Tag: saving money

The 7 commandments of tackling the pile of shame

Deal with the devil

As  I mentioned in my previous post, I intend to limit my gaming library to just eight games for one year. This is to fully explore the games I already own and to try to put the brakes on purchasing more games.

After much consideration, I think this is going to be too tricky to actually do. So I’m going to add some amendments  to what should have been a rather simple premise. Here are the rules that I’ll stick to from 1 July 2017 until 30 June 2018.

  1. I will choose up to eight games to play across all consoles during the next year. I don’t need to choose all eight games initially and can add in titles to empty slots later in the year.
  2. I will exempt anything that isn’t really classed as a game. The main things that fall into this category are VR-type experiences. This does not mean that games such as Skyrim PSVR would be exempt, anything that I determine is a game has to go in a slot.
  3. I will exclude multiplayer titles that I would otherwise only play with the kids (Lego Dimensions, Mario Kart 8, etc). But on the flipside, I can’t play these titles on my own and we can only play games we already own. If I want to buy something else then that has to be one of the eight choices. I think that’s a fair compromise.
  4. If I get the platinum trophy, then I can swap that game for something else. But this only applies to PS4/PS3 games where completing a game 100% can be easily measured. Once a game has been swapped out though then it’s gone for the rest of the year.
  5. There is no restriction on the purchase of DLC for existing titles.
  6. I’m wrestling with rules six a little. I was considering adding a rule that means I can add an extra choice once I’ve platinumed five games. But I also feel that goes against the spirit of what I’m doing. But looking at my choices, the chances of me getting a platinum on two games, let alone five, is so remote as to not worth bothering with. What do you think?
  7. This rule is called my ‘I might want to buy a Switch’ rule. This rule states that I can play any of my choices on any format it’s been released on. So if I pick Stardew Valley then I get to play that on PS4 or Vita (hopes) or whatever.

Choices, choices…..

Now comes the tricky part, what do I choose for my eight games? To get a flavour of the pool of games I’ve got to pick from, here are some pics of my library. I’ve also got a smattering of PS Vita and 3DS games.

Rex's PSN library
Rex’s PSN library
Rex's Wii U library
Rex’s Wii U library
And the library of physical PS4 games
And the library of physical PS4 games

The final eight

So what made the final cut? Well, before I name the lucky picks, I’m going to say that two slots are being left open. One is almost certainly for Everybody’s Golf on PS4. I’m confident it’s going to be a great game, and if I don’t buy it then I can’t run a GRcade tournament. The other slot is either for Skyrim PSVR or any other surprise title (Ace Combat on VR looks mighty interesting). On that basis, I’ve got just six left to pick. 🙁

  1. Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
    Only recently acquired but is currently hogging my PS4 time. I’m about 10 hours in but it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m also looking forward to the DLC.
  2. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
    I was initially going to include my absolute favourite Monster Hunter title in my selection – Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on Vita. But I’ve had MH4U kicking about for a year or so and barely played it whereas MHFU has had 100s of hours gone into it. I love MH games and this seemed like a great way to dust off something from the shelf. It’s also my only portable game so I’d better like it!
  3. Stardew Valley (PS4)
    Taking a break from this at the moment due to HZD but I can’t imagine not being able to play it. It has to be in the selection. Rule seven was created specifically with this in mind, portable Stardew Valley would be astounding.
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)
    I’ve hardly touched this game after picking it up at launch. I’ll need a palate cleanser before diving in after playing a lot of HZD but I’m excited to go back to it sometime later this year. It’s also the other reason for rule seven.
  5. Resident Evil 7 (PS4)
    I bought a PSVR because I’m weak and I also like buying peripherals that’ll sit in a drawer until the end of time. So I need something to play on it to justify the outrageous cost. I bought Resi 7 and tried to play it on VR but it was too scary. I need to grow a backbone and get stuck in. It’s also one that is relatively easy to platinum (I think).
  6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)
    I’m a reasonable way into this but haven’t got round to the DLC yet (which I also own), and haven’t touched it for well over a year.

I think this gives me a reasonable mix but is probably leaning more towards big, open world games. Nothing bite-sized which may come back to haunt me. By the time this gets posted then I’ll be into the year. I’ll attempt to post along the way, but you know how these things go (abandoned by Christmas).

Extra Lifespan – Getting more from the games you own. Part 1: User-generated content.

Games like Counter Strike, Team Fortress and Dota 2/League of Legends all began in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coming from a melting-pot of third party modding and creativity from open-ended game engines and modding tools like Valve’s Hammer editor and Source engine and the early iterations of the Unreal engine. However in addition to systems like achievements promoting more player engagement but less creativity, these flagship games have become more stringent ‘services’ which are the opposite of the creative spirit.

The addition of paid and consumable spray decals for Counter Strike Global Offensive, a game whose previous iterations let users load their own images as sprays to use as many times as they want, is an example of this shift away from user-generated content as a builder of community cohesion towards a more service-oriented model where content is more controlled and crucially monetised. As much as achievements encourage you to explore a game further through replays on higher difficulties, progress milestones or specific player actions they have had the compound effect of limiting player creativity. Open-world games have a lot of space, content and systems in place to give you plenty to do however most of it involves box-ticking side missions which equate to tidying up the map rather than having any creative input. On the other hand more linear shooters are often scripted to ensure the player sees all the set-pieces or that the multiplayer can be monetised for as long as possible. For example Call of Duty Black Ops III only got Steam Workshop support towards the end of its year of support/interest and not long before Infinite Warfare’s PR kicked into life.

This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make your own fun. Engaging in the user-generated content systems of games which have them is a great way to extend their lifespan through fostering creativity and a collaborative community well beyond the lifespan of its core content. Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout games are the most popular and prevalent mainstream games which openly support modding (despite criticisms that this approach lets the community fix the games for the developers free of charge) and even the Doom reboot included a level creation toolset of sorts. Halo’s Forge editor has opened up its multiplayer mode to survive competition and maintain relevance in the face of the more bombastic Call of Duty and Battlefield games. CoD has its own limited USG in the form of player-created profile logos, but outside of these we have to look slightly further outside mainstream games to the relative periphery of the market to find games which openly facilitate user-generated content.

The Forza Motorsport/Horizon series has distinguished itself through its livery creation system which lets players create and share custom car designs and images with each other. The toolset gives you a large selection of shapes, curves, gradients and letters which can be stretched, skewed and resized over the bodywork. Over the last 10 years the community for this has produced absolutely stunning artistic designs and accurate replicas of real-world car liveries to be shared and used by others:

I find recreating real-world designs or liveries from other racing games to be a relaxing creative outlet with practical ingame application; in order to share a design you have to have used your own layer groups and designs. If you download someone else’s sponsor logos or art to make it you can’t share anything you make with the wider community. Every time someone downloads, uses or likes your designs you get a small amount of in-game money as a reward and an incentive to produce better designs in the future.

I’ll discuss the game more in the future, but the PC version of Star Trek Online has a powerful set of tools which enables players to create and write their own story missions which others can play through. You choose the start locations, environments, encounters and write the dialogue for every interaction therein. This system is almost as feature-rich as the tools used by the developers and is an extensive avenue for the creatively-minded to get significantly more life out of an already large game:

The PC version of Neverwinter (also made by Cryptic, the developers of the UGC-heavy and unfortunately deceased City of Heroes) also features a similar system which plays to the storytelling/roleplaying nature of the Dungeons and Dragons IP.

The problem with these systems is that they require an audience to get the most out of them. Far Cry 3 included team multiplayer with a map editor however the population dropped off relatively quickly, so what would be the point of spending time making a map for it? I had some plans for a few Far Cry 3 maps including the ruins of a coastal town which a plane crashed through the middle of as well as a precarious cliff-side temple but then I saw that there was nobody playing the multiplayer so nobody would ever play them. Other games like Trackmania present track creation in an accessible drag-and-drop package so there is a low barrier to entry but like Far Cry 3 its popularity has markedly declined in recent years.

These systems let players channel their creativity and potentially extending the lifespan of a game and its community indefinitely, however the reality of a game’s community can be at odds with the intentions behind the creation of such systems. There are of course other games I’ve missed here; Arma 3 has a deep level editor which underpins its community, Mario Maker and Minecraft are entirely built on user-generated content and have both been incredibly successful. The WWE wrestling games continue to expand on their creative suites letting users create individual wrestlers, shows, arenas, belts and entire story-lines to play and share. There are a surprising number of smaller indie games whose bite-sized structure mean that level editors and infrastructure like the Steam Workshop can be combined to build a community, offer more to prospective buyers and maintain collective interest in games which are often much cheaper than larger but more restrictive AAA/mainstream counterparts.

Free to Play

I can recall the theme tunes for many of the programs I watched when I was very young because children’s brains just absorb information as a survival mechanism; a process which advertisers and producers use for merchandise and general awareness among their hyper-receptive audience as a vector to their parents’ wallets.

However fondly we remember the entertainment media of our past, things cannot remain the same. In the same way the stop-motion puppets of Postman Pat and Fireman Sam have given way to CGI, videogames have grown in scale and complexity. As well as moving from solid-state cartridges to discs to digital distribution, new business models have come to the fore as an alternative to conventional ‘boxed’ retail. Nostalgia for the good old days when you put a game in a slot and it just worked is fine, however it should not come at the cost of technological and narrative development. Secondly the idea of entertainment trying to bypass the rational and decision-making structures of our brains through manipulation and playing to our inherent psychological weaknesses is something I find unpleasant as a child of the early 1990s.

Previously the domain of Asian MMOs, the concept of playing a game with no up-front cost but an in-game market for items or service bought with real money has become a mainstream and largely accepted practice outside of its geographic and genre limitations. The first and one of the most memorable examples of this practice was an article from 2007 which is fortunately still available to read online about how one player in the Chinese MMO ‘ZT Online’ rebelled against the games’ heavily monetised and random chance-based systems which rely on inter-player conflict to promote their use. Examples such as this gave such games a reputation as ruthless money-vacuums designed to exploit behavioural conditioning techniques to make as much money as possible. In the West this kind of business model was frowned upon at the time, however it would soon become the business model of choice for MMOs as an alternative to being turned off.

The first major example of this taking place in a Western game was Dungeons and Dragons Online’s switch to F2P in 2009 and Lord of the Rings Online the following year. Both these games are still active today, most likely as a direct result of this change; removing the cover charge at the door gets more people in, gets more eyes on the real-money purchases and crucially provides other people for the “whales” to play with and reassure they aren’t wasting their disproportionate spending habits on a dead game.

After DDO and LOTRO shifted to an F2P business model the floodgates opened; more and more post-World of Warcraft subscription-based MMOs with dwindling populations took the opportunity to re-brand and re-launch; from giants such as Everquest 2 and City of Heroes to smaller games like Warhammer Online and Star Trek Online. However this is not a panacea for all of a game’s financial woes. Warhammer Online and City of Heroes eventually shut down despite this change. The launches of modern subscription-based MMOs such as The Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar and Star Wars The Old Republic were met with scepticism and ridicule, mocking the hubris of pre-release videos of developers explaining why their game would be fine with a subscription, how it offers so much more to the passionate community etc. Invariably these games have moved away from subscriptions, often accompanied by more PR videos explaining how its a new opportunity for even more people to experience the game world, opening it up like never before.

Now only World of Warcraft still relies on a subscription and even then you can play the game up to level 20 for free; a replacement for the old 14 day trial program. Even EVE Online is taking a similar approach to draw in more new players; a development I look forward to talking about more as a former EVE player myself. Now it is arguable that the heyday of MMOs is well and truly over. The novelty of being online in a virtual world has worn off and games like League of Legends, DOTA offer the same team play, fantasy worlds and watchable competition with none of the lengthy grind to get there. Many of these games have now jumped to the console environment too; Warframe, Smite, Neverwinter, DC Universe Online and Star Trek Online have been ported and are successful enough to keep going in a period of market uncertainty and where even the biggest releases are failing on the sales figures of previous iterations.

The most worrying aspect of these mechanics is their proliferation in said big releases; what have been called “fee to pay” games which charge you upfront for the game and then act as a platform for further monetisation. Dead Space 3 was widely criticised for skewing its crafting system to make spending real money more attractive than the long real-time slog to acquire upgrade materials.

The recent examples of YouTubers being implicated in covertly running gambling websites for CSGO and other games which have blind purchase boxes and other elements show that the issues around this area are moving away from games media pontification like this very article towards being a “real” issue. I was on a train once and saw a boy of no more than 14 or so playing a fake CSGO weapon skin opening game; one that simulated the experience of playing Valve’s slot machine, presumably as playing the real thing wasn’t an option at the time. These kind of things make me worried for the future of games as both current experiences as well as their preservation for the future. What happens when these predominantly online games are no longer profitable and are shut down? Such concerns are a topic for another article, but are issues we should be considering when encountering, discussing or supporting such systems.


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