The storm at Blizzard

There’s a wonderful moment in the 2011 movie Margin Call, when Jeremy Iron’s character states:

I’m here for one reason and one reason alone. I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid that I don’t hear – a – thing. Just… silence.

The line is in reference to the global downturn. It’s a moment that springs to mind off some of the recent Blizzard news simply because it feels like not only are times a changing for them, but there is probably more pain on the horizon for this studio.

This post is of course a reaction to the news that Heroes of the Storm (HotS) is effectively being put into maintenance mode and developers being moved onto other projects. Whilst the official announcement confirms new content was still coming but that the pace would change, in reality this probably means they are simply releasing what they have developed already before making the game stable over its last few years.

Obviously for many fans of the game this news has been met with disappointment. It makes sense to halt development of something if it’s not financially viable. Although without transparency of visibility of the financials one has to trust this wasn’t a case of ‘unrealistic targets’ being set.

This news comes off the back of the recent report from Jason Schreier at Kotaku which had already referenced cost cutting and pressure from the parent company; Activision, to produce new games and increase revenue off the back of the falling engagement numbers. And that after the PR disaster that was Blizzcon 2018.

Whilst Blizzard triumphed mobile phone games after the public outcry to Diablo Immortal, the reality is I suspect it is choosing an easier platform to develop for in the hope of generating revenue sooner. The partnership or outsourcing of the Diablo mobile game to NetEase seems to fit in with this as well. As well as porting existing games to the Nintendo Switch. As much as it is common sense porting Diablo 3 to Nintendo Switch, it will have been a relatively easy and quick venture for Blizzard. Ultimately all of these projects are much easier than bringing a new game, like Diablo 4, to market.

HotS was only 3 years old. Once upon a time you could probably regard it as risk free committing time and money to any Blizzard game. However now there will be people that have spent hundreds on HotS with no real recourse for refunds or any purchase. Even if it was recent spending in-game. I can’t help but feel that with no new games since Overwatch in 2016, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth coming under criticism, that in many ways Blizzard games are all trending downwards. Certainly there will be other nervous Blizzard communities off the back of this news.

With their co-founder leaving two months ago and the challenges Blizzard faces it feels like a new studio might emerge and it’s games be ones that I don’t care for as much.

Whilst the big western publishers have enjoyed record revenues in recent years, therein lies the problem. And that is the unrealistic year-on-year growth that is expected. I can’t help but feel the pressure Blizzard are coming under is going to similarly affect other studios if the publishers revenues streams start to stall in the next few years.

The epic death of Steam

Rubbish attempt at a pun, I know. A very eventful day after The Games Awards where a number of announcements were made. Specifically the news that Epic Games have launched their new PC Storefront with a number of new exclusive games. Many which still had store pages on Steam right up until launch.

On top of this, the news also broke that Rage 2 on PC will be exclusively on the Bethesda.net Store. Not in itself surprising given Bethesda Game Studio’s previous game Fallout 76 did the same. But nevertheless compounding a bad news day for Valve.

Anyway lots of factually incorrect statements and opinions that made me want to note the following:

People aren’t entitled for complaining

Steam is the oldest, and most feature rich of any PC storefront or launchers out there. It offers features such as home streaming, controller support and refunds which a lot of other services don’t offer. People are invested in the service and love having their games library in one place. I’ve long ago realised any dream of having my games in one place is misplaced as publishers launch their own storefronts, but completely understand the complaints from the community that don’t want to sign-up to another storefront or service. People seem to be using ‘entitled gamer’ as a shield or blocker to valid criticism. But here there are arguably legitimate questions being raised, i.e. what is the refund policy? or how will the technical support work? Hopefully not like this…

This IS competition

Whether we like it or not unfortunately competition is not simply releasing games across all storefronts. Buying exclusivity is one of the oldest and easiest tactics Epic have to help their new service become a success. It’s akin to BT acquiring rights to UEFA Champion League Football all those years ago. It might not have really offered any benefit to those invested in Sky TV but it offered a basis for BT to take aim at their competitors.

30-35% probably is disproportionate to what digital storefronts offer

Something Tim Sweeney has talked about before and I can’t help but agree. Realistically the costs and such are probably only a few percent of any transaction. The ‘but it’s industry standard’ feels like a muted response. As annoying as this news was for some, as Epic have gone from struggling developer to financial powerhouse due to Fortnite’s success they can choose what they do next. And offering a PC storefront that maximises the revenue spilt to 88/12% (12% to Epic) is definitely fighting a battle that they believe in.

Some inexcusable practices on the announcement

Ashen was meant to be on Xbox Game Pass for PC (via Xbox Play Anywhere) and has a ‘TBD’ on its Steam page. On top of this another game; Outer Wilds had a previous fig (crowdfunding) campaign stating they were giving out Steam versions for backers. I think on the latter the right thing to do would be to offer refunds to any backers for changing a previously advertised reward. The lateness of the announcement and the lack of honesty is wrong. I think the developers and publishers involved should have at least communicated something far earlier and be clear if this is timed exclusivity or not. The obfuscation here doesn’t help.

Games can do well away from Steam

Often stated as fact that games won’t do as well when not on Steam, but I wonder how true this is anymore. Given how much of their revenue certain games earn at release I sense that these games might do fine, particularly if they have already received payment for exclusivity from Epic. Indie games having success away from Steam isn’t new.

Communication is something developers still really struggle with

Specifically this response from Coffee Stain games (Satisfactory) on YouTube. Whilst the intention was probably there, the lack of stating why  they weren’t on Steam just makes me think it would have probably better to have not released this video. A tweet letting people know a Q&A was coming would have probably been better. Perhaps the couldn’t say it because of a legal agreement. But either way if you have nothing of worth to say, then don’t say it.

PC gaming gets even more messy

Yep, even more win32.exe files sitting in my systray taking up resources or launcher launching through other launchers (UPlay on top of Steam – yay!). Although wonderful open-source project like Playnite help the disparate services, PC gaming just got messier than it already is.

Live Services – Part 3: The good, the bad and the ugly

For the final part of my three-part series on GaaS (part 1 & part 2) I thought I would list some of the Live Services/GaaS which I think do the whole service model very well. Or indeed very badly.

The good

Path of Exile | Grinding Gear Games
Often the term ‘free to play done right’ is banded around for many games. But I think here it is actually the perfect descriptor. Since 2013, Grinding Gear Games have been working on their ARPG with growing praise from those that have played it. The game does some major things right. All content is free, the game can be played as a free player with no penalty and makes you want to support the developer rather than feel you need to. It is far from perfect in that selling cosmetics limits the visual customisation options and the prices of some of its packs or in-game items feels slightly too expensive. But again it gets the balance right. And ultimately is as close to the best f2p game business model as you will find. The content on offer is fantastic and it is an outstanding ARPG as well.

World of Warcraft | Activision Blizzard
You could probably insert a few MMO’s here, but Blizzard’s 14-year old veteran game’s subscription model still works. And by retaining a subscription model there are very few in-game items to buy for real money. Whilst players moan about subscriptions, they still can provide one of the fairest business models a videogame can use. It’s also worth mentioning that WoW expansions have a Collector’s Edition but with only a few cosmetics included. There’s no Normal, Gold, Ultimate version rubbish here.

Guild Wars 2 | ArenaNet
No subscription and reasonably priced microtransactions. Far from perfect but does a lot of things very well when it comes to its business model. Unlike WoW it doesn’t have a subscription which is its strength.

Warframe | Digital Extremes
Great game, wonderful developer. F2p largely done right although the Prime Access pack are very expensive. However probably the best community manager in any videogame. And a phenomenally unique game. The fact this is the best looter shooter out there speaks volumes.

The bad

Call of Duty | Activision Blizzard
Year on year release. Season Pass, pre-order items, over £100 for the most expensive version and p2w in the form of weapons with better stats being in lootboxes. On top of that, this year’s entry has a slow grind version of Fortnite’s battle pass which has been designed to be very sllloooooowwwww at rewarding the player for obvious reasons. Eugh. About the most offensive cocktail of business models in modern triple AAA videogames.

Destiny | Bungie & Activision Blizzard
Again yearly releases, season passes and an endgame designed around lootboxes. For many including myself the realisation hit with the second game that there just wasn’t enough to justify the high purchase price. Great shooter and for the hardcore group PVE players they will be able to see pass these faults.

Grand Theft Auto Online | Rockstar & Take Two Interactive
A freemium, mobile game in structure. Everything is built around earning money which is very, very slow to acquire. It isn’t pretty. But unfortunately it has generated billions for Take 2 and Rockstar and clearly a blueprint for the recently released Red Dead Online.

FIFA/Madden Ultimate Team | Electronic Arts
I’ve written about this one before but EA has come under increasing criticism for its annual sports titles that appear to have only improvements in things relating to the Ultimate Team modes that are generating EA near or over a $billion every year. Like GTA V it’s effectively a freemium mobile game, with declining reasons for those not wanting to play the online mode to consider buying the game.

And the ugly

Marvel Heroes | Gazillion Entertainment (now defunct)
Marvel Heroes is a story of a f2p ARPG which was quite good fun and had a small but loyal following of fans. But is no longer around since it’s closure in November 2017. The studio and game were shut down only 12 days after Disney announced it was ending it’s working relationship with the developer. It’s a great example of where it’s possible to invest money and time in a service but unfortunately there is no guarantee it will be around that long.

I could list others like Evolve, or Lawbreakers. Indeed maybe even Fallout 76 which has turned into a big mess of a game. But ultimately I just needed one example to make the pun work!


I probably could list more examples in each category but when writing this it started to become clear that a trend has emerged over the last few years which is arguably good for consumers. And that is the rise of smaller, more dynamic studios whose games are reinventing and innovating within the industry without the pressure from publishers. And right now it’s hard to argue that the big five western publishers don’t have a monetisation problem where their greed is killing something special in a lot of their games.

Live Services – Part 2: An ideal business model

Previously I wrote about GaaS games and some of the trends that we are now commonly witnessing as videogame consumers. In this second part I wanted to think about what I believe make the best business models when it comes to monetisation for a GaaS. Ideally the fairest business model is pay once or a subscription, but the industry has tried to move away from these. So this should probably be a called a wishlist of how I would envisage the ultimate GaaS business model. I think there’s a balance of how companies charge and price a service.

The following are things publishers and developers should be steering away from when it comes to a videogame business models in my opinion:

  • No lootboxes
  • No pay2win, i.e. purchasable items with ANY stat increases.
  • No XP or in-game currency boosts
  • No separate currencies
  • No currency that can be purchased
  • No level gating of items only to be removed for players spending real money

Lootboxes have been debated in great depth but with a growing number of independent bodies or governments now starting to investigate or legislate against them, publishers should do the right thing and stop their use immediately. The impact on children and the lack of protection for consumers is one of the biggest problems the videogame industry has ever faced. But a problem of its own making.

So the question becomes what would I consider more acceptable business models in a GaaS videogame?

Purchasable cosmetics (maybe)
Personally I would prefer cosmetics were earnable. Remember when you saw someone in endgame gear in early World of Warcraft. You knew it was a badge of honour. Something to respect. Now cosmetics usually just mean the player who has spent the most money on the game. Ideally cosmetics should be earnable, or at least there is a balance; still allowing players lots of customisation without having to spend money.

Time limited content should be reserved for a few seasonal events
It’s cool to earn stuff from an event but using this as a continual mechanism to get people to login is less cool.

All items should be earnable in-game
With ‘reasonable’ play-time as well. And not hundreds of hours

Fair pricing
So not charging £30+ for a skin. Characters or skins really should be ‘micro’ in price. I know if games charged less I would actually be encouraged to spent more.

No V-Bucks, Platinum or Gold
Just price the purchasable item in a local currency where one transaction can be made. No ‘best value’ packs etc.

Online, multiplayer games only
Single player games have no-need for any of the above, as they aren’t GaaS games.

No mixing and matching of business models.
If the game has multiple tier versions at launch with season passes then there should be no-need for microtransactions. Games need to be fair in their overall value offering.


Of course this is all wishful thinking, but I do think that the better examples of GaaS games embrace some of the above (although not enough) pricing strategies. We have to consider games on a case-by-case basis. However generally it’s reasonably obvious to spot the videogames which get the balance wrong when it comes to the cost and the impacted design of a GaaS business model.

Live Services – Part 1: The reality

Sometime towards the end of the last generation of videogame consoles and the transition to the current generation we saw major western publishers start to embrace the Live Service or Games as a Services (GaaS) as a preferred business model of their games moving forward. Games such as Destiny or Warframe moved away from Games as a Product (GaaP) to services. Although Wikipedia notes the idea originates in the early noughties with MMO’s.

The major western publishers and platform holders are all enjoying record revenues from financial results strengthened by recursive microtransactions and revenue from services. However as their profits have gotten larger so too has the pressure to increase year on year growth. Which could create problems over the next few years. Certainly there seems to be a far more vocal reactions to some of the negatives of GaaS games (i.e. Star Wars BattleFront 2 lootboxes) and a divisive element to them. Whilst lots of gamers embrace them there is a growing number who don’t like GaaS as a concept.

The definition of GaaS from Wikipedia is:

In video gaming, games as a service (GaaS) represents providing video games or game content on a continuing revenue model, similar to software as a service. Games as a service are ways to monetize video games either after their initial sale, or to support a free-to-play model. Games released under the GaaS model typically receive a long or indefinite stream of monetized new content over time to encourage players to continue paying to support the game. This often leads to games that work under a GaaS model to be called “living games” or “live games”, since they continually change with these updates.

The advantages of GaaS are clear for the publishers and developers; more revenue from ‘uncapped’ spending, more regular and consistent revenue, less games which have a longer shelf-life as well as legal advantages to selling services over products. For the consumers the advantages are less clear-cut but include potentially better supported games with a strong online element.

As I’ve spend some of this week reading about Red Dead Online there has been some clear negative reaction to some of the balance of the new online mode (Polygon, Wccftech and Reddit). This made me want to write about what some of the new trends I am seeing much more now which are not always for the better.

The hard reset
FIFA or Madden Ultimate Team for the clearest example. Every year a new £50-80 game arrives. And this means that all your progress in previous years is lost.

Games with a shelf-life
Contentious point here, but there are arguably a lot of games which are really products with some support. One of the major criticisms of Destiny 2 was that all your progress from the first game was lost. There was no connection at all between the original and second game. This isn’t a problem unique to Destiny, The Division 2 is likely to go through similar challenges. The key point here is how ‘long or indefinite stream of monetised content’ has there to be for a game to truly be considered a GaaS by definition?

Developers prioritising a sequel, or next paid-for product
I remember when Destiny 2 was having its problems last year, reading someone ask ‘why aren’t Bungie sorting this out, what are they doing?’. Of course the easy answer was ‘working on Destiny 2:Forsaken and Destiny 3’. A lot of content is actually made with the main game and/or released by separate in-house development studios whilst the main team works on the new, next game (Destiny 2 and The Division both did this).

This might not be that different from the old days when developers moved onto the next project, however there’s a balance when asking people to commit to a service which are usually more expensive in terms of cost and time required.

Time-limited content
This tactic is both try to re-engage players but also to pressurise them into spending money instead. However from a player perspective they can be both rewarding, but if you’ve not got time to engage in an event then the ‘fear of missing out’ can be tiring and stressful. In many ways seeing time gates on content tends to have the opposite effect on me and makes me want to play something else instead.

Yearly season passes
A tactic we have seen in a number of games. You’ve purchased the ‘gold’ edition of a game. Then after the first 12-months a Year 2 content pack is released. In some cases a Year 3 etc. Particularly irritating if the game is actually cheaper to rebuy everything rather than the year season passes you’ve missed.

Introducing microtransactions after a game’s release
Years ago Forza Motorsport 5 was rightly criticised for launching with a myriad of aggressive microtransactions. Since then most if not all games from major western publishers release the microtransactions after the games reviews. Indeed sometimes the microtransactions might be implemented later on – long after the release, i.e. The Division.

Perfectly working in-game cash shop
It just works. And have you noticed how some premium, expensive triple-AAA, western published games have in-game cash shops that look like that of a free to play game? *Cough* Rainbow Six Siege.

Bugs & maintenance ignored
Prioritisation of paid-for content rather than actually fixing the game itself. The is true of many GaaS out there now.

Poor new player experience
This is a difficult one but a lot games just straight up get this wrong. Or there are loads of games that are prepared to drop you into a multiplayer mode without so much as a shooting range or ability to play bots first. The difficulty is whilst this may help retain players it doesn’t pay anything for developers looking to fix after a games launch. And therefore never really gets fixed. Of course it can also be the systems upon systems that the games doesn’t necessarily want to explain.

Drip feed of new content
New microtransactions, new cosmetics, or Lootboxes don’t really qualify as new content. i.e. Ghost Recon Wildlands Year 2 Season Pass is really a bunch of lootboxes along with a couple weapons! New maps, new story missions, new racing tracks can often feel like they are on the back burner compared to recursive game modes, new enemies, new in-game shop items or other more smaller content.

Focus on PVP/Multiplayer
The main gripe of fans of single player experiences. That actually publishers have prioritised cheaper to make multiplayer content over single player or PVE content. GTA V is a great example of a game which has not ever received any single player content since it came out.

The never ending grind
Only 8 hours to unlock a gold bar

Incomplete games at launch
Games need to be solid and relatively feature complete at launch. To have missing modes or features only a few weeks away feels shoddy. Roadmaps with future content should be adding to rather than making up for missing content.


Of course I don’t want this to be all negatives however we also live in a time when there is a greater influence of a game’s business model on the end product, something I’ve blogged about before. And crucially getting a GaaS wrong can ultimately impact a company’s financials. Something we’ve arguably seen recently with Destiny 2: Forsaken. Some of the above negatives that I see in GaaS are actually grinding me down rather than making me look forward to new videogames. Major Publishers seem keen to embrace the revenue aspect of GaaS but I’m not sure all their games are really ‘services’ or get the balance right when it comes to the support or indeed the business model.

November Update

A load of new games in the Black Friday offers.

New game pickups

  • Path of Exile Shadow Stalker Pack (PC)
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar (PS4)
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition Game of the Year Edition (PS4)
  • Starlink Starter Pack and a couple of ship packs (Xbox & Switch)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration (Xbox)
  • Batman: Arkham Knight Premium Edition (PS4)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (PS4)
  • Brothers: a Tale of two Sons (PS4)

What should have been a quiet month went a little bit crazy during Black Friday deals with some unplanned purchases. I have purchased Starlink Starter pack for Xbox One and Switch! With two of the exclusive ships packs (Scramble & Cerberus). I don’t necessarily want to spend on a full set or anything but quite like the look of the game and the concept. A game up until now I took no interest in.

I also picked up Battle Chasers and Dragon Age: Inquisition Game of the Year Edition as they were under £15 for both in a pre-Black Friday PSN promotion (and no I didn’t want the other games in the THQ Nordic PlayStation Humble Bundle). I thought Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration for £9 was exceptional value and too good to pass up.

Having got into Path of Exile I also purchased some stash and currency tabs. And just today took advantage of some of the cheap prices in the PSN Flash Sale after Cyber Monday to pick up Arkham Knight, What Remains of Edith Finch and Brothers. I owned Arkham Knight on disc when it first came out but sold it on when I barely had a chance to play it and realised there would be a complete version at some point. Under ten pounds for the Premium edition is a bargain.

Been playing (Grouvee Link)

  • World of Warcraft including the WoW Classic Blizzcon demo
  • Path of Exile
  • Hearthstone
  • Tetris

Spent a few hours playing the WoW Classic demo. Really interesting seeing the vanilla experience. Very stark contrast to what current WoW is. Combat is much slower paced, stacking skills and buffs etc as you wait for hits to land. In fact everything much slower; movement, questing and levelling too. I only played from The Burning Crusade so not sure if I’ll play this, but was really fun to play.

As noted in a recent blog post I’ve picked up Path of Exile again. Put about 15 hours or so into the Delve season, but holding off for the new season now. And finally I’ve been playing a lot of Tetris on the Game Boy. That game never gets old.

Completed/Abandoned

For the third month in a row, no games completed or abandoned…woops. WoW, playing with retro games and now PoE are to blame for that.

Updates & Up next

A few minor edits to the site, although the main one being changing ‘shelved’ to ‘abandoned’ on relevant pages – including this one.

With Christmas looming a number of games I would love to play. That said with my Game Pass subscription expiring soon I’m going to prioritise completing Rage if I can.

All the games are belong to us

When I first set up the site, I tested a few different videogame tracking websites and came to the conclusion that Grouvee was the best one for me. Indeed I ended up contributing to help support the site I liked it that much. In the months since I’ve come across some more videogame trackers, such as Completionator, Darkadia and SteamCompletionist, amongst others.

However I have just recently become aware of another videogame tracker; AllMyGames (after stumbling across the reddit feed: r/AllMyGames). This new website appears to have been recently setup this year and indeed signing up to the site awarded me an ‘Early Adopter’ badge. After trying out the site I have to say I was left feeling pretty positive about it. It’s import feature works really well and is the first time I’ve seen importing of your games from anything other than Steam.  It appears to look at your achievements from your console games to build your library. Although I have a total of 1086 games (at the time of writing according to Grouvee), the import on AllMyGames managed to pick up 841 of those. That’s very impressive.

What I liked

  • Easy and fast import process from Steam, GOG, PlayStation and Xbox
  • Clean, big screen presentation style with an emphasis on cover art
  • Can select which version of the game you are adding (although l couldn’t select the digital version of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ultimate Edition).
  • Succinct categories; might play, won’t play etc. – I love this!
  • A icon with a relevant link to HowLongToBeat.com page for each game

Would love to see

  • Ability to add own lists
  • Sort by format, as well as platform
  • I personally hate duplicates so the option to merge duplicates games with an icon for each format the game is owned on
  • Some more metadata options such as time played, or to complete etc.

I will play around with this one more, but it’s great to see another option for videogame fans looking to list their games with regards to sorting their collection or backlog. As noted this seems to be in an early stage of development so I look forward to how this website develops.

You can check out the site yourself at the following address: All My Games.

Pass on Game Pass

UPDATE 12th December 2018

Basically I did a complete 360 (excuse the pun) on the below thoughts and took up an offer for £18.97 to extend Xbox Game Pass for 6 months. The reason being: Ashen, Ori and the Blind Forest and a couple of other games still being on the service that I want to play. Ashen is only a few days old and £33.49 just to buy, so I figured given as I may not enjoy it is worth a punt for more Game Pass time instead.

Even with this U-turn I still think my thoughts from a few weeks ago are relevant. Game Pass isn’t for everyone and ideally with my backlog I shouldn’t be looking at more games!

Original Post

Microsoft Xbox Game Pass seems like an easy sell. Over 100 games at your fingertips for only £7.99 a month. Or even less if you take up one of the current offers, particularly in the current Black Friday sales. So what’s there not to like?

To be honest; not a lot. It’s a great service and adds an another option for playing games. Since getting my Xbox One X earlier this year I’ve used Game Pass offers to catch up on a few old games and complete Halo 5 and (hopefully) Rage (Xbox 360).

Microsoft haven’t delivered my free month of Game Pass from their recent PayPal offer (and they have done nothing even after raising with their CS). This has meant I’ve had to decide whether to continue subscribing. And it has made me realise there are obvious scenarios where Game Pass just doesn’t work as well, including:

  • Already have a large backlog
  • Limited amount of spare time to play games
  • Have multiple gaming platforms, or Xbox isn’t your main console
  • Spend a lot of time in particular games

Add to this you never own the games, so if they disappear off the service then you can’t play them anymore. And the games are always minus DLC or expansions being base versions to encourage you to spend more money on extra content for those games.

Even with all of that said Game Pass is still a fantastic way to play a huge number of games for a reasonable sum of money. And if you only game on Xbox it’s almost a no-brainer. Indeed it’s a shame Microsoft can’t do away with mandatory fees for multiplayer and merge Gold and Game Pass into one unique premium service. That would be a game changer in the battle against Sony.

However I’ve come to realise Game Pass is just not for me. I have struggled to play more games despite there being a number on the service I would like to experience. Simply due to a lack of time and a large number of other games competing for my attention. As with any subscription you almost feel under pressure to use it. The risk is that you end up paying more money to Microsoft whilst still buying other games you want to play. And realistically even for the small amount I have played I could have purchased the games I ended up playing. Indeed this is what I’ve done this month. £9 (80% off) during the current sale for Rise of The Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration. Which includes everything that came with the game when I want to play it.

That seems a better deal to me at the moment.

An exile again

I’ve decided to start playing Path of Exile. Properly.  And no I’m not playing because of that announcement in some sort of defiance of Activision Blizzard. Like many just over a week ago I sat down to digest the news from Blizzcon 2018 and saw the mess over Diablo Immortal although I was more enthralled with the news of a Warcraft 3 remaster than disappointment with the latest Diablo news. I do think a mobile version of Diablo could be good but unfortunately Diablo players on PC and console have been starved of content for a long time which I think reflects in some of the reactions to Diablo Immortal.

However seeing the footage of the new Diablo made me want to play a new ARPG. And it seems like no better time than to give Path of Exile a proper go. The bit that helped seal it was the Stash Tab (extra storage) sale over this past weekend and I’ve since invested in one of Grinding Gear Games (GGG) supporter packs.

It is a game I’ve toyed with before (about 16 hours) but always tried to resist the urge to get into it as I had lots of other games on the go. However I go through phases with ARPG games where I want to play them for a bit but only for a while. Although Path of Exile’s endgame can be the pure definition of ‘grind’ I think there is enough to see even as a more casual player.

I used to enjoy picking up Marvel Heroes Online every so often but unfortunately that has now gone. And whilst I really enjoy Diablo 3 I’m loathed to invest too much into a game that is clearly in maintenance mode (I’ve already got around 400 hours between the PC and PS4 versions). Support of an online game matters and in this sense GGG seems to have delivered a very compelling and fair business model. The game is the very definition of what a GaaS should be in my mind. And I think rewarding that with some of my time and money seems a fair exchange.

Odroid Go

As mentioned in my recent update I ordered some System on a Chip (SoC) hardware and one of these items was the Odroid Go by Hardkernel. It cost me £39.99 + postage from Odroid’s UK website (arrived within 3 days). The Odroid Go is a kit form handheld console which includes a small SoC mainboard and all the parts required to build your own handheld console. It was released to celebrate the Odroid’s 10-year anniversary.

The system itself doesn’t take long to build although you need to be careful with certain parts, i.e. not scratch the screen or over tighten the screws to damage the plastic (there is a really good YouTube video from ETA Prime I followed here) although the main store page mentioned earlier has some detail instructions on how to put everything together and how to compile the micro SD card. The micro SD card is the only other hardware you need to add to make everything work.

The main CPU is based on the Arduino MCU ESP32 and means that it is capable of emulating 8-bit systems from the late 1970’s to mid-1980’s. With the latest firmware the system supports: Nintendo Game Boy & Gameboy Color, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, and the ColecoVision. In addition it can also runs apps to support other systems such as the Atari 2600 and 7800 amongst others. However these aren’t accessible from the main menu and have to be loaded separately.

The Odroid Go

The hardware itself feels good. The clear plastic shell has a nice feel to it, and with everything built the unit feels relatively robust. The buttons and D-pad are fine, although I particularly like the D-pad itself which feels really responsive and a little bit more springy than the buttons. The screen is clear and well lit. It’s clearly an easy machine to modify and fit your own suitable buttons or transform the look with a custom paint job.

Emulation performance is really good and stable although there is noticeable screen tearing on the NES and Sega Master System emulation. Although you can resize the screen ratio to reduce the tearing slightly (START + Right on the D-pad) the tearing is worse on side scrolling games. It is bearable but it means that the machine isn’t ideally suited to emulating the home 8-bit consoles and there are probably other better options available. However emulation of the handheld systems is really good and this is where this little machine absolutely shines. However whatever system you are playing the machine is very quick to load and you can be playing a game in seconds. It is worth mentioning my Odroid Go is running the latest October 2018 firmware and the process to update the firmware is very simple, in that you just copy over some files from PC and upload to the machine. It also includes save states slots for every game and a quick system wide save state if you want to resume the last game played with a simple press of the ‘B’ button from the main menu.

There are a few things the machine could do better, for example the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack and it would be great if the machine had a bigger LCD screen. But overall any complaints are really minor. Particularly when you factor in the very reasonable price.

Size comparison with a Nintendo Game Boy Pocket

Overall

For me probably the perfect modern Game Boy emulation machine. Great value for money, nice hardware and ideal formfactor with all the benefits of modern hardware and software. Even as a Game Boy Pocket owner I would rather reach for this machine simply because of the modern backlit screen. I would love Hardkernel to release a more powerful Odroid handheld machine kit in the future, perhaps allowing emulation of newer systems. In the meantime though I am really happy with this great machine. Thank you!

Really like

  • SD card is easy to create
  • Firmware update process is very simple
  • Game Boy, Game Boy Color & Game Gear emulation is very good
  • Long battery life
  • Modding and customisation should be relatively easy

Could do better

  • Noticeable screen tearing on NES and Sega Master System
  • ColecoVision emulation feels pointless without number-pad controls
  • No 3.5mm audio jack