As if in response to my last post about demos, I seem to have come under a deluge of beta invites and new game releases and content releases. I Kickstarted Forge after PAX, I’ve been playing Smite, got an invite to Dota 2, Glitch has reached out again (and Liore has a nice writeup on it). Also, Borderlands 2 came out – and my group of friends is a bit crazy over that (including the one guy who completed literally every challenge in the game) – Torchlight 2 is extending its tendrils, and Rift’s Autumn Harvest event is in full swing. My Rift activities recently have been very much of the “log in, do the daily quest for the sweet mount, collect a bunch of artifacts, sell duplicates, collect money” variety, and less questing/Water Saga/PvP oriented. I’m actually totally fine with that, and I love that I can basically log in at any point and have something interesting to do.
Oh, and WoW is releasing Mists of Pandaria tomorrow. I’ve more or less completely stopped playing WoW (or, really, even worrying about it), but some of the recent posts actually intrigue me. I still have a month or so left on my annual pass, but this is the first expansion I won’t have purchased on release day. It’s a strange feeling.
That’s a lot of games…
And so we come to the root of the post. There’s an over abundance of choice in my gaming life right now. And that’s sort of the problem. I feel like I am spread really thin on my gaming time. I keep having forces pull me in all different directions when it comes time to sit down and choose what to play next. I know that I want to play Rift, Borderlands, and Smite consistently. But I also know that I should take advantage of my time in various betas to see how they are shaping up. I also feel some sort of obligation to the Forge developers to actually take advantage of their Alpha test and give feedback on a game that seems like it has some fun buried in it. I want to see that style of game succeed, and so I should be playing it to help make that happen, right? Plus, I have WoW friends and Diablo 3 friends that I haven’t talked to in ages due to gaming outside that ecosystem for the last couple months.
If it seems like I’m whining because life is TOO GOOD, it’s probably because I am. I love these periods where everyone is releasing something new, and it seems like everywhere I turn there’s another cool game to play. But with so many of the games being so heavily focused on the multiplayer experience, timing is important. This isn’t a case where a game like Dust: An Elysian Tail comes out and I miss the window, but I can still go back and play it sometime and still get most of the experience. The time to be playing a beta or an MMO expansion or the next hot multiplayer game (D3/BL2) is absolutely when there is a critical mass of friends and pseudo-friends also playing it. Once those communities move on to the next big thing, you’d better hope that the single-player experience holds up. Or that you know some people who are similarly slow to the party. Otherwise, you get things like the community abandoning your game (hi, SWTOR) and you have to deal with F2P conversions, or simply not-as-great single-player campaigns for games that are clearly intended for group play.
In short, can game developers and publishers stop releasing things on their schedules, and start releasing them on mine? Awesome, thanks!
There’s a forum post here that is making the rounds today, about how Blizzard has been adding character-specific watermarks to screenshots since (at least) 2008 – around the time of the Activision merger. The watermark apparently includes encoded but not encrypted information about character name, account name, computer hardware, and IP address of the server. And obviously, this is not something that users are made aware of. I’ve been told that several other games (GW2, SWTOR, etc) have done this – at least during their alpha and beta stages.
Now, as a disclaimer, I’m not sure whether that forum post is credible or not. I’m not even really sure it matters. What matters to me is the fact that I can easily find it plausible, and I think that’s indicative of something larger. Aside from companies playing fast and loose with personally-identifiable information (again), this points to the overwhelming feeling coming out of gaming companies that the consumer is their #1 enemy.
If left to their own devices…
What will the kids get up to, when the parents are out of the house? That seems to be the driving motivation in a lot of decisions these days. Ubisoft’s stance on DRM has finally softened a little, but you can tell reading the articles that they aren’t happy about it. Afterall, it was less than a month ago that they were complaining about a 95% piracy rate on their games. EA has pioneered the “Online Pass” (locking used – and even late – purchasers of their game out of multiplayer features unless they pay $10 per game directly to EA), as well as the “haha you can’t join a class-action suit against us” EULA language that seems to be popping up everywhere these days.
A large part of the push towards F2P games (MMO conversions and what felt like 1/2 – 2/3 of the games at PAX this year) seems to be aimed at getting literally every dollar possible from consumers because, “Hey, we’re only asking for a dollar or two!” Too bad they’re asking every five minutes – or worse yet, constantly with the glowing store button prominently displayed and unhidable on the interface. More and more DLC seems to be almost punitive in its application – Day 1 paid DLC (or handily included with the purchase of a new copy!) is some of the worst, but so are DLCs that you must have in order to play on servers (Gears of War 3 has this, now, I believe).
We, as consumers don’t seem to be trusted to purchase a game on its merits anymore, and I find that to be a really hard pill to swallow. We’re constantly asked to pre-pay for beta access – especially prevalent in the MMO world – or we’re teased with access to “some more fun stuff” behind a paywall of one sort or another. And if we do find a game that just lets us buy it and play it, then there is some usually some other bullshit to overcome. Whether that’s installing a third-party downloader/launcher tool, having to constantly have an internet connection to play a game, not having LAN support, not being able to play with my friends that picked the wrong system to buy it on, or whatever the hell other hoops are designed to make sure that, yes, I fucking paid for this game. And the absolute worst part? If I wanted to, I’d still be able to have an unlocked, playable copy of most of these games in about 30 minutes – just by doing a little bit of web searching and dodging some sketchy internet shit.
What happened to the demo?
I ask again, what happened to the concept of a demo? Xbox Live Arcade still has this – in fact, I think it’s a mandatory part of being able to show up there. It’s great! I can download a game, mess around with it for half an hour or whatever, and then there’s a handy little button that says, “Did you like this? Why don’t you give the developers some money and play some more?!” And, as often as not, I do.
I’m not afraid of giving developers money. In fact, I love it. I happily support indie devs, things like the Humble Bundle, I buy more iOS games than I should, the Steam sales are the bane of my wallet, and I also buy AAA titles on release day (I’m looking at you, Borderlands 2). My gaming budget is fairly large, and I’m happy to give money to people. I just want to give money to games that I actually like. Or people that have ideas that I support.
And that’s the thing about demos. You can play a game for a little bit and say, “Hey, this is cool and innovative!” and then throw $10 or $20 at a game. Or in some cases, like Dragon Age 2, you can play the demo and say “Hey, this game plays differently from the first one. Do I like that?” The answer for me was “yes” – although, much to the chagrin of my wife, I have still not yet finished the playthrough, it’s not because of the combat system. There are a few games that I’ve turned down after playing the demo, too. But that’s okay. If a game isn’t working for me, why should I be locked in to having paid $60 to find that out?
I recognize that people work really, really hard on games. And as much as I love to play them, that’s a big part of why I’ve avoided trying to crack into that industry. I want to reward those people that work on producing the things that I love. I just want the relationship to be a two-way street. And often times, I feel like the game-makers (or producers or publishers) care more about my credit card details and personal information than they do about me.
Let’s try a thing
Apparently this blogging thing is taking. Or, at least, it’s been a couple weeks and I’m still interested in doing it. So I’ve decided to set up this here website, and to migrate all the content over from WordPress.com. I think that, generally speaking, WordPress.com is a great site that makes things really easy to use. You can even use it in the background while aiming your own domain at it. That’s probably the best way to do things for the vast majority of people. However, I kind of like to tinker, and having my own host and dealing with things myself has a certain sort of appeal. We’ll see how it goes.
Please let me know if you run across any issues, or if there are things missing that ought to be here. Yes, I know the site is very generic and doesn’t even have any header images or anything, but those will come soon!
Anyway, I’m glad you’re here, remember to update your RSS feeds/bookmarks, and email me at gryth at this site’s domain if you notice anything particularly broken/desired. I’ll see what I can do.
Or, how Trion is awesome
I’m back from PAX, avoided the pox (this is good, it has been brutal to folks the last couple of years), signed up for betas, got some swag, played lots of games, and hung out with awesome people. So, basically, PAX!
This PAX was actually a bit different than usual for me. I spent a lot more time exploring the non-video game content, and my wife spent a lot of time in panels. As a conscientious observer of things that are wrong in the gaming world, she attended a number of panels on LGBT issues, as well as harassment and community building. She also attended a couple on gaming and children (one of which I went to, and was hosted by GeekDad and GeekMom), since that is on the horizon. I will hopefully get her to do a run-down of the panels later, but for now, more on my experience.
The very first thing we did was head to the Trion booth. The purpose here was two-fold. First, we both really love Trion. They seem like awesome people making awesome games, and the folks at the last couple of PAXes have definitely carried that attitude with them. It’s great to have a chance to talk to people working on games that I love. They also gave out cool swag. We came away with RIFT shirts, plushies that make a gigantic hell monster alien from Defiance look cuddly, pins, and a mousepad. Most importantly, though, we came out with tickets to the Trion after-party. And that was the second reason for heading directly to Trion. They throw a really cool party, and kept the food and drink flowing! I don’t necessarily want to give away the secret, but there are a ton of (fun) parties, and I feel like they deserve the love. It’s a great time to mingle with the Trion team, ask them some questions, etc. So, a big thanks to Trion for a second year in a row!
On Sunday, Telaan and I went back around their booth and got a super-awesome demo of Storm Legion stuff. It wasn’t publicly playable, but someone from the QA team (I think it might have been the head? She seemed familiar from the party, but there was much drinking…) was running around in the world while another Trion employee answered questions and directed her to do random stuff if it would emphasize his point. And let me just tell you, it was awesome. When we walked up to the booth, they were in a Dimension (the in-game housing), building a crazy ladder to the moon. “We weren’t sure if they put in a ceiling, and we wanted to find out.” was the answer I got. The tools are incredible – I believe they are a subset of what Trion’s artists have access to – and she was just dropping things (like a freakin’ tree) out of her bag and into the world. I asked about bag space, and they said they’d be open to changing the way things were stored if it became an issue.
We never did see the ceiling, because we decided to teleport to a huge vista and then start killing things with the new Mage soul. Which, by the way, I have totally dibsed. No backsies. We also saw the big zone event live (and you know it was live because it didn’t work the first time, so they had to reset it), and found out about some secret achievements that will not stay secret for long, but which I will hold over your heads until then! So yeah, I’m excited about what I saw out of Trion and RIFT.
Doesn’t PAX have more than just RIFT?
Why yes, it does! I’ve already gone on for too long, and RIFT was definitely a highlight of the show for me (not unexpected, given my current gaming focus), but there were some other things, which I will lay out in the form of a list!
- Casual card games!
- Cards Against Humanity was a big hit, even though it sold out literally everywhere all the time. A friend managed to pick up an expansion or something, and we got the basics out of that, and it was hilarious.
- We Didn’t Playtest This At All was also great. I picked up a copy of it, but it’s basic rule is “play a card, do what it says”. Games last from one turn to ~10 minutes, and it is similarly wacky and fun to toss down.
- Pen & Paper / Board Games
- Reaper Bones minis – My whole crew ended up painting minis the series (you know, the one with the Kickstarter that reached almost $3.5 million?) We have a ton coming, so thought we’d give it a shot. The minis are plastic, but really hard to break. They also look great, and take paint very well! I’m excited for the larger shipment. We happened to also be sitting painting them right next to one of the sculptors from Reaper who was literally working on the Dwarf Mage for the Kickstarter in front of our eyes. This is awesome.
- Microscope – This year was my first time going to the “find a GM, play a game” room, but I think I’ll make a point of it in the future. We played Microscope, which is a cooperative/non-cooperative history building game. You lay out a brief overview of a timeline, and then start adding in epochs and events and scenes within each of those. When you get to the detailed level, you roleplay out the scenes Fiasco-style. It was great fun! And only $20.
- Dungeon! – Apparently Wizards of the Coast is going to rerelease the classic board game (which I had never played) with updated art, etc. The rules are the same, and are all printed right on the board. There were 5 copies in existence, and all of them were at PAX. Three of us managed to sit down with a copy, and had a good time with a low learning curve. Also only $20, and I will totally buy a set when it is available.
- Video games
- There are too many to really list. The ones that stood out are here:
- Borderlands 2 – the line was massive, so I didn’t play (it was available at some other booths, but it’s coming out next week so I figured I could wait).
- Defiance – Trion’s 3rd-person MMO shooter / SyFy TV series. I’m actually really intrigued. They had a PvP arena thing going, and the game looked gorgeous (it’s cell-shaded like Borderlands, but still somewhat unique), and the loadouts were fun. I believe they said it is primarily skill-based, so you level up your shotgun skill by… shotgunning people. And there’s crafting and all sorts of goodness. More on this later. (Note: It will not be cross-platform. Not because Trion doesn’t want do it, but because the console companies have made it hard. They seemed disappointed not to be able to have it work that way.)
- Forge – A Kickstarter-funded (or semi-funded? I’m not sure, really) game that’s buy-once-play-for-free. There will be DLC, but it’s intended to be cosmetic, and no leveling system. They are mixing 3rd-person shooters and MMO-style abilities in a battle arena thing. I really enjoyed running around as an assassin in the game I played, and have decided to back them.
- Hawken – F2P mech-based shooter. I expect that their F2P mechanic will be something I’m not into (it didn’t seem totally locked down, yet), but it’s always fun to run around in 40-ton mechs and shoot people.
- Smite – A gods-based MOBA that plays more like a 3rd-person shooter than a top-down click-to-move game. I hear that the portrayal of certain gods is considered offensive (I think there’s a semi-sexy Kali, in particular), but the actual gameplay was fun. It’s F2P and made by Hi-Rez Studios (Tribes Ascend), so we’ll have to watch how that pans out.
- League of Legends – It’s hard for me to talk about LoL, since I have a lot of conflicting feelings. I think the gameplay is fun, and especially so when you are playing with/against friends. I think the community needs work, but apparently so does Riot. I think their F2P model is pretty good, but I dislike just how vast their character base is and how hard it feels to learn the game as a new player. Anyway, they were having the North American Regionals, and it was fun to watch and be a part of an e-Sport event that large.
I’m sure there’s way more, but this got kind of out-of-hand. I had a grand time at PAX, and I am looking forward to a number of new games and betas to play. It seems like I’m also going to have to figure out the point at which I am comfortable Kickstarter-ing things, and what level of F2P I am comfortable with. Because, if you just looked at PAX, those two things would seem inevitable.