Bethesda’s ‘Not Pay Mods’

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These days, Bethesda has quite the reputation. They’ve delivered countless hours of exploratory joy with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, and have published a number of successful games besides (such as Doom, Dishonored, The Evil Within, Prey, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and more). When it comes to making games that sell, they’re on top of the world… and they know it. That’s why they’ve recently launched the ‘Creation Club’.

The Creation Club is a way for Bethesda and third-party creators to make new content for games and submit them for internal review. This quality control ensures that whatever you acquire is actually going to work, unlike other mods which have the potential to make your game unstable. Because this takes time and resources for Bethesda to stay on top of, there are fees involved.

And it boils my blood. Not because of the money, but because of how Bethesda are positioning this.

The Creation Club idea may sound innocent enough, but Bethesda, in conjunction with Valve, revealed a non-curated approach to paid mods back in 2015, and the internet, rightfully so, had exploded in anger. You don’t start to sell something that’s been free since the dawn of (gaming) time. Just because Microsoft and Sony have added paywalls to online access, doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all out there.

PC gamers love that particular platform because it gives them endless possibilities which consoles aren’t capable of. Mods have ranged from skins to full blown gameplay expansions, and best of all, it was free. Every bit of it. It’s content that’s been created by and for fans because they’re passionate enough to do so, not because they want to make a quick buck. Some of the more well-known modders have Patreons if you’d like to donate some money out of sheer appreciation, but their content remains free.

But hey, leave it to Bethesda to monetize something that’s free. Because, you know… Bethesda.

Fortunately, the outrage was enough to cause the publisher to cancel their plans a week after announcing them.

And now here comes the Creation Club, a thinly veiled attempt at reintroducing paid mods. And I say thinly veiled because Bethesda are position this as… actually, let me rephrase this. They’ve flat out denied that the Creation Club is a paid mods platform:

“Is Creation Club paid mods?”

No. Mods will remain a free and open system where anyone can create and share what they’d like. Also, we won’t allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club, it must all be original content. Most of the Creation Club content is created internally, some with external partners who have worked on our games, and some by external Creators. All the content is approved, curated, and taken through the full internal dev cycle; including localization, polishing, and testing. This also guarantees that all content work together. We’ve looked at many ways to do “paid mods”, and the problems outweigh the benefits. We’ve encountered many of those issues before. But, there’s a constant demand from our fans to add more official high quality content to our games, and while we are able to create a lot of it, we think many in our community have the talent to work directly with us and create some amazing new things.”

Yeah, that all sounds well and good, but it stinks. It stinks because it doesn’t make any damn sense. In the Creation Club, you have to buy virtual currency with real world money, and then use that digital currency to purchase mods.

Sounds an awful lot like paid mods, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re giving them money, and you’re getting mods in return, right? Yeah. That’s because they’re paid mods.

As mentioned earlier, Bethesda tried to pull this nonsense a couple of years ago. Valve asked Bethesda if they’d be open to a paid mods thing, Bethesda said ‘you’re damn right we are’, and fans shut them down. Instead of taking the hint that gamers want nothing to do with paid mods, they shelved the idea for a couple of years so they could come up with a fancy name and some bullshit PR babble, hoping people wouldn’t notice that the paid mods idea didn’t actually go away, but was just retooled.

Lying to fans and customers is about the most despicable thing a company can do. It tells us they have the bravado to say whatever, and do whatever they want because they think we’re too stupid to read between the lines. But we aren’t, and video game journalists haven’t been either. Most headlines in regards to the Creation Club are some iteration of, ‘Bethesda Introduces Paid Mods!’ Say what you will about gaming journalists, but at least they call a spade a spade when crap like this comes up.

Fortunately, Bethesda has made it clear that free mods will still be allowed, but considering how backhanded they’re being with the announcement of their Creation Club, but again, they’re full of crap. They have absolutely screwed over the whole ‘free mods’ thing.

The Creation Club update is mandatory, and when it went live, it changed at least one game’s .exe file, causing F4SE (a script extender which is essential for many mods) to stop working. Script extenders pretty much need to be updated each time the game updates, but assuming the Creation Club files will be updated on a regular basis, that’s going to turn into a full time job for community modders, which may only incentivize them to quit.

And by the way, when I say the Creation Club update is mandatory, that includes all the content available through it. Yep, you’re going to have a lot of useless crap on your hard drive, and there’s not much you can do about it. Some have theorized that Bethesda are doing this to get around Sony’s rules about 3rd party content by wrapping it all into the game itself, but that’s hardly a good solution. In fact, it’s fucking terrible. Why would this affect PC and Xbox One users, then? A 2.1 GB update shouldn’t be forced down anyone’s throat if it’s not vital to run the game.

Furthermore, the Creation Club is breaking people’s free mods… mods which worked perfectly fine before the update. This is because mod load order – which is essential for ensuring everything loads properly and plays nicely with each other – is being affected. Mods are now forced to load in alphabetical order, meaning your free mods aren’t going to work. I’ll assume this is a bug, but you never know.

Last but certainly not least, it seems Pipboy skins refuse to work with any other free mod installed. Once other free mods are removed, the Pipboy skins will work.

I normally don’t condone piracy unless it’s firmly authorized by the devs, but you know what? Go for it. You can use all this new content for free because it’s easily crackable. Unpack the Creation Club .BSA, rename it, and then run the game. Tada! You have all the Creation Club content for free!

Except it’s all boring as piss, and all the free stuff is better.

Another way around this is to, if you haven’t updated through Steam yet, to use F4SE.exe to open the game exclusively, and tell Steam to not update the game unless you launch it (directly from Steam). That way you’ll never have to worry about updating the game when you don’t want to.

I won’t get into the whole ‘slippery slope’ discussion, because I know that’s an anecdotal part of the conversation at best. Still, there is precedence for other companies to follow suit when an idea bears fruit (money) for someone else… and that’ll be the worst if it happens. Just the absolute fucking worst.

After all is said and done, Bethesda probably would have garnered more respect and less outrage if they had just announced this program like this:

“Hello! We’re introducing the Creation Club, a place where you can buy first and third party created mods. These paid mods will mostly come from you, and you can submit them to us for internal review, and as long they pass our qualitative standards, they’ve be available from the Creation Club shop and you can earn a bit of money, too!” That still doesn’t make the whole thing about breaking free mods any better though, especially since they said free mods were still OK.

Telling the truth is groundbreaking shit, I know. But, no, we got two lies here for the price of one. They ARE paid mods and free mods ARE being affected.  Period. Here’s to hoping the backlash online causes Bethesda to once again rethink their position on paid DLC, because this isn’t going to end well for them.

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No Man’s Hype

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Everyone knew that at the very least – and the very least is what they gave us – that No Man’s Sky would have us gathering and managing resources so we could make our way to the center of the universe.  Why?  “Because!  That’s why!”  Its real appeal stemmed from a procedurally generated universe, as it promised each player would embark on a truly unique journey.  Nobody would ever share the same experience, and because of the size of said universe, you might not even encounter another player online.

Problem was, the game really didn’t deliver more than the whole ‘procedural generation’ thing.  You’d go from world to world, breaking things down with a tiny ray gun to collect resources, satisfy a multitude of needy ‘feed me’ meters (health, suit, ship shields, ship fuel, ray gun energy, etc.), and craft various other things that are necessary to finish the game.  That was it.  Blast, blast, blast.  Mine, mine, mine.  Occasionally you’d be harassed by drones that serve no purpose other than to slow your game down.  Maybe you’d see an animal or two, meet a trader in an outpost, scan the environment with your info gathering techno-goggles, and not much else… unless you left the planet, at which point you might have a few space pirates trying to take you down.  Rinse and repeat a gajillion times, and that’s No Man’s Sky in a nutshell.

At first, it wasn’t a horrible way to spend your time.  If you wanted a ‘chill’ game that provided something different than the usual loud action most modern games provide, No Man’s Sky could scratch that itch, at least for a little while.  It’s so easy to be fascinated by the one thing this game does that nothing else in the AAA scene has:  Planets are large and any place you see, you can go there without hitting that ‘sandbox wall’.  And hell, you can even look up to the sky, see a planet or two, and say, “Gee, I’d love to go there”, and then actually do it.  Between that and seeing the various styles of world the procedural generation formula could create, it was enough to keep players hooked for hours…

…Until you realize that it’s all basically the same.  All that ‘freedom’ came at the cost of actual gameplay.  Sure, one planet might be red and lush with plants, while another would be dark and rocky… but because the game has to be careful not to strand you on any given planet, you’re mining the same resources no matter where you go.  All the abandoned bases you come across look the same, as well as the space points spread across each planet.  There’s always a trader outpost, some sort of facility to break in to, and some alien monuments where you can learn bits of language.  Once you’ve had your fill, you leave one planet to hop to the next, only to find you’re doing the same shit over and over again, regardless of how each planet’s been ‘dressed’.

Coming to that realization is when I started to feel more and more disgust for the game… because for all the comments I’ve made about Destiny being an empty shell of a game, it’s No Man’s Sky that earns that ‘accolade’.  A lot of others felt the same way, too… and I’m talking about the people that actually tried the game without letting all the ‘Sean Murray lied’ stuff affect their objective opinions.

But that disappointment quickly ruptured into something else… hatred.  Sean Murray made a couple of passive-aggressive remarks at launch and then POOF, just disappeared.  A lot of people were upset that there was no more transparency.  Hell, they weren’t even sure if their $60 investment would amount to something greater, or if Hello Games had simply disbanded as a result of the shame their product had generated.  Couple their radio silence with Shuhei Yoshida throwing the studio under the bus, and it seemed like the future for No Man’s Sky was basically dust in the wind.

And now, out of nowhere, Hello Games have resurfaced to release No Man’s Sky version 1.1.  And to be clear, this was the best possible way to come back to the gaming community.  Sean Murray did enough talking prior to the game’s release.  Anything they said post-launch would have been met with more and more skepticism, so they only thing they COULD have done was shut up, and work on their game.  Now that they have something to offer, they’ve broken that silence.

Good.

So, version 1.1 allows you to claim a home planet, build new save points across planets, build self-owned outposts from uninhabited bases, transportation and even teleportation of materials you’ve collect to freighters in space, create tools which will actually auto-mine while you’re off doing more important things, additional aliens inhabiting trading posts (there’s now two where only one used to be), you can hire aliens to work in your home base, and they’ve even added new, challenging modes that cater to a variety of play styles.  I’m writing off the top of my head here, but I believe there’s a pure creative mode where you can do and build whatever you want, ‘normal’ No Man’s Sky but with the new gameplay features added, and a ‘Survival’ mode where it’s still No Man’s Sky, but with permadeath as a penalty.

So, does this resolve the issues the game had at launch?

This is one of those ‘the answer must come from within’ moments.  Because if mining and hopping around a planet is all you want out of No Man’s Sky, then sure, this patch is going to make for a substantially better experience.  The fact that you can actually do more with your resources than fix, fuel and fly is going to appease you, making this the ‘Sci-fi Minecraft’ you probably wanted from the get-go.  However, if you actually wanted a world that’s brimming with life and activity, then you’re going to dislike the experience just as much as before.

I’m in the latter camp, because what really sold No Man’s Sky to me was not just the chill playtime it offered, but a universe that actually looked… well, alive.  That’s what No Man’s Sky really needs.  Not this base building crap, but ships making space and the skies on any given planet look busy.  We need alien races that do more than sit or stand behind a counter waiting to sell you stuff, and more importantly, THEY need to have some sort of history.  There need to be factions that unite or rebel, and that needs to be seen and felt based on the solar system you’re visiting.  How about seeing some miners in some of those caves?  Or just some aliens in space suits hopping around a planet’s surface just for the hell of it?  How about seeing more wildlife?  Some of these ideas are a personal wish list, but others were blatantly shown in early advertisements and shown off in early footage.

Oh, but don’t tell the ASA.  They have apparently made a ruling on whether or not No Man’s Sky’s ads were misleading or not, and they basically said, “Nope!  All’s good!”

Anyway, there’s an even larger problem with these improvements:  They completely go against the game’s core objective, which is to ‘get to the middle… you know, because, just do it’.  No, patch 1.1 basically wants you to settle on a single planet and whittle tens of hours away on building a home and research facility.

But the first argument that’s come up when I’ve discussed this with friends who are savvy about video games has been, “But, Minecraft doesn’t really have a real end game.  People just create or play the survival mode, and they’re more than content just staying in the same little world.  So, why should people get pissed at No Man’s Sky for doing the same thing?”

Well, the simple answer is, “No Man’s Sky is not Minecraft.”  It never was.  It never will be.  Minecraft is about surviving in a given area… period.  A world is generated, and it’s your job to create and adapt so that you can have food, shelter, and whatever weapons are required to fend off the dangers that come at night.  What you’re doing is playing a ‘stay put, and make this your home’ survival game.  There is no end goal.  Not even an arbitrary ‘get to the middle of the whatever’ sort of thing.  No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, is a completely different beast.  The point is to gather resources not only to survive the harsh conditions of any given planet, but so that you have what you need to keep moving.  How much different could the objectives possibly be?

And a lot of people fall into the trap of comparing No Man’s Sky to Minecraft, not just the friends I speak of.  And, not to offend them or anyone else, but why is there any compulsion to compare them at all?  Is it because they don’t fall into the typical mainstream classification system of third-person/first-person shooter, stealth, RPG, or racing game?  They’re survival games, and that’s where their similarities end.  Hell, Don’t Starve has more in common with Minecraft than No Man’s Sky does.

So what does this Foundation Update tell us about No Man’s Sky and the ‘vision’ that Sean Murray and Hello Games had for it?  Well, I think it tells us an awful lot… just not what people want to hear.  Honestly, I don’t think No Man’s Sky was ever going to realistically deliver everything they had shown us.  Sean Murray got a case of Peter Molyneux brain – wanting his ‘baby’ to be everything a standard development cycle could never provide – but at the end of the day, No Man’s Sky would be lacking that ultra-idealistic vision, and the game would disappoint.  No Man’s Sky probably could have been more at the time of release, but I think an unrealistic wishlist kept this team’s focus away from building an actual game.  So, once time and money was up… well, we saw what happened.  “Here’s our universe of nothing.  Get to the middle.”  And now that they’re trying to ‘fix’ the game… are they working towards finishing that original design they had showed off a couple of years back?  Nope.  They’re instead building whatever they feel they have the time and resources for, original intent of the game be damned.

I’ve seen people online actually recommend re-buying No Man’s Sky because update 1.1 is THAT different.

Guys…

You’ve been burned once already, OK?  Don’t be a sucker two times over.

Like most other games, people bought this thing sight unseen.  No Man’s Sky was pre-ordered so much, you’d think it was going to be the last video game ever released.  No reviews, no actual day 1 gameplay, no word of mouth… just people buying a game based on hype.  Hype that was created by Sean Murray, Sony, and of course the media.  Ain’t that a vicious circle?  Company wants to sell you something, the company catches the media’s ear, the media reports to you, you get excited, and because you’re excited and want more, the company continues to upsell, the media continues to act as a shitty marketing echo-chamber, and you eventually decide to buy shit without even knowing what it is.  If you were to temper your expectations and hold on to your money until a game is released, this cycle would break.  The major players in this industry would have to adapt.  And, if they can’t get you to bite on a game BEFORE it’s released, what would they have to do?  Make a game that’s actually worth your time and money in the first place, right?  Right.  Otherwise, their product would be dead in water.

Last but not least, the Foundation Update has been poised not as a ‘hey look, our game is better’ patch, but an ‘our game is going to GET better’ patch.  That’s right.  They’ve dropped this as sort of the new ‘foundation’ for the game, and they’re going to build off of this.  This is, somehow, supposed to make us excited.  Maybe it would if this were an early access game we paid $20 for, but it isn’t.  It’s a game that was shown off on Sony’s E3 stage, had appeared on Colbert’s late night program, and was subsequently sent to factories so discs could be pressed, placed inside plastic cases, and shipped to your local retailers.  For $60.  Sean Murray had been told by Geoff Keighley – who’s an epic douche for not telling everyone how problematic this game seemed mere months prior to launch, by the way – that he should probably pursue an early access route, but nope.  Murray said, “LET THERE BE A $60 PRICE TAG!”

And so it was.

And so it was hyped.

And so.

You.

BOUGHT.

And now, because they delivered a modicum of substance in a single update, people are getting excited that No Man’s Sky is going to be some great game again?  Have you learned nothing?  And what good does rebuying the damn game do, anyway?  Let’s say you spent $60 at launch for this.  It was only a matter of weeks – IF THAT – before Gamestop was offering something like $12 for a trade-in copy.  So, let’s say you traded this game in for $12 in store credit.  You essentially paid $48 to rent the game for a little while.  It’s now $28 at the time of writing on Amazon.  So, Foundation Update and all, if you rebought the game today, your total investment in No Man’s Sky would be $76 plus tax.  If it wasn’t worth the $60 before, do you really think it’s going to be worth $76?

A little reason here, folks.  A little reason.