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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.

Dog Catches Car

It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…

Borderlands3_Steam

So many game delays this year, amirite?

Memes aside, I won’t rehash why (Epic) exclusives are bad. Instead, I wanted to talk about Rohan’s closing paragraph about the subject:

Ultimately, I think Epic’s exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It’s also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam’s hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they’re going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.

It’s already been admitted/established that Epic is doing this because they have an inferior product with no hope of creating better value for customers. But what struck me with the above paragraph was what happens if it succeeds. Like, they get X number of people to buy Borderlands 3 (etc) in the Epic store. So… now what?

I guess the hope is that each time you log into Borderlands 3 or whatever, you see whatever handful of other games Epic is selling. Okay. But we’ve kinda already established that the people buying from the Epic store are those who don’t really care about storefronts – they are just following specific games. And at the moment, Epic isn’t actually competing on price either. Metro Exodus is $50 instead of $60, but it’s not a “deal” because you can’t buy it anywhere else.

The endgame, such as it is, appears aimed squarely at game publishers just eventually not ever listing their games on Steam anymore. Which wouldn’t make much sense until the userbase of the Epic store is much higher, which these exclusives are attempting to achieve. But, again, there’s nothing really keeping customers coming back. Steam has a social ecosystem between reviews, forums, modding (i.e. Steam Workshop), chat, streaming, and so on. That and Steam sales. Epic so far has… exclusives… bought with Fortnite money.

I suppose the real best-case scenario here is that Epic bribes enough developers that Valve eventually responds by lowering their percentage ratio for everyone across the board. Epic could still buy timed exclusives, but it’s possible the bigger fish no longer bite as the Steam install-base remains in the tens of millions. In which case… fantastic? It’s not as though Valve actually makes games anymore, so them losing revenue doesn’t actually impact anything.

But in the meantime, fuck Epic and this ridiculous storefront war waged at the expense of consumers.

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.