FFXIV – Loot Window Screed

I’ve been doing a lot of Alliance Raids in Final Fantasy XIV since 4.1, so I’ve seen the loot window a whole lot lately. This is a 3000-word screed on everything that’s wrong with the UI in this window.

This is probably not unique to FFXIV, by the way. But it’s the one I personally see most often.

First let’s go over how it works in case you haven’t experienced it. At the end of the raid or dungeon or whatever, after defeating the Big Bad, someone finds and clicks on the shiny loot chest (an unnecessary and antiquated step in the process, but let’s just go with it). A window then pops up on everyone’s screen that shows what’s in the chest. You then have an opportunity to choose whether to “roll” on each piece of loot in chest. The game then randomly selects a “winner” for each piece. It’s pretty standard for an MMORPG, though I might argue again that it’s a bit of an antiquated system.

But I don’t have any problem with the concept of how the loot is given out. I don’t even mind the Need or Greed system, although once again I think it’s a bit antiquated these days. (I think there should only be “Roll” and “Pass” options and the game should internally select Need or Greed automatically. Or even better, just give every player a piece of loot, like GW2 and some other newer games do.)

My problem here is with the UI of the loot window itself. It’s so onerous and frustrating to deal with.

I should explain that I’m a software developer. Our kind (in my opinion) prefer computers to do things for us, so we don’t have to. I’m a big fan of Larry Wall’s famous quote that the three virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience, and hubris. I don’t want to do anything manually when the computer can do it for me.

So let’s talk about that UI.

It’s possible there are keyboard shortcuts for the buttons in that window, but I don’t know what they are. FFXIV is not particularly good at shortcuts for window buttons so I’m skeptical. You certainly can’t tell one way or another just by looking at the window. If they added keyboard shortcuts, that would be a good first step in the right direction to solving my issues, but it wouldn’t go nearly far enough.

So we have to use the mouse to move all the way over to the window. We have to click on every piece of gear in the row, then click on Need, Greed, or Pass, one at a time. So it’s a bit of a clicker puzzle, like a weird version of a Simon game, or an RTS. Click up there, then click down there, then click up there again, then click down there again, again, and again. And it’s not unusual to see a large number of items to decide on, as in the screenshot above.

One odd characteristic of this loot window is that it’s very easy to move it around. You might think that clicking and dragging the title bar would move it, but in fact clicking and dragging anywhere in the window will move it. Including clicking the loot icons. If you happen to accidentally hold our mouse button down a little too long when selecting a piece of loot, the window will move. When that happens, I have to visually refocus and find the new position of the buttons. It’s annoying.

Now keep in mind, often you have to deal with this window while you’re fighting monsters, or running to the next location. It’s not like you can just stand there for five minutes carefully going over everything in this window, carefully clicking in the right spots, carefully assessing whether or not you really need these items or not. Assuming you don’t want the rest of your group to yell at you, that is.

There is a timer on the loot window. If you don’t want anything at all, you can simply ignore it and eventually it will go away. But that takes a solid 5 minutes. That’s a bit rude to your fellow players, who might be anxiously awaiting that one piece of gear in that window. It’s polite to roll on the loot as soon as it’s convenient (at least I think it’s polite). In the case where you don’t want any of the loot, that means playing the clicker mini-game of selecting each piece of gear to Pass on it. Click up there, click down there, click up there, oops, moved the window! Now click down there in a slightly different place.

One simple suggestion might be to add a way to Pass on everything all at once. But that wouldn’t help without other, more dramatic changes. Given the number of people who would accidentally lose their loot, FFXIV would undoubtedly add two or three confirmation dialogs, which would effectively negate the benefit of passing on everything in the first place.

One other quirky problem that I think is specific to FFXIV: While you’re running to the next boss, making your decisions in the loot window, you might encounter a transition to another zone. (In the alliance raids, for example.) If you do, that loot window closes and once you’re in the new zone, you have to re-open it to continue where you left off. It’s very irritating. I try to stop before I get to those transitions, but sometimes I forget.

You might think that would be all there is to complain about in that loot window. We are just getting started!

Obviously the game won’t let you Need on a piece of gear for another class, which is why the button is disabled in the above screenshot. I believe I was playing Dragoon at the time and that’s probably a tank chest piece. If I had been playing a tank, though, I could have clicked on the Need button to roll on it against other tanks. But if I was already wearing that chest piece, or had it in my inventory, after I clicked the Need button, the game would tell me that I already had it and couldn’t roll on it. After I clicked the Need button. (This applies to Greed as well.)

Why does it have to wait until after I click the button to tell me I can’t roll on it? If it knows after I click the button, how does it not know before I click the button? The Need and Greed buttons should both be disabled with an explanatory message to say that I already have the item. For bonus extra credit, the entire item should be disabled so I can’t even select it, so I don’t need to click on the Pass button either.

Now after playing FFXIV for four years or so, your inventory is probably a bit full. You probably moved a lot of gear from your inventory to your retainers for safekeeping. You might not be able to use that tank chest piece now, but if you happen to get it in a Greed roll, you can put it away until some day when you’ll eventually level that tank job to 50. The problem is, once you move that gear to your retainers, that loot window can no longer tell whether you have that gear or not. The game is fine letting you Need on an item that you already have sitting on a retainer.

If you’re a nice person, you can find out if you really need the item or not. If you right-click on a loot item (and this applies almost anywhere in the game), the game provides a Search For Item menu which will search your retainers to see how many of that item you have. So you can use that feature to determine whether you already have one or not, but it’s an extra step.

You might ask, why do I care? What’s the harm in rolling on a piece of gear I already have somewhere on my retainers? I can just throw away the one I don’t need (I don’t think you can sell or trade it). Basically it comes down to not wanting to be a jerk to other players in the group.

Here’s a fairly common situation: Right now I’m leveling my Dragoon from level 50 to 60 by running Alliance Raids. I’m already wearing most of the full set of Demon gear from World of Darkness (the highest tier raid), because last time I played my Dragoon, World of Darkness at 50 was the endgame. I replaced my gear from Labyrinth and Syrcus Tower (the lower tiers) and moved them to my retainers.

Now I’m working on leveling my Dragoon, and often I get Labyrinth or Syrcus Tower in the alliance raid roulettes. After a boss, sometimes I see a piece of Dragoon gear come up as loot. I’m playing Dragoon, so I can roll Need on it. But do I really need it? Maybe, maybe not. I have a lot of the Labyrinth and Syrcus Dragoon sets, but I don’t know if they are complete or not without going through the extra step of using that Search For Item feature. It would be nice to finish the gear sets just for completeness’ sake. I could roll Need on it and throw away the piece if I don’t need it, but what if there’s another Dragoon in the group who just got to 50 and really does need it? It would be rude to deny him his loot.

(I actually just found out that when you reach level 50, the game now gives you a complete set of item level 90 gear, so these days nobody technically “needs” a piece of gear from Labyrinth except for cosmetic purposes.)

There is also the issue that my Dragoon is already wearing the better Demon gear, so technically I don’t “need” the older gear at all and really shouldn’t have the option to roll Need. I have actually been yelled at before for choosing to Need on an older piece of gear to complete a set that I clearly didn’t need, when somebody else in the group wanted to Greed on it so he could use it for an alternate class. I think he was wrong to make that demand, but I can sort of see his point. The game should have forced us both to roll against each other for that piece, because for both of us it was a “want” and not a “need.”

Looking so far into the minds of players might be beyond the capabilities of a loot window, though. The game would need to know a lot about the gear sets we have and don’t have and be able to compare it to the gear we’re wearing.

For now, I would just like the loot window to be able to look at what’s in my retainers’ inventories so I don’t have to use that Search For Item feature.

(Search For Item, by the way, is better than nothing, which is what I thought we had for a long time. I only recently discovered that Search For Item feature, and this might have been a much longer rant without it.)

Surely that must be all there is to complain about in the loot window? Ha! Read on!

After the chest piece, there’s four items in that loot window above which are used for “augmenting” gear to make them better. I only know that because I’ve looked it up before. The first time I encountered them I had no idea what they were. And even now, I don’t know any of the specifics about which gear it augments or how much it augments it. Since that’s a loot list from Syrcus Tower, I know it’s not going to be much use to me in leveling up my Dragoon, but again, it’s possible some of that could be useful to an alternate job. It’s possible the augmented gear looks really cool and I might want to use it for a glamour.

The point is, I have no idea whether to roll on those augments, and there is literally no way to find out within the confines of that loot window whether I should or not. (The popup item descriptions of augments are notoriously unhelpful as to what they are for.) I suppose I could alt-tab out and go to a wiki page, but that’s going to take a while, and it’s not something I can do while running to the next boss. I just have to guess whether I think I might need them or not. I still have the option to be a bastard and roll Need on them whether I need them or not, but again, I don’t particularly want to be rude to someone else who might genuinely need them.

In reality, if you don’t roll Need on those kinds of things, you’re not going to get them anyway. I honestly don’t know why I still cling to this notion of trying not to be rude about loot in the Alliance Raids. I’m pretty sure everybody in PUGs automatically rolls Need on the augments, minions, and orchestration rolls no matter what, and I’m the only one struggling with this moral dilemma about accidentally denying other players a chance at the items. To be honest, it’s more of a concern to me in FC groups.

Next in the loot list is the Onion Knight minion. I don’t always remember whether I’ve gotten a minion or not. In the Onion Knight case, I thought for sure I already gotten it from countless runs of Syrcus Tower, but I didn’t. I passed on it for a week before I finally wondered what it looked like, went to summon it, and found I didn’t have it. And again, the game doesn’t tell me if I have it already or not. I feel it should disable the minion icon and automatically pass on it if you already have it.

(Somehow I had it in my head that the game would let you roll on minions you already owned, but it turns out it doesn’t. But it does the same as with gear: It doesn’t tell you until after you click the button.)

Now you can open your Minion list and sort of eyeball it to see if you have that minion in your list already. It’s better than nothing, but again, it sure would be nice if the game would automatically figure this out for me.

You have visually spot the minion icon in that grid or roll the mouse over every icon and read the tool tip to figure out if you have a minion already. And there are multiple pages of them to look through. And I don’t even have that many.

There’s more?? You betcha.

The last two items in that loot list are a pair of Orchestration Rolls. In Final Fantasy XIV, you use these to play music while you’re in the inn or presumably in your house or whatever.

As you might be able to guess, I never have any idea whether or not I’ve already unlocked an Orchestration Roll, so I typically have to guess on whether to Need, Greed, or Pass on them. As I mentioned above, I would have to Need to have any chance of getting one, because everybody Needs on them. But again, I don’t want to deny somebody else a chance to get one if I already have it. There’s a good chance I would already have it, considering that I’ve run these Alliance Raids a hundred times before, but sometimes they add new loot to these windows. Like, for example, Orchestration Rolls, which I think were added to the game after the Crystal Tower raids.

You have the option to open up your list of Orchestration Rolls to look up whether you have one or not, but the Orchestration window is poorly organized and you have to first find the “category” that the music is under. In this case, we assume it would be under Raids. You have to hover over the item in the loot list to look at the tool tip, which tells you the name of the Roll. Then you have to look through your list to see if that name is already there. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a laborious searching process and something that I feel like the game should be able to do automatically for me.

Here we have to identify the Orchestrations by name, there are no icons to look at. The “only display rolls obtained” checkbox helps whittle down the list a little.

In this case, you can’t use “Search For Item” to find them, because that only looks for physical items in your inventories. Once you unlock the Orchestration Roll, it “consumes” the item, which disappears, so you can no longer search for it.

Unless the Orchestration Roll is a “Faded” Orchestration Roll, it turns out. I didn’t even know these were a thing until the past week. I kept trying to double-click on them to unlock them, and I would stare dumbfounded at my screen when nothing happened, over and over again. It turns out these are crafting components used to make Orchestration Rolls. I don’t know how to craft with these things, so they sit in my inventory. Conveniently, this allows me to use the Search For Item feature in the loot window to determine whether to roll on them or not.

Okay now I’m tired of writing about this, and will end here.

I love Final Fantasy XIV but there are some areas where the game’s UI is a primitive mess, and this is one of them. They created yet another one of those “generic” window UI systems which should be more specifically tailored for the specific needs of the game. A whole lot of games do this, and it’s annoying.

It’s on the rise, too, because of the rise of games using “generic” game engines, like the Unreal Engine or Unity, and “generic” middleware components. The developers spend their time on the models and animations and sound effects in their game and ignore the systems that are “built in” to the game engine, which results in awkward UIs that people “just get used to.” I say enough! Power to the people!

P.S. I happen to be available right now if anyone wants to hire me to fix their game’s UI design. :)

Amazon’s New World, Part Two

From a draft written somewhere around October 2016…

I finally got around to watching Amazon’s teaser video, thinking that it would erase my earlier skepticism and soften my opinion about their upcoming games, and maybe even start to get excited about the possibilities.

Unfortunately it only pushed my skeptical buttons even harder.

“What if a game was built for Twitch,” wonders a voiceover 12 seconds into the video. Instant buzzkill. The video goes on to mention Twitch about five times in the first 60 seconds, before anything about games. If we go with the assumption that what they put into the very beginning of their video is the “hook” and therefore the most important message they want to deliver, we have to assume that Twitch integration is the most important part of their design philosophy for these games. And if Amazon making games to target Twitch viewers is not a corporate-synergy-driven game design, I don’t know what is. It’s as if they accidentally put the video meant for their shareholders out to the public.

The bottom line is that we don’t know anything about New World right now, except that it’s main, repeatedly-stated purpose is to synergize with Twitch. Which, to me, is not a selling point. When I look at the Twitch ecosystem, and indeed the whole streamer sociography, I see something that’s very difficult to comprehend. Lately I’ve been thinking of streamers as the modern-day equivalent of dancing monkeys or traveling freak shows. Probably an unkind comparison, but that’s the kind of content that seems to rise to the top.

I don’t understand why they’d reveal anything at this point and leave so much room for rampant speculation. They’re talking about this game even earlier in the development cycle than when ArtCraft started talking about Crowfall, which was incredibly early, and now seems so long ago that Crowfall feels like it’s come and gone already.

NBI 2016 – Kill Hippy GIFs With Fire

The topic of animated GIFs came up in the NBI Discord this morning so I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

I hate animated GIFs.

That is all.

No, really, I hate them. I lived through the 1990s World Wide Web, so I have vivid memories of the days when every advertiser put obnoxious blinking animated GIFs in every web ad, making every web page into some crazy dystopian night-time Las Vegas scene with blinking neon signs in every direction. (There was an early Futurama episode that captured this very well–I think it was A Bycyclops Built For Two.) It was horrible. It was so bad it birthed the entire ad-blocker industry.

Then there was Geocities, where every web page had an animated opening-and-closing mailbox for an email link and an animated construction-worker-with-a-shovel icon to indicate the page was still under construction.

Not to even mention that from a technological standpoint, it’s really a horrible format. I’ve written code to read GIF files (back in the 1990s). It’s the silliest way to encode an animation in the entire world. It was tolerable when all the animations were hand-drawn 16-color pixely creations made with Microsoft Paint, but now everyone makes full motion video animated GIFs, and I stagger to think of all the wasted bytes going into those files.

So I still have a possibly PTSD-related visceral reaction to animated GIFs. Something like: Nuke them from orbit. Kill them with fire. Drown them in … I dunno, water I guess. That kind of thing.

I don’t remember when or why animated GIFs came back into web culture, but I was never consulted about it and if I had been, I would not have approved it. Maybe this is the real issue that separates the Old Internet Generation from the Young Internet Generation. Get off my lawn, you damn hippy GIFs.

That being said, the entire issue for me could be solved with one simple checkbox in my web browser of choice: Do Not Play Animated GIFs Until I Tell You To. Yet for some reason, presumably a secret pact between the Big Animated GIF Lobby and The Web Browser Consortium, that most basic of user interface settings remains missing.

Oh, wait, I just Googled how to disable animated GIFs in Chrome and apparently there’s an extension for it. Sweet! Nevermind. :)

I shouldn’t get too excited, though. It doesn’t fix the Twitter app on my Android phone, which feels no shame in showing every animated GIF in the world without my consent, forcing me to disable images entirely. (Twitter looks very different when you turn off pictures btw–it’s mostly a gibberish of hashtags and links.) Nor does it fix any other app on my phone, which is apparently a territory that remains under the exclusive control of the Young Internet Generation.

P.S. I’ve really amused myself with the notion that future generations will be divided not by liberal or conservative political issues, but by how they perceive animated GIFs.

P.P.S. Okay, some animated GIFs are pretty cool. But it’s like 1 in 1000.

Goodbye EverQuest Next

I don’t have much to add to the EverQuest Next wake that hasn’t already been said, except for this possibly controversial thought:

I’m kind of glad they cancelled it.

Wait, wait, let me explain. We’ve known all along that Landmark was the prototype for EverQuest Next. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was dreading the day that they released Landmark with Norrath assets and called it EQN, because Landmark is not a very good game. There’s no doubt in my mind that EQ1 and EQ2 fans would have hated it.

Imagine how bad it would have been for the MMORPG industry if they had pushed out the next, long-awaited, highly-anticipated EverQuest game and it had been the same dismal failure that Landmark is.

Games Of My Year 2015

Here’s my year end “Best Of” list, because if you’re on the Internet, you have to do a year-end list of some kind. It’s the law.

2015 Contenders

After studying my Steam purchase history and searching my memory, I’ve come up with the following list of new games that I purchased and played in 2015. These are only games that were released in 2015, not every single game that I purchased or played in 2015. In other words, this is the pool from which I’m going to pick my games of the year.

  • ARK: Survival Evolved
  • Besiege
  • Fallout 4
  • FFXIV: Heavensward
  • Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns
  • GRAV
  • The Park
  • Rocket League
  • Savage Lands
  • Shelter 2
  • Skyforge
  • TOXIKK
  • The Witcher 3

Not a huge list, very few AAA titles, and of course they are all PC games. I should also say that my controversial definition for the “release date” of a game is the time at which anyone can purchase or download a playable game. So, for example, Trove, which “launched” in 2015, does not appear on the above list because I purchased and played a substantially similar version before 2015. And Prison Architect, which I bought in 2015 and Steam lists with a launch date in 2015, does not appear because its Early Access release was before 2015. (Steam overwrites the Early Access launch date with the Release launch date, but the Internet remembers.) Similarly the Early Access titles ARK, GRAV, and Savage Lands appear on the above list because they became available to buy in Early Access in 2015.

So yes, in a way, I’m punishing developers for releasing games too early.

Game of the Year

The Witcher 3. Not much of a contest, really.

witcher3 2015-06-28 07-09-32-09

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year

ARK: Survival Evolved. Why do people buy this broken piece of unplayable crap? Why don’t the developers fix it instead of putting out new dinosaurs and holiday events? Do they not have any programmers working there? Are they all artists and modelers? I simply cannot understand why the Internet hasn’t lost their minds with rage over this game.

Standing on a turtle, the most fun thing I did in ShooterGame. I mean ARK.

Most Emotionally Devastating Game Of The Year

Shelter 2. A unique, beautifully atmospheric game, but if you fail at this game, it feels like your heart is torn out and stomped on. You must be an unfeeling robot to actually play this game more than once.

And because this is mostly an MMORPG blog…

New MMORPG Of The Year

Skyforge … but only because there is literally no other choice.

Polo shirt dude is going to defeat the world.

MMORPG Expansion Of The Year

FFXIV: Heavensward, because even though it’s a bit of a slog, I keep going back to it, whereas I have no desire to go back to the new zones in Heart of Thorns. I didn’t include Knights of the Fallen Empire here because, while I technically “bought” it (having a subscription) and have access to it, I don’t have any characters high enough in level to actually see it yet.

Heavensward

Now for some other categories.

Best Game That I Played in 2015

Dark Souls. Along with Dark Souls II, it completely took over my summer.

The Depths

Most Consistently Played MMORPG In 2015

I’m going to have to go with Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve played it a decent amount in six of the twelve months in 2015, and leveled a Jedi Knight from around level 13 in January up to (as of this writing) level 56.

SWTOR Screenshot_2015-12-18_15_33_11_000300

Best Game With Art From People I Used To Play Quake With

GRAV. A nifty survival/building game, check it out. Or not, because I’m totally biased.

 

Pay-to-Win

I don’t think I’ve written about pay-to-win before, mostly on purpose. Frankly I think most of the outrage is entirely manufactured. But I posted a brief comment on Jef Reahard’s controversial MassivelyOP post to the effect that “pay-to-win” is one of those emotionally-charged terms like “climate change” or “gun control” that evokes instantaneous knee-jerk, black-and-white responses, so it’s a dangerous road to travel as a blogger.

Because in reality it’s a very complicated subject with many shades of gray, and it requires us to sit down and think long and hard about our gaming goals and values and who’s got time for any of that?

USCurrency_Federal_Reserve

So I won’t say much about it. Except that in order to have any kind of productive discussion about free-to-play MMORPGs and cash shops and the line between fair and exploitive, we need to first define what pay-to-win actually means (other than a pejorative shortcut for “the Internet mob disapproves”). And before we can do that we have to define the winning conditions for an MMORPG.

Of course that answer is: It depends. It’s entirely subjective depending on who you talk to. So no help there.

I feel like the core issue in the pay-to-win argument is whether a person who plays the game for a lot of hours deserves to have access to more “stuff” than a person who plays the game for fewer hours. In the past, people who spent lots and lots of time playing an MMORPG tended to accumulate more stuff, and the more stuff they accumulated, the more content they’re able to access, which in turn allowed them to acquire even more stuff. Right or wrong, many people measure their success in an MMORPG by how much stuff they possess.

Of course when the stuff is lying about in a cash shop, players no longer need to invest any time to accumulate their stuff. Time ceases to be the only means to achieve greatness.

Unfortunately this tends to leave traditional MMORPG players feeling like their playing time has no value, and incidentally it also wipes out any semblance of immersion in what used to be a virtual world experience.

Posted on Blaugust Day 18. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

 

Game Developers Aren’t Slaves

A while back I saw this pro-GamerGate post and had a flashback to my days in the political blogosphere. I’ll save you the time of reading it: It’s a long, very well-worded piece of propaganda disguised as anti-propaganda. (You know you’re reading propaganda when you come across the word “indoctrination.”)

Destroy this mad brute

The part that really made my jaw drop was this:

Never forget that you [developers] are here to please the gamers, they are not here to please you, validate your beliefs or prop up your ego.

That statement could not possibly be more wrong. Game developers are not prostitutes, servants, or slaves, as not just suggested there but stated outright. Game developers are artists, craftsmen, and businessmen. They create a product or service, and it is up to you the consumer to decide whether to purchase it or not, the same way you decide to buy a couch or a television. Or more accurately, the same way you decide to watch a movie or buy a book.

That sentence up there, in my opinion, is the very crux of the problem with a lot of crowd-funded game supporters (otherwise known as angry mobs). Most of them seem to feel that donating some money to support a game buys them ownership of the developers themselves, as if they have literally purchased slaves in some Mereen marketplace.

Full disclosure: I’m a software developer, so I have a very strong pro-developer bias. It absolutely infuriates me whenever a user feels that they own the developer as much as they do the software. “I bought your software so you have to do what I tell you or else!”

The other part of that post that I found pretty insulting was the implication that gamers are idiots who will instantly fall under the spell of whatever hidden message a game developer puts into their game. If that were true, then politicians would be right to ban violent video games because impressionable gamers will become violent after playing one, right? If you say gamers are so impressionable that they’ll turn into liberals after playing a game with a socially-conscious message, then there’s nothing stopping them from turning into serial murderers after playing Doom. Next up on the Gamergate agenda: Book-banning and record-burning!

I agree that it’s not a game developer’s job to teach morals, whatever they might be. Same for authors and movie-makers. But I strongly disagree that a game or a book or a movie can teach any morals. That teaching is much more effectively done by parents, social circles, and individual soul-searching, and those things will always trump whatever a game is trying to say.

Gah! This is why I stopped writing about politics. It’s too stressful.

Posted on Blaugust Day 11. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

NBI Talkback – Early Access

Early Access and Kickstarter – Do you support unfinished games?

This question is worded a little ambiguously, perhaps intentionally… what does “support” mean? I certainly support the development of new games, by which I mean that I always want people to try to make games.

As for financially supporting unfinished games, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I’ve been refining my criteria (see below), but it depends on the situation. I have not supported any game projects on Kickstarter, however I have purchased about a half dozen Steam Early Access games. I have also “bought into beta” a few times too (ArcheAge and Landmark are the biggest examples).

To me it all boils down to risk versus reward.

Kickstarter is a fairly high risk, low reward proposition in my mind, so it doesn’t make much sense to back a game project there unless you happen to know and like the developers. The risk is that the developer will take your money and run, or never finish the game, or change the game entirely from their initial proposal. The “reward” is a lot of buggy releases, and a few dollars off the eventual retail price. (Increasingly I’m also wondering if people consider it a reward to have the opportunity to psychologically terrorize a developer on their early access forums.)

Steam Early Access is more of a low-to-medium risk, with a higher reward (mostly instant gratification). There are a lot of reviews there you can read to help you decide whether or not to take that chance. And if you wait a few days after the game “launches,” you can almost always find someone who is streaming it so you can actually look at it first, or bloggers will write up some first impressions of it.

Buying betas (or “founder’s packs”) is more of a case-by-case basis. With ArcheAge and Landmark, I considered them extremely low risks, with decent-sized rewards. I knew I would like ArcheAge because I’d already played the Russian version, and I was pretty excited to play the Westernized version. True, I paid a premium to play it early, but considering the value of the virtual goods in the founder’s packages, it wasn’t that much of a premium.

As for Landmark, I didn’t know anything about the game, but I trusted (and still mostly trust) that a company like then-SOE-now-Daybreak will actually finish the game and get it to market. So I knew I wouldn’t lose my money. But in retrospect, I probably should have waited. I don’t exactly regret buying a founder’s pack, but if I had known the condition of the game before making my purchase, I would have waited. Because they were basically selling us a prototype.

And because of that Landmark experience, I’ve set myself some loose guidelines on how much I will spend on unfinished games.

If it’s a totally unknown game from a totally unknown developer, I won’t spend more than $10-$15. This also includes games I might be interested in but have seen or heard lukewarm reviews, or seen game footage that makes me wonder about the quality of the developer studio. I have a lot of Steam Early Access games in my wish list in this category. I won’t buy them unless they go on sale.

If it’s an unknown game but I trust the company, or I like what I’ve seen in game footage or streams, or it’s getting good reviews from peers, I might spend $20-$25 on early access.

(If it’s a known game but the publisher is Daybreak, who is known to release prototypes as products, I won’t buy it unless it goes on sale for much less than $20. That means H1Z1.)

These days I can’t see myself spending more than $25 for an unfinished game unless it’s backed by a major AAA studio, or at the very least has a free demo that I can try first. Unless a game concept just blows me away, I can wait until the open beta or the release date. I’ve got plenty of other games to play and not enough time to play them as it is.

But I’ll always reserve the right to change my mind and buy something on impulse.