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.

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.

Buying videogames at release rarely makes sense

One month ago Shadow of the Tomb Raider launched at £79.99 on Xbox Live for the ‘Croft Edition‘, or aka the most complete version with the least content stripped from it. As of today the same game is now £59.99 on the Xbox storefront (there are similar discounts on PSN and Steam). A whole 25 percent cheaper.

Indeed with Halloween, Black Friday and Christmas sales coming, it is probably likely the game will become even cheaper before the year is out. So buying early and playing for one month has cost the privilege of £20. Unless you’ve spent hours on the game and hammered it within that first few weeks it’s probably not worth the extra £20.

Now Shadow of the Tomb Raider might be selling badly and therefore not a great example. However it’s unlikely to be the only AAA game released in the last few months of the year that will be discounted. If fact imagine what price the game might be in a year from now. Maybe even on Xbox Game Pass or really cheap. And if you have a huge backlog and can’t play the game straight away then that’s a huge reason to not buy on day one.

If you purchase at release you get the benefit of content discovery, with no spoilers, and you’re at the same level as everyone else. At least for a few days. You are experiencing the launch window when everyone gets to play the game afresh and not posting in a forum weeks or months after everyone else has moved on.

However there are arguably more benefits to waiting; you might get the game for much cheaper, bugs and issues have been patched out or improvements made, you get to see the reality of the business model (i.e. just how aggressive is the monitisation) and if the game has staying power (i.e. not a Lawbreakers, Evolve or Battleborn).

Indeed I wrote earlier this year about really looking forward to Forza Horizon 4 but having not had a chance to play it yet – I don’t feel like I’m missing much. Indeed it feels nice to be able to play other games rather than compelled to play a new release. And whilst the game sounds great it also sounds like more of the same. And I never did quite finish with the third game.

Now of course there are going to be scenarios where buying a game at release makes sense. Particularly if you are buying a game to enjoy with friends or don’t want anything spoilt. Or indeed you are really looking forward to the game. And if you leave it for too long certain multiplayer games can become far harder to catch up in if you are late to the party. A game like Star Wars Battlefront 2 where more experienced players have unlocked all the cards or weapons. Even time spent in a game can make a difference. The Twitch streamer Shroud mentioned that he thought Call of Duty Black Ops 4 – Blackout is a hard game, and people could bounce off that game in a month or two when coming up against more experience players.

With high prices for many AAA games now and aggressive monetisation on many games, you really need be playing the game a lot to begin with. And unless you have lots of spare time and a very small collection of games there is a real limit on just how many games you can play. At certain times of the year, like the busy autumn release schedule we are now in, it can feel like there is a major release every week. So for me at least with new games being so expensive I think I’m going to wait on most and pick up when they are much cheaper. And in the meantime try to catch on WoW or my backlog.

Of course that does mean staying away from Twitch and YouTube and not going near reviews or streams to limit any spoilers for relevant games. However I don’t think that’s a bad thing given just how many games get spoiled this way.