2019 Half-Year Backlog Update

It is the end of June already as we reach the halfway point of 2019. Which is incredible really, just thinking how quickly the year has passed by. I thought it would be good to look at the progress made with my backlog so far in 2019.

When I last did this in December 2018, I had only been keeping track of things on this website for five months but hadn’t really played that many games. With some renewed focus it is safe to say the first six months of this year have much more successful in playing more of my games.

General update

  • Backlog down from 278 to 266
  • Games played increased from 195 to 237
  • Completed: 11
  • Abandoned: 7
  • Shelved: 5
  • Total games played: 27

14 of the 27 games played are brand new games that I have never played before.

So good news on reducing the backlog and the number of games I’ve played increasing by a fairly substantial margin. Some of this is no doubt cleaning up the numbers on Grouvee though. But it is a great start.

At the end of last year I mentioned wanting to complete or shelve around 15-25 games. I have already met this target which I set myself. In hindsight probably a bit too conservative. However unlike 2018 I have made a much more concerted effort to reduce the number of Live Service games I am playing. That has meant not playing Warframe, World of Warcraft or Path of Exile. Which has helped increase the number of games I have been able to play.

New videogames

There has been an eye watering 91 new games added to my Grouvee profile however the overwhelming majority of these are ‘freebies’ from Twitch Prime, Xbox Games with Gold, PlayStation Plus etc. And therefore not really games I will play.

I have purchased 18 new videogames so far this year. Only one of those is a game purchased on or before launch; The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. All the remaining are games picked up in sales or at discounted prices. Only 3 games were physical with the remaining all being digital games. Mostly on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. However 2 games were on PC and 1 on 3DS.

The challenge

So there has been some creep upwards with my ‘Play Next‘ category, which are the really high priority games on my backlog that I want to play next. Now up to 66 games, from 60 at the start of the year. This will need to be the focus of my attention as we move into the second-half of the year. Ideally I would like this number to be significantly less as we head towards new hardware into 2020.

Remainder of 2019

Apart from playing some of those games on my ‘Play Next’ category it’s hard to know whether there will be any new games in the last 6 months of the year I’ll want to buy. Certainly there are still games like Red Dead Redemption 2 that are on my Wishlist. And I’m sure there will be other games being released that tempt me. In addition I still haven’t yet picked up a Nintendo Switch and this is something that might change if the rumoured new hardware is released.

So the videogames I would like to play next in my schedule, are:

  • Finish Metro Redux
  • Finish Mass Effect 3
  • Finish Doom (2016)
  • Metro Exodus
  • Tales of Borderlands
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Fallout 4
  • The Last of Us
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey


A good first half of the year in terms of the number of games I have played. If I have similar success in the next six months it will make for a stellar year in terms of catching up with my backlog. Good stuff.

June 2019 Backlog Update

Half way through the year and for the sixth month running I’ve managed to complete or abandon some games on my Backlog. Woot! Although I purchased a few new games and accessories from the E3 sales.

New game pickups

  • The Elder Scrolls Online 6-months subscription
  • Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far (PS4)
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Xbox One)
  • Forza Horizon 4: Ultimate Edition (Xbox One/PC)

I’ve been looking to play Kingdom Hearts for many years, and indeed did own the remasters on PlayStation 3 but unfortunately never got around to it. The release of Kingdom Hearts 3 earlier this year peaked my curiosity again and The Story So Far collection is still pretty expensive, so I jumped at everything on disc for just under £40. Also after seeing the new LEGO Speed Champions DLC at E3 I finally purchased Forza Horizon 4.

I also picked up a Sony PlayStation Classic, another DualShock 4 and 12-months of PlayStation Plus in the Days of Play 2019 sale. The PlayStation Classic for £26.99 made it too interesting a proposition to ignore. In addition I also picked up the grey version of the 8BitDo USB Wireless Adaptor and a PAXO High Performance 2,000 mAh Battery for my launch DualShock 4 controller (you can read more here). And finally I managed to convert my existing Xbox Game Pass subscription to Game Pass Ultimate for a £1.

So overall a number of new games and videogame related stuff purchased this month.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Mass Effect 3 (Xbox One)
  • Mutant Year Zero (Xbox One)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr (PC)
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
  • Doom (2016) (Xbox One)
  • Wizard of Legend (Xbox One)
  • Metro Redux (PS4)

I have made some serious progress with Mass Effect 3, although with all the DLC it is a fairly large endeavour. I’m probably about two thirds through the main storyline so still have a lot to do. However I am getting tired of the game so it is going to be a real slog to get to the end of this one. Which I still feel compelled to do.

I started playing some of the new Elsweyr expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online. Including trying the new Necromancer class. I specifically created a Breton as a Magicka based Necromancer and get the feeling this is going to become a very useful support class.

I also started to play Doom (2016) again. I played it on PC when it first came out but didn’t get that far into it. Hopefully this is something I can remedy. And I also completed Metro 2033 Redux in Metro Redux and have already moved onto the sequel included in the same package.


  • Completed: Halo: The Master Chief Collection
  • Abandoned: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (Early Impressions here) and Wizard of Legend.

I previously played Halo: MCC and used it to complete Halo 4. So this is really a case of correcting Grouvee on my backlog status. I had a quick look since the relaunch last summer and was really impressed with some of the changes (4K, HDR, downloading choices etc.). That said I’ve previously played and completed all of these games so this is more for when I fancy replaying some classic Halo.

Wizard of Legend has just entered Xbox Game Pass so I wanted to give it a try. I think it’s got a really awful start as the game explains nothing and is very hard. Although this is to be expected in a rogue-like. The combat system is fun, although I’m just not feeling it enough.

So that’s 1 game completed, and 2 abandoned.

Website updates

I’ve updated a number of things on the site including adding new categories with new summaries and updated the Backlog page. A few more in-depth posts are planned for the next couple of months, and I would like to look at some of the Game Tracking Websites in more detail.

Up next

Try to finish Mass Effect 3. And then try to complete Metro: Last Light Redux and/or Doom (2016).

PAXO High Performance 2,000 mAh Battery for PlayStation 4 Controller

Purchased June 2019, £17.99 from LUGIUM on Amazon UK (V1-3 Version)

I am a huge fan of the Sony PlayStation DualShock 4 Wireless Controller. I would even go as far as to say in some ways I prefer it over the Xbox One controller which always felt a bit like a sidegrade over the legendary Xbox 360 controller. Ergonomically the DualShock 4 feels pretty spot on. But one of the controller’s strengths can also be a weakness. As great as having an internal rechargeable battery is, unfortunately the internal battery will inevitably wear out. And it never particularly lasted that long anyway.

Over the past few weeks I have realised that my launch model Wave Blue DualShock 4 controller battery was barely holding a charge. Either going completely flat overnight or draining more quickly than ever. And whilst replacing the controller is an option, for all the right reasons I wanted to see if I could buy a replacement battery. Upon searching the internet there appeared to be many replacement lithium ION batteries for the DualShock 4 Wireless controller. Many of them the same 1,000 mAh capacity as the original battery.

PAXO High Performance Battery package

However the PAXO High Performance 2,000 mAh Battery (https://paxo-berlin.de/) immediately stood out from other OEM replacements, partly because of the strong branding. The PAXO High Performance 2,000 mAh Battery had some extremely favourable reviews on Amazon and therefore I went ahead and ordered the V1-3 version for my controller. If you have the newer DualShock 4 controller with the lightbar in the trackpad there is another version of the battery (V4) available for it.

Arriving from Germany within an incredibly quick two days (one day ahead of the estimate) I went straight to work and fitted the battery. The first thing you notice is that even for a replacement part, there is has really been some care and effort put into the packaging. The whole product feels high quality. With my version I received some instructions, a small Phillips head screwdriver and 4 small hooks used for holding the controller open (essentially look and feel like curtain hooks). I also had a wonderfully genuine note appealing for detailed feedback on the product, which I will oblige with. The battery for the newer DualShock 4 also comes with what I believe to be a plastic tool for separating the controller shell but obviously not having that version I can’t be certain.

The instructions are definitely worth praising. They are clear, in full colour, easy to follow and include screenshots of each step. The DualShock 4 can be difficult to open fully particularly with all the small parts. It therefore helps to see very professional instructions included and not something as an afterthought printed in black and white paper. With the instructions and having never taken a DualShock 4 apart I was able to replace the battery and had the controller back together very quickly. Even being careful. It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to take apart the whole controller to replace just the battery.

I can’t at this stage write a full long-term review, although I plan to return to this with thoughts once I have used the product much more. However after one full charge I am happy to report that initially the PAXO 2,000 mAh battery is very impressive. Even on this first charge it has powered me through my whole first playthrough of Metro 2033 Redux which is a good 10-12+ hours of estimated playtime. And that is with the controller not being used for a few days in between. I now have progressed to playing Metro: Last Light Redux still with two out of three on the battery indicator. It is a considerable upgrade over the normal battery life and makes the DualShock 4’s battery reasonable.

It is worth mentioning that fitting this battery invalidates your warranty however it may not be an issue if upgrading an older controller like mine. That said I am very tempted to upgrade one of my other DualShock 4 controllers as this feels like a high quality and brilliantly useful upgrade. Even at this very early stage. Definitely recommended.

Compiling my favourite games of all time

Around Christmas time I got an idea for a future article on this website; compile a list of my favourite videogames of all time. I mean what better way to demonstrate the sorts of games which I have enjoyed and always cherished? It didn’t sound that difficult however in reality I have found it one of the most time consuming pieces to write for this site.

Not just because of the sheer number of videogames that exist or I have played over the years. What makes the task much harder is actually limiting it to a finite number of games there by putting pressure to be very selective. In addition just knowing when nostalgia is biasing your view or recognising the ‘new hotness’ isn’t that great after all, is very tricky. It can also be really difficult to rank games in a particular order.

In one particular instance I can think of one long revered game that was considered genre defining, and yet I couldn’t decide whether I preferred it to a much less heralded more modern game in the genre. A game I loved just as much. It has been very difficult to separate whether I preferred the older game or whether its greater impact is weaken by the fact that actually I’ve probably played more of the lesser, modern game.

Either way I have at last completed the task. After months or slowly working on this list I finally got to a list of my top 50 favourite videogames of all time. It might not be perfect but for now is probably largely there. One of the great things about compiling your list of favourite videogames ever is that it can’t be wrong. It won’t be the ‘best’ videogames of all time just the ones I liked the most.

Of course even with that said no list can be complete unless you have managed to play every videogame that exists and therefore I’m sure my favourites will have gaping holes populated by games I’ve yet to get around to playing. But that might make interesting to keep updating the list and see if it does change over time.

Anyway over the next few weeks I am going to publish my list for people to agree, or more likely disagree with. On the list are likely to be some common and obvious games that most people love. However there will some more curious and surprising choices. And as mentioned this should help to define more about me and help explain why I like certain videogames more than others.

Generation 8.5

When the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X were first rumoured I was relatively negative as to their existence. As a then mostly PC player with occasional console use the introduction of these machines felt like a way for the manufacturers to increase profitability rather than meet a specific consumer driven need. However as the two year anniversary of purchasing a PlayStation 4 Pro has passed (over a year with the Xbox One X) I thought I would write down my musings on the new ‘enhanced’ consoles and my experiences with them.

I’ve written this a few times now, but PC gaming is getting more expensive. Rising prices on many components including Graphics Cards, CPUs and monitors amongst others have really dampened my enthusiasm for gaming on PC. Made worst in the UK as the value of sterling has decreased (something PC components seem very sensitive too). This meant that last year I transitioned away from buying games on PC and buying or rebuying them on consoles instead. I even downsized to a gaming laptop.

I have a pretty even spread of titles across both the Microsoft and Sony ecosystems. So obviously now more of my gaming time has been spent on console versions of games which has been reflected in this blog. And surprisingly what I’ve found is a much better experience than I thought. As primarily a Xbox 360 gamer last generation, I moved towards PC again around 2012 and had limited experience of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in their early days. It was Destiny that really made me play the new consoles but I think like many I preferred the better visuals, framerates and cheaper prices of games on PC.

The new consoles in my mind are more the machines we should have had at their release in 2013. What I mean is that the more powerful internals go some way to addressing the underpowered base consoles. And indeed on the hardware side it isn’t difficult not to admire the Xbox One X specifically. Smaller than the PlayStation 4 Pro yet very quiet and overall feeling like a more premium piece of hardware.

From a software point of view whilst the PlayStation 4’s dashboard remains relatively similar to its original version, the Xbox One X came with a changed and improved user experience. Unshackled from the Kinect the UI is faster, cleaner and nicer to use. Albeit still weaker than the Sony offering. Microsoft announced this week that it has stopped all Xbox One backwards compatibility work to focus on the new hardware. However Microsoft’s backwards compatibility is a massive strength and a great feature. Even recently I’ve been enjoying Mass Effect 3 and knowing games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have been enhanced for the Xbox One X is a massive selling point. I love Microsoft’s efforts with backwards compatibility.

Often PC fans will joke about the lower framerates, resolution or graphics of consoles. However even as someone who has spent lots of time on certain PC games I can’t really say playing a game on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 bothers me that much. Take Doom (2016) for example. It might look slightly better on my PC and run at a higher framerate however it still looks great on my 4K TV particularly with the Xbox One X patch. I certainly don’t feel that the experience is in anyway worse. Right now it is hard to argue with the value offering of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles versus a PC. That isn’t to say that a console is the best solution for everyone however moving away from expensive PC hardware feels liberating.

And indeed even though many console games remain at 30fps there are an increasing number of PlayStation and Xbox One games at higher framerates now. Particularly eSports or multiplayer games. However there are some games which even allow a choice between higher framerate or resolution, such as the Xbox One X version of Rise of the Tomb Raider. With much better AMD Zen 2 CPUs next generation this will likely be something that only increases further.

Whether either enhanced console is worth it, is a subjective opinion. Some games don’t necessarily make the full use of their extra power and arguably the base experience is fine. However for me particularly in this era of 4K UHD and HDR the newer PlayStation and Xbox One consoles have come into their own and they have been a nice plus. Whilst I will always be a multiformat gamer I don’t regret buying these two machines. Although perhaps not without irony, as I begrudge the perpetual PC upgrade cycle, we might still see enhanced versions of the next PlayStation and Xbox in the future.

My thoughts on E3 2019

So another year and another set of E3 live streams passes by. Often I tend to keep up with E3 more by accident rather than passionately following events. However this year I’ve managed to see quite a bit and I thought I would write down my thoughts. Obviously the way things are presented to those of us not at E3 is probably a very different experience to those actually there. Particularly as we miss out on the show floor and playable games. That said I can only talk about what I saw and so outline my thoughts based on the conference schedule.


Hard to criticise the Stadia showing. They have an impressive list of publishers, games and some influential people at the helm. The initial founders pack due in November this year seems to be good value (£119 in the UK). And the two types of account; Base (free) and Pro (£8.99 per month) make a lot of sense. Also they might just beat Microsoft to market. Like all these things success may depend on the service being good enough and latency deemed acceptable. But there are billions of Chrome and Android users out there.

Electronics Arts

Unless you were in to an existing EA game, the series of lengthy live streams wasn’t particularly notable apart from the unveiling of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I am genuinely not sure what to think of this one although it was nice to see a fairly lengthy demonstration of the gameplay.


Microsoft have been praised over the last few years for their E3 shows. Even though they often are filled with CGI trailers, multiplatform games with very little new IP. Microsoft’s show format was the same this year although a few notable exceptions. Cyberpunk 2077 surprised with a release date and Keanu Reeves. It felt like the big standout from this show was just how impressive Xbox Game Pass has become. The new PC service has been well received and Microsoft were keen to remind us many games would be ‘day one’ on the service. Forza Horizon 4’s LEGO Speed Champions DLC looked brilliantly light-hearted and fun.

There was very little time spent on either xCloud or the announcement of new hardware. The Project Scarlet announcement seemed to mirror 2016’s Xbox One X acknowledgment. The hardcore fans probably understand the specifications Microsoft name dropped but the announcement lacked the impact of Sony’s recent instant loading demo.


Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!! Bethesda’s show used the lure of The Elder Scrolls Online freebies for those watching. Which is great although with short notice and a US friendly schedule perhaps there can a better way of accommodating non-US players in future (1.30am BST in the UK!). Last year Bethesda’s show was probably one of the more memorable. However this year most content shown was for existing games. In more ways than one Ghostwire: Tokyo stole this show. A great concept in the CGI trailer. Beyond this a lot of time spent on mobile games which I didn’t personally find interesting.

PC Games Show

Loads of interesting games shown, but I did like the look of Valfaris (2d retro style platform shooter like Contra), Griftlands, Cris Tales (just looks uniquely beautiful) and Songs of Conquest. Although there has been criticism of the Epic sponsorship this year, the format of this show does work really well. Particularly the presenters. I really enjoyed Larian Studios talking about how they’ve tried for a few years to get the Baldur’s Gate 3 licence.


Ubisoft opened strongly with Watch Dogs: Legion gameplay. And then unless you are particularly invested in one of their existing games not much afterwards. Mirroring a larger trend with E3 this year. Personally disappointed if Rainbow Six Quarantine is just Co-Op PVE. As a solo player I would love a Rainbow Six game to play. Gods and Monsters might be interesting though we didn’t see anything of it.

Square Enix

Square Enix got off to a good start and had one of the better shows. Seeing Final Fantasy VII Remake in action and hearing the developers passionately talk about the game was excellent. Also loads of other games; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dragon Quest XI (Switch), Kingdom Hearts 3 DLC, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers, Dying Light 2, Outriders and Final Fantasy VIII Remastered. I liked the look of their overhead racing game: Circuit Superstars.

The only let down was ironically the Marvel Avengers unveiling. A poor trailer which probably lacked impact in part as it isn’t related in anyway to the iconic Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also didn’t help that Square Enix talked about lootboxes, business model, exclusive PlayStation 4 content and roadmaps before we’ve even seen the game.


A short and snappy Nintendo Direct where Luigi’s Mansion 3 opened the show and looked great. The anticipated The Witcher 3 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 also impressed. More was seen of Pokémon and Animal Crossing, although the latter is delayed until 2020. However perhaps the real measure of the success of the Switch is the flood of multiplatform games from third-party; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Alien Isolation, Minecraft Dungeons, Dauntless and Wolfenstein Youngblood etc. An impressive mix of old and new games sometimes releasing alongside other formats. And finally Nintendo confirmed a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A very good showing.


A quiet E3 which reminded me of the show in 2012 as games like Watch Dogs were shown before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One became reality. From a trends point of view this years E3 Live Streams included; lots of CGI trailers, a lack of games probably due to the impending new consoles and number of existing Live Services games. Although there were a few games which I am interested in but perhaps the fact there isn’t much more provides a little relief for those of us that need to spend the next 12-18 months catching up with our backlogs.

My changing buying habits

As this year’s E3 is underway with loads of new videogames being announced I’ve recently thought that during the current generation I rarely buy videogames at release. I’ve written about this before but I wanted to do some further investigation to see if I could actually prove some of this.

Indeed since creating this website I had identified 14 upcoming games that I was most interested about in the 2018 and 2019 release schedules. And of those 9 have since been released. However I have only purchased two of those games; Marvel’s Spiderman and The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. Crucially only the latter was actually purchased at release.

So I then looked into how many games were purchased by myself before or on the release date over the last four years. I found the following list of games.

  • Far Cry 5 Gold, Mar 2018
  • Monster Hunter World, Jan 2018
  • Destiny 2 Digital Deluxe, Sept 2017
  • Zelda Breath of Wild, Mar 2017
  • Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition, Sept 2016 (2 days after release)
  • Destiny: Rise of Iron, Sept 2016
  • Doom, May 2016
  • Trackmania Turbo, Mar 2016 (6 days after release)
  • The Division Gold, Mar 2016
  • Fallout 4, Nov 2015
  • 6 MMO Expansions – all pre-ordered:
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind (2017)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr (2019)
    • WoW: Legion (2016)
    • WoW: Battle for Azeroth (2018)
    • Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire (2017)


It means I have purchased a total of 10 videogames and 6 MMO expansions over the last 4 years at release.

  • An average of 4 videogames per year.
  • Only one purchased in 2019 (The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr).
  • 4 PC releases were all purchased from a reseller with fairly hefty discounts (GreenManGaming & Humble).
  • Only one purchase was physical (Wii U).

Even new consoles didn’t result in buying new games. With the purchase of an Xbox One X (Feb 2018) and PlayStation 4 Pro (May 2017) I didn’t buy any new games. Either playing my existing library or picking up games in sales. This seem different to previous hardware like my Wii U (2014 – 2017), launch PlayStation 4 (3 games) and original Xbox One (1 game) amongst others.

The last generation for comparison

Now unfortunately I don’t have numbers for the last generation of consoles, or before 2015 as it would take an immense number of hours to compile. However I know that I purchased large numbers of games at release – every Halo, Little Big Planet, All Forza’s, Super Mario Galaxy 1/2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Battlefield 1943/3 etc. And this list would be massive. Particularly as the number of games I owned on Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 was over 200 at one point. On disc alone. And that is not including formats like Nintendo 3DS or Wii U where I also purchased numerous games as they released.

Indeed during the last generation many more games were cheaper and with much less monetisation. Buying games was the only way to get new games to play. Free-to-play or subscriptions hadn’t really landed yet. Also live services hadn’t happened meaning you tended to play a game and then move on to the next. Therefore I suspect games purchased at launch would probably average 15 to 30 a year. Maybe more.

So therefore it is probably undeniable that over the last few years I am buying less games at release and therefore less at full RRP. A downward trend over previous years before.


Of course some of this slowdown in buying games at release could be more about myself, i.e. getting older or being a parent. Or indeed having a huge backlog of games to play. However there are some clear patterns which definitely fall in line with the wider trends within video gaming.

  • I don’t shop at Retail anymore. Even when I buy physical games they are from online retailers.
  • I’ve fully embraced Digital on all formats.
  • There is a limit to what I will spent on single games. As the price gets lower then I am more inclined to take a punt on a new game. And therefore if I see something approaching or over £100 I’ll likely not bother as I worry about missing out on something with the ‘standard’ version.
  • Although I will spend more on a Live Service. Particularly those that are around for years, such as World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online.
  • Easier access to more games. With Game Pass, Games with Gold or PlayStation Plus I’ve got loads of games to play.
  • I’m not trading in games and therefore buying less. Something I would do a lot during the last generation. I think this is a major reason for declining retail UK sales figures tracked through GfK Chart Track.
  • I don’t ever pay full price for PC games outside of MMO expansions.
  • Live Services videogames are making me think twice before buying.
  • I have spent money on Free-2-play games. F2p and other business models are clearly disrupting the market.

So there we go. The short of it, is that I can be reasonably certain I am buying less games at release or at full price. However with Games as a Service and Live Services probably spending more but on fewer games.

Although I am certainly still buying more games though. But these are mostly digitally, often with big discounts after they have been out a while. And I don’t think that is a bad purchasing habit. Picking up the games cheaper, after bugs have been ironed out and business models become clearer (i.e. microtransactions introduce a month after release). It also feels a bit less bad if it takes longer to start playing a game. But it means that I may lose interest and desire to buy a game in the long-run. Something I have experienced recently with The Division 2.

Perhaps what is more interesting is whether this is the same for many other people and whether there are significant numbers who are all buying less games, but spending more on those we do play. Unfortunately that is not a question I can answer beyond my own spending habits.

Games as a Service: the reality and opportunity

The below was first published in three separate blogs in December 2018. I have merely merged the posts and made some small amendments to try and make the article flow better as one piece. I also have made some small changes to try and refresh the content a little bit although some of the comments and thoughts at the time have aged a small bit. For example Destiny 2 & Bungie were still working with Activision Blizzard and Red Dead Online has received some changes. However the sentiment and my thoughts are all still very relevant today. Thank you.

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 have been 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 some of the implementation of GaaS that we are seeing.

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 much 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 some of the new trends and how they are not always for the better.

The ‘hard reset’
FIFA or Madden Ultimate Team are the clearest examples. Every year a new £50-£80 game arrives. And this means that all your previous progress is gone.

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 the lost of all your progress from the first game. There was no connection at all between the two games. This isn’t a problem unique to Destiny, The Division 2 is likely to go through similar challenges. 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 the next Destiny‘. 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.

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 to try to re-engage players but also to pressurise them into spending money. 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 was really a bunch of lootboxes along with a weapon and some gear. 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 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 post-launch.

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

Incomplete games at launch & minimum viable product
Games should 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.

Ideally a good GaaS should have a solid game that is brimming with content, and the money made be used to further add content to the already rich game. However for many GaaS games the opposite seems to be true; launch with a minimum viable product and then patch in ‘held back’ content to give the perception of ongoing ‘support’ until the next paid for content is released.

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.

An ideal business model

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 (sometimes)
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 made up currencies (i.e platinum, gold or x-bux etc.)
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 rarely have need for any of the above, as they aren’t GaaS games or have services costs or ongoing content.

Limited mixing and matching of business models
If the game has multiple tier versions at launch with season passes then there should be a need for microtransactions? Games need to be fair in their overall value offering.

Of course this is likely 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.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Below are some of the Live Services/GaaS which I think currently 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 mostly works. 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. There are negatives such as the best looking mounts which are saved for cash shop purchases and the ability to purchase in-game gold. This won’t be true of WoW Classic though which is also included in the subscription.

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 packs 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 the Fortnite 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 2 | Bungie

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 (although since this was written Bungie has gone independent from Activision Blizzard so is there hope here for the removal or dramatic shift away from Eververse?

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

EA has come under increasing criticism for its annual sports titles that appear to have only improvements in features 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 was a f2p ARPG which was quite good fun and had a small but loyal following of fans. However it 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 about how long it will be live. 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. However when writing this piece 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, independent studios whose games are reinventing and innovating within the industry without the pressure from publishers.

Right now it’s hard to argue that the big publishers don’t have a monetisation problem where their greed is killing something special in a lot of their games.

Far Cry 5 Review

Far Cry 5 is a game I have mixed feelings about. I’ve had it since release in March 2018, but decided to only recently go back and play the campaign some more. Very much a Far Cry game, which largely re-treads the same established formula. However I personally felt this is a game which is held back from greatness by bad design decisions. Most notable is just how busy the world is which feels completely at odds with it’s fictional setting in the US state of Montana. Indeed step out anywhere near a road in this game and it is like a warzone. But no matter where in the world you are enemies attack constantly and it can break any immersion with the game.

I have played many of the Far Cry games and always had some issue that stops me really enjoying or playing them. With the second game I couldn’t get over the checkpoints that would be repopulated with enemies even after you had just cleared them out. Although I don’t think Far Cry 5 makes any mistake as bad as that although it feels largely a retread of the gameplay of the third game to me.

The game itself is technically gorgeous. On the Xbox One X it runs at native 4K and a really solid 30fps. Apart from the early map screen tearing bug (long since fixed by an update) I simply didn’t run into any performance issues with the framerate or the game. Textures and draw distances are stunning. The vegetation and ground clutter is heavily populated and the flame effects as fire spreads on the ground are very realistic. It is certainly one of the best looking games I’ve played this generation. Background music changed to suit on screen action and the game has a neat use of different styles or musical genres. Sound effects too, but audio as a whole is very well done.

Far Cry 5 screenshot

I think the setting of the game is wonderful. The choice of having a game set in a US state was a good one. Indeed the story and the opening of the game feels very solid. It’s not the first Far Cry game to open strongly and this was as memorable as some of the others for me (particularly Far Cry 3). The game doesn’t offer up much diversity in the environment although the verticality in this game world is astounding. There were a couple of times when it almost felt like a vertigo inducing moment.

After the opening tutorial area you are free to go where you want and the game world is split into three distinct regions where you need to complete the story within. I will say the way story missions worked in this game were an annoyance. At certain points when a trigger point is reached the game will interrupt whatever you are doing to either playout a cut scene or force a linear mission on you. After the first time this happens you soon realise it is by design. All of that being said there is loads to do in the world and it is very easy to get lost collecting things, or doing a side activities like fishing or simply exploring. The game requires you to explore to help unlock skills point (called perks) or find new quests. It felt like there was a large amount of side quests to do which isn’t required to complete the main story.

So the game looks stunning, runs really well, has a great opening and fairly interesting story and lots to do. What isn’t there to like? Well there are a few things in my opinion. Firstly as mentioned the sheer number of enemies feels flawed. If it’s not the aforementioned warzones of the roads, it’s the over populated enemies all over the game world. Very often enemies spawn right in front of your eyes or just after a mission area has been cleared. And wildlife in this game is deadly. A few times I died to deadly, super high jumping wolverines that felt more like the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And there is the slowness of earning currency in-game. You earn money from quest rewards, finding it or looting from downed enemies. The money is used for buying weapons, vehicles or parts and unlocking weapons as well as ammo refills. You can also customise your character, weapons or vehicles. It never felt like I was drowning in money and until the late game there is an ongoing slightly nagging feeling of not having enough money if you want to unlock new weapons and vehicles. Despite doing a fair amount of side activities there are still many items I haven’t unlocked after 30 hours. Of course you can simply purchase silver bars (premium currency) with real world money to unlock items quicker. You can also find silver bars in the open world however I barely found any on my play through.

I’ve read a number of times that the microtransactions can be ignored or don’t impact Far Cry 5 in anyway. Your own view will probably depend on how you feel about them but it is hard not to say the design of the game hasn’t been influenced. These microtransactions are really meant to capture the more casual player that is only playing the game for a few hours. Certainly they aren’t egregious or manipulative like lootboxes however the presence of them still feels scummy. Most big triple AAA releases include microtransactions so Far Cry 5 isn’t doing anything that different but that doesn’t make them right. I can’t see any valid reason for them to be in this game which for most people will be an offline single player game. And a full price premium game with a gold version and season pass already.

Looting enemies was really fiddly. You have to hover the cursor over the enemy body and press X (or square on PS4) but it is very easy to accidentally pick up enemies weapons instead. I lost track of the number of times I would accidently swap out my favourite weapon instead of looting and then have to reset my loadout when back at a base. The game would have been so much better with an auto looting feature, in the same way it does for ammo.

There is a challenge system that can help unlock perks to help improve your character, and indeed as you do so it definitely helps increase your enjoyment as things like carrying more ammo, or additional options like parachutes and wingsuits add more variety to the gameplay. There are also friendly NPCs who can unlock in the game and add to your team to help with gun fights.

Away from the main campaign the game also includes an online arcade mode which is user creation tool and includes a mix of single player and multiplayer levels that have been created and uploaded. I barely scratched the surface of this (or the DLC) but thought this was a neat addition to the game. Some of these are available in Co-Op as well, like the main story mode.

Overall I had some fun with Far Cry 5, however the slowness of earning in-game currency, the fiddly control system, extremely high numbers of enemies respawning really held back the game for me. I’ve got to the 30-hour mark and completed two thirds of the game but I’m struggling to find a reason to play it through to the campaign’s end. When the game got into a flow of missions there was a very enjoyable experience. And it was very easy to lose myself and go exploring. And that’s why it so frustrating to have the quiet moments continually interrupted with gunfire or killer wildlife. I can see why some people really enjoy this series but for me some of the low moments with Far Cry 5 were as exaggerated as some of the high moments. A shame as it meant the game was just OK rather than being anything truly special. In other words a reasonably flawed game, albeit a visually pretty one.

Played on the Xbox One X.