Tag Archives: Valve

Quote of the Day – Satire is Dead

Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.

-Tom Lehrer, quoting a friend

I don’t have an agenda when it comes to Steam.  I tend to take it as it is in my own fatalistic way.  But sometimes this stuff writes itself.

The Timeline:

Thursday – Anything goes on Steam, even if we hate it.  The only exceptions are things that are illegal or straight up trolling.

Saturday – Well, yes, there may be some correlation between things we don’t like and what we’re going to call trolling.

Monday – Hey, we’re bringing Steam to the People’s Republic of China!

Yes, because of the laws there Valve won’t actually own Steam in China.  Their partner, Perfect World Entertainment will be the majority shareholder.

Still I just find it a strange and/or amusing bit of timing to have the company go from declaring openness one day to lending their name to a service in China, where the game lineup will be anything but open, just a few days later.

I’m hoping the next thing I write about Steam will be in regards to the summer sale.

Quote of the Day – The Trolling Loophole

We rejected Active Shooter because it was a troll, designed to do nothing but generate outrage and cause conflict through its existence…

-Doug Lombardi, Interview with Ars Technica

Earlier in the week we saw the blog post from Steam announcing its new “anything goes” policy towards what sort of games will be allowed on the service.  I wrote about that myself and linked out to just about everybody else who did as well.

For me the most outrageous aspect of the whole thing was probably Steam’s line on whether allowing a game on their service constituted an endorsement of that game and its content and, whether you can take seriously their personal rejection of a controversial or offensive game while they also take a cut of the sales price.  There is, at best, a conflict of interest there and, at worst, a transparent and hypocritical attempt to protect their reputation from the consequences of their choices.  Because, in the end, Steam makes those choices and profits from them.

The only thing things that would keep a game of Steam with this new policy would be actual illegality or “straight up trolling.”

Determining what is legal is a minefield in and of itself given the number of jurisdictions Steam serves.  And we have already seen discreet jurisdictions that believe their laws apply to the whole world.  So at the end of my last post on the topic I wondered if this alone might cause Steam’s policy to remain effectively unchanged.

What I tended to discount was the concept of “straight up trolling.”  After all, what is trolling?  It seems to mean different things to different people.  How far does somebody have to go to be a troll.  I see people get called trolls for seemingly innocuous things or for even just disagreeing with people.  So where would Valve stand on trolling?  What does the word mean to them?

Well, we got some insight into that in the article linked at the top.  The game Active Shooter won’t be making it onto Steam because it falls into the troll category.  Is this Steam’s out?  Will they be able to vote their conscience by declaring things they don’t like as trolls?  Will anything controversial end up tagged as such?

I suspect Valve is going to be pressed as to what constitutes a troll.  There are some hints in that article, but nothing like a firm line drawn to separate the trolls from the flock.  I mean, if you’re going to make “zero effort cash grab” a measure, I’m going to point at some titles already on the store and ask how they’re still allowed.

I also strongly suspect that Valve will never want to, or perhaps even be able to, make a definitive set of rules as to what makes the cut and what does not.  In part, that is due to how humans behave.  The moment you draw a line somebody will step right up to it just to test you.  This is why EULAs and Terms of Service documents for online games always give the game companies an out, a free hand to punish or ban people for circumstances unforeseen, and why the rules of conduct are almost always annoyingly vague.

Which brings me back to their blog post earlier in the week.  Why bother sapping their credibility with claims that they’ll let games on their service that they’ll hate as much as some of their players if, in the end, they’re as like as not still going to refuse the same games after the policy change as they did before?

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.]

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:

 

Steam Tags… Not So Bad Really…

So the big brouhaha of the week seems to be the tag system introduce by Valve that allows players to tag games listed in Steam with whatever the hell they want.

Queue typical human behavior.  Trolling.  Bad attempts at humor.  Injections of obsessive behavior.

But after reading several posts that pretty much convinced me that the world was going to spontaneously combust due to the absolute horror of this feature and the uses to which it was being put, I actually went and looked at the store pages for all of the games in my library.

And the results were not all that bad.

The key here is that Steam, by default, only shows you a few of the most popular tags… usually 3 to 5 depending on how long they are… and as far as I can see, the most accurate tags are bubbling up to fill that position.  So, for example, SimCity 4 seems to be quite accurate when it comes to tags.

SimCity4Steam

Yes, if you click on the little plus sign, you can see all of the tags people have added.  But even those are mostly accurate.  A couple editorialize… “last good one” is on the list… but I am not sure editorials are off limits or should be.  And all the games in my library look to be about on par.  Do I care that “one more turn” is one of the tags displayed for Civilization V? That is clearly an editorial, but seems totally appropriate to me.

Sure, some games seem to suffer from users being allowed to apply tags.  I wouldn’t be very happy if I was a developer on Call of Duty: Ghost.

CODGhostSteam

But I would probably be even less happy that Steam also displays the Metacritic score.

CODGhostMetacritic

In a world where big studio titles tend to be rated on a 70-100 scale, getting a 68 is already failing.

And for those who are concerned that these aren’t the tags they are looking for, I would point out that Steam has had genre tags for ages now.

CODGhostTags

So, if you already have that sort of thing in place, it seems like some editorializing might be appropriate in the user defined tags, which are marked as user defined tags.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Valve went through and cleaned out some of the more egregious and off topic tags that were polluting the system.  Holocaust denial is no longer a thing in user defined tags as far as I can tell.  Prison Architect is no longer tagged with “Not-a-rape Simulator.”

So it appears to me that Valve has decided to devote some resources to policing the tags, which seems reasonable.

I can see how the game studios are still mad about this.  It allows people to say negative things about their games!  Oh no!

Color me somewhat unconcerned on that front.

So worst idea ever?  Not really.  Crowd sourcing from idiots?  On the whole, no.  Whatever Tobold’s point was… as I mentioned above, Valve already had tags… handled… I think.  That Tumblr site devoted to bad Steam tags?  Taken down.  The world? Continues to turn.

Addendum:  And I forgot to mention, if you’re really worked up about a tag, you can report it.

What offends you?

What offends you?

Crowd sourcing goes both ways here it seems.

Musing on Torchlight II’s Real Potential…

I wrote a post a while back comparing the game play, and other items important to me in a Diablo style game, between Diablo III, which had just launched a couple of days before, and Torchlight II, which happened to be having a beta weekend at the same time.

It was a post of opportunity, as I had played neither game before that week and so I was able to have a fresh look at the pair of them, side by side.

And the conclusion to my post was that, for game play, Diablo III and Torchlight II were close enough that what really separated them was a matter of details.  Those details were minor to some and major to others, but they were not worlds apart.  I said I would be playing both games.

The prime criticism I received about that post was that I did not spend much time on the always online aspect of Diablo III.

The thing is, to my mind, and in my experience, always online is a subordinate issue when it comes to the big picture.

Yes, it is a deal killer for some people.  But the history of online gaming shows that will put up with a lot of crap for good game play.  Day one EverQuest is a good example.  The first year of World of Warcraft is a good example.  And the post-release period of most versions of Civilization are prime examples of people putting up with often horrible technical and environmental issues to get to game play they desire.  The auto-save every turn function in Civ II and beyond was put in because the original Civ crashed so damn often it was practically heart breaking.

Game play trumps absolutely.

Very annoying, but you kept retrying

Players have proven time and again that we will put up with horrible technical issues and oppressive DRM for good game play.  So the negative aspects of always online (lag, downtime) were comparable in my eyes to things people have put up with in the past, while the positive aspect (really easy to play with your friends) seemed a plus.  My opinion, naturally, but I suspect that people who liked the game play would agree.  Unless they died to lag in hardcore mode.

On the flip side of the “always online” issue, one thing I mentioned in that post (along with a couple of other posts) and on which NOBODY commented, was the sentiment that I sure hope Blizzard has some sort of follow up plan for content, game modes, or something, because while I liked what they delivered on day one, there wasn’t enough there to keep me interested in the long term.

My big question is what will Blizzard do with the game they have created?  Eventually it will be played out for most people.  Will it get expansions or new game modes or new games on the same platform?

Yeah, that.

Well, we got the answer to that.  The quote has popped up in a lot of places.

“We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly Diablo III is not World of Warcraft. We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now..”

That appears to be the tragic flaw which is likely to turn Diablo III into a “flavor of the month” in play time relative to the long term popularity of Diablo II.  “Always online” is small compared to that.

Their key game play driver is flawed and they have no options in the pipe.  Content comes slowly to WoW and this, as they say, isn’t WoW, which sounds like they’ve got nothing.

The first part, the item hunt, as has been well discussed in many other places, Blizzard themselves killed with the auction house.

Even I noticed early on that every drop I saw was usable by characters of much lower level than my own.  So to get equipment at my level, I have to buy it from the auction house.  Drops lost most of their value except as items for alts or fodder for the auction house to finance other purchases.

Chasing loot is dead.  The only point in comparing stats between what just dropped and what I am wearing is to see if drops are closing in my equipped gear, in which case it is a sign that I need to hit the auction house again.

I didn’t start out with that in mind.  I told myself I wasn’t going to use the auction house.  Then, when I started getting frustrated at the low level requirements of the weapons that were dropping, I went there to get a weapon upgrade.  That was easy.  The one piece of equipment I always try to keep current is my weapon, operating on the theory that if my enemy is dead, the rest of my equipment is irrelevant.

But as the gap between my own level and the level requirements for equipment drops grew larger, I started going to the auction house “just to see” what was available.  Uber leet stuff was outrageously expensive, of course.  But items that were a serious upgrade over what I was currently wearing seemed pretty cheap.  Fair to middling gear close to your own level is cost effective, readily available, and usually a huge upgrade over the drops you see.  The auction house won.

So, for me, there is basically the story and group play keeping the game going.

I really like the story.  But the story doesn’t change with subsequent plays.  I can vouch for that.  (Though the need for AH bought equipment goes up.)  And I picked the most amusing companion, the soundrel, for my first run through, so swapping out for the enchantress then the templar in the second run actually made the whole story less enjoyable.

Meanwhile, group play requires me to actually log into the game.  Since my return from vacation, the war in Delve has been my main focus, so I haven’t actually logged in.  We’ll see what happens this weekend, but for the moment Diablo III is looking like a pretty weak entry in the “Games I Play” section on the side bar.

So what does this have to do with Torchlight II?

Well, to start with, TL2 has no auction house.  So, in theory at least, the “item hunt” game is more viable.  That remains to be seen, the itemization in Torchlight was kind of quirky… 1h and 2h weapons seemed to have the same DPS at points, so why would you go 2h if you can dual wield… something I also saw in the TL2 beta… but at least they haven’t shot the whole thing in the head the way Blizzard has.

But, probably more importantly, TL2 has support for mods, so users can create more content for the game.  More content is the gaping hole in Blizzard’s plan, and likely the only thing that can save them.

So Torchlight II is poised to wipe the floor with Diablo III, right?

Not so fast there, sport.

First, I am not sure what winning and losing even means in the context of these games beyond day one sales.  For once, we are not talking about subscription numbers.  The money comes in when people buy the box and that is about it.

And Blizzard has sold a lot of boxes, in part just because they are Blizzard.  Success leads to success, and not only did Blizzard set some sort of record moving boxes in the first 24 hours, a lot of those boxes were going for close to $60, which is about three times the list price Runic is charging for Torchlight II.

Torchlight II will likely not set such records.  The company is not that well known outside of core gamers.  My wife knows who Blizzard is, but I am pretty sure that Runic Games would just get a blank look.  And they do not have the budget yet to make themselves well known.  TL2 could change that for them, but they won’t be going into this deal with that name recognition.

Furthermore, TL2 is going out in a limited sales channel.  You can, to my knowledge, buy it online through Perfect World Entertainment or via Steam.  That is it.  And while digital sales may very well be the future… and digital is clearly the right fit for Runic with its “keep it lean” philosophy… boxes on shelves, even if those boxes are on shelves in an Amazon warehouse, still make up a big part of the sales channel.

So it seems that, at least in the short term, Diablo III will eclipse Torchlight II in sales.

“So what?” I hear a voice in my head say, “TL2 is providing the tools to keep it viable long after we’ve stopped playing D3!”

Runic seems poised to pick up the slack in the one area that Blizzard has admitted failure, additional content.  More content gives you more reasons to play the game.  And there are two potential avenues for this.

Runic can actually sells us more content.  This might even be in their plan, post-launch DLC adventures or what not.  But I have not seen anything to indicate that this will come to pass.  And since they seem to have plans for a game beyond Torchlight II, a Torchlight MMO or some such, it seems more likely that we will see a replay of Torchlight.

With Torchlight we got a game, we got some patches, we got some ports to other platforms, and eventually we got a box on the shelf.  What we did not get was an ounce more content.  This was fine because they were clearly headed off to do Torchlight II, which sounded more like the game we wanted in the first place.

Maybe it won’t be that way this time around.  Maybe the Runic team won’t rush off to the next project.  We shall see.

But if they do, that still leaves mods.

Mods.  I am even going to link to a definition of mods, just because it has some good examples.

A well done mod is a thing of beauty, something that can transcend the framework of the original game.  A good mod can make people buy your game.  About a decade back I bought Battlefield 1942 specifically to play the Desert Combat mod.  I installed the game, installed the mod, and then never went back and played the original.  The mods for it were far more appealing.

The problem is that, for every great mod, for every Counter-Strike or Defense of the Ancients, there is a huge pile of… well… crap to sort through.  It is the eternal issue of user created content, the signal to noise ratio is always very bad.  How many variations of the Lost Temple map have people made for StarCraft that really added nothing beyond more resources or maybe better defensive positions so people can turtle relative to the number of truly new and well thought out maps?

And that is compounded by the fact that finding out a mod even exists is a crap shoot as well.  I am past the age where I will go out and hunt down mods on various gaming sites any more.  Mods pretty much have to come and find me.  I am also past the days of the epic install to get a mod to work.  Desert Combat required a whole series of steps, installs, patches, and mods layed down on mods, all done in the right order with the right versions that I am not sure I would have gotten the thing running had not someone in the gaming clan I was in made up a document with all the steps written out in detail with links to the appropriate software.  And people in the forums still screwed up that install.

For me, I need something like what Steam has cooked up.  Their Steam Workshop for Civilization is the level of mod organization and management that is required to make mods more than the domain of the serious hardcore fan.  Since Steam is one of their channels, I hope they will get Valve to put up that sort of interface for them.

So there is a potential there.  I will be interested to see how it plays out, and disappointed if mods fade into a quiet background, as with so many other games.

What do you think?  Blizzard is clearly going to win the money achievement with their sales.  Will Runic be able to make their mark on the content front?

Quote of the Day – Insulting Nordstrom

If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. The gamemakers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we’re not trying to be Target. We’re trying to be Nordstrom.

-David DeMartini, head of EA’s Origin Digital Distribution Platform, on how Valve’s policy on sales and discounts is bad for everybody

I am not an Origin customer, nor do I plan to be one.  That is primarily because of the badly handled customer service I have read about concerning Origin and EA.

So, EA, if you are shooting to be Nordstrom, a store that is able to charge a premium based on the perception people have of their quality and customer service (has anybody here not heard the snow tires story?), you have a long way to go.

Frankly, I would rate Target’s reputation and customer service far above Origin’s as well.

Try harder, Origin.

Much harder.

Addendum: And then EA changed tits collective mind and said Costco-like discounts are a good idea after all!  They still seem to be failing on that whole customer service and reputation thing though.

The Last Weekend Before Diablo III

The installer is sitting there on my hard drive, waiting for the 15th.

Sitting… waiting…

I was ready for the game last weekend.  I was feeling a bit of MMO ennui and could have used something new to dive into.  I could probably go for it this weekend as well.

But we all have to wait until Tuesday.

The installer has been on my hard drive since mid-March, just waiting for its time to come.  Waiting because, well… it doesn’t do anything yet when you try and install.

It does update its install packages when you launch it.  I have done that a few times to ensure that I am up to date and do not have to patch quite so much next week.  I am not sure that updating the installer is covered in the Blizzard launch day guide, but I would recommend it.

Otherwise, the installer doesn’t do the one thing we all want… actually install the game.

This, naturally has some of those at the forefront of the digital distribution age a bit annoyed.

Penny Arcade has a comic up bemoaning the need for those who with the installer already in our possession having to wait for physical boxes to catch up via the old school brick and mortar distribution system.  The comic wraps up with an analogy (what, is May national bad analogy month?) that compares the digital vs. physical distribution conflict to making automobiles drive slower so as not to hurt the feelings of horses.

Today, in 2012, creating any general traffic laws to protect travel by horse would be crazy.  Unless you live in a rural area or are a member of one of a couple of religious sects, you probably don’t even see a horse on the road on a regular basis, much less use one for transportation.

The problem with the analogy… which actually isn’t that bad of an analogy, it is just being mis-used… is that the ratio of sales for, and importance of, traditional physical retailers today isn’t anything like the complete lack of significance that horse travel represents today.

Rather, physical and digital sales today are more like the horse and the auto relationship of 100 years ago.  At that time, automobiles, like digital sales today, were coming into their own and represented a significant part of the market.  But the horse was still there and still represented the reality of travel to a lot of people much as the physical box of software does today.

And there were plenty of laws at the time restricting automobile use in ways to ensure that those whom still depended on the horse were not adversely impacted.  Speed limits in cities, for one example, which were enacted not to spare the feelings of the horse, but to ensure safe travel in an environment where automobiles and horses were in close contact.

Likewise, today, a software company cannot screw over the brick and mortar retailers… or even the online retailers that will ship MANY physical boxes… because they still represent a significant part of the sales channel.   EA says they love their retail channel.  Blizzard, I am sure, is offering up plenty of advertising co-op dollars to help physical retailers promote the Diablo III launch and offering incentives to have midnight launch events.

Fairness has nothing to do with it.  Maintaining a good relationship with the people who sell a a lot of your product does.

And lets face it, if you go down to Fry’s, you will see games from Valve, the biggest player in the digital distribution market, on the shelf.  Valve fully believes that the future is in digital.  But even they, with so much invested in digital, know that the physical box is not dead yet.

And so those of us who ordered digital versions have an installer that just says this when you launch it.

No install for you… yet

The future is not here yet when it comes to digital sales.  For big titles that are releasing across multiple sales channels, things still have to stay synchronized.  And so we must wait, sitting in the metaphorical back seat, repeating that oft heard chant.

Are we there yet?