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Game Not Included — June 5, 2018

Game Not Included

photography of a man riding horse
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I don’t know about you, but I do enjoy video games. What I really enjoy though, is actually receiving a video game when I spend $150 to buy a collectors edition.

What on Earth am I talking about? Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Red Dead Redemption 2 Collectors Box. Complete with ‘Metal Tithing Box’, ‘Wheeler, Rawson and Co. Catalogue’, ’12 Cigarette Cards’ and … quote:

**Game NOT included**

I tend to buy a lot of my titles digitally these days, so the idea that there is an option to buy a collectors edition without the actual game should not actually be that infuriating. But I find the items in this particular edition to be of such little substance that the game itself would actually make the $150 price tag something worth considering. As it stands – I won’t be rushing out to preorder a physical version of Red Dead Redemption 2, and can quite happily see myself picking this up digitally at launch. The temptation of GTA Online Money and shiny horse skins just doesn’t grab me, I’m sorry … maybe I’m old and jaded, or maybe I’m more representative of the average gamer than Rocksteady would like to believe.

Either way, I think this is a strategic mistake. Financially, it might be a great move – but when you risk exchanging cash for goodwill you quickly find yourself competing against Electronic Arts for ‘worst company’ awards, or – if you’re lucky – simply turned into an internet punching bag.

But then again, the internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, chances are this will collect a whole heap of Game of the Year Awards, capitalise on Grand Theft Auto V‘s sales streak, and establish itself as the centrepiece of the 2018 Gaming Catalogue.

Unless you’re Microsoft, and it’s overwhelmingly popular to hate you, in gaming, you can get away with almost anything.

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Shadow of the Remaster — February 3, 2018

Shadow of the Remaster

Deep down, I think I’m part self-entitled millennial who enjoys shouting into the narcissistic void that the internet provides. This blog is good evidence of that. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that I waded in some internet comments this week in response to the coverage of the upcoming remaster Shadow of the Colossus.

Full disclosure: I played the original game, and loved what I played, but I never finished it. Laggy controls became frustrating at some point and a lack of time (I’m fairly certain I was studying when it was launched, and again at relaunch) has just never allowed me the time to give it the attention it deserves.

So, with that out of the way, my attention turns to the concept of value. In Australia, the RRP for Colossus at launch is about AU$50. That’s roughly half the RRP of a normal AAA game at launch, and about the maximum price I’m generally willing to pay for a launch game anyway (notable exception for special editions). But, of course, the narcissistic egotistical child that I am, couldn’t help express my frustration at Sony’s decision to charge anything at all for this game.

It’s bothered me for a long time that Sony have essentially taken their massive player install base for granted and continued to milk them for everything they’ve got, whereas Microsoft, perhaps only as a result of their market positioning, just keep offering up more and more for the consumer. Backwards compatibility, multiple UX improvements, Play Anywhere, Game Pass, and, now, exclusives as part of Game Pass, all combine to make a superior gaming service in every way.

Meanwhile, over at PlayStation, I still can’t even change my goddamn username.

But out of all those service offerings, I keep coming back to backwards compatibility the most. Being able to play your old games at no additional cost. Some of them remastered for the updated hardware. If Sony want to offset the PR damage that #BetterPSN should have caused, then matching what Xbox has to offer would be a good start. Of course, market share and cognitive dissonance of the consumers who own a PS4 means combine to make a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Prediction: PlayStation 4 games will be backwards compatible with PlayStation 5. My logic? It’s easier to keep people in the PS ecosystem if you can convince them their library still holds value.

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This whole scenario is, perhaps, the strongest argument for being a PC gamer that I’ve seen yet. In 2016, the team behind Bioshock released a remaster (noting that the originals are available on backwards compatibility as well) that you could buy but gave PC gamers the updates for free as a download. There was a subtle undertone of rewarding good behaviour of PC gamers, and as the antithesis of being a graphics snob, I said ‘good for them’. I still didn’t need to buy a whole new game, let alone another console, just to play a game I already had in my library, so other than some shiny new graphics, if I needed a Bioshock fix, I could get it. I’d paid for a game at that level of quality, so fine – I was happy to settle for that. The point is: I still had access to the game I paid for.

One of the counter-arguments presented to me on the beloved internet forums was that I could play any games I own on the original console they were released on. While I think the economic argument is probably the strongest case against hoarding consoles, mine is much more pragmatic: mine were stolen and insurance cashed them out rather than replace them. It’s part of the reason why I am so pro-digital these days, but if I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t engage on this point because being robbed (twice) is an awful feeling and rather than try and point out that people trade-in or sell their consoles to be able to afford the next iteration, I just let that slide.

After all, surely someone else would come to my defence and make the same point, right? Right? Turns out, no, I had unwittingly waded into a PS4 fanboi pit, and upvotes and downvotes were cast based on your unwavering loyalty to Sony and their (re)masterpiece. Moderates and fence-sitters were unwelcome … for the fanbois, if you weren’t with them, you were against them. The social melting pot of the internet strikes again!

At the end of the day, we’re all correct of course. I can play games on their original console of launch, and I should expect more life from the content I already own. Do I take issue with this particular title and Sony’s decision to milk the nostalgia for more money? No. After all, business is business. And judging by the internet response, people will continue to be sheep and lap up whatever they can when it comes to PlayStation (That being said, I still consider The Last Guardian a cautionary tale in marketing nostalgia), though this comes back to the issue of cognitive dissonance and the need to convince oneself that they are on the ‘winning’ side.

“See, that’s all you’re thinking about, is winning. You’re confirming your sense of self- worth through outward reward instead of through inner appreciation.”
Barbara Hall, Northern Exposure, Gran Prix, 1994

It’s good business, bad customer service. While I’m a long way yet from a proper PlayStation boycott … I’m going to keep voting with my wallet.

Click Click Click Click — January 27, 2018

Click Click Click Click

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I have been, unashamedly, been enjoying clickers lately. I first stumbled across Clicker Heroes a while ago when the genre was taking hold … originally not realising that you didn’t need to be logged on incessantly to farm gold (it’s also the main reason I left the game running for a few days straight, resulting in my current Steam count of 111 hours on record), but since I’ve gotten a handle on how the core mechanic works, I’ve been rotating through a healthy selection of clickers on a daily basis, including:

  • Clicker Heroes
  • Holyday City: Reloaded
  • Insanity Clicker
  • Ragnarok Clicker

Wikipedia has gone and categorised the whole genre as an Incremental Game, so if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I suggest going to read the article – but given that they are largely free-to-play, and I suspect that most people who know me, or who don’t know me but are reading a gaming blog, would know what it entails.

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So … what’s the appeal? I think because I can ‘play’ them at work for starters. It’s easy to check-in and slide my levels up one or two notches while I’m on a coffee break or lunch, making it a handy lure. The alternative definition of clickers as ‘idle games’ is the bit that makes me feel like I’m making progress in a game without necessarily having to actively participate. I love playing games – I love the stories, the depth and design, almost everything about them, so when I’m torn away from them to do work that doesn’t involve gaming, then this keeps me moving forward with my gaming career.

The other thing is that the design of the game is built purely to keep you coming back. I don’t mind being a sucker for good game design, as long as I’m cognisant of the developer’s intent. It’s the same as most free-to-play games, if you know that they’re going to be built with the hope that you’ll spend money on boosts or cosmetics or other micro transactions, then you can make a conscious decision about where you want to spend your money. I make no judgement on people who spend a few bucks on games that they are enjoying – developers have to eat too.

Clickers aren’t a forever thing. I’ve been looking at these as a mechanism for building up my profile on Steam, and using the achievement lists as a bit of a guide, but there will inevitably come a point where the effort to achievement ratio will thin out, and I’ll move on with my life.

At this stage, there seems to be enough games in the clicker catalogue to keep me going for a while yet.

Anthem for the Year 2018 — January 25, 2018

Anthem for the Year 2018

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There’s not much to love about a studio closure. As I talked about in my assessment of the Australian Gaming Industry, it’s an itinerant, project-driven industry, that means a closure is ending a collection of permanent jobs. The biggest closure in recent years locally has probably been 2K, of Borderlands fame, with the local development scene now preoccupied with a glut of mobile and free-to-play games that are as hit-and-miss on iTunes and Google Play as they compete with a market over-supply.

The reason for my lament is that I suspect a new closure is coming soon. Kotaku are reporting today on the general feeling among Bioware that their future hinges on the success or failure of their upcoming IP, Anthem. Whatever you think of the game – and I happen to think it looks pretty darn good – it is still being compared to the games as a service stalwarts such as Diablo III and Destiny. Neither of which have had seamless launches, and the latter of which still draws criticism after failing to learn from the mistakes of Christmas Past.

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And that is both a shame and a reality. The benchmarks set by the big players in the industry – Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts (among others) means that lofty KPIs are often the death knell of once mid-tier studios. I spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time in Bioware’s worlds, Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights … and I know that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect still draw considerable affection from the internet at large. But now everyone is in pursuit of the next Overwatch or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. They want the attention of streamers, of gamers, of the mainstream media. They want to be able to exploit revenue streams, and not just the usual additions of DLC and micro transactions, but now we’re talking merchandise and advertising. Big Business has finally woken up to the opportunities presented by gaming.

Perhaps a telling sign of the times is that IP is now the main commodity of the gaming industry. The death of THQ didn’t stop the sale of its popular series, Darksiders, with the launch of the third instalment due out this year. Atari are using their subsidy to crowdfund investors for a Nintendo Switch launch of gaming classic, Rollercoaster Tycoon. Theme Hospital is still invoked as the precursor to new development, Two Point Hospital. The love of titles and characters far surpasses the love of studios and publishers.

Ironically, it seems that it was the love for the Mass Effect brand which signalled the beginning of the end for BioWare. Impossibly high standards set for Anthem are likely to make for a sad ending on what was undoubtedly one of the best developers of the past few decades.

7.8 Billion Reasons — January 18, 2018

7.8 Billion Reasons

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association published the results of its local industry survey this week, concluding that video games industry in Australia employs 928 people full time, and contributes $118 million to the economy “in spite of limited recognition and support”.

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Source: IGEA (2018)

The point of the survey is to communicate to Federal and State Governments exactly how little taxpayer support goes towards the industry in Australia, when compared with something like film and television, or fine arts, but – if I’m perfectly honest – I think this message falls flat.

For starters, it’s 2018 … I don’t know that FTE is really the right measure to gauge industry density. It’s still a market that has a lot of freelance, short term contract and even students contributing to that $118m. While I am almost certain that the idea of a stable, permanent job in the games industry is aspirational, the truth remains that it is fundamentally a project-driven environment. That means short-term contracts, lay-offs, scales up-and-down, and everything else that came out of the wash when the internet was up in arms about ‘crunch time.’

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but telling the good news stories is how you attract more good news. Overall employment numbers, or products shipped, or almost any other metric probably would tell a better story than total FTE, particularly when we’re talking less than 1,000.

Secondly, $118m is very, very low. We’re talking globally an $80 billion market. I always thought that Australia punched well above its weight, but this makes me think that there’s simply not enough clout there to peak the Government’s interest.

For comparison’s sake … let’s have a look at the numbers.

  • Americans spent US$21.53 billion on games and hardware in 2013. That’s one market, five years ago, and by the time you introduce Asia and Europe into the figures, you can start to see how we hit the magical $80 billion benchmark.
  • Esport is about a $700 million industry on its own, with the latest figures estimating over half of that revenue being generated out of China and North America. Australia generating the equivalent of a third of that revenue as the contribution from an entire industry means that it falls far behind its regional and philosophical allies. Far behind.

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Source: Starkn (2018) 

  • If you want to look at employment numbers, the story is even more gloom-and-doom. Mining, for instance, which has considerably scaled back its employment post-boom, still employed 163,000 people by the end of 2015-16. While I’m sure there is a reasonable level of competence and skill required to get a job in the mining industry, in my experience, it seems like a far lower barrier-to-entry than a role in game development.

These stats should either fill you with hope that there’s room in the domestic market to grow, or sadness with such a woeful industry footprint. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I suspect that the industries that rely on the optimism of Australian gaming will take the glass-half-full approach. There’s no money to be had in the schools that teach game development if they’re skilling people up for a fledgling industry.

Look, the IGEA is right – it is an industry that needs support. If anything the comparison with global figures shows that it’s a huge market that Australia has failed to exploit with any great success. We are on the front doorstep of one two great esport success stories in Korea and China, and we are simply not milking that for what it’s worth.

I spoke with representatives from the Victorian Government last year, represented by Creative Victoria, just before Melbourne Games Week, to broach the issue around what it would take for Government to support esports. The short answer: it wouldn’t. ‘Esport was something that should fundamentally be industry-led’, they decided. I am sure I can insert a rant about the funding traditional sport gets here, but I’ll save that for another time.

The point is, is that we are missing out on opportunities, and while I have a philosophical objection to much of conservative politics, giving them a slap on the nose isn’t how you go about winning favours. Showing them where Australia can benefit in the face of a shrinking economy does win support. You’re dealing with a bunch of old white men in suits – for the love of God, show them more numbers – good numbers – and less art.

The remaining $7.8 billion dollars we’re missing out on as an industry is a bloody good start.

American Dream — November 17, 2013

American Dream

Grand Theft Auto V • PlayStation 3

I went back to my old gamertag and had a crack at GTA:O this morning (after I also found out you can change your character name!) and decided just to stuff around a bit. It looks like the ‘stimulus package’ dropped for people who had characters created at launch, which I obviously did, so I was pretty stocked to see $500k sitting in my bank account. 

After a couple of missions, one repo’ing cars from a mansion, the other was a 1-on-1 deathmatch (through a lack of players, not by design), I jumped onto my phone and went hunting for a property to buy. I had heard others buying extremely luxurious apartments with their half a mil’, but I went for something a little more conservative – a small apartment on the LS West-Side beachfront for a little over $100k (with a two car garage). That was enough to make the trophy pop, so I thought I’d lock that one in today. 

In other news, I also managed to get to a save-point (touch wood) in FarCry 3: Blood Dragon (touch wood), after clearing the first mission, escaping the dragons and liberating a base. Yay me! 

Welcome to the party, pal — November 12, 2013

Welcome to the party, pal

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon • PlayStation 3

It was really never in question that I’d do a Blood Dragon trophy-run, was it? I’ve already mentioned that I’ve done FC3BD (my new acronym!) on Xbox, so this is another double-dip, but it already feels better on PS3. This might be because I’m in-tune with the FC3 Vanilla setup, but as my go-to console, then it’s nice to round-out the 7th generation of gaming with a bloody good game.

If you haven’t played it yet – quickly grab it from the PlayStation Store as part of its Sci-Fi sale, it’s easily the pick of the bunch. I’ve also grabbed Stardust HD on Vita, which I finished the first two planets yesterday. I’m also chipping away at AC3L to see if I can grab 100% sync which is a bit hit-and-miss, but if I have some breathing space with my trophies for the day, then it’s a good time filler.

House Party — November 11, 2013

House Party

Assassins Creed III • PlayStation 3

While my heart wants to push ahead with Tomb Raider, my head tells me that I should finish AC3 before moving onto Black Flag on the next-gen, so I went back to Conner for a mission-or-two this morning to try and push ahead the story.

I didn’t think I’d get a trophy, but this one was pretty quick to pop after starting up for saving an ‘artisan’ and having them settle on the homestead. Whoo-hoo(!). I have a night on the PS3 tonight, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish a few sequences on the head and get this title out of my PlayStation library.

What a Trip — November 10, 2013

What a Trip

Far Cry 3 • PlayStation 3

It’s done. I finally managed to kill Hoyt, save my brother and then get to the end. There is a great sense of achievement in finishing FC3, particularly given it’s lengthy campaign and replayability. I also noticed Sony put FC3 Blood Dragon up on special this week, so there’s a good chance I might do another run through on the PS3 before the PS4 comes along.

I’m going to spoil my ending now, as it’s good to talk about. Naturally(!) I chose to kill the girlfriend and be with Citra, which leads to a completely unnecessary first-person sex scene and Jason’s untimely murder. It gave me a flashback to FC2, in which you are guided to, ultimately, blow yourself up. Ubisoft really must have a need for some therapy with the way they focus on self-harm in these games (even healing yourself my pulling a bullet out of your arm with a knife reflects some serious personal issues), but I wanted to go the ‘path less travelled’ for my ending, but I’m sure YouTube can offer me the alternate ending anyway (there is no trophy penalty, you get this gold ‘complete’ trophy for either scenario).

So, with a small collection of trophies still yet to grab in this game, I don’t think I’m done with it just yet. Well done, Ubisoft – you’ve managed to salvage a franchise that had turned incredibly drab into a lush, engaging experience.

Higher Than a Kite — November 8, 2013

Higher Than a Kite

Far Cry 3 • PlayStation 3

I had a bit of an open offer to game-it-up tonight, so I have spent a large portion of the evening on FC3. I was hoping I would be able to finish it around midnight and have a great story to tell you, but this is a game that keeps on giving!

I’ve killed Vaas, sent my friends off the island, and now I’m on the final stages of hunting down Hoyt. I thought that this might be a quick activity, but this seems to be another chain quest, opening with a game of poker, and then a stealth mission to infiltrate a base. At this point (which is now) I thought I better call it a night – God knows how much more goodness Ubisoft have crammed into this game, but it’s certainly value for money (extra so as it was part of a free PS+ subscription)! This trophy pops after a fantastic squirrel suit jump onto Hoyt’s island. Hopefully I’m close enough to the end to be able to knock FC3 (the story at least) on the head and move onto AC3 or Tomb Raider.