Blizzard confirms that Blizzard stinks now

It took longer than I expected, but Blizzard has announced that Heroes of the Storm’s days are numbered. I’m sure all three current players are very disappointed.

The news is significant for one major reason; this is the first time Blizzard has ‘failed’ with a released title. Games like Ghost and Warcraft Adventures, titles that likely weren’t going to succeed, never made it out the door. HotS did, and now its being put out to pasture. Regardless of ‘why’, that’s a bad look PR-wise.

Which isn’t to suggest that is unexpected. Again, the surprise from my side is it took until 2018 to happen. Unlike in the past, HotS was coming into a genre that had established titles run by competent developers. This wasn’t WoW coming in and facing the launch-state dumpster fire that was EQ2, run by clownshoes SoE. It wasn’t even Diablo 3 launching into a genre that didn’t have major players (though one could argue Path of Exile has now firmly eclipsed D3 for top ARPG, another dark spot on Blizzard). No, this was a poorly-executed game, lacking the usual Blizzard polish, running face first into the two-headed monster of LoL and DOTA2, run by Riot and Valve respectively, and got chewed up.

It’s hard for anyone to stay at the top forever. Blizzard had an incredibly impressive run, starting in 1994 with Warcraft (Rock and Roll Racing in 1993 for the SNES was solid btw) and going until WotLK started the decline of WoW and, really, Blizzard itself in 2008. SC2 was fine but really a reskin of SC1. Diablo 3 was a launch disaster with the auction house. Hearthstone was never a number one mobile title, though it has done well-enough for what it is. HotS came after that. The only big title of note since 2008 has been Overwatch, and that title is a rebrand of the long-rumored and ultimately unmade Titan MMO. Add all the dumpster expansions to WoW since 2008, and yea, a fall from grace compared to shipping WC1, WC2, WC3, D1, D2, SC. The studio that once only released massive hits has only struck gold (relatively even then, with OW) for basically a decade.

I’m sure their next title, Diablo Immortal, will turn it all around though…

Posted in DoTA, EQ2, League of Legends, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant, SOE being SOE, World of Warcraft | 16 Comments

SuperCell sees Bethesda acting stupid, says “Hold my beer”

Hot off the heels of Bethesda trashing their own reputation with idiocy, we have Supercell releasing a straight-up terrible update to Clash Royale, and then doubling down on that with this horrid Reddit post.

Short summary of the major point of contention with the update: Trade tokens were somewhat recently added to the game. The way they originally worked is if you had a token, you could request a trade, and anyone with the cards you were requesting could accept and the trade was completed. For example, if I had a legendary token and an extra bandit, I could put up a trade giving up my bandit and request a graveyard. Anyone with a spare graveyard could then accept the trade and get the bandit.

This recent patch changed how trades work, where now both parties need a token. The result is a clan chat log full of unfulfilled trades, and basically everyone being pissed.

The big and you’d think obvious impact of this change is that now accepting a trade is also costing you a token, so you can’t fill trades you don’t really care about either way in terms of cards, because people don’t have enough tokens to throw around. Supercell doubled the amount of tokens players get, but it wasn’t nearly enough, and it still feels like they are a rare commodity, especially for epic and legendary tokens.

Here is a part of the response that is really infuriating:

With the new system, people are still putting out Trades that they want, but not what other people want. We believe that with a bit more communication, alongside the increased chance of getting Trade Tokens, this will resolve those issues.

Communicating about trades is a nightmare. CR works great because its mostly asynchronous. You make a request and you can log off, and when someone else logs on they can fill the request. Asking people to communicate a trade before you do it won’t work most of the time. Or at best, will delay the actual completion of the trade for a while as people go back and forth on what they want. Multiple this by the fact that a clan has up to 50 players (as ours does), and that many people trying to coordinate trades in a simplified chat channel is just not going to work.

One justification given for this trade change was that bots were abusing the old system. That’s a “canvas is too expensive” level justification for making your game worse. You hurt your actual players because you can’t get bots under control. Maybe, I don’t know, put in better tools to actually solve the bot problem, rather than making it just a little harder for them to be successful?

There are other dumb changes in this update as well, with equally bad justifications. Large-scale tournaments are back, this time with no entry fee. Nice right? Only the majority of the rewards you earn have to be paid for if you want them. Now the benefit is that if you do poorly, you don’t pay and feel bad ‘wasting’ an entry fee, and if you do well, you can pay and then feel good about the reward. The actual experience? You know you won’t be paying 500 gems, so you don’t play the tourney to begin with, because the free rewards are extremely weak. Sure, you can ‘play for fun’, but in a game that rewards playing, ‘playing for fun’ doesn’t really fit nearly as well.

The issue is mostly around price point; 500 gems is a lot, both for free players who slowly collect gems and also those who occasionally buy gems. Even if you do well in a tourney and the rewards are ‘worth’ the 500 gems, spending that much simply isn’t sustainable, so now one of the big new additions is a feature you ignore most of the time. Not great. With a lower price-point it’s a good addition, but the first impression is very negative.

Another addition is a progression system after you max a card; fluff skins. The way this works is when you acquire cards you have already maxed, they convert into star points, and you can spend star points to ‘skin’ that card. Overall the system is fine as a progression mechanic, especially because the alternative of increasing card levels/power would suck. The execution of this new progression however is lacking.

First, you only get star points for cards you have actually upgraded to level 13. This is difficult for a large number of cards because the final upgrade costs 100k gold, and gold is the most limited currency in the game. I have enough cards to max every single common in the game, but only enough gold to max a few of them, and I’ve been playing consistently for over two years at a high level (higher ranking = more rewards). This means I don’t get star points for all those commons I have maxed in terms of card count, but haven’t paid to upgrade, which is just annoying.

The bigger issue is that, so far, all of the skins are pretty lame, with the majority of the changes being to simply add a bit of gold trim to everything. It looks low-budget and lacks impact, which is inexcusable from a studio as profitable as Supercell. On its own this whole system would be a minor grumble, but when combined with the above, it just adds to the garbage pile.

This entire fiasco reeks of a company either losing control of what is best for their game, or of upper management forcing changes to drive more short-term revenue at the expense of long-term health. The second is especially crazy because right now CR is a goldmine, and would continue if simply updated in a logical manner. Aggressively pushing people away, or into the cash shop, is not a good direction for the game. Hopefully the very strong and vocal pushback from fans will course-correct Supercell, and get them back to being a top-quality developer. We shall see.

Posted in Clash Royale, iPhone, Rant, RMT | 7 Comments

2019 Predictions

Looking back at my 2018 prediction post, two things jump out. One, pretty accurate. And two, pretty sad. CrowFall, Camelot Unchained, and Star Citizen. Those are the three titles mentioned. None of them launched. None of them had a major release milestone (open beta or something similar), and I feel about the same regarding those titles as I did at the end of 2017; meh.

Looking back at 2018, I did play Life is Feudal for a large chunk of time, and had a great go of it, mostly because of the guild and it’s members, but the game itself wasn’t bad and is a few design changes away from being actually great. I didn’t play FFXIV or any serious EVE though, and nothing else in the genre caught my eye enough to even bother.

So let’s talk 2019 predictions.

The big one for me personally is going to be the release of WoW Classic in the summer. I’ve had a LOT of people ask about running a guild, and I’m 99% certain I will. I expect the guild to do well in terms of numbers, and I also expect we will eventually get sucked into bashing our faces into the end-game. I welcome the pain.

I’ll also predict that WoW Classic will be bigger than current WoW in terms of popularity. Since there won’t be two different prices or accounts, likely the only metric to go off of might be server counts or more ancillary stuff like size/activity of Sub Reddits or something like that. Not an exact science, and I highly doubt Blizzard themselves will come out and state it.

More of a hope than a prediction, but I think/hope Crowfall or Camelot Unchained launches. I know Star Citizen won’t. I’d love to be surprised by either title in terms of quality and engagement, but I have my doubts. That said, it might be a horrible time to actually launch if everyone and their mother is playing WoW Classic anyway.

I predict something major to come from Amazon with Brave New World, like a significant beta. I haven’t followed that game much, but I wouldn’t be shocked if come beta/release, its surprisingly good. Seems everything Amazon touches is better than expected, and if someone is going to run the world, I’d rather it be Bezos then President Bozo.

Wildcard: I’ve had my eye on Gloria Victis for a while now (Steam wishlist), and recently a friend started playing and reports good things. There is a decent chance I jump in at some point to try that out as well.

Posted in beta, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XIV, Inquisition Clan, Life is Feudal, Site update, World of Warcraft | 9 Comments

Obsidian carrying on the tradition of Friday Blog Wars!

Obsidian, makes of Pillars of Eternity, and long before that, Fallout: New Vegas, have just announced their latest title, The Outer Worlds. It’s… basically Fallout without the name. Which of course is perfect timing, given the dumpster fire that is Fallout76 right now, and the fact that Bethesda won’t ship a ‘real’ Fallout game for a long, long time, with Elder Scrolls 6 being the next big title, and that being years away.

My first impression is that it looks good, and I trust Obsidian to do a quality job in terms of story and world-building. Hopefully the FPS gameplay is at least on-par with Fallout 4 (not the highest bar, but for me good enough, if I want ‘pure’ FPS gameplay, I’ll fire up PUBG), and the number of bugs on release day are lower than the typical Fallout experience (again, low bar). The current release date is 2019, which I hope isn’t late into 2019.

And of course I love the direct jab included in the trailer with the line “Made by the creators of the original Fallout”. Again, in the context of what is happening with Fallout due to F76, that’s a nice little zinger.

Posted in Fallout 3, Mass Media | 2 Comments

Two week return policy for games is insanity

I’m on record here as being a big fan of Steam. It makes buying, updating, and playing games easy, and has enough social features to support that side of gaming as well. If anything, I wish they did more on the modding side, so a site like Mod Nexus wasn’t needed. Most of all, the best thing about Steam is that 99% of the time, it simply works. Steam is the Apple of PC gaming; might not always have the newest feature or the lowest cost, but paying the premium is worth it because you don’t waste time fighting against it like you would other options.

I bring this up because Epic Games is launching a Steam competitor (although it will only be that if it grows popular-enough to actually impact Steam), with the big selling point being a larger split of revenue for developers, more heavy-handed moderation of which games make it to the platform, and a two week return policy.

That last point, the return policy, will 100% change. Why? Because you can finish A LOT of games in two weeks, and that will be a disaster for the Epic Store. And when I say finish, I don’t necessarily mean fully beat and see the ending. I mean play enough to justify returning the game and not paying a dime for the two week experience. Morality aside, think about all of the games you have played recently, how many would you return after two weeks if given the option? I’d say at least half my Steam library qualifies, and almost all of those titles are non-AAA games from smaller studios.

So we will see how this goes. I personally hope it fails because, much like with Netflix now, the more platforms that pop up, the more annoying it becomes to actually track down what you want. Just keep everything on Steam, it’s fine.

Posted in Mass Media, Rant, Steam Stuff | 13 Comments

Battle Brothers: Beasts and Exploration – Initial thoughts

I’ve had a few requests to talk about the expansion to Battle Brothers, so while I haven’t seen all of the new content, here goes. In short, if you liked BB before, I can’t imagine you won’t love the expansion. If you tried and didn’t like BB, this expansion likely doesn’t ‘fix’ what you disliked.

The new enemies really mix things up, and push you to alter how you develop your brothers. Prior to the expansion stats like HP and Resolve weren’t optimal, but now become situationally important. For example, Alps put your brothers to sleep, and then cast nightmares on said sleeping brother to kill them. One counter to the sleep spell is high resolve, as it means you resist the sleep more. Now this doesn’t mean you need high resolve on everyone, because the alps prefer to sleep everyone before casting nightmare, so even if just a few brothers resist, they can in turn wake others up, and negate the Alps enough to kill them. If everyone goes to sleep, its likely game over.

Another example of new enemies changing up the meta are Schrats, basically treemen that regrow their shields. In the base game weapons that better destroy a shield, like axes, weren’t as important for that ability. Now? They are very important vs the Schrats, so if you completely ignore them, you’ll have a much harder time vs that particular enemy.

With the new enemies also come new weapons and armor, mostly filling some gaps in progression. Now all weapon styles have the same tiered progression upgrades, and there are significantly more viable options for nimble (low weight) builds at end-game. Before nimble was only ideal late-game if you got lucky enough to find the right legendary weapon/armor. That’s no longer the case, though it still helps!

Right now my favorite part of the expansion is the addition of crafting. Many enemies, old and new, now have a chance to drop crafting components, and these in turn can be taken to a taxidermist (new building in certain settlements) to craft into useful consumables, items, or armor attachments. One fun example; in the base game dire wolves dropped pelts, and if you had a tailor, you could trigger an event to get a special armor made. Now, those wolf pelts can be turned into an armor attachment that has the same bonus effect (negative moral to enemies) as the event armor, and can be added to any piece of armor. It makes fighting such enemies extra worthwhile, and is a new and interesting upgrade path that adds considerable customization.

Finally, the overall flow of the game has been smoothed out, with the early days now feeling less punishingly random (early contracts are more available, wage costs are slightly lower, contracts have been tweaked a bit), the midgame almost overflowing with options, and late game (from what I’ve experienced) having a larger variety of stiff challenges.

This is the perfect kind of expansion IMO, one that adds more ‘stuff’ to a game you already enjoy. It doesn’t drastically change the game mechanics, or twist the setting (low fantasy to suddenly space goats), or anything else that might turn off existing fans. Instead it fills in gaps that might have existed, pushes systems further in meaningful ways, and lets you enjoy another trip through a fun game that feels surprisingly fresh and new.

Very highly recommended!

Posted in Combat Systems, crafting, Random, Review | 1 Comment

How to bury your reputation as a dev, for just $5!

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a well-respected developer fall from grace as fast as Bethesda is falling right now with this entire Fallout76 fiasco. Blizzard’s fall was slower, with welfare epics in WotLK being a minor hint rather than the full-face slap that F76 is ushering in. EA has been terrible for as long as I can remember. Ubisoft has always been hit or miss, same with Sony. But until F76, Bethesda the developer (not to be confused with Bethesda the publisher) had a great track record of games and support.

Yes, Bethesda games traditionally were a buggy mess on release, but not to the point where most couldn’t actually enjoy them. I played recent Fallout and Elder Scroll games on release, and sure, they had bugs, but day-one they were amazing titles that only got better with time. There was enough justified negativity around F76 to make me pass on that being a day-one title, and nothing since release has pushed me closer to buying in. In fact, I’m now more ‘out’ on F76 than ever. I still have faith it will eventually be a buy-worthy title, but “buy eventually at a discount to get some enjoyment out of it” is a steep, steep drop from all previous titles.

But IMO by far the worst thing to happen is the bait-and-switch related to the bag included in the $200 special edition. Polygon has an article up, but basically the advertised duffel bag was show as a canvas bag, but instead a cheaper nylon bag was shipped instead. Bethesda’s justification? The canvas bag was too expensive to make, so they went nylon. I’d not only instantly fire whoever came up with that response, but I’d fire just about anyone who had knowledge of this switch and went along with it.

Here is why this is so egregious. The average gamer isn’t buying your $200 special edition. The average Bethesda fan isn’t either. Not even the average Fallout fan. No, the vast majority of the people spending $200 on a copy of your game are your superfans. The hardcore of the hardcore. The absolute last group of people you want to piss off, and especially over money. They already gave you $200, and we can be fairly confidence that the profit margin on the special edition is higher than the standard edition. But even if we pretend the margin is lower, you’re still making money. You don’t put together the stuff in the special edition, get the cost, and then set the price at basically the cost. Bethesda isn’t paying $200 to make the special edition. I doubt they are paying even $50.

So let’s say the price to produce the canvas bag goes up after Bethesda announced and sold the edition, even if it goes up 100% over the original estimated cost. That doesn’t put Bethesda in the red on selling the special edition. And we are talking about a fairly basic item here. This isn’t some specially produced, ‘only one place in the world can make it’ item. It’s a goddamn bag with some Fallout graphics on it. And yes, the quality of the bag ultimately isn’t a huge deal, and has zero impact on the actual game, but it’s the message this sends. Bethesda would rather save a few bucks than do right by their most dedicated fans. (as shown by wallet-vote, the absolute most important metric of how big a fan you really are)

Want to know how you make the above disaster worse? Double down on the giant ‘F you’ to fans by having your second response be an offer of $5 of in-game cash shop currency. Five bucks, of in-game value, to people who paid you $200. Honestly Bethesda telling everyone to shove it and get over the bag being cheap would have been a MORE acceptable answer than trying to ‘make right’ by offering five bucks of in-game currency. I bet even EA looked at that response and shook their heads (or got an idea for next time…)

Just all around terrible, from a studio I was a huge fan and supporter of prior to F76. Get it together in time for Elder Scrolls 6 please!

Edit: This truly is incredible. The in-game cost for a bag in F76 is 700 atoms, so the 500 Bethesda gave for this isn’t even enough to buy a bag skin in-game.

Posted in Fallout 3, Mass Media, Rant | 10 Comments