Hey, guys! So I hear tell you want to kill Steam.
Well, okay, that’s overly harsh; you just want a sweet piece of that digital distribution pie. And who can blame you? There’s a lot of money going through Steam, and if I were a big company I’d be looking for a way to pick up a few extra bucks down that road. You’ve made a good opening move by cutting ties with Steam and putting both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 exclusively on Origin. It’s really a good start toward getting a foot in the digital distribution market, and considering how much I like having some healthy competition here, I’m all in favor of it.
In the beginning, the designers didn’t know what they had. Well, okay, they knew what they had: a game that you played with a computer. They just weren’t sure what to do with it.
Pong wasn’t really the first video game, nor was it the first one to answer the question of “how do we make money off of this?” It was just the first one to do so in a successful fashion. You fed the game a coin, you got to play. When one of the two sides reached a predetermined score, the match was over, and if you wanted to play again you had to feed the machine another quarter.
As time went on, arcade game manufacturers realized a simple law – the more coins people had to feed into the machine to keep playing, the more money the game made. This resulted in the early era of video game brutality. Consoles were still expensive and not terribly popular, but everyone enjoyed an arcade cabinet. And if you made those cabinets difficult, players would keep feeding the machine money in the hopes that a few more quarters would open the elusive road to victory. Home games, as a result, were as brutal as the cabinets. They people designing one were designing the other, and the home consoles didn’t have the following that the cabinets had. Games were generally short, but brutally difficult, requiring a lot of play in order for players to advance past a certain point.
But there was a break-even point. There was a certain degree of difficulty past which people would just start marching away from the game rather than keep hammering at it to try and beat the damn thing. So there was the balance up until the Nintendo’s twilight years and the launch of the Super Nintendo. Games had to be hard enough that players had to keep paying at regular intervals, but not so hard that they stopped thinking victory was just another quarter away.
By the time of the SNES, things had changed. The arcades were no longer the dominant force in gaming, with consoles (and to a lesser extent home computers) having a very different audience. Here, a trend in the other direction started. Once a player had purchased the game, after all, there was no further investment to be had – it didn’t matter if the game was played to death or if it just sat unused in a shoebox. But a happy player of Game A would buy Game B if he remembered the company responsible for Game A. There was no incentive to make games harder, but there was a distinct incentive to make games more accessible and faster to complete.
Speed was still a virtue, but for the opposite reason. Before, you could get away with having a game that had only seven levels, because it would take a whole lot of money to take the second. Now, it was best if you could get someone to drop full retail price for a new game that could be beaten in a week, because that meant the player was coming back for a new game in the near future.
That trend started to see a hiccup only as the Playstation became more popular, where a five-disc epic cost the same amount at retail as a one-disc game that was over in half an hour. People trended toward larger games, the sort of thing that looked like it would give more bang for a buck. Hours of play were valued over challenge. Unfortunately, this design trend came with a negative side effect – players wanted larger games that would be played for more time, which meant fewer purchases. So the games tended to get another layer of ease layered on and tricks slipped in to ensure that players wouldn’t keep replaying the same game time after time. After you’ve beaten Xenogears once, there’s not much point to playing again beyond a love of the game.
This is where DLC comes from. It’s the only logical response to a world in which players want longer games that they’ll get lost in for several days or weeks at a stretch. If the designers can’t sell you more games in close succession, they can sell you more of the game to keep a steady stream of cash coming out. And after the game has made its money, they can always release a special edition that compiles all the DLC and gets another little sales spike from players who passed on the initial launch.
At the same time, it’s always a balancing act. If you make players pay too much for too little, they’ll stop coming. If you make players pay too little for too much, you don’t make enough money and you can’t make games any more. So you have to cut a careful balance, and above it all it’s based upon what players will tolerate and agree to.
A point? If there is one, it would come down to this. DLC, free-to-play games, cash shops in pay-to-play games, all of that? You created this, because this is what you said you wanted. If you need to look to a villain for the ways in which games are monetized now, you can start and stop in the bathroom mirror.
First of all, I want to state for the record that I am unexpectedly sad about the fact that Star Wars Galaxies is closing down. In every respect, I can understand why the players of the game would be sad and unhappy with this turn of events. I have nothing but sympathy for the feelings of those affected by this shutdown, because really, there’s no way to frame this as anything less than sucking.
That having been said? It’s done.
Sony has told you guys that you are not going to win this. There’s no question, there’s no last-ditch rally to save the beach from Evil Mr. Shutdownington or whatever. Sony stepped up and said “guys, the petition thing, it’s sweet, but it is also totally pointless.” And yet the desperate requests to spread the word continue, as if somehow if you just got enough signatures it would somehow alter the space-time continuum and the companies would change their minds.
Seriously, this response should not have been necessary. I feel for you, guys, really I do – I understand that this is a sad event, and I’m sad to see the game go even though I never played it. It’s not your passion I’m questioning, it’s your methods.
Smedley made it clear that there was no problem with player population, with the Sony hacking issues, with anything beyond the simple fact that these two companies had an agreement that wound up being terminated. The companies both knew that a bunch of people played and enjoyed the game. This was all well-known. What, exactly, is petitioning SOE supposed to do about that? How exactly is this going to result in a last-minute stay of execution? This was the reason why there was a desire to avoid shutting down the game if at all possible. As it turned out, it wasn’t possible, and the game is going to die this year.
It’s sad, yeah. Heartbreaking, even. But your volume is not helping your case. It’s not hurting your case either, but that’s largely due to your complete lack of a case. You’re essentially trying to shout down a corporate decision. It’s a noble effort, to be sure, but it’s a Sisyphean ordeal at best.
Sometimes, you don’t get a chance to change things. Sometimes, your one chance is gone before you realize you’ve got it.
Look, I’ve been falling in love with things for nearly thirty years now, and I’ve watched a lot of good ongoing things end. Lost. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Transmetropolitan. The first two seasons of Sliders. Generation X by the original creators. Persons Unknown. Transformers Animated. Firefly. Some of these things ran their allotted course, some of them were followed by superior works, some were followed by inferior ones, and some just ended. I was sad when every single one ended… but I moved on and I looked toward the next thing. I could still love what had come before without trying to anchor myself in the past.
The ardent save-our-game fans are complaining that Sony won’t explain why the game can’t go free-to-play, and they don’t realize that the question has already been answered – it’s not shutting down for lack of players, it’s shutting down because the license was being pulled and there was no agreement that the two companies could come to regarding the game’s continued operation. Starting petitions and whining online doesn’t make you a crusader for the last chance of the game, it makes you unwilling to accept facts.
It’s done. Get over it, and enjoy what you’ve got left. It seems like a better option than pissing the remaining time away via Facebook protests.
I’m really late for a hard-hitting review of LA Noire, a fact I freely admit. Worse yet, at least from my perspective, Chris over at Game By Night hit one of the really big failings of the game right off, which is one of the two major things that’s been going through my head recently as I’ve been playing the darn game. But, hey, it’s still set to come out later this year for the PC, so I can at least get in some reasonable lead time to advise most players that it might not be all that and a bag of chips.
The problems with the game, however, don’t stop where the aforementioned post stops discussing them. It’s kind of ironic that one of the first DLC cases for the game makes reference to electroplating, since the entire game feels like it’s been coated with a thin layer of awesome. But a solid scratch makes it clear that there’s nothing underneath.
For example, the game’s action sequences are, essentially, just setpieces. The game acknowledges this, and even gives you the option to skip one if you repeatedly fail it – without any penalty to your overall progression in the case. The gunplay allows you to take cover and duck around and shoot blind, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. Heck, it takes a concentrated effort to actually get Phelps to drop from gunfire, meaning that the only element that keeps you playing through the moments of action are, well, the illusion that any of it matters. Scratch that illusion, and you lose all investment.
But the important part is the investigation, right? Well… yes, but even there you start to notice seams. See, the investigations are split into two segments – finding clues and grilling people. The clues, unfortunately, are all pre-determined widgets scattered throughout a given location, with a clear signal marking off when you have all of the clues for a given crime scene. Several clues require you to re-check a minor object or area more than once, simply because the game won’t let Cole advance past a certain point based on a hunch or a suspicion. That’s a little more acceptable, but where things start breaking down is when you get into the actual investigations, which offer you the same sort of gameplay experience you’d get out of an old InfoCom text adventure game.
Do you remember those games? Do you remember how awesome it was to spend four hours with the right object in the right place, struggling to find the exact syntax that the game would recognize? Did Rygar give you this kind of crap?
There was a suspect who took me quite a while to grill, because I first had to find the right option among the three, and then had to find the right piece of evidence that more or less randomly triggered important information. The evidence didn’t seem to be linked to the accusation in any way. There are several times when I would select one piece of evidence, and it would be flagged as correct, but Phelps talked about something else entirely. It really drove home the fact that I wasn’t trying to piece together clues so much as figure out the arbitrary sequence programmed into the game.
Problematic? When it’s the only thing the game has going for it, yeah, it’s a problem all right. The game’s other sequences are just there as alternate filler and distraction, and so all it has left to sell itself on is the whole “putting together a mystery” element. And you aren’t really doing that, just guessing at how the developers want you to dance.
Oh, and the game auto-saves while preventing you from saving when you want. So that‘s awesome.
In short… look, the game isn’t bad, but it’s weak in a lot of areas, and the stuff that it has going for it – beautiful scenery and excellent acting – do not make up for the aggressive problems it’s sporting. If you haven’t bought it yet and you’re still making eyes in its direction, my suggestion is to just turn around and start walking. It delivers what it promises only in the barest of senses, and even that turns out to be a kind of lackluster experience after a while.