Annoyed enough to break a hiatus that has lasted nearly a year.
Annoyed enough to sit down and actually crank out a blog post because I am so disgusted by the current state of things, that shutting up seems like an invalid option.
To my right, I see big name companies with successful AAA titles lifting up their skirts and treading into the murky bogs of Free-to-Play crapola. To my left, I see a cavalcade of clueless developers throwing themselves at Facebook and Twitter in a desperate attempt to gobble up money like pac-man on a level with no ghosts.
Straight ahead, looking to the future, the games that are supposed to save us all... the next-gen Triple A titles... the big names...?
Guild Bores 2, the sequel to the most overrated game of all time, and yet another Star Wars MMO being developed by Bioware, masters of single player games with 50,000 books worth of dialogue and gameplay that's about as fun as counting the hairs on your head while standing in a room full of mirrors.
The former is abandoning its roots in exclusively instanced drivel and intends to copy every MMO released in the past five years. The latter features an outdated cover mechanic borrowed from turn-of-the-millenium FPS failures, the same UI we've seen in every MMO since 1998 and is yet another Star Wars game. A franchise that's been beaten to death, ressurrected and then beaten to death so many times that I hesitate to call it 'Intellectual' Property anymore.
What are these two games supposed to save us from? Quality? Expectations?
Didn't everyone learn not to get their hopes up after Warhammer and Age of Conan? All you heard for months, and even years before these games were released is how they were going to be the best game ever created, topple all currently successful worlds, and throw the market into complete upheaval.
It happened again with Aion.
Now a couple years later, everyone simply shrugs their shoulders and fully expects these two games to buck the trend, smiling, nodding and agreeing with all the positive press that's being spewed all over like water from a malfunctioning fire hydrant.
A year from now? Two more flops released, and another couple million people with a box (or a digital download) of a game they will never touch again, while the presently vocal minority sit smugly holding up signs that say "I told you so... again."
tldr version: Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic: flops in the making. Buy not; or at the very least, wait til a couple months after release when it's apparent exactly how derivative they are.
Moving along in reverse order, I want to touch on the mindless obsession everyone in the business of game development seems to be having with social networking.
Mind you, this isn't simply an issue with one, a couple, or even a dozen developers. This is everyone from small companies, with their pre-requisitve facecrook and twatter pages and contests promising $10 giveaways for their free-to-play game if 1000 people "like" it, to the behemoth itself, Blizzard, who intended to drop the RL Namehammer on the entirety of their forums until the noise of a collective "WTF?!" from their community momentarily forced the dollar signs out of their brains.
We know about Blizzard's deal with Facecrook. It's hardly difficult for anyone with even three brain cells to put two and two together and make four here.
So why is all this happening? Why does anything else on this planet happen? Money.
Everyone out there wants a slice of that sweet Facebook pie. They want to learn from the masters of herding mindless sheep. They too want 61.6 million people (FarmVille's most recent numbers) with self-esteem and self-affirmation issues - who feel the need to notify the entire planet every time they have a cup of coffee - as subscribers to their game.
And it's no small wonder. Ever played FarmVille?
I borrowed a friend's Facebook account out of sheer morbid curiosity at what could possibly entice 6 times the people of WoW and 60 times the people of any other subscription MMO.
The answer? Because it's self-affirming.
FarmVille is so unbelievably fucking simple and easy that it is utterly IMPOSSIBLE to suck, or fail at it. It requires no thought, minimal planning and is easily navigated by blind, bedridden siamese twin amputees. Consequently, anyone can hop on, shit out some strawberries, make some virtual cash and feel like they have achieved something worthwhile. Then they post it to their Facebook page, and textually scream at their 378 friends, 4 of which they actually know: "HEY GUYS, I ACHIEVED SOMETHING. I FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF, LOOK AT THIS AND LOOK AT ME!"
So, here's the kicker: if something so simple, so easy and so mindless that it could have been coded by two college students, can draw such profit and numbers, where is the incentive to EVER develop immersive games with awesome graphics, a learning curve and tons of depth and content?
Very simply, there is none. Everyone knows it, and that is why real gamers who grew up playing difficult but fun NES games, who compete in modern FPS games, and who generally ask for more from their time spent in virtual worlds, are so disgusted by FarmVille and what it represents.
It is acquiescence to the lowest common denominator for the benefit of making money.
In other words, the companies we love, who have made the games we love are selling out.
Seeing every game and company, including some of our favorites, down on their knees, crawling pathetically over to and fellating Zynga and Mark Zuckerberg is really becoming tiresome. For some of us, who have a bit more invested in our games, it's sickening. It's like watching a beloved pet slowly being eaten alive by an ugly, vicious python, and there's not a god damn thing you can do about it, except to pick a forum or venue and mash your fingers on the keyboard until you feel like you've made your point, or at least vented some frustration.
Finally, there's this business of the Pied Piper of Microtransactions. Thank you Turbine. No, really, thank you. We could all use another game, hell, several more actually, where the only way to succeed is to pay. Please ruin one of the only positive aspects of LotRO, the community, by opening the floodgates to every game-hopping 13 year old in the world. Oh, and there really isn't enough of these types of games on the market right now, SOE. Why don't you make EQ2 even more irrelevant than it already is?
Seriously, why? While it's patently obvious what the intent is with all the Facebook integration, I fail to see where any benefit comes from taking games that are already successful and boarding them onto the Free-to-Play failboat.
Let me point out the problem with the F2P model. It's not microtransactions in and of themselves. Lets do a little comparison.
Player A is an immature and/or foreign, and/or young, and/or otherwise objectionable player who hops from free game to free game at a whim. He doesn't spend anything in the cash shop, probably plays for a couple weeks to a month at most and is generally a constant asshole. He leaves when he gets bored, or when he finds something better.
Player B is the standard free-to-play gamer. He is genuinely looking for something new and interesting, and knows that many of the subscription games are similar and derivative. Perhaps he's young, but not immature, or poor and can't afford the subscription. For whatever reason, he doesn't use the cash shop, but he is also a generally good guy who plays the game as best as he can without cash items.
Player C is either a standard subscription gamer or a veteran free-to-play gamer. Whatever their background, they can generally afford to and are willing to spend a reasonable sum of money in the cash shop, say $20 a month for some benefits. Say... some extra bag space, maybe a pet or a mount if they really like the game. They're regular players who enjoy playing, and are willing to go the extra mile for a little extra fun.
Player D, whatever else he may be, is made of money. He dual wields paypal accounts and has an epic set of armor fashioned entirely from credit cards. He has memorized his bank account numbers, and sends in a check once a week just in case there's a worldwide financial crash and none of his other payment methods go through. He will spend whatever it takes to gain any advantage in any area in the game, no matter how large or small it may be. $1,000 is nothing to this guy, $5,000 is an acceptable investment and if he really likes the game, $10k before you can blink an eye. This person will sit atop his massive mound of cash shop items, and systematically remind every single person who passes by that he is far superior to them in every way imaginable.
So lets do a little bit of analysis, shall we?
For starters, obviously Player B gets the short end of the stick here. He may enjoy the game, but he is required to suffer through the limitation of being a freebie. A annoys him, as A does everyone. B will make friends with other Bs and possibly with a couple Cs until he runs into a D. B resents D for multiple reasons, his success in the game being based solely on money, his arrogance, the amount of time he dedicates to the game, whatever the reason.
B gets discouraged. Between his limitations as a freebie, the As fouling up the community and the Ds controlling all the content and rankings through their use of the cash shop, B begins to look for other games. Gradually the Ds piss him off to the point where he begins to consider the cash shop the entire problem with the game, and now he dislikes Cs as much as Ds, simply because they both use the cash shop.
Player A doesn't care one way or the other about B, C or D. He knows he'll be gone in a month anyway. This game is terrible and the only reason he's playing it is because he's trying to kill time until "Insert Game In Development" comes out. He will let everyone know exactly how bad he thinks the game is until then, and really serves only to annoy the others.
Player C, in theory, is a good customer for the gaming company. Someone who legitimately likes the game, puts money into the item shop, causes no trouble and has fun with his friends, no matter who they are. As time goes on and C hits 'endgame' , he runs into an increasing number of Ds. He makes a post on the forums, upset that the game is becoming "pay to win", and at the amount of unfair advantages that D has. Unfortuantely, even though C still likes the game and believes it has potential, he is now high enough where the only content he can progress in is flooded by Ds. Frustrated, C again complains on the forums that the Ds (and the cash shop) are ruining the game, but his post and general feelings are ignored because...
Player D controls the game. You know it, I know it, the developers know it. Everyone will try to deny it, but the proof is in the pudding.
In order to have a successful free to play game with microtransactions you need two things, people who play it, and people who spend money on the cash shop. Nobody is going to spend money on a game that has no community and thus little reason to play it, and the game can have a million players, but if nobody has to use the cash shop to enjoy the game to its fullest, the game makes no money and it shuts down.
Unfortunately, both the requirements to run a successful free to play game with microtransactions are met by Players D and A. Like it or not, the game hoppers DO make up the majority of the F2P market. Websites such as OnRPG are evidence of that.
What do B and C bring to the table?
B brings absolutely nothing. Sure he adds to the community, but he doesn't spend any money on the item shop, and he frequently joins C in complaining about D and A. In effect, B is the most trouble with the least reward.
C does spend a small amount (comparatively) on the item shop. But this amount of money, as little as it is in the vast scheme of things gives C a sense of entitlement (and perhaps rightfully so) in believing his concerns as a customer are being heard. Unfortunately, resolving C's concerns would require alienating D.
D controls the game. You hate it, I hate it, we all hate it. Doesn't make it any less true. The developers are not going to do a single thing to jeopardize losing multiple Ds. Taking away advantages that a D has paid for is probably one of the most controversial things you can do, and believe me when I tell you, Ds have big mouths and will rant and rave to every other D if it even looks like that advantage they shelled out five grand for is going to be eliminated or even reduced.
Conversely, Bs and Cs make for the best community in a game. And we wonder why the vast majority of F2P games seem to have such a disconnect in the people department.
They aren't made for people. They're made for money.
We'll see how current LotRO and EQ2 subscribers feel when their respective F2P versions are released, and they become Player C, helpless as Player D and Player A come into their home and kick them to the curb.
I am annoyed, yes, and for good reason. Any lover of quality, immersive games should be.