PUBG 1.0 initial impressions

Oh god it’s so good. So so good.

The thing about pre-1.0 PUBG was that it was amazingly fun DESPITE being full of bugs and lacking optimization. The bugs created a lot of charming videos and reactions, sure, but they also sucked when they happened at a key moment, or when they interrupted the limited game time you had. The lack of optimization meant reducing graphics quality, dealing with uneven FPS, and sometimes having your game ruined because a squad mate crashed or didn’t load up properly. Was PUBG worth playing pre-1.0? Absolutely, which is why tens of millions did it. But is PUBG leaps and bounds better in 1.0? Yes, yes it is.

Which in a way is scary, because PUBG was already so good. It hooked people, and then it kept them playing. It will also keep people playing. I don’t see this being a fad that passes. I see this being the next cornerstone of gaming like LoL is. And where PUBG is right now is just the beginning. Yes the new map is amazing, but it’s only one map. The next map, with all the lessons learned for the devs, will be better. And it will be released to a foundation that is more solid than it is today, and certainly more solid than it was a few weeks ago. We will get more weapons, more vehicles, hell even more game modes are going to come and keep things interesting. And that entire time, the core game, the ‘5v5 river map’ of LoL, will be the prime option, the thing that most people enjoy for the long haul.


Posted in PUBG, Uncategorized

Skyrim modding, again

I’m back messing around with Skyrim. Yea, Skyrim, that game that came up prior to the internet being invented, I believe.

When the special edition first came out, I tried it, found that most mods didn’t work with it, and put it down. Some time has now passed and more mods are available, so I’ve given it another shot. Much of this was prompted from playing Elder Scrolls Legends, so hey, at least that’s a win for that game and getting people interested (again) in related Elder Scrolls games (ESO still sucks).

Nexus mod manager makes things easier in terms of grabbing mods, but unfortunately some of the more complex mods still need you to tinker with .init files and such. Setting up Skyrim with mods is a game itself for many, and it takes a long-ass time to get it right if you go all-in.

I’m 70+ mods in, and perhaps the most shocking part is my PC with a 1080 GTX can’t run the game at 60 FPS at all times. Again, a lot of those mods are 4k texture mods, I’m pretty sure the ENB I’m running is a FPS killer as well, and since Skyrim doesn’t support 3440×1440, I had to tinker to get that working as well, but come on…

It does look good though, I’ll give it that. The landscape is gorgeous, caves and dungeons drip with atmosphere, and the towns feel alive and active, all of which just makes me madder that Bethesda still hasn’t given us even a hint of the next game in the series.

I’m getting a new PC for Christmas, and will start planning that as soon as Digital Storm puts up their holiday discounts, so maybe my next PC can finally run Skyrim correctly. Ha, just kidding, I’ll likely stack enough mods to choke that PC too. It’s what the mod game is all about anyway, right?

Posted in The Elder Scrolls Online | 14 Comments

Examples of good MTX in good games

Continuing down the road of what is good MTX, lets talk specific examples today.

First and foremost is League of Legends, the most popular game out not just right now, but for the last few years. LoL is a F2P game, yet has maintained its AAA status in terms of graphics and support for years, all without ever selling power or abusive MTX. It certain helps that a MOBA like LoL is basically perfect for a full fluff-based MTX model, but keep in mind that SW:BF2 could also have been 100% fluff (SW fans would likely buy a lightsaber of every color under the rainbow), but it wasn’t because of greed and gamers who support such greed. Riot has never done that with LoL, and in turn has been rewarded with amazing fan loyalty and incredible success.

What is especially important about LoL and its MTX model is that it doesn’t just show you can turn a profit, but shows you can be the top dog in all of gaming while using it. The argument can’t be made that Riot has left money on the table, or that they aren’t doing what’s best for their shareholders. They could have, at many points, given in and grabbed higher short-term gains, but in parts because they didn’t (and in large part because their product is overall fantastic), they are and continue to reap the long-term benefits.

EVE is next. EVE is an sub-based MMO, yet has managed to work in a cash shop without devaluing the cost of the sub due to constant and free updates and expansions. CCP also does a good job in balancing work on store fluff with free fluff and said game updates. Has CCP been perfect the entire time? No, but they have corrected errors as they have come up (sometimes too slowly for the fanbase, yes), and compared to the rest of the genre, are miles ahead in this regard.

Another note about EVE is that CCP embraced the fact that some people will pay to skip ahead (skill boosters) without directly selling power made of thin air, or undercutting the game economy itself. The easy way to cater to this is to simply give someone a max level character, and maybe even throw in some gear as well. The better way is to enable a system where one player trades his progress to another. Even better if the transaction is overall a net-negative, because sinks are very much needed in any working economy. It’s these kinds of details that ultimately matter, and don’t lead to a water-down experience with a game, MMO or otherwise.

Finally lets talk about Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, two of the most popular and IMO best mobile games out. Both are F2P, and both allow you to spend a lot of money if you so choose. Both are also competitive PvP games, though each is a bit different in that regard.

CoC allows you to pay-2-skip, and to fully skip to the end you are looking at a cost of thousands. Without paying, you are looking at multiple years of playing/grinding to reach the top levels of a base, and as updates tend to add levels, this will likely increase if you started today. The reason the model works however is that the earlier levels are simpler, and this is important to learn the game if you are going to get involved in the primary PvP activity, clan wars. The game also has a MASSIVE amount of detail to learn, and if you skip ahead, you will be in way over your head, and likely a big drain on your clan as your war weight will be high, but your ability to perform will be low.

Skipping ahead is also negative IMO because each level in CoC has its own unique meta. How a TH5 attacks another TH5 is very different than how a TH9 vs TH9 goes. Things don’t get too complicated until about TH8, but after that it becomes harder and harder to get a 100% attack on an opposing base (always the goal of an attack in a war). If you skip as far ahead as TH9 or TH10, you truly might never recover, or it will be extremely painful for both you and your clan.

That said, SuperCell makes its money because little skips are common, so instead of dropping $500 at once to speed ahead (though I know this happens every update with whales), players will often spend $5 or so to finish a building upgrade, or to get a hero back into action.

Clash Royale is slightly different in that spending does buy you power (higher level cards), which will allow you to get higher in the leaderboard (assuming equal player skill and all that). Being higher on the leaderboard means you get better chests, which leads to getting more cards per chest/season (this has diminishing returns pretty quickly, with all chests being the same at 3800+ trophies). The odd thing here is if you spend and max out a deck, you will move up in rank, but all that does is get you more cards, but since you are already maxed…? ? ?

Also the whole thing works itself out anyway; players of a certain skill and card level will reach the right rank, and then without improving skill and/or cards, won’t progress further. Finally, in the top % (4500+ trophies), most players have max or near-max decks now anyway, so you can’t buy yourself higher than that; if someone really cares about reaching the absolute top, its all skill based at that point.

To be fair there are some ‘interesting’ design decisions, like the fact that after a certain point, you are always short on gold to upgrade cards, to the point where you have to focus on one deck (8 cards) and if you spend on other cards, you likely won’t have gold for the main deck. All of this becomes a non-issue once your main deck is maxed and you can start playing around with other stuff, but that’s 1yr+ into the game playing daily.

Also of note is that all tournaments and special events are played under tourney rules, where cards are capped at much lower levels than max, and many events automatically give you all cards maxed for the event. All events give you the first entry for free, and additional attempts aren’t outrageously priced. I’ve yet to spend money for gems (you slowly earn gems in-game as well) to play events, and I play them all, usually ‘beating’ each one (getting the max number of wins).

Of all the examples, CR is easily the most ‘aggressive’ MTX game, but with just limited spending over the last 1+ year ($30 or so?) I’m consistently finishing each season in the top 1% (I think it’s much higher than that, but forgot to check at season end last time), so it’s not a game like many F2P MMOs where if you don’t spend, you really can’t compete.

There are countless other examples of both good and bad MTX in games, but the overall point I’m trying to make here is that not only can you make money without predatory MTX, you can become the market leader in your segment. I’m also not aware of a single predatory MTX game that is the market leader in its segment. Companies like Electronic Arts are profitable preying on sheep, yes, but I’d argue they and everyone else would be BETTER off using MTX correctly. Especially because much like with F2P in the MMO genre, eventually even the sheep smarten up and learn to stay away or be cautious.

Posted in Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, EVE Online, League of Legends, RMT | 4 Comments

MTX is a long-term model, so think long-term

I posted a few days ago, on the discussion of MTX, that good games do well, and bad games don’t (really a next-level statement if you think about it long enough). While I still stand by that bold proclamation, today I want to break down just what I feel is acceptable MTX in a game today, and what can work for both developers and players. Good MTX is always a long-term thing, where you have a game and support it, with your players making purchases over a long period of time.

I’ll start by repeating that there is no ‘this is good, this is bad’ blanket statement about MTX that holds true, ignoring something like “MTX designed with the intent purpose of deceiving the buyer” of course. For example most games won’t be better by the inclusion of loot-box based pay-4-power items, but would you really want to play a card game like Elder Scroll Legends or Hearthstone without that model?

Instead of opening packs of cards, each game would instead reward you with a currency, and then you would use that currency to buy specific cards, right? This already somewhat exists because we can turn cards to dust, and then use dust to create a specific card, but what would happen if the entire game was like that? Each viable deck would have a ‘dust’ value, as they do today, but each player would need to grind exactly that amount of dust, and the dust/hr rate would be known. That wouldn’t be fun, as players already don’t enjoy knowing just how far away they are from something they want in games like an MMO (raid tokens vs bosses dropping random gear).

But yes, in most games, especially competitive games of skill (LoL, CS:GO, Street Fighter, Madden football), you really really don’t want to sell power, and you especially don’t want to sell power randomly. But as LoL has shown, you can profit immensely using MTX even in such games by offering to sell fluff in the form of skins, badge icons, and emotes. That said, you must ensure that the fluff on sale is deemed high-quality enough to justify the price. For example, a simple reshade really should be cheap, because most players know it was fairly easy to design. On the other hand, players will pay a premium price for truly standout fluff, such as legendary skins in LoL. A purchase should feel good, so that the buyer is open to another, and giving someone quality they deem worthy of the price is key to that.

On that note, another very important factor is to not overly ‘sell’ your MTX. Don’t put more effort into the splash art of your fluff in the store if it won’t match what it really is in-game. That’s going to upset the buyer, and while in the short-term it might net you a few additional sales, in the long term you put effort into the wrong area to sustain long-term revenue (selling the fluff vs putting value into the fluff) . Along with this, your item shop really should do a great job in showing the buy exactly what they are getting. LoL is still fairly poor in this regard, as they don’t show what a skin looks like in-game within the client (you can see all skins on youtube).

Selling items or content is also fine in the right context. Giving a buyer the option to buy more of what they already enjoy in a game is good. So if your core game has 10 levels, and those 10 levels are the full core game (so the ending isn’t missing, or key systems you advertised aren’t shadows until you buy the MTX), selling more levels at a reasonable price is giving gamers what they want. Selling items in a game like Fallout or Skyrim is also fine, because the base games include plenty, and you don’t NEED more to beat and enjoy those games, plus they are single player games so the choice to buy or not only impacts the buyer.

Another key to creating a favorable MTX scene for your game is that you must balance additions to the shop with free ongoing support. The worst-case is when a dev adds more paid content to a shop, but their base game still has crippling bugs, performance issues, or missing core content. That’s going to sour everyone early, and it’s hard to recover from. This drifts back to ‘make a good game’ territory, but it’s true, you can establish a game for long-term success if you don’t first create a quality core to build MTX on top of.

Done right, MTX creates a favorable ‘circle of life’ for everyone involved. Devs continue to get paid while supporting their product, and when done really right, get paid far above the old model of just selling a box. For the players, they not only get a good game, they continue to get more of what they are enjoying. Done right, this also creates a long-term relationship between devs and customers. Today I trust Riot because of my experience with them over the last few years with LoL, just like I trust CCP with how they have handled EVE, and SuperCell thanks to CoC/CR. On the flip side, I don’t touch any Electronic Arts products because of their history with shady MTX, so even if they release the ‘perfect for me and really fun’ game tomorrow, I’m still giving it a pass.

Posted in Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, EVE Online, League of Legends, MMO design, RMT, SW:TOR | 4 Comments

Final Gevlon post here

Another day, another example of Gevlon getting murdered on the internet, this time on the PUBG Reddit. You truly have to be goblin-dumb to accuse not just a pro player, but one that streams, of cheating without don’t a second of research (and we all know Gevlon has plenty of time for that). I’m actually shocked Gevlon didn’t also accuse him of stat boosting using the well-known tactic of streamers killing their own bots (or as non-goblins know them: stream snipers, who aren’t bots or even associated with streamers, but shhh facts).

I can see why Gevlon is frustrated and lashing out though. Remember when he got his first ever win in PUBG, and of course posted a screen shot of it, including the fact that the last (and only) person he killed was an average ranked player who also had never won a game? Well captain passive-aggressive won another game (huge congrats goblin!), and wouldn’t you know it, this time his screen shot doesn’t include who he killed in the end . I wonder why…

Unfortunately for Gevlon, exists now, and lets you see not only every game someone has played, but also who they played against. :Spoiler: Gevlon mostly plays against average ranked players, because, yet again, the ranking system in PUBG doesn’t actually do much of anything. Further proof? Quickly look at who actually wins those super elite .05% games. It usually isn’t anyone with a high rank either.

Or you can skip all that and just do a simple thought experiment: What would be the easier game to win, one containing 99 Gevlons, or 99 Shrouds? Because according to the rankings, the game full of Gevlons would be significantly harder, and I think even a goblin would know that simply isn’t true.

PS: The one major downside to seeing Gevlon embarrass himself on Reddit is seeing he is also a very frequent poster of hate on alt-right Reddit sites. Mocking Gevlon the gaming failure is fun, but linking to a downright ignorant and hateful person, even if its not directly linking to his hate, is not something I’m entirely comfortable with going forward, and so ends my time with him. I’ll miss the comedy, but laughs aren’t worth giving the evil person behind the content any further attention.

Posted in Blogroll, PUBG | 48 Comments

High cost, low cost; a good game sells, a bad one struggles

Raph Koster has a post about video game costs, which in large part is a continuation of the discussion from TAGN blog about the topic. In terms of game devs, I like Raph (I obviously don’t know him personally), but I can’t help but disagree with him more on his post. The linked video does a great job breaking down the AAA market, but as someone who isn’t a console gamer, the AAA market is just a tiny fraction of my overall gaming.

Before I go on, I do want to make clear that I think gamers are as much to blame for all of this as developers. Yes, many developers are scum like the hotbar salesman, but they only exist because gamers exist that buy said hotbars. If the majority of gamers had rejected MTX originally and not until SW:BF2, the whole concept would never have taken off. Sadly we can’t do much about the gamers but help to educate them, and that’s a slow process. Even when the ultimate ending in SW:BF2 was a complete wiping out of MTX (for now), you still had people defend the decision to give EA money for that game pre-release, so it’s a hard battle.

First, I understand why MTX makes sense for game devs, and I also think it makes sense for gamers. We now live in an age where a game can easily be supported post-release, which is very different prior to the internet and buying a disc/cartridge. Getting patches, downloading expansions, having mod access, all of that is possible today and makes gaming better.

If I love a game, the absolute best thing that can happen is for the devs to continue supporting it, because that means I get more of what I love. I was sad when Mordheim development stopped because I loved Mord and wanted more. Same for Battle Brothers. And I am willing to pay for that support, so long as its reasonable in both price and in what it adds, so I’m not saying to completely remove MTX and go back to only a box price. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars in LoL, and it’s easily some of the best money I’ve spent in gaming, so MTX done right is AWESOME.

The major problem with a lot of MTX is that their addition makes the base game WORSE. It’s the F2P in MMOs topic all over again, where we have yet to see an MMO become a better game due to F2P, because it’s almost by definition impossible. Games CAN be better thanks to MTX (LoL is by far the biggest and best example of this), because they fund future development without negatively impacting design. But when incompetence or greed kicks in, you get something like SW:BF2, where a decent game is made significantly WORSE by MTX. There is no argument that can be made that SW:BF2 is better because you can spend money to unlock power. Pushed further, there is no argument that can be made that a competitive game is better when some of the power is initially locked, and you have to grind or pay to unlock it. Imagine if in LoL every champ started with their ultimate locked, and until you paid or grinding, you couldn’t use it? Would anyone argue such a model would make LoL feel more ‘rewarding’? Of course not.

“You can see this in MMOs now — where just getting 100k people subbing to something ought to make a highly satisfactory viable business… but go look at player reactions to visuals that aren’t at the absolute top end.”  – Raph

The quote is about MMOs specifically, but since that genre is on pause (and no one would call upcoming titles like Crowfall or CU top-end visually), lets look at gaming overall.

PUBG looks like ass compared to most shooters. Its the highest selling game of the year by a mile. Take a look at the most popular games on Steam and tell me how many of those have AAA graphics? CS:GO doesn’t. DOTA2 doesn’t (nor does LoL). Payday 2? Team Fortress? Rocket League? RUST? Sure, there are also games like GTAV, which at release had good graphics, and also games like Rainbow Six, but the point is that the top games aren’t exclusively AAA-quality in terms of graphics, or even that the list is dominated by such titles.

The same can be said for polish. It’s helps, no doubt, but it’s clearly not a must-have. The be-all end-all of gaming success if if your game is fun. That’s it. If your game is fun despite looking like garbage and having a mile-long list of bugs, people will buy it. They bought ARK, they bought RUST, they bought DayZ, and they are buying PUBG. Divinity:OS2 just crossed the million copies mark, and go look at it’s post-release history of patch notes to see just how polished that game was (and while it has nice graphics, no one is calling them top-end).

On the topic of raising box prices. Remember when ARK left early access and went up to $60? Or how PUBG has never gone on sale from it’s $30 price point? Notice how successful Steam games don’t hit the 50% or 75% Steam sale for a while, yet we see failed new releases getting massive price cuts shortly? It all shows that while box price is a factor, its also relative to the actual quality of a game. If a game is really good, it can have a high box price and avoid sales and still move copies.

This topic really is less about the rising cost of games, or whether model X is better than model Y, and more about corporate greed and how some gamers support terrible MTX design. Companies exist to make money, of course, but part of the ‘make money’ thing is to also to stay in business and continue to make money. It’s not a good business move to raise profits by 50% in a quarter by sacrificing the next five quarters. Predatory and flawed MTX is exactly that; it’s cashing in now by duping some gamers only to hurt everyone later on. SW:BF2 might have been the tipping point, where EA had a good game that would have been profitable with solid (in this case fluff-only) MTX, but because of greed put in predatory and ‘bad for game design’ MTX instead, and the result has been a massive hit to their stock price already, with likely more fallout coming when the actual impact to SW:BF2 is better understood.

The video game business model is not just fine, its actually the best it’s ever been. If you make a good game, you will not only get rewarded with sales, but also have the potential to make more money on top with solid MTX. The problem many devs struggle with isn’t rising costs or being bullied out of the market, its in creating a good game. Fix that problem and you will do just fine.

Posted in ARK, Blogroll, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, League of Legends, MMO design, PUBG, Rant, RMT, Steam Stuff | 23 Comments

Endless Space 2 review

I played Endless Space 2 (ES2) during its free weekend last week, and picked it up on Monday before the sale ended. It’s a good 4X strategy title, especially if you liked Endless Legends (basically the fantasy version of Endless Space).

What I like most about the Endless 4X games is that they are a good combo of feeling the same, in a good way, while also introducing some unique elements that really keep the game feeling fresh. They play like a game of Civ, but you don’t play them like a game of Civ, if that makes sense.

In ES2, much like Legends, each of the races/factions is far more unique than in Civ. How they settle new planets is different, how they run their governments, what heroes and tech they have, etc. Each turn is still about moving units, building new colonies, building upgrades and ships at those colonies, and conducting warfare and diplomacy, but what you focus on will depend on who you are playing, as well as who you are facing.

In one game I was playing a peace-loving race, and the closest other major player was also peace-loving. The result was a mostly peaceful game, with us eventually allying. We still competed for star systems, as well as for completing the shared quests that occasionally pop up, but overall the game played to both our strengths. When we finally came into contact with a race that preferred war, together we were simply too strong and they didn’t go after us initially, and when they finally did declare war, we were able to counter-attack them easily.

In a second game I picked a more expansion/war focused race, and used a very heavy military technology focus to be aggressive and go after others. That was working great until three sides all attacked me, and then the game became a desperate struggle to hold my borders and repel fleets as they were coming in. Because of the tech advantage, I had bigger/better ships, and eventually those fleets and heroes gained enough experience from successful combat to return to the offensive and capture/burn more territory.

ES2 is very flexible like that, in that there are truly multiple ways to play and win, and not all of it is under your control. Sometimes even if you want peace, too many people are around you initially, or you want war but the star lanes to travel are terribly long and its just not possible.

Speaking of travel, it’s done very well in ES2. Initially ships can only move along pre-set paths between stars, and some star systems aren’t connected at all. Somewhat soon, you can research a tech that lets you fly in open space, but you must have a target system (you can’t just move one ‘hex’ north like you can in Civ). Also movement outside the paths is very slow, and not really practical most of the time. Finally, you can research and discover worm holes, which are new paths between systems that show up and are instant. This can dramatically change how everyone moves about, because what you thought was a safe dead-end system suddenly might have an instant travel connection to your enemies system. It’s great, and really keeps the ‘game board’ interesting through each phase of travel evolution.

Graphically the game is good. Some of the effects are a little cheap, like ground battles, but others, like the ship battles you can watch, look really good (almost EVE-like really). Sound is good as well, with some decent voice acting. I’ve yet to have the game crash or see a bug, and it loads up and runs very well.

If you are in the market for a 4x title, I’d recommend Endless Space 2.

Posted in Random, Review | 1 Comment