GDC: Building a Better Mousetrap

The news coming out of GDC is weird.

the-game

The future is now! OOOooOooOoo

Nvidia announced a ‘smart tv’ -esque box that is pretty much an Amazon Fire TV, or a Roku, or a weaker version of every console and tv product their hardware supports. You can use Netflix and play Android games, or some other games at just over Xbox 360 specs. Yay? Thanks for joining the party? I don’t get it.

Sony, AMD, and whoever else announced more VR gimmicks. I didn’t want to wear the 3D glasses while watching TV. I certainly don’t want to wear the headgear or gadgets they’ve concocted. It’s the next Kinect, and I will happily pass on yet more hardware that will never be adopted by the software companies.

Steam announced a couple of things. First, Steam Link. It’s a $50 box that lets you stream your PC content to your TV. You know, like an HDMI cable…  Then there’s Source 2 which could be neat, but I’m pretty sure somehow it’ll be used to hype their Steam “Home entertainment” push and troll people into thinking Half-Life 3.

Next up is ex-SWTOR Lead Designer Damion Schubert preaching about F2P being the future. Because his work on SWTOR was so good he’s now taken to motivational speaking and being the white knight defender of people who spend lots in cash shops. Apparently calling them whales is offensive, as Damion says, “These people are very important, and we can start by treating them with some fucking respect.” Call them what you want, they are still the textbook definition of a whale. Call them royalty for all I care. They still spend extravagantly and are textbook ‘whales.’ Calling them a ‘Patron’ like Schubert wants is misleading. All of us who spend money on games, in any model, are patrons. Let’s call a spade a spade and a whale a whale. The entire talk was full of logical leaps, make believe what-ifs (like saying if BF5 went F2P and succeeded that CoD would have to follow…) and manipulation.

If you found something decent from GDC please share.

It’s Not A Pipe Dream

The gaming industry is so bizarre. I’m looking at news articles this morning and chuckling to myself at everything I see. Peter Molyneux has lied about Godus (to the utter shock of no one) and already moved on to his next game about social media and emotions. Valve apparently forgot that in a voting system people tend to do whatever it takes to get those votes. All around us are Kickstarters, early-access titles, and paid alpha/beta tests.

We’re inundated with false promises, half-baked ideas, and incomplete projects. Every day a new ploy to manipulate how people pay for games is being concocted. What happened to saying you’re going to make a game, making it, then selling it? The industry went from selling complete games to giving them away for free, and now they sell ideas for games that might be in the future. Seriously, what the flippin flyin friar tuck is going on?

I’ve said it a dozen times, but I’ll say it again: I’m willing to pay money for video games. I like my video games to be what was promised, finished, and playable. Why is this exchange of value — such an elementary and fundamental concept — so lost to us?

I can afford to pay more than 99 cents for a game. I’m willing to pay $59.99 + tax.  I don’t want to buy experience boosts or items in a cash shop. I’m willing to spend time killing monsters, exploring the world, and actually playing the game. I don’t need extravagant never-been-done-before ideas to get excited about a MMO. I’ll happily take what was done 15 years ago in a simple game like Ultima Online, or EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, or Star Wars Galaxies. I’m even willing to pay $15/month for continued support and development of the game. I’ll even buy bigger expansions and pay full-retail.

Again, I know I’ve said all of that before. Yet every day we slide a little more. Every month there’s a new early-access or F2P debacle. I’m trying hard to vote with my wallet here. I can’t think of a single time I spent money in a F2P cash shop. I’ve resisted buying early-access games I really want because I don’t want to support that model. I just hope we can somehow see a return to the days when people want good games and developers make good games and both sides are happy. Pipe dream? I really, really don’t think it is.

SOE Acquired… huh

I wasn’t expecting this when I started my morning browsing of Twitter and Reddit.

My immediate reaction: Spine-chilling fear for the future of the EverQuest franchise.

My second reaction: WTF?

My next reaction: Wait, is this for real? Why? huh?

Being acquired by “Columbus Nova, an investment management firm” means you are a line item on a balance sheet of a company run by people in suits with big offices who want to see their lines on the balance sheet with big black numbers next to them. The care for good games goes away and the care for becoming cash-grabby takes over.

The more I think about it, this is starting to make some sense. SOE was behaving a little odd lately with the F2P model conversion, and the whole early access hype building… yep. This wasn’t a weekend deal. This was coming for a long time.

SOE made and continues to make some of my favorite games. I do not want to see EverQuest turned into a cash grab. I do not want to see SOE, a company with dozens of talented people I really respect, turn into a gPotato or Zynga style studio. I want SOE to make AAA games like they have in the past.  I don’t see that as an option now unless this random investment firm is owned by gamers who want SOE to make amazing games.

For now, we’ll watch this acquisition as we have watched them all in the past. Everyone builds excitement, talks about the future, etc. Slowly but surely the implications are revealed, and eventually there’s a thread on Reddit where some anonymous senior level employee tells all. Hopefully that’s not SOE’s (I mean Daybreak Games?) future.

For now, I’m just going to sit here scratching my head. That’s all I can do.

Holographic Games… If only.

Because the Kinect worked so well…

The excitable side of me wants to think that I can knock down a wall in my house and step into a fantasy world of virtual reality. I want to holodeck from Star Trek.

The realist in me knows that I’ll be saying “XBOX. PLAY!” over and over trying different emphasis on different syllables until the thing finally decides to resume my Netflix show or wonkily holding up my hand until it finally recognizes me.

 

Streamer Hype

You guys know I’m not a fan of streamers or how they have encouraged horrible marketing trends. Hopping on the streamer hype train and riding it hard is a very clear tell that your marketing team lacks creativity and a deeper understanding of how to build a lasting and dedicated following for your game.

Streamer hype is out of control. Companies fly dozens of them out to their headquarters, load them up on sugar, swag, and free access to the game then set them free. I have my own personal belief that more than a few of their palms are being greased despite Twitch’s supposed rules against it. From what I have heard (and can not find written verification), Streamers are not allowed to take money to speak highly of a game.

The streamer hype credo: Play it if it’s new. Play it if it gets viewers. Act like a buffoon. 

(Okay I added that last part.)

Very few of the streamers who make $10k+ a month are doing so for the love of the games they play. They are doing it because it’s now a job — an awesome job that makes them ridiculous amounts of sponsorship cash. When something risks the cash (like viewer boredom), they jump ship and hop onto the next new/popular game. I don’t fault them for making money, nor do I fault them for playing what they want when they want. Those are their rights and I respect that. I think it’s crap for game companies to abuse it, especially when it’s detrimental to the games.

Most of these streamers have fan clubs that follow them and lick their heels like lovestruck pups. When the streamers jump ship a couple weeks after launch, so do a huge number of players. When the streamers stop broadcasting, suddenly the marketing for that game dries up. Suddenly you start seeing a lot of banner ads and other knee-jerk reactionary marketing tactics to increase visibility. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a true following of players rather than illegitimately inflated numbers?

Streamers getting games for free and playing them to hype everyone up are killing the industry one game at a time. This type of flash-in-the-pan crap is being used to augment early access antics. Toss a dozen streamers free copies of your early access, give them private servers, and ‘encourage’ them to speak highly of your game when launch is less than ideal. I shouldn’t have to say more.

All of that said, let me get one thing straight: I enjoy watching streams. I watch some of the big names like Cohh and Lirik. I find them entertaining at times (albeit sometimes I have to stop watching because they go too far and start acting up for attention). I especially like Lirik who will openly act like a complete dick and decline being a puppet just to be different. It’s his shtick. But he’s definitely a sponsor-whore like the rest. Smaller streams are where you’ll find more of the real fans of the game and less of the hypers. Not always, but it’s reliable.

You and I might be intelligent. We can watch someone playing a game and hyping it all in that moment as super fun and think, “yeah but I wonder what it’s REALLY like…” But Some people watching streams get sucked into the hype and think the game is awesome because their favorite streamer is playing. Their favorite streamer is showing a version of the game that will not resemble their own experience. It’s an illusion.

Using streamers to market your game is asking to be a flavor of the month. If your goal is to grab a bunch of cash in the first 14 days then go for it. If your goal is to attract ‘real’ players who stick around, and you have long-term goals for your game then I recommend you look elsewhere.