Thursday, February 28, 2013

The future of gaming, micro-transactions

Article first published as The Future of Gaming: Micro-Transactions on Technorati.

Star Trek Online, Lord of Ultima, Dungeons and Dragons online and The simpsons What's the common thread? You can play them but if you want to see the closing credits you're going to need to peel off some green.

It's become a very lucrative space with $25 million made by EA in the last quarter of 2012 just on their  Simpsons mobile  game alone.   EA and other large publishers like Activision have been actively exploring  new revenue models  to  offset declines in traditional boxed sales.

It's a trend that's gradually finding its way into the traditional gaming space of PC's and consoles.  Subscriptions, upgrades and DLC  have become more commonplace but game publishers see an opportunity to push the model even further. 

236405_GameTap GameTap Games on Demand 125x125The typical triple-A game title now averages $60.  DLC is usually around $15 with upgrades usually a fraction of that.  If you were to take advantage of all the extra content you could  essentially pay for the game twice when you were done.

Of course you don't have to purchase the extra content but your experience will be diminished compared to those that do.  EA's Blake J. Jorgensen thinks that's where the money is.

"The next and much bigger piece is micro transactions within games...  we’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever... and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business"

I'm not so sure consumers are "enjoying "micro-transactions as much as they're just tolerating them at this point.  The model  can work if your upfront investment is minimal but the future may not be so certain if we're still paying triple-A prices. 

It's not unlike going to a movie, paying your $15 admission and upon arriving in the theater finding very few seats all of them occupied.  You inquire of the management and find that your ticket only entitles you to see the movie not to sit down unless you pay an additional charge.  Thus starts a chain of events that eventually ends in your $15 movie costing $40.  That doesn't even include the popcorn! 

It's not as farfetched as it seems.  EA's own Battlefield 3 already employs such a model that disenfranchises those who don't purchase a "premium" subscription or additional DLC.  Even franchises like Need For Speed aren't immune with Most Wanted getting paid DLC in the next few weeks.     

It seems the trend of "micro-transactions" is at least a part of the immediate future.  Time will tell if gamers will tolerate all the extra tolls along the way.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So long to the Battlefield

That's it, I'm done...

Back in October 2011 most of the reviews of Battlefield 3 were like this...

" When you are running full tilt down an alley, literally hopping over obstacles with your legs swinging, it feels so life like you say to yourself, wow, is this cool."

 Bulls**t, what is this guy, 12?

I've never tripped over so many non-existent rocks or felt so out of contact with the terrain in a game since the PC version of Battlezone.  Yeah, Frostbite 2 is pretty but it's not the second coming.  Collision detection is about as good as Borderlands 2 and moving around the maps is only slightly better.  I can't count how many times I've spent in vain trying just to run up a flight of stairs.

"I have played most of the maps more than a few times, and never once did I feel like I was trapped by prone snipers."

Again, I repeat, Bulls**t.  We've all had the experience of the A-hole camped out on a hill overlooking the enemy base racking up spawn kills.   Or maybe it's the Jet aces who can take out opposing aircraft before they even get off the ground.  Don't even get me started with the aimbot hacks.

Look, at this point the novelty has definitely worn off and all EA cares about is milking the franchise with DLC, paid perks (shortcut kits) and "Premium" memberships that keep the more frugal amongst us relegated to second class status. 
281153_Free Shipping, free stickers on hot moto-inspired shirts, shorts, hoodies, footwear, caps at MetalMu

What follows is my list of "I'm tired(s)"

  • I'm tired of being kicked off of servers because of issues outside of my control like say a version incompatibility with PUNKBUSTER.  I mean c'mon, PUNKBUSTER?  That creaky POS didn't work on anything but the most moronic of hacks in the 90's why do they still use it?
  • I'm tired of losing points, bonuses, medals and ribbons because a server hiccup drops me off a server. 
  • I'm tired of not getting credit for a kill when I'm the only person who shot at the enemy. 
  • I'm tired of unloading an entire clip of an assault rifle at point blank range into an enemy player and getting taken out with one shot of their pistol.
  • I'm tired of knife attacks being almost completely indefensible unless they come straight at you.  Don't give me that crap about hearing them sneak up either, that's Bulls**t.
  • I'm tired of EA's insistence on using a web browser as the front end of its game.
  • I'm tired of having to go online just to play cooperative mode.  Even Borderlands 2 has a LAN mode!
  • I'm tired of ever fewer servers available to non-Premium players. 
  • I'm tired of stat lags taking up to 24 hours to resolve. 
  • I'm tired of server lag on connections with less than a 50ms ping.
  • I'm tired of being bounced off of servers halfway through a game because a private server's "VIP member" joined the game.
  • I'm tired of issues on the tiny number of "official" EA servers (which rarely show up in browse lists) causing the rest of the servers to develop ridiculous lag times.
  • I'm tired of Dice's constant fiddling with game mechanics  just to wrench the latest DLC into the rest of the game or satisfy a bunch of whiners. 
  • I'm tired of surprise maintenance windows and hours long multi-gigabyte downloads to satisfy DLC that I'LL NEVER BUY!
  • I'm tired of half of the servers that I CAN get on being populated by hackers that EA/Dice either can't or won't address. 
  • I'm tired of map bugs and glitches in a game that's going on 2 years old still not being addressed. 
  • I'm tired of the auto balance system in general.  I've yet to see it create an evenly matched set of teams.  It's only data points are length of time on the server and how many players are on each side.  If you've got 20 level 50 colonels against 30 level 20 "whatever's" who do you think is going to win?   Auto balance won't help you there.
  • I'm tired of stupid administrative options on ranked servers that allow restrictions on weapons or have 4 figure ticket counts.  Ever get bounced for using a sniper rifle? I have.  How about 1500 ticket conquest maps or 2000 point death matches?  Those are just endurance contests and no fun unless you like sticking pins in your eyeballs.
  • I'm tired of Bulls**t stats that ding me for quitting a server that I got disconnected from by no fault of my own.  

Finally, I'm just sick of wasting my time and not enjoying the game anymore.  It used to be out of 10 games at least half would be worth playing.  Now it's less than 1.  I've invested over 200 hours in Battlefield 3 and managed to make it to a 1 star colonel.  All without hacks or a "Premium" membership.

 That's not bad for someone without a "sh*t bucket" (Battlefield Friends reference BTW).  The game is all about EA's money machine, Rambo wannabe's and hacks.  It really hasn't been fun in months.

236405_GameTap GameTap Games on Demand 125x125Perhaps that's the lesson of video games.  After a year, regardless of DLC, most of them run their course and you're looking toward the next chapter of the story. 

 I play games to have fun not to stroke my ego or massage any dark sociopathic tendencies.  Outside of the hacks that's all you'll find on the ranked servers now.

Which is exactly why I'm against subscription models and paid DLC.   The reality is that after 6 months there's nothing new under the sun.  DLC just gives you new maps that tend to fall out of favor in a few weeks.  Weapon upgrades and new game modes are just variants on what's already there.  You're literally beating a dead horse.

Which is why I'm done.  I've officially uninstalled Battlefield 3 from all my PC's preserving only my saved games and player status for any bonuses it affords me when Battlefield 4 comes out.   Which I'm sure I'll have had quite enough of about a year after ITS release as well. 

So long for now, Battlefield.  The first 6 months were fun...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

PS4 announced, EA & Activision layoffs and more

The Midagedgamer Report for February 22, 2013

This Week:

Activision and EA Layoffs, PS4 is announced, kinda and not much else.
Activision is dumping it's licensed property business and with it about 30 employees.  In case you don't know, licensed properties come from other popular media like comic books and movies.  Activision's stable includes James Bond, Spider-Man and Family guy.  Probably not a bad move since most licensed properties usually end up being an embarrassment to the developer and the publisher.  Superman anyone? 
Activision is also laying off some of it's Treyarch (Black ops 2) development studio in an effort to..

"...better align our development talent against the needs of DLC development... " 

In other words to keep milking franchises with more DLC instead of producing new original titles.  It's all about the cash flow guys.

Not to be outdone, EA has also confirmed layoffs in its Montreal and Los Angeles Studios.  Frank Gibeau said in a statement on Thurdsay...

"Thousands of our existing employees have been retrained and redeployed to work on the new platforms and initiatives.  But when it is not possible to redeploy a team, we soften the tough decisions with assistance."  The "assistance" comes from... "...outplacement services and severance packages to ease their transition to a new job." 

Hmm, I wish someone had eased my transition...

361259_Buy Direct and SAVE on Mad Catz productsI'm wondering how many more reports of layoffs we're going to hear about between now and the holiday season.  With both major consoles moving to X86 architecture the need for programming skills on previous platforms will quickly evaporate.   Methinks EA better include some free programming classes in its severance package.

Crysis 3 has officially launched.  Check out Ryan Shrout's game stream video below.  Warning, it was sponsored by AMD which means most of it was like sitting through an AMD infomercial.  Just turn down the sound and enjoy the gameplay.

Bioshock Infinite is finally complete.  2K's development studio Irrational Games has reported that the game has gone gold and will release on March 26th for Xbox360, PC and Playstation.  Amazing how much life they can still get out of the Unreal 3 engine.

If you're like me and had nothing better to do then you probably caught the online stream Wednesday of the Playstation 4 announcement.  From over 2 hours of coverage we've learned this much...It's officially going to be called the PS4, the controller has a touchpad and a bunch of developers are making games for it.  The rest we already knew like it will be based on X86 architecture and have 8GB of DDR5 RAM hooked to an 8 core AMD processor with onboard GPU and a "massive" amount of storage.
So we pretty much learned nothing new outside of confirming information leaked months ago to all the gaming websites.  We didn't see what the console will look like, what the media format will be nor what it will cost.  Just that it will be out around Holiday 2013.

We've heard nothing from Microsoft about the upcoming XBOX  by the way but if the rumors are anything like the PS4 rumors then it'll be pretty much the same spiel.  Which begs the question.  If consoles will finally be based on PC hardware then what's the point of having them?  Why would I want to limit myself to a locked up ecosystem when I could do so much more on a PC?  Especially when newer operating systems like Windows 8 are designed to be more interactive.  Perhaps this is the ultimate irony in that PC's will finally triumph over consoles by actually "BEING" consoles!

Guess what, there's been another Origin update!  Yes version was released this week and it contained......"miscellaneous bug fixes"  Get yours today!  Like you had a choice...
That's it for this week.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Steam 4 Linux, Pirating the Pirate Bay & more

The Midagedgamer Report 2-15-2013

This Week:

Goodbye physical media! Gamestop closing stores, the ultimate irony and more!

The Internet is the future not to mention the past and present.  In fact it's all a gamer needs If you agree with Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney.  Sweeney believes that the way we get our games now is inefficient.  What with all that advertising, packaging and retail channel stuff.  From Sweeney,

"Once you have a game, it's available pervasively online and your devices are all Internet-connected.  Do you really need to run television ads to get people to find it at the top of the App Store?"
The Epic games boss claims getting rid of all that pesky marketing and physical copy stuff will allow more money to flow to development.  Again from Sweeney, " I'm looking forward to our digital future.  Development budgets are going to be the dominant cost in the industry."

Really Tim? Why aren't they now? Considering the even mix of physical and digital media the assertion rings hollow.  If the prospect of waiting for multi-gigabyte downloads and being forced to be connected to the Internet just to play a game are attractive that rings true.  Of course recent history shows that's rarely the ideal situation, Diablo 3 anyone?  This is just another example of a game company trying to switch to a subscription model to milk a franchise.  I don't believe for a second that going to an all digital delivery system is beneficial to development teams.  More likely it's just cheap CEO's looking to pad their own fortunes.

In a related story the Epic Games boss says he's "more enthusiastic now than ever" for next generation consoles.  He thinks next gen consoles will reflect gaming pc's now.  I guess he doesn't quite understand that next gen consoles could barely stand up to a mainstream business PC right now when it comes to gaming.  Sweeney is likely more excited about the prospect of Microsoft and Sony switching to more of an online than physical media focus.  Sweeney's Digital future indeed.

If you thought Aliens: Colonial Marines looked good, hold off.  Seems everybody hates it, including the developer.  With the project bouncing around multiple studios for the past 2 years it's no surprise the hype didn't live up to the reality.   Gearbox led the way on the project but outsourced a large portion of it to Timegate who prompty decided to toss most of the work including art and design.  So much for outsourcing.

In Valve news a whole bunch of people got axed this week.  Gabe says it's no big deal and no projects will be affected.  CVG says that nobody's criticizing the company from the inside, just the outside.  Which makes me want to put on my captain obvious shades. 

GameStop did its own study and found that 60% of console players won't buy anything from Sony or Microsoft that blocks used games.  Bravo gamers! It's time the big boys remembered whom is serving whom.

146032_Stylin' Trucks Brand Logo 120x60By the way, GameStop is going to be closing 250 stores this year although they will be opening 60 to 70 new stores.  It's likely a pre-emptive action to offset a potential drop in sales from next gen console hostility to used games.

So if you've been breathlessly awaiting Steam for Linux to exit "Beta" you can breathe now.  Valve has brought the platform to official status with great fanfare.   With 50 games cut up to 75% till February 21st now's the time to get in on all that OpenGL goodness.  Thing is, unless somebody convinces Microsoft to make a port of DirectX to the open source community your selection of games are going to be stuck in 90's.  OpenGL can do graphics but not much else. 

Any serious gamer who's tried to make their game controller or sound card work on a Linux platform knows that.  Windows owes its continuing existence to two factors; Business and gamers.  That's because it takes a lot less fiddling to make things happen on Windows these days.  The truth is that Linux on the desktop is roughly at the level of Windows 95 and in some scenarios, Windows 3.1.  Gabe Newell is well aware of that so I wouldn't be surprised if he had something up his sleeve for his upcoming Steam Box.

Speaking of Valve, there was a 110MB client update on Thursday morning.  Support for Linux, of course as well as some other client tweaks.

The guy who took out Osama Bin Laden offered to consult on Medal of Honor: Warfighter but EA turned him down.  He was told the production was "stacked with consultants"  Wow, considering how bad the game was it couldn't have hurt to hire on someone who actually knew about military tactics. 


For some, there can be no greater betrayal than violating the edict of honor among thieves. The Pirate bay is looking to sue a copycat site for copyright infringement.  Talk about your pots calling kettles black!  Regardless of how you view their "mission" or copyright law you can't escape the irony.
361259_Primer Wireless Headset

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Origin for Mac!, BF3 discrimination and Grid 2!

Midagedgamer weekend update

This stuff was just too good to wait a week for....

Ok, Seems Friday brought yet another update for the Origin client.  That's the third one in as many weeks.  Along with the now familiar "miscellaneous bug fixes" in the revision notes comes support for Macs!
Yes, that's right, just like Steam, Origin has decided to support Macs on EA's platform.  The new version is  There's around 50 games available for the Mac like Dragon Age 2 and the Sims.  Another nice feature is platform portability.  So if you have a PC version of a game you have access to the MAC version as well.  Would be nice if console games worked that way.

Speaking of Origin, I ran into another little atrocity last night playing Battlefield 3.  One of my favorite servers issued a warning to me when I joined it.  I was joining a map not part of any DLC pack, specifically Kharg Island, and I received a notice that because I didn't have the "Aftermath" DLC I ran the risk of being kicked off the server at any time.  I was allowed to join and play but I found the experience no less offensive.  Why should I be kicked off a server if I don't have a DLC pack?  It's a public server, hosting a standard map. 
Yet another case of hostility toward "non-premium" players.  I'd have to say at this point that when 

mwave Logo  (120x60)Battlefield 4 launches later this year it would be wise to just buy the premium package if you are an avid fan of the game.  That will essentially cut out casual players since the price of admission will be $120 or more for the game and the subscription.  I'm still on the fence but leaning toward abandoning the franchise.  Honestly, we're already playing on a modern battlefield with BF3.  Where else can they go? 

Today brought great news about a sequel to one of the best racing games ever produced in my opinion.  Grid 2 is due out May 28th and they've released a trailer.  Sadly, it appears this new Grid game will be afflicted with DLC disease at launch.  If you pre-order the Brands Hatch Edition you get codes for 2 DLC packs.  They include car unlocks, new routes on the Brands Hatch course and discounts for the  online car upgrades store and an special online event. See the link for more info.

361259_Primer Wireless Headset

Friday, February 8, 2013

Xbox PS4 & DRM, Dont be stupid, Gabe & JJ at DICE and more!

The Midagedgamer Report for 2-8-2013

This Week:

Xbox, More like PS4 than we wanted, Are you stupid? Creative con-fab..not and more!

Seems Microsoft wants to take a page out of Sony and Blizzard's playbook.  There's news that the next XBOX will not only have a blu-ray player but require an Internet connection to use it, that's the Blizzard part.  It also won't play used games, that's the Sony part.

GameShark Store Logo 120x60That's fine, I say full steam ahead.  If there's anything that will save PC gaming this is it.  At $60 or more per game plus the requirement to have an Xbox account which will likely be useless without the word "Gold" attached to it you can be sure that Both Microsoft and Sony will price themselves out of the market.  In case you still care, the new Xbox will have an AMD 8 core CPU running at 1.6GHZ, 8 GB of DDR3 and a new version of Kinect.  The Code Name is Durango which is meaningless except for something I heard Mary Jo Foley of say on Windows Weekly a few weeks back.

She was told that Microsoft codenames that use cities are directly related to how close the project is to completion.  The closer the city is to Microsoft HQ in Redmond the closer it is to final product.  Durango is a town in Colorado so take from that what you will.

By the way, I'm just going to say it straight. If you think it's perfectly fine to be forced to be online and pay a subscription just to play your games you're just stupid and should immediately send me all your money.  You obviously don't know how to manage it.

FREE Shipping & HOTTEST PricesDoubly so if you think it's perfectly ok to force a gamer to pay full price for a game and not be able to resell it when he/she is done with it.  For decades game licenses have been transferrable spawning a thriving secondary market and the chance to recoup at least some of your investment.  That runs contrary to a business plan that counts on trapping gamers in a tightly controlled ecosystem.   

They'll justify your gaming prison with claims of enhanced security and superior service and... it will be a lie.  Dice games will still be hacked, Internet connections will still be flaky and you'll have a heck of time getting your money back when they do you wrong. 

The reason for this "locked down and hooked up" approach? What else, greed.  You see digital (as in online) sales were up compared to Physical (retail box) sales.  That stems from fewer retail locations selling triple-A titles, online incentives from digital subscriptions and pre-orders and an aging demographic that chose to feed their kids over spending the better part of $100 for a game. 
At the least, it's a misread of the gaming consumer.  At its worst, it's blatant abuse of the DMCA and if you think this kind of thing is going to stop with games you're blind.  Stand up against corporate greed and protectionism!    Boycott the corporatocracy!,  Boot up your PC, slap in an indie title and game to your heart's content on Windows 7! 

This is far from an idle threat if you take a look at recent numbers from the NPD group show gaming revenues in general fell 9% from 2011.  That's 14.8 billion down from 16.34 billion in a year that had an even worse economy.  That's a shrinking market no matter how you get your content and it's their greed that's making it that way.  Make them fight for every one of your dollars instead of sheepishly taking their abuse.  Since when does a market get dictated by sellers instead of buyers anyway?  Games aren't food, clothing or medical care.  We can take them or leave them.  You have the power to remind them of that.

Well two of my least favorite people, Gabe Newell of Valve and J.J. Abrams of the Star Trek reboot fame apparently had a pow-wow on stage, in front of everybody, at the DICE summit.  There, they laid out their individual philosophies on games and movies.  In short JJ's got an idea for a game that he'd like to partner with Valve to produce and Newell wants to see about JJ doing a Portal or Half Life movie.  Why not?  Half Life is a very stylized game that would translate well to Abrams "Fashion Runway" vision of Sci-Fi and Gabe needs a friend.
Gabe and JJ

New numbers are out for Wow subscriptions and it looks like Mists of Pandaria may have been a short lived bounce.  Down from 10 million subscriber numbers have dropped to 9.6 million.  Still good numbers for a game developed over half a decade ago but down nonetheless.  I guess the LARP guys got a deal on used panda costumes and let their subs lapse.

Finally, if you've recovered from the Facebook 404 hijack this week you may want to check out the following article about a new Call of Duty game due out this year.  Not many details but it's likely to come out around the time BF4 launches. 

Deal of the Week

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gabe's prophecies, Shield Real? Warfighter no more & EA weighs in

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The Midagedgamer Report for 2-1-2013

This Week, is kinda light but I managed to dig up...

Gabe's prophecies, Nvidia Shield, Warfighter will fight no more and EA CEO weighs in on video games and gun violence link.

Probably the best story of the week is Gabe Newell's continuing fixation on an Apple console that: Doesn't exist, hasn't been announced and probably won't happen, at least not the way he thinks it will.  While giving a speech at the University of Texas, Newell prophesized that the next 12 months will see the battle for the living room heating up.  To that end he sees Apple has his biggest competitor.  Nothing says it better than a quote, so here's two...

"The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform,"

Huge Savings Click Here!"I think that there's a scenario where we see sort of a dumbing down living room platform emerging - I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there, and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?"

Of course if he ends up being right, I guess it's time to take up golf, yeah, I'm old enough for that...

So maybe I was wrong, looks like the most interesting announcement of CES, the Nvidia Shield may be more than just an engineering exercise.  After a year of serious development it looks like it'll be a real product.  For whom I don't know but it's an interesting response to being shut out of the innards of both the PS4 and the Xbox.

Medal of Honor news!

Seems EA has finally let the axe fall on the "Warfighter"  franchise.  It's been taken "Out of Rotation" meaning the one and only installment is the last we'll hear about it.  I say, Took ya long enough!
EA's COO Peter Moore flipped the kill switch but blamed consumers for not embracing its "authenticity" as well as a slow marketplace. Labels President Frank Gibeau was a bit more realistic in saying, "We missed on Medal of Honor" 

Moore thought the critics got it wrong when they gave the game, "Scores lower than deserved".  How about the bad game mechanics and stupid AI Peter?  If you want realism play ARMA.  EA doesn't do realism unless it has the word "photo" in front of it.

146032_Generic 336 x 269In other EA news, EA CEO John Riccitiello weighed in on video games impact on violent crime.  The short of it is he said what we should all already know.  Video games have nothing to do with gun violence.  Here's his quote. 

"I could give you long stories about how people in Denmark, or the UK, or Ireland or Canada consume as much or more violent games and violent media as they do in the United States, and yet they have an infinitely smaller incidence of gun violence, but that's not really the point. The point is that direct studies
that have been done, hundreds of millions of dollars of research that has been done has been unable to find a linkage because there isn't one."

Finally, Check out the trailers for the final BF3 DLC coming in March.