderlands 3 (cough), general release of Dying Light 2, and the mythical Wastelanders expansion to Fallout 76. I used to worry about getting caught paying full MSRP for games I really want on Day 1, but how many will be covered under some subscription or another? Well, other than the PS4 exclusives. Which probably means I need a PS4…

On the MMO front, the Shadowlands expansion will be coming out for WoW in 2020 sometime. As before, I do have a passing interest in playing WoW with each new expansion, if only to see how many different variants of the wheel they can re-invent. I just wish they would not start with the square one every time.

Speaking of terrible MMO design, there is supposedly a major patch for Final Fantasy XIV coming out that will finally address the chore that constitutes the first 50 hours of “story” in that game. I am not sure whether they will pull a Cataclysm or just give the story-skip potion to everyone for free, but I’m looking forward to it. If for no other reason than to quell all the people exclaiming that it has “the best MMO story” as if the steaming pile of shit you had to slog through to get there doesn’t bring down the average. Could you tell me why I had to sit in a DPS dungeon queue for 50 minutes to get some cheese for a Main Story Quest again? … that’s what I thought.

I suppose I should make some goals here, huh? Let’s go with…

  • Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games
  • Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them
  • Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore
  • Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad

Alright, 2020. Let’s roll.

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.

Path of Self-Exile

Browsing through my new-and-improved Steam library, I notice Path of Exile sitting there. Looking for something different, I download it and boot it up after like… damn, six years ago? My characters are still there, so I load up my Witch and…

POE_Grid

Ain’t nobody got time for this.

…shut the game down.

I ended up going to some websites to look at what constitutes some good Witch builds. What I found were builds labeled “3.8| Stress Free PoE – COLD-HEARTED CURSER |Clear the Atlas w/ YOUR Items @ YOUR Pace (SSF & Co-op).” Sounds good. Let me just look at the video of its gameplay…

Oh. Just literally pressing one button and running around.

There were other builds, of course, but most of them were, shall we say, thematically similar. Plus, knowing that the above build is possible, what motivation would you have to do something else?

As it turns out, very high. Just in a different game.

Down Steam

Well, I guess that’s one way to highlight the fact that maybe multiple launchers are necessary.

SteamDown.JPG

While Steam being down has obviously happened in the past – maintenance or not – this is the first time I have actually sat down ready to play something and… not being able to. Wife and baby are sleeping, I have probably ~30 minutes of free time, and I wanted to get in some quick Kingdom Come: Deliverance action. “Oh. Maybe I’ll play Slay the Spire… err… Oxygen Not Included… uh… oh.”

Steam came back up before this got posted, but something to think about for the future.

 

Who Buys Games Anymore Anyway?

I was feeling the “play something else” itch the other day, and instead of scratching it with one of the 800 unplayed titles in my Steam library, I wanted to buy something new. In looking around, I found the game I had been subconsciously looking for: Forager.

Forager

That discount includes my subscriber bonus.

But then… I paused. Doesn’t this seems like, you know, the sort of game that might end up on the free Epic Store list? Or as a front-runner for Humble Bundle? Or otherwise in one of the dozens of bundles around the internet? Same thing with my #2 choice, Fate Hunters, a Slay the Spire-esque game currently 25% off on Steam. I love Slay the Spire, I have 130+ hours with that game.

But, you know… Slay the Spire is currently a front-runner for the September Humble Bundle.

So, I didn’t buy Forager. Instead, I’m playing a few of the free games from the Epic store, like Moonlighter and Enter the Gungeon. They don’t scratch the itch in exactly the same way, but they also don’t cost $13.59. Or any amount of money, actually. All of which is making me wonder when again exactly that I will be back to purchasing games.

Epic: Bribe or Bust

You are probably aware of the Epic Game Store’s predilection towards bribing indie developers with fat stacks of cash to get them to sign one-year exclusivity deals, sometimes after Steam has been giving the same developers months of free advertising by being listed (and even preordered!) on the store. That can be considered an erosion of consumer surplus or clever use of game (business) mechanics, depending on how you feel about the taste of boots. What has hitherto been unmentioned is Epic’s stick on the other end of the carrot: declined exclusivity will keep you off the Epic store.

On July 27th (Saturday) I uploaded a new trailer anouncing Steam launch date. On July 30th (Tuesday) I was contacted by the Epic Store, proposing that I enter into an exclusivity agreement with them instead of releasing DARQ on Steam. They made it clear that releasing DARQ non-exclusively is not an option. I rejected their offer before we had a chance to talk about money.

1_YW8HKZCAxiFigsVHsVTu3A

Now, maybe there is a less nefarious reason for why the Epic store “is not in a position yet to open the store up to games that simship.” Perhaps it is related to the reasons why a Shopping Cart or Wishlist are apparently impossible to implement even with bigdick Fortnite money in a digital game store in 2019. Maybe Tim Sweeney is just an odious asshole, celebrating a “multi-store future” with GOG – a competitor in financial trouble – but not with Steam, which would invite embarrassing comparisons.

The bottom line is that the developers of DARQ turned down Epic’s exclusivity deal and now they will not be able to sell their game on Epic. Because “reasons.” It makes me slightly more sympathetic to the (indie) developers of these games, as it was not just the ready cash, but also the threat of losing out on tens of millions of other eyeballs on other storefronts.

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. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

Oh well. Let’s see how they spin this.

Nickeled and Quartered

I was browsing /r/GameDeals and came across a post about Destiny 2. I think this is one of the first times I have experienced a game sale in which I walked away more confused than I started.

The short version is that Destiny 2: Complete Collection is $40. This includes the base game, the “expansion pass” that contains the first two expansions, the third large expansion “Forsaken,” a character boost, and then the “Annual Pass” which covers three additional expansions (Winter 2018, Spring 2019, Summer 2019).

That’s fairly straight-forward, I guess. The issue is that in September, parts of Destiny 2 are going F2P. Specifically, the base game, the first two expansions, and a portion of Forsaken, e.g. the patrol areas, but not the raids and more formal missions. Or something. Also, it’s leaving the Blizzard launcher and going to Steam instead.

Having the base game, as I do from an earlier Humble Bundle, doesn’t appear to be relevant to the primary deal. But what about when it goes on Steam? When there is a Steam bundle, you typically get a discount for pieces you already own. Now, the base game and the first few DLC will be F2P so maybe future Steam deals won’t take those pieces into account.

In this midst of this pondering, it dawned on me how completely unnecessary all of this was. This was a $60 game that had two paid DLCs, one major expansion, and three additional DLCs. On top of a cash shop. Why not just have a fucking monthly subscription and call it a day?

None of this is news, but sometimes it is good to be reminded how far into the weeds the developers are willing to go to monetize every inch of available space.