Tag Archives: Amazon

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:

Pillars of Eternity Free for Amazon Prime Members

I mentioned last month that Amazon had five free video games for Amazon Prime members.  All you had to do was link your Amazon Prime account to your Twitch account and you could select and download the games.

This month, to coincide with Prime Day and such, Amazon has a bunch of games available.  Each are available only for a couple of days, and the first on the list is the excellent Pillars of Eternity: Definitive Edition.

Pillars for Free

That game is only available through the end of the day tomorrow, July 4, 2018.  So if you’re reading this after that date, it’s gone.

To claim the game you need to have a Twitch account and have the Twitch Client installed.  The Twitch Client used to be the Curse Client until Amazon bought Curse and Twitch and combined them.  It still keeps your WoW addons up to date, but you can also watch Twitch on it… and download free games.

When you have that setup you can go to the Twitch Prime page, login to your Twitch account, link your Twitch account with your Amazon Prime account if you have not done that already, and then claim the games in which you are interested.

Once you have click claim on the web site the game will be available to download in the Twitch client.

Other games are available over the course of the month.

Twitch Prime free games for July 2018

Amazon is clearly trying to push Twitch into the arena of online game sales to compete with Steam, GoG, and whoever.  As Ars Technica points out, the Twitch interface is a long way from anything like Steam when it comes to information or utility.

Friday Bullet Points Gaze into the Future

Another Friday where I have a few items that I could probably force into full length posts, but I just don’t have the stamina to get there.  So I will pack them into one post.

Truth in Advertising?

There was a recent Star Citizen weekly update from RSI that seemed to unintentionally confirmed my suspicions.

It barely feels like it has been 25 years

The update itself was a lore item about some in-game entity celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the first glace at the top of the message made me wonder if they were admitting it was going to take 50 years to get where they plan to go.

Apple and OpenGL

One tidbit that came up at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was the plan to deprecate OpenGL support with the Mojave release of the MacOS and in iOS 12.  This led to a panic about there being no more video games on the Mac.

I haven’t been to a WWDC since 1995…

OpenGL has been around for a long time and, among other things, its openess helped nVidia get in and dethrone 3dfx Interactive and their proprietary Glide API back in the day.  And deprecate doesn’t mean pulling it out wholesale.  It will still be there for a couple of years.  But if you find a problem or need an update, Apple isn’t going to help you.

Still, Apple will drop it eventually.  Past history says that will probably get announced in 2020 or so.  Apple would like you to use their Metal interface instead, and some companies have support for that on the way.  You can use Metal with World of Warcraft currently if your hardware and OS are current. (And probably should use it, as it fixes a crashing issue with WoW.)  But if you are a serious PC gamer you probably have a Windows partition on you Mac, if not a Windows machine already.

Blizzard and Diablo IV

It was noted that Blizzard had posted a job listing looking for a dungeon artist for an as yet unannounced Diablo project.  This led to a hysteria of complaints and the projection of personal feelings onto the idea.  Just Google “diablo iv” and look at the headlines. (And yes, I am going to call it Diablo IV at this point.)  Everything from “when are we going to get it?” to “Oh lord, no!” pops up.  So I figured I ought to note this as the week the controversy began.  We know nothing so far, but some people are already angry.

I for one welcome our new demonic overlords.

Despite the one-two punch of the auction house and the horrible itemization (the latter which I remain convinced was there to drive you to the auction house), Blizzard eventually got the game in order by killing the auction house and fixing itemization, making Diablo III a pretty decent game.  The “always online” bit is still annoying, but Blizz is hardly alone in demanding that.  And they have continued to tend the now six year old game, which is more than they ever did for Diablo II.  By any practical measure the game is a success and warrants a sequel. (It sold lots of copies on the PC and consoles.)

Hopefully Blizzard will run with what they have learned and stick with the roots of Diablo as the foundation for the next game rather than, say, making it a Battle Royale title or something.

Minecraft Subnautica

On a closer horizon, the Minecraft Java Edition 1.13 release, the Aquatic Update, looks to be slowly making its way to us.

Under the sea…

The update entered pre-release at the start of the week, whatever that means, so I think we should be getting the official release soon.  I have actually been avoiding our Minecraft server, knowing that I’ll want to go play when this hits.

Free Games for Amazon Prime Subscribers

In yet another benefit for Amazon Prime subscribers, you can now download any of five free games before the end of June.

Amazon Prime benefits

The games are Tumblestone, Treadnauts, Strafe, Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2.  You need to have the Twitch client to download them (the Twitch client is what the old Curse client became when Amazon bought Curse… and Twitch) and you need to have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account.  This sounds like a recurring deal, so there will likely be more games in the future as the Amazon Prime largess train continues on.

As an aside, the first version of this Amazon post I saw said it was six games.

Is it five or six?

However the image only shows five games and I didn’t click on the link until later, so I don’t know if there was a sixth game at one point, if a sixth game was planned but was removed and the word didn’t get out, or if it was always five games and somebody just messed up.  (h/t to Corr who first linked this to me and who had that second image handy.)

Pokemon Zygarde Download Event

Despite the impending end of Pokemon on the Nintendo 2DS/3DS, download events continue for the current core RPG titles.  During the month of June in the US you can go to your local GameStop for a download code for a shiny Zygarde.

Zygarde

This event is only for Pokemon Sun & Moon and Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon.  Instructions for claiming the legendary Pokemon are available at the Pokemon site.

Prime Day and Amazon-a-versary

Today is Prime Day at Amazon, a day in which there are special deals for Amazon Prime members.

Prime Day 2017

The main deals are on Amazon products like the Kindle or the Echo.  Not exactly as interesting to me as the Steam Summer Sale, but I’ll go take a look all the same.

Today also happens to be an anniversary for me with Amazon.  Twenty years ago today, July 11, 1997, I placed my first order at Amazon.com.  You can go see all of your order history on your account page, which can be both fascinating and disturbing.

My order was for a book, because at the time Amazon was pretty much an online bookstore.  But they were expanding into music CDs as well.  The whole thing wasn’t profitable yet, but it was the dotcom era and people were interested in grabbing market share first and making money later.

That second bit was the catch of course, and the downfall of companies like Netscape.

I went to Amazon.com twenty years ago because they had selection beyond even the largest local bookstore.

Today the profitable enterprise that is Amazon it is my first stop for all sorts of things.  I recently bought a replacement filter for our refrigerator from them.  It has become to people today what the Sears catalog must have been for those in rural settings back towards the end of the 19th century, and then some.  They own Twitch and the Internet Movie Database and Goodreads and Alexa and Audible, each of which touches my online life.

Amazon is hardly perfect, but they do seem to be here to stay.

Amazon’s New World

Amazon’s new game studio announced three games that they are working on at TwitchCon yesterday.  (Amazon owns Twitch, so there is that connection… and you can now get some Twitch bennies for being an Amazon Prime customer.)

Of the three, the one garnering interest in this corner of the internet is New World, because they used our three favorite letters, M, M, and O.  Or, at least they said “Massively Multiplayer,” but the “online” part is more that implied at this point.

New World is the one for us though.  I think.  I hope.  I guess.

Just how new and how worldly?

Just how new and how worldly?

It was hard not to roll my eyes a bit, mostly because the acronym “MMO” has been so stretched and otherwise abused by now that I don’t trust my gut when people use it.  Everything that can get a dozen players online at once seems to feel entitled to that tag these days.

Yes, yes, cynicism is my thing here, but after the last decade of MMOs I think anybody trying to use the designation has to earn our trust.  I am a product of my environment.

Where I am headed...

Old man yells at cloud base gaming… and AWS…

We have a description of sorts, right there on the store page over at Amazon.

New World is a massively multiplayer, open-ended sandbox game that allows you to carve your own destiny with other players in a living, hostile, cursed land. How you play, what you do, and whom you work with or against is up to you. Live on your own amidst the supernatural terrors or join with others to build thriving civilizations. In this evolving world that transforms with the changing of the seasons, weather, and time of day, the only limit is your own ambition.

And for those who don’t like their information in paragraph format, there are bullet points as well.

  • New World is a massively multiplayer, open-ended sandbox game that allows you to carve your own destiny with other players in a living, hostile, cursed land.
  • How you play, what you do, and whom you work with or against is up to you.
  • Live on your own amidst the supernatural terrors or join with others to build thriving civilizations.
  • In this evolving world that transforms with the changing of the seasons, weather, and time of day, the only limit is your own ambition.
  • A release date for New World has not been set.

Of course, tossing in the word “sandbox” got an audible sigh from me as well, as it is also a favored term of late and seems to mean something like, “We’re not going to completely copy World of Warcraft.”

At least we know it will be released on Windows.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Processor:   TBD
  • RAM:   TBD
  • Hard Disk:   TBD
  • Video Card:   TBD
  • Supported OS:   Windows

However pricing, business model, and whatever have yet to be announced.

I like the price so far... unless that means F2P cash shop hell

I like the price so far… unless that means F2P cash shop hell

And given how long it can take to get a real MMO together… if it is a “real” MMO, by which I mean a worldly, persistent, shared experience, multiplayer RPG… I suspect it will be some time before we get enough details to begin projecting even our most optimistic fantasies on it.

But it has been announced, so I figured I had best take note.  And, of course, because it is already listed over at Amazon, it has reviews.

Only 4 stars for a non-existent game

Only 4 stars for a non-existent game

The other two titles that were announced:

  • Breakaway – Breakaway is a 4 vs. 4 mythological sport brawler built for fast action, teamwork, and live-streaming.
  • Crucible – Crucible is a battle to the last survivor on a hostile alien world. Players choose and customize heroes, making alliances and betraying allies on their path to victory. An additional player heightens the drama by triggering events, live-streaming the battles, and interacting with viewers

So that sounds like a streaming optimized MOBA and something that might be Overwatch meets The Hunger Games maybe?  I don’t know.  Not MMORPGs.

New World is the title that fits here, though I have to say that all three of the titles chosen seem likely to have problems standing out from other uses of those words.

As I noted above, others in our little internet tribe are talking about it as well.  They might even be less cynical than I.

Pre-Ordering WoW Legion at a Discount

Amazon announced a while back that Prime members would get some sort of discount for game pre-orders.  I saw it… Keen posted about it even… but it sort of flitted past to be forgotten.

We have Amazon Prime.  While we get some benefit out of it on free shipping… which was the initial hook back in the day… we mostly keep it for the Amazon video.  It is sort of a backup to Netflix streaming and about the same price per year.  Just last night we watched Amy on Amazon, and I watched all of The Man in the High Castle series a little while back.

This past weekend my daughter and I took the coin jar, which we use to pay for video games, down to the Coin Star machine and dumped all our coins in exchange for an Amazon gift code.  You get full value for a gift code, as opposed to taking cash, from which they skim some off the top.

We ended up with a little over $120 on the gift code to match up against what we had on our list of games.

On the top of the list was LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is headed for release around June and which is actually going to be supported on the PlayStation 3, something I noted with some surprise a while back.  (Granted, the PS3 doesn’t get any of the bonus content that the PS4 gets, but whatever.  I don’t own a PS4.)

Look at all the platforms on which it will be released...

Look at all the platforms on which it will be released…

The other item on our list was a copy of the World of Warcraft Legion expansion for each of us.

Single word expansion title? Really stretching so far!

Coming at some point this summer…

However, each title was listed at $50 on Amazon, so we were a bit shy on funds.  But I figured we would have plenty of time to collect more coins before the WoW Legion ship date loomed.

So I just put in a pre-order for LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  But when I went to check out Amazon popped up with their Prime discount and took $10 off the price, 20% off being the pre-order benefit.

The discount appears

The discount appears

20% off would put all three titles within our grasp.  So I ordered two copies of WoW Legion next, which added up to $100, but then there was the 20% discount, dropping the price to $80.  Yes, I was a little over when the sales tax was added in, but I had some gift card money left over from the holidays which covered that.  The idea is to get out the door without putting anything on a credit card.

So that worked out pretty well.  We were going to buy all of that at full price anyway, so getting $30 back… especially when I didn’t even remember the Prime discount… pretty much off-set nearly a third of our yearly Amazon prime subscription.  And we still get to stream movies and TV shows.

Of course, I wonder who the discount hits.  In the case of LEGO Star Wars, the traditional retail channel was likely going to be the main source of revenue.  But for the WoW Legion expansion, getting 20% off a pre-order means that I will not be ordering it directly from Blizzard, which means that they don’t get to collect all the profit, having to share it with Amazon and having a bite taken out via cost of goods sold, since they will be shipping us two boxes with discs.

Of course, I don’t get my game code and level 100 boost RIGHT NOW.  There is that.  But I am not so interested in playing WoW right now either.  Come the expansion launch though I should be ready.

Amazon.com Proves I Do Not Play Video Games

Or that I don’t play new games.  Or good games.

Or at least that I do not buy any new games.

Another list.  Still not done with that theme, not by a long shot.

This time around, The Amazon Games team at Amazon.com has created their Best of 2012 Video Games list.

I am going to copy it here, with the platforms they indicate, just because.

  1. Journey (PS3)
  2. Borderlands 2 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  4. Dishonored (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  5. Mass Effect 3 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  6. The Walking Dead (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  7. Halo 4 (Xbox)
  8. Darksiders II (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  9. Hotline Miami (PC)
  10. The Last Story (Wii)
  11. Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Xbox, PS3, PS Vita, PC)
  12. Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
  13. Diablo III (PC)
  14. GuildWars 2 (PC)
  15. Sleeping Dogs (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  16. Zero Escape: Virtues Last Reward (PS Vita, 3DS)
  17. Assassin’s Creed III (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  18. Max Payne 3 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
  19. Lumines: Electronic Symphony (PS Vita)
  20. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Xbox, PS3, PC)

So, looking up at that list, my first thought is that there are a pile of sequels and remakes up there.

Of course, remakes, reboots, and sequels are the staple of most entertainment industries.  We moan about video games slipping into that mode these days, and movies having been there for a while, but frankly it is the way of things.  Go look up how many movie adaptations there have been of The Wizard of Oz.  Video games just haven’t been around long enough for us to get used to remakes, but even Shakespeare was ripping off plots and retelling old stories 400 some odd years ago, so we had all better get used to it I suppose.  Your grand kids will be playing Wasteland 8 or some such I bet.

After that, I have to admit that I have only played two of the games on the list (Guild Wars 2 and Diablo III), and I only bought one of them (Diablo III), and since I got that one through subscribing to World of Warcraft for a year (annoying pain point unnecessarily referenced just because I hold a grudge), you could make the case that I did not even buy that.

And then, finally, I start to wonder if these are really the best games of 2012.  I probably watch too much Zero Punctuation (for example, Halo 4 review) and play too few such games to be able to make my own determination.

Oh, and it sucks to be the Wii about now, with one game on the list.  But even Nintendo says they have moved on from the Wii, having no more titles in the queue for it.  Screw you, little white box of joy, we’re on to bigger and better things!

So, the usual wrap up.  The list, legitimate ranking or crass attempt to get sales out of the titles with the highest margins?