The epic death of Steam

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

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

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

People aren’t entitled for complaining

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

This IS competition

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

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

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

Some inexcusable practices on the announcement

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

Games can do well away from Steam

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

Communication is something developers still really struggle with

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

PC gaming gets even more messy

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

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

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

The good

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

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

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

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

The bad

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

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

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

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

And the ugly

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

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


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

Good & bad customer service

Thought I would write up a quick blog post after experiencing the good and bad of large companies over the past few days.

The bad

Amazon. Decided I wanted one of these new PlayStation 4 Pro 500 Million Limited Edition Consoles. And I knew they would be available for pre-order on Tuesday, 14th August in the UK. Amazon had them available from after 7am and I placed an order. Soon after 8.30am they were no longer available. Therefore I didn’t feel the need to order one from PC World/Currys, GAME, Smyths or Very. Unfortunately Amazon.co.uk had made a mistake and should have listed the item from 10am.

So they cancelled all orders and relisted the item for preorder at 10am the next day. Unfortunately it sold out in minutes (or seconds) – even when I knew of the ‘available from’ link.

They neither apologised directly or proactively contacted all those they let down. And whilst they reimbursed me a small amount after I complained it wasn’t reflective of the error. I still have had no apology or response to my complaint. Ultimately their mistake cost me a limited edition PS4 Pro. I might just shop elsewhere for pre-orders in future.

The good

Bethesda Game Studios. Accidently created a new Bethesda account on Xbox One Skyrim when I already have an account. Emailed their support, and was met with a response in under 30 minutes. They understood the problem, offered two solutions, explaining the consequences. And once I had selected the solution they left the ticket open to make sure I was happy. #textbookcustomerservice.

It bodes well for Fallout 76 players if the CS is that good. Thank you Bethesda.

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.