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.

NBI Talkback – GamerGate

Slightly belated, but…

How did GamerGate affect you?

It actually didn’t affect me per se. I was a passive observer and it wasn’t discussed that much where I spent time on the Internet. I generally don’t read “hard-hitting” game journalism sites like RPS, Kotaku, and whatever others there are, and I definitely don’t venture into their comment sections. I think I only unfollowed one person on Twitter because of their relentless talk about GamerGate.

I did learn some things from GamerGate and its fallout though.

GamerGate demonstrated that there is a rather large conservative population among gamers that I had never seen before. Prior to GamerGate, I viewed gamers as apolitical, or maybe Libertarian-leaning, so that was an eye-opener. But it seemed that the ideals of the average GamerGate supporter correlated very strongly with the ideals of the average political conservative (in America, at least). Political conservatives tend to despise “the liberal media” so it was probably a natural fit for them to despise “the gaming media.”

It’s also been interesting (by which I mean depressing) to see that the “unrest” (if you will) that turned into GamerGate also bled over into other industries like genre fiction. If you’ve followed any of the controversy around the Hugo award nominations this year you’ll find it very familiar: It seems like many of the same conservatives that are GamerGate supporters are also trying to overturn the Hugo establishment. I guess the surprising thing to me is how much of an overlap there is between game audiences and fiction audiences, though I suppose if you think about it, it shouldn’t be that surprising.

I feel like it’s human nature to divide ourselves up into “us and them” sides. Perhaps as gamers we are even more susceptible to it: Most of our games force us to pick one of two factions or teams to play on. But if you take a step back and look at GamerGate (and the Hugos) objectively, the issues are complex and opinions can span a wide variety of gray-shades. (For myself, I can find both merit and fault in both sides, which is true of most things in life.) Sadly, many people just pick a side and run with it, because that’s the path of least resistance.