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.

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.

February 2019 Update

Weather getting warmer again another solid month of progress on videogames I own. Should be easier now the NFL American Football season is over and Sunday nights are free again.

New game pickups

  • Divinity Original Sin: Enhanced Edition (PS4)

I already have the original Divinity Original Sin on PC, but for less than £8 I’d prefer to play this on console. Otherwise I just purchased an Xbox One Controller Wireless Controller (Blue).

Not game related but purchased the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones. I’ve always wanted to try some Beyerdynamic headphones and whilst yet another pair of open, wide soundstage headphones I think these might be brighter and more lively than my existing AKG K702 and Sennheiser HD598 headphones. More thoughts here.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Abzu (Xbox One)
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
  • Anthem (Demo) (PS4)
  • The Division 2 Private Beta (Xbox One)
  • Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (Xbox One)
  • World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth
  • Rocket League (PS4)
  • Hammerwatch (PC)

I made some more progress with the Wolfenstein: The New Order – maybe about two thirds through the game. I tried Anthem (Demo) and The Division 2 Private Beta earlier in the month and wasn’t particularly taken with either, although for different reasons in each case.

Some games started on Xbox Game Pass; Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden and Abzu. Other than that it’s been playing games I’d already started, such as World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth, Rocket League and Hammerwatch.

Completed, Abandoned & Shelved

Completed FTL, Unreal Tournament and Hammerwatch. Although in reality you never complete a game like FTL the fact is I’ve done a few runs through the game now and feel like I’ve seen enough of it. Unreal Tournament was something I played with for a few hours and was great fun but unless it somehow miraculously rises from the ashes I can’t see me playing this again in the near future. After completing one playthrough I published my thoughts on Hammerwatch recently.

So completed 3 games this month.

Updates

A number of articles and posts written and published on the site, including a few long term hardware reviews.

Up next

To try and get further or complete Wolfenstein. There are the few Xbox Game Pass games I’ve recently started that I need to play further. I also want to check out Crackdown 3 as I loved the original game.

And finally I have a couple of new accessories arriving soon which I will likely draft my thoughts on over the next few weeks.

2018 Review: In numbers (not that many!)

As we are coming up for the end of year I wanted to have a look at my progress against my backlog since I set this website up around five months ago. Originally my intention was to setup up a WordPress site from scratch, learn new skills, as well as being able to track how many games I own, or have access to. Sites like Grouvee are very good at logging games but generally very bad at a timeline view.

2018 in numbers

  • Backlog: Increased by 12 (264 to 278)
  • Played: Increased by 3 (192 to 195)
  • Completed = 2
  • Abandoned = 1
  • Played = 6

So overall not that many games played, or completed although as a whole I think I managed to play a total of 17 games this year. However I only set-up tracking along with this site in July, so there may be a chance that I’ve missed a game or two. However this number excludes retro games like Tetris on the Nintendo Game Boy.

There is a discrepancy in my figures on Grouvee because I’ve realised I have played 6 new games for the first time since setting up the website: Rage, Fortnite: Save the World, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Forza Motorsport 7, Dying Light and Starlink. Everything else was either played earlier in the year or I had started playing before. I believe the discrepancy is simply that I am not regarding a game as played on Grouvee until I am done with it (i.e. Rage).

However what is clear is that I have been playing GaaS/Live Services games and when I’m not playing these sort of games I do speed-up considerably at progressing in other games. I’ve written about this before. In addition other projects such as buying a new PC, upgrading my Unraid server, house DIY and work etc. have also played their part in limiting my time playing games.

With regards to purchasing new games it doesn’t appear too bad. However some of this is rebuying games on Xbox Live or Playstation Network which I already owned on PC and therefore hasn’t increased the numbers. Also free games from Games With Gold, PlayStation Plus or Game Pass reduced my new purchasing a little bit. Although I don’t add these onto my backlog figures, overall I nearly acquired 100 new games in the time of setting up the website. Most of these will be free games.

2019: the year ahead

I suspect it going to be hard to ignore The Division 2 in late February although I would like to avoid the launch and see what the game is like first. Partly because of how other similar games like Destiny 2 went, but also to allow time for microtransactions and the overall business model to settle. There are a few games like Anthem and Days Gone that are also intriguing to me.

Beyond that I missed out on a number of big hitters from the second half of this year that are on my Wishlist. Namely Forza Horizon 4, Marvel’s Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2. Depending on sales these might be games I pick up sooner than later. I do have access to Forza Horizon 4 via Game Pass but am put off by not having the VIP pack (earn in-game credits 2 times faster).

I would also like to buy a Nintendo Switch but with a hardware revision rumoured in the second half of 2019 this will be put on-hold for now.

And other than that probably continuing to move away from PC gaming. I am still playing many PC games but the fact is with the sharp increase in the cost of PC components (particularly in the UK) I have therefore stopped buying as many games on PC. And this is something I intend to continue with as we see new Sony and Microsoft consoles in the near future. Dying Light, Rage and Inside are all good examples of games I purchased or played on console that previously I would have picked up on PC.

Realistic targets

It would be nice to complete or shelve somewhere in the region of 15 to 25 videogames in 2019. I think that might be hard but achievable. Certainly I would like to have played at least double the number from this year. As the first full calendar year of monitoring this will be interesting to see if I can meet this target.

Anyway an early ‘Happy New Year!’ for everyone who read this far. Thank you.

The storm at Blizzard

There’s a wonderful moment in the 2011 movie Margin Call, when Jeremy Iron’s character states:

I’m here for one reason and one reason alone. I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid that I don’t hear – a – thing. Just… silence.

The line is in reference to the global downturn. It’s a moment that springs to mind off some of the recent Blizzard news simply because it feels like not only are times a changing for them, but there is probably more pain on the horizon for this studio.

This post is of course a reaction to the news that Heroes of the Storm (HotS) is effectively being put into maintenance mode and developers being moved onto other projects. Whilst the official announcement confirms new content was still coming but that the pace would change, in reality this probably means they are simply releasing what they have developed already before making the game stable over its last few years.

Obviously for many fans of the game this news has been met with disappointment. It makes sense to halt development of something if it’s not financially viable. Although without transparency of visibility of the financials one has to trust this wasn’t a case of ‘unrealistic targets’ being set.

This news comes off the back of the recent report from Jason Schreier at Kotaku which had already referenced cost cutting and pressure from the parent company; Activision, to produce new games and increase revenue off the back of the falling engagement numbers. And that after the PR disaster that was Blizzcon 2018.

Whilst Blizzard triumphed mobile phone games after the public outcry to Diablo Immortal, the reality is I suspect it is choosing an easier platform to develop for in the hope of generating revenue sooner. The partnership or outsourcing of the Diablo mobile game to NetEase seems to fit in with this as well. As well as porting existing games to the Nintendo Switch. As much as it is common sense porting Diablo 3 to Nintendo Switch, it will have been a relatively easy and quick venture for Blizzard. Ultimately all of these projects are much easier than bringing a new game, like Diablo 4, to market.

HotS was only 3 years old. Once upon a time you could probably regard it as risk free committing time and money to any Blizzard game. However now there will be people that have spent hundreds on HotS with no real recourse for refunds. Even if it was recent spending in-game. I can’t help but feel that with no new games since Overwatch in 2016, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth coming under criticism, that in many ways Blizzard games are all trending downwards. Certainly there will be other nervous Blizzard communities off the back of this news.

With their co-founder leaving two months ago and the challenges Blizzard faces it feels like a new studio might emerge and its games be ones that I don’t care for as much.

Whilst the big western publishers have enjoyed record revenues in recent years, therein lies the problem. And that is the unrealistic year-on-year growth that is expected. I can’t help but feel the pressure Blizzard are coming under is going to similarly affect other studios if the publishers revenues streams start to stall in the next few years.

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.

Live Services – Part 2: An ideal business model

Previously I wrote about GaaS games and some of the trends that we are now commonly witnessing as videogame consumers. In this second part I wanted to think about what I believe make the best business models when it comes to monetisation for a GaaS. 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 (maybe)
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 V-Bucks, Platinum or Gold
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 have no-need for any of the above, as they aren’t GaaS games.

No mixing and matching of business models.
If the game has multiple tier versions at launch with season passes then there should be no-need for microtransactions. Games need to be fair in their overall value offering.


Of course this is all 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.

November 2018 Update

A load of new games in the Black Friday offers.

New game pickups

  • Path of Exile Shadow Stalker Pack (PC)
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar (PS4)
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition Game of the Year Edition (PS4)
  • Starlink Starter Pack and a couple of ship packs (Xbox & Switch)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration (Xbox)
  • Batman: Arkham Knight Premium Edition (PS4)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (PS4)
  • Brothers: a Tale of two Sons (PS4)

What should have been a quiet month went a little bit crazy during Black Friday deals with some unplanned purchases. I have purchased Starlink Starter pack for Xbox One and Switch! With two of the exclusive ships packs (Scramble & Cerberus). I don’t necessarily want to spend on a full set or anything but quite like the look of the game and the concept. A game up until now I took no interest in.

I also picked up Battle Chasers and Dragon Age: Inquisition Game of the Year Edition as they were under £15 for both in a pre-Black Friday PSN promotion (and no I didn’t want the other games in the THQ Nordic PlayStation Humble Bundle). I thought Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration for £9 was exceptional value and too good to pass up.

Having got into Path of Exile I also purchased some stash and currency tabs. And just today took advantage of some of the cheap prices in the PSN Flash Sale after Cyber Monday to pick up Arkham Knight, What Remains of Edith Finch and Brothers. I owned Arkham Knight on disc when it first came out but sold it on when I barely had a chance to play it and realised there would be a complete version at some point. Under ten pounds for the Premium edition is a bargain.

Been playing (Grouvee Link)

  • World of Warcraft including the WoW Classic Blizzcon demo
  • Path of Exile
  • Hearthstone
  • Tetris

Spent a few hours playing the WoW Classic demo. Really interesting seeing the vanilla experience. Very stark contrast to what current WoW is. Combat is much slower paced, stacking skills and buffs etc as you wait for hits to land. In fact everything much slower; movement, questing and levelling too. I only played from The Burning Crusade so not sure if I’ll play this, but was really fun to play.

As noted in a recent blog post I’ve picked up Path of Exile again. Put about 15 hours or so into the Delve season, but holding off for the new season now. And finally I’ve been playing a lot of Tetris on the Game Boy. That game never gets old.

Completed/Abandoned

For the third month in a row, no games completed or abandoned…woops. WoW, playing with retro games and now PoE are to blame for that.

Updates & Up next

A few minor edits to the site, although the main one being changing ‘shelved’ to ‘abandoned’ on relevant pages – including this one.

With Christmas looming a number of games I would love to play. That said with my Game Pass subscription expiring soon I’m going to prioritise completing Rage if I can.