Time to Leave Physical Behind

img_7340Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

I’ve long been a staunch supporter of physical media, because when I make a purchase I want it to be accessible for the rest of time. So when games became prominently available through digital means, I planted my feet firmly on the ground, shook my head and said, “Nope. I’m not giving in!”

Why was I so stubborn? Because I’ve always seen digital purchases as a gamble. If a distributor goes belly-up, you’d lose access to your library unless a third party took over and honored your purchases (which isn’t impossible, but certainly not guaranteed). Even if a distributor merely decided to stop supporting a legacy platform, your purchases would essentially be forfeit the moment your device’s hard drive failed.

The latter scenario is actually happening with the Nintendo Wii just this month, by the way. Pretty wild considering how much money they’re making these days, isn’t it?

Anyway, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve only felt this way with consoles. I’ve been buying digital games on PC for eons now, but that’s because I trust that companies like Steam aren’t going anywhere. There’s also GOG, who allow you to download DRM free copies of all the games they sell (which I admittedly don’t take advantage of as much as I should). But Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo haven’t instilled the same sort of confidence. Sony would rather sell you streamable games than honor legacy generation purchases, and until just recently, Nintendo tied games to consoles instead of accounts… meaning if your console died and you bought another one, your purchases would be gone.

That said, the landscape of console marketplaces are changing and I feel it’s time to embrace the dark side.

I know. I can’t believe I’m saying it either.

img_7343-1Still, I’m at a point where I feel one-hundred percent comfortable buying digital games from Microsoft. They’ve shown a considerable amount of dedication to ensuring titles across all their platforms are compatible with the latest hardware. If you have old game discs, simply load them into the Xbox One and you’ll be able to play. If you don’t feel like tracking down a copy of an old game, they’ve available to buy digitally.

Nintendo have also begun to correct the mistakes of generations past (while introducing some new ones, of course). With the release of the Nintendo Switch, games are now tied to accounts, so if your console dies you can download them on a new machine.

Sony… well, they’re still the same old arrogant Sony. They’d rather sell you digital copies of PS1 and PS2 games you already own. As a result, I buy all third party titles for the Xbox One.

Regardless of who we’re talking about in the ‘your old purchases matter’ race, it’s clear that we’re moving towards a future where consoles stop being brackets of segregated time blocks and merge into one. It’s the way it always should have been.

Microsoft have earned a lot of good will over the course of this generation, so it’d be wise for Sony to follow suit with backwards compatibility on the PS5. I think it’d be unrealistic to expect the PS5 to play PS1, PS2 or even PS3 games, but at the very least it needs to be fully backwards compatible with the PS4. I still own all the old consoles, but I no longer have any tolerance for keeping multiple generations hooked up to my home theater at once. I believe they have little choice but to incorporate at least the current console’s library, and while that’s not everything I’d want from a PS5, it’s a step in the right direction.

Still, there’s a part of my brain that still shouts, “If you want to be able to play these games in thirty years, you better pick up physical copies!” I don’t know if that comes from a lifetime of buying physical games or if it’s because there’s still trepidation over the longevity of digital libraries though. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, it’s what’s kept me buying physical copies throughout the entirety of this generation… until now, at least.

img_7342-1I’ve also known this for a long time but would never allow myself to admit it: Physical copies are worthless.

Don’t get me wrong, because I’ll hold on to my NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy and DS cartridges until I die. But as far as this generation is concerned, discs are worthless. Sure, they’ll be around in thirty years, but the games that are stored on them are largely riddled with bugs or missing content. The Spyro remastered trilogy doesn’t have all the games on disc. Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t nearly as fun without its day one patch. Bethesda games have always required updates for the best stability. Assassin’s Creed: Unity was, at times, a slideshow without subsequent patches. At launch, Battlefield 4’s single player campaign saves often corrupted and forced players to start over.

And these are only the examples that immediately come to mind. They’re the most extreme, yes, but every game has patches that roll out on day one and beyond. That means that virtually none of the games you’ve played, even at launch, are the same product as what’s on the disc. The pieces of plastic they’re pressed on are pretty much drink coasters.

It hurts my heart to say that, but it’s true: All a disc is good for in 2018 is verifying that you have a license to play a game.

A lot of people complain that they don’t want to get off the couch to switch discs, but that’s never bothered me. What does bother me is switching discs when I know I’m not even playing the content that’s on it in them first place. With that being the sad reality, why even bother? Why not just make the switch to all-digital and save myself from having to switch those coasters out?

Last but certainly not least, I have been burned by an old PS3 that went belly up after just two years. Not the internal GPU or CPU or anything, but the disc drive. A disc drive has moving parts, so it’s the most likely piece of a console to fail. Going digital means I won’t have to worry about that. That’s not to say a cooling fan won’t go or that a console won’t overheat to death, but it’s one less thing to worry about.

Digital distribution still has a way to go, but I believe it’s a viable solution moving forward as long as we, consumers, don’t allow the companies holding the digital keys to get sloppy.

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Why Do You Play Video Games? A PBS Game Show Response

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Why do you play video games?

That question seems a bit absurd, I know, but I ask because every once in a while, I find myself in the thick of a quantity vs. quality debate. It’s an important conversation to have, for sure, as countless games have been padded to manipulate our perception of value. However, these discussions often take such a disheartening turn, that I can’t help but feel like I’ve wandered into an alternate dimension, one that could only befit an episode of The Twilight Zone. Expectations of gaming are going to vary from person to person, sure, but there are certain arguments I’ll just never be able to wrap my head around. Jamin Warren, host of the PBS Game Show, is my latest source of bewilderment, because he’s making the case that video games are too long.

I was intrigued to see if Mr. Warren could produce a reasonable argument in his video segment, but it took less than a minute before my eyes had rolled to the back of my skull.

To showcase the extreme amount of time we, as gamers, have to invest if we’re to play through today’s hottest games, he begins by pointing a finger at Forza Horizon 2, which takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. Personally, I wouldn’t classify that as a long game, but to each their own.

Next, he brings up the considerably longer Grand Theft Auto V remaster, which boasts at least 30-35 hours of gameplay. Acknowledging he’s already played through the last-gen iteration, he’s still willing to tackle the lengthy heist drama once more.

Now, this is where my head begins to spin. Not because he’s willing to invest up to 70 hours on a single title, but because he’s already invalidated his opening argument. A 15 hour game is, apparently, too much to handle… yet he’s justifying a 35 hour game – twice, no less – merely because he likes it.

Dragon_Age_Inquisition_BoxArt

Of course, in the same breath, he has to go that extra sensationalist mile with Dragon Age: Inquisition, as he says the prospect of its 40 to 80 hour campaign made him ‘weep inside’.

So, one 70 hour investment is fine, yet the other is not?

But then things get interesting:

“Games are, far and away, on average, longer than any other medium on the planet. For example, during the 276 hours that this Tumblr user spent playing Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI 100, finish the works of Tolstoy, and listen to most of the major works of 20th century pop music.”

He goes on to explain that while video games are a wonderful way to spend our time, it’s hard for a responsible adult to squeeze in such drastic minimum completion times, as we still have to juggle family, friends, work, etc. As a result, at least according to him, this is why only 10 to 20 percent of people ever complete their games. I’d like to respect the correlation he’s making, because there’s undoubtedly a link between completion rate and the amount of time people have in their day-to-day lives, but I have to wonder how sincere his ‘games are fine’ asterisk is when he follows up his train of thought with:

“So I can’t help but notice when I feel like games are wasting my time.”

He immediately goes into some explanation about how other forms of entertainment don’t require your undivided attention. You can simultaneously listen to music and read a book, for example.

Subjective.

I’ll agree that music can be more liberating than other media, but it depends on the person. There are plenty of people who don’t just use music as background noise, but as something to become immersed by. As far as books go, some can deal with distractions, while others can’t. Also, the pace at which each individual reads should be taken into consideration. According to my Kindle, I still have 13 hours left on a Stephen King novel I’m reading, but I’m sure there’s people who could probably knock it out in half the time. Film and television are also ingested in a variety of ways. Point is, no one person is alike, so blanket statements need to be left out of the equation, here.

He then states that the medium is experiencing a ‘crisis of audience’. Games now appeal to most age groups, and naturally, they all carry a different set of expectations based on their lifestyle. They all want different things.

That’s a crisis? We’ve reached a point in time where games aren’t seen by most as children’s toys… and that’s a crisis?

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

ozdorothytoto

There has ALWAYS been a great deal of diversity amongst video games. You could seek what lurks in the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, or collect fruit in the preciously adorable Bubble Bobble. Enter a castle dripping with atmosphere in Castlevania, or hop on a pogo stick as ‘Unca Scrooge’ in Ducktales. Get your face hacked off by Jason in Friday the 13th, or roam around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Regardless of what someone sees through their rose colored glasses, there was a variety of gameplay at the ready, and not a single game was beloved by everyone. But, because video games have only become more diversified over time, there is something for everyone.

But, you know, that’s apparently a BAD thing.

Mr. Willen even goes as far to suggest that games come equipped with a story slider – very much like the ones we use for graphics and difficulty – to reduce or extend a game’s narrative. This would allow for any given game to adapt to what WE require, and not the other way around. For example, those who are turned off by the beefy Dragon Age campaign would now have reason to play it.

Now THAT’S a slippery slope if I ever heard one.

Let’s say they did this. Let’s say Dragon Age: Inquisition offered a ‘story slider’. If you abridged the story, you’d have to alter the game mechanics too, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could that even be done? The entire game would have to be re-invented multiple times to suit multiple types of gamers. Keep in mind the devs spent at LEAST three years to bring this game, as is, to retail. To ask that they retool EVERYTHING to appeal to whatever YOUR schedule dictates, would seemingly add a lot of unnecessary time – not to mention cost – to the development cycle. That means MONEY, Mr. Willen. Where would the cost of extra time and resources get passed down to? You guessed it. The consumer. Do we really need to give publishers another reason to inflate the overall cost of games?

Now, as far as game length is concerned… well, that’s nothing new, either. Many classic platformers can be beaten within a couple of hours, and there wasn’t much accommodation. Many of these games had no saves, no passwords, nothing. Just you, the controller, and whatever the game had in store. But we also had Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III on the SNES), in which the primary quest could take 35 hours. Including side quests, you could easily have a 40 to 50 hour game on your hands.

Superghouls

And besides, even the SHORT games could chew up lots of time. I mean, you can technically beat Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in less than 2 hours, but personally, I’ve NEVER been able to beat that game legit. I still play it to this day though, and I’ve probably invested well over 100 hours of my life to it.

So, who cares if Dragon Age takes 40 or even 80 hours?

I understand that life doesn’t leave much time for gaming. Most nights I only play for an hour or two, and sometimes not at all. Does that mean developers should compromise their vision to appease me? Absolutely not. It’s no secret that Dragon Age, or many of the other lengthy games out there, require a substantial investment. If you don’t want to invest the time, then don’t. Don’t buy a game if you think it’s too demanding for your lifestyle. That’s the beauty of having so many diverse experiences available in the marketplace. If one game doesn’t meet your needs, there’s plenty that will.

As a side note, despite my lack of time, I still play really long games. If I want to play it, I see no reason to skip it. Sure, it’ll take an extremely long time to beat them, but I’m fine with that. I mean, what’s the rush anyway? To get it out of the way so I can move on to the next? Personally, if a game is fun enough, I’ll see it through to the end. Know when I will step away? When it stops being fun. Otherwise, I’ll be content knowing my $60 investment could last for MONTHS.

Anyway, Mr. Willen argues that even if you DO have a lot of time on your hands, it’s still a precious commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on side quests.

Again, subjective.

Who’s to say what should constitute a waste of time for ANY of us? Some people really like the side stuff, and for a variety of reasons, at that.

One person cannot judge how valuable a game’s content is, or isn’t, for anyone else. Same goes for our tastes in books, music, and film. Some think The Lord of the Rings – as written by JRR Tolkien – is a literary masterpiece. Others believe it’s needlessly padded with an overwhelming amount of detail. Some people prefer listening to single songs, while others prefer the experience of a complete album. You can’t please everyone, right? Right. So, let the artists bring their vision to the table, and let the consumer decide what’s right for them. There doesn’t need to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Choice is the spice of life, after all. But, hey, if that’s what you want, guess what? There’s plenty of games that already do that, and more are on the way.

Which reminds me that Mr. Willen conveniently ignores something else, though. If quick satisfaction is what you need, there’s already an entire market dedicated to you: Mobile gaming. If you own a tablet, phablet or cell phone, the options at your disposal are almost limitless. There are games that cater to those with only mere minutes to play. If you like the episodic style of Telltale Games, their titles are compatible with virtually every modern device. If you want truncated versions of major AAA console titles, mobile has that, too. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Hitman, Madden, Call of Duty, and Batman have all made the jump to smaller screens.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Mr. Willen even all that interested in gaming anymore?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he needs his ‘gamer card’ revoked, or anything like that. But, what’s the most important part of any game? The gameplay… which is ironic, because this PBS Game Show host no longer seems to care about that aspect of the experience. No, he just wants to get in, get out, and walk away with a satisfying narrative… which is fine.

What’s NOT fine, however, is that he’s asking for a complete overhaul of the industry mold, and he’s doing so without considering the repercussions. I mean, let’s say developers around the world began catering to the ‘short and sweet’ crowd en masse. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera – who tends to agree with most of Mr. Willen’s argument – implies this could lead to consumer savings:

“A shorter game can be made for less money which leads to lower prices which means more people buy it… and so on.”

But does that even remotely echo reality? Mr. Willen’s specifically addressing AAA console games, but would publishers like Ubisoft, Activision and Electronic Arts REALLY reduce the price of their games if they cost less to produce? Of course not. One needs to look no further than Call of Duty, an annual franchise featuring 5 hour campaigns and a minimal multiplayer experience out of the box… unless you buy a season pass, of course. And yet, this game has the same MSRP as the time-consuming behemoth that is Dragon Age. If anything, I think these companies will stick with the $60 price tag regardless, and bank their savings from development to improve profit margins.

And since we’re talking about money, EA’s fiscal 2015 third quarter earnings call held some intriguing info about Dragon Age: Inquisition… You know, the game allegedly too daunting for the masses:

“Dragon Age: Inquisition captivated fans and critics worldwide as it launched in November, and it quickly became the most successful launch in BioWare history. More than 113 million hours have already been spent exploring the depth and detail of the single-player experience in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more players are joining each day. Named “Game of the Year” by 32 media outlets around the world, including IGN, Game Informer and the Associated Press, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a true masterpiece from the team at BioWare and a game that is sure to be played for a long time to come.”

“In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far the most successful launch in BioWare’s history, exceeding our expectations. In addition, game sales for last-generation consoles were also much stronger than we had anticipated.”

“Outperformance versus our outlook was driven by the record-breaking Dragon Age: Inquisition performance.”

Not that there’s a strong correlation between game sales and game quality, as hype can go a long, long way… but Dragon Age is a well-established franchise. The devs themselves even more so, thanks to their success with the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Mass Effect series. People knew what they were getting into.

More than anything, I think this shows that Mr. Willen doesn’t truly understand what gamers want… just what HE wants.

So, in retrospect, maybe the question isn’t why do YOU play video games – since we see the kind of a response that elicits – but why do WE play video games? As I’ve gone through painstaking detail to point out, there isn’t a simple answer for that. Never has been, never will be. We ALL have our preferences, and as we grow and mature, those preferences are likely to change. As a result, self-inventory should take a large role in our internal conversation, especially if you’re echoing the sentiment that games are too long, wasting your time, and find yourself rushing through them ‘just because’. Games should not be, as Mr. Willen puts it, a chore. Yes, some games are needlessly padded, but this happens across all mediums.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the INDIVIDUAL to decide what’s best for THEM.

New Year’s Non-Resolutions

2015

What’s the point in having a New Year’s resolution?  It’s easy to say, “I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’ll somehow apply that knowledge to make a ‘better me’ the next”, but I’m a bit more… realistic:

-The most common resolution?  “I’m fat!  I need to lose weight!”  Well, I’m a big guy that loves big food.  I will NOT be visiting ‘Camp Putdownadaforka’ in 2015.

-I could say I’ll work on propelling myself into a better job, but money isn’t everything.  I never work nights, weekends or holidays.  I don’t think it get much better than that!

-As for the money I DO make… yeah, I’m not much of a saver.  Not because I’m flat out terrible with money, but because I know how precious – not to mention fleeting – life can be.  So, I spend money on the things I enjoy.  I love taking my family to fun places, going out to restaurants, and my two favorite hobbies have always cost a fair amount of coin:  Film and video games.  I may not live in a mansion, but I lead a happy lifestyle.  What’s the point of having a wad of your cash in your pocket if you leave this life unfulfilled?

-People often vow to relieve themselves from stress in the New Year, but screw that.  “I will be less stressed” is a weak resolution, and furthermore, it’s odd.  Why would I cite myself as a source of stress?  For the sake of argument, let’s say I am.  Maybe I have a chemical imbalance and can’t help myself!  Nah, my stressors are probably the same as yours:  OTHER PEOPLE.  Not everyone, of course, but I know that if I leave the house long enough, I’ll find just enough of those joy-joy mood parasites to feel at least SOMEwhat agitated.  On second thought, I don’t even have to leave the house for that… I can just hop on the net or turn on the news.

-Travel?  Didn’t I JUST rant about how other human beings affect me?  Why would I want to hotbox myself in an airplane with people who have NO social awareness whatsoever?  I have no intention of dealing with folks who can’t keep their knees off the back of my seat, have never learned how to properly utilize an ‘inside voice’, or can’t stop burping and farting without explaining their entire medical history to me.  Your gastroenterological issues are yours and yours alone, pal.  Keep your escaped poo and bile particles confined to your own personal bubble, PLEASE.

Clearly, I’m joking.

On a more serious note, though, I’m really not the kind of guy that likes to partake in the whole ‘New Year’s Resolution’ thing.  Life is too short to fixate on flaws.  If I feel like making some changes, I’ll do my best to make them… and an arbitrary date on the calendar won’t have anything to do with it.  That said, I HAVE learned some hard lessons over the course of 2014, so the opportunity to share these ‘epiphanies’ couldn’t have come at a better time.  Hopefully, this list provides something you can think about while deciding how to spend your money in 2015 and beyond.

For starters, I’m honestly done with buying games on day 1.  The industry has changed in such a way that it doesn’t even make sense to me anymore.  Most major releases have either not worked, or required a significant patch upon release… meaning these games aren’t complete out of the box.  There’s also a troublesome trend of games being sold as if they were crack:  Major publishers will provide a mere taste at release – at $60 a pop, mind you – so you’ll get hooked and feverishly buy into whatever DLC they throw at you.  Me, I’m tired of spending full price for a product that’s literally incomplete off the shelf.  MSRP for good intentions?  No thanks.  So, I just won’t do it anymore.

And yes, this also means no more pre-ordering.  “Pre-ordering doesn’t harm anyone though, right?  I mean, if a game comes out and you hear bad things about it, you can always cancel.”  Yes, I can always cancel, but why pre-order in the first place?  How many times have you been legitimately burned for not doing so?  Unless you’re looking to get a limited collector’s edition or the latest console, your local retailers will have a TON of copies on display.  And believe it or not, pre-ordering DOES hurt the consumer.  Think about it:  Why are publishers confident enough to release their games in an unfinished state?  Because those pre-order numbers tell them they’re going to make a lot of money regardless, so as a result, they let that ‘fix it later’ mentality creep in.  This, unfortunately, is what happens when we tell these companies, “Yes, we’ll buy your product sight unseen.”

And you know, I think I’m just going to buy less games in general.  I’ve purchased a TON in the last 12 months… and for what?  To sit on my shelves looking pretty?  I mean, it’s nice having a large selection of games to choose from, yes, but that’s no justification.  It’s disheartening to think of all the games I bought at full MSRP; many of them remain unplayed, and can now be had for $30 or less.  Yes, by the time I get around to most of the titles in my backlog, they’ll be worth at LEAST 50% less than what I paid for them.  Since September alone, I haven’t had the opportunity to play Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Hyrule Warriors, The Evil Within, or the remastered iteration of Grand Theft Auto V.  I’m not even sure when I will… so what the hell did I buy them for?  That’s five games I could have nabbed for $30 instead of $60… meaning if I was smart, I could have had an extra $150 in my pocket.  That’s not exactly chump change, you know?

So, with that decided, I’ll naturally work on my backlog.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already begun the process… and to be perfectly honest, I’ve been much happier with those games (The Witcher 2, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) than most of 2014’s offerings.  That’s not to say I won’t dabble with the Wii-U, Xbox One or PS4, but rather they’re not likely to be my primary source of entertainment until the end of the year.

But there will be a point in time when tackling the backlog buffet feels too much like a chore… so I’ll keep things interesting with retro games.  I’ve emulated my childhood favorites for years, but all that did was remind me how stupid I was for selling off my old systems.  Well, I’ve had it up to here with regret, so I bought a Retron 5, original SNES controllers, and a respectable batch of old-school games.  I know it’s technically emulation, but I don’t care.  There’s just something about using original controllers in a machine that has a cart sticking out of it.  I plan on utilizing this machine A LOT, so you can expect to hear my thoughts on some retro games as I complete them.

But again, don’t mistake this rundown as New Year’s resolutions.  The wind has been blowing this way for me as of late, so the change in tide was inevitable.  For once, I actually welcome it, too… which is weird.  I’ve always been apprehensive to change, but this time it’s different.  Maybe it’s because I do my best to always look for the silver lining, I don’t know.  I certainly don’t approve of major publishers continually attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, but if they HADN’T plunged the industry to new lows last year, I’m not sure I would be the informed consumer I am today.

Regardless of how you felt about 2014 though, here’s hoping each and every one of you have a fantastic year in gaming.  New, old, or REALLY old… it matters not.  The only thing you should really concern yourself with is having fun.  That said, it never hurts to stay informed so you can make decisions that better suit you, your wallet, and the industry as a whole… that is, as you, the consumer, would want it to be.

Happy New Year!

Projekt RED Pill

CDPR

 

I’ve spent an awful lot of time pointing fingers at companies that care too much about revenue, and not enough about consumer satisfaction. So much so, that I, at times, have twisted that finger back at myself. It’s hard not to feel like an asshole when all I do is bitch and moan, but being that I’m constantly reminded of the sad state of the video game industry, I snap out of that funk pretty quick. I mean, I’m not asking too much of the devs and publishers, am I? I just want games to work the way they’re supposed to. Not on day two, seven, twenty-one or beyond… but day one. That seems both reasonable and logical, yet any time I bring this up, people tell me to “just deal with it” because “that’s just the way things are.” More than that, their attitude implies that because developers have the ability to patch our games through the internet, we should just default to being grateful… and I can’t side with that sentiment at all. As with most things I’m asked to ‘deal with’, my gratitude can only extend so far.

But it’s important to remember that just because a bunch of publishers opt to cut corners for the sake of deadlines, it doesn’t mean EVERY company is like that. No, there are studios that wholeheartedly believe in releasing games when they’re done. They know anything less would tarnish their name and drive customers away, so they try to do what’s best for EVERYONE, their company and gamers alike.

Let’s take Remedy Entertainment, for example. The studio is best known for its work on the Max Payne franchise (the first two installments), but I respect them most for the development cycle of Alan Wake. It was originally announced in 2005, with a brief tech demo shown to the press (behind closed doors, of course), but didn’t see the light of day until 2010. A long wait, sure, but the end result speaks for itself: It’s a game that exceeded both technical and conceptual expectation, and as a testament of this, stands as one of the best games on the Xbox 360. Will they uphold that quality with Xbox One’s Quantum Break? That remains to be seen, but this company has given me no reason to sweat them yet.

Rocksteady were supposed to release Batman: Arkham Knight this fall, but postponed it until June. The reason is unclear, but I think it’s safe to assume that they realized it wasn’t yet up to their level of standards. They have a decent track record thus far with Asylum and City, so why mess with it now? Warner Bros. Games Montreal took a stab at the franchise with Arkham Origins, and predictably, they shoved their offering out the door with a fair amount of bugs, including one which has been known to break the game.

You can say what you want about Nintendo, but one thing’s for sure: Their output is consistently problem free. When I turn on my Wii-U and pop in a first party game, there’s no question in my mind about how smooth an experience it will be. As a matter of fact, the only major issue I can recall is a game-breaking progression bug in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which has since been fixed). Otherwise, everything I’ve played on their consoles has been technically spectacular.

So, why have I chosen this moment to break away from all the bitching and moaning to focus on something positive instead? That answer came in the form of an announcement from CDProjektRed:

“Dear Gamers,

Ever since we started working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we knew it would be an ambitious game. We wanted, and still aim, to give you an incredible experience, an epic adventure in a vast, completely open fantasy universe.

The sheer size and complexity of The Witcher, key features of the title, have had a decisive impact on production. Now, nearing the end of our work, we see many details that need to be corrected. When we release the most important game in our studio’s history, we must be absolutely sure that we did everything we could to limit any bugs to a level that will allow you to enjoy the game thoroughly.

With this in mind, we took another look at current workloads and what they mean for the team. Even though everyone is working at full speed, we concluded that we need another 12 weeks, so we are shifting the release date of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to May 19th, 2015.

We owe you an apology. We set the release date too hastily. It’s a hard lesson, one to take to heart for the future. We know what we want to do to make Wild Hunt one of the best RPGs you will ever play. And we continue to work hard to achieve just that. So, we apologize and ask for your trust.

Thank you for the all support you show us on a daily basis. We truly do appreciate it. It has fueled us in our passion since the start and will continue to do so.

The Board of CD PROJEKT SA”

Oh, and just prior to this, they announced there would be plenty of free DLC in the several weeks following launch:

“As CD PROJEKT RED, we strongly believe this is not the way it should work and, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we have decided to do it differently. Cutting to the chase, everyone who buys Wild Hunt will receive 16 specially prepared DLCs absolutely for free, regardless of platform. You don’t have to pre-order, you don’t have to buy any special edition to get them — if you own a copy of Wild Hunt, they’re yours. This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game.”

Is there really any question that this is how things should be done?

I know some skeptics are probably calling me a CD Projekt RED fan boy at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My first experience with this studio’s work was through The Witcher 2… and I only began playing that a couple of weeks ago. That said, I don’t have to be a devout fan to acknowledge the fact they just seem to ‘get it’. This company is openly against DRM, isn’t about to gouge their customers by selling DLC for what feels like an incomplete game, and they obviously care about the quality of their output.

It’s very seldom an entity in the industry decides to uphold these values, and while I understand that money has, and always will be the primary motivation, the likes of EA and Ubisoft should take note. If you ask gamers who they feel the most respectable studio is, you’re likely to find an overwhelming amount of people who echo Projekt RED’s name. Because of the respect they’ve shown for both their work and their customers, many in the gaming community feel they are a beacon of hope – at least as far as the AAA scene is concerned – that everyone should follow. There’s a reason why fans of this studio are increasingly loyal, and why more people swallow the RED pill each and every day. Hell, I know a couple of people who are going to buy The Witcher 3 JUST because they want to support this company’s business practices.

It’s unfortunate that so many companies have lost their way… that they’ve forgotten their customers are intelligent human beings who actually notice – and will respond negatively to – nickel-and-dime practices. Something else these companies have seemingly forgotten, is that people will actually REWARD the studios that treat them right. After all, CD Projekt RED hasn’t been elevated to ‘hero’ status amongst the gaming community for nothing. That’s not a label I’m comfortable bestowing upon them, however. My take is that they’re merely exercising common sense, but because various other companies have set the bar so low, it makes them look like saviors by comparison.

Still, the fact that an ever growing studio has managed to stick by their moral code, not to mention continually expandtheir business as a result of that, is highly encouraging. More encouraging than that, is that CD Projekt RED aren’t alone.

11bitstudios

Take, for example, 11 Bit Studios. Their latest effort, This War of Mine, had (of course) inevitably leaked on The Pirate Bay. Their course of action? Well, they didn’t call their lawyers, or release numerous ‘join the fight against piracy’ statements to the press. No, their response was pure class all the way. Direct from the comment section of the torrent page (which is now missing, due to The Pirate Bay going belly up):

“It’s Karol from 11 bit studios, the developers of This War of Mine.

We are really happy to hear that you like our game. They prove, that spending 2 years on it was worth it.

I would like to say thank you to everyone, who decides to buy the game and support us — because of that we’ll be able to develop TWoM further and create even better games in the future.

If because of some reasons you can’t buy the game, it’s ok. We know life, and we know, that sometimes it’s just not possible.

Here are some codes for the steam copy of the game, so some of you can take a look at it. And if you like the game after spending few hours in, then just spread the word, and you’ll help us a lot.”

They elaborated their position with Polygon, as well:

“It’s just that not all pirates are the same. Of course there are people that would pirate the game even if it would cost 10 cents, but you can do nothing about them…”

“What many of us often forget though, is that there are also other people. Folks that are doing that, because they are simply pissed about the current quality of many games, or those who simply can’t afford the game at the time, because of some personal reasons,” he continued. “That’s why we believe that instead of treating everyone the same way, where pirates are the most evil people on earth, it’s better to talk and try to find a solution, where everyone somehow benefits.”

“You can’t buy the game, but you would like to suport [sic] us? Tell your friends, and who knows, maybe one of them will pay for it and that would give us few bucks,” Miechowski told Polygon.

“Pretty well known Polish indie developer Sos did something similar some time ago, and just like in our case it proved, that it always pays back if you try to understand people, instead of condemning everyone.”

Every studio has tales rooted in humble origins, and while some have forgotten what it means to provide and interact with human beings, others remain humble regardless of success. Again, the studios I’ve mentioned aren’t alone, and I believe the future of gaming may not be as bleak as it often looks. Think about it: We have a slew of independent developers making a splash on both consoles and PC, and they, more than anyone, understand how important it is to let hard work and positive word of mouth lead them to success. As we’ve seen with multiple AAA releases in 2014, good things will not await those who release games that don’t work as intended… especially when DLC and microtransactions are involved. No, instead, the ‘indies’ know they need to take their time, say ‘thank you’ to their loyal customers, and hopefully if they’ve done a well enough job, reap the benefits.

Years from now, I believe at least a handful of independent studios – such as 11 Bit Studios – will grow and become as respect as the likes of CD Projekt RED, Remedy Entertainment, Rocksteady Studios, etc. All we need to do in return is ensure that those who show us respect, get it back in spades, while those who treat us like bottomless piggy banks are brought to the forefront of conversation… you know, to keep them on their toes. And believe me, it works. Obviously Microsoft had little choice but to listen to their potential customers when it came to the Xbox One. In more recent news, Ubisoft said they’re going to change the way they interact with people, while Electronic Arts looks to improving the overall quality of future projects. Why? Because this contrast exists within the industry, and our collective voice DOES have an effect on how these businesses conform.

Bringing this back full circle, I know I spend a lot of time bitching on this site… but when it comes to the gaming industry, I DO believe hope is very much alive. Support the companies whose practices you applaud, and the rest should fall in place.

@bytesizeimp

Opinion-Bytes: Sony’s Driveflub

Driveflub

I remember the day that Sony announced the Playstation 4, and vividly, at that.  They came out with a consumer friendly machine, $100 less than the competition at that, and… say whaaaa?!  They slipped multiplayer behind a PSPlus pay wall?  Sighs.  I wasn’t happy about being bent over a barrel, so to speak, but I didn’t feel I had much choice but to sit there, hope Sony’s ‘entry’ would be gentle, and take it.  I wasn’t going into the next generation of gaming without multiplayer.  I just wasn’t… and they knew it.  Ah well.  At least they promised to use that additional revenue to improve the service.

In an interview with  Computerandvideogames.com:

Yoshida explained the move was necessary to maintain a high quality service and facilitate improvements and expansions.
 
“That’s (was) a big decision,” he said. “what we internally discussed and decided is that we will continue the free access to online play on PS3 and Vita, so that’s clear. But because on PS4 the online connectivity features such as second screen, auto downloads and share features – these are one big pillar of the PS4 experience and we will continue to invest in this area to expand and improve these online features and services.
 
“If we keep giving away online access for free, the natural pressure is that we have to cut down on the cost to provide this free service. But that’s conflicting with our goal of being able to provide very robust and great online services going forward. So we decided that on PS4, because we want to continue to invest and improve our new services, we’ve asked the most engaged consumers in the online activities to share the burden with us so that we can continue to invest.”

Unfortunately, PSN is still very much the quirky experience that was provided on the PS3.  It seems to work more often than not, but more and more, we’re seeing the service go down for one reason or another.  Of course, these minor interruptions were somewhat acceptable on the PS3.  After all, multiplayer was free, and in a way, something of a privilege.  People are PAYING for this service on the PS4 though, so it’s no longer a privilege.  No, customers pay for it, and when customers pay for something, they expect it to work.

And it’s not as if Sony can just say, “Well, that’s multiplayer for you!  Anything can go wrong at any time.  It’s the nature of the beast!”  They can’t say that because Microsoft’s service is, and always has been much more stable.  A lot of people like to say, “Well, yeah, because Microsoft is a software company.”  Does that really matter, though?  If you provide a paid service, it needs to work.  Constantly.  It doesn’t matter if said service comes from a staff of 3 or 3,000… people will settle for nothing less than consistency.

Anyway, even though Sony had everyone by the brass with their pay wall shenanigans, they wanted to ensure the masses saw this as ‘value’ instead of extortion.  So, they got out the ol’ stick, tied a carrot to the end of it, and dangled it where everyone could see:  Evolution Studios were going to provide their next AAA driver to PS+ subscribers free of cost… well, most of it.  ‘Rushy’, a developer with Evolution, had this to say on NeoGaf:

Rushy’s NeoGaf post

“You can earn the platinum trophy in the PS+ Edition, remember its the full game minus a few cars/tracks.”

Of course, the game was delayed, and it’s been a sore spot with the gaming community ever since.  Certain people went a little overboard with their ‘give me free stuff now’ attitude, but there’s no sense in blaming consumers for feeling duped.  I mean, Sony and Evolution worked together in SOME capacity to soften the blow of PS+ as a pay wall… and then the game wasn’t ready.  More than that, there were some pretty egregious PR blunders that followed.

One such example was the digital upgrade fiasco.  Via Twitter, Joshua Hood (@joshlhood) asked Shuhei Yoshida – President of Sony Computer Entertainment – “(would there) be a discounted package to upgrade to the full game?”  Yoshida confirmed this would be the case, and sure enough, news broke that a digital upgrade would cost $50 instead of the usual $60… but according to the official Playstation blog:

Playstation Blog:

“This will give you access to all five locations, 55 tracks, 50 cars and all 50 tour events, as long as your PlayStation Plus subscription remains active.”

That’s right.  If you were to opt for a slightly discounted version of Driveclub, it would only remain playable as long as your PS+ account was active.  Keep in mind that discounts via PS+ have NEVER worked this way.  Once you buy a game, you own it.  Period.  Fortunately, gamers told Sony and Evolution ‘no thanks’ and the issue was resolved.

But wait, there’s more:

2-panel-its-free-l “One of the recurring questions we keep seeing is about the scale of the Playstation Plus Edition.  The simple answer is that with an active Playstation Plus subscription, you can download Driveclub Playstation Plus Edition, which comes with one location (India), 11 tracks, 10 cars and access to all game modes.

11 tracks and 10 cars?  Does that even come close to Rushy’s promise of ‘the full game minus a few cars/tracks’?  44 tracks and 40 cars… that’s how much the PS+ edition is leaving off the table.  I know some of you are probably saying, “Look, regardless of how much content you’re getting, it’s free.  How can anyone complain about something they’re getting for ‘free’?”  Again – and I hate to sound like a broken record here – this goes back to the idea that ‘free Driveclub’ was used to soften the blow of Sony locking multiplayer behind subscriptions.  Regardless of intent, this whole thing turned out to be little more than a terrible case of bait-and-switch.  Let’s break it down:

Sony locks multiplayer behind a pay wall, but uses Driveclub as an added incentive for joining PS+.  Millions of people purchased the PS4 and a PS+ sub to go with it… and then Sony and Evolution said, “Sorry, did we say free game?  What we MEANT was you’d receive a glorified demo…”

But wait, there’s even more:

On October 7th, Driveclub finally saw its launch after a nearly year-long delay.  Unfortunately, the multiplayer component – the very crux of the game – just wasn’t working.  There were intermittent connection issues which only intensified as time went on.  As a result, the PS+ edition of Driveclub was canceled ‘indefinitely’.  A number of people tried to justify this as day 1 multiplayer woes – which shouldn’t be ‘a thing’, let alone an expectation – but something was clearly amiss when things didn’t get better on days 2, 3, 4, and so on.

Oh, and customers for a refund from Sony were flat-out denied.  “Hi, Sony.  I bought Driveclub the other day, but it’s defective and the devs have no clue how long it’s going to take before these issues are resolved.  I’d like a refund so I can purchase a different game that works.”  In what universe is it okay for Sony to say, “Nope, sorry.  No refunds.”?

On October 12th via Twitter, Rushy (@Rushy33) broke the silence to respond to some inquiries:

“We’ve got no limits to the amount of servers or the quality of hardware, it’s purely down to server code having bugs.”  In regards to some sort of compensation, his only response was, “We’re considering all of our options right now.”  It was later clarified that early adopters could receive (some) free DLC, but resolving their server bug(s) is, obviously, their current priority.

I think it’s safe to call this the worst next-gen game launch since Battlefield 4.  I also can’t help but wonder if people behind-the-scenes knew about these issues beforehand.  I mean, between the retail release and the free PS+ version, they should have anticipated MILLIONS of people raking their servers over the coals… and yet, they couldn’t even accommodate their paying customers?  As of this writing – October 15th – the game still isn’t 100%, and there’s no answer as to when the game will be fixed or when people can expect to play the (gimped) PS+ edition.

But in a way, I’m glad this happened.  Not because I hate Sony or anything nefarious like that.  I actually own both an Xbox One and PS4, and for obvious reasons, Sony’s black box is my primary gaming machine.  That said, I’ve been saying for MONTHS how Sony have done virtually nothing to keep getting, or even maintain the amount of good will they had before their console launched last November.  We’re still missing certain features that were promised at the time of its reveal, they haven’t done much in the way of optimizing their multiplayer service, and this ‘Driveflub’ is just another mark on a long list of promises that haven’t been met… and people are finally coming around.  THAT’S why I’m glad this happened.

And just to speculate a little, I wouldn’t put it past Sony to tell Evolution Studios, “Guys, you’re not going to delay this game again.  We’d, like, look totally bad if we did.  So, do whatever you have to.  What’s that?  The dynamic weather system won’t be done until November or December?  Well, take it out of the game for now, and when it’s ready, patch it in and call it ‘free DLC’.  People LOVE feeling like you’re giving them free stuff!”

Anyway, I was going to buy Driveclub, but this horrific launch chased me over to the other racing game which was released only a week prior:  Forza Horizon 2, and it’s fuuuuuun.  Not only is it fun, but it’s well polished and everything works the way it’s supposed to.  As far as blind buying Driveclub… well, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  First and foremost, its issues need to be addressed, and even then, I’m going to wait until I can try the ‘demo’ before making a decision.  I know there are a lot of people that don’t have an Xbox One, so picking up Forza Horizon 2 isn’t a viable solution for them.  That said, don’t send the message to Sony or Evolution that everything that transpired is okay.  At the very least, this game shouldn’t receive consumer support until it’s working the way the developers intended.

Sony and Evolution Studios, here’s what it all boils down to:  If you promise something to consumers, they’re going to remember.  Don’t pull a bait-and-switch even if it’s unintentional.  Last but certainly not least, games need to work.  If you had to delay the game another few weeks or so, yes, you’d catch a lot of crap… but so what?  The backlash over this ordeal is likely going to cost Evolution some fans, and, well, I think people are finally coming to realize that while Sony makes great hardware, they’re not the most reliable company around.