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Video Game Companies – Can You Be More Proactive and Less Reactive?

I saw the news this morning that Shadow of War's developer, Monolith Productions, will be removing microtransactions from the game. Here's their quote.

"The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world,” Monolith said. “While purchasing Orcs in the Market is more immediate and provides additional player options, we have come to realize that providing this choice risked undermining the heart of our game, the Nemesis System."

Shadow of War came out in SEPTEMBER 2017! That was over SIX MONTHS ago, and Monolith Productions is just now coming to the realization that they should remove a system which was, in their own words, undermining the HEART of their game.

Only a few weeks ago, EA finally patched Star Wars Battlefront 2 to put back in the systems completely removed on DAY ONE of the game's launch back in NOVEMBER 2017! 

First, why are you taking six months to make these crucial changes to games with a shelf life of nearly that amount of time?

Second, why did it even have to happen in the first place?

This is not a discussion or critique on loot boxes or microtransactions. Video game companies being reactive is an issue we see across the board. Whether it's taking forever to fix something that was bad, or taking forever to do something that's good, companies in this industry generally fail to have the vision and forethought necessary to make a proactive GOOD decision.

Ever wonder why indie titles often capture the hearts and minds of players? Wonder why the smaller games are often the ones to start trends? It's because they're proactive in their approach to what players actually want. The developer, in many cases a single person, comes up with a good idea he or she thinks will be fun, and makes it into a game.

I'd like to see companies be more proactive with customer-first service, fun-first gameplay & features, and common-sense decision making throughout. We'd have a lot more game diversity & probably see more leaps forward with new, fun, and interesting ideas instead of having to chase our tails for six months reacting to every good or bad idea after it happens.


Value/Price Positioning for DLC is “Generally” Negative

Yesterday’s posts about DLC can really be further clarified by looking at value/price positioning. A few basic ones include:

  • Less for Less
  • Less for the Same
  • Less for More
  • The Same for Less
  • The Same for More
  • The Same for the Same
  • More for Less
  • More for the Same
  • More for More

Before we go further, I want to quote one of the comments from yesterday. This is from a long-time poster named Shutter, who I really appreciate being one of our regular readers.

As someone who makes/sells games, here’s my question: If you don’t want us to stop putting out DLC, would you rather have the base game priced at $100, or for us to go back to Xbox/PS2 graphics and fire half the studio? Because those are the options without doing DLC.

DLC and loot crates exist because the current base game pricepoint doesn’t keep dev studios solvent for the non-CoDs/GTAs of the world. Yes it’s meant to get your money, but so is selling the game in the first place.

And as a gamer I’ll say that DLC is good and lets me play what I want at a price closer to where I actually value it. There are plenty of games that I’d like to experience but I don’t want to 100% (Hi Assassin’s Creed). DLC lets me play the game for the 10-20 hours that I care about, but not have to subsidize the people who are sinking 100 hours into the game to find every collectible.

I’ll also add, I’m perfectly happy for people not to buy the DLC attached to games I work on, if people quit buying it, we’d quit making it. But for all the bitching about DLC, the reality is that there’s a solid chunk of people who want this stuff and will buy an incredible amount of it, and they’re subsidizing the base game dev for the rest of us.

I really like this comment because it opens up the discussion for these value propositions. I’m going to use these value/price points in a slightly different way than usual since these are typically used to compare an offering to the competition or the market. I’m going to use them to compare to their base games. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do well enough to illustrate my point.

Would I rather have a base game priced at $100?

I usually have no problem paying ‘more for more’. That’s how I rationalize buying Apple products, BenQ monitors, TVs with the good Samsung panels, leather in my car, etc. I will pay more, but I expect more in return.

To me, this is what MMOs do in general. They cost more, but you (hopefully) get more. That’s why I’m okay with a subscription. As soon as that value/price position wavers, however, my subscription usually cancels.

For a single-player game, I’d pay $100 for a great game. Sure. My imagination starts to churn out all sorts of ideas like the next Elder Scrolls game or an even better Assassin’s Creed. I get lots of enjoyment out of those games and would likely pay $100 for the ones I knew would meet that ‘more for more’ value. If we pretend there’s no risk of a bad game, then Yes I would pay an additional $40 for a game with no DLC or mtx.

But since that risk exists, you’d be putting games into the same quadrant on the FCB matrix as an iPhone, and that radically alters my perspective. The purchase decision, for me, goes from almost-impulse to high-involvement. Do we want games in that category? This would make a fascinating blog post for another time.

I don’t like paying more for less.

This is where I always feel like the season pass is a scam. This is value/price trap where I always feel like the DLC never amounts to the value paid. The Destiny 2 DLC is mopped up in an hour or two. That was $20. That’s 1/3 the box price for the full game. Looking at it from that perspective, I just paid more for less. Reskins, pointless levels, and small maps. No thanks.

And to my point yesterday about DLC segmenting the community, the Destiny 2 DLC actually takes away features you paid for in the base game if you don’t also buy the DLC; That’s right, you can’t Prestige Raid, Nightfall, or do Trials without the DLC. They’re essentially locking you out of content you already bought. That, to me, is like ‘paying more for less’ to the nth degree or bottom line ‘more for the same’.

They want you to think it’s ‘More for Less’. They want you to think you’re getting more content for such a low price, but that’s a manipulation, not a correct way of evaluating the value/price position.

I Like DLC with a Positive or Neutral Position

As many pointed out — and I agreed — in yesterday’s comments, there are good value offerings in the DLC space. These tend to be more EXPANSIONS than DLC, though. They’ve just been categorized as DLC due to the nature of their release being digital these days. In many ways, I lump WoW expansions into this category. Comparing their value/price to themselves, the expansions are ‘more for the same’ or ‘same for the same’. If ‘same’ was good for you, then celebrate.

Elder Scrolls DLC tends to be be a great value. Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal was awesome value. I remember thinking the Mass Effect 2 DLC was good. Assassin’s Creed 2 DLC was really good — probably the best of the franchise with Black Flag having a good installment. The gems are there.

The Big “Generalized” Picture & Recent Trends are the Bad

This is where people like to jump in and say that I was generalizing yesterday. Yes, I was. Generally speaking, most DLC is hot garbage. Most DLC doesn’t fall into the positive quadrants. Most DLC falls into the negative areas. DLC is trending heavily toward a predatory practice — no, strike that, it’s already there. So when I say DLC is just as bad as loot boxes, I truly do believe it. They are both predatory by nature, rarely provide the value and positive emotion, and typically do not benefit the consumer.


UK Gambling Commission: Loot Boxes are Not a “Licensable Gambling Activity”

Yesterday the UK Gambling Commission determined that loot boxes “where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined for use within the game and cannot be cashed out” are not a “licensable gambling activity”.

This means that the UK Gambling Commission has joined the ESRB in stating, for a completely separate reason, that loot boxes are not gambling. The ESRB’s reason (paraphrased) is that the player always receives in-game content regardless of whether it’s the thing they wanted.

I think the UK’s reasoning leaves too big of a hole and allows for someone to then push for pokemon, yugioh, baseball, magic the gathering, and so on, cards to be technically gambling, right? I mean, those items definitely have real world monetary value and can definitely be sold separately at a higher monetary value than the “gamble” placed on a $5 booster pack. But that really gets to the crux of this argument. It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law. And the spirit of the law in this case isn’t going to condemn pokemon and MTG to be gambling, just like it won’t win against loot boxes.

I find the entire situation fascinating because it’s putting gaming business models under a microscope. I like watching all sides squirm and present arguments. Regardless of what side you fall on the debate, it’s a great discussion.



Battlefront 2 Day 1 Accomplishments

Battlefront 2 came out today for those of us who paid $79.99 for the Elite Trooper Deluxe Edition. Graev asked me if I thought it was worth $20 for a 3 day headstart and a few in-game upgrades. When he put it like that, I’m not sure if it is or not, but heck I’m all in.

Tuesdays are a bad day for me to really game a lot. My wife and I both work from home, so it’s tough to coordinate who gets to use the main room for games when we’re both in the middle of working. That said, I was still able to get in 3 hours of play.

So, now we get to the highly dramatized and exaggerated terribleness of being able to do nothing in-game without either spending tons of money, or tons of time to unlock stuff, right?. Not exactly.

Let’s look at what I was able to do today in 3 hours.

  • Earn 13,000 credits (not counting my 3,000 they gave me for pre-ordering or buying this overpriced edition).
  • Buy two trooper crates with 8,000 credits (yielded lots of hero items, but I was hoping more for trooper items)
  • Chose NOT to unlock Darth Vader (though I did kill Vader several times with various classes using various weapons — Heavies shred, btw)
  • Collected 300 crafting parts and decided to save them until I decide on a class to really spend them on
  • Earned between 250 and 500 credits per Galactic Assault — the maps I did poorly on I could definitely feel, despite some people saying you can afk and earn the same amount of credits. This warrants more testing to ensure it wasn’t a fluke

Earning in-game credits seems fairly easy. There’s an arcade mode you can play which is a single-player thing where you do challenges and set scores for yourself. I played two of them for the Light Side and earned some minor rewards. I think if you min/max these you can do like 4 or 5 a day and maybe even earn enough to get a crate from them every day. In hindsight, I should have maxed out today.

You can also do achievement things (which I think are actually called Challenges) to earn more credits. Some even give you a crate. I think they’re worth paying attention to AFTER you’ve played 10 or so maps. You’ll find most unlock naturally.

I had a lot of fun playing the objective with a squad. I played entirely with randoms (my friends are busy buying loot crates in Overwatch) and we did okay. I think I’d like voice chat in-game. That would help organize, but you can stick with your squad anyway and earn double the “battle points” which means you can access neat things during battles.

I will be recording videos to show you guys a perspective on Battlefront 2 you won’t see much elsewhere — that of someone who enjoys the game and can utilize the crate system by playing the game, and not spending any money.

If anyone wants to get together and play, I’d love a squadmate.


EA Makes Positive Change to Battlefront 2’s Loot Crate System

With just a few weeks before launch, EA is making some pretty magnificent changes to Battlefront 2's highly dramatized and reviled loot crate microtransaction system.

Dare I say it... the changes are quite positive.

  • Epic Star Cards, the highest tier of Star Cards available at launch, have been removed from Crates. To help keep everyone on a level playing field, these Star Cards will primarily be available through crafting, with the exception of special Epic Star Cards available through pre-order, deluxe, and starter packs.
  • You’ll need to reach a certain rank to craft upgraded Star Cards. You won’t be able to buy a bunch of Crates, grind everything up into crafting materials, and immediately use them to get super powerful Star Cards. You can only upgrade the ability to craft higher tier Star Cards by ranking up through playing the game.
  • Weapons are locked behind specific milestones. While a select few will be found in Crates, the rest can only be attained by play. Want to unlock a new weapon for your Heavy? Play as a Heavy and you’ll gain access to the class’s new weapons. 
  • Class-specific gear and items can be unlocked by playing as them. As you progress through your favorite class, you’ll hit milestones granting you class-specific Crates. These will include a mix of Star Cards and Crafting Parts to benefit your class’s development.

That's no moon small list of insignificant changes. That's a major reversal on much of people's big complaints about players being able to drop tons of cash on loot crates and dominate on day one.

Bottom line, you'll still be able to benefit greatly from buying crates, but not until you've played a lot and have earned the ability to benefit from them.

That's a fair trade, in my opinion. Sure, I still don't like loot crates. I'd rather them not be in the game at all. But given what we were going to have, this is a really nice change.


Loot boxes and Gambling: The Hyperbole Has Gone Too Far

I don't like loot boxes or the drama surrounding them any more than the next person, but I think people are going a little too far.

There's now a UK petition to consider loot boxes and the like as gambling, and I see people in the U.S. trying to get similar ideas pushed out there.

People have begun to confuse gambling with risk.

Take booster packs for collecting card games.

You're buying cards for Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, or even Hearthstone in order to build up that perfect deck. You pay $4.99 for a pack, and there's no guarantee what you'll get. Some companies say there's a 20% chance of a rare, some just say "there's no guarantee."

Are card packs gambling? 

No. It's not gambling because you are still guaranteed to get something. You're guaranteed the minimum offering of basic cards. You were told you would get X basic items and a chance for one to upgrade to a nicer item. Sure, they may not be what you want, but you still got something in return -- what you were promised. It's up to you to accept that what you get in return, at its basic level, should be worth the price of the pack.

The same applies to loot boxes. You buy one for any amount of value, whether with real money or in-game currency, and what you get is a risk that involves chance. However, even with the worst draws, you're guaranteed something in return. There is a predetermined and agreed upon exchange of value for value.

The ESRB recently told Kotaku:

While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.

I get the argument. It's random luck -- that's where people mistakenly accuse this of being a gambling. You put in $4.99, and what you get out may be crap or it may be awesome. You may get the best card in the game, or your 20th basic card. It sucks. It influences the game's design, and not in a good way.

But gambling it is not.


Shadow of War = Pay to Win

Did I ever tell you guys that I found Shadow of Mordor really boring? I just couldn’t get into the Nemesis system. I see why it’s neat. I see why other people would like it. I just don’t.

I suppose Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment might realize there are people like me out there, because they recently announced their new microtransaction system called the “Market.”

Through the Market, players can purchase Loot ChestsWar ChestsXP Boosts and Bundles (accessed only with an internet connection).

  • Loot Chests contain Gear (weapons and armor) of varying rarity. Equipping and upgrading these weapons and armor enhance Talion’s character abilities. Loot Chests can also contain XP Boosts that help level up Talion faster.
  • War Chests provide Orc Followers of varying rarity to help forge a strong army. They can also contain Training Orders to level up and customize Orc Followers.
  • XP Boosts are consumables that help level up Talion faster.
  • Bundles package up Loot Chests, War Chests and Boosts together at a great value.

So instead of spending the time defeating orcs, destroying gear, destroying orc followers, and finding Mirian stashes, players can basically just buy their way to the win.

WBIE is also using “Gold” as another form of in-game currency that can be used to buy the chests and exp boosts. You can check out the official announcement where they go into more detail about how to get gold.

WBIE claims, “No content in the game is gated by Gold. All content can be acquired naturally through normal gameplay.” […] “Gold does not give you any advantage over other players. A player who invests enough time can progress the same amount and have access to the same content as a player who purchases Gold. Gold is not required to progress or advance in the game at all.”

Thankfully “Online Vendettas,” where you go and fight other people’s fortresses, don’t kill off your followers if you lose. That would crank the pay-to-win to another level.

“But Keen, you just said you didn’t even like Shadow of Mordor anyway so why do you care?”

For this particular game, I guess it won’t impact me. I have no plans to pick up Shadow of War because I didn’t like its predecessor. But yet again I find myself referencing recent burns such as Fortnite and thinking how badly those F2P gimmicks annoyed me. I think it’s bad form for them to be in any game, really.

Thoughts? I know there are some of you who regularly comment who say any F2P game is an immediate skip. Would this qualify, despite having a price tag? If not, I would be really interested in hearing why.


What Happens if WoW Goes F2P?

What happens if WoW goes F2P?

Cute pets and cool looking mounts won’t be the only thing you see here.

Wow isn’t going F2P, but if Blizzard decides to be un-Blizzard-like then you can expect a few changes. WoW would still be the exact same game, only way, way more annoying to get into and far less accessible.

Subscriptions Would Stay

Yep, that’s right. The subscription wouldn’t go anywhere. Players would still be given the option to pay the same they always have and have the exact same experience they have always had in-game. This subscription would be Blizzard’s VIP pass and players would use this to gain access to locked parts of the game. Oh yes, there will be locked parts.

Gated Content Behind Paywalls 

Of course Blizzard would make their raids restricted to paying players. Want to raid? You’ll need to be a VIP. Even the newbie raid finder or whatever the heck they’re calling it these days would require you pay the subscription. Dungeons would be restricted. They’d limit the number of dungeons you can run in a week or cycle in “Dungeons of the Week” that are free for players. Want access to them all? Pay to unlock or become a VIP.

No Epics for Free People

Epic gear or maybe raid level gear (they would probably add a new color to signify “paid gear) would undoubtedly be restricted in some fashion, probably for VIPs or some cash shop validation only. You’re welcome to wear the blues you find in the Dungeons of the Week, though! Continue reading


GW2’s hybrid business model built around “fun”

Colin Johanson, Lead Content Developer for Guild Wars 2, asked this question on the ArenaNet Blog:

If the success of a subscription-based MMO is measured by the number of people paying a monthly fee, how does that impact game design decisions?

He goes on to say many things that I agree with about the subscription model.  Subscription games are all about keeping people playing.  There’s nothing wrong with giving players a reason to keep playing — that’s what anyone wants in a game — but there’s a point where the mechanics and quality of the game diminish with the effort to keep packing in content.  Unnecessary filler content and redundant gameplay like gear treadmills become a very tempting source of content.

However, the same reasoning can be applied to games that are free to play or have a cash shop, and this has been at the forefront of my argument against the F2P model for years.  Just like developers in a subscription based model have to keep people playing, developers relying on a cash shop for their revenue must keep players buying from that cash shop.  Mechanics, content, and all areas of design can be impacted to achieve that goal.

Guild Wars 2’s content team says they’re focusing on creating “fun” content, and they’re judging the content on a “fun” metric.  I won’t knock them for saying that, or attempting to do that, because that is what I would do in their place.  That doesn’t mean the other teams aren’t hard at work coming up with ways to get you into that cash shop or earn money.  Business is competitive, and there’s no such thing as a ‘nice business decision’.  ArenaNet isn’t being nice by saying “we focus on the fun!” and you get to play our fun game for just $60.  ArenaNet has to come up with a way to earn revenue equal to or greater than that of a subscription service.  We already see the cash shop, and if they keep to their usual operations we can expect expansion packs.   They won’t leave money on the table.

My point is that every business model, subscription or free to play, has at its core a way to make money.  As much as we wish developers would spend millions of dollars to make fun games just because they love making games, that’s not how the world works.  ArenaNet can put down the subscription model all they want, but don’t for a second believe that there isn’t a business model at work impacting design decisions.  Oh, and it isn’t whether or not things are “fun.”

In my experience with MMO’s, the subscription model allows developers to create fun content and minimize the impact of their business model on gameplay far better than any cash shop or microtransaction model.  We’ll see how Guild Wars 2 does with their hybrid approach.


Stances on the GW2 Cash Shop and Pre-order Q’s

I apologize for not posting in a few days.  Crunch time again with five projects, five papers (totaling ~100pages), and five presentations all due within the next two weeks.  Then it’s time to study for take finals.   There also hasn’t been much in the way of gaming news lately.

We’ve had a good discussion about GW2’s cash shop in the post below this one.  The comments have gone rather long, but I want to sum up a few positions people are taking on the issue.

 The Slippery Slope

  • This is my position.  I have no idea if the GW2 cash shop is going to ruin the game because it’s too early.  I think it’s currently in the ‘gateway drug’ phase of cash shops, though, and could at any time introduce much worse.  I’ve seen the pattern and I know how the picture unfolds.  It can lead to a ruined game (LotRO) We shall see what happens.

The Casuals get to Spend Money and Be Awesome Too

  • Some people love the idea because they believe that casual players with dispensable income will be able to overcome one of their biggest enemy: Time.

This ain’t WoW

  • I personally do not understand this one at all, but it’s a heavily defended position.  Since GW2 is so different from WoW (not my words), the cash shop can’t not be thought of in terms of anything we currently know or have seen.

GW2 is So Easy Already

  • Since GW2 is quote “So easy already”, there isn’t a need for people to buy the cash shop items.  These people say “just enjoy the game”.  My question to them is… do you really think a cash shop in-game will go un-needed for long?

This is AMAZING!

  • Some people are beside themselves with glee over the idea of a cash shop.  They love everything about it.


Those are just a few of the positions people are taking on the subject.   I’m anxious to get into the game and see how it works.  GW2, beyond just the cash shop, is really one of those games I know that I will have to personally try in order to know how it works.  That brings me to my question about pre-orders.

If I pre-order the digital edition from NCsoft, will I get beta access?  Yesterday on Twitter the GW2 reps announced that if you want to get into the beta you have to order from one of the distributors on the list (Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop.  However, NCsoft is not on the list.  I know they’re not a retailer, but at the same time they phrased it such that it sounds just like it reads: If you want beta, buy from these three people.

The GW2 twitter people, whatever their title, were copping an attitude with people ‘sighing’ and saying read the FAQ.   We could use a little less sighing about doing your job and a little more clarification.  Based on your own poorly written tweets, your FAQ doesn’t address many of the questions.

My question (Can I pre-order the digital version from NCsoft or ArenaNet and still get beta access) was asked minutes before this appeared:

If anyone more helpful than the people whose job it is to be helpful want to clarify my question, I would appreciate it.  Can I pre-order/buy the digital standard edition from the buy.guildwars2.com or NCsoft (whoever sells it there) and still be granted access to all beta events?  Simple question.  Takes seconds to answer.  I want to spend my money correctly.