Archive for the ‘F2P’ Tag

Pointless offers   Leave a comment

Last week, the recently F2P MMO Crimecraft: Bleedout had a special offer on that was typical of special offers on the F2P sections of Steam: join, try it now and you’ll get in-game advances and items for which you normally pay. These offers work because it gives an incentive to try a F2P game out of the bunch that you wouldn’t normally pick up.

I play a few F2P games, I generally aim to be cost-effective when it comes to gaming, a hangover from bygone unemployed days and F2P games give a lot of room to try before cash changes hands. This is good and I generally find the games that I pay into are not ones I feel I need to pay into to get ahead, they are games like League of Legends that end up making pay cash almost as a ‘thank you’ to the developers. That’s the attitude I’ve stuck by, games that feel like they are wrangling cash from me fall by the wayside.

Now, this sort of offer on Steam is great because I can’t download and try every F2P, nor would I want to. My games catalogue is massive on PC alone, not adding in the catalogues of my retro home computer and console gaming or the tabletop gaming I do. I will never run out of what I already have to play unless I moved into my dad’s attic and quit my job and all social contact. Further, I would need to wade through as much rubbish as my current catalogues to find the League of Legendses or Lord of the Rings Onlines. These offers are a great way to tapping the flow, as it were, and offering up the F2P buffet in manageable plate-loads.

The problem is when a game company seems to want more players than it is willing to reasonably support. So this offer on Crimecraft was up until the 29th and I made several attempts to get in there, create a character and play. I download the game via Steam, create my account, login. There are two servers. The first (Exeter) is full and the other has a population of high (Euricho). So I try Euricho first and I’m put in a queue of nearly 700 people. I estimated by the drop rate that it would take me about half an hour to forty-five minutes to get in, so I try later.

Later does not work. The same problem in both servers. They are stretched beyond what they can reasonably support. I don’t mind the game supporting such a limited userbase, it’s ultimately up to the game publishers, but why have a special offer trying to draw more players in when the special offer will only be accessible to a remote portion of those players?

Sure, it will potentially increase the player base and, therefore, income for the game. I tried logging in today and neither server was a problem this time, so it was short-term, but it doesn’t say much for the game’s attitude to its players. Imagine logging on to the game as a loyal player who’d been playing that game before the offer. Suddenly, you cannot play or are forced to wait up to an hour because they want to cram their servers full with potential cash-giving players.

Vogster (the developers) have a more than healthy sized community playing their game for the resources they allot it, unless their servers report false stats about player numbers. If they want to increase their base beyond what they currently have, they need an extra server.

The bigger problem is that this is indicative of some of the bad thinking behind F2P models. Players aren’t there to sell a set product to or build relationships with, they are cash pumps and you fit as many of them as you can in your game. Crimecraft isn’t necessarily advocating this outlook, but it would seem it given they made a drive to get more players than they can support comfortably. People need to be very sceptical of F2P games and I think they really need to know the sorts of business models being used before they feel comfortable investing.

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Team Fortress 2 “Meet the Medic” trailer (PC trailer)   Leave a comment

I saw it coming that they would go free to play a long while ago. They’ve been gearing up to it with the in-game store and the earlier F2P burst on Steam was a precursor. I feel ambivalent about it for the moment, but we’ll see what happens.

This week in gaming   Leave a comment

* Valve Corporation have released beta authoring tools for Portal 2.

* Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games argues that the free-to-play model is the future of PC gaming.

* Cthulhu Saves the World has been approved for Steam release, the creators are hoping for a May release.

* GoG.com have announced a weekend long sale on Activision-themed RPGs, including the Vampire: the Masquerade games.

* Opponents of piracy are pushing a new US Bill to combat piracy. It won’t work, I’m sure.

* The US Navy have taken the fight against Somali pirates online in an MMO, something it’s been building since 2009.

* Valve announced that it has no plans for a Source Engine 2, preferring incremental changes in patches to massive engine shifts.

* Brink has vanished from the UK Steam storm, but Bethesda have been fairly tight-lipped beyond that they are looking into the issue.

* Ars Technica’s Opposable Thumbs looks at the future of the Halo franchise after the release of the Defiant maps.

* After the devastation of the PSN and SOE, Sony Online’s downtime should be only a few more days.

* Also in MMO news, NCSoft has announced that Lineage’s Western servers will be shut down on the 29th June. No new accounts can be created and remaining time will be refunded.

Portal 2 (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Valve Corporation
Published by: Electronic Arts
Out now
Reviewed on: 5th May, 2011.

Presentation: Graphically, it’s been fairly polished since the days of the original Portal, but the visual style remains true to what the first game gave us.

Atmosphere: Again, as with Portal, the atmosphere follows its predecessor and remains true to its spirit. This isn’t, in the least, a bad thing as it allows the game to take the thematic content of the original and expand on the storyline and puzzles.

Control and Mechanics: Compared to Portal, the controls aren’t much different and the mechanics are pretty much what you’d expect from the original. In an age of overly complex controls for FPS games, it is refreshing to see something more basic.

Who should buy this: Those who are fans of innovative physics-based puzzle games, those who really loved the original, those who don’t mind a lack of replay value.

Who should avoid it: Those who expect it to be a better experience than Portal, those who can wait for a drop from the somewhat steep release price, those who don’t like the fact that Valve seem to want to milk whatever extra cash they can.

If I have to give a score: The first Portal was a 4 and while this is a great game, and a worthy successor with new content and tasty future DLC, the game isn’t a Portal beater, but it never needs to be and it is a great game 3/4.

Review

Portal 2 is a great game with which I can only find two faults. One of those is relatively minor and the other is something beyond the gaming experience itself. First, as with Team Fortress 2, there is a system of microtransactions (for the co-op game) that one normally finds in F2P games. Secondly, while this should in no way detract from the fact that Portal 2 is a great game, it really doesn’t compare to the effect the original had upon its release and bears the burden of comparison.

Let me expand on one of these points first before I write about what makes the game worth playing. The microtransaction system here is fairly trivial compared to TF2. Team Fortress 2 has in-game chests you can open with real money to get, potentially, items that have in-game effects like a gun that fires faster (albeit normally with a trade-off). This means that not only are people with cash to burn getting edges via paying extra cash, but that the game has microtransaction elements within the game itself that make themselves overt when I’m just trying to play the game.

Portal 2 avoids this extreme by making the available items aesthetic-only, there are no super-powered portal guns or extra-high jump boots, just things like hats, extra gestures, and so on. What it also does is restrict the acquisition and advertisement of these items to the item shop. There are no in-game chests that you’ll come across or anything like that, though it should be noted that there were not in Team Fortress 2 originally.

Call me cynical, but this effort to keep a paying customer paying also finds its way into design changes in elements returning from the first game: logos, cubes, the beloved companion cube and even the two main characters themselves undergo design changes that will no doubt trickle their way into merchandise. It’s an unhealthy obsession Valve have there and I really wish they would seek professional help, it’s not as if they need the extra cash all that much.

But that brief rant aside, the game is great. First of all, it takes the tried and tested formula of the first game and builds upon that solid foundation. A lot of the same old tricks are there at first, but the game blossoms with new features like liquefied moon rock that allows you to make a portal on an otherwise unusable surface or a bridges made of hard light that can travel through portals. These features are really what expands and adds depth to the  game, making it move beyond the first game.

Besides that, there is the expanded plot and that takes a more prominent role here. One of the original game’s endearing features was the vast amounts of discussion about what the game’s plot hinted at, whether Chell was a clone, what of the things GlaDOS said were true or false, whether the companion cube was sentient or not. This game expands that effect by allowing a much greater access to information about the origins and nature of GlaDOS or Aperture Science and its insane founder. Like the first game though, it leaves enough gaps for player speculation to fill.

With a nicely expanded setting and interesting new quirks to the puzzles, the single-player does a good service to the original, but the game also sports the co-op mode. This involves a sort of story-mode progression that takes place after the single-player playthrough (though can be accessed from the start, albeit with potential spoilers). Two bots are each equipped with a portal gun and forced to work out a variety of puzzles together.

This is where a lot of the fun of the game lies, but the very nature of the game means that the puzzles aren’t going to repeatedly offer you a challenge, once you’ve worked them out you can’t just run through them again for the same challenge. What this also means is you cannot really play this through with someone who has already beaten the game entirely as you won’t be able to work out the game by yourself, just watch as they direct you in what to do.

Which leads me to my last point of criticism, one thing that added replay value to the first game was the challenge mode. This curiously missing from the second game and it would be interesting to see how the game would implement a two-player challenge mode. Further, it would be great to see expanded multiplayer games with the portal concept, like a team-based game perhaps based on getting and taking the companion cube to a certain spot or setting up traps for enemy team members. The first (free) DLC for this game promises new replay value and a return of the challenge maps (and, hopefully, advanced maps). This is something the first game had and is noticeably lacking from the second game.

All-in-all, it depends what expectations you take to the game. It’s great, there’s no denying that though I could easily see a few people thinking the price tag is a bit steep and the item shop is a bit of a silly move that strikes me as pointless. Making me pay extra for minor content in a game whose price tag is already a little on the high side isn’t going to work, Valve. If you are not an early adopter type and can hold off for a better price, do so and this game will not disappoint you. It’s just that it always ends up compared to its predecessor, which came out of nowhere and hit like a thunderbolt. It isn’t going to wow most of you like Portal did, but do not let that spoil a great game.

Portal 2 is out now and available via Steam or boxed retail. Price is £29.99 on Steam.

Piracy’s effects and the F2P model.   Leave a comment

I wrote an article a few weeks back on the conflicting claims about the effects of piracy on the PC games market. A friend then recommended to me a very interesting article by Tadhg Kelly in GameSetWatch, arguing that piracy itself can be a beneficial marketing technique and that building relationships with gamers is more profitable in the long term than viewing games development as what he calls a “content business” where the game’s content has value.

My intent here is to show several reasons to view his arguments with suspicion. I think that a certain model of game does lend itself to his view of piracy and that this model (the free-to-play model) has produced some excellent games (League of Legends and Bloodline Champions are two shining examples), some enjoyable, but ultimately more average, games (Champions Online or Dreamlords: Resurrection) as well as some really bland stuff that is often fairly ruthless in getting your money (a lot of Facebook games belong here). While I believe that the gems that this model produced has clearly justifies its existence (the majority of the non-World of Warcraft MMO market runs on this model), it should not ever become the sole gaming market model and that’s one part of what Kelly seems to be saying.

Before he talks about this though, he makes several assumptions to which I take objection and are contentious. He writes:

“[Most game developers are] seeing their business as a content business, where the content is the thing that has value. This is not the case.

The games industry, like all the arts, is about finding and interacting with fans, so that value comes from a relationship. As we slowly move into the post-platform, single-franchise future, understanding the difference between the two is crucial.”

His emphasis on content business and relationship are the crux here. He describes most developers as belonging to the former view, that they create a certain piece of content that has value and attempt to sell it whereas the ideal is the latter. I think there is both an overt and a tacit assumption here that I want to knock out.

First, the overt assumption is that games development is like creating a piece of art. While a lot of ardent games are art types will treat this idea as sacrosanct and often not even debate any of its critics properly, their belief extends exactly zero metres beyond the borders of people already keeping the faith. I would not defend the idea of games as art, even as I ardently defend their value and worth, because even if games could be art (which, in their thousands of years of existence, they still fail to be even as younger things like cinema and photography take up the mantle of art uncontroversially), I don’t want aesthetic concerns to ever override what I want from games: to be entertained and enjoy myself.

The more subtle assumption is that this view between games as a content business and games as creating relationships is presented as a dichotomy, that there is no ability to view games as a content business while building relationships with customers. I spoke in my last article on piracy of games like Gratuitous Space Battles and The Void where the designers did create an outreach to customers, but did not ever assume piracy to be a good thing. They did view their content as being stolen, but seized an opportunity to build relationships and encourage sales.

It’s clearly not the case that you need to abandon the view, as Kelly recommends, that there is value to your content. I find it borderline offensive, even, that a man whose work seems to consist largely in basic microtransaction-based Facebook games like Soccer Hero has the audacity to tell Ice-Pick Lodge or Positech Games that their work has no value.

Kelly goes on to make an analogy between the circulation and sale of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and sale of sequels in gaming. Piracy of originals, he argues, could raise awareness of potential sequels in which people are more likely to invest. He compares this to the higher success of the second part of Paine’s Rights of Man in terms of sales than the first part despite the necessity of familiarity with the first in order to understand the more successful second.

The problem I have with this analogy is that it simply doesn’t require piracy in the equation. Borrowing games, watching friends play games, playing them with your friends, these are what are needed and there is another strong argument against DRM within this, but not piracy. Paine’s first book was not widely known because of piracy of the text, but because people shared the physical medium of the text. Piracy never came into it.

Beyond this, he moves into another suspect analysis of the industry. He writes that the industry commits the “one shot fallacy” which is that developers seem to think of games in an atomistic sense. They don’t talk of games with sequel potential unless the game has been successful enough to merit sequels. My only response to this at what game industry is Kelly actually looking? Has he not looked at one of the overriding criticisms of Activision? Activision has long been criticised for only seeing games in terms of long-term exploitable intellectual property, it effectively tried to bury Brutal Legend because it didn’t think it would produce sequels, just compete with its own IP. This view of games in terms of sequel potential is simply not a healthy approach and Activision is the proof one needs of that.

Furthermore, let’s look at the sort of model he suggests, building social features into a game that requires purchasing features (such as support or extra content) after the game is already in the hands of the gamers. This is effectively the F2P model and that’s all well and good except the fact I don’t want every game having this model and neither do the majority of gamers. One of the key criticisms on Metacritic from users of Portal 2 was that it had an in-game store for a game that required a base payment.

I can take this further, one criticism a friend made of recent versions of Team Fortress 2 was that it now has boxes that contains items which you need to pay to unlock and get the contents. This is, in an otherwise great game, a rather awful feature. Even if this was a game where there was no initial payment, is that what we would would be happy with in every game?

Would we be happy where every game is freely distributed only to then get its money from you via social features and in-game quirks like the locked box idea of games such as Team Fortress 2 or Allods Online? It’s nice that the F2P model exists, but it occupies a niche, I simply don’t want every game to work on this model because the F2P model has produced a few gems and mounds of rubbish Facebook apps that I have to keep blocking.

Of course, the other part of this is that copying the raw install files for League of Legends or Bloodline Champions for a friend is not piracy, it’s legitimate distribution (unless I messed with the files somehow). What he describes as piracy is in fact, perfectly legal under the F2P model and not piracy in any sense of the word. Where it would be piracy is if I gave a friend an unlocked version of either game with all the characters unlocked already (apparently, with League of Legends, unlocking extra skins illegally was once possible). Something tells me that if I distributed genuinely pirated copies of Tadhg Kelly’s game, all the social features and extra content promised after the gamer started playing already unlocked, he might have a bit more of a problem with what I was doing than his article would suggest. That is piracy.

This week in gaming   Leave a comment

Quick-cap news

* Epic Games will host a two day set of tutorials on the Unreal Development Kit at the East Coast Game Conference.

* Dungeon Siege III has been delayed, now releasing in late June.

* Hi-Rez has switched Global Agenda to a F2P model with those of us already having paid getting “elite agent” status.

* Funcom’s Call of Cthulhu-esque MMO The Secret World, announced four years ago, is officially on the back burner.

* Myst Online is now released as open source, fulfilling promises made as far back as 2008.

* The Call of Duty versus Battlefield 3 marketing war is estimated to end up costing US$200m. This truly is the war to end all wars.

* GameStop are opening a Facebook store. The new system allows sales and pre-orders done via the Facebook interface.

* It’s been reported that Apple has rejected PopCap’s experimental label, Unpleasant Horse, from the App Store on grounds of “maturity” issues.

* Multiplayer has, sadly, been ruled out of Mass Effect 3, but the details are looking good.

* Wrestling star The Rock wants to star in a Black Ops film adaptation. Given his last foray into game-based films, I hold little hope for great artistry.

Main news

Minecraft is leaving beta this year, with plans to release the final version on 11th November. This coincides with the release of Skyrim by Bethesda. Many may be disappointed by the fact that the final release won’t look much different from the beta (which itself is not a whole deal different from the alpha), but assurances are that development will continue. Other reports are that beta 1.5 will add weather effects.

Busy week this week, see you after the weekend.

This week in gaming   Leave a comment

Quick cap news

* Valve are remaining quite vague about future projects, there are signs of a Counter-Strike 2, but no real news of the next Half Life 2 episode.

* EA seem to be cracking down on fan-made remakes of the old Ultima IV game. The game was declared freeware by Origin before EA’s acquisition of them, leading some to assume incorrectly that the game is public domain.

* Bungie are excited about the hands-off approach Activision are taking towards the former Microsoft developer in their partnership.

* THQ announced hefty job cuts at both Volition and Kaos Studios, further proof that Homefront sucked.

* Despite the interesting choice of day for the announcement, Magicka: Vietnam will be coming on the 12th April, apparently.

* GamesIndustry.biz co-founder and editor talks about the reasoning behind the shutting down of the individual developer ratings on Metacritic, as well as the original concept itself.

* The new Mortal Kombat game will require an online pass purchase for second-hand buyers, with Warner Bros. following suite to EA and THQ. This controversial system sparked criticism when players mistakenly bought passes for first-hand copies of THQ’s UFC 2010 as well as the difficulty it causes for second-hand games retailers.

* Atari have been raiding their old catalogues lately and have come up with a another remake. This time, 1980’s Warlords sees new life for the modern age.

* Rise of the Immortals, Petroglyph’s F2P entry into the MOBA genre, has a closed beta starting on the 5th April. This is your last chance to get in line, folks.

Main news

It seems that David Gaider really sees the haters hating at the moment. Following his defence of Dragon Age II against the attacks of one gamer, Gaider experienced hostility from homosexual gamers who felt that Anders was portrayed as the stereotypical gay man who wants to seduce the straight guy and won’t accept no for an answer due to the rivalry gained for rejecting his advances.

Some think this smacks too much of the stereotype used in the (frankly, barbaric) “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the US military; others think it would be more worrying (and telling) if he didn’t react negatively at all; others have argued that it is good because it shows Bastal (the “Straight Male Gamer” of this affair) what it is like to be a woman (in that he is constantly receiving unwanted sexual advances). I think all of these positions are just the sort of utter nonsense that should lead anyone rational to realise how trivial all this ultimately is.

In more important news that is not becoming increasingly mired in senseless identity politics, Ubisoft have been granted an injunction by a Montreal court against THQ. The injuction prevents THQ from “poaching” staff from Ubisoft for its new Montreal branch. The law courts have been active at the moment, since Silicon Knights’s case against Epic Games over forced setbacks on the development of Too Human is finally going to court. Email logs from Epic apparently show that developers assigned to aid Silicon Knights with the Epic Engine were told that Gears of War tasks took priority over Too Human tasks and the tools for the engine were not up to the agreed-upon standard, which Silicon Knights argues was a breach of contract. Epic launched a counter-suit, claiming Silicon Knights’s subsequent in-house engine stole Epic technology and believes it will be vindicated in the end, according to a press statement they released.