Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Developers v. Gamers

A very interesting thread popped up on Twitter. A game developer opined that the reason developers don't talk to gamers is that the gaming culture is so toxic that anything said by developers concerning how games are made will be accused of lying or cheating the gamers in some way. 

I read the thread about a day before the story broke on news outlets, so I've had more time to think about the issue than others. And he does have a point. Whenever a video game is about to come out and it has a feature that is unfamiliar, weird or shady, (or had a feature that was in a previous game taken away), the gaming community will rage and troll and launch boring tirades against the developers of that game, claiming they will boycott the game. Then the gamers buy it, enjoy it, and wait for the next outrage to cross their path. If you want a really good example of this, take a look at the outrage surrounding No Man's Sky. Even I wrote about this game, and while I have softened my stance from the developers being liars to just getting in over their heads, the basic point stands. There are a lot of gamers that are toxic to developers (and most everyone else really).

But what no one seems to be asking is why this is. So let's ask why. I have a few answers, and the ultimate reason(s) could be one, some or all of them.

1. Shady business practices. Video game companies are secretive about how much games cost to make. This is not surprising. Most companies don't release numbers on how much to make a product. What gets gamers in a uproar is how these companies ask for $60 for their games, and it turns out to be an upfront fee, and then ask for more money from you in the form of microtransactions or lootboxes for cosmetic game items that used to be free in previous games (like shaders and haircuts). And these gamers tend to blame the developers for putting them into the game. But these developers are coding microtransactions in these games at the behest of their boss, the video game company. You know, the boss who signs their checks, and thus gives the orders, and the developers obey them or they get fired. You gamers want to get mad at someone? Be mad at WB Games. Be mad at Activision. Be mad at EA. Ask them why it's so expensive to make a game. Ask them to explain themselves and their actions. Don't blame the developers. 

2. As a corollary, video game companies are throwing developers under the bus. Usually it's the developers who are the face behind the games, not the game company boss. So it's the developers who are talking to the gamers. And those developers have the unenviable job of convincing gamers why microtransactions, lootboxes, day-one DLC, season passes and other shady crap are necessary to the experience of playing these games. Even if they are adept at public speaking (which they're not for the most part), all these shady practices are a hard sell. Take a look at this video and this article to see what I'm talking about. And again, fans can't parse out the fact that WB Games ORDERED Bob Roberts to say those things and Sony LET Sean Murray twist in the wind, promising No Man's Sky features that would never be in the game. Why? Plausible Deniability. Oh no, it's the developers saying these things, not us your friendly neighborhood game company.

3. Gamers can (and usually do) act badly. Sure, they've been lied to. Sure, they've been cheated out of their money by greedy companies. That's still no excuse to shoot the messenger. The developers are toeing the company line, and they have to if they want to keep their jobs. Stop blaming, harassing, doxxing, & sending death threats to the developers. They are slaves to the capitalist nightmare just like the rest of us, and are trying to bring a little entertainment to our lives. 

4. And sometimes, certain developers can be super-jerks themselves. I'm looking at you, Digital Homicide, Konami, Capcom, Blizzard. That's right, I said Blizzard. With your really good-looking $60 Overwatch game with the freaking lootboxes. You make more money than the GDP of every third-world country on Earth combined, every year. Why the damned lootboxes?????!!!!!!!!!!.............Uh, *ahem* yeah. I guess I need to take my own advice & calm down. 

Honey, where's my Lord of the Rings music CDs?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Quark Would Be Proud

Never be afraid to mislabel a product - Rule of Acquisition #239

Jim Sterling has brought up the issue of Triple-A video game companies reaching into gamers’ wallets to yank out additional cash AFTER they have originally paid $60 for a video game again and again and again. He has repeatedly stated that he will stop talking about this anti-consumer practice immediately once these game companies stop doing this. Well, good luck with that, since apparently game companies seem disinclined to stop.

Let me be fair to these companies. Businesses exist to make a profit. And I’ve argued before that companies can be as greedy as they want. But I’ve also maintained that they don’t need to be jerks about it. I could go on about this, but for now I want to focus on this video made by Jim Sterling. The subject is how to have microtransactions in games correctly. I will expand on this video by comparing the advice he gives with Star Trek Online, which does all these approaches right. Notice I said right, not perfect. I urge you to watch the video first so that you know I’m not misrepresenting his views.

And welcome back. So, let’s take these concepts and apply them to Star Trek Online (STO). It is an MMO based on the Star Trek license. Let’s see how STO stands up to regular triple-A games.
As explained in the video, microtransactions are psychologically manipulating. They tempt the player into paying money for additional game content (whether it’s been held back from the game initially or created later). In his opinion, once you pay for a $60 game, all the content should be accessible in some way without paying additional money (virtual or real). You should not have to pay twice. That’s like paying for a car and paying again for seat belts to be installed later.

STO is a free-to-play game. You can create an account, download the game and play all the story content for free. There are 13 groups of missions, with 115 total missions, all inspired by the rich 51-year history of Star Trek. There is even a story set in the Kelvin Timeline from the recent Star Trek movies. These are mostly good stories, which includes characters like Seven of Nine, The Doctor, Spock and Geordi LaForge, voiced in most cases by the original actors. Let me remind you again that all this story content is free to play.

Ever wonder where the Prophets sent the Dominion Fleet in "Sacrifice of Angels? You find out in this game.

So where are the microtransactions? They are the starships you buy, the bridge crew, the uniforms, the alien races, and so on. You buy virtual currency (Zen) with real money or with in-game dilithium you can collect or mine in the game. Does the game give you free starships and bridge crew while playing? Yes. Are they good enough so that you can breeze through the story content? Also yes. You can play the whole game without ever spending a cent. Does the game tempt you by waving pictures of starships in your face and reminding you of what you can buy? No. You are never tempted to buy the U.S.S Enterprise for 500 Zen (equal to $5.00). But you can go into the store, look at the ship and make your own decision whether you buy it or not.

Any fans of the Robotech novels out there? If so, you'll get the starship name reference.

This, in my opinion, is how you do microtransactions right. Star Trek Online makes the game free-to-play, then tempts the player to pony up for additional in-game items. Like I said, if you mine dilithium, you can exchange that dilithium for Zen, which is then used to buy anything in the store. It just takes longer to save up the Zen for the ship you want. This goes for everything in the game. So, everything in the game is free. It just takes a long time to get all the in-game items that way. Spending real money simply makes acquiring those items faster. What’s more, there is no paying for power. The game is almost ruthlessly balanced, so that the only advantage you get over others is a cooler-looking ship, or a better-looking avatar.

So cool!

In the video, Jim asks the question (in a whiny-voice) “But how do these free-to-play games make money to pay for the servers and support the game?” Well, in the case of Star Trek Online, they must make a lot of money, considering they’re able to pay for actors like Robert Picardo, Leonard Nimoy, Chase Masterson, LeVar Burton, Tim Russ, Garrett Wang, Jeri Ryan, Ethan Phillips, and Denise Crosby to voice-act the roles they’re famous for in the game. So, they’re probably doing very well for themselves. And for the record, they’re putting out another series of missions on October 3. That means they make enough to pay programmers to make new content. Another sign STO makes more than enough money.

Here’s another question posed by Jim; “But if we’re not forcing people to buy them, why would anyone buy them?” Here’s a large sample of what I bought in STO over the years with real money:
the U.S.S. Enterprise; a playable Federation Klingon Race; a playable Trill Race; the Future Enterprise ship from the episode “All Good Things”; 3 Star Trek Uniforms; 3 other starships.

All these items I was never forced or manipulated to buy. I wanted to buy them, and thus reward STO for their hard work. Not just in creating these stories, but setting them in the Prime timeline. These stories are set after Voyager came home. And this is the only licensed Star Trek property (other than the novels) that are doing this. Not even Star Trek: Discovery is doing this. I am never manipulated into buying STO’s stuff. They tempt me. They seduce me. But they never manipulate me.

Got this for 2600 Zen ($26) at a sale. Money well spent.

Games like Overwatch, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, NBA 2K18, Destiny 2 and Dead Space 3 are all $60 games, and all of them have microtransactions that psychologically manipulate people just by their very presence in those games. Like Jim, I also have a mildly addictive personality, so if I buy these games, there’s a very good chance I won’t enjoy these games because I will always wonder how much of the game is being cut out and gated behind a microtransaction paywall and being sold back to me. And I might buy something to find out. And buying something once in a $60 game with real money is once too often in my opinion.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Throwing Shade(rs)

Hi, I’m back. It’s been a while (thanks to real life concerns, really sorry about that), but a recent event has brought me back to the internets once again, and that event is the recent release of the Destiny 2 video game. And in my opinion, this game represents everything wrong with the AAA game industry.
I will present my case through a unique method; by responding to the comments about Destiny 2’s new way of giving shaders to players.

Shaders are color palettes that can be added to your in-game gear. You know; make your gun red, your boots green, your armor gloves purple, that sort of thing. In the first Destiny game, once you acquire shaders, you can keep them & apply them to all your gear.

In Destiny 2, shaders are consumable items that you apply to individual pieces of your gear. And once you apply a different shader, the original is gone. Same thing if you get better gear down the road. Once you get rid of the other gear you applied shaders to, the shaders  on them are gone too. This means that no one will apply shaders to equipment that’s going to be upgraded or traded for better gear anyway.

And just to twist the knife a little, you can’t buy the shaders you want. You buy random shaders from lootboxes with real money. Granted, you can acquire shaders from leveling your character, from the chests & engrams you find, and from rewards received from vendors plus endgame activities.
A lot of people think this is bullcrap. But every devil has its advocate, and Destiny 2 is no different. So, let’s see what these advocates have to say. Then I’ll respond with what I hope will be cogent arguments against these commenters. The link to the article by Jason Schreier is here, and the Twitter statement from the game's director is here. And please read the comments yourself just so you know I'm not misrepresenting anyone.

Leopard on Twitter says: “You know you made a great game when the biggest issue is cosmetics” [laughing emoji]---No, the biggest issue is the AAA game industry's tendency to nickel & dime you to death AFTER they already got your $60 to $100 depending on which version of the game you bought.

Rocker[DTP] on Twitter says: [To be honest] people will complain about anything. I have proof that they drop more than enough to make them expendable {and then shows a picture of the different shaders he collected and how many of each type of shader]---But I notice from the picture you used that you can only hold 50 types of shaders. Star Trek Online (a free game) has more than 50 types of shaders that I can use on my character, uniforms, and (sometimes) starships that never run out and I don’t have to buy.

Dang3rousFluffy on Twitter says: Look at it this way if I spray paint my gun and grind off the paint am I going to get my paint back---Let’s set aside the false equivalence here (a real gun vs. a digital space gun) and address this. Let’s say you went to a car dealership and bought a Porsche that has a really sweet-looking cherry-red paint on it that washes off at the first rainstorm. But you have the following options: bring it back to the dealership and pay for a new paint job (that also washes off in the rain) and get a RANDOM COLOR, or every time you complete a workday you get a paint can filled with a RANDOM COLOR you apply yourself (that also washes off in the rain). You would want your damn money back on the car.

 After some commenters talk about how making games are risky ventures and expensive to make thus making game companies continue to push the line a little each time regarding pricing scams, Jason Schreier says: The REAL problem is that the price of games hasheld steady at $60 despite inflation and the rising cost of game development. $60 is pretty expensive to begin with, so it's hard to imagine that changing, but this is unsustainable!---So either stop making games or raise prices. Or at least be more efficient with your resources so game development doesn't cost so much. In any case, I don't care about any of that. I'm a customer. I only care about getting a good game for a low cost.

Finally, AldoraGreel (commenting on the article) says: So what they're mad with is they use to be infinite use items and they're not now, right? Because as a Diablo 3 player, I have no issue with this. If you wanted to customize your look in D3, you paid in-game currency to do so. If you wanted to change colors, you bought one-time use bottles of dye to do so. Need to make your new armor red? Buy more dye. This is EXTREMELY common in games. I actually don't think I've ever played a game with infinite reuse color change items. Usually, if there is an item to earn to change the color or look, it requires multiple purchases. As long as the shades are relatively easy to buy/earn with in-game currency/methods, why would anyone give a shit if Bungie is trying to be scummy and sell people stupid shit? Sad your favorite developer isn't as pro-consumer as you once thought? Aw. Poor little guy. Must not have been paying attention for the past few years.---

This is a good comment to respond to. Number one, Diablo 3 is NOT Destiny 2. Different aesthetics, different game styles and mechanics, different everything. Not equivalent at all. Number two, explain to me how limited-use items is superior to unlimited use items. Number three, so you don't care that Bungie is scummy and sells you stupid shit? So you don't care if businesses sell you inferior goods and services? So you don't care if a car dealership sells you a lemon, or a realtor sells you a house filled with termites? Number four, I don't care if a business is pro-consumer or not. I DO CARE if a business is anti-consumer. Finally, I have been paying attention, which is why I haven't bought any AAA game except for The Witcher 3. Because game companies pull crap like this.

And the ONLY reason game companies pull crap like this is because apologists like the above people keep buying these games. Now if they find value in these games, more power to them. But please don't defend these companies. They don't care about you, anymore than they care about this blogpost. And that's fine. But any video game buyers out there reading this, I urge you to think twice before rewarding these kinds of anti-consumer practices by buying this game.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

So, as it turns out...

Whelp, Devin Faraci has been accused of sexual assaults he had apparently done in the past. As I have said before, I never agreed with a lot of what he said, but I respected his opinions. Now I must withdraw my respect of him. Why?

Because it's my personal choice to do so. The reasoning behind my decision doesn't really matter, but as a human being I cannot condone what he has done. And no, I will not discuss my reasons here. This is a nerd site, and I am determined to keep it that way. No politics & no religion. I created this blog to be a safe zone for us nerds. 

However, one of my blog posts has dealt with Devin, and I felt I needed to address that. While it dealt with his profession and not him as a person, and while I believe in my readers' ability to tell the difference, there may be those who may choose not to parse out that difference due to personal belief. 

So I wrote this so that I may assure new & longtime readers who come to this site that I don't tolerate this kind of behavior in myself or others.  

That post will remain up, as a reminder that I make mistakes, but this post will also remain up, as a reminder to me to own my mistakes, and apologize for them.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, September 2, 2016

No Man's Pie In The Sky

It has been 2 weeks since No Man's Sky came out, so let's look at the state of play in this particular part of the nerdspace. According to Steam, it was the top seller before it came out, and player count topped 212,000 before it dropped to it's current 3,000 player count. I expect that type of drop on a game like Evolve or Star Wars: Battlefront, because both those games were multiplayer only, had only 10 maps, maybe, and not a lot of content to keep the player's interest. But this is No Man's Sky. It has 18 quintillion planets and procedurally generated wildlife (you can name the planets & wildlife), crafting mechanics, and a story that takes you to the center of the universe. These sound amazing.

That is, until you found out that the names you give the planets and wildlife disappear after a while, the crafting mechanics are a little weird (you can feed iron to animals & you have an extremely limited inventory), and the story is dependent upon you keeping Atlas Stones that you may mistakenly sell to free up inventory. And new problems keep cropping up , such as preorder bonuses breaking the game. 

Add to all of this the fact that Hello Games, the developers of No Man's Sky, at the least were communicating their overreach in their goals for the game or at most outright lied about what was in their game during the hype that preceded the launch of the game.

Everybody has had their say about this game, but I don't see my viewpoint being communicated, which is why I'm posting this. My view is that this whole thing has been a disappointment. In fact, I warned about this very situation in my facebook post from May 27th:

And surprise, here we are. 

Do I believe that Hello Games' reach exceeded their grasp? Yes. That's not a bad thing. But do I believe they lied about what the game would contain? Also yes. And that is a bad thing. Certainly the features the game has now was not worth $60. Minecraft had just as many features as No Man's Sky (possibly even less) but sold for $27 (the same price it is now). That's another problem right there. If the game had sold for $30, no one would have felt ripped off. 

And let's not leave the fans off the hook. As I warned in my post, we as gamers must remain vigilant, and part of that vigilance was not buying too much into the hype that accompanies any potentially good game. Fans did not heed that lesson, and we had groups on both sides arguing loudly about whether the game was good or bad. I didn't even know about this game until it almost came out, and even as the fervor reached a fever pitch I never bought into the hype. I've been burned by too many bad games, and I don't have the money/time to do it. 

The sad part about all this is that there are people who have enjoyed, and still enjoy, this game (warts and all). And I applaud them. And I now join my voice to those who enjoy the game. This game actually has potential. If this gets frequent updates like Minecraft did as it went alpha, No Man's Sky may potentially be just as enjoyable and just as awesome as Minecraft. And on that day, I will buy it, and reward Hello Games for their hard work with my money. 

But for now, this game feels like Star Trek without anything interesting, like the characters, the aliens (humanoid or not), story, plot, or anything else for that matter, though it does look pretty.

[For the record, yes, I know it has aliens and a story. But the key word in that last statement was interesting. Felt the need to point that out, sorry.]

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Niantic recently disabled the tracking feature on their PokemonGo game app. After a few days of silence, Niantic finally explained why, saying that the feature was “confusing and did not meet our underlying product goals”. They also said that they had “limited access by third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service for our users”. You can read the whole statement here.

A lot of articles have been written about this, and I have a lot to say about a few of them. First, some context.Here is the original PokemonGo game trailer when it was first announced last year.

Notice at the 25 second mark that the video promises that the app tracks distance to a pokemon clearly and accurately. That’s not what we got though. Instead we got the app showing how far pokemon were by how many footprints (called steps) was shown underneath the graphic. The more steps there were, the farther they were, as this article shows.

But then the 3-step glitch happened, which showed all pokemon were three steps away, no matter how far they actually were. People turned to third-party apps that accessed the PokemonGo app and showed where pokemon were relative to your position and what they were. Pokevision was one of these apps. Soon after Niantic CEO John Hanke voiced his displeasure at the existence of these third-party tracking apps, Niantic released the update that not only disabled the PokemonGo tracking feature, but all third-party apps that accessed it. People were angry at this, to the point that many were requesting refunds for any in-app purchases that relied on PokemonGo’s tracking feature (some got their refunds).

Articles started proliferating on the net, some decrying Niantic’s actions, some applauding them. This article talked about how the third-party apps allowed people to track down the most powerful pokemon quicker and use them to defend gyms. This is cheating in the article’s opinion. The article also states that these apps also reduced or eliminated the sense of wonder that comes from exploring a new place and searching for new pokemon. This one had a letter from Yang Lui, the proprietor of Pokevision, one of the 3rd-party apps that was shut down. In this letter, Lui states that using Pokevision was not cheating, but was a band-aid on the bigger problem of PokemonGo’s lack of a workable tracking feature.

Now that all sides have had their say, let me put in my two cents. As for Pokevision being used to find more powerful pokemon easily, that is true. But what is equally true is that in order to evolve these pokemon into more powerful forms, you need to level up your trainer avatar, collect stardust, collect pokemon and trade them in for candies (this is an oversimplification). In other words, people still need to go out and travel in order to get powerful pokemon. It takes a lot of work. I don’t see how work translates into cheating.

As for removing the sense of wonder, wonder is for people who have time to go to new places and find new pokemon. There are PokemonGo fans who work and have other commitments that take time away from playing this game. If these people have limited time to play, they could remove some of the randomness that came with finding pokemon by using Pokevision. And they still have to perform the steps I laid out above to create more powerful pokemon. And at least Pokevision was a tracker app that worked, better than PokemonGo’s tracking feature, which was itself a weaksauce version of the one Niantic promised in their original trailer last year. So Niantic didn’t have the moral high ground here.

Having said all that, let me applaud Niantic for taking steps to address fans’ anger and concerns (finally). They put out a statement saying they’re working on the problem (though it’s mostly corporate speak). They have hired a community manager to speak to fans more directly and quickly.  They have given refunds for in-app purchases that took advantage of the borked tracking feature. But Niantic needs to do more to gain back the fans’ respect. To Niantic, I say this: Fix these problems quickly. Stay in constant contact to let us know what you are doing to address our concerns. And don’t hate on others who created better solutions for your fixes than you have. Learn from them. To the fans, I say this: I understand the anger, and if all this was enough to put you off this game, I don’t blame you. This game has been a dissapointment. For the rest who are hanging on to this game in spite of everything, give Niantic time (but not too much time). They are clearly working to fix their problems, so let’s ease off them so they can concentrate. In the meantime, continue to catch ‘em all.

Thanks go to Kotaku, CapitalFM.com, The Mary Sue and Youtube for providing the works I cited*. 

*All linked work is care of their respective authors, none of them are owned by me, yadda yadda, copyright law, legal phrases, fair use, etc. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Him?

Recently Devin Faraci (columnist and Editor-In-Chief of Birth Movies Death) was invited along with other film critics to the Justice League set, currently filming in London. You can read the article on his visit here. According to him there was a subreddit on his visit, with people wondering why he was invited, despite the fact that he was a hater of the Batman v. Superman movie (hereafter called BvS). Devin says his reason right in the article that it was precisely because he was a hater of BvS that he was invited. It was to show Devin that Warner Bros. was learning the lessons that the last film taught them, and that those lessons were being implemented in Justice League.  
I find this very interesting. Warner Bros. could have invited any of a hundred film critics who didn’t like BvS to the set, but they invited him. Sure, it’s because he’s a hater, but I think there are additional reasons that go beyond him being a film critic. Before looking at the reasons below, read his review of BvS here. Short version: He didn’t like it.
Devin is a knowledgeable nerd. That is, he understands film and how it’s made and the language film uses to entertain people. And in the case of BvS, he has also read the source material from DC comics. He can engage with, and criticize the film with a more complete understanding than other film critics who may not have the comics background he does. So his reviews of these types of movies will be somewhat more insightful. This is proven by the additional articles he’s written that expands on why BvS is a terrible movie. He wrote this one about Superman’s place in popular culture for the last few generations. There’s one about why the death of Jimmy Olsen was stupid. He also wrote one about Wonder Woman’s origins when she shows up in BvS. He even wrote one about the parallels between BvS and the graphic novel Kingdom Come. Because he can engage with the DC Movieverse with this level of knowledge, Warner Bros. would need to convince him, and through him, convince the majority of the movie-going public.
On that note, another reason is that a lot of people read his columns, enough to convince others that any DC Movieverse film he doesn’t like to not go see. Whether or not he has a wide-enough influence to affect ticket sales, the fact that Warner Bros. invited Devin means that Warner Bros. thinks he does. Nerd culture is now popular culture in America. And a big reason why people go to these comic book movies is that nerds are excited for these movies and are convincing the non-nerds to go. Convince Devin that Justice League is a good movie, and he may tell nerds to go. Nerds convince non-nerds to go, and boom! One billion dollars in the bank. Or so Warner Bros. thinks.
So that's why I think they invited Devin to come see the Justice League filming. A lot of this is conjecture though. While I haven't always agreed with him (Star Trek Beyond, for example) I have always respected his opinions. Go read his articles. They're great. And read the rest of Birth Movies Death while you're at it. If you like the site, whitelist it, so the contributors can be paid for their work.