Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 31, 2014
 
Steam key resellers

If somebody offers you a designer watch or handbag for a very low price, sold out of the boot of his car, you would be suspicious. Either the item is fake, or it is stolen. So obviously I was wondering the same when I bought the Civilization 5 complete edition from a Steam key reseller for 15 Euro, instead of paying Steam 40 Euro for the same item. There are fake and stolen keys around.

While I don't know a way to actually buy a Steam key I could mail to somebody else directly from Steam (is that possible?), I have in the past received Steam keys that were quite definitely legit. For example if you fund a game on Kickstarter and the funded game ends up on Steam, you might get one or several Steam keys as backer rewards. If you buy a game in physical form, a box with a DVD in it, there might be a Steam key in there as well. So it is very possible for somebody to end up with a "spare" Steam key which is neither fake nor stolen.

So unlike that designer handbag or watch this isn't necessarily a black market. But I can't shake the feeling that at the very least it is a grey one. The key I bought "works", as in it allowed me to install and play Civilization 5 on my computer. But I am not 100% sure if somewhere in the process something legally dodgy was going on, and the cheap price is somehow the result of a copyright violation or something similar. You getting a Steam key legitimately and you being allowed to resell that Steam key are two very different things.

A bit of research on the internet finds opinions divided: Some people don't buy anything directly from Steam any more, and only buy resold keys. Others report on the possibility that Steam could either remove a game you bought via key from your library, or even ban your whole account. So right now I'm not sure if getting that game for less than half price was actually a good deal.

Thursday, October 30, 2014
 
Civilized pricing

I bought and played pretty much every version of Civilization there is, from the very first to Civ 5, including spin-offs like Colonization or Alpha Centauri, and even Civilization Revolution. So of course I was considering buying Civilization: Beyond Earth as well. But I haven't. After looking at both written and video reviews of Beyond Earth, I can't see a compelling reason to buy it. Most of the engine is still Civ 5, the Sci-Fi scenario seems to be less interesting than the historical one, and the new game appears to be suffering from feature overload and unnecessary complications.

Now in cases like this I tend to get price sensitive. There are games where I have doubts (e.g. Civilization: Beyond Earth or Shadow of Mordor) which make me unwilling to pay full price for the game, but I put them on my Steam wishlist anyway. If at the next holiday sale I can get the game for half price or less, I'll reconsider.

In this specific case I also had another idea: I only played Civilization 5 when it came out, and haven't touched it since. So I never bought the two expansions of the game. And I hear that Civ 5 with the expansion is much better than the new Beyond Earth, so that might well be worth trying. But as I was still in price sensitive mode, I was somewhat shocked to find out that each expansion on Steam costs 30 Euro. Hey, I'm not saving 50 Euro on buying Beyond Earth just to spend 60 Euro on two expansions for the older game. If I wanted *all* DLC for Civ 5, I would even have to pay 100 Euro! But only if I bought them individually. Curiously enough I can't buy a bundle of all DLCs for a better price. But I *can* buy Civilization 5 a second time in the "complete edition" and that will get me all DLCs. And that would only cost me 40 Euros.

I haven't made a final decision yet, but if I feel the urge to play a Civilization game, I would probably buy the complete edition. Somehow it annoys me that this means I will have to buy a second copy of the original game. I have a sneaking suspicion that Steam won't even show me owning the game twice, they would just quietly take my money and only put the new DLCs in my library, and not a second copy of Civ 5. After all, there is no way to use two digital copies of the same game on a Steam account. It would be a lot nicer if I had the option for example to gift the second copy to somebody.

[PS.: Following a reader's advice I bought the complete edition for 15 Euro from a key reseller site.]

Sunday, October 26, 2014
 
The next goal

I've been playing Destiny quite casually in the last few weeks. Log on, take a bounty to do some patrol missions, do the patrols, log off again. That was the kind of relaxed gameplay I liked, and I had a specific goal in mind: Reach Vanguard rank 2. I just reached that goal today, and now I can buy epic gear for Vanguard marks. It turned out that for most of my slots that meant replacing some Light +15 item by a Light +18 item, which isn't really worth it. But fortunately I still had some crappy Light +6 gloves, and upgrading those to +18 got me to ding level 24.

The problem with reaching a goal in any persistent online game is that then you have to look for your next goal. And right now in Destiny the goals that are left aren't a good fit to my play preferences. Basically I reached the point where soloing doesn't make sense any more. It isn't impossible, Destiny has a tiny, tiny chance of epic drops from any mob you kill, so theoretically if I soloed thousands of mobs I could still sometimes get an upgrade. But practically if I want to level beyond 24 I would need to play strikes, which are pickup group dungeons. Not the casual content I am looking for.

Of course I could just play an alt. But gameplay in Destiny is 90% independent of your class, so playing a different class (especially solo up to level 20) isn't really much different from the first play through. So somehow I have run out of goals that I'd like to achieve in Destiny, and I think that means game over for me.

There is nothing wrong with playing in groups. There are a lot of games where I enjoy cooperative multiplayer more than I enjoy solo play, especially if playing in a group has tactical options that don't exist in solo play. But I have to question the wisdom of game design where your level of advancement in the game determines whether you should play solo or play group. Wouldn't it be best if at any given level you could choose between solo and group play and still advance? Rate of advancement might need to be a bit faster in groups, to make up for the possibility of landing in a bad group and not advancing much at all. But I do think that is just a matter of balancing incentives. Why do we get so many games where soloing is far superior to grouping up to a certain point, and then the situation reverses? To me that looks like a recipe to get people to quit when their next goal doesn't align with their play style any more.

Saturday, October 25, 2014
 
Slopebrowed weaseldicks

I am not a native English speaker. And apart from the time spent on the internet or watching TV in English, I don't live in an English-speaking environment. Thus my vocabulary might not always be very current, especially regarding colloquial language. So I was quite happy to much expand my vocabulary by reading this very well written post by Chris Kluwe. I didn't even know words like "slopebrowed weaseldicks" existed. Recommended!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
 
Death threats are not a good idea

This week the gaming news are full of yet another death threat story. Only this time it was a man who received the threat, Gabe Newell. And the threat wasn't made anonymously, but by a game developer unhappy with a technical flaw on the Steam page of his recently released game. Now Gabe could have called the police, as death threats are illegal in many jurisdictions, being a form of coercion. Instead he pulled out the ban hammer and kicked the game in question from Steam. The dev quit and I'd guess his career is finished. But apart from being a funny story about human stupidity, I think this is an opportunity to discuss the frequent use of death threats in gaming, especially on Twitter.

Death threats are illegal, especially so if what is threatened is a mass killing, like a plane bombing or a school massacre. So why did gamers divert John Smedley's plane with a bomb threat, and prevent Anita Sarkeesian to speak at a school by threatening a massacre? Don't they know that is both illegal and unethical? The answer is probably that they think their grievances justify unethical behavior and they don't think anything can happen to them because they made those threats anonymously.

Many people think they have a constitutional right to anonymous free speech. Guess what? Death threats aren't covered by that! If the so-called speech is criminal in itself, the first amendment doesn't protect it. No judge would consider a threat to bomb a plane or to massacre poeople to be "free speech". Which means that the only protection somebody who makes such a threat online has is technical in nature. The person making the threat counts on law enforcement not being technically able to find out who is behind that Twitter sock puppet account.

There are only two possibilities in this case: Either they are right, or they are wrong. If they are wrong, and law enforcement can trace such death threats back, some people will get a nasty surprise when the police rings at their door. What worries me is what happens if they are right. As I said, anonymous death threats are not a right anybody has. So if too many of those happen on Twitter and law enforcement gets frustrated, everybody's right to anonymity on Twitter might get threatened. Under pressure from law enforcement, Twitter might well be forced to change the rules, either openly demanding verified accounts or secretly adding better IP tracing. And if that happens we will have the idiots who made death threats about gaming issues to thank for.

Saturday, October 18, 2014
 
Does McDonald's make the best hamburgers?

Azuriel argues that things contain a mythical factor called "quality", that reviews should somehow reflect that mythical quality, and that consumers are all idiots because they rarely choose the best thing available. I believe that consumers are quite rational, and that they make choices on a highly complicated multi-factor analysis. Thus McDonald's isn't more popular than other burger joints because they make better hamburgers. It is that in the needs of the consumer the quality of the hamburger plays just a small role. As long as the hamburger is sufficiently good, and not more unhealthy than other burgers, consumers don't put quality of the hamburger on top of their list of criteria. I personally like Burger King more than McDonald's. But as there are no Burger Kings in Belgium, guess where I end up going! I'm not driving to a neighboring country just because the burgers are better! McDonald's is the most popular because they got the MIX of factors that consumers care about right, with location, price, parking, cleanliness, children playing areas, and so on. For many goods consumers care a lot more about price than about quality.

If we want to rank burger chains, we need to look what people care about when choosing a burger chain. If we want to rank books, we need to look what people care about when choosing a book. If we want to rank video games, we need to look what people care about when choosing a book. It is as simple as that. If, as Azuriel pointed out, more people like 50 Shades of Grey than Nineteen Eighty-Four, that doesn't mean that people buying books are stupid and unable to recognize the more culturally relevant book. It means that cultural relevance isn't very high up on their list of criteria of choice. If you buy a book for entertainment, for reading on the beach, the Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey *are* better than Nineteen Eighty-Four or Ulysses.

In the case of books ranking books by cultural relevance and education value still makes some sort of sense. I was born before computer games even existed, and my childhood was filled with books. A whole lot of my education comes from books. If you put all books on the same list just by sales numbers, you get a mix of books that sell because they are entertaining and books that sell because they have cultural value. So looking at those two factors separately would be a good idea.

I doubt the same is true for video games. Yes, there are cultural / artsy video "games". But they aren't a huge cultural influence. Very, very few people choose their games based on cultural qualities. Video games are nearly exclusively chosen for their entertainment qualities. Games like Mountain or Dear Esther are more curiosities which sell because they are so very different from the usual fare (and cheap). I doubt you can get to the same degree of education by playing video games than you can get by reading books. The overwhelming reason why people buy video games is for fun, for entertainment. And that is why I think video game reviews should look mostly at that entertainment value factor. The "best" game is the most entertaining, most fun game. And what I want from reading a review is that it tells me how likely it is that I will have fun when playing the game, and not regret the purchase.

Friday, October 17, 2014
 
Still undecided about ArcheAge

I am generally interested in MMORPGs which have a strong virtual world element, where I can have my own property with actual activities, and where there is a player-run economy with crafting. Given that ArcheAge has all this, that people repeatedly tell me that at least at the start I could be safe from ganking, and that it is possible to try the game for free, I should be all over this. But then the kind of people who tell me that PvP isn't so bad in ArcheAge are the same kind of people who think that Darkfail is a game perfectly suitable for carebears like me. And in my newsreader I constantly see posts of people quitting ArcheAge.

Apparently ArcheAge has a huge hacking problem, which ruins the player economy. Hackers control the available land through cheats, and drive up the prices of everything by flooding the economy with illegally obtained gold. And while people can't gank you if you stay in safe places, they can very well grief you with other methods, like pushing a cart onto your farm and thereby preventing you from planting. If there is really no way to burn down somebody else's cart on your land, what do you do? I also hear a lot about the toxic community. Some people say it is because it is a PvP sandbox game, others say that it is because it is a Free2Play game. I really don't care. I simply don't want to play with assholes all day, regardless of their motivation.

So with all this negativity about ArcheAge, I haven't had the motivation yet to download the game and try it out. Hell is other people, and I don't have much of a desire to enter that particular sort of hell just to test out whether I like some game mechanics.

Thursday, October 16, 2014
 
Cured?

Sometimes MMORPGs in general, or specific popular MMORPGs like World of Warcraft are described as being "addictive". So I was wondering whether I have been miraculously cured: I'm reading about the big changes to WoW with patch 6.0 this week in preparation for the next expansion, and I feel no desire whatsoever to resubscribe or buy that expansion.

If the miracle cure explanation isn't the good one, then the alternative explanation I have is that I expect WoW 6.0+ to be not fundamentally different from all the previous versions of World of Warcraft. Sure, there will be some new content. But most of that new content is based on already very familiar modes of gameplay: New quests in new zones, new dungeons, and so on. Some minor additions like housing don't turn this into a radically new game. A WoW expansion is always mostly "more of the same", with some tweaks.

Of course that depends on how far you zoom out your view, or how closely you look. You could say that there are a lot of "WoW-like" games out there which have the same leveling by questing, with some dungeons mixed in sort of gameplay. If one finds other games not worth playing because they are too similar to WoW, then surely a WoW expansion, which is even more like WoW, isn't worth playing either. Unless of course one thinks one has to play one of the bunch, in which case WoW isn't the worst possible choice. Nevertheless some people might prefer for example Guild Wars 2, either for gameplay reasons, or simply because they don't have to buy a new expansion and pay $15 per month to play that.

What about you? Does patch 6.0 and the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion tempt you to resubscribe to World of Warcraft? Or maybe you never left? Or have you been "cured"?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
 
Just a link

As I have nothing to add which isn't already said in Belghast's excellent post about the experience of a PvE player in a PvP game like ArchAge, I'm just posting a link to that article.

 
On the relevancy of video game reviews

The news this week was that Destiny has 3.2 million players on average every day on the servers, a month after release. That information clashes somewhat with Destiny's bad Metacritic score of 76, which doesn't suggest that the game would still be fun to play after a month. Which leads to the interesting question in how far a review score answers the question "Is this a fun game to play?".

The trope for movie reviews is that nobody wants to see the critically acclaimed movies, while the box office hits get bad reviews. That isn't 100% true, but Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the highest grossing films of this year, shares Destiny's middling Metacritic score of 76, although it scores much better on Rotten Tomatoes. So there is some truth in saying that at least some movie critics review films to answer the question whether watching that movie would make you a better person, instead of asking whether watching that movie would be a fun night out.

Metacritic scores for video games *used to be* more relevant for seeing whether a game would be fun to play, and thus worth buying. Game developers often have contracts that include bonuses based on Metacritic scores, because game companies think that those scores result in sales. I wonder what the bonus for the marketing people is based on. I could very well imagine a situation where Bungie / Activision Blizzard is paying a bonus to the marketing people of Destiny based on the great sales, but not to the game developers, based on the mediocre Metacritic score. And that wouldn't be just.

I do not believe that those scores are much influenced by either marketing money nor by social justice concerns of left-wing video game journalists. Grand Theft Auto 5 has a Metacritic score of 97, while The Sims 4 has one of 70, so violence and sexism obviously isn't a criterion for the score. But with The Sims 4 topping some PC game sales charts, and Destiny obviously being very popular as well, there is an obvious disagreement between reviewers and actual players about whether these games are good or not. The reviewers might claim that the players have been duped by extensive marketing into buying those games, but then why are millions of people still playing Destiny every day? As famous video game critic Abraham Lincoln remarked, you cannot fool all the people all the time.

My personal theory is that video game reviews get increasingly irrelevant because the video game critics have been playing games for too long. They don't answer the question "is this game fun to play?" any more, but are doing a far too complicated comparison of the new game with all the best features of all the games that came before. That is a comparison that no game can withstand, and one that isn't actually all that relevant. Even *if* you played The Sims 3 and find that The Sims 4 has less features, you might still want to buy and play The Sims 4, because you are sick and tired of The Sims 3 which you have been playing for the last 5 years. And even if the MMO elements of Destiny don't compare well with the best MMO games out there, you probably won't mind if you mostly played shooters before and those MMO elements are new and exciting to you. Not to mention that part of the audience for video games is much younger than the reviewers, and simply hasn't played all those previous games for that reason.

To me there is something inherently wrong in a headline like Destiny Is A Bad Game, But I Can't Stop Playing It. It is indicative of the reviewer's gut feeling being disconnected from his brain. And the review readers are probably more interested in the gut feeling than in the brainy intellectual analysis. They just want to know whether if they spend $60 on a game, they will have fun for many hours, or whether they will quickly regret that purchase. When reviews don't answer that question any more, they become irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
 
The Favorites of Selune - Skin Deep - Session 4

In the previous session the Favorites of Selune killed a dragon in return for the druid Bredel advising them on how to reverse their transformation into svirfneblin. So this session started with them being led by Bredel to the entrance of the Underdark which had recently opened in the area. The entrance was one day's march south of Bredel's home. So to find the underground source of the spring they knew they had to walk the same distance back north in the Underdark, probably taking longer due to winding tunnels. They also knew that the Underdark had an upper region (the shallows) and a lower region (the deeps), and that a source reaching the surface was more likely to be found in the shallows. Thus they could navigate generally northwards, generally upwards at any tunnel branch.

While as svirfneblin everybody had darkvision, that vision requires at least some dim light to work. But they had their adventuring gear, including a lantern with several flasks of oil, and an eternal torch. They also had iron rations, and they were able to find some edible mushrooms. Still it was a long trek through winding, dark tunnels. And while previously they had benefited from the druids create campsite ritual, that didn't work underground and they had a less comfortable night after their first day in the Underdark.

On their second day the Favorites of Selune entered a cave and came close to a giant mushroom, which poisoned the rogue (who was ahead of the group). And then troglodytes who were hidden behind the stalagmites and rocks attacked with javelins. That combat was quite interesting, because the mushroom poisoned a 7x7 square area in the middle of the cave every round, which the combatants tried to avoid. The group druid used that cleverly with a spell that pulled enemies towards him, so that they ended up in the poison zone. The warrior, presumably tired from slaying dragons, exchanged ineffective blows with one troglodyte savage.

I especially liked the design of the troglodyte deepscourge (ranged caster type), who had a ray attack which did very little damage, but weakened enemies if they already were in the troglodyte savages stinking aura. And he had a recharging area attack which also weakened "non-reptile creatures", so he could fire it into melee and not affect his allies. As I had used the wrong stats for the dragon, the troglodytes also hit a lot harder than the dragon, and the fight was more interesting. The cleric cast a lot of daily spells and kept everybody alive, plus he set the mushroom on fire with a column of fire spell. As the mushroom wasn't a creature, I didn't give it a saving throw to extinguish the fire, and so it slowly burned down. And the group killed the troglodytes one after another.

Resting after the fight, the Favorites of Selune are found by a patrol of *real* svirfneblin. They wore tabards with strange symbols, which a nature / arcane check revealed to be crystallographic structures: A Fluorite was leading half a dozen Gypsum. With three chemists in the room the players quickly figured out that the svirfneblin had military ranks named after Mohs scale of mineral hardness, so this was a sort of sergeant leading a group of privates first class. The svirfneblin spoke common, but always referred to svirfneblin in the first person plural. So the sergeant asked them "What are we doing here? Why aren’t we wearing our tabards?". But the sorceress quickly came up with an idea and said that they had been on a secret mission for the Diamond to the surface, "in disguise", with a rather high roll on his bluff check. So the sergeant believed them and led them to the cave where the svirfneblin lived.

The cave, or rather network of caves, was lighted by luminescent mushrooms. They were handed from one rank to the next, until they stood before the king of the svirfneblin, Diamond Quirrit. The king was wise enough to see that not only he hadn't sent any secret missions out, but also that while the adventurers looked like svirfneblin, they didn't behave right. Nevertheless he was quite friendly, and when the adventurers revealed that they had been transformed into svirfneblin and were looking for the source of a magical spring to turn them back, he offered his help. He drew them a map to the spring, but warned them that recently a strange beholder, all deformed, had moved into the cave with the spring and subjugated the local troglodytes. The players immediately realized that this was the beholder they had let go from Gardmore Abbey.

With the troglodyte fight and the svirfneblin roleplaying encounter the players had gained enough xp to reach level 10. So we stopped at this point and leveled up.

 
What do you think of hybrid business models?

Carbine announced that they are "rethinking" the business model of Wildstar. Most people interpret that as switching to some sort of Free2Play model. Theoretically a MMORPG could switch to a "buy-once-play-forever" business model like Guild Wars 2; but such a "conversion" basically would just mean dropping the monthly fee. That would sure be popular, but it is hard to imagine that the added income from people who only waited for the subscription to disappear before buying the game would make up for the loss of revenue. So some sort of Free2Play is more likely.

Now several games which have made such a switch went for a hybrid model: The game goes free, but free players suffer from certain restrictions, for example on inventory space or number of characters. There is still an optional subscription, and if you buy that, the restrictions don't apply to you. Such a subscription might also include a certain amount of a special currency usable to buy items in the real money item shop.

I was wondering what people are thinking about this hybrid model. Is it the best of two worlds, giving the players who prefer a subscription game all the options of a subscription model, while giving the players who prefer Free2Play all the options of a Free2Play model? Or is it a bad compromise that makes nobody really happy?

‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool