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To Great An Expectation

Posted by Segun777 Tuesday August 21 2012 at 8:17AM
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There’s the new title chugging its way through alpha testing, called City of Steam. It’s supposed to be really good; I’ve heard from more than one source that it’s going well at least. It’s a browser title though, and for me after I hear browser, it’s blah, blah, blah, bu-blah. Browser, for me, is a very short step up from mobile in my mind. There’s another title called Sevencore, last year I was kind of psyched about this game, a F2P title coming out from a small developer. I remember thinking this game looked interesting, but I haven't played a F2P title since before TOR dropped, which is odd because they have been at times all I've played. An interesting and potentially devastating development from all the new AAA games going F2P, where does that leave smaller more niche developers?

Games without subscriptions are the new in-thing with MMO game development these days; although even in the West they’ve been around for more than a decade. Take World of Warcraft out the equation and I think you would find that the MMO genre has been fairly level over the past couple decades with a nice percent growth each year. In fact if you do the numbers I think MMO growth has been between 5% and 10% year on year in the last fifteen years. It’s an interesting thought. In the stock market if you had numbers like that you would have had a very good run, but you’d also need to be looking out for signs of a bear market, seeing if the market was prime for a correction.

The new F2P kick looks good in theory but sometimes there are unintended consequences. Many smaller, more niche games are unlikely to do well as a result of large F2P titles. The more they are forced to compete on unequal footing the worse it is likely to get. Even if their games are the same quality, which is difficult to argue, they don’t have the same advertising budgets and wow factor. The MMO market has always been ridiculously fickle, and hard to predict. The very pronounced development time means that sometimes decisions that seemed like smart moves in early development might not pan out by launch. Certainly TOR might have been better off being less like WoW, although at the beginning of their development gamers didn’t want any other form of gameplay than what WoW had to offer.

It seems as if World of Warcraft has fostered unrealistic expectations. Consider if a MMO was doing 300,000 subs fifteen years ago; at 5% growth that’s about 624,000 and 1.25 million at 10% growth. World of Warcraft is an outlier or the exception that proves the rule, either way it’s an anomaly. The truth is that no MMO sub should expect annual subs over 1 million, and that’s the truth. MMO companies have been blinded by the success of WoW without realizing that it’s unlikely to be obtained, at all, let alone in the near future. Economists have been saying that a game needs to take a bite of out WoWs’ subscribers when the reality is that it’s a juggernaut unlikely to ever have a peer. Bioware and Funcom are the latest companies to fall under the spell of unrealistic expectations.

The question then becomes, what do these numbers mean for F2P, the emerging era of sub-less AAA MMO development? Does the growth seen is the previous decade and a half translate into dollar signs for F2P games? Does the success of the few companies whose former subscription based games translate into future success for the industry as a whole if it becomes F2P? These questions will be asked sooner or later, and ignoring the possibilities is an enormous risk. In many ways, it’s likely that companies would be better off attempting to view F2P akin to the DVD market for the movie business. Have a plan to stay sub based for a certain amount of time, or until a certain profit or subscription number is met and then go F2P. This gives early adopters the chance to start from the ground up, but anyone who feels the game is not worth the subscription can jump on later. More than anything its not the choice that matters but knowing and recognizing options rather than setting in stone a business model. Like Darwin said, adaption is the key to survival of the fittest.

When Less is More

Posted by Segun777 Friday August 17 2012 at 10:55AM
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The Secret World is a small game. I’m sorry but it is, when held up against The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, it’s found wanting with regards to square mileage. However, what Secret World does have packs a punch far beyond its relative size. Like Mike Tyson in the heavy weight division, it is a game that is not to be dismissed. If Secret World has impressed me at all, and it has in many categories; it has impressed me in its ability to do a lot with very little. It packs a wallop of a punch emotionally, not the least because its simplicity in execution refuses to drown out the good stuff.

I loved The Old Republic, still do, but I was always left with that slightly bitter aftertaste because it wasn’t Mass Effect Online. It was especially apparent after playing ME 3 that it didn’t have the same emotional connect. I know five years from now, as an MMO TOR will likely be highly remembered, years and years of characters and content would make TOR an MMO to remember; I can see that happening so clearly that I won’t be surprised when it finally happens.

Funcom is facing financial difficulties, not dissimilar to many a developer/publisher in recent years in the industry. I fear that the message of TSW will be lost. If they fail, the idea that much can be done with very little is an important one for the industry as big budget AAA titles continue to surpass the hundred million dollar mark on both single player and multiplayer titles. If The Old Republic failed anywhere in my opinion it was that it was so focused on the bigger and better it forget the hard bitter lessons of its yesteryears. While other franchises like Final Fantasy were going big, Bioware always worked best by focusing on the small interesting relationships of hero and companion, everything else was just the icing on the cake.

Games like Braid, Deadlight, Dust: Elysian Tail, and Secret World recently among many others have shown not only that games can be smaller and still relevant, but that those games can be celebrated for what they are instead of remembered for what they aren’t. A lot of titles are coming down the pipeline as we come to the big gaming revenue months of October and November and beyond, for every Halo, Call of Duty, and Assassins Creed, there are smaller games that can pack a big punch. It would be a shame if we missed out because of what they were not, rather than the great things they were.

The Rise of DRM

Posted by Segun777 Monday August 13 2012 at 3:47PM
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Blizzard got hacked the other week; it joins the long list of companies hit by what is becoming the new crime wave of the century. The dictionary says that piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at land, sea, or air; or now the World Wide Web. Some gamers and journalists like to imply that piracy and hacking are a mostly trumped up idea by some vast conspiracy of game companies.

PC Gamers, stop complaining about DRM. Digital Rights Management is the best and perhaps the only way to alleviate the very real problems of piracy. Piracy is killing your industry and you are the culprit. It’s that simple. Are there other problems facing the PC industry? Of course, lack of real innovation outside of indie titles, a MMO market bubble primed to burst, the death of numerous developers large and small. All of these are legitimate problems that need to be solved in the coming years; but you are single-handedly killing the golden goose. PC developers are moving to console development leaving shoddy PC ports because this is a business and losing millions and billions to piracy is unacceptable. Continue to ignore the phenomenon at you own peril.

PC gamers love to spout how DRM hurts legitimate gamers and thus sales, whether by tethering them to online only game play or by limiting the number of times they can install games they own. First of all, the idea that video game companies, developers or publishers, would in any way wish in infringe on sales of their games is ludicrous. Secondly, developers always or at the very least usually, have workarounds for legitimate cases where more installs are needed. Thirdly, the argument ignores the obvious and undeniable correlation between the need for DRM and piracy. Game companies have no reason to build up levels of ill will between themselves and customers unless there is at the very least the perception of piracy hurting business. Piracy is here to stay in the digital age and beyond and game companies want to do everything in their power to be hurt by it as little as possible; PC gamers and even to some extent console gamers need to be cognizant of these facts.

But its not all gamers, sometimes companies do things that are beyond the pale and gamers have a right to take them for task for that and they should. Legitimate concerns shouldn’t be dismissed as whining or sour milk, I for one do not want to live in a mobile gaming age. We gamers deserve better but so do game companies. As they say “All that stands before the triumph of crappy IPhone garbage, is for gamers to do nothing”. End File.

Were the Reapers Evil?

Posted by Segun777 Tuesday August 7 2012 at 2:10PM
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Author’s Note: In honor of the Leviathan DLC coming out soon, in which it is likely we will learn more about the history of the Reapers and their inception; I thought it would be interesting to ponder whether or not the Reapers should be called evil.

 

Can an honest man be evil? Must the actions of a man motived by a selfless good be condemned as evil? If a man believes that murdering a hundred will save the lives of a million is he evil? Is evil in the intention or the action or must it always be both? In Mass Effect 3, the Reapers were brought into being to save the galaxy from an unending cycle of death. Rather than let the cycle of war between synthetic and organic continue to an inevitable end the A.I. Construct decided to commit genocide only on the higher species in the galaxy thereby letting the lesser species grow. But in doing so the A.I. stopped one cycle of destruction and started another.

It’s not known for certain how long the Reapers had been performing their so called benevolent genocide on the galaxy in the Mass Effect universe but the years have been between hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of years. The Reapers came every 50,000 years and words spoken by Javik imply evidence of at least a few times before the rise of the Protean Empire.

Some people believe that the Reapers were indoctrinating Shepard throughout the Mass Effect trilogy. Let us look at that argument. Indoctrination as written in the mass effect wiki is the term used for the "brainwashing" effect the Reapers and their technology have on organic beings. A signal or energy field surrounds the Reaper, which subtly influences the minds of any organic individual in range. The belief is that Shepard is no longer in control of his/her own actions and thus cannot make a good, informed decision. Simply looking at the cause and effect of her actions Shepherd in two of the four scenarios destroys the Reapers, seen by the epilogue of Mass Effect 3. In the first of the two other choices, the Reapers wipe out every council race, and the last choice has the Reapers leaving back to Dark Space, presumably as a sword of Damocles if things get out of hand. In any case, the idea that Shepard is indoctrinated is a good one, but cannot be supported by evidence revealed in the epilogue after her death. Besides the purpose of indoctrination makes an indoctrination of Shepard unlikely, if the outcome of the meeting of the A.I. Construct allows for the best outcome for the Council races then what would have been the purpose of Indoctrination? Without getting into a metaphysical discussion of ‘everything is a lie, and nothing is true’ we must believe that what Shepard experienced truly happened, else we have no foundation from which to speak from. To be frank the idea that the Reapers and thus their forebear were lying to Shepard seems at best somewhat disingenuous. The Reapers have never displayed even the ability, let alone the need or desire, to lie; the idea that they would start now seems out of character.

I remember a novel that I read in which a small planet was being attacked by a larger planet. First the larger planet had sent their criminals and malcontents by starships that could not fly for much longer in the hope that the smaller planet would blow the ships out of the sky, and thus spark an incident to be used to go to war. In the end thousands, and then millions, and then finally billions of people died to end the war. If killing those few thousands on the ship in the beginning could have ended the war would it have been justified? Even then how can one be certain of the effect of ones actions?

The Protean Empire is also an interesting case study. Peripheral evidence suggests that the Protean Empire were upraising species to forcibly join their empire in the Metacon War. The Metacon War was a war between all intelligent organics against synthetics that were likely created originally by the Protean Empire. Javik said that when the turning point had finally been reached in that war the Reapers appeared. And yet that is exactly the reason the Reapers were made in the first place, a Construct to figure out a way to stop the cycle of war between organics and synthetics. It implies that their makers, who they themselves were the first race to be forcibly made into Reapers were concerned that galactic history was picking up speed into the inevitable end point of the destruction of all life.

This must be true because there are only three outcomes of the cycle, one that the synthetics win and destroy all galactic life which seems an unlikely outcome if one creates a synthetic to solve the problem. Two, it is possible organics would stop creating synthetics. An altogether unlikely event however, organics make tools, tools become machines, and machines become synthetics. Third, the more likely event is that the makers of the Reapers were concerned with the destruction of the galaxy. By creating an A.I. construct, they could create in a single entity containing all their collective intelligence and understanding. And thus we get to the crucial end point that the Reapers weren’t killing of all organic life; rather they were crushing the ‘high races’, those that had raised themselves up to the zenith of their species. They left the so called ‘low races’, those that had not achieved space flight alone. The Reapers were Galactic foresters, cutting down the mature trees right before they began to rot and decay thereby leaving the saplings time to grow and mature in the sun.

And so we come full circle, do a man’s actions make him evil or is it his intentions? Must the actions of the Reapers be condemned to be called evil, even if their intention were to further life? The Reapers had no intention of destroying organic life, at best if their intentions are to be disbelieved then their actions were merely evolution of the strong. It is a hard point to argue that genocide of a few races is necessary for other races to live. Especially when Shepard is able to unite organics and synthetics as one, and yet the Reapers very own construction implies that the Galaxy had been asking the question even before their birth. In the end I have no answer, I don’t feel that I have the wisdom to answer the question but I ponder the significance of a universe that allows the question to be asked.