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.

Google

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

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.

Bethesda

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

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.

Nintendo

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.

Overall

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.

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.

My thoughts on MMOs in 2019

This summer is going to see some excitement around MMOs. In June we will see the new chapter; Elsweyr for The Elder Scrolls Online. Shortly followed by the Final Fantasy XIV expansion; Shadowbringers in early July. On top of that World of Warcraft: Classic will finally arrive in the summer and rumours of a possible new World of Warcraft expansion being announced at Blizzcon 2019 are beginning to circulate. And finally even Star Wars: The Old Republic is getting a new expansion; Onslaught in September 2019. So there is a fair amount of new content coming for some of the more established MMOs.

With this in mind I thought I would write a very quick summary of my thoughts on how I feel about some of the most popular MMO games, given that MMOs and similar Live Services games have often dominated my playtime in recent years. This is concentrating on existing games rather than brand new MMOs that are yet to be released.

Currently playing: The Elder Scrolls Online

I’ve written about this before and I don’t need to say too much other than this is my current MMO/Live Service game of choice. I’ve already pre-ordered the latest expansion; Elsweyr. The only issue is that I don’t feel the hurry to jump into this new chapter content straight away having played a fair amount of the game in the last few months.

Given up on (for now): World of Warcraft

I made the mistake of picking up Blizzard’s 6-month subscription offer back in October and I haven’t played the game a great deal. In truth I’ve barely spent much time with Battle for Azeroth’s new content. My 2018 return to the game saw me playing more Legion content and catching up on old zones by levelling new characters. I’m struggling to find enthusiasm to play World of Warcraft anymore at the moment. So for now a good break from the game is probably the wisest choice.

In addition World of Warcraft: Classic doesn’t hold much attraction for me. I only started playing the game during The Burning Crusade expansion and even though I enjoyed the demo of Classic last year I don’t think I have the appetite for the original game. This is going to get a lot of attention though and for those players interested, whether they are reliving old memories or not, this should provide a fascinating experience. As a streamer recently said this is probably more akin to a seasonal event but will likely generate some interesting stories.

Not played in a while: Guild Wars 2

I’ve written about the original Guild Wars recently saying how I never spent enough time with that game. And unfortunately the same is true of Guild Wars 2. At the moment I’m enjoying The Elder Scrolls Online too much to go back to this. It’s a shame because I do have content I would like to experience like the Personal Story and Living World, but for now it isn’t happening.

Would love to try: Final Fantasy XIV

This seems to be the de facto recommendation for players looking for the best MMO in 2019. And for good reason. Square Enix’s MMO seems to have gone from strength to strength since the 2013 relaunch A Realm Reborn. However whilst I would be keen to give it a go, as ever with any Live Service like this, I’m trying to hold off because of the time and cost commitment. In addition it also sounds a bit like World of Warcraft in that for solo players there is a lack of endgame content (i.e. not even using LFG). And that is a slight concern for me if I got into this game.

Previously played: Star Wars: The Old Republic

I played Star Wars: The Old Republic for a few months when in came out in late 2011. And from the sounds of it a lot has changed in the last 8 years. Indeed this always played a bit like an offline RPG and there might be more content for solo players now. However whilst that appeals somewhat this might remain a once visited memory for me. It is good to see a new expansion arriving in September though.

The ‘not quite MMOs‘, but in the same category

Might be done with: Warframe

This is probably sacrilegious to write in 2019. Digital Extremes looter extraordinaire is the darling of most on the internet right now. And again for good reason. However I feel removed from this game, currently struggling to get back into it. The never ending and constant release of new items to collect along with more group oriented modes recently introduced has cooled me on this game. So why might I be done with it? Well it’s more about catching-up and having already amassed nearly 400 hours in a 18-24 months span I did get a little bit exhausted with Warframe.

Need to play: Path of Exile

Similar to the previous game, I feel a bit burnt out on isometric ARPG games in general which has impacted how many I’ve played recently (i.e. not many). Also the short seasons in Path of Exile mean I feel I need to jump in with a view to commiting for a month or two. And there are simply too many other games requesting my time at the moment. In no way a criticism of this game. At some point I will give it a proper go.

2019 is all about…

The Elder Scrolls Online will probably be the MMO/Live Service game I play most in 2019. With a new Chapter coming and a game I still find incredibly engaging it is hard to imagine playing something else instead of this. As noted there are a few games that are tempting or I would like to play again but when it comes to MMOs I feel less is more, and actually concentrating on one game is the best decision.

I haven’t really kept an eye on upcoming future MMOs and therefore there is a chance something emerges that takes my interest but is probably unlikely.

Bad Influence

Twitch has helped to bring about a revolution in the way we can keep up with video gaming. It’s easy to watch very skilled players, eSports tournaments or learn about new games. It has given options to those fed up with videogames being ignored by mainstream media. And along with YouTube makes it exceptionally easy to watch videogames.

For older gamers it seems clear to me the success of Twitch is sometimes met with confusion. That success is certainly quantifiable in cultural impact and it’s clear some people wonder why streamers receive donations just to ‘play games’. Ironically not comprehending that Twitch (along with Discord and Reddit) are for many younger gamers the new videogames forums. People are just as likely to engage in the community than be on Twitch for the streamer.

The news that Ninja was paid $1 million by EA for advertising Apex Legends, has again really brought home just how MUCH money people are making from Twitch. Likely a fraction of what a more mainstream celebrity would be paid but nevertheless raises eyebrows. Whether people are earning too much is definitely a popular debate that keeps being raised whatever your view.

As I have found myself using the service more and more over the past few years I have started to think about the impact. On the plus side it is an easy way to find out about new games and very quick to engage with a new community of videogame fans through Twitch chat. I have often found that I have been able to easily ask specific questions about new games.

However it seems to come at a price. Firstly, I am very aware of what a time sink it can be. It’s so easy to spend more time watching a livestream than a video on demand but this might not be the biggest issue. Perhaps the most obvious negative is that games are spoilt. The sense of surprise and discovery taken away. In addition I have noticed it’s also common for other popular media to be spoilt as well. It seems many don’t think about spoilers when blurting out the ending to the latest movies in chat. Which can make watching Twitch the equivalent of a game of chance when it comes to avoiding spoilers in popular media.

Also I don’t want to watch paid adverts. There arguably needs to be much clearer warning than having ‘#ad’ in the title. And I am not convinced these streaming sites are doing anywhere near enough to police their own users.

Twitch definitely has some unique content and it can be a fun platform. Not just watching games being played but also real life events. However more and more I am conscious of the negatives. And that’s the point I’m at with this blog post.

So with this in mind I’ve started to make a concerted attempt to stop using Twitch. Overall it feels like it will be a more worthwhile use of my time and may help playing my actual games instead.

Anthem Demo (Early Impressions)

I recently put Anthem in my most anticipated games for 2019, and so having finally played the open demo (1st Feb to 3rd Feb) I thought I would write up my initial thoughts. In summary there are a few good things but I also have some major concerns at this stage.

Played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Good

  • The ‘verticality’ of the world. Rushing down the huge cliffs and waterfalls, or climbing high to get to a top of a mountain feels great. Also opens up some really interesting tactics in firefights, like being able to take refuge on a high vantage point. Makes games like The Division feel really flat in comparison.
  • Flight works well. Controls take some getting used to, but being able to quickly fly around or get to another side of a firefight is fun and different.
  • Combat feels good. The weapons feel impactful and some of the special abilities are great (R1 ability in particular).
  • Freeplay mode with world events and organic grouping works well. Obviously very similar to Destiny.

The bad

  • The game isn’t ready. Sure it might be an older fork of development but there are too many things wrong to suggest this will be ready at release. Even a demo should be fit for purpose. Particularly if it’s part of a paid package (pre-order bonus). I’ve had disconnects, crash to dashboard, sound cut out (had to close application) and graphics glitch so textures displayed incorrectly. Destiny in it’s alpha and beta demos, and The Division open demo were very stable by comparison.
  • Performance isn’t looking great. Drops below 30fps on the enhanced consoles and the framerate fluctuates. Digital Foundry did a great summary of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X performance. DF’s similar analysis of the PC version sounds like the game has very high system requirements too.
  • Not solo friendly. This might just be true of the demo. But as a solo player I could not get past the final part of the second main mission and struggled in certain sections. The demo doesn’t appear to scale in anyway. Hopefully this isn’t a thing in the full game, otherwise this is going to be a group co-op shooter only with limted endgame content for solo players (although this is often true of games of this ilk).
  • Microtransactions. The recent reddit discovery did highlight that even if prices are £10, £20 or £30, that a lot of customisation options will likely be locked behind long grinds or real world money.
  • Menus are a bit messy. UI feels slightly over flashy and clunky in places. Having to frequently back out of screens.
  • Loading times slightly long and screens too frequent.
  • Variety, or lack of. Will there be enough in the game? It felt like the core gameplay loop might get old quickly from the demo.

What the demo has succeeded at, even after a few hours, is making me lose interest in this game. Maybe one to check out later on. This has not been a good advert for the game.

After release it should become clear how the microtransactions work, how large the game world is, how much solo friendly content their is, whether the servers hold and if the game’s stability is improved. As ever we won’t really see any of this detail until after launch and reviews as players have the game in their hands.

A changing of the guard

Over the festive period the retailer HMV in the UK announced it was going into administration. Whilst in no way personally affected it did trigger some slightly irrational thoughts on what format I wanted to still buy films on. In the run up to Christmas I had purchased a few movies on Blu-Ray discs. However seeing the only national physical entertainment retailer in trouble (again) made me question whether it is time to finally adopt buying movies on digital. In part because there will inevitably be less choice where to buy a movie on disc as time goes by.

I’ve been a Steam user since the very early days (17 Sept 2003 – only 6 days missed!). Over the years I’ve watched Steam grow from a multiplayer network replacing the old WON system to the feature rich digital platform we know today. It continues to be the only PC Storefront or Gaming Client that automatically starts with my PC and has since the Windows XP days. It is where I gravitate towards when looking to buy any new PC game. But slowly it feels like that relationship might be under strain.

The news that Ubisoft won’t be releasing it games on Steam anymore isn’t necessarily a surprise. However the manner Ubisoft reached an agreement with Epic and will release games on the Epic Games Store alongside its own gaming client; UPlay certainly was a shock. It now means that some of the biggest western Publishers; Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda Games Studios no longer release games on Steam.

It’s probably only a matter of time for 2K and Take 2 Interactive (Rockstar) to follow. Indeed what are the odds now for Borderlands 3, an Unreal Engine game to follow suite. Probably a very likely outcome.

So why does this matter? One of the strengths of Steam was arguably having all your PC games in one place. Along with automatic updates, friends, voice chat etc. However if the games you want aren’t on the platform, then it doesn’t matter how good or feature rich the store is.

Certainly I’ve not been completely bought in to everything Valve has implemented on Steam. I hate the microtransactions they have implemented within the store itself (cards for badges). And crucially I also feel they missed a trick with in-game comms and streaming that has seen the rise of the new standards; Discord and Twitch.

Therefore for the first time ever I suddenly feel like I’m faced with the question of where should I be buying my next PC game from and hence my opening paragraph. Like my decision with movies for the first time ever I question if Steam is the best place to buy games. For example would Humble or GOG be better. With large western publishers and even some of the (bigger) indies rushing to a new PC Storefront there is now uncertainty around the Steam ecosystem. And certainly the fact developers receive 88% of revenue from the Epic Game Store is something that I am happy to support. But it is so disappointing that the dream of all games in one place is now most definitely over (arguably it was anyway) and it’s a case of installing multiply different PC gaming clients just to play a PC game.

I won’t be rushing overnight to rebuy all my games on any new PC Storefront but all of this does make me slightly lose faith in PC gaming. Along with the increase in certain hardware prices this is making me not inclined to buy new PC games. And indeed thankful that on my consoles all my games are in one place. With only one store to buy from.

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.

The one negative though is that the best mounts which are usually unique new models are saved for cash shop purchases.

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 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 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 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 western publishers don’t have a monetisation problem where their greed is killing something special in a lot of their games.

Titanfall 2 Review

A great first-person shooter, that is perhaps almost perfect.

I rather enjoyed the first Titanfall. Although I didn’t pour hours into it, it did give me around 15-20 hours of some great entertainment. Unfortunately like many games of its ilk I got bored and moved on to other things.

In some ways I felt Titanfall was a true follow-up to Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Particularly given how so many of the people made both games after the founders of Infinity Ward split off to form Respawn Studios. Whilst Call of Duty settled into yearly map packs, Titanfall delivered a more evolutionary take on the twitch run and gun gameplay.

I picked Titanfall 2 up for just over £8 on Xbox One to primarily enjoy the campaign (I will conveniently forget about also buying it on PC, sigh). And in the main really enjoyed it. Game looks, sounds and feels perfect at times. Graphics are stunning on Xbox One X at UHD.

The campaign took me just over 10 hours to complete, so it’s clear I took a bit longer than most to complete it. The campaign is definitely worth a play through at least once primarily because the ‘gunplay’ is just so good. Everything feels right, not just whether it’s the shooting, running about, the wall running and parkour or the sense of power when you board your titan. The pacing and level design is pretty much spot on although I have a few quibbles such as the ‘show where to run’ as too much signposting, the boss battles being overly easy apart from one, collectables being lazy and the ending section being annoying. That said these are very minor complaints.

With regards to the multiplayer I can’t really comment in that I have little interest to try it more. It’s very good and feels like an evolution of the first game with lots of improvements, but I’ll probably move onto other games now. I do wish Titanfall 2 had more PVE content because as it feels that technically it’s there and ready for it.

Anyway a great sequel. The campaign is worth playing if you enjoy single-player First Person Shooter games and the multiplayer is one of the best out there.

Played on Xbox One X. Previously played on PC.

Madden ultimate money

On Tuesday YouTuber Angry Joe released a video (link here) that is very critical of Electronic Arts (EA) and Madden 2019. Suggesting prioritisation on the Ultimate Team and microtransactions rather than working on long standing issues, or improving the overall game. I can’t really argue with the points he made. And of course this video could just as easily been about FIFA.

For some reason after this year’s E3 show I seemed to read many people think that EA has given up on lootboxes. When in reality it has done no such thing. Whilst lootbox mechanics suit sports games more than other titles, I will never personally support any games where you can use real money to purchase lootboxes.

And the only addition I would make to Angry Joe’s video, is that Madden (or FIFA) are far from the only free2play, freemium games masquerading as $80+ games. Games like Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, GTA Online amongst others are also free2play games that shouldn’t be charging any entry fee in their current form. Remember high quality shouldn’t mean the game can’t be free2play.

Either way it is good to see EA getting more heat and criticism for it’s overly aggressive business models. Hopefully Angry Joe’s video helps.