April 2019 Backlog Update

The month of Easter and a few new additions to the backlog this month, from discount and sales on PSN and Xbox Live.

New game pickups

  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag & Season Pass (PS4)
  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4)
  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (Xbox One)

I picked up Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag again. A game I’ve picked up before; free on PC and Games with Gold. And back in 2013 I actually purchased a version of this with my launch PS4 but never played it and sold it on. Given it’s one of the most highly regarded Assassin’s Creed I think it’s time to right that wrong. Also in a flash weekend sale, so just over £12 for the whole package (Season Pass unlock everything apart from ‘time saver’ packs).

I also picked up Borderlands: The Handsome Collection for PS4 for £8.99 (reviewed here), and in the Xbox Live Easter sale and grabbed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Although I’ve barely played Origins this discount was too much to pass up the opportunity to play the latest release in the long running series.

As already mentioned on this site I also purchased (and written my thoughts) on the Cooler Master MH751 Headset.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4)
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4)
  • Crackdown 3 (Campaign) (Xbox One)
  • Abzû (Xbox One)
  • Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

Started this month where March left off. The Elder Scrolls Online has been running regular (Jester’s Festival, 5th year anniversary) events for tickets and double XP which has meant logging on for daily quest and playing the game. However I have now reached Champion Points 211 and completed the main original storyline.

Amongst the other games I have been playing are Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel. The games are still as fun as ever and I’ve easily had £9 of entertainment from the The Handsome Collection.

Completed, Abandoned & Shelved

Crackdown 3 (Campaign) I abandoned, and Abzû I completed. So that’s 2 games played and finished with this month. Unfortunately neither were on the backlog as both were via Xbox Game Pass.

Up next

If I can clear Wolfenstein: The New Order (getting closer to the ending but it seems to be the umpteen month I’ve been planning to play this one!) then there are a number of games on my radar that I’d like to put some serious time into.

Assassin’s Grind Odyssey?

A number of prominent Youtubers such as Worth A Buy, SkillUp, Jim Sterling, along with websites like Polygon have all noted that the recently released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is much more ‘grindy’ than previous entries in the series. Indeed a few have mentioned that it isn’t possible to play the main story questline without having to complete a large amounts of side content beforehand. Indeed Jim Sterling went even further suggesting that the game’s progression is much more enjoyable once the permanent XP booster has been purchased (about £10).

Predictably this has stirred quite a debate on forums such as ResetEra and Reddit. With a usual range of reactions, from the ‘it doesn’t impact the game’, to those who are angry with Ubisoft for even implementing microtransactions. Many have claimed that Assassin’s Creed Origins had the same progression and microtransaction model. Although I can’t find any similar criticisms from that game’s launch a year ago.

To be clear I haven’t played the latest Assassin’s Creed game. So I don’t want to fully wade in to the debate. However where microtransactions are concerned there seems to be lots of misunderstanding circulating. I thought it might be worth delving into some of the key points being raised about this game.

1. It doesn’t impact the gameplay and you can ignore them

Not really true. All business models will have some impact on a game’s design. Usually a buy-once model will have the least impact because the developer or publisher isn’t pressured to monetise the game’s design. Just because you might enjoy the grind or not be inclined to spent any extra money probably means you weren’t the target audience for the microtransactions. Indeed Ubisoft is probably looking at those more casual players that only play a bit of games and don’t frequent videogames forums.

2. Just play more side quests

Misses the point entirelySkillUp mentioned in his review that even after 45 hours he hadn’t been able to ‘beeline’ the main campaign. Side quests should arguably be stuff that extends the game or grant additional rewards. With Odyssey it seems to be that the side content has become mandatory in order just to complete the main story questline.

Just being able to earn something in the game is irrelevant if it takes hundreds of hours to do so. That is where the example of ‘it takes 40 hours to unlock Darth Vader’ was so illuminating. It provided an undebatable fact to illustrate clearly the scale of the problem.

3. Just don’t buy the game or don’t buy microtransactions

Won’t make a difference. Neither of these options will likely register as a complaint against microtransactions. If you buy the game but never buy from the in-game store, Ubisoft can measure this and simply increase or change their business model to be more successful next time. And if you don’t buy the game, then it’s a lost sale that Ubisoft can’t measure in any meaningful way. But at worst may simply result in no sequels if the game sales are that bad.

Creating bad PR and being a noisy consumer is the best strategy to registering complaints with publishers. As we have seen with Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Lootbox fiasco or Sony’s stance on PS4 Fortnite cross-play, bad PR can force companies to change.

4. Microtransactions shouldn’t exist in premium £50-£90+ games

Maybe. Personally I think you have to judge each game on an individual basis. Arguably f2p games have a better argument for in-game transactions, but many publishers now use multiple business models to extract the maximum profit from their games. For example; preorder bonuses, multiple tiered editions, promotional tie ups, platform exclusive content, microtransactions and season pass models (sometimes yearly season passes). Assassin’s Creed Odyssey uses all of the these tactics.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a premium single-player game. It is not an online, multiplayer experience having to support thousands of connected players. Major upcoming content is being paid for by the season pass. So why are there in-game microtransactions? Wouldn’t it be better if all of that stuff was in the game and rewards for completing side quests and collectables. It is hard to argue against this viewpoint.

5. Games are more expensive to make and need microtransactions

Are they? First of all without real budget and sales figures from the publishers it is very difficult to validate this statement. Marketing spend is increasing but large western studios are tending to make less games which are profitable for far, far longer. This means there is less unpredictability about revenue, compared to say 5 or 10 years ago. And none of this accounts for the cheaper costs of digital distribution. There is evidence to suggest in real terms the costs of making games are actually decreasing.

It is very likely true that a game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would be profitable even if it just sold for a fixed price without any other monetisation.

The large western publishers are currently making record profits. They have become very good at monetising their games to increase revenue. They have more big data and experts than ever to help improve how they monetise their games. They don’t NEED to do it.


Information is good

Still whatever your view on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey it’s good to see the criticisms being raised are in the public domain. More information can mean being able to make a more informed purchasing decision. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve thought ‘but why didn’t the reviews pick up on this‘ when the latest post-launch problem comes to light.

As Jim Sterling himself admitted for a long time in traditional games media there was a genuine reluctance about raising any criticism of a game’s business model for fear of being blacklisted by a publisher. Now with increased social media and review channels there is genuine critique which publishers and developers can’t escape. And that is a good thing.

My most anticipated games for 2018/19

At the height of a crazy hot summer, it might not be the obvious time to think about games that aren’t out yet. Still here are my thoughts on some of the games I am most looking forward to over the next 9-months or so. Particularly after the recent annual E3 show in June.

Definite

Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One) – a great series, particularly the last release. Now prefer these to the main Motorsport entries.

The Division 2 – the first game was a flawed diamond, but I still racked up over 200 hours playing it. Concerns are that the map is ‘only’ 20% bigger and whether Massive/Ubisoft abandon the game after the main release and DLC as they did with the first game. The first game was crying out for proper paid-for story/PVE content for years 2 and 3.

Likely

Marvel’s Spiderman (PlayStation 4) – looks really interesting but given the backlog I suspect I might be able to save some money and wait for a sale.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – love the first game. Main worry is how riddled this will be with microtransactions. However if single player is unaffected then I will pick up. Makes sense to watch the early opinions and reception roll in.

Would like but no deal

Fallout 76 – genuinely intrigued but the complete lack of detail so far and the possible huge monitisation/PVP element is a total put off.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – looks very much like the 2017 AC, which is still on the backlog so may as well leave this one.

Destiny 2: Forsaken – regret buying Destiny 2 so not going anywhere near this. Worried for the future of this franchise given the pressure the contract places Bungie under. Suspect that future sequels like Destiny 3 (2019) will stick to the ‘cut and paste’ four areas, campaign, PVP and lack of content model that the first two games have been. Arguably a GaaP with some support rather than a true GaaS/Live Service. Also as a solo-PVE’er Destiny 2 seems to be refocusing on grindy, group activities again. Which is fine, but not for me.