Tag Archives: EA

Friday Bullet Points NOT About WoW Classic

I have been all about WoW Classic for a stretch now.  The run up to the launch, less than two weeks ago still, probably made that seem even longer.  But other things have been going on, a few of which I want to note in passing, which gets us to another Friday Bullet Points post.

  • Fallen Earth Falling

I had to dig around a bit to find anything here about Fallen Earth.  I have some very vague recollections in the back of my brain and some references in a post to playing in the beta just before the launch.  I also recall it going free to play at some point, but that happened to almost every MMO at some point between 2009 and now, didn’t it?

Since I paid so little attention to it over the years since then, you might have been able to convince me that it had already shut down.  But it hasn’t, though it is planning to.  The CEO put out a message in the forums that the state of the game was such that they plan to bring the game down come October 2, 2019.  There is hope that the downtime will allow the team to repair the game so as to bring it back at an unspecified future date.  We shall see if it returns from the dead or succumbs to the apocalypse.  Hell of a way to celebrate a decade online though.

  • LOTRO Legendary Carries On

Late last year my nostalgia obsession was the LOTRO Legendary, a fresh start experience from Standing Stone Games.  While very low effort when compared to WoW Classic, it too had queues, problems it had to patch, and ended up having to double its server count, though here it meant going from one to two servers.

A legend in its own something or other

I was enamored with it through the original content, but fell off the nostalgia wagon somewhere in the depths of Moria.  Not the first time that has happened to me.  But it carries on without me, having announced this week that the Rise of Isengard expansion has been unlocked on Anor and Ithil servers.

  • Homeworld 3 is Coming

In the pantheon of classic RTS games Homeworld and Homeworld 2 stand out as high points in the space based branch of the genre.  I never played either, but I swear every time half a dozen Naglfar’s undock in EVE Online somebody brings up the game as they look like a ship from it. (Some Nags shooting a Nyx for reference.)

In the everything old is new again way of video games these days, both titles have seen a remastered to bring them up to current standards.  But that isn’t enough.

Gearbox Publishing is working on Homeworld 3, which includes a crowdfunding campaign.  And, as down as I am on video game crowdfunding at this point, this looks to be of the better of the breed, being for a game that is mostly done… and which isn’t an MMO.  They asked for a dollar as a minimum and are now through the $600K mark.  It is basically a pre-order mechanism that lets you buy your way into possibly influencing the game some.  The game will ship and we’ll get a crack at it… and they haven’t announced it is an Epic Store exclusive or anything… this just allows you to get some special things early if you simply cannot contain yourself.  There is also an investment option if you care to drop $500 on the game and think it will do well.

There is also a trailer for the game up now as well.

  • Google Stadia is Coming to Fail

Google Stadia is still coming, being due out at some point in November, no doubt timed for the holiday shopping season.  It still isn’t for me, but the question is starting to become who is it really for?

Over at Gamasutra there is a blog post exploring that very question with the optimistic title Google Stadia Will Fail at Launch – Here is Why.  It brings up some of the initial questions about the service and then piles on a few more.  I suppose we’ll see when it launches.

  • EVE Echoes Alpha

Word is out that the alpha for the CCP/NetEase joint venture mobile game based on EVE Online has begun.  The progress toward alpha was announced early in August and it sounds like it kicked off on the 26th of last month.  Something else in the shade of WoW Classic.

From the sound of things, the functionality is quite limited, with docking and undocking, flying about, and simple combat being the focus of the test.

Image from a Reddit post about the alpha.

You have to create a solid foundation on which to build, so a simple start seems reasonable.  If you are interested in being part of the testing you can still sign up on the EVE Echoes site.

  • Origin Sells Out

Over at the Digital Antiquarian this week there is a post up about the acquisition of Origin Systems, the company founded by Richard “Lord British” Garriott, by Electronic Arts.

Rightly called Origin Sells Out, it is another in the line of tales I put under the heading of “The Madness of Lord British.”  He tried to work with EA, pulled out of that agreement, vilified EA for years, then sold the company to them for a boat load of cash.  The story covers the immediate impact of the sale, which wasn’t all bad, but which saw the Origin change and sets up for follow on posts about some titles that came out later.  Worth a read as a piece of video games history.

Zero Punctuation does Anthem

Not being a fan of the “loot shooter” sub-genre, when EA launched Anthem it was just “the other game” they released in February along with Apex Legends.  Of course I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends either, but at least it was an interesting diversion in the battle royale genre.

Also, if you Google “Anthem logo” you get a lot of different results.

Used without permission

So I would have ignored Anthem the way I have pretty much ignored Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, save for the fact that the internet seemed quite obsessed with Anthem.  But it was hard to tell if the game was just bug ridden, something that can theoretically be fixed over time, or a genuinely bad design.  Reviews seemed to not like the design, but couldn’t stop fretting over bugs.  The PC Gamer review probably focused on design more than most, but a lot of the frustration was still about bugs.

Despite a reputation than leans on humor and quick pacing, I think Yahtzee Crowshaw might have the most design-centric review of Anthem, focused pretty much on game play design without a mention of the software problems.  Also, he makes fun of EA, something most of us can get on board with.

 

The upshot was Anthem is BioWare trying to make something that really isn’t in their wheelhouse.  And I would have left it there had there not been the giant How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong story over at Kotaku.

Holy moly.  I mean, I’ve lived some of that.  Ill defined goals, misidentified competition, and  corporate dictates about what platform or tools are allowed regardless of their fitness for the current development purpose are all daily occurrences in any larger organization.  I spent most of last summer dealing with the fact that our 2018 continuous integration dictate was not compatible with our  2015 platform dictate, both of which came from some senior exec who either used the same thing at their last company or saw a cool demo and decided to bet the company on it.

But the Anthem story… well, it just shows that when you have an entertainment property there are a lot more ways things can get completely screwed up.

And then there was the EA/BioWare non-response to the article, posted minutes after it was posted, meaning it was a pre-formulated deflection that feels a bit like it is refuting some other article about the game.

All of which I could have ignored, but it seems like a moment in gaming that might be a tipping point for change.  Not good change, of course.  More like EA laying off more BioWare staff or retiring their brand or something.  We shall see.

How Various Studios Deal with Problems

I’m not sure where this post started, but it assembled itself at one point a few months back and then sat in my drafts folder.   I looked at it again earlier this week, added the entry for Activision, and scheduled it for release it into the wild today.

Electronic Arts

There is no problem, the customers like it just fine.  Look at how much money we made initially.

*way, way too long later*

Okay, now that you’ve set the building on fire, sales have tanked, our company is being lambasted in the general press, and the government is saying that they may investigate us, perhaps we can look into finding some sort of solution.  But we admit no wrong doing.

Blizzard

There is no problem, things are just fine the way they are.  No, you don’t want the changes you’re yelling about.  We designed this, we know it is good.  Really, we know better.

*endless forum threads and editorials later*

Fine, have it your way, we’ll give you your feature.  But we’re going to delay it and we’ll make you work for it.  Also, we’ll make sure it doesn’t work all the time.

Activision

Yes, our numbers totally depend on an annual Call of Duty release, but we can smooth out that cycle!

*Gets on phone to Irvine*

Blizzard, stop worrying about quality and start making mobile games!  Also, put Call of Duty on your launcher!

King

We can’t live on Candy Crush Saga forever…

*releases half a dozen mobile games that go nowhere*

Crap, get some more levels out for Candy Crush Saga!

Sony Online Entertainment

We’re proposing to break the game and ruin all your fun and maybe sell your offspring to another company.  We talked about it in a conference room for a few days, so we’re pretty sure this is the right decision.  It was really, really convincing on the white board.  We didn’t run it by anybody, we just came straight from the meeting where it was decided and announced it.  So all good.

*one small riot later*

Wait, you don’t want any of that?  How strange.  Okay, we won’t do it then.

Daybreak

*sound of crickets*

Okay, we’re shutting this down and laying some people off, go away!

*sound of crickets*

CCP

We have listened to your feed back and determined that this upcoming new feature is not exploitable.

*update goes live*

Crap, you exploited it anyway… and in so many ways…  you are horrible, horrible people… let me get the band-aids.

Valve

Yes, we hear you.  We know we have a problem and we have a policy that will totally fix it.

*two beats too many*

Oh, and we might need to build something to support that policy.  But we’ll get to that later.  Also, the policy has a glaring loophole and we aren’t really following it.  Hey, is it time for another sale already?

Rockstar Games

Well, we released GTA V, what should we work on next?

*five years go by*

Cowboys again?

Riot

We are hardcore gamers, but we’re against toxicity and are masters at playing gay chicken.  Wait, no, scratch that last part.

*stands in front of “No Gurls” sign*

Equal opportunity.  Yeah.

*handed pink slip*

#@%&*!!!

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:

Quote of the Day – We Just Work Here

The Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate and don’t think should exist…

-Erik Johnson, Who Gets to be on the Steam Store

It has come to this.  In the face of some questions and minor controversies Valve has decided that they won’t judge what goes on their Steam service.  Aside from items that are “…are illegal, or straight up trolling…” anything goes on Steam now.

I have to admit that my initial gut reaction was one of surprise at the idea that the barrier to entry for getting a game on Steam could be any lower or, in a situation where something like 35 new titles show up on the service every day (up from 25 a day in 2017), that more titles would in any way be better for anybody.  The Steam store is already full of titles I don’t think should exists, not because they offend me, but because they are just poorly conceived and badly executed.  Adding the loathsome and offensive is not going make things better.

I suppose I can appreciate Valve’s issue.  The whole Steam thing seems to have gotten away from them.  It has gone from a service to host their games to DRM for some quality titles like Civilization V to a way for some select outsiders to get onto a popular online service to a desire to be the biggest source of unfiltered video garbage games on the internet pretty fast as the platform seems to be an unending source of success (and revenue) for Valve, to the point that they just don’t make games anymore so far as I can tell.

They’re a victim, in a way, of their own success and now the idea that they can police every bit of software is daunting as subjective decisions can’t be made by Gabe, or people who report directly to Gabe, or people who report to people who report to Gabe any more.  Now there are a bunch of people, distant from the core of the company, charged with making value judgements that no doubt vary wildly with the personal context and experience of each individual.

You probably have to either reign things in drastically or just let go at this point.

Still, I don’t buy into everything they’re saying.  This for example:

It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values

That is going to prove to be some prime, grade A bullshit in the long run.  If you sell porn, cigarettes, or alcohol in a store that you own, if you make money off of those items, while claiming that they don’t reflect your values, that is a straight up self-deluded evasion.  The owner of the store doesn’t get to distance themself from the items they sell like it was all happening to somebody else.  At best, it says that money is all you value.  Cashing the checks while saying you don’t support something is just hypocrisy.

And since Valve has pretty much declared open season for things that will offend, things that do not reflect their values, I am going to bet that somebody is even now planning to see just how far that sentiment goes.  I hesitate to speculate as to what somebody might try to pass off as a game, but somebody will come up with something so horrible that it will make the press and cast Valve in a bad light.  Some people just want to see the world burn.

And then the policy will change again.  Something will come along that will force them to change.  Something will be bad enough to cause internet level outrage and then the change will be forced upon them.  I give it until September 1, 2018 before something like that happens.

[I’m going to put that in my calendar so I can come back to it if I am wrong.]

[Addendum (June 25, 2018): Since Steam showed just days after this post that they were set to use “trolling” as their loophole to reject games they do not like, I will just admit that this isn’t going to happen right now.  More the fool I for believing them I suppose.]

[Addendum (March 8, 2019): Well, the horrible title I predicted showed up and Valve didn’t play their “trolling” out card, so bad press and outrage came to pass.]

In the mean time, if I were running Origin, and I could get my mind off of how to screw over the customers for just a bit, I might think about running some easy ads about how “family friendly” the service is relative to the cesspool that is Steam.

I might even think about really pushing a 3rd party program for the service with an eye to maybe poaching some studios from Steam with the promise of both not being lost in the forest of endless titles and being on a wholesome service that doesn’t include whatever edge cases people are going to try to push onto Steam now.

It has come to this, a viable plan to push Origin as a good alternative to Steam.

I will say, if nothing else, that Valve has shown itself to be adaptable in the past and generally doesn’t double down on decisions that go bad.  They might change course before the inevitable bad press, like when they really get down to having to decide what is illegal in every jurisdiction they serve, a problem they cop to in that blog post as well.  It might end up being better to just make some value judgements, protect the brand, and not try to be the sales point for all possible video games.

Also posting about this news from Steam:

 

Would EA Be Better if Microsoft Owned Them?

I saw a news item over at Game Informer earlier this week about a rumor that Microsoft might possibly, maybe, sort of be eyeing Electronic Arts as an acquisition target.

I am no huge fan of Microsoft.  Leaving aside past bad corporate bad behavior, operating system hegemony, and the “no bloat is ever enough” aspect of Microsoft Office, which was perfected at some point in the mid 1990s, when Word 5.1a would fit on a single 1.44mb floppy disk, but which keeps getting yearly upgrades because it is a cash cow only second to Windows itself and they have to have something to sell, their sense of how things should be done has always felt off.

There was a classic video from a decade back about how Microsoft would have designed the original iPod packaging, which is hilarious in its plausibility, taking cues from actual Microsoft packaging and pushing the idea just a little bit further, that illustrates some of that.

But I never really developed any sort of hate for Microsoft, even when I was working on products for the Macintosh.  My attitude has generally been more one of exasperation in a “I see what you were trying to achieve here, but why this?” sort of way.

I don’t have any stock images I threw together to indicate how I feel about Microsoft, no dripping blood, or satanic symbols, or Latin phrases on their logo to indicate my displeasure with them.

This is not the same for Electronic Arts.

Fun created here… on an Orca graveyard!

Which, of course, makes me wonder if Microsoft buying EA would necessarily be a bad thing.

They haven’t done horrible things to Minecraft since they made Notch a very rich man by buying it from him.  They also seem to be embracing a bit of the nostalgia thing with Age of Empires, even if they have locked me out of it for now.

Does not work on my device!

At least they might consolidate Origin with the Microsoft Windows Store.

Then again, Microsoft games always feel very much driven by the whole XBox side of the house.  Would that disrupt EA’s trajectory or would Microsoft leave well enough alone?  And would one or the other be preferable?  Microsoft seems to be better with their studios than EA, which has a penchant for closing them down.

And then I wonder about what more market consolidation means in a world where there are already only a few players in the market that can afford to make AAA level video games.

Overall my gut is that Microsoft is more likely to be concerned about end users that EA seems to be.  But I am not sure how much of an endorsement that really is.  How far does “better than EA” really get you?  It seems like a low bar to me.

Anyway, in the end, it will be shareholder value that dictates whether this happens as opposed to whatever gamers might think.

Feature Creep – On The Cost of Making Video Games

I saw a post over at Massively OP trotting on the argument that video games should cost more because they are more expensive to make than ever, that being part of the justification for the EA lockbox and pay to win scheme in Star Wars Battlefront II I was on about yesterday.  So it seemed timely for this video to show up.

The summary, should you want to skip, is that big companies like EA and Activision are actually making less games, spending less on making games, yet pulling in more revenue than ever because microtransactions, season passes, subscriptions, and all that money spent after the box sale more than make up for the AAA box price staying at $60.

Basically, it turns out if can keep one game going with post-launch addons you don’t have to make any more new games.  Imagine that.