ESO: Do It Right the First Time

trials

I’ve been thinking a lot about Elder Scrolls Online lately. Ever since my post about Keeping Up With the Joneses, I’ve been hovering over the purchase button. Well it’s a good thing I didn’t! Out of the blue, I received an email from the Zenimax notifying me I had “purchased the game” and reminding me that I still needed to activate my free 30 days. Now, I can assure you that I did not purchase the Elder Scrolls. But, with a little digging, I did have a copy activated to my account. Strange, yes? Well, a quick email to support told the tale. See, a while back, I was able to help test their billing system. Apparently, that copy of the game I was refunded for is now mine to keep. Sweet deal, says I!

Anyhow, with all of the hustle of my wife returning to work from maternity leave and my being a stay-at-home daddy this summer (while also trying to finish grad school this week), I haven’t gotten around to activating the game. Why bother? What they say about subscription fees making you feel pressured to play rings true for me and, unfortunately, signing up now would just mean wasting some of those free days.

I have been reading, though, and have really been enjoying freelancer Leif Johnson‘s article series over at IGN. Say what you will about the big sites and their practices when it comes to reviewing MMORPGs but Leif has done an excellent job, taking 150+ hours to see all that the game had to offer before submitting his verdict. Take note, other sites: that’s how it should be done.

Today he posted an interesting piece on The Trouble with Elder Scrolls Online’s Veteran Content. While he loves the veteran dungeons, he takes issue with how long it takes to actually experience it. After 300 hours, he’s only midway through his veteran ranks. Here, he shares something important:

I wouldn’t mind this so much, but this cross-faction endgame quest also has the adverse effect of making leveling an alt account almost unthinkable. In other MMOs, when you hit max-level you might roll a new character to experience a new quest, and explore all the zones you missed. But in ESO, you feel compelled to experience it all on a single character, breaking the in-game lore along the way . . . There are times when I wish I’d leveled a Dragonknight or Sorcerer instead of my Nightblade, but the thought of playing through the content for roughly 300 hours again gives me shivers. Leif Johnson

Emphasis mine. See, for a player like me, hitting the level cap is a big deal. It’s an investment and those 150 hours it took Leif would likely take me two months to chip away at. I’m not a fan of repeating content in the first place and Zenimax has designed a system that actively eats the other factions worth of content. The idea of putting in a second 150 hours, then another 150 hours just to get midway into the endgame is unbearable. 600 hours for two mid-veteran alts? That will simply never happen. I know myself too well.

I had the pleasure of interviewing ESO’s Creative Director, Paul Sage, last week (written version here). He made it clear that any content drops they plan on adding (“real content” not just systems, by his description), you need to be a veteran player. He also mentioned that the majority of ESO’s players are still in the second and third zones. We have two things here. First, that this really is a slow burn of a game. With most players still in the mid-game, not even to the soft level 50 cap, it’s safe to say that leveling takes far longer than most other games of its ilk. Second, that if you want to get in on the ground floor of all that’s new and exciting, those hours are a required investment.

This design choice reinforces that ESO is another game that “begins at the level cap.” That, combined with the ultra-slow leveling speed, makes for a tricky proposition for Zenimax. Will players stick around long enough to even reach the upper veteran levels? Based on the average player level, I’d say that’s still a big question, and a pretty dangerous one with Wildstar right around the corner. And if they happened to mess up and discover 200 hours in that their class just isn’t what they wanted in that endgame, how many will be willing to reinvest that much time, with content they’ve already experienced, to do it all over again?

I’m still very excited to play the game. So many of you seem to love it that I’ll be activating and diving in with heavy anticipation. I do wonder, though, what all of this means for ESO’s future. A shortened leveling curve? Selling xp boosts or levels in the item shop? I just don’t see very many people leveling second characters when the same time could get them max level characters and real progress in even two or even three other MMOs.

ArcheAge: This Generation’s Vanguard (In a Good Way!)

I’ve been struggling to articulate why I find ArcheAge so compelling since I first began hearing about it. I described it many times in the past, talking about its many systems or how it supported the virtual world concept. Now that I have my hands on it, I think I’ve come to a conclusion about why this game has captured me so much, so quickly, and why I think it will do the same for a lot of people. It is this generation’s Vanguard.

Think about it. How many things do these games have in common? A huge, expansive, multi-continent world? Check. In-depth crafting skills with tons of interdependence? Check. The ability to build and decorate houses? Check. Build boats and great ships? Explore for exploration’s sake? A deep class system? Non-combat pastimes that can last the whole game long? Dozens of mechanics and systems that exist purely to deepen the overall experience? It’s all there. These are two games cut from the same cloth. Except ArcheAge seems to be doing it right.

I was a huge fan of Vanguard but never got the chance to experience it to its fullest. By the time I had a computer that could run it, everyone else had moved on, including the developers. Still, there was something magical that many of us look back to today. Part of that is capturing the essence of a virtual world, which is something that ArcheAge does very right. More than that, though, was this overriding sense that this was a game that begged you to go deeper, to keep digging because there was more and more for as long as you wanted to keep going. And if you wanted to go off in another direction, say Diplomacy, you could make your own way and be just as rewarded for doing so. That’s the sense I get from ArcheAge and it, so far, is doing a lot to rekindle my excitement for a genre that has been too long steeped in more of the same.

Giving my little cub a bath... before it turns into my mount!

Giving my little cub a bath… before it turns into my mount!

Everything I know says that this is a game that isn’t about the experience, it’s about the entirety of the experience. It’s not just about the 15 crafting professions available from the start (the wiki says there are 21 — maybe more will open up?). It’s not about the siege warfare or emphasis on world bosses over raid zones. It’s not even about being able to raise your own farm or castle, feeding your goslings, or growing crops that you physically cart off to trade. It’s about all of it. That at any given moment you can uproot yourself and strike out in a new direction and there are options for you. If you want to be a pirate or a trader, a farmer or fisherman, I can do that. It’s about the small systems, like the treasure maps or raising your mount from a cub, making sure to give it water and play with it to form a bond. It’s about being able to turn in quests early for less experience or keep on grinding for more. It’s these needless but meaningful touches, like the entire composition system — which puts LotRO’s music system to shame, I might add — that immediately seem to elevate the experience.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m gushing. In a way, I am. But Vanguard was a big game and if you were even a little excited about it, this is a game you need to be paying attention to. ArcheAge is Vanguard’s rebirth with all of the renovations of a modern MMO, minus the action combat for action combat’s sake. Even the game’s quest system has so far been trumped by the fun of being a part of the world. It’s fun just being out there, taking part in combat, and seeing what there is to see. I’m curious to see how this feels 20 levels from now but I’m guessing I still won’t mind. Traditional questing doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s done well.

But here’s the most important thing: after six years playing nearly every major MMO release, I’ve grown a bit jaded. Those early days of excitement never seem to glow so bright and even so fade quicker than ever before. It is hard to reignite wonder in a player that spent so much time poring over systems and mechanics, comparing title after title after title. It’s a blogger’s curse. Maybe you can relate. I’m still in early days but this game has done it for me. For the first time in a long time, I’m wanting to stay up late and get up early to log on. That’s pretty neat.

 

First Thoughts on the ArcheAge Alpha

profileThanks to the good folks at Trion Worlds, I was able to get an invitation to the ArcheAge alpha test. I have been excited for this game since it was first revealed, so seeing that invitation pop up in my inbox gave me quite the thrill, let me tell you! I haven’t had a ton of time to spend with the game yet but I made my way to the end of the tutorial before having to log off this morning. In general, the process of getting the game downloaded and working right has been easy with only a couple of early crashes that haven’t repeated themselves since. Trion’s new Glyph client did the job well enough but, to my disappointment, ArcheAge doesn’t (yet) feature a streaming client like RIFT or World of Warcraft, so you have to download the whole 22GB program before it will boot up. It’s like stepping back to 2012. /Gasp!

Anyhow, I’m still so early in that there’s not much point in coming to any conclusions. This is a big, deep game and I’ve experienced only the very basics of it, so I decided to bullet point my thoughts instead. Below, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts. Also, I took a boatload of screenshots but apparently they didn’t save. The game has a special mode for screenshot taking, and it has some never-before-seen-in-an-MMO features, but it’s not really conducive to on-the-fly shots. Relying on the print screen button seemed to bite me here, so count that as a lesson learned. I’ve included what I could grab after I realized this. There will be more to come — this game is stunningly beautiful and runs better than any other modern game in recent memory. No exaggeration. 145 FPS on maximum settings with 2x AA. WoW does… 60-70? Maybe?

To the list!

  • I’m playing a Firran. What’s with these Eastern games and the cat-people? Then again, I like cat people. Especially since these cat-people are very Native American-like; connected to the land, similar to Tauren in WoW. The tutorial takes the form of a coming of age ceremony.
  • My starting occupation (class) is Shadowplay. It reminds me of a rogue and uses a bow and daggers. I like rogues. Also, is there anything more fitting for a cat-person than to play in the shadows? Those eyes!
  • Standard kill and collect question, though I like the vignette-style quest delivery, ala ESO minus the voicing.
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100+ frames a second looking like this? I hope it lasts outside the tutorial!

  • You can hold skill buttons to make them trigger repeatedly.
  • Combat looks and feels great, though it is tab-target and very traditional. It feels slightly faster paced and the animations can be just great but I wish there was some kind of dodge. How times have changed!
  • Labor points are used for crafting and gathering… limited to 1000 a day and regen at 1 per minute whether you’re online or offline.
  • This game runs twice as well as World of Warcraft while looking ten times better.
  • I love that you can raise animals. There are so many small details about this game that make it feel like an actual world!
  • Wildstar has spoiled me. I miss double jump.
  • Quest text and the UI are in English but some of the voice over is still in Korean, namely tutorial speech and cutscene dialogue.
  • The mini-map is huge but looks more like the Diablo overlay (in the usual upper right-hand side). It actually hangs a little over the quest tracker.
  • Quests are clearly marked. They’re on the map and you also have colored arrows at your feet. This makes me worry a little bit about exploration and how linear the game may be. I’m in the tutorial zone, though, so this could be completely incorrect.
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You can add Depth of Field to screenshots! As well as something called “Bokeh” which doesn’t seem to do anything currently.

  • That said, this has to be the biggest tutorial zone I have ever seen. There are clear paths outlined on the map but the actual land is expansive.
  • There is a trial system in the game! My understanding is limited but from what I gather, when you steal from someone else — like their crops — that player can put you on trial and then we all vote on your jail time. Trials just pop up in chat. It’s amusing. Apparently, you can take up a quest after 30 to take part in the jury and decide how many minutes offenders spend in jail.
  • You regen by playing an instrument. I got excited for a music system but it’s just a cast bar. /sadpanda
  • You get your first glider early but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. After completing my tutorial trial, I was rewarded with my first one. It’s pretty hard to maneuver as you are literally just gliding downward. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of a hang-glider in Far Cry 3? Maybe the more advanced ones will work this way.
  • I absolutely LOVE the depth of this game. Faction chat was just filled with questions like “where do you get worms for fishing?” and “what type of food do you feed geese?” and “how long does it take a fawn to grow into a horse?” There are leaderboards for fishing competitions. You can buy seeds and livestock and manage a farm. All of the questions might mean that these systems are poorly explained. I don’t know since I’m not there. What I DO know is that I love that they exist. These are the systems virtual worlds are made out of. Sandbox, theme park, whatever. It’s great to see players figuring things out in this way.

That’s all for now. Is anyone else in? If so, feel free to add me under the name “Syeric”.

Good stuff for eyes and ears, volume #1

I read a lot of gaming blogs but you know what posts I really like coming across? The ones where the author shares some of the other things they’ve been enjoying lately. You know… books, movies, podcasts – that kind of thing. It’s like a window into other things that I might enjoy, so today I’m sharing my own. From here on out, Good Stuff for Eyes and Ears will be this blog’s version of “What I’ve Been Enjoying Lately.”

Television:

house-of-cards-2013-511373de93dafHouse of Cards: Talk about a series I didn’t expect to enjoy. From the very outset, the idea of a slow-burn serial starring senators and congressmen turned me off. I watched the pilot and turned away for months but hearing other people talk about how great it was inspired me to give it another shot. This series is set in Washington, but, make no mistake, it is 100% about its characters. After a few episodes I was absolutely hook by Frank Underwood’s undying thirst for power and manipulation. I watched both seasons in record time.

Hannibal-logoHannibal: This is perhaps one of the most underrated shows on TV. I was hesitant to invest in the show because it could have easily slid into “killer of the week” territory. Though there is a murder every week, Hannibal is absolutely a cable television transplant. It is dark and gory, so the squeamish might want to stay away. But what really sells it is the mystery of Hannibal’s machinations. Rather than sticking with the film and text versions of Hannibal Lecter, this series casts him in the role of a psychologist and retired surgeon, closely tied with the FBI and always on the verge of being caught. It is absolutely entrancing and by far my favorite new show of the last two years.

the-sopranos-logoThe Sopranos: I have spent the last two years trying to make my way through this series and finally did last week. Yes, the ending is as bad as you’ve heard, but the ride to get there is magnificent. I was at times turned off by how stereotyped the traditional Italian gangster was (“Heyyyyy!”, track suits, slicked back hair and flared nostrils), but the storytelling and character development really is good. If you missed this when it was on the air, now is a great time to jump back in and see why James Gandolfini was so beloved by so many.

Books:

Ready_Player_One_coverReady Player One: I listened to the audiobook version of this one and was surprised at how great Wil Wheaton performed as the narrator. I agree with Liore that it relies far too heavily on pop culture references but still found it to be a fun, lighthearted read nonetheless. The references ease up a bit in the second half, too, making for an even airier read.

damnation-gameThe Damnation Game: I had an urge for some horror and Clive Barker delivered in spades. This book is bleak and dark, just as you would expect from the man who created Hellraiser and the Books of Blood series. Still, Barker has an incredible imagination and a penchant for very vivid, disturbing imagery. Be warned, this isn’t Stephen King where the scares are psychological and there is an underlying current of hope. Barker seats the reader in a dark place and isn’t afraid to go for the gross-out. It works very well here.

51tpIK8K+tLThe Lies of Locke Lamora: This is the book I’m reading currently, and I think it’s safe to say that Scott Lynch is a genius. That’s not to say that this book is highest on the hill but it’s clear from the eloquence of the prose that the author is extremely intelligent. The book has an Oceans Eleven vibe, which I hear is a common takeaway. So far, the characterization is excellent and the story is gripping. If the rest of it keeps up this way, I will be picking up the next two books in the trilogy with very little hesitation.

Podcasts:

mza_6418535771887129184.600x600-75Podcast Beyond: You can hate on the game news beacons all you want but Podcast Beyond is a consistently fun and engaging Playstation podcast. I enjoy the mix of Greg Miller’s over the top exuberance and Colin Moriarty’s restrained intellectualism. I look forward to this podcast every week.

HordeHouse2013_225Horde House: I’ve guested with these guys a few times and I really can’t recommend them highly enough. Skie, Xtopher, and Grandpa make a great team with real chemistry. They are real gamers, not industry personalities, and their passion for online gaming comes through in every episode. Also, they’re really nice guys that like having fun on air. I’m down with that. Warning: this is not a family friendly show.

cat-context-verticalCat Context: How could I not recommend these guys? Liore of Herding Cats puts on this show every two weeks with her co-hosts Ellyndrial and Arolaide, talking about the week in gaming and geek culture. I’ve long believed that hosts make a show worth listening to and this one has quickly become one of my favorites.

And that’s it! If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them. Otherwise, hopefully this points you toward something you might enjoy!

Keeping up with the Joneses

Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-TNInternet, I have a problem. You make me buy things. No, no… don’t argue. You do. Just last night I noticed Belghast slipping through my window and ordering my copy of Diablo 3.  And then folks like this start talking about ArcheAge and Warlords of Draenor – it’s like you have a straw right into my pool of sweet, sweet money. And there was far too little to begin with, I might add.

But seriously, I can’t be alone in this. When other gamers are talking about a title they enjoy, I develop this overwhelming urge to dive in myself and join the conversation. The zeitgeist sweeps me up like some kind of wallet gobbling malcontent. This is a beast that only stops when I’ve given in or white-knuckled it past the popular period when my blogroll goes from a gush to a trickle.

Take Elder Scrolls Online, for example. Now, I played the game in beta. I didn’t get super far, mind you, but I played it enough to get a good idea for how it works and what’s running under the hood. I walked away from beta not particularly impressed or sold on the idea of leasing the game month by month when so many others are available for free*. Now, though? That’s another story.

Have you ever read social media and started to wonder if there was something you missed? That maybe, even after all you know, that maybe you’re the odd one out?

That’s one of the downsides to social media. The conversation goes on without you. I can be okay with that but I don’t really want to be. I’m not crazy, right? I mean, one of the best parts of being an MMO player, in my opinion, is being able to talk about MMOs with other people who like them too. And with networks like Twitter now connecting the community in more profound ways than ever before, it’s not just other bloggers telling me I should like something, it’s a bunch of strangers.

Now, I would content that a stranger’s opinion isn’t really worth a whole lot, at least when compared with my own experience. But one hundred? How about just a handful of really influential  friends whose opinion you respect?

I’m curious, do any of you feel like you need to keep up with the Joneses? I’ve bought many games just to be part of the conversation and, for the most part, I’m happy with that. It’s my job to be informed about these things, after all. I’ll tell you this much, though: that urge certainly makes me wish games like Elder Scrolls were free-to-play.

Review-Preview: Stick it to The Man!

Today, I would like to announce my new YouTube channel, GBNPlays. I’ve actually been interested in this for quite a while but only recently decided to make the plunge and learn video editing. I have all of the pieces in order and can begin putting out videos as quickly as I can capture and upload them. In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing (ha!) or start focusing on single player games and Let’s Plays. This is still an MMO blog, first and foremost, but I spend so much time playing different games that it makes sense to share some other commentary.

This week I am sharing what I call a Review-Preview, which is essentially me playing a game during the review process and sharing some commentary. So a short, possibly one-off Let’s Play, in essence. The game is really something special.

Welcome to Stick it to The Man, the PSN darling turned Steam convert. I am enamored with this game. Think Tim Burton meets Little Big Planet meets Tearaway with excellent writing and even better voice acting. Everything in the world, except for its wonderfully creepy character art, is made of cardboard. Our protagonist, Ray, finds himself under a military airplane brought down because, well, cardboard and rain don’t mix very well. Little does anyone know that the alien on board has made its way into Ray’s brain and is using him as a host, providing him with a spaghetti arm flailing from his head.

The arm is the game’s secret weapon. Ray can use it to read minds and interact with the game world. While there is some light platforming, the real mechanics come from using the arm to peel back layers of the world, pick up stickers, and place them to solve puzzles. It is, in many ways, like the best sort of adventure game: funny, memorable, and genuinely compelling.

If you could take a moment to subscribe, I sure would appreciate it. If not, just enjoy the video :-)

I plan on recording a lot of MMO specific videos, too. Stay tuned for more!

 

How Technology Has Changed Gaming Outside of the Home

It used to be that you would have to go to an arcade or some kind of gaming tournament if you were looking to have a video game-related experience outside of your home. Because if you didn’t decide to take on either of those options, you were basically stuck with playing against your friends and family or, if you had the capabilities, virtual opponents on your computer. The tides changed for multiplayer gaming when consoles were able to connect to the web. Like the Sega Dreamcast, for example, which despite Sega ending production in 2001 apparently refuses to ever die. A big reason for that is the online community that was established with games such as the wildly popular Phantasy Star Online.

Fast-forward more than a decade later and you’d be hard-pressed to find a console gamer who doesn’t spend half their time battling opponents online. That’s even more evident given the new games in the Call of Duty, Battlefield, Madden, NBA2K, and Grand Theft Auto franchises. That’s especially true with the fastest-selling game of all time aka Grand Theft Auto V, partially because Rockstar just only recently launched the online option that will surely be expanded in the coming months. That doesn’t even take into account console MMORPGS such as the PlayStation and PC-only DC Universe Online and multi-platform, massively hyped Destiny.

DQX_tabletMMO

While all of these options are certainly welcome and changing the gaming culture as we know it, there have been other technological advances that are just as important to multiplayer gaming. It’s a world that’s become even more competitive and social thanks to mobile apps that allow you to interact with other players just like you would if you were in front of your television. Apps such as My Xbox Live, Xbox SmartGlass, and the PlayStation App all allow you to use your phone just like it was the home screen of your Xbox One or PlayStation 3. Let’s say, for example, that you bought one of the newly released iPhone5s and wanted to keep in touch with the players that you routinely game with away from your console. Well, these apps allow you to do exactly that in addition to other features like changing your avatar and using the phone as a remote control device for your console. They’re not perfect, of course, as looking at the reviews shows that there are often connectivity issues and other problems. But they are also in their infancy, so just give it time if you’re experiencing any trouble with your personal app.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how these apps and the online components of consoles will continue to change and progress in the coming years. For example, will gamers have the ability to make changes to their actual online characters by using an app tied to the game on their phone? That kind of integration could make the experience that much more intuitive and immersive, basically allowing you to remain “in” the game’s world no matter where you are. Or will the mobile world simply stick to those aforementioned apps while trying to corner the market on gaming? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Author Bio: Kevin Gannon is a recent college graduate with an English degree and a strong passion for journalism. You can usually find him writing about music, technology, and video games, along with how those topics can often intersect.

Shifting Review Scores

battlefield-4-a_original

If you pay any attention to the mainstream gaming press, you’ve probably heard about the mess that is Battlefield 4. Ever since the game released on next-gen consoles, there has been a constant crap-storm of commentary: How could DICE release a game in this state? It’s not worth buying! Go get your money back! All of this underlined by the softly spoken acknowledgement that, when it works, this is one of the best shooters of the year. The initial review scores reflected the game in a much better state than we find it currently; played at “review events,” Metacritic reported scores of 83 for PC, 86 for PS4, and an average of 81 for the three Xbox One reviews. In light of the problems, many outlets have added addendums to their initial reviews. Polygon is taking another approach of updating their review scores over time. It have a problem with this approach and just what it implies about games journalism today.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Review scores are the answer for players who really don’t want to read. They want a quick yes or no and way to compare to other options on the market. They’re useful in that way. In a general sense, I believe the sites like Metacritic are pretty accurate in how they represent the general appeal of a game. If one review gives it a ten and another a 4, there’s a question, but when half a dozen do the same, I feel pretty confident that issues getting raised over and over again are probably a real thing. There is a financial appeal to this market. Reviews, as disclosed by journalists on many a podcast, draw in the most readers. Readers mean more pageviews and ad impressions. Review scores are the revenue generating Instant Answer to reader’s questions and so they dominate the gaming press.

But we live in a time when static scores really don’t make much sense.  In 2013, the world is online and connected. Developers release patches and content drops regularly that change the core game and address many of the concerns reviewers raise. In that sense, it makes sense to update a review score. In the same way, if a game crumbles once it is available to the public, the experience becomes demonstrably worse. Common sense says that it should drop.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is at best a band-aid for the larger problem and at worst a doorway to lazy reviewing. The issues with Battlefield 4 and, earlier this year, SimCity, represent how misguided the review climate is. We have seen, over and over and over again, games crumbling under the load of their launch window. Bugs crop up. Lag cripples any ability to play. Patches and patches go out with the expected thankfulness for our patience. Even if these things had never occurred, isn’t it reasonable to expect that game reviews should be conducted under the conditions they will actually be played?

Online games like SimCity and Battlefield 4 should never have been reviewed pre-release. It is irresponsible and far too trusting of the publishers. But in the games business, having your review up even a day after launch means substantially fewer views for your site, substantially fewer ad impressions, and substantially less money. There is pressure coming from the top down to have these reviews published on or before launch day. For some games without online components that makes sense. For an increasing number, it feels a lot more like rush jobs shedding credibility.

Simcity-Header

Given all of this, you’re probably wondering why, I would have a problem with Polygon updating their review scores over time.  The answer here is simple: Repeatedly updating a score only proves that you see the problem and are unwilling to actually fix it. If you’re mission is to perform a critical assessment, invalidating your culminating thought — the score — only invalidates all of the writing that came before it. That’s not fair, and not even totally accurate if the average reader actually reads, but most do not. They skip to the bottom and what they find is that a trusted source got it wrong.

What’s more, you will find far less consideration for cross-platform differences. Once these reviews go out, their earning potential immediately begins to decline, so to expect paid reviewers to re-assess each game on every platform is unrealistic from a business standpoint.  If you look to Polygon’s review of Battlefied 4, you will find that the initial review covered the PC version and was updated to say that the console releases matched a month later. The next update, coming just five days after console players converged en masse, and more than a month after PC players had been doing the same the whole time, the scores for every platform were dropped to a 4.0. This came after numerous reports of the console editions being plagued with problems and EA servers riddled with lag spikes — a game-changing issue which does not exist on PC due to servers being rented by players. In short, the final update dropped the score of the PC version in line with the far more damaged console editions.

This is problematic as it clearly indicates that the same care was not taken with the re-review. As a player who has spent many hours exclusively with the PC edition, I can tell you that Battlefield 4 is not a crippled game. It crashes too often, about once every couple hours, but that is actually less than when the game received a 7.5. There are fewer bugs, as well. As I hear the experiences console players are having, I cringe for them but that is not the game I have been playing since the end of November. Battlefield 4 performs well, especially for how hard it pushes my machine, and I have been increasingly more pleased.

But who can blame the reviewer for looking on the forum, hearing that, yes, there are issues, and yes, the China Rising expansion pack did cause some people to crash (not all), and assuming that the situation was as dire. The same impetus on the reviewer is absent; the review is already written.

Which can also be said for re-reviewing in a positive way. SimCity is largely a repaired game today. The issues that plagued it are almost entirely absent. Systems have been restored. Life is good, especially with the new expansion pack. Yet Polygon’s review, first a 9.5, then an 8.0, then a 4.0, has settled on a 6.5. In academic terms, it went from an A+ to a D+ while still fundamentally being the same game.

I am much more in favor of reviews receiving written updates, which, in fairness, Polygon also does. Written addendums leave the initial conclusions intact. They trust the reader to make their own judgment and don’t rely on a number to summarize the 1500 words before it.

And perhaps that’s what the real issue is here. Online games are evolving beyond launch day numbers. Titles which live and breathe change are not suited to numerical scores when many of the criticisms are naturally fixed over time. If sites really intend to be fair to the men and women who make these games, then the process needs to change, either by extending it out or getting rid of scores entirely. Allow readers to think and draw their own conclusions. Or at the very least, stand by your initial assessment and let readers see a paragraph or two in update. Not a loose, damning number that encourages readers to write a game off without even reading the text you did write.

Taking Questions for Scott Hartsman Tomorrow (12/12)

Online-Rollenspiel-Rift-Planes-of-Telara-Scott-Hartsman-673x720-74df8308b104dcdaHi Guys,

We will be interviewing Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion Worlds, on MMORPG.com‘s Game On: ESP Edition podcast tomorrow. I have a set of interview questions lined up but would love to gather some of yours as well. If you have a question you would like us to consider, please leave it in a comment below. I can’t guarantee it will make the cut but I can guarantee I’ll consider it. Please leave you question no later than 6PM EST.

 

What are Games Worth?

console-price-cuts-ps3-x360-wii

Syl recently published an excellent post asking how we defined the value of our video games. Her discussion was drawn from Episode 30 of our Game On podcast. Our conversation there stemmed from the recent supporter packs offered for Trove by Trion Worlds. The general consensus was that, be it Trove, Star Citizen, or any number of Kickstarters that let you donate thousands of dollars, anyone paying that much was bound to be disappointed. Games, even the “perfect” game, would be bound to disappoint with that much pressure stacked on their back. I share this background because it’s relevant to Syl’s topic and my response today: How do we — I — define the value of my games?

On the show I mentioned that I rarely pay more than $45-48 for a video game. Dealzon, a discount aggregate, has become my best friend when it comes to new release titles. This site is proof positive that competition works to the benefit of gamers. Case and point, I pre-ordered and bought on release day the four biggest games of the season — BF4, AC4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Batman: Arkham Origins — none of which from Steam.  Each was in this $45 to $48 range except Batman which was only $37.50. Net savings: $36 and $50 if I had bought locally. Almost enough to buy another game!

I have done this for more than a year, so when I see a AAA game priced for full retail, it’s not even a consideration. If there are no discounts to be had that’s another case but it is such a rarity that it has never been an issue in the launch window. But would I pay $60 if I absolutely had to? You bet. That is the occasional reality of being a gamer. Now, new release games represent two scopes of value for me: the entertainment value of the game itself and the entertainment value of being part of the zeitgeist. Let’s call these Scope 1 and Scope 2.

For Scope 1, the value proposition of the game really comes down to standout qualities. Does the game have exceptional gameplay or an incredible story? Does it have something I can’t get anywhere else, even if it’s three hours long? If the answer is yes, I can feel comfortable buying that. Long campaigns mean nothing to me if they don’t keep me interested. Even so, I would still question buying one of these games off discount. That’s where the second scope comes in.

green man gaming trade-in launch

Scope 2 represents the community. I love being a part of the conversation surrounding new games, even if that’s just reading and relating online. If something comes out and is being talked about on all of the podcasts and blogs, I’m much more likely to want to be a part of that. It’s a very meta type of gaming but is hugely influential to my value proposition. I have bought many a game just because other people liked it and their enthusiasm was infectious. Sometimes it bites me and I find out that the whatever game it was just doesn’t click (Glitch, for example), but at least I can say I tried and stay up with the times.

Indie games are a tricky part of this discussion. My rule of thumb is not to buy them until they are $10 or less for two reasons: 1) most of them get there by the next Steam sale of Humble Bundle, and 2) they can be incredibly niche and bite-sized. But how about the $39.99 wannabes who offer “AAA experiences” for budget prices? I have reviewed enough to know that’s usually not true. I don’t mean to be insulting but a $40 game studio pretending to be Bethesda is going to fall short. There are exceptions (Telltale is a good example) but to be honest, I value these games far less than a good $15 indies.

Lastly, we have MMOs, my favorite of favorite genres. I think it’s a testament to how much the industry has shifted it is harder to convince me to buy a full-priced box here than almost anywhere else. We live in an age where you spend $50 at launch just to have the same thing given away for free six months later. That’s not cool with me, even if it means the developers have an easier time developing content. Get some tact, MMO guys. That kind of stuff reeks of double dipping and has soured me on buying in at launch unless I’m already sold.

And even though subscriptions offer the best value per game, I need a whole lot of convincing to hit subscribe in the first place. I value quality gameplay but in the last few years that has proliferated. If you’re going to ask $15 a month, you had better be delivering something I can’t get somewhere else. A different coat of polish is simply not enough. You had also better be prepared to communicate like the dickens and be producing content at a steady clip. MMOs can no longer survive on being good, they need to be better. That’s a tall order for a newly launched game.

So that about sums it up. How I value games. Maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but today, the only time I’m paying full price is if I have to: if there is no discount to be had or just when I need one to join the conversation.

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