Category Archives: Steam

The Passing of Another Steam Winter Sale

The 2018 Steam Winter Sale has come and gone.

I collected some cards, went through my queue every day, got my Steam level up to 20, and, like SynCaine, bought no games for myself.

I was actually considering buying a couple, but for some reason it was in my head that the sale ended on the 4th rather than the 3rd, so when I logged in on the what I thought was the last day the sales were all done.

Oh well, it isn’t like they won’t be coming back again.  We have long since been trained to wait for sales.  And there wasn’t anything I was considering that I was going to jump on right away.

I think the highlight of the sales for me these days are going through the daily queue of games Steam thinks I might like.

Occasionally it shows me things I might like.  I thought MewnBase, a cats in space base building game, was interesting.

My daughter wanted that, so I bought her a copy.  She played it for a bit and said it was pretty good, if a bit more hard core than she expected.  Your cat is going to run out of oxygen.  But not bad for an early access title.

Mostly though, the queue is for comedy as Steam tries to dredge up 36 titles it hasn’t shown me before based on what its algorithm thinks I like.  This tends to be self-defeating as I will wishlist some of the silliest stuff just to reference later only to have Steam jump on that and show me more of the same.

For example, at one point it showed me the title Seed of the Dead, which was described as a “A heart-pumping fusion of zombie FPS and erotic dating sim!” complete with the usual set of Anime girls either bursting out of their blouse or in a too-small school girl uniform.

I can’t link that on the Steam web site because it is flagged as adult.  But I put it on my wishlist to remember it only to have my next run through the queue filled with Hentai porn puzzle games.  I had not considered that Mine Sweeper could be used as a vehicle for titillation, but if you clear all the mines you get to see it all I guess.

Ignoring a streak of those managed to get me out of that trap.  It was pointed out to me that I could avoid that sort of thing entirely by telling Steam to block all adult content, but then how would I get my quarterly update on what is lurking on the service.

Having slipped the anime porn thread Steam put me on to the Battle Royale trend, which I predicted will hit peak saturation this year as the me-to crowed tries to jump on for an easy win.  We’re still in the point where the ideas have a bit of charm, like Super Animal Royale, where you play as creatures of the forest in a 64 player battle arena death match.

There was also the warning sign games, the ones that indicate that the trend has ballooned dangerously, the games that start on the meta of the genre.  And so I saw Battle Royale Tycoon.

That isn’t to say such a game cannot be good, and BRT has positive response so far, but it is not the only game of that sort out there, a couple of them look just like the cheap attempts to cash-in on a trend that we always see.  I am reminded of all of the BitCoin mining simulators I saw during the summer sale.

And so it goes.  Since Steam has already shown me over 3,000 games in past queues, it remains interesting to see where it will lead me next.

The Steam Winter Sale also saw the Best of 2018 post for the store, which stack ranks the top 100 games in a several categories, including revenue and hours played.  Topping the revenue charts were:

Steam Top Revenue for 2018

As noted in the Steam blog post about these charts, being declared “Platinum” does not signify any particular dollar amount.  For all we know Grand Theft Auto V could have earned as much as everybody else on the list.  Instead, it just means a game is in the top dozen, the the ranks working out as:

  • Platinum: 1st – 12th Top Seller
  • Gold: 13th – 24th Top Seller
  • Silver: 25th – 40th Top Seller
  • Bronze: 41st – 100th Top Seller

Still, it is interesting to see who tops the list… and how many older games do so.  Especially Warframe, about which I hear almost nothing most days, but which has quite a following all the same.  And then there is how the chart changes.  During the summer sale they had the mid-year numbers.  A few of those that made the Platinum ranks in June couldn’t hold on until December it seems.

Top Sellers for 2018 back in June

It is interesting to compare that to the most played chart, which is broken out into groups representing specific number ranges.  The top of the chart for that was games with over 100,000 concurrent players.

Steam most concurrent players

It corresponds reasonably with the revenue chart.  I do think it is interesting that, down the list, you will find Civilization V ahead of Civilization VI for simultaneous players.  I suppose I am not the only one that found the newer title disappointing.

And so it goes.  Since the Steam sales have become seasonal I suppose I will just wait until the coming of spring.

My MMO Outlook for 2019

I’m going to try this again.  It isn’t quite the famous quip about insanity being repeating an action and expecting different results, but the results have not always been spectacular.  Though, in my defense, that has on occasion not been my fault.

For those seeking a history of this particular post, I have a list:

This time around I am going to make this less of a goal setting session, where I declare I am going to run off and play some new games… or some old games… or some games in between that I have not played before.  Instead, this is going to attempt to be more predictive.

Didn’t I just do predictions yesterday?

Well, I didn’t attempt to predict what I was actually going to play in 2019, so this is a different avenue.  I’ll open up with the usual suspects.

Easy Picks

  • EVE Online

Pretty much a lock since I played it 12 out of 12 months in 2018.  If I log in today and play, I’m covered, and it seems likely that I will do so and continue to do so over the course of the year.  As long as Reavers deploy a couple of times I’m probably good.

  • Pokemon Go

The other game I played pretty much daily throughout 2018.  It helps that this is the one video game that my wife and I play together.  Also happens to be the only active Pokemon title on a platform I own, since Nintendo is abandoning the handheld model and throwing everything onto the Switch.  Not that I am bitter or anything.

  • WoW Classic

I think this one is a no-brainer.  I will certainly subscribe and log in for the spectacle that will be the launch of WoW Classic.  The real question is how bad will it be?  I don’t mean to suggest there will be any glaring lack of fidelity.  I feel Blizz will be about as true to the idea as they can be.  The question will be how slammed will the servers be and how fragmented will the community end up as Blizz opens up more and more servers?

  • WoW Not-So-Classic

This one is likely a gimme as well.  While Battle for Azeroth just didn’t capture me, the fact that the same subscription will get you into both WoW and WoW Classic makes it very likely that I will log into the former to play.  There will probably be a boost in people on regular WoW servers corresponding to the length of the server queues on WoW Classic.

  • Lord of the Rings Online

Lifetime subscription and the Legendary server… and the fact that I am still playing it right now, if not as actively as I was when the server kicked off… makes this another shoe-in for the list.  I may not last once it gets past Moria, but up until then I am probably in.

Somewhat Likely

After those titles we get into a more gray area.  Still, there are some candidates that don’t seem to be complete long shots.

  • EverQuest II

If things go badly for Daybreak, or if they have a good plan for the 15th anniversary of the game, it seems reasonable that I will be in for either a last look or another visit.

  • Project: Gorgon

The game I keep meaning to play seriously but somehow never quite get to.  I own it already, always a plus, and it gets good marks for its quirky nature.

  • Minecraft

Our server has been pretty quiet for the last year, but the panda update is coming.  That might at least get me back on long enough to scout out a bamboo grove to find them.  Technically not an MMO, but close enough.

Wildcards

Titles that might happen, if certain conditions come to pass… being something other than early access garbage being a key item.  I’m trying not to encourage the developer line about, “I’ll gladly ship on Tuesday if you’ll just buy my game today” by paying into that sort of thing any more.

  • EverQuest

Hey, it will be the 20 year anniversary of the game shipping come March 16th.  There is a distinct possibility that Daybreak will have something lined up that will make me want to log in, at least for a bit.

  • Atlas

Whether you see this as re-skinned Ark or not, a some people I know are getting into this… when it is running and you can log in… so there is the glimmer of a possibility that I might give it a try.  The whole early access aspect of it will be the factor keeping me away if I don’t play it.

  • Torchlight Frontiers

I don’t think it will ship in 2019, and I am not going to beta test it, which is what makes it a wildcard.  I’m interested to try it even if I am not amongst those publicly wetting themselves in anticipation of it.

  • Camelot Unchained

Didn’t I pay for this almost five years ago now?  It would be cool if there was something there both playable and worth playing.

  • Destiny 2

We got the base game for free back in October and I downloaded it.  So it is installed and ready to go if I decide I want to try it.

  • Diablo III

Also technically not an MMO, at least by my own measure, but if maybe Blizzard were to add something fresh to the game I could find myself playing again.  I enjoy it, but can only play through the story and seasons so many times.

  • War Thunder and/or World of Tanks

I have a bunch of time invested in both over the years.  They tend to be good games for quick action, but neither hole my attention for very long either.  Battles often become the same situation repeated ad infinitum.

  • Something Else New

I mean, somebody is going to ship something new this year, aren’t they?

Non-MMOs

Again, I don’t like to set goals, but I look at my Steam library and it there are games I know I will play and games I want to find time for.

In the former category are:

  • Civilization V
  • RimWorld
  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

In the latter:

  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Grim Dawn
  • Afghanistan ’11
  • Space Engineers
  • Valkyria Chronicles

And then there are games on my wish list that maybe I might yet buy.  The Steam Winter Sale still has two full days left to run.

  • GTA V (mostly for the mod where you can play as the police)
  • O.G.R.E. (played the original board game)
  • Darkest Dungeon (The Wizardy-esque vibe keeps in on my list)
  • Frostpunk (Overlaps a bit with RimWorld though)

So there are some options.  We’ll see at the end of the year what I ended up playing and what fell by the wayside.  As like as not something else will come up mid-year and I’ll divert into that.

Reviewing My Game Time for 2018

Returning to the round up of 2018.

Most years I have something of a forward looking post in which I try to pick and/or guess at what games I might play in the coming year.  It remains a good reason why I don’t do monthly gaming goal posts or the like.  My ability to forecast my gaming mood is pretty iffy.

Well, sort of.

If I simply said I was going to play the same old stuff as last year and the year before, I would be pretty spot on.

Instead, these posts are also a way to try and convince myself to go play something new.  Sometimes the fact that I played nothing from the list isn’t my fault.  Look at the history:

There were years when almost nothing I was looking into shipped.

Given the fact that new titles of interest are pretty sparse, my 2018 list, posted back at the beginning of January, was focused on older titles I had not played.  I put together a list of “classic” MMOs that I had not played, listed out the pros and cons of each, and figured I should go back and give one a try.  The list was:

  1. RuneScape
  2. Ultima Online
  3. Dark Age of Camelot
  4. Anarchy Online
  5. Silkroad Online
  6. Maple Story
  7. Entopia Universe
  8. A Tale in the Desert

And, to give myself some minimal credit this year, I did in fact go and play Anarchy Online for a few hours.  I have the screen shots to prove it.  But I didn’t spend much time with it and I didn’t make any attempt to play anything else on the list.

In think the big lesson from that was that nostalgia is necessarily transferable.  I’m okay going back and playing EverQuest now and again and dealing with all the archaic aspects of it, but only because I was there when that was the state of the art.  Anarchy Online just felt old and awkward without any redeeming happy memories.

So what did I play in 2018?  Well, I have a handy chart for that!  Belghast does a chart like this, and I have copied him before and am back at it again.

2018 MMO Play Chart

EVE Online was the staple of my MMO year.  I’m not as invested in it as I once was, but I enjoy watching it and talking about it still and I am good for a few fleet ops a month.

Pokemon Go is sort of an MMO, and getting more like one as time goes along.  It is also the one game my wife and I play together, and it doesn’t take much time out of your day to keep up.  It probably helps that my work campus has six Pokestops and a gym.

World of Warcraft ebbed and flowed.  I was finishing up Legion early in the year, unlocking flying and all that.  Then there was a break before I came back in the warm up to Battle for Azeroth.  I still have things to do there, but have wandered off yet again.

Minecraft, despite our world being very quiet of late, still got some attention from me, usually around big public works projects.

I spent some time with Rift Prime.  That was nice to go back to for a bit, though it also wore out on me after not too long.  But that’s okay, I only feel nostalgia for the base game.

EverQuest II came and went twice.  I did have a pretty good run with my berserker up to level 100, at which point the game went back to its coy mode of indicating where I ought to go next.

But EverQuest II crapping out was fine because the LOTRO Legendary server came along and, despite my skepticism, I was clearly into that.

I did take a serious run at Shroud of the Avatar.  It is an odd, awkward, seemingly deliberately archaic game.  I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did like it however.  As happens with these sorts of things, in the end my subconscious won’t let me log in and waste time playing something that I am not really enjoying.  At least not for very long.

Then there was the flash in the pan for both Anarchy Online and Black Desert Online.  I played both for about the same duration and then walked away.

So that gets me through MMOs.  But I did play some other games over the course of the year.  I mean, look at that big empty space in June.  I was surely playing something else.

Steam can tell me what I was doing.  According to it I spent time playing the following this year:

  1. Civilization V
  2. Vietnam 65
  3. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
  4. Bomber Crew
  5. Fallout 4
  6. Oxygen Not Included
  7. RimWorld
  8. Stellaris
  9. Sudden Strike 4
  10. Hearts of Iron IV
  11. Train Simulator 2018

Some of those I have written about, like Vietnam 65.  Some are games I just return to over and over, like Civilization V and Age of Empires II.  There are a couple I should write about, including Oxygen Not Included and Bomber Crew.  Then there are the usual tales of buying things after 8pm on Steam because they were on sale despite the fact I could guess these games were not for me.  Fallout 4, Sudden Strike 4, and Hearts of Iron IV all got me to fall into that trap.

Lesson there, don’t buy anything with the number “4” in the title.

And finally there is Train Simulator 2018.  There is a post about that coming.  Basically I said I would do something with it if the right circumstances arose… and they did.  So I felt compelled to live up to that past statement.

That is where I spent the bulk of my gaming time in 2018.  I think for 2019 my forward looking statement will probably be simply more of the same.  We shall see.  It isn’t January yet.  I often come out of the holiday season rested and optimistic.

The Steam Winter Sale Returns for 2019

Like anybody doubted it would.

Yes, the holidays are upon us and one of the more recent traditions, the Steam Winter Sale, has returned with them.

As has become the norm, this is the modern, relaxed version of the sale, where the price drops remain throughout the event so nobody will miss any good deals just because they were at work when a flash sale hit.

This years special event is an advent calendar-like daily visit to the Extremely Cozy Cottage.

Along with that are some of the usual activities, besides buying games.  You can vote for the Steam Awards.  The nominations were part of the Autumn sale… a Steam sale for every season is now officially a thing… but nothing I nominated made the cut.

Still, I’ll vote because you get a trading card each time you do and apparently I’ll do about anything for a Steam trading card.  I’ll even look at my queue three times every day.  Seriously, these events are the only time I ever look at my recommendation queue.

But will I buy anything?  I anticipate getting an email from Steam soon telling me that 35 or so games on my wish list are now on sale.  And, while I haven’t been complaining like some about having sooo many unplayed games in my Steam library, I am still well beyond buying things simply because they have been marked down 80%.

I suppose eventually I’ll be posting about how Epic and Discord and Twitch and whoever else seeks to wear the digital games storefront mantle are all having seasonal sales.  Just because they want to differentiate themselves from Steam in some way doesn’t mean they can ignore the trends that Steam has started.

 

Challenging Steam

I suppose the real questions are how Steam got to be so popular in the first place and why it hasn’t really felt much in the way of heat from challengers up until now?

In hindsight it seems like some sort of crazy accident. A little over 15 years ago, in September 2003, Valve launched a replacement for World Opponent Network, the Sierra Online created platform and which Valve ended up owning, because they wanted something that would do software updates, DRM, anti-cheat, and online matchmaking in one package.

And thus Steam was born.  First it was for Counter-Strike, but the real test came with the launch of Half-Life 2, the first game that made it mandatory to register with Steam.  Problems with that, including inadvertent suspending of a lot of people whose only mistake was buying the retail box (myself included) did not seem like an auspicious moment for the fledgling platform.

That’s me being beaten by the metro cop

Me being me, that soured me on Steam and all things Valve for a good five years.  I burned my account and walked away.  The arbitrary nature of my experience and the whole “I have the physical disk why can’t I just play the damn game?” question kept me away.  But it was an era where the physical disk was still king, so one could do that.  I walked by the Orange Box on the shelf at Fry’s with my nose in the air, knowing it was another Steam scam.  I wasn’t going to play Portal because I felt Steam was the lie.

But things changed over time.

The coming of Civilization V was the turning point for me.

Up until then I had purchased every new version in the Civilization series at the first possible opportunity.  The fact that the game required you to register it and use it with Steam gave me pause for a couple of days, but eventually I caved.  I created a new Steam account, which is the one I still use today, so I could get in on that traditional day one Civ fun.

Same as it ever was

I remained wary of the service.  Again, the idea that one company could basically remove my ability to play video games I had purchased… not MMORPGs, but single player games… kept me from getting comfortable with Steam for a long stretch.

But then we entered the era of the Steam sale.  I think that, more than anything, made people get on board with Steam.

The concept, as initially explained, was quite simple.  Any game that launches… and we’re talking about games from big studios with marketing budgets, not indies… will have a certain amount of demand for it at the list price.  Once that market has been exhausted one can stimulate further sales by lowering the price.  That gets people who weren’t going to give you any money to buy in.  You get less money, but it is better than no money.

This was the price/demand curve from Economics 1A of my freshman year of college.  This was supposed to make developers more money.

What it really did was train a lot of people to wait for the inevitable Steam sale, or at least that is one of the complaints you hear from devs now and again.  Steam ruined the concept of list price.

Along the way Steam went from being a service for Valve games to being the DRM and matchmaking for certain third party games, to being the sales platform for just about anybody.  At the same time Valve went from being the company that make good games (that inevitably arrived late) to the company that runs Steam.  Being an online retailer turns out to be a pretty profitable business compared to video game development.

The problems of success are the best problems to have, but they are still problems.  Over time Valve removed just about every barrier to entry that kept any dev from getting on to Steam.  And every dev wanted to be on Steam because, during a short period of time, being on Steam was the key to success.  That was the visibility you craved as an indie dev.  But the mad rush towards success and Valve simply letting everybody in got us to the pile of garbage that is most of the games on the service today.  Getting on Steam is no guarantee to sales or even visibility anymore.

Meanwhile, competitors lurked.

Sure, a lot of people were happy to sell through Steam.  Buying a discounted Steam code for a title at Amazon or Green Man Games is a pretty normal thing.

Others were unwilling to cut Steam in on their action.  You don’t find any Blizzard games on Steam.  They don’t need to sell there, they are big enough on their own.

For some reason Activision was okay putting Call of Duty on Steam for ages.  I suspect that, in a world where a lot of CoD sales are on consoles where the retail channel and the platform owner take their cut off the top, Steam taking their due didn’t seem like a bad deal.   But with the coming of digital distribution that seems to have changed finally.

There were small players who tried to get into the Steam-like sales platform business.  I remember the late Trion Worlds trying to turn their Glyph launcher into a third party storefront.

Then there was EA, who wanted to take on Steam by being, in their words, the Nordstrom to Steam’s Target.  That didn’t work out for them as well as they had hoped.  EA’s reputation, hardly akin to anything like Nordstrom, kept them from being a overall competitor to Steam. But with their Origin storefront they were able to opt out of Steam with SimCity and The Sims 4, depriving Steam of some revenue.

Which brings us to the situation as it stands now.  Steam is a mess.  New titles get lost in the morass of new titles that spring up every day.  Steam wavers on how to deal with its problems on that front.  Meanwhile, Steam’s cut of sales, once tolerable in the age of physical media, is now starting to be a drag on margins, a concern to any dev who is publicly held.  So things are running against it.

Big devs like Activision are more than happy to sell Call of Duty to you directly (or via the Blizzard launcher).  Fallout 76 also chose to give Steam a miss, a first for the franchise in a long time.  And it seems like that plan is going to become more common.  To counter that Valve has announced a new revenue sharing plan, so if you make more money Steam will take less of a cut.

And then there was Epic Games’ announcement earlier this week that they plan to offer their own platform and only take 12% off the top compared to Steam’s default 30%, even waving the fees for using their Unreal Engine if you go with them.  They even have a nice revenue split chart with their announcement.

Look how much more Steam takes

And if that were not enough, both Discord and Twitch have been backing their way into becoming game selling platforms.  Amazon, which owns Twitch, has been priming the pump with free games available via the Twitch client (the one time Curse client that a lot of us had already installed to manage WoW addons) for Prime members.  And you can just bet that will be the platform used to sell their upcoming games.  And Discord has had its own storefront going since August.

What is Steam going to do?

Well, they do have all the advantages of the incumbent, including a lot of players with large investments in their Steam libraries.  I’ve said in the past that this is a huge barrier to any competing service showing up.  I certainly do not want to have to keep track of which game I have on which service.  I have problems enough remembering which show or movie I want to watch is on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Comcast.

And then there is all of the community stuff like mods that Steam has accumulated over the years.  You can’t make that sort of thing happen overnight.

So how do you assail an incumbent?  Be better, be cheaper, or be different.

There are certainly ways to be better than Steam.  I do wonder what Epic’s plan on that front is.  By lowering their take so dramatically compared to Steam they are going to see a lot of interest from smaller devs who will feel like they are getting the shaft from Steam and the announcement that big players pay less.  Epic just has to figure out how to curate so they get quality rather than quantity.

Being different is hard to assess, so I’d have to see more from any Steam competitor.  I don’t like the Steam storefront interface, but I dislike it less than most competitors.

And then there is being cheaper, which Epic went for in a big way.  Not cheaper for you and I, but cheaper for the developers using their platform.  At the percentage they are talking, and with the muscle they have developed pushing Fortnite, they might be able to woo some bigger titles their way.

We shall see.  The path of Steam over the years has been a strange one from time to time.  I doubt it will be over any time soon, but Valve’s dominance does seem to be under an actual threat for the first time.

Others assailing this topic:

Gamers are Not a Unified Demographic

As regular as clockwork over the life of this blog I have had somebody poke me in comments, in chat, or via email about their great new idea.

They are going to create a social network for gamers.

Back in the day I was willing to buy into this idea.  There was a time when I could believe that somebody could pull together the gamer demographic.

So over the years, I have signed up for various sites including XFire, GuildCafe, Raptr, Anook, Gax Online, WeGame, UGame, Rupture, GamerDNA, and probably quite a few more whose names I have simply forgotten over time.

And every one of those sites has one thing in common: failure.

Most of them are dead.  Raptr called it quits after a long run, though their site remains up, if untended. Xfire morphed into a video game league then shut down. GuildCafe was purchased and shut down.  GamerDNA was purchased and shut down.  UGame is just gone.  WeGame disappeared and the name was picked up last year by Tencent. Rupture, from the guy who created Napster, was bought by EA and shut down.  And GAX Online went offline when Ryan and Gary found that they had not reached a self-sustaining critical mass and likely never would.

In digging through my brain for this post the only site I could come up with that was still online was Anook, which we used as a nexus for Blaugust a few years back, and it is shambling along like it simply isn’t aware that it is dead yet.  It has some regulars, but nothing like the amount of users needed to make it a sustainable venture.

So here we are in 2018 and what pops into my email inbox but a press release about a Kickstarter to fund yet another gamer social network.

I give you GameCritter and their Kickstarter campaign.

I’m sure they licensed those characters for use in their promotional material

The Kickstarter campaign for GameCritter launched this past Thursday looking to raise about $55,000, though it is an Australian company running it, so they’re really asking for $75,000 in their upside down dollaree doos, but Kickstarted nicely converts the currency for you.

That isn’t a big ask, but they might as well be asking for the moon and a million dollars since they have already failed my reliable benchmark for Kickstarter success; if you don’t make 20% of your ask in the first 24 hours just go home.  They didn’t even make 1% in the first three days, and the charts over at Kicktraq don’t show the situation getting any better with time.  Their cause is lost, though not for a lack of overselling.

The company actually had the audacity in the email to claim that this was the, and I quote, “World’s First Social Platform For Gamers!”

However, none of their features seem all that interesting or original.

  • Social Platform with User Posts, Friends, Instant messaging & Commenting
  • Community-Driven Reviews, Guides, Discussion Forums & Question/Answer Forums
  • Addictive Levelling & Rewards System with over 1,500+ Levels & 13 Ranks
  • Hundreds of Unique Collectable Avatars, Companions, Badges & Achievements
  • Competitive Leaderboards with Various Metrics and Clans (Grouping)

From top to bottom the list is “been done many times,” “available on many other sites,” and “meaningless fluff” x3.  Basically, nothing compelling there really.

They are offering features for developers and publishers as well.  I guess that is new-ish.

  •  Dedicated Profile Pages to Build & Foster Fan Followings
  • Raise Crowdfunding for New Projects with Support from Fans
  • Create Revenue by Selling Games Directly from Our Platform
  • Smart Targeted Advertising with Multiple Metrics
  • Powerful Analytics Dashboard for Big Data Handling
  • Conduct User Surveys & Polls to Gauge Strategic Business Direction

The question is, what developer is going to jump on board this platform for any of those things?  Would you crowdfund on a site that couldn’t successfully crowdfund itself into existence?  Or would you trust a company that didn’t even notice that a competitor mentioned in its Kickstarter FAQ had been discontinued over a year? (Hint: Raptr)

Seriously, I could sit here and shit on this whole thing all day long and well into the night, but there is a point where you go beyond disagreement and into just being mean and I don’t want to get too far in that direction.

Instead, I want to explore for a bit why this idea, this plan for a gamer social network, has never worked and likely will never work.

I believe the problem here is that all of the people founding these sorts of projects are operating with a flawed premise, the belief that gamers are some sort of single, unified demographic.

You can guess what I think about that from the title of this post.

It isn’t that gamers do not come together, it is just that what we come together over is a lot more specific than just being a gamer.  What brings us together?

Specific Games: World of Warcraft or Pokemon Go players, when they meet, have something to share with each other immediately.

Gaming Franchises: We all know somebody who has to buy the latest Civilization or Call of Duty or Mario or Fallout title the day it comes out.

Gaming Genres:  There are clear followings for things like MMORPGs or MOBAs or FPSs or MUDs.

Platforms: While not as unifying, we definitely divide ourselves by platform and find common cause with our fellow PC or XBox or PlayStation gamers.  Some people even claim to be gamers even though they only use their phone.

I suppose an analogy would be food.  We like certain restaurants, or types of restaurants, or types of food, but I am not sure we really need a social network platform dedicated to eating.

Furthermore, we already tend to form up into those various groupings using the resources already available.  We use the developers forums, or our own alternate forums if we feel the developer is being too heavy handed in moderating messages.  We form groups on Reddit or Facebook around our shared specific interest.  We follow developers or hash tags on Twitter and Instagram.  We frequent the gaming news sites that best cover our favorite genres.  We even start writing blogs about the games we play, which in turn tend to become part of ad hoc blogging communities.

So when somebody new shows up and says that we should drop all of the infrastructure and social bonds that have formed organically over the years to hop on their shiny new venture, it just isn’t going to happen unless there is something genuinely new on tap.  And, so far, such sites have only offered warmed over versions of well worn ideas.

Basically, such sites fail on both key counts.  They are pitching to a demographic that doesn’t exist and they are not offering any compelling reason to use their platform.

Even a site like Something Awful, whose forums probably represent one of the best cross-genre discussions of video game topics around, is based on an overarching community that goes beyond video games, and within the video game section of the forums, the various genres and games are divided up into groups and specific titles.  While there is some cross-pollination, people tend to stick to their interests, so the EVE Online players aren’t heavily represented in the Pokemon forum and vice versa.

And that doesn’t even get into how Steam is trying to become even more of a social media experience for gamers, where it has the advantage of players already invested in their platform and already… oh, and they pretty much offer everything GameCritter is claiming for end users while having more than 150 million people signed on.  And even there we stratify into groups of friends or followers of specific games or genres.  Still, Steam comes as close to a gamer social network as anything I suppose.

Maybe if you’re somebody like Discord or Twitch and have people already using your service as a social platform you can back your way into this sort of thing by adding more game specific features… and a store… both sites want to sell you things.

Anyway, the GameCritter Kickstarter is going to fail hard for a variety of reasons, and not just because their pre-campaign promotional activities apparently involved sending out hyperbolic press releases to cynical old coots like myself.  (Seriously though, if nobody in the gaming press is taking you seriously enough to do a story on your product, you should take this as huge red flag.)

In the end something like GameCritter looks like a solution in search of a problem.  There is nothing on offer for end users there that hasn’t been tried already.  It apparently only works if you have something compelling to offer the way Steam does.

Runes of Magic Arrives on Steam at Last

The summer’s here! As well as basking in the beautiful weather in Taborea, we’re celebrating the dawn of a new era: Runes of Magic is now available on the world’s most popular gaming platform Steam!

-Runes of Magic news page

When I say “at last” it isn’t as though I was anxious for it to be there, it is just that they have been talking about this for some time and the target was June and then July.  Now, in the final week of August it has arrived on Steam.  Summer is indeed here, but we’re on the far side of it and autumn is on its way.

I’ve written a bit now and then about the game.  It was kind of a big deal back in 2009 when it launched, when it was both a built-from-scratch free to play MMORPG and an attempt for an attempt by an Asian studio to build a western style, quest drive game.

But, as it turns out, this move to Steam is also a moment of opportunity if you have ever wanted to try the game.  As part of the Steam launch they are also putting up a couple of new servers, one in the US and one in the EU, so you can start on a fresh new server rather than joining one where the years have clumped most of the user base at max level and the economy has been distorted by past problems.

Your favorite game is now available on Steam!
In addition, we’re also launching new servers for the USA and Europe to coincide with the game’s Steam debut – the perfect opportunity for newcomers and returning players to discover Taborea afresh.

Runes of Magic, news page

This is probably as close to a retro or progression server as you are going to get for Runes of Magic.  The devs haven’t changed much of the content over the years, so it is mostly still the 2009 experience.  And you can still use your same old account.  In fact, you have to create an account for the game in the same old way, with Steam basically acting like a launcher for the launcher in that way that makes Steam feel a pointless part of the process.

I do wonder what this move to Steam will really do, if anything. The “at last” in the title is also a question about why it has taken so long to get to Steam, why it is happening now, and what they hope to get out of this jump onto the Steam platform.  I hope they aren’t planning on this saving the game.

Steam has gone from a service with a fairly select range of games to a garbage heap over the years.  It is the last refuge for the greedy or incompetent who seem to think they getting on a distribution platform is the main point of the exercise.  And Steam’s premature policy change (we’ll let even more crap in now and give you filtering tools at some point in the distant future) doesn’t promise to make anything better.  It is a mess, with the company still pretty much running by the old guidelines while people debate over what “trolling” really means.

(I’ll tell you what “trolling” means in that context.  It means whatever the person making the decision at the moment wants it to mean, so the games that got rejected before the new policy will probably all still be rejected after the new policy.)

Anyway, there is Runes of Magic hidden in that mess, one of dozens of “new releases” on the Steam store this week (so it is already on page four, in 98th place, on the Windows new releases list in less than two days), with a 2009 launch date in its description, and already being pummeled by a series of negative reviews declaring it old (it is), unstable (it does leak memory), and pay to win (it does sell power), leading it to an overall “mixed” rating, which is as good as a “do not buy” label in big red letters across the page.

And only 31 reviews so far

If the developers were hoping for a bonanza of new players I suspect they may be disappointed.  But it is hard to tell what the real plan is from the outside.  Is this a last gasp effort to keep the ball rolling?

Certainly the new server thing was contrary to my prediction about the game at the start of the year, when I suspected that it would lose at least one of its two remaining servers, with the very quiet US server either disappearing or being merged into the EU.  Instead they have doubled the number of servers they are running.

We shall see if this keeps Runes of Magic alive or if it was just a last, unfortunate roll of the dice.