Winning a culture war
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 October 2014, 6:11 am
I consider myself a neutral observer in the culture war commonly known under the name Gamergate. I believe that both sides use lies, propaganda, and other means of interaction that I personally find unacceptable. But anybody looking from the outside at any war is wondering who is "winning". In a culture war it is usually two rather small groups who are fighting for the attention and positive opinion of the mainstream, and this one isn't any different. It doesn't matter very much how much the culture warriors on each side agree with each other, because there is usually a lot of self-delusion going on within such groups. It matters more how the people who aren't in either group see the culture war.

The Boston Globe is a newspaper founded in 1872. Due to the lack of video games in 1872 it would be hard to accuse the Boston Globe to be a video game publication. One could say that it is leaning slightly left-ward, but in general it would be very much considered a mainstream newspaper rather than "communist" or "SJW". So if I read articles like this one in the Boston Globe, I believe that this is what the main-stream press sees and thinks.

Now I have no opinion on how it came to pass that the police is investigating death threats made against female video game developer Brianna Wu. I'm sure that some people believe those threats were fabricated, or that at least making such threats against outspoken women in gaming "isn't what Gamergate is about". But I do know how this looks. Gamergate might not *be* a movement whose whole purpose it is to discourage women in gaming, but it sure *looks* like one in the mainstream press.

We can all agree that only talking about the persecution of women in gaming is an extremely one-sided and narrow view of this culture war. But the problem is that the other side isn't represented in mainstream media. There is no article on Fox News about Gamergate, explaining the problems of video game journalism ethics or about pushing left-wing agendas in video games. The "harassment of women" theme is present in every single mainstream reporting of Gamergate, even in those that defend the movement.

Some people actually believe that this unbalanced presentation of the issue is due to a huge world-wide conspiracy. If find that extremely unlikely. There are tons of mainstream newspapers that have a conservative view of the world. Why would those be controllable by a conspiracy of "social justice warriors"? So somewhere something in the strategy of Gamergate isn't working. If you want to win "hearts and minds", you can't win if your opponent gets all the good press in mainstream news outlets, while the people defending your side do so on Twitter, YouTube, and niche blogs where the message is only seen by the people who already agree with it.

I believe that the Gamergate movement needs to think very carefully what their message should be and how they could get it into the mainstream. Sorry, "I feel insulted by left-wing misrepresentation of gamers", while very true and understandable, isn't going to get you an article in a mainstream newspaper. What is Gamergate really about, and how can you formulate a mission statement that isn't easily dismissed as a first-world problem of privileged, misogynistic, white males? If you don't have a response to that, it will be impossible to win this culture war. 
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Combat controls
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 October 2014, 3:27 am
I watched Totalbiscuit's uncorrupted Shadow of Mordor YouTube video in order to find out whether I would like to play that game. The answer was: No. And the reason for that was the part where Totalbiscuit described the combat system as being the same as in the Batman: Arkham series. I played only one Batman: Arkham game, and the reason I stopped half-way through was because I hated the combat system.

Then I noticed the coincidence that there is another Lord of the Rings game I am not playing because of the combat system: Lord of the Rings Online. And that in spite of having paid for a lifetime subscription. So I was thinking what is was that made certain combat systems unpalatable to me. And I think the answer is how much the combat system feels as if I was in immediate control.

For Lord of the Rings Online the problem is that the combat system queues your key-presses and executes them some time later when the previous actions have been completed. This skill queue leads to combat not feeling very responsive. Sure, the character will do what you ordered him to do, but not at the moment where you press the button.

For Batman: Arkham the problem is similar, but somewhat different: You press a button, Batman does something immediately, but it isn't necessarily what you wanted him to do, or what you thought that button press would do. Batman frequently overperforms, making rather complicated moves in response to rather simple commands. That all looks very elegant and sophisticated (and combat *looks* great in a Shadow of Mordor gameplay video), but the player holding the controller isn't necessarily feeling all that much in control. You pressed a button because you wanted to hit the guy to your left, but the character decided that it would be better to hit the guy on your right and does that instead. Even if that was probably the better move, you feel that your role in controlling the character isn't all that important. Just mashing buttons also results in an elegant combat.

I think hand-to-hand combat in video games is somewhat problematic. Whether it is fists or knives, for cinematic reasons the hero character is fighting half a dozen villains at the same time, which is not very realistic. Shooters work better, because a single man with a gun looks less improbable if he kills half a dozen villains, using distance and cover to his advantage. That allows a shooter game to give perfect control to the player, letting him aim and see the immediate result of his shots. The game simulating hand-to-hand combat can't leave the player in perfect control, because he'd be overwhelmed if the fight was simulated realistically.

I'm still planning to give the Assassin's Creed series a second chance (didn't like the first one all that much). While it also suffers to some degree from that hand-to-hand combat system, AC has the advantage of combat not being the default option for every enemy you meet. But otherwise I am somewhat wary of those hand-to-hand combat action adventure games.
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There is no such thing as cooperative multiplayer survival
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 October 2014, 5:13 am
Between Kickstarter projects, Steam Greenlight and Early Access, and more traditionally financed games there is now a large abundance of different games. So one might be excused to think that if there are so many games, they should cover all sorts of flavors and preferences. But curiously that doesn't happen. Certain features only ever appear together, although it would be perfectly feasible to separate them.

One example is multiplayer survival games. They are all set up in a way that players have very little advantage in working together, but are rewarded with the other player's gear if they kill them. Survival multiplayer games exist exclusively as PvP games, with a rules system where cooperative PvE is not really an option. Instead these games often have options which allow players to torture each other. And death caused by other players is extremely common as long as you play anywhere where other players are near.

Fortunately for us as a species our caveman ancestors were a lot more cooperative than that. If they had behaved like modern survival game players, we would long have gone extinct. In real life death is a lot more serious than in a video game, and killing more often has consequences, as the killed person's relatives or tribe tend to go after the killer. Multiplayer survival games fail to simulate these aspects, and so for all their claims of realism end up being extremely different from the real world, because the incentives are so different.

Which makes me wonder why among all those survival games there isn't even one with a rule set that encourages cooperative multiplayer survival. Either by turning PvP off, or by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of killing somebody much more realistically, with a strong chance of you being killed permanently if you kill another player. And such a game should have better tools for cooperation, where working together as some form of tribe is only way to survive the harsh environment.

Torturing and killing other people in an environment where your very survival is threatened by other factors is not a realistic or natural behavior. So why aren't there any games that don't do that?
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Why I don't walk in virtual forests
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 October 2014, 10:39 pm
Yesterday Helistar suggested that progression shouldn't be the only reason why one visits a zone in a virtual world, that one could enjoy the zone just as being part of a virtual world. So I was thinking why I don't take a walk in a virtual forest. This is what I came up with:

  • Virtual forests are extremely small, you can cross them in a few minutes. You can't take an hour walk in a virtual forest without running in circles all the time. There are quite a lot of city park forests here larger than the largest forest in Azeroth.
  • No physical exercise. If I take a walk, I'd like to move my legs.
  • Lack of sensations: Not only don't I move my legs, I also don't feel the wind in my face, and I can't smell the flowers and trees, or touch them.
  • Lack of variety: The virtual forest consists of very few different models of trees which are repeated over and over. The exactly same tree exists in the forest many, many times.
  • Lack of realism: Especially in games like World of Warcraft a virtual tree doesn't look much like a tree at all once you get a bit closer. The leaves are basically just painted on as a texture.
In the end, I am in that virtual forest because unlike the real forest the virtual forest has monsters in it. But that only is an attraction if there is a point to killing those monsters, if there is some sort of challenge, and some reward.
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Is Destiny's random loot an example to follow?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 October 2014, 5:56 am
As I mentioned when the game came out (and independent from the fact that I'm playing a free copy), I like Destiny more than the average Metacritic score of 76 suggests I should. A lot of people who criticized the game now find that in spite of their reservations, they are still playing. Basically if you plotted the imaginary curve of how much somebody likes Destiny over time, it didn't start out all that strong, but lost a lot less over the subsequent weeks than other games. Weeks later it is still a perfectly viable option for me to start the game and play a bit. And I believe that one factor in this is the loot system of Destiny.

We are all used to the MMORPG loot system of games like World of Warcraft or similar games: Specific loot drops from specific boss monsters. It isn't certain that you'll get the sword of uberness you wanted if you kill a boss, but it is certain that you won't that particular item anywhere else. There is actually software out there that looks at your current gear and tells you where to go next. That can be problematic if the activity you are supposed to do is one you either dislike or are for other reasons unable to do. That can lead for example to people quitting guilds, because the game basically tells them they need a different set of friends to get better gear. That isn't ideal from a social networking point of view.

Now Destiny isn't great with social networking features. But it never tells you what exactly you have to do next. Loot in Destiny is perfectly random. You might get that sword of uberness by doing a raid, but you might also get that exact same item while doing patrol mission from some low-level mob. Of course drop probabilities aren't the same, and the system can be exploited by setting up situations where you just try to kill a massive number of low-level mobs in the shortest time possible (aka the now defunct loot cave). But the overall result is that you never feel that the activity you are currently doing doesn't have a chance to improve your gear. You can choose your activity in function of how much time you have available, whether friends are online, and how fit or tired you are feeling, and you will always have some chance of finding that legendary engram which improves your "light" (aka gearscore). You can do harder content when you feel like it and the situation allows it, and you'll be rewarded better for that harder content. But if for some reason you're just doing something easier you aren't totally excluded from any chance of getting an upgrade.

While such a system isn't necessarily easy to balance (how much faster can you kill lower-level mobs compared to what lower level of drop chance?) I do think there is a good concept here which could help other MMORPGs. Look at your character and a map of WoW and you'll find that in the large majority of locations there is absolutely nothing for your character, no reason to be there at all. In Destiny, which has far fewer zones and locations, there isn't a single one where I shouldn't be right now. There is some progress to be had for my level 23 character even if he is just doing patrol missions on Earth killing level 2 mobs for some random bounty, or re-doing story missions at some level of my choice. Of course it helps that in Destiny a level 2 mob can still hurt a level 23 player, and the player still needs to aim right to kill it. But what really makes a difference is that I feel I have the choice of what I want to do, and it isn't the game that is telling me what I should do.
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Hacks and money
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 October 2014, 3:05 am
The first game I ever hacked was Manic Miner, back in the days of the ZX Spectrum. Save games or check points hadn't been invented yet, and you just had 3 lives to jump & run through 99 levels. After realizing that I saw the first levels a lot and the later levels never, I hacked the game. That consisted of finding the address in the hex code where your lives were reduced by one after death, and doing a POKE at that address to change it to 00 "do nothing". Voila, endless lives, and I could finally see the later levels of the game.

The latest game I hacked was the new XCOM. I wanted to play at higher difficulty for the tactical battles, but not worry about losing the game due to lack of satellite coverage, because it is random where those aliens land. Now that the code is much bigger I can't read it any more, but I can use a hex editor to add money and buy more satellites. That leaves me to play the tactical part of the game I'm interested in without having to worry about the randomness of the strategic / economic part.

But those are single-player games. Hacking multi-player games is far more problematic because it affects other people, so I never even tried. An early MMORPG experience was people having found out how to dupe credits in Star Wars Galaxies: To hide in the crowd they then used the /tip command to give some of the fake currency to total strangers, and that ended with a lot of innocent players finding themselves on the wrong end of the ban hammer. MMORPG developers learned that "the client is in the hands of the enemy", and put most important transactions server side.

But while virtual property is server side, it appears that in ArchAge your location is handled on the client side. So now there are people using that to hack the client to be able to teleport. For example they have programs that alert them when a building slot becomes vacant anywhere, then they teleport there immediately, buy the slot, and sell it for much more to other players desperate for space. Or they do trade runs, which become a lot faster and easier if you don't have to actually "run".

The problem is that in this day and age real money pervades virtual worlds. ArchAge for example has APEX, which work like PLEX in EVE: You buy them for real money, you can trade them for virtual currency, and you can exchange them for a month of (optional) subscription. As these APEX are worth real money, somebody able to hack himself into virtual riches is able to convert that hacked virtual currency into real money. And they only use flaws in the program code to do so, they don't have to hack into other player's passwords and steal stuff, or use stolen credit cards.

Virtual property has a perceived value, so it can be traded for real money. But virtual property isn't subject to the same laws of physics as real property. Virtual currency isn't subject to the same level of safeguards as your digital bank account is, nor is there a central bank to control the amount of virtual currency in circulation. Which means that criminal minds have an easier time hacking virtual online worlds and transforming their hacked virtual goods into real money than they would have trying to hack a bank. As an added advantage there are laws against hacking a bank, but not against duping virtual currencies. So we need to expect more of this stuff to happen in the future.
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The value of "proof" on the internet
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 October 2014, 6:11 am
In a recent discussion on this blog somebody argued that a certain person was bad, based on a screenshot of a tweet "that has since been deleted". That struck me as both wrong and somewhat fishy. First of all I wouldn't dismiss anybody's opinion just based on something he once said without confirming that he still held that opinion. And second the "screenshot of tweet that has been deleted" to me looked like something that could all too easily be faked.

So in my mind I pondered for a while how to fake a tweet, with an application like Photoshop. Then I started to do some research on the subject, and it turns out that I wouldn't have needed to bother with anything complicated like that. There is an actual website to create fake tweets. You just need the Twitter handle of anybody you dislike, then type any text you want to put into his mouth, and the site creates that fake tweet for you.

I found that mildly interesting, but not worth writing about up to now. But today I read that in the continued Gamergate mudslinging a screenshot of an Anita Sarkeesian tweet turned up as "proof" of her misdeeds. There was just one minor flaw with that "proof": The tweet had 218 characters, while real tweets are limited to 140 (or rather 137 plus ...). Oops!

I do not believe in the value of arguing over "he said, she said". The whole idea of somebody having a large published work expressing one set of opinions, and a secret history of hidden other opinions that somehow devalue the published opinions to me seems to be in the domain of weird conspiracy theorists and not worth serious consideration. We live in an age of political correctness, where you cannot say certain things about people who are different from you. But I am under no illusion that this actually improves human nature. There are serious scientific studies that explain why a mistrust of strangers is hard-wired into our brains, so you can't eliminate xenophobia simply by ostracizing people who make xenophobic remarks. But that also means that "he/she is a hidden xenophobe / racist / sexist / whatever" is not much of an argument. We probably all are to some extent. Some more openly than others. And sometimes the "proof" of those hidden opinions is just fake anyway.

I think the lesson of all this to mistrust "proof" of hidden misdeeds on the internet, because it is likely to be faked. If you can't find an argument against somebody's *published* opinions and have to resort to dubious "proof" of hidden opinions, then you haven't got much of a position anyway. I believe that some extreme feminist positions are wrong, and that it would be a good idea to discuss those positions. But if your only argument against some feminist is that she might have been unfaithful to her boyfriend, or that she might have said something not politically correct in a "deleted" tweet, you might as well pack your bag and go home.
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Sauron works in marketing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 October 2014, 3:54 am
Earlier this month a story broke how various YouTubers were offered a free preview copy of Shadow of Mordor under the condition that they would persuade their viewers to buy the game and talk only of the strong points of the game. There has been surprisingly little talk on the internet about that. I wished there was an internet gamer movement against corruption in the review of video games!

When TotalBiscuit said he rejected that deal, he got comments stating "I don't know what he's complaining about, if he wants it early he has to give something in return", to which he replied. And I would like to say something about this sort of deal too: It is okay to accept a free review copy if there are either no conditions at all attached to it, or if the condition is that you actually write (or film) a review. It is not okay to hand out / accept free review / preview copies if there are conditions attached that force you to write a positive review or remain otherwise "on message" with what the marketing people want you to say.

Sauron, who now works for marketing company Plaid Social, not only tried to get early YouTube reviews to be all positive and on message, he then also hit negative YouTube reviews with a DMCA takedown notice. If you use copyrighted material in your YouTube video to say nice things about Shadow of Mordor, that is fine. If you use the same material to say something negative about the game, marketing will use copyright laws to shut you up.

It is known that Metacritic scores decrease over time. Day one reviews of a game are more positive than reviews of people who actually had the time to play the game for a while before writing their reviews. But a lot of people buy a game on day one, so manipulating the early reviews can pay out big. If all the people who got a preview copy of your game are legally obliged to give a good review to it, you can score a lot of sales before honest reviewers who had to buy the game on release and play it thoroughly get a chance to disagree.

On a personal note, I did accept free review copies of games or other products in the past, but I never accepted any restrictions on what I was able to write in those reviews. I will continue this policy in the future. People are already enough worried whether there is a psychological effect of being more positive to a gift horse than to a game you bought, which is a doubt I can live with. But being under contract to write certain things in certain ways about a game is not acceptable to me.
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The Favorites of Selune - Skin Deep - Session 3
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 October 2014, 3:09 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune were unexpectedly transformed into svirfneblin (dark gnomes) and had to flee the town of Plumton which was already in fear of an "Underdark menace". On their way to the druid Bredel who they hoped could help them, the group stumbled upon some kobold shepherds guarding a flock of drakes. So this session started with a combat. The fight wasn't very eventful, except for the cleric casting his new daily spell, a pillar of flame that killed three kobolds and a drake in one shot.

After that the heroes reached the clearing on which Bredel lived, who of course wasn't too happy about a bunch of dark gnomes turning up, and tried to shoo them "back underground". But the druid of the group by transforming into a wolf could convince Bredel that they weren't really dark gnomes. Bredel then could verify that further through the use of a magical spring, where the reflection in the water showed the true form of the adventurers. Unfortunately the spring had grown smaller after the recent earthquake (the one that opened up the fissure into the Underdark), and the water didn't have the power to turn the heroes back into their true form. Bredel suggested that somewhere in the Underdark the source of the spring could be found, and that the water there would have more power. He was willing to lead the group to the fissure leading into the Underdark, but asked them to help him with a problem first: A green dragon had recently settled in his forest, with kobold followers and a flock of drakes, upsetting the natural balance. Bredel wants the dragon removed, and was offering help in the form of a dreamcatcher which would prevent the dragon from flying, and some poison resistance potions against his breath weapon. The Favorites of Selune agreed to do this task.

So the heroes approached the dragon's lair, on a clearing in the forest. While their dreamcatcher prevented the dragon from flying, it also made the dragon aware of them and rather angry. Having already had killed the drakes and some kobolds, the dragon only had four kobold minions left as retinue, which the group dispatched quickly. Then they could all concentrate their fire on the dragon. The group's druid managed to roll not a single attack with more than 5 on a d20 in a rather long fight, dealing not a single point of damage. The fighter, who had found a dragonlance in Gardmore Abbey, dealt a lot of damage. With this being the second dragon he killed, I told him that by dwarven law he was now entitled to carry the title "dragon slayer". :)

[I think I messed up that fight: I took the adult green dragon from the D&D Insider online tools, assuming that they had updated all the monsters there to Monster Vault stats. But the Monster Vault only has lower level young dragon and very high level elder dragons, so the adult dragon was the old style Monster Manual mid-level version. If I had prepared that better I would have seen that he had too much health and did too little damage. But after I started using him as written it was too late to change his stats. With his breath weapon rendered barely effective by the poison resistance potions, and the dragonlance giving the fighter an added resistance to all dragon damage, the dragon ended up dealing very little damage, so that the cleric barely needed to use any healing. Not ideal.]

We ended that session with the Favorites of Selune plundering a nice dragon hoard with lots of gold and several magic items.
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The case for less features in the next game
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 October 2014, 5:49 am
I haven't bought or played The Sims 4. But I did play The Sims 3 a bit, and thus was reading reviews, or watching video reviews, of The Sims 4. And pretty much every review was talking about how The Sims 4 has less features than The Sims 3 and then gave the game a lower score because of that. Now I understand where this is coming from. There is a famous post of 89 features missing from The Sims 4. And historically The Sims has always been a game where added features were bundled and sold as expansions, so 89 missing features is like having to buy two or three $20 expansions just to have the same feature set as the previous game. But the whole thing led me to the question whether it is a good idea that every sequel or next game of a genre has more features than the previous games.

I believe that the number of different features matters most to veteran players, those who already played the previous versions of a game, or lots of other games in the same genre. If a new player will play The Sims 4 as his very first The Sims game, it is doubtful that he will even notice most of those "missing" features. You can't miss what you never had.

If feature lists get longer and longer, at some point they constitute a barrier to entry. Both for game developers, because you need more and more money to make a game for a specific genre, as there are more and more features you absolutely must have. And for new players, because at some point games become hard to learn because there are so many features you need to be aware of.

Sometimes less is just more. The PvP in an MMORPG is encumbered by the whole huge rest of the game, having to have abilities and powers that are balanced for PvE and PvP simultaneously, having gear coming from PvE and PvP activities, having leveling and crafting and all that in the game. A MOBA game very much resembles the PvP part of a MMORPG without all that ballast. And I have lots of examples of MMORPGs where certain parts were visible just added to tick off boxes of some must-have feature list, but the game would have been better off without them. I'm still waiting for a new genre of games that just takes raiding from MMORPGs without bundling it with all the rest of features from the genre.

One way to find those feature-light games today is mobile platforms like iOS or Android. Due to technical restrictions and very different economics, you can get some games on those platforms which went back to the roots of the core content of a genre. Nobody minds if a $2 game on the iPad doesn't have all the latest features. And then those games often are easier to get in to, and sometimes even more fun to play. Of course that might change once we have iOS15 on the iPad of 2020 that is more powerful than my desktop PC today. But right now I am quite happy to have that alternative.
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How much does it cost to remove the suck?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 October 2014, 5:25 am
Back in the 80's some of the games I played were shareware. You could often get the software for free, but then there were nag screens or the game was otherwise incomplete and crippled. By sending money to the author (often by stuffing a banknote in an envelope and sending it by mail, no internet yet) you could get the code to remove the suck and get the full game. So it was always interesting to know how good the crippled version of game still was, and how much it cost to remove the suck.

Three decades later and I'm applying the same thought process to Free2Play games. How good is the free version, knowing perfectly well that it is in some way crippled? And how much does it cost to remove the suck and get something that isn't crippled? There are very clearly some games where you can put an infinite amount of money in. But there are also games which work pretty much like the shareware of yesterday, you pay a reasonable amount of money once and you get a game which isn't crippled at all.

The same consideration is true for the increasing number of games that aren't free to start with, but still come with a shop. I'm currently playing Warhammer Quest on the iPad, which costs $5, and you need to spend some more money to unlock various content and buy a bit of gold to pay for character training. I think I paid $30 overall, but found the game worth that amount of money to me, and now there is no remaining restriction and it plays just as if I had paid $30 for a full-price game.

The different restrictions those crippled games can have affect different people in different ways. I am playing several Free2Play games without paying anything, because the restriction is that you can only play for so long before having to wait for some energy to restore. Somebody less patient might be tempted to pay for an immediate energy refill, but I'm fine with playing a bit and then doing something else while that energy restores itself for free.

Of course Sturgeon's law applies, 90 percent of everything is crap. 90 percent of Free2Play games aren't any good, regardless of how much money you put into them. But I have bought enough full-price games which then turned out to be crap to know that this isn't a specific failure of Free2Play games. And in this respect I actually prefer if I can try out the game for free, I can imagine whether it would still suck if I put this or that amount of money in, and then decide not to play it any further if I don't see how to make the game not suck.

Overall I'm spending less money on games now. As I said, some games I play for free. Other games are cheap to start with, you can get perfectly good full-price games on the iPad for $2. And if you insist on playing games with better graphics on the PC, you can always wait for the next Steam sale and get games at a hefty rebate. My main expenses for my gaming hobby is buying a gaming PC and iPad, and paying for the best available internet connection (another case where I decided to pay more to get the uncrippled version). The money I pay for actual game is relatively little compared to those related expenses. Gaming companies are the ones that make the least money of my gaming hobby. Somehow I don't think the games industry will be able to continue that way very long.
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How to further ruin the reputation of gamers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 October 2014, 3:42 am
I might need a tin foil hat. But it occurred to me that Gamergate might be a conspiracy to ruin the reputation of gamers. At the very least that is the only thing I see that the movement succeeds in doing. I had hoped the whole tainted thing might go away, but then Gamergate succeeded to go mainstream by getting Intel to pull their ads from Gamasutra.

Some of you might claim that Gamergate is a movement that is fighting corruption in video game journalism. Unfortunately that claim just fell under an Intel bus. Gamasutra is not a specifically corrupt gaming journalism site. The protests from gamers that pressured Intel to pull their ads from Gamasutra were not about corruption, but about a feminist opinion article on the site. Intel pulled the adds without mentioning corruption, but mentioned the pressure from gamers complaining about feminists and "social justice warriors". Which means that even the most neutral journalist of the non-gaming press is now identifying Gamergate as an "anti-feminist" movement.

There is a certain irony to this Gamergate "victory": A movement that pretends to be against big companies influencing video game reporting with advertising money pressures are big company to try to influence video game reporting with advertising money. How is using money to corrupt video game journalists to not dare to mention certain political opinions any different from using money to corrupt video game journalist to not dare to mention certain opinions about the quality of a game?

As somebody who spends a significant part of his life playing games, thinking about games, and writing about games, Gamergate increasingly makes me uncomfortable to identify myself as a "gamer". If, as they should, Gamasutra is now showing a middle finger to Intel and telling them that they won't be bullied, which side do you think looks like the "anti-corruption" one? How long do you think it will take for the other side to discover that they can use the Intel corporate responsibility form as well to complain to Intel about this decision? How many more people are going to read the "Gamers are over" article on Gamasutra now that it has become such a prominent target?

Was it worth to keep the discussion alive at the cost of throwing the central anti-corruption message overboard? If before Gamergate was an anti-corruption drive that was somewhat tainted by extreme right-wing anti-feminism and harassment, today the anti-feminist message is the only one that is left. The reputation of gamers has been ruined, they are now widely being identified as a group of people who not only hold misogynist opinions, but who also are willing to launch campaigns to silence free speech.

So tell me, are the Gamergaters just very bad at getting their message across, or are they out to ruin the reputation of gamers?
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Talking about games in an age of oversupply
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 October 2014, 5:03 am
I got my first computer in 1981, a ZX81. Getting a game for that computer was extremely difficult, there weren't any shops anywhere near that sold them, and the capabilities of the computer to play games was extremely limited. Some games I played after having had to type the program from a print magazine into the computer. Fast forward three decades and I am buried under a flood of more games than I could possibly play. There are over 3,700 games available on Steam alone! It gets even worse on other platforms, there are about 300,000 games on the Apple app store! And those are just the platforms I am most interested in, there are also tons of Android games, console games, portable console games, and to a lesser extent Mac and Linux games.

It's a jungle out there in game land, and it's easy to get lost. One thing I noticed that is now happening to me all the time is that I see a game mentioned favorably on some blog or other site, and I don't even know what platform that game is on. I'm guilty of that myself, for example I talk about Destiny in comparison to other MMORPGs, and I don't state every time that Destiny is only available on consoles, while most of the other MMORPGs I talk about are only available on the PC. Especially with indie games you often can't even see from a screenshot whether that game is running on a PC or some tablet OS.

I bought Card Dungeon today. If I were to write a post about that game (might happen), I would compare it to Card Hunter. And the screenshots look rather similar. But Card Dungeon is an iOS game, buy once for $2.59 and no in-app purchases, while Card Hunter is a PC (Flash) browser game which is Free2Play and which is yet to be ported to the iPad. If you like Card Hunter and read me writing enthusiastically about Card Dungeon, you might be rather disappointed to find out it is an iOS game if you don't happen to own an iPad or iPhone.

To me that happens all the time. I hear great things about games like Bravely Default, and would really like to play them. But then I don't have a Nintendo DS. Do I really want to buy every single game platform there is, so that I can play all games? I have a PS3, a PSP Go and a Gameboy, but no current generation console or handheld console. Buying a console for one or two specific games has a rather high cost per hour of entertainment. Especially if I consider that I don't even have the time to play all the games I already own on the platforms I already own.

In any case I'll make an effort to mention the platform when discussing games in my blog posts. And I hope other bloggers will do so as well.
Tobold's Blog

Some social assembly required. Friends not included.
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 October 2014, 4:54 am
The best feature of multi-player games is other people. The worst feature of multi-player games is other people. People have such a wide range of possible behaviors that they can brighten or darken your day. They can make you happy or unhappy. They can help you to achieve your goal, or they can frustrate you. For game companies that poses a problem. They would like to have positive player interaction, because they can basically monetize it. For example some people stay in a game they would otherwise have quit just because their friends are still playing. What game companies don't want is players leaving their games because of negative interactions. But they can't monitor all player interaction to step in and prevent the negative ones. At best they can put things like a "report" button into their game, or some player-run justice system, but none of this actually prevents players being driven out of the game by other players.

Destiny is trying a different approach, and it is an approach that pretty much every Facebook game uses: For certain parts of the game you can't interact with strangers, but you can interact with people on your friends list. The idea behind that is simple: People you already have on your friends list are probably more likely to have positive interactions with you than negative ones. Let's just avoid all these strangers! So Destiny simply doesn't have anything like local or general chat, because that would foster interaction with strangers, which could go wrong. The problem is that chat also could lead to meeting new friends, or forming groups, and by not having that option, you're less likely to group or make friends.

I feel as if those games should come with a disclaimer, "Some social assembly required. Friends not included.". My real friends play pen & paper games with me, and they play PC games (we all played World of Warcraft at some point), but none of them plays console games. My Playstation friends list has only one person on it, and that person hasn't played anything in months, and presumably doesn't even own Destiny. So I don't have existing Playstation friends that I could group with in Destiny. And as *making* friends isn't really foreseen in the game, there are parts of the game I can't play other than solo. The weird thing is that Destiny has a perfectly well working system of grouping you with strangers for other sorts of content ("strike missions" or PvP). But apparently they felt it was important to keep strangers away from the basic story campaign of the game.

I think that is a mistake. While some MMORPGs in the past certainly have made mistakes in game design which resulted in "grouping with strangers" being likely to ruin your game experience, that isn't the case for all games. Specifically in Destiny grouping with a stranger who is afk and not contributing anything would still be better than playing solo, because as long as the other player is alive, you can respawn. Strike missions in Destiny work perfectly well, because they don't actually require all three players in the fireteam to have an above average skill level. If the people you have been randomly grouped with aren't good players, you still advance faster by sticking with them than you would if you quit the group and looked for a better one.

As long as you don't give players to kill each other in parts of the game that are supposed to be collaborative, it is actually unlikely that grouping with strangers will be a net negative experience. And because not everybody has a big friends list to start with, meeting people in the game and making friends is an important option for a multi-player game. Don't ruin that by over-protective game design!
Tobold's Blog

Ganking as a feature
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 September 2014, 7:39 am
I am not playing ArchAge. Part of that is due to reasons not related to the gameplay itself: The high cost of the founder packs, queues that keep out free players, and so on. But a major part of the decision was made when I read that ArchAge has ganking. Why would I want to play a game in which every activity that I am interested in can be spoiled by somebody having a bad day and deciding to gank me?

While I am aware that ArchAge has some sort of justice system, I don't believe that these sort of systems can ever be effective. People tend to get to a point in every game where they simply aren't interested in what the game has to offer any more. If you are already on the verge of quitting, you can go on a virtual crime spree without any fear of consequences. There are enough examples of people not shying away from bannable offenses in online worlds, so why would they be afraid of a virtual prison sentence?

I simply don't understand why somebody would put ganking as a feature in his game. I understand the interest of other forms of PvP, like dueling, battlegrounds, territorial control, and more. But why would it ever be a good idea to allow one player to attack a random other player with no reason, and no consent of that other player? Isn't it obvious that the net effect of that will always be negative, that the ganker will not gain as much pleasure from the activity as the ganked player will lose? A single player with a bad attitude can drive away multiple paying customers. Why would you want to allow that?

ArchAge has many qualities that would attract casual players, like the ability to live a peaceful virtual life of farming and crafting. It is less combat oriented than many other games. It is the kind of game I would definitively try if it hadn't that ganking feature.
Tobold's Blog

My subculture is better than your subculture
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 September 2014, 4:23 am
The truly amazing thing about role-playing games and virtual worlds is that there are so many different ways to experience them. People might think they play the same game, but in reality they don't. You can have World of Warcraft players all with the same game on their computer, but one of them is raiding, another spends most of his time fishing, another plays the auction house to get the maximum amount of gold, and another is using WoW to hang out with his friends. The same is true for Dungeons & Dragons, which can be a base for anything from improvised theater to hack'n'slash dungeon crawling.

A surprising number of people fail to see that this is a strength of those systems.

What happens instead is that some people who prefer a certain sub-game of the larger system declare their subculture to be the "true", "real", "old school", or whatever other attribute you can use to express superiority. The message is always the same: "We are playing this right, you are playing this wrong". There is also a surprising amount of history falsification à la 1984 going on, you know, "Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.". For example people pretend that a certain play style of Dungeons & Dragons is superior and call it Old School Renaissance, but nobody agrees what OSR really is, because in reality there is no such thing as a unified "old school" way of playing D&D. I'm not saying an OSR is in any way a bad way to play D&D, but pretending that this was the way everybody played in the old days is as false as it is presumptuous. It is just another label used to express superiority of a specific subculture by pretending that "this is how Gary Gygax wanted us to play".

As mbp mentioned in a recent comment and then on his blog, Edward Castronova mentioned the splintering of MMORPGs into subcultures as part of the reason for their decline: "For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin.".

Narrower games appeal to a narrower part of the customer base. That is quite okay too, if by making the game narrower you can manage to make it cheaper to produce. But, as the developers of Wildstar discovered, if you make a game that is both broad in the list of features and narrow in its appeal, you get an expensive game with few customers, which is not a recipe for financial success. Maybe a pure raiding game without all the rest of a MMORPG attached would have been the better plan if you think that raiding is the essential part of the MMORPG experience.

I believe that if we want to see games that are huge successes in the future, these games need to be broader and not focus on any of the small subcultures in them. That is the one thing I like the most about Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, that it is a broader game that will appeal to more different groups of D&D players. (4E is better for the specific subculture of tactical players). I believe the same would be possible in the online space of role-playing games. But as that would be a rather expensive venture, I am not sure anybody will even try it. EQ Next to me appears more to be about catering to a different subculture than about bringing us a new MMORPG that everybody can enjoy.
Tobold's Blog

Destiny of Titan
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 September 2014, 3:56 am
Kotaku has a post about what Titan actually was for a game. It was a SciFi MMO shooter. In fact, many of the features sounded a lot like Bungie's Destiny. And of course I know that if devs give an interview explaining the reasons for a decision, you never get to hear the full story. So I wondered in how far the decision to cancel Titan was influenced by the release of Destiny. Titan had a lot more MMO features that I would have liked to see, like professions and crafting; but at its core it would have played a lot like Destiny.

With Blizzard being famous for developing at a very slow pace, Bungie basically got there first. And while the critics didn't like Destiny all that much, the game sells well. With Activision Blizzard as a publisher and a 10-year plan of expansions to wring more money out of the customers. Releasing Titan would potentially not just have had a negative effect on World of Warcraft subscriptions, but also on Destiny continue income. So in spite of all dev talk of not feeling the fun, there might well have been other, more financial considerations behind the cancellation.

My proposal: Activision Blizzard should send part of the disbanded Titan team to help Bungie out with Destiny. Because Destiny is a good shooter, but not a good MMO. Which isn't really a surprise if you look at what kind of game Bungie made before. They could really use some help on the social part of Destiny, with better options to communicate and to join a fireteam for story missions. And Bungie is currently learning the hard way how MMO players will always go for the path of least resistance to maximum progress, even if that isn't the most fun way to play. They just nerfed the loot cave, but there are still a lot of exploitable places in the game.

Tobold's Blog

Twitter as a breeding ground for internet hate
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 September 2014, 3:19 am
Unfortunately the discussion around Gamergate is refusing to die. I say unfortunately because there actually isn't a discussion; instead one side talks about harassment while the other side talks about corruption. There is no pro-harassment and anti-harassment side debating each other, there is no pro-corruption side debating an anti-corruption side. There are two groups talking about two very different and mostly unrelated things into a vacuum, and the only interactions is each side saying "your subject of discussion is irrelevant, let's talk about my subject of discussion instead".

In that context it is surprising that two people on different sides of the discussion at least found one point they agreed upon: The problem with Gamergate is Twitter. Even before Gamergate I already considered Twitter to be the worst place on the internet, a breeding ground for internet hate, the place on the internet where all the torches and pitchforks are stored for regular outbreaks of manufactured outrage.

There is a social media enterprise petitioning the US president to censor 4Chan. Not only is that stupid and not going to happen, but it also wouldn't help to make the internet a nicer or safer place. What *would* make the internet a better place would be Twitter changing its policy and demanding proof of identity for every account, with only one account allowed per verified identity. And that might be something that actually has a chance to happen, and there might even be government intervention to make it happen. Some of the things on Twitter right now are illegal under current law. It would just take one person with a good case to sue Twitter for damages because they enable cyber-bullying and internet harassment, and Twitter would be forced to change their policies pretty quickly.
Tobold's Blog

Does mini-golf ruin the sport of golf?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 September 2014, 3:41 am
This week the blogosphere is full of posts discussing whether World of Warcraft "ruined" MMO gaming. The argument is that there was a certain style of forced grouping with strong social interaction in MMORPGs like Everquest, and WoW "ruined" that by making a solo-friendly game in which social interaction is largely optional.

What this argument overlooks is that we are talking about two very different populations of very different size here. Everquest peaked at around 400,000 players, World of Warcraft at around 13 million players. If the MMORPG genre would have stuck with the strong forced social interaction model of players being dependent on each other, the overall market size would never have passed even 1 million players. The other 12 million players entered the market *because* it was now possible to solo.

At worst you could say that World of Warcraft "diluted" MMO gaming by providing an accessible alternative. There might have been a few EQ players who hated forced grouping and switched, but honestly those players wouldn't have stayed in the genre for long anyway if there hadn't been the accessible version.

There are a lot more people occasionally playing a round of mini-golf than there are people playing golf seriously. But it would be silly to claim that mini-golf ruined the sport of golf. Mini-golf just provides a more casual and accessible alternative which somewhat resembles golf. World of Warcraft provides a more casual and accessible alternative to hardcore MMORPGs. That is all there is. It is stupid to think that in some alternative universe 13 million people would have ended up playing a MMORPG with forced grouping and strong social interaction, if only WoW hadn't existed.
Tobold's Blog

Blizzard doesn't want to be a MMORPG company
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 September 2014, 3:52 am
You probably heard by now that Blizzard decided to cancel their next-gen MMORPG project Titan. Now a lot of people interpret that in the general mood of "MMORPGs are dead" (or at least the triple-A version of them is). While hard data are limited, the anecdotal evidence of the big MMORPG releases of this year indicated that they all failed to hold on to their players. And unless I overlooked any important announcement, there is only Everquest Next left in development as triple-A MMORPG, plus a bunch of minor players.

But what I found interesting in the announcement of the Titan cancellation was how open Blizzard discussed that they want to be company making great games, but they didn't necessarily want to be "the MMORPG company". Coming from the company that in the history of MMORPGs made the most money of that genre, that is strong stuff. But then a lot of Blizzard games in other genres were also highly successful.

I believe that Blizzard excels at making highly polished games of whatever the currently popular genre is. I believe that it is safe to say that MMORPGs aren't the "currently popular genre" any more. Which is why Blizzard is working on a MOBA instead. It is as simple as that.
Tobold's Blog

The paradox of progress
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 September 2014, 4:57 am
Once upon a time a video game ended with some sort of "Game Over - You Won!" screen at the end and rolling credits. And during the game you played the same character with the same abilities from start to finish. While pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons might still be a niche hobby, it certainly had one big effect on the video games of today: In many games you now have a character level, and the game never ends. You might hit the level cap, or finish the story, but that won't get you to the game over screen; you'll be able to continue playing, either repeating stuff or playing other game modes, and keep progressing your character forever by upgrading his gear or skills or something. And I wonder if that eternal character progress thing is really such a good idea.

In the old arcade games you progressed in the game by getting better at playing. People enjoyed that, but the progress is naturally slow. And once you learned the basic skills of video gaming, you already start any new game with a good amount of skill; while you can still progress some, the amount of progress you experience won't be enormous. Adding what is often called "role-playing elements", aka artificial character progress in the form of levels and gear improvement, gives every player more of that feeling of progressing in the game that they enjoy. Maybe you as a player don't get much better at playing, but you character now has more health, more armor, and a bigger gun/sword that hits much harder. As you continue playing, you get more and more powerful.

But there is a downside to that: The monsters or whatever you are fighting get stronger too. And if the game gives you the option to everywhere, you will find that going to most places doesn't make sense: Either the enemies there are too low for your level, or they are too high. There might be a huge open world out there, but you are effectively limited to a small slice of it which corresponds to your character level. And a bigger problem looms ahead: You can't progress that way forever. Because if every level has its level-appropriate zones, the developers can't make an infinite number of zones, so you can't have an infinite number of levels. The devs need to install a system that dramatically slows down progress, for example with a level cap where you can only continue to grow stronger by finding rare pieces of gear.

I have played through all the story missions of Destiny now. But the game is never over. I'm supposed to do various things now, like repeating those story missions at higher level, doing strike missions in a group, doing PvP, doing raids, doing patrols, doing bounties, and who knows what more; all that will gain me new gear, and Destiny even has a system which transforms your gear score into a level. So while the maximum level you can get through earning experience points is 20, I'm already level 21 because I have gear with a "light" score which doesn't do anything but increase the number floating next to my name over my head.

And because Bungie doesn't have much experience with MMORPGs, they failed to make sure that you can *only* gain that better gear by doing the content you are supposed to do. Instead level-appropriate loot drops from every enemy killed in your vicinity, even if it wasn't you who killed it. Google "Destiny loot cave" to see how easily that can be gamed: In certain areas of the game, under certain conditions, you will have an endless quick respawn of mobs. The "loot cave" is such a place, and with at least 2 players you can organize an endless stream of random loot. Sure, rare loot is rare, but if you kill a large enough number of lowly mobs in a short time, you'll get some of that rare loot too.

Those are the points where character progress becomes a curse to a game. People *will* find the quickest way to progress, even if that involves the least fun way to play the game. By adding this artificial progress dimension to the game, you end up killing much of the content that you created, because people tend to ignore the kind of content that is too far from the optimum progress speed. I really wonder whether Destiny wouldn't have been a better game without those character levels and gear progression.
Tobold's Blog

Housing for tourists
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 September 2014, 4:00 am
My first proper MMORPG (not counting LPMUD and the like) was Ultima Online. I was there when they introduced open world housing. It was a disappointment, with not enough housing space available, but a lot of empty houses taking up space (camped by people who wanted that space when they house crumbled). 15 years later I read about the ArcheAge launch and think that nothing has changed. If anything, things have gotten worse: People stay less long in a MMORPG than they used to, and that is especially true of Free2Play players, which didn't exist 15 years ago.

The problem is relatively simple: If you have open world housing (as opposed to instanced housing), there is an optimal ratio of housing spots to number of players on a server. If you would know exactly how many players are on one server, and you could be sure that this number would remain constant, you could make a good open world housing system. If your servers are crowded right after release, you get players complaining about queues and lack of housing spots. If many of these players turn out to be tourists that didn't come to stay, you end up with dead cities full of abandoned houses in a few months.

Right now Trion can't open enough servers for the release rush, because that would make the problem in three months even worse than today. You can't easily expand and contract the offer of available housing spaces. How do you merge servers when both servers have houses in the open world? Even if on both servers half of the houses are empty, it won't be two halves that fit together on one new server. How do you tell the players on one server that they are losing their houses if there is already an active house on the other server they merge with?

I simply don't think there is a solution to the problems of open world housing in MMORPGs. Today's MMORPG populations are largely migrant, and you can't build a good housing system for tourists.
Tobold's Blog

The next video game crash
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 September 2014, 2:42 am
Kotaku last week had an article asking whether we are on the cusp of another video game industry crash. I think that is very much possible. It isn't just everything mentioned in that article, like people having huge libraries of unplayed Steam games. But there is also the economic side to consider. I consider Microsoft buying Minecraft for $2.5 billion to be a sign of weakness, not strength, of the industry. Not only will they never get their money back (Mojang has $290 million of *revenue* per year, not profit. The time it would take to make $2.5 billion on the profit of that means Minecraft would need to remain as popular as today for the next 20 years.). But also Microsoft is essentially saying that if they were to put $2.5 billion of money on the table anywhere else, they wouldn't be able to make a game as profitable as Minecraft. Too much money chasing too few opportunities for profit is usually a sign of an upcoming crash.

Now crash doesn't mean that video games are about to disappear. The financial industry crashed hard 6 years ago, but there are still a lot of banks and other financial institutions around. But if you look at the video game industry overall, from the big companies to the indie developers, it appears pretty clear that there are too many people working on too many (usually derivative) games. There are price wars: Steam sales, Humble Bundles, and mobile platforms on which a $5 game would be considered "expensive". And there isn't all that much potential of market growth any more, because everybody who is the least likely to play a video game already has at least a mobile phone with games on it.

Of course there will always be a few people and companies that make money. Markus Persson becoming a billionaire is likely to remain an exception, but there will be a number of people at least able to stay in business because their games sell for more than it cost to make them. If we are talking crash, we are talking about how many people in the industry and how many game companies are *not* making a profit. We are talking about the pork cycle of video games, where many companies around the same time discover that they spent too much money on developing video games that are not going to make their money back. We are talking of indie game developers deciding that they'll earn a better living flipping burgers. We are talking investors pulling out of the industry. And because of the way that capitalism works in boom and bust business cycles, we are talking about a lot of bad news of that kind happening around the same time.

The recent gamer culture wars aren't helping. Already a lot of people who work in the game industry are exploited, working more because of their love of games than for financial reasons. Disillusion those people, and you'll get a mass exodus. Game developers are usually young, creative, and have a good set of computer skills, not the kind of people who'll stay in the industry because they can't find any other job. A combination of gamers disappointed in the latest games reducing their gaming spending and game developers becoming disappointed of their customers' ungratefulness could well produce a video game crash as early as 2015.
Tobold's Blog

Your loss, Amazon!
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 September 2014, 2:49 am
I don't watch live TV. Having to be there at a specific time, and then sitting through the ads, not my cup of tea. But I do watch a lot of TV shows, either recorded with a hard drive recorder, or bought as a full season of one TV show on DVD. Usually from Amazon UK, because I prefer English with English sub-titles, that being the neutral ground between me and my wife. Obviously I would be interested in TV on demand, but here in Belgium that used to be extremely difficult: For example Amazon Instant Video is offered in three neighboring countries that have their own Amazon website, but you can't access any of them from Belgium due to rights issues. There are a few Belgian companies with streaming services, but they only have movies, and no TV shows. Not even Apple iTunes is selling TV shows in Belgium.

Yesterday that changed and the 21st century of TV finally arrived in Belgium: opened their doors. As you probably live in a civilized country that had Netflix for years, I don't need to tell you how great that is. Lots of TV shows and movies on offer. And a monthly flatrate that is less than half of what a single season of a single TV show costs on DVD. Which is great, because now I can try out TV shows I wasn't sure about without paying for a full season in advance.

I was especially impressed that Netflix works on so many devices. I can watch it on my TV screen either via the Apple TV box I have connected to it, or directly via the Smart TV application. My second TV is connected to a Playstation 3, and it works on that too. I could watch on my PC screen. Or I could go mobile and watch on my iPad. And in spite this being Belgium, I can get movies and TV shows in English, some even with English subtitles.

That means that an TV show I am interested in I will first check availability on Netflix. Only if Netflix doesn't have it would I consider buying the DVD from Amazon any more. Your loss, Amazon! You could have made Amazon Instant Video available here. If Netflix can do it, it obviously wasn't impossible.
Tobold's Blog

Before and after
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 September 2014, 8:52 am
Watch Dogs: 77. The Sims 4: 70. Destiny: 77. These are some current average game review scores from Metacritic for some of the biggest game releases of this year. In a scoring system where a good game has a score of 90 or more (and developer's bonuses depend on having a score of 90 or more), those are rather disappointing numbers. So how about some other numbers? Watch Dogs sold 8 million copies until July. The Sims 4 sold 400,000 copies in the first week. Destiny shipped $500 million worth of copies to retailers on release and sold $325 million worth of those in the first week.

Apparently there isn't much correlation between review scores and sales numbers. Especially not for first week sales, which usually happen before anybody had time to read any reviews. People buy games in the first week based on the hype around those games. So I wanted to go and check on the same website (preferably by the same author) what a game site said about a game before and after release. It turned out that this wasn't really possible, because such sites typically only have 1 review of a game, but tons of previews. Polygon gave Destiny a horrible score of 6 out of 10, but if you search the site for articles on Destiny you find a whopping 307 of them! Most of them from before release. Not all of them positive (e.g. there is reporting of bad voice acting). But the previews in general are much more positive than the review is.

I hate previews.

There are lies, damn lies, and video game previews. A video game preview is fake journalism, it is a press release from the publisher thinly disguised as the opinion of a journalist. Either we say that before the game is finished it is impossible to judge it, in which case we don't need all of those previews. Or we say that the preview material can already give a good indication how good a game is, in which case we have to ask ourselves why we get so glowing previews for games that after release have such bad reviews.

Now some Gamergater will claim that video game journalists are corrupt, but why the heck are they only corrupt in their previews? If the industry had bought those journalists, they could well expect for their money the reviews to also be glowing. Why would a journalist lie in the preview and then write a honest review? I am puzzled by this difference in reporting of the same game before and after release.
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