Let it burn …

I’ve already discussed one very painful truth. Big budget AAA gaming as an industry has left the PC as a viable platform and market behind in favor of the console.  There’s no denying it.  I can point at Valve as the sole big name publisher that still produces big name titles optimized for the PC before any other platform.  We’re too small of a market compared to console gaming to attract public Developers and Publishers.

There’s another painful truth that’s coming up, reminiscent of the great console gaming crash in ’82.  Investors are starting to figure out that big money AAA games aren’t nearly as profitable and reliable as other gaming buisness models.  Depending on how this breaks, AAA big title gaming as we know it may die.

I say let it.

Seriously.

With the one aformentioned exception, the PC gaming market is flooded with mediocre ports of console games and shovelware.  There are still a few quality titles being made for the PC, but they’re buried under a mountain of buggy, unoptimzied, or just plain bad games.  And considering that this, coupled with the fact that all sales ARE FINAL and increasingly bizzare and draconic DRM schemes … every single damn purchase of a PC game is a crap shoot.  I’m tired of it.

Please, let the ‘big money’ go elsewhere, leaving the PC market open to those people left who are still interested in making quality titles for this platform. The indie developers are getting more numerous and sophisticated every day. Let the buisness world think that ‘PC gaming is dead’ and let us play and develop our own games in peace.

I’m sick and tired of wading through garbage to find … and buy … a few nuggets of gold. Let’s burn out some of this exploitative underbrush, clear the air for some fresh ideas.

td;lr  The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire, the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire, I don’t give a fark, let the Activisions burn, burn baby burn.

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A new hope … or dying breath?

I know that my intended focus is the world of PC gaming, but this subject speaks back to my childhood. I was there. I took part in the arguments as to whether or not Super Mario World was superior to Sonic 2.  The Nintendo vs. Sega console wars of the ninties was the stuff of legends. 

It’s not important whether or not it was Nintendo or Sony that could be called the ‘winner’ of that console war. What is important is the fact that Mario continued as the gaming icon that he always was, wheras Sonic faded into something far worse than obscurity. He fell into an endless pit of mediocrity. 

The titles released on the 32X and Saturn never captured anything close to the original magic, and the transition to 3D that Mario had pioneered was disasterous for the blue hedgehog.  It started to look like Sonic might have something special on the Dreamcast with Sonic Adventure. However, the sequels to that franchise veered off in the wrong direction, and it got worse from there. Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic 2006 and many other titles did nothing but outline the fact that Sonic had lost his way, with the exception of the handheld titles.  Sonic Unleashed seemed like a step in the right direction, cross-bred with a God of  War clone, the end result was pronounced an abomination.

The ‘Sonic Cycle’ is still turning, and anyone who would have reason to care about Sonic’s continued horror story of a history should be aware of ‘Project Needlemouse’ that has had a teaser that announced a 2010 release and not much else.

Well, the actual title for ‘Project Needlemouse’ has been released, and along with it, an indication that Sega might have finally taken a hint as to what the fans have been deasperately begging for.

Here are the simple facts so far:

Sonic 4: Episode 1 has been announced.  It is going to be a 3D rendered, 2D based game picking up directly where Sonic & Knuckles left off.  It will be a downloadable title on Wiiware, XBLA and PSN. Beyond that, nothing else has really been set in stone. The trailer shows a little bit of gameplay, and I’m not sure what to think of it yet.

Retconning everything beyond S&K? Smart move. This was the point at which Sonic seemed to start losing his way.

Episodic dowloadable release? Hm, Worked for Valve.  Lower development times, lower cost, less risk per title. The target market, retro gamers, are more likely the ones to take advantage of this kind of release as well.

Is this really the light at the end of the tunnel? Not sure … it could just be the C-Train.  It’s too early to tell whether or not Sega has really learned from past mistakes.  The special thing this time around is the fact that this seems to be the first time that Sega is even acknowledging that mistakes were made. (Okay, there was the reboot, but I try not to remember that.)

I don’t blame any Sonic fan who is feeling bitter and cynical at this point. They all have plenty of reason to be.  At the same time, I hate to admit it, but there is still hope. They might actually do this one right.

And we haven’t seen any new friends … yet.

Here’s to hoping it’ll be availible for PC release.

tl;dr: Will Sonic 4 break the cycle that has trapped sonic in a fiery pit of mediocrity?

Free Cartoon Shooter … not anymore.

Congratulations EA, you had a good thing going with Battlefield Heros … and you’ve now given it a death sentence.

BFH was a good idea … apply a successful business model that has been applied to a different type of game in foreign markets to one of your successful breadwinning franchises and see if it works for you.  The game caused a serious buzz when it was first announced as a ‘free to play cartoon shooter’ funded by ad support and micro transactions. The advertising was tounge-in-cheek and fairly up front and refreshing.

I played the game for a couple months and I was impressed.  It employed two different currency systems, one you had to pay real money for, and the other you could earn in-game as an incentive for advancement and positive outcome in play.  Each weapon had a ‘middle of the road’ variant that you got by default, and several variations purchasable through the ‘in-game’ currency.   The ‘real money’ currency primarily focused on unique costume items and certain perks.  While you could buy more ‘in-game’ currency if you didn’t feel like grinding, there was no great gameplay advantage given to those who were willing to spend real money on the game over those who were willing to save up ‘in-game’ currency for the same gameplay advantages.  If you didn’t put any real money in the game, your avatar looked rather bland, but you could still compete on a relatively even playing field.

This has changed.  The ‘in-game’ currency prices have been hiked to the point where it is prohibitively difficult to earn the different weapon variants through in-game means without World Of Warcraft scale time investment, that is, unless you spend real cash.

EA and Dice have every right to do this. However, in doing this, they are removing whatever incentive anyone but the most devoted fan had to actually put time into the game.  The graphics are unimpressive, the gameplay is solid, but repetitive and not terribly deep, and there are many alternatives that look better, if not play better.   What incentive do you have to keep playing a game like this when you can take the money required to play at the ‘status quo’  level of gameplay for a few months and buy something such as TF2, or one of the other Battlefield games; being able to play as a naked pirate nazi?

This is all fairly insignificant to me, because I have time and money to invest in my hobby, and I did enjoy the couple months or so I put into the game. However I imagine that many of my fellow PC gamers who don’t exactly have a lot of expendable income were drawn to this game because of its price tag. It’s nice to just throw ten bucks in for a cool hat and an eyepatch even if you still intend to play mostly for free.  I’m sure these people aren’t exactly happy that, while they still can play for free, they’re now at a significant disadvantage to those players who have cash to burn.

It’s one thing to raise or lower the price on something, but it’s another thing entirely to provide a gameplay experience that rewards willingness to spend real hard-earned cash for an edge in a game.  This spits on the name of the concept of ‘fair-play’ and ‘sportsmanship’.  Anyone who has actually played in online multiplayer knows that fairness is more often an illusion than a reality.  But to dispense with any attempt at an even playing field between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ alltougether is a bit of a mistake when a majority of your target audience isn’t in a position to pay for a higher standard of game, but still has money to occasionally plunk down for a kilt or some cool sunglasses.

People who play online multiplayer shooters do so for multiple reasons.  The games themselves generally have to be fun to play, but beyond that there is a reward for competing as a part of a team against other human beings as opposed to dumb bots.  Furthermore, there’s a certain purity of knowledge that you lost or won a game on your own merits, and that experience itself provides an incentive to continue playing to improve your own mastery of the game (and/or level up your character).

There is nothing more discouraging than being outplayed by someone, not because he played better than you did, but because he had money or time to invest in a form of entertainment that you couldn’t because you need to get to work in the morning, or have enough money to pay your rent.  It’s not enough for me to point out that this ‘isn’t fair’ because real fairness doesn’t really matter as much as the perception of fairness.  I’m not going to have fun if I play a game in which I’m treated as a second class citizen due to factors that may not be in my control, or require me to invest something I would rather put to use elsewhere.  If I’m not having fun, why am I even investing time into something that was supposed to be ‘free’ in the first place?  Nobody likes wasting time simply to participate only as a red-shirt good only for being farmed for ‘victory points’ and xp.

EA isn’t necessarily ‘evil’ for this move … but I would call it a stupid one unless the intention is to milk off a few extra bucks from the diehards before they kill this experiment off.  That’s exactly what this is going to do.  BFH is a decidedly ‘casual’ gaming experience in a genre that is usually classified as ‘hard-core’. In fact, the game is well designed to the point that is has room for players all across the ‘casual’ to ‘hard-core’ spectrum.  Bumping the price on gameplay edge and ditching the even playing field will gut the core of the game’s player community, leaving only those ‘casuals’ who aren’t willing to spend the money to stay competitive or simply don’t care about the lack of options and edge otherwise available to them, and the ‘hard cores’ who care enough about the game to spend the money, even when they could be putting that money to a possibly superior experience.  The majority of the players in the middle of that spectrum will probably find greener pastures.

People will still play the game, but there will a lot less of them now, and the experience will suffer as a result.  Online multiplayer experiences live and die by their communities, and EA has just made a move that will cut the central core out of the BFH player community.

tl;dr: EA just made real money a requirement to play competitively in Battlefield: Heros.  They are allowed to do so but the profit potential, the player community and the game itself will suffer for it.  Smart thinking guys.