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.

The Line Between Hand-Crafted And Random

Syp generated some conversation and controversy by posting a somewhat strongly-worded post against procedurally-generated worlds, but I think he’s absolutely correct: If a developer tries to cut corners by substituting a computer-generated world in place of what should have been a hand-crafted world, it probably won’t be fun. I’m not sure which game he was talking about, but it might have been Crowfall or H1Z1, both of which embrace procedurally-generated worlds and claim to be MMORPGs.

He might also have been thinking of Trove which creates random worlds when you go through those Adventure gates. Those worlds aren’t terrible, but they don’t have any depth or personality. It’s obvious that they are computer-generated. When you leave, there is no reason to remember any part of it. But I don’t think they’re intended to be remembered. They’re just 3D spaces for you to run through and gather materials and kill stuff. You then use those materials to build your club world any way you want. (Or something like that.)

It’s basically the same in Landmark, the only other procedurally-generated MMORPG-like game that I have any experience with. The worlds themselves are forgettable–what you’re supposed to remember is the player-built constructions. You can always move to another world if you don’t like it.

I suppose that’s the demarcation line: Whether the world is supposed to be temporary or not. It’s okay and probably even desirable to create temporary worlds procedurally, but if the world is supposed to be permanent and especially if it’s supposed to be part of a story (like most “traditional” MMORPGs are supposed to be), it’s going to come out better when it’s hand-crafted, and savvy consumers will be able to tell the difference.

I think that Crowfall will be able to get away with procedurally-generated worlds because of the nature of their campaign system (and the fact that it’s not really an MMORPG like we’re used to). I imagine that starting a campaign will be somewhat similar to starting a game of Civilization. As you discover the landscape around you, you’ll be able to use it strategically as you place your forts or ganking chokepoints or whatever. And to maintain freshness, each new campaign world should be different from the last.

I haven’t played it yet, but I imagine it should work for H1Z1 because those worlds are mostly intended as a stage upon which to hit other people over the head and take their stuff. People probably aren’t going to be looking to discover any ancient civilizations in cryptic ruins.

Three Times The Controversy

There have been three controversies in the blogosphere lately that I haven’t had a chance to comment on. (Well, three that I know of, at least–I’m sure there are more floating around.) I don’t particularly like to be controversial on this blog but I did want to at least voice my opinions.

Twitter and MMO Gypsy made me aware of a Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview with Peter Molyneux that made the rounds of the blogosphere. Regardless of what I think of Molyneux and Godus, I personally found it an appalling example of tabloid journalism if not an outright abuse of press credentials. Hard questions do not need to be openly belligerent. I really hope that’s not the direction that games journalism is heading. (Interestingly, or perhaps shockingly, that style of interview turns out to be fairly normal overseas.) I wrote a big long post about this but honestly I don’t want to dwell on it that much.

Jaedia over at Dragons and Whimsy wrote an excellent article about sexual objectification that I highly recommend reading. (There are many excellent articles on this topic actually, this is just the latest.) I’m not super comfortable commenting on this, because, being a plain old WASP, I tend to be the demographic that is the source of all the cultural problems in the world, so I find that it’s usually better to just keep my mouth shut. But I agree that it’s a problem and it was extremely brave of her to post that article especially in a post-Gamergate world.

Lastly, Belghast summarized a kerfuffle that resulted from Jaeda’s post. I missed it because I can’t keep up with Twitter conversations very well, and it’s been a rough week for keeping up with anything online anyway. But I wanted to chime in that I also strongly disagree with the idea of freedom of speech being used as a club to force unpleasant opinions on people. I’ve seen this shield brought up especially about blog comments for years. Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily give you the right to be heard, particularly over a commercial medium like blogs or Twitter or in a game chat. It’s to protect you from being arrested for criticizing your government.

WoW – My Favorite Addons

I started this post in November 2014, and TAGN’s recent post on addons reminded me that it was still sitting in Drafts. So I thought I would finally post it.

Addons are a fact of life when you play World of Warcraft. You can play without them (I’ve done it), and most of the gameplay basics are there, but Blizzard has consistently refused to put in any of the quality-of-life enhancements that we are all used to from every single other MMO released in the past ten years. (I’m thinking of Rift in particular here, which put in just about every quality-of-life improvement you could have ever wanted in an MMO UI.) Thus you’ll probably want some addons for WoW. Here are my favorites, not so much to recommend them but more as a handy index for later when I inevitably lose them all after a reformat.

I typically don’t do much to change the visuals of the game, I mainly concentrate on quality-of-life enhancements and things that other games have that WoW doesn’t.

Altoholic. I don’t really do much with this addon, but it’s very handy to display informative lists of all your alts on one screen, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Deadly Boss Mods. Honestly I don’t even know what this mod is doing for me, but I assume it’s helping me in dungeons somehow. Anyway I’m sure everyone in PUGs would yell at me if I wasn’t using it.

Gatherer. Keeps records and statistics on every gathering node you come across. There’s also a neat radar thingy that you can enable if you just want to run around farming while watching Netflix. (I rarely do that, but when I do, it’s very cool.)

LiteBag Bagnon. Merges all your bags into one. I mainly like it because it makes your inventory take up less space on the screen, because otherwise WoW covers up your minimap with your bags, which I hate. LiteBag is much more consistent with the WoW 6.0 bag interface, unlike Bagnon.

Moncai Compare. It boggles my mind that WoW still does not automatically compare items in your inventory to your equipped items when you hover over them. (I know you can hold shift, but come on, this is 2015. Nobody else does it like that.)

Multishot. I recently installed this to take screenshots of significant events like levelups and achievements. I suddenly got it into my head that I wanted an automatic screenshot every time I leveled a character. That way, I can track how long it takes me (in real-time days) to advance my characters. Not that I need to know that, but metrics are fun.

Omen Threat Meter. I very rarely need a threat meter, so I’ve struck it from my list. Usually the default threat display stuff in the UI is enough for me. (But if I did need one, this is the one I’d use.)

OmniCC. A recent addition, this addon displays remaining time on cooldowns numerically over your ability icons, as opposed to the radial spinning-clock countdown display. The radial thing is great for very short cooldowns but I like numbers when the cooldown is more than, say, 5 seconds.

PetTracker. Another recent addition, this very handy addon provides tons of useful helpers if you do anything with Battle Pets. The main thing I like is the ability to display Stable Masters on the map, because I always forget where they are. (This addon seems to have some issues with 6.0, though, as I see occasional debug reports from Swatter.)

Recount. Your basic DPS meter. I don’t know why I bother, though, because I feel like DPS is radically unbalanced between classes in normal dungeons from 15-70, which is where most of my group experience is. I mean, seriously, the tank is often the DPS leader. What’s up with that? At least in 6.0 it seems they fixed the ridiculously overpowered Shield Slam that practically one-shotted every mob below level 30.

TradeSkillInfo. Adds tradeskill information to item tooltips. I got this because I wanted something that would tell me what in the heck to do with the stuff that kept filling up my bags, as it’s not at all clear if you’re a relative WoW newbie (This particular addon isn’t quite as good as I’d like, though.)

XToLevel. A very cool addon that displays information about how long it will take you to get to the next level. A variation of this addon was one of the very first addons I ever installed for WoW, way back in the dark ages. It tells you how many mobs you need to kill, or how many dungeons you need to complete, or how many mining nodes you need to harvest, or any number of other things, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Zoomout. Allows you to zoom out much farther than the default UI lets you. Absolutely essential. I love to zoom way out so that my character is like 10 pixels tall while fighting bosses. I wish more games allowed you to do that, but most don’t. I can’t stand it when the boss is so big that it doesn’t fit on the screen.

I think I might have had another post floating around somewhere in which I griped about the most common problem with WoW Addons: Too many options. Yes, I said too many. Perhaps six months from now I will have a post to followup on that.

Daybreak Firings

I wanted to believe SOE being bought out might be–well, if not good news, then at least not bad news. But now I guess it’s okay to officially start with the doom and gloom over Daybreak. I hope everyone affected by these layoffs finds another place soon. (I’m going through my own job placement stress right now so I feel for anyone with any uncertainty about their job.)

While this news doesn’t affect me personally the way it does others–I don’t have the nostalgia for EverQuest that most people do (I was an Asheron’s Call guy and hardly ever played EQ)–based on the dour mood around the blogosphere it’s easy to see that this is a tremendous blow to the spirit of the genre. Besides that it just generally sucks to see people losing their jobs for no apparent reason.

In a desperate effort to find some hope in this, I offer this: I realize it’s brutal to say this, but changing the path that EQNext was on might be a good thing. Based on what I’ve seen in Landmark, I’m already pretty scared that EQNext is/was well on its way toward being an unimpressive game with considerably more hype than it deserves, and if the next game that has the “EverQuest” name on it turns out to be a dismal flop, that’s going to be pretty bad for the genre. Especially when EQ2 is… well, it’s not great. Not bad, either. Just average. Maybe Columbus Nova saw that too and decided to step in. That’s probably wishful thinking on my part, though, and they just swooped down with a callous mandate to “do more with less,” like money-grubbing corporations often do.

On the other hand, even an EQNext that’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread is better than no EQNext. No disrespect to its fans, but I’d prefer they cancel Dragon’s Prophet if they’re going to close one to save money. It’s not bad, it’s just… average.

Something Witty Like: SOE’s New Daybreak

Breaking News! (Not.) SOE is turning into Daybreak.

I don’t read as much doom and gloom into this news as SynCaine does, but if Daybreak intends to take a more cross-platform stance, it could mean EverQuest Next will end up a lot more controller-friendly than we PC MMORPG gamers might like. You can already sense it with Landmark actually. You’ve got a left button ability and a right button ability and that’s about it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with fewer abilities, if done well–Neverwinter comes to mind. Sadly last I checked–a month or so ago? Did I write a post about that? It’s probably still in my Drafts somewhere–Landmark had a long way to go before the quality of its combat came anywhere near the level of fun and polish in Neverwinter.

On the other end of the controller spectrum would be something like FFXIV, which brings all of the hotbar complexity of your PC MMORPG right to your controller buttons, and does it better than you might think. I’d prefer it if they went that direction for EQ Next. (Honestly there isn’t much that could be stolen from FFXIV that wouldn’t be a solid winner.)

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens after Daybreak. Hyuk hyuk.

(I keep wanting to call them Dawnbreak instead of Daybreak for some reason.)

What Does Buy-to-Play Really Say About An MMO?

ESO* is going Buy-to-Play. Yay! I’m looking forward to playing it again.

(Holy jeez those guys make awesome cinematics. I wonder how much of a AAA studio’s game development budget goes into those.)

But philosophically speaking, I wonder what the Buy-to-Play model says about an MMO. After having experienced it in GW2, B2P seems to imply something that’s not a very good thing. The game company seems to be saying, “Here’s our persistent world game, but there’s really only about a month or two of fresh gameplay for you to look at, and we’re probably not going to update it very much, so don’t make any long-term plans to stay in our game.”

This is exactly what Guild Wars 2 provided. It’s awesome that you can go back into the game whenever you feel like it, but from a PvE perspective, once you’ve played with all of the classes and leveled one or more characters to 80, you’re done with the “game” part of the game and all that’s left is basically a 3D chat room with achievement grinds. (Unless you’re into PvP.) The Living Story content updates have been somewhat lackluster in my opinion–not worth charging for, in other words.

It also meshes with my memory of the ESO experience, too. Good content… for a month or so.

My point is that going B2P might be the game company’s way of conceding that their MMO has a really short lifespan and there will probably be a very high churn rate among the player base. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing for the genre.

Still, the model fits my play style perfectly, and from what I’ve observed, it seems to be a favorite among the gaming community.

For the most part, I only play MMOs for a month or two before I get weary of the repetition and want to switch it up with something different, so B2P fits my playing habits perfectly. It saves me the hassle of going to their web site and cancelling the subscription. And when I inevitably want to jump back into the game later and see what’s going on, it saves me the expense and hassle of going to their web site and re-subscribing for a month when I probably will only play for a few days.

See you soon, whatever-my-dude's-name-was.
See you soon, whatever-my-dude’s-name-was-but-I-think-there-was-an-“R”-in-it-somewhere.

I’m looking forward to peeking at ESO again. I’m interested to see the changes they are making in the endgame, and beyond that I thought it was a pretty good game. For a month or two, at least.

* It’s not clear from their site what the official abbreviation is supposed to be. The game is called “The Elder Scrolls Online” on the box yet they always refer to it as “ESO” on their pages. I’m sticking with ESO, because to me, when you call it TESO, you’re secretly trying to relive the single-player game and denying that it’s a totally different experience. Yeah, one letter says all that. Really.