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Goals for 2015

Every year I come up with predictions and try to set lofty goals for the coming year. This year I’m doing something a little bit different. There won’t be realistic or even tongue-in-cheek predictions. There won’t be unrealistic expectations placed upon my goals, or even a long list of goals to look back on. I’m going to keep it simple.

Goals for the Blog

Even when the coming industry lets me down and there isn’t a game in sight, KeenAndGraev.com provides me a place to discuss games and feel like I am still attached to gaming. We have great discussions, debates, and even the occasional productive argument. We’re not a news site. We don’t keep you up to date on the latest layoffs or trailer releases. We write stream-of-thought reviews, theorycraft, muse on gaming ideals, reminisce about the past, and create a place where actual thoughts from actual gamers collect.

I let myself down in 2014. I didn’t give the blog the attention I wanted. Here are my goals for 2015 to fix that.

  • Write More – Being busy is one thing. I won’t always have time to write. But when I don’t write simply because I have nothing to say or I’m not playing a game… I feel like I can do better in that area. I have plenty to say.
  • Write About What I do In-game – I used to be great at this style of blogging back when I was really invested in particular MMOs. I’d write adventure logs about what I did that day in the game, and I think this provides great insights into how games can be enjoyed by someone who is actually playing them. Bhagpuss and Wilhelm, fellow bloggers, do a great job at this.
  • Increase our Coverage – I know that Graev and I have already created one of the most comprehensive blogs of our kind out there. Few, if any, other blogs rival our comprehensive coverage on all types of games. I want to do even better. I value the opinions of others before I purchase a product. That’s why I love Amazon. I have a site here that is capable of being a unique resource for gamers who can use our opinions as a metric to determine if they’d like a game. This also ties in to my second goal. We should be reviewing everything we play instead of not even half.

Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog will be tackling 2015 head on and remain one of the best gaming blogs on the internet. Why? First, you’re reading; seriously, that’s huge.  Second, we love what we do. We love games. We’ll grow in 2015. We’ll reach new and wider audiences. I have big plans for how we’ll represent when Camelot Unchained launch. I have a lot of work to do.

Goals for Gaming

I’d like to say that I have a goal to find that MMO I’ll stick with all year. I promised myself I wouldn’t set unrealistic goals, and besides this isn’t one of those silly prediction posts… an MMO to stick with for a year? in 2015? Ahahaha.

  • Continue to Diversify – This was a goal I had for 2014, and I sorta sucked at it. I want to continue to reach out and touch all corners of gaming: Console(s), PC, Mobile, and everything from big name to indie. I’ve started 2015 off right by enhancing my mobile portfiolio. There are several games on phones worth playing. I’ll let you know which are worth checking out.
  • Post More On Game Forums – Around 2004 to 2008 I did nothing but post on gaming forums. I was a moderator on IGN’s Vault Network boards. I actively posted on half a dozen MMO forums. Forums are a HUGE part of MMO communities, and I want to rekindle my involvement. I plan to post a lot more on Camelot Unchained’s forums and make myself known. Soon I will also be posting more on EQ Next’s forums. This will make my attachment to the games stronger.
  • Finish What I Start – Whew. This is a tough one. I start lots of games and many (sigh… perhaps most) I never finish. I think I started Dragon Age Origins 5 times and went 15 hours into each play-through and never beat it. I haven’t finished a Pokemon game in years despite investing dozens of hours into them. If I start a game in 2015 I plan to finish it.

We potentially have a good year ahead of us. Lots of big titles for consoles and PC are coming. MMOs might suck, but we can weather that storm together. We might even enact some change!

Feel free to share your thoughts on my goals or even discuss some of your own.

Looking Back on 2014

This year was bizarre. Seriously the strangest year I’ve had in gaming in as long as I can ever remember touching a keyboard or controller. There were highs and lows like every year, but this year brought about personal paradigm shifts and even some which may apply to the entire industry.

MMOs

2014 goes down as the worst year in MMO history. Didn’t we say that last year? Let’s evaluate.

  • Elder Scrolls Online: Failed
  • WildStar: Failed
  • ArcheAge: Failed

Each failed for very different reasons, and each were completely avoidable by anyone who really understands what gamers want in a MMORPG. For the past eight years I have penned my ideas about making MMOs great right here on this blog. These have become my personal annals of MMO virtue. I look back at what we (you the readers included) have come up with and I cringe at what those who do this for a living create. Why are these two thing not aligned, and how can we change that? (I’m open to starting something, email inquiries welcome!)

The paradigm shift I alluded to earlier is that I am no longer stuck in the mindset that I have to play every MMO. I played TESO for a few weeks, Wildstar for a few days, and I never even picked up ArcheAge. I haven’t played a MMO for the past six months. That would have been completely inconceivable to me last year. I no longer feel compelled to settle for or try mediocrity. My standards are set for what I will put up with, and if something isn’t truly appealing to me then I’m fine sitting back and waiting.

Interestingly enough, I think I’m not alone in that. I’ve always felt I have a feel sense for the pulse of the industry. I feel many others are in the same mindset as I am, and that a huge chunk of the potential pool of MMO players is simply sitting here idle without a game to play. The real question now is how do you capitalize on that without waiting until 2017?

MMOs on the Horizon

The horizon looks bright. Very, very bright. But it’s still so far off.

  • Camelot Unchained – At least a year? Something beyond a tech demo should be playable in 2015. They’ve made progress, and our friend Mark Jacobs has been incredibly forthcoming and open with the community about where they are taking the game. They’ve said all of the right things. They just have to execute a high-quality product.
  • EverQuest Next – We won’t see it until 2016 at the earliest. For now it remains nothing more than a tease, but it’s EverQuest and I will drool over it incessantly until it’s here.
  • The Repopulation – Looks to be very much a SWG-type. I have modest hopes for it to rekindle some of the love I’ve had for sandbox games.
  • H1Z1 – Not a MMO, but they like to call it one. Perhaps it may mutate into some type of MMO hybrid. Nevertheless, I am interested. We should hopefully see this sometime early 2015.

Pre-Early-Alpha-Restricted-Unfinished-Half-Assed-Access

Oh the joys of whatever you want to call this crap. This has actually gone from being a neat way to build hype and mutated into a business model. I know exactly how it happened. I’m part of the problem. We the ever-impatient gamers buy ourselves into the ability to play sooner, and it all snowballed from there.

I’m torn on whether or not early access is inherently evil or simply executed poorly. Could the idea still work if handled ethically and with the player’s best interests at heart? I think so. Sorta. Maybe we’ll revisit this one in 2015 when the half-dozen already announced games with early access open their doors. For now, this model blew up in the face of 2014 gamers.

Console Games

The year for console gaming seemed fairly good. We had games like Dark Souls 2, Dragon Age Inquisition, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, and several more. I even received my very own Wii U for Christmas (thanks Santa!) and will soon get a PS4 as well. I’m excited at the prospects of playing console games with Graev!

Indie Games

Remember when Indie games were like the under dogs and had unquestionable support from everyone? I think that’s starting to fade. Indie games are now more prevalent, and in my eyes no longer get a free pass. You can’t make crappy games and get away with it. You can’t screw people (early access) then walk away from a project. Indie game dev or big publisher dev, you’re both accountable to the players.

Lots of good indie titles came out in 2014. Everything from Divinity: Original Sin to Shovel Knight. Kickstarter has given rise to many opportunities. Great ones like The Repopulation and Camelot Unchained. Horrible ones like Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, and a few with the jury still out like Shroud of the Avatar. We shall see what 2015 brings the indie devs.

Other Games and Entertainment

Mobile Games

My faith in mobile gaming has increased this year. I’ve seen some amazing things on the iPhone and Tablet. Games like Hearthstone are coming to the iPhone in early 2015, and are already available on iPad and Android tablets. Other games like Seabeard have shown me that an experience matching or exceeding that of the 3DS is possible, but remains unexecuted. This year was a huge leap forward in progress for these devices — at least for my own personal take on them. I’m eager to see what 2015 brings.

Board Games

My love of board games and card games has increased this past year. I picked up several for Christmas including Ticket to Ride Europe, Dominion, Shadows over Camelot, Munchkin, and Small World. We’ve played through many of them already, and have enjoyed them all.

Personal Life

One of the best ways to pass the time during a gaming slump is to get engaged and plan a wedding. I got engaged in September, and I’ll be married in March of next year. I couldn’t be happier to find something that matters more to me than video games. She’s way more dynamic, much more sandbox, and has the best daily quests. Alright, I admit that was a wee bit cheesy. In a strange way she’s taught me to value gaming more. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I know that when I play games I have more fun. It’s kinda cool.

Coming Up

I have a few more posts planned for the end of 2015. I’ll look back at my favorite game(s) (this is going to be hard), announce my goals for the new year, and talk about a few upcoming games I’m excited to play.

Seabeard App

seabeard-app

Take elements of Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and everything annoying about In-App Purchases (IAP) and you have a “free” game called Seabeard. Seabeard is all about restoring your island to its former glory. You do so by clearing out overgrowth, restoring ruins, building new houses, and bringing commerce back to your empty corner of the map.

Gameplay is simple: You tap the screen to move and interact. You can decorate buildings, obtain pets, harvest farmable items, explore dungeons, craft recipes, do quests, go fishing, play mini-games, and the typical stuff you’d expect from a game of this type. Watch the video below from the creators of the game for a visual presentation of what you’ll find.

I really enjoy Seabeard’s use of islands. Your have your own island home that you are trying to build up, but you can travel via ship to other islands. Traveling between islands provides an opportunity to play sea-based mini-games where you can earn prizes ranging from gold to rare crafting materials. If you choose not to play a mini-game, you are lifted up by a zeppelin and carried to the next island.

seabeard-islandsOne of my favorite features is the ability to set up vendor stalls on your island to sell your goods to the game itself or to other players. I don’t mind the concept of having to put items up for sale and waiting 5 minutes to an hour for them to sell. I also don’t mind having to earn additional slots. I think this system works well for Seabeard, and it’s something I can see working well in other games. Selling your items to other players is also a novel feature for devices like this, and allows people like me to get my friends and family playing so that we can help each other build up faster.

Seabeard is one of the best graphical presentations I’ve seen on the iOS. The stylized visuals are captivating, the game runs flawlessly on my iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m once again challenging my previously held belief that phone games have no chance of providing a full-featured gaming experience. Seabeard is capable of providing the exact same experience found in games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. The key word here is capable.

 

In-App PurchasesWhere Seabeard falls short is in its use of IAPs. The game starts out decently accommodating. Wait 10 minutes here, 5 hours there, spend a few hours earning coins to afford the next building, etc. Then suddenly you hit this wall where it’ll take several hours of doing the same repetitive tasks before earning enough gold to move on. Conveniently you can purchase Pearls or Gold from their cash shop, but the rates are so ludicrous that you’d quickly spend hundreds of dollars before even putting in a decent amount of time into the game. IAPs take what could be one of the best games ever made for phones and warp it into a cash grabbing annoyance. My heart was crushed when this realization came crashing down on me right in the middle of enjoying the game.

If Seabeard was available for $20 I would be telling everyone I know to get out there and buy the game. Totally worth that price. But now I’m stuck in this weird position of telling people they may as well avoid playing it because they’ll only be disappointed after about 3-4 hours of play.

Despite its enormous and unavoidable flaw, I really do hope people try this out and realize the potential for creating a fully-realized game of this calibre on mobile devices. I like having this type of game with me on my phone — a device I carry with me everywhere — and I like knowing I can pick up and play for 30 seconds or 10 minutes then slide it back into my pocket.

Merry Christmas to Our Friends

Nintendo Christmas Tree

We hope that all of our readers — our friends — have a wonderful and merry Christmas. All of you are very important to us. You read what we have to say, you leave valued commentary, and you make this an engaging and interactive place to discuss games and entertainment. Be safe, enjoy your families, and game on.

And please enjoy our Nintendo Tree we do every year!

Donkey Kong Ornament Mario Kart Ornament Koopa Paratroopa Ornament Link Ornament Yoshi Ornament Baby Bowser Ornament Bowser Ornament Luigi Ornament Bob-omb Ornament Red Bob-omb Ornament

In-App Purchases

In-App Purchases

I’m playing a lot of mobile games these days now that I have an iPhone 6 Plus. Playing on the iPhone 6 Plus screen is way more fun than the iPhone 4. I can actually see stuff and my fingers aren’t blocking 40% of the screen. I’m not really a “mobile gamer” though, so I’m not inclined to spend more than $0.99 on an app, and even then I won’t buy ones that aren’t on a huge sale and critically acclaimed – Terraria for $0.99 today, for example.

The apps I tend to play are “freemium” which means they have In-App purchases (IAP). The IAP are generally the same type of thing you’d expect from a F2P game like League of Legends, or something a little more insidious like the type of model found in a F2P MMO. The worst of the lot are the IAPs tied to the “waiting game.” Freemium apps are notorious for being timer games where the main gameplay element is actually just waiting for time to pass. Token, Pearls, Doodads, or whatever the in-game currency for that particular app can be earned in-game at a tauntingly slow pace (only there to make put you in pain) or bought from the store. Spend the premium currency and the timers speed up.

Mobile games, the games meant to be ‘on the go and quick’ end up being slow and tedious upkeep games. It’s this weird juxtaposition of time and convenience, and that’s what makes mobile gamers the perfect prey for this type of business model. In order to keep a game that should be quick and convenient actually quick and convenient, money has to be spent.

IAPs have become a license to make bad design decisions or in many games entirely bad games. Games that would be AMAZING — even better than so many PC/Console games — are destroyed by IAPs having to dictate design direction. It’s sad because had the game simply been sold for $5 or $10 or heck even $20 I would have happily bought the game rather than feel like I have to be nickeled and dimed (many times to extreme sums of $$$) just to find the level of enjoyment I could have by paying the initial cost.

I truly believe we are entering an era where mobile devices are capable of providing as-good or better gaming experiences. For that to happen these games can not continue to exist predominantly as IAP waiting games.