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)

Findings

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Do some video games age badly?

There’s a moment in one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpieces where one of the characters realises that some things change so much that you can’t go back to things as they were before. And sometimes when playing an old videogame I think you may experience something similar.

This past Easter weekend the news leaked that some fans had been running a private server of the long since closed down MMO City of Heroes for the last six years in secret from most of the community. This on top of recent bad news about another fellow NCSoft studio; ArenaNet had made me want to play Guild Wars again. Not the 2012 sequel that most now know but the original 2005 Co-Op RPG game that came first; Guild Wars.

You see Guild Wars is a game I’ve played before. Actually I’ve had a number of attempts to try and play it. I played the 10-hour trial more times than I care to remember when I kept debating whether to drop money on the game. Guild Wars is one of those games that I’ve never played for as long as I should have, much like it’s sequel. The laundry list of things I have to do is still large, but at the very least I still harboured a desire to play through the main campaigns.

Guild Wars 1 screenshot.

Guild Wars is still an exceptionally beautiful game

So this past weekend I downloaded the installer and started the process of logging onto a game I hadn’t played for years. Surprisingly a relatively painless process and it didn’t take that long to get up and running. However almost as quickly as I had managed to log into the game I was hit by a strong sense of disappointment. And not just because of the reorientation process, i.e. there’s a lot of learn again but because it just wasn’t the same. The movement, skills based combat and interface felt a step back. Everything felt old, not surprisingly given how long ago the game came out, but worse still the overwhelming feeling whilst playing the game again was of wanting to play something else instead.

In other words the game compared unfavourable to some more modern games in my current library. Now of course this is unfair to Guild Wars. If was and arguably still is a great game but however irrational of me, I can’t shake the feeling that playing the game again doesn’t feel ‘right’. Knowing somewhere deep inside that maybe the chance I had to play this game has come and gone. Perhaps I’ve simply left it too long and the game’s time has come and gone.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Far from it. Although here I am writing about a game I’ve played before, you can also play a game many years after its release and still go through a similar experience. One time I remember in the early millennium finally buying Perfect Dark and Excitebike 64 on the Nintendo 64 years after release. Excitebike 64 still felt fresh and fun, Perfect Dark however felt juddery, slow and archaic. No matter how much I tried I just couldn’t get to grips with Goldeneye’s successor and it was a game I should have loved. Probably not helped by the newer First Person Shooters, like Halo, that had arrived in the years following. I even remember posting about Perfect Dark on an internet forum at the time and being meet with similar feelings as my own. Many also felt that as a game it had aged badly, or as least not as well as some of it contemporaries.

One thing is for sure, videogames do age. Both technically and conceptually. Some naturally much worse than others as some genres really develop over time. But the fact is that we players who play video games do also grow and change. And that can affect our opinions and reactions to older games. And therefore this is perhaps as much a comment about me rather than any critique about Guild Wars.

However almost as quickly as it took me to load the game, my adventure with Guild Wars comes to an abrupt end. Again. Maybe for the last time given that some day ArenaNet and NCSoft will turn off the servers. Although who knows as maybe as I may try the game again some day.

Whatever Arenanet is considering working on next, maybe a game that is truer in nature to the original Guild Wars, than its sequel ever was, might not be a bad thing. Hell I might even get around to playing it properly in a more timely manner this time. Maybe.

Coincidentally this post is being published to the day of the release of the original game; 26th April 2005. This wasn’t planned, just a happy accident I realised as I looked up facts about the game. So Happy 14th Birthday Guild Wars.

The Elder Scrolls foretold of this newb

I’ve written about The Elder Scrolls Online before. However recently I’ve been playing the game again and have passed two milestones. Firstly I’ve hit Champion Points (CP) level 160 on my main character. And secondly it dawned on me that it was just a little over 2 years ago since I purchased the game in February 2017 (PC version).

I stumbled across The Elder Scrolls Online at a time when I wasn’t really looking for a new game. However a big discount in a sale felt like a good excuse to check it out. And part of me wished I had found it sooner because this has been of one of the most enjoyable MMO experiences to date.

Getting to CP160 is a big deal. Whilst the game has a maximum character level of 50, the reality is the whole of the game is scaled to this CP160 level. Champion Points are a bit like the paragon system in Diablo 3 and serve as an account wide horizontal levelling system where you can attribute points earned from experience levelling into new abilities that improve an aspect of your character. At certain points they can also unlock other passives. All your characters can contribute to earning more Champions Point experience once they are level 50. However all gear and weapons are locked to CP160 meaning at this point only rarity or set bonuses can improve your gear and weapon stats.

The Elder Scrolls Online PC Version. Screenshot of a dungeon in Tamriel. With lots of add-ons.

There is still a lot for me to do in the game. Indeed I’ve still yet to complete the final area and main storyline. And whilst I’ve completed everything from my faction’s questline I’ve still got the other two faction quests and zone to do. Or guilds, or the DLC. And 2 expansions I’ve barely touched. But the truth is that I can keep playing the game as a solo PVE player enjoying quests, and exploring the world, whilst still progressing my character. There are hundreds of hours worth of quests.

And that is the other thing that has struck me about The Elder Scrolls Online. Its progression system is simply marvellous. Even at endgame there is rarely ever a time when your aren’t progressing something. For example I may have levelled all my class skill lines and two staff weapon skill lines. However I have barely put any skill points into crafting. So I’ll need to earn more skill points in order to get to endgame crafting. But compared to other MMOs like Guild Wars 2 or World or Warcraft progression feels frequent and fast. In those games it can feel like ages between progressing something and even then there are no points to customise your character or obvious reward. Whilst these great games do their own thing well, even something as basic as gear can flow in The Elder Scrolls Online. Even if it isn’t useful the materials it’ll break down into or gold it will sell for are.

The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t without its issues. And chief amongst my criticisms are the lootboxes with insanely unfair and extremely poor odds. However Zenimax Online Studios seem to be in a good place with The Elder Scrolls Online right now. The yearly expansion format since 2017’s Morrowind seems to be working well. And whilst last year’s Summerset or 2019’s upcoming Elsweyr don’t have the nostalgic pull of the first expansion, sorry Chapter, the game seems to be healthy with active players. I even had to join a queue upon logon a few days ago.

Whilst many MMO’s prioritise group PVE content, I think The Elder Scrolls Online knows a significant chunk of its player base are solo players wanting to experience the lore and world. And whilst it offers lots of group PVE content (Dungeons, World Bosses & Events, Trials/Raids) and large scale faction vs faction PVP. It also tries to cater for solo PVE players at all stage of the game with solo dungeons, fully voice acted quests/storylines and dynamic zones that scale to solo players as well. And in this sense it’s great even for the more casual player.

As a reward for my recent achievements I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered Elsweyr. I am looking forward to lots more questing and seeing more of what The Elder Scrolls Online has to offer.

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.

Warframe Review

One of the most unique videogame experiences there is.

Warframe is fantastic. From the minute you first play it and start with the first movement of your character, you realise you are playing something stunningly different. Something special. So much has been written already about this game, so to get straight to the point – Warframe is one of, if not the best ‘looter shooter’ out there at the moment. It’s very unique, comes from a strong, creative and innovative developer. And has the best Community teams in the business of all online games. It’s an outright classic. It is also the near-perfect example of how a Live Service should be done.

Warframe is a game I first saw years ago when TotalBiscuit covered it in his fairly famous ‘WTF’ video on YouTube in January 2013. After that is was a game I would often see mentioned but for some reason would never play. Probably in part influenced by my negative reactions to free-to-play (f2p) business models. But in 2016 I finally had a chance to catch up with some f2p games that I had been meaning to play. There is only one of these games that I stuck with and still play even after 2 years. And that game is Warframe.

Warframe is unique. Unique combat, unique character movement, unique levelling. It also has uniqueness all through its style, designs, world, stories and numerous component parts. It’s hard to compare it to anything but it’s one of the strongest third-person shooters there is. The combat and visual display in front of your eyes is like watching the finest fireworks display you’ve ever scene when everything is flying about on screen.

No end of customisation options

The mod system which is used to upgrade your warframes is also a work of genius. Collecting and equipping different buffs and bonuses to your warframe can give you huge levels of customisation although levelling each individual mod can take long amounts of time (or money). Also fashion frame is a true end-game experience if you want it to be. A bit like the fashion wars in Guild Wars 2, there is an almost never ending mixture of parts, armour, weapons and colours than can be played with to come up with some absolutely personal and distinct creations.

As an f2p game one of the first questions should be; ‘is the business model fair’. And for the most part it does things well including being extremely generous with content. There’s in-game trading for the virtual currency (although no auction house just a chat channel) and every item can be earnt in the game. Although many of these are either time-limited (vaulted), require reputation grinds or only be obtained from a suitable high level clan.

However ‘Prime’ cosmetics cannot be earnt in game and can only be purchased for money. Prime items are the best items in the game and overall the prices for the quarterly Prime Packs feel ridiculously expensive (£92 on PC, for example). Although you can obtain Prime Warframes just playing the game (essentially the characters and therefore different play styles). However if you are low on time or a more casual player obtaining things can be very expensive. It certainly isn’t the most egregious business model which is often why people refer to Warframe as ‘f2p done right’. However it has it’s positives points but also has some negative points that are more difficult to defend.

And of course there is a never-ending release of new frames, new items etc. Which can make the game just feel like an impossible rat race to keep up with at times. Digital Extremes are doing their upmost to pump out new content but as a game now over 5 years old I would personally like them to relook at the basics. I suspect they will always prioritise new revenue generation over maintenance and improving old content. And at this point the game is layer, upon layer, upon layer, upon layer of systems designed to lengthen the grind. In places it feels like a mess. Particularly the new player experience which isn’t very good. As a new player you have countless questions which the game does very little to help with. Fortunately there is a wonderful community to help out, but alas that isn’t the point.

It’s also a game that should ideally have cross-play or at least have the intention of working towards this even if it’s years away. I would love to play on other formats although I’m not encouraged in any way to do so. However to be fair that isn’t a criticism that is unique to this game.

I have genuinely enjoyed and loved every minute with this game and would wholeheartedly recommend Warframe. It’s a one-off experience available on all current formats and is one of the better games out there at the moment. It really deserves the success it has had to date.

Played on PC / Steam.

I’m outta GaaS with Live Services

Excuse the pun. Somewhere on my Grouvee profile there is an entry for Path of Exile. Playtime around 15 hours. It should be much more. But after trying to get into the game twice I had to really pull myself away from it and uninstall it. Even though I was really enjoying it and wanted to play on.

So why did I uninstall it? I had to. I just couldn’t commit to another GaaS (Games as a Service)/Live Services game. There is only so much time in the day or money you can spend. And given the grindy, all time consuming nature of GaaS games this is even more true.

I remember Jim Sterling saying in one of his recent Youtube videos that he tries to have one service game and that’s it. And that’s probably a sensible recommendation. Although that’s very hard given just how many games have or are switching to this model.

Recently Digital Extremes (DE) hosted their annual convention for their online game; Warframe (another online game I really enjoy). And whilst the internet raved over the new major updates I couldn’t help but be a little bit disappointed. A version on Switch. Couldn’t care if I have to replay everything (and a one-time account switch isn’t going to make one iota of difference). Fortuna – a new location on Venus, like 2017’s Plains of Eidolon. Which were essentially their own economy and grind that I have barely touched. And Railjack. Group content that doesn’t appeal. And even more Warframes. More things to collect. More grind. As much as I love the game there’s still loads I haven’t done after years of owning it. And unless I commit to it much more, at the expense of other games, probably never will.

Who doesn't love Rhino?

Probably unpopular opinion but I can’t help but think that Warframe needs to sort out some basics. Start committing more development time to improving old graphics, old loading screens, UI improvements, stability, removing bugs and crucially making the new player experience much, much better. Also making sure that the new player isn’t faced with a gigantic wall of content before they can catch up.

Of course DE admitted in the recent Noclip ‘making of’ documentaries on Youtube that ultimately there’s a balance between maintenance and new content. I suspect the allure of revenue and profit will always pull them more to the latter.

But this is an aside. With Warframe even though I’ve currently spent nearly 350 hours playing it, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. That there are simply too many frames, too many weapons or too many collectables for me to keep up with. Of course you don’t have to collect them all, but who doesn’t want to have a large library of frames, be well equipped for the endgame or have loads of cosmetic options. To look good whilst being a ‘space ninja’.

And with some of my other favourite GaaS games it’s no better. In Guild Wars 2 I have three level 80 characters. I’ve spent ages exploring the world. But I’ve never completed my personal story. Barely scraped the expansions; Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire. Last year I finally got around to trying The Elder Scrolls Online. And my ‘to do’ list has grown even bigger there too. Despite days of playtime I only have a Champion Points 121 Altmer Sorcerer. I’ve not even got to proper end-game (160). And whilst I’ve completed some of the regions and faction quest lines, I’ve still not been to Morrowind. And the home of the Elves (Summerset) is but a pipedream.

I suspect that I am going to have to make some tough choices with these games. And to be happy with more focused, realistic goals. I don’t want to give up on any of them yet as I adore these games. And all of these examples above will probably be around for years yet. Either way I need to be careful about signing up for more GaaS moving forward. Games like The Division or Destiny scare me less because in reality I don’t believe they are true GaaS games. As bi-annual or three-yearly releases there’s a finality about them. But games like Path of Exile or Warframe will continue their unrelenting content grind. At least until people stop buying.

Hopefully this is a case of less is more. And recognising that actually playing less service-type games might be good thing. For me.