Something, Something Game News – Epic Games is on track to go the way of Blockbuster

Oh yeah, we’re going hard and deep on this one. Remember when I went after PGI and Uber Entertainment and it caused such a shitstorm that the developers personally reached out to me? That’s how hard we’re going. And this time, I’m going to the top: the Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit.

Yes, I’ve dug through this 365 page court document and it’s a dry read, to be sure. But it confirms everything I’ve been thinking about Epic for the last two years: Their profit model is unsustainable.

Epic Game Store certainly is.

So let’s start there.

To preface, most of this information about Epic is from the document I’ve linked above, and it’s written by Epic’s own lawyers. I will also be using language from Apple’s findings, as well. It doesn’t get any more straight from the horse’s mouth.

I read all this crap so you don’t have to.


According to this lengthy finding, Epic Game Store (will be EGS for the rest of the article) lost over $450 million in two years. 2019 reported a loss of $181 million, and 2020 reported a loss of $273 million. While the document goes on to claim their “generously low” 12% take (and oh boy, is there a lot of self-congratulating on how low it is) from the games in the store is enough to “cover operating costs”, it really just serves to baffle at how much money they are actually spending just to have a few exclusive titles.

Extraordinarily false exclusivity, at that. I’ve already gone into this pretty hard in another article, but I will drive the point home again: Epic doesn’t buy exclusivity for their own platform, they buy exclusivity away from Steam, specifically. There are many “Epic Exclusives” that can be found on Game Pass, or UPlay… but just not on Steam. So the interest here isn’t in creating a competitive PC gaming market, it’s to vindictively pull games away from Valve alone.

As is indicated by their ludicrous spending patterns, they are losing this battle. According to Apple’s findings, Epic themselves admit they will lose at least another $139 million in 2021.

$444 in “minimum guarantees” is how much they spent on exclusives in 2020 alone.


Yet, in their own findings, Epic claims that EGS will be profitable by 2023. How is that realistic when they blew through half a billion in two years, with the latter year being almost $90 million MORE than the previous? Not only that, but we’re talking about 2020–the year the tech industry as a whole exploded due to people spending a lot more time in the digital world for reasons we all know. So how is it possible that Epic lost more money on EGS in the year where most tech companies saw dividends triple?

Because they’ve turned Fortnite into a cash cow. They aren’t spending based on the profitability of EGS, they’re spending based on the profitability of Fortnite, which has become far and away, their primary source of income. This is a bad thing. They’re dumping vast profits into a store to create false competition in a market where the most popular platform also happens to be the best platform. Steam has unmatched functionality including full spectrum console controller support. EGS doesn’t even have a wishlist. Sure, they take a bigger cut from games, but they also have wider outreach, bigger selection, a social media network, a points reward system, a secondary market for in-game items, a VR ecosystem, etc, etc. At the same time, they’re trying to bring down Apple’s stranglehold on… *check notes* their own platform?… while banking on speculation that EGS will actually be profitable in the future with no evidence to support the claim.

Apple’s findings also suggest Fortnite is on the decline, and Epic knows it.


Now, I’m not a lawyer in any capacity, so my understanding of whether or not they actually have a case here is limited, but I’m going to try to break this down in the best way I can:

Epic’s case against Apple is based on antitrust. Antitrust laws are written to prevent a hostile monopoly. I say hostile, because monopolies aren’t inherently illegal. In order to invoke antitrust, you have to prove market manipulation or at the very least, an unethical stranglehold over a market. While the argument certainly exists that Apple has a monopoly on iOS, they don’t have a monopoly on the mobile market. Android is a much larger platform, and has a wide variety of manufacturers and even versions of Android to choose from. While Apple is definitely a major chunk of the mobile market, and most certainly influenced the smartphone ecosystem as we know it, they aren’t the only player in this game.

Android vs iOS Market Share 2020: Stats and Facts | MobileApps.com
iOS is kinda small fry compared to Android in the big picture. From: mobileapps.com


If Epic wanted to go after Apple where it hurts, they should have taken a page from their own book, and set out to make platform exclusive mobile games outside of the iOS environment altogether. Maybe make a deal with Samsung, or other big players to generation new interest for competition against Apple. Instead, they seem to be intent on playing the same game they play with Valve–but on Apple’s own operating system.

First off, they’re losing their battle with Valve, as I’ve already said. It’s well known that the only reason anyone appears to use EGS is for their free games; as is evident by their $half billion deficit in 2 years. Second, Apple’s ecosystem is entirely closed. It’s hardware and software combined. To me, that’s the same as Epic wanting to open up the EGS on Nintendo’s Switch, or Sony’s Playstation. It’s proprietary hardware and software. If those other companies don’t owe Epic space on their platform, then neither does Apple.

Oh hey, Apple’s lawyers made the same argument.


But ok, let’s switch sides for a second. I am clearly biased against Epic, and will fully admit that. I even wish I wrote an article two years ago just to prove that I’ve been saying for the last two years that there’s no way EGS makes any money.

Alright, so let’s just say I agree with Epic. And I actually do for the most part. Apple’s ecosystem is extremely restrictive, especially in iOS. Their approval system is clunky and doesn’t really do much as far as quality control goes, nor does it greatly affect the security of iOS or iPhones in the long run, which is more or less the crux of Epic’s argument. Especially when you consider that MacOS is far less restrictive, and gives developers the freedom to monetize their products however they like. There is room for an argument to be made that there is a stark contrast in restrictions between the two operating systems which Apple develops, and especially considering that iOS is built from the bones of MacOS.

While I do like some of what Apple has contributed to computing as a whole, and I still primarily use MacOS for music production, they are also an easy target for some of their less savory practices of forced obsolescence, and their restrictive, closed ecosystem.

But.

Is this really Epic’s fight? Again, my not being a lawyer precludes me from actually saying if they have a case here, but my biggest issue isn’t even whether or not they have a case, but in how Epic is going about this. They aren’t coming at this from the perspective of an independent developer, they are coming at this from the perspective of a platform developer trying to get their own slice of the pie. There are no good guys here, and that’s the problem. There’s no underdog. It’s not David vs Goliath, it’s Goliath vs bigger Goliath.

It's like David & Goliath Only this time, nobody won - Homer Simpson -  Twinkle Fingers | Meme Generator
Can the Simpsons take a minute off from predicting every word out of everyone’s mouths?

Plus, there are some legitimate concerns about the potential lowered security of apps within apps. Security concerns which are passed on to the consumer, and so then they become the security concerns of the end user. Even if it is a somewhat false sense of security, it is still a sense of security, and people will pay for that. One thing that is absolutely absent from this document are the needs of the user. Again, there are no little guys in this battle.

If Epic had gathered 100 indie developers and launched a class-action suit on their behalf because they have the lawyers and resources to fight the battle, then I’d probably be on board. I am by no means pro-Apple. Fuck Apple. But, fuck Epic, too. They aren’t heroes for only taking 12% instead of 30%. They exploit indie developers by dangling huge wads of cash in their face in exchange for exclusivity, and then put their games up for free and wonder why they aren’t actually making any money. If they were truly as pro developer as they claim to be, why wouldn’t they encourage developers to release across all available platforms for the most potential profit?

Before I conclude about why I think Epic is about to flush itself down the toilet, let’s just punctuate the case against Apple: If they want to win, they have to prove the case for all developers, and not just their own profits. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on the mobile market, despite their undeniable contributions to its very existence. Since iOS is a closed ecosystem of both hardware and software, then they need to be able to prove that this *entire concept* is bad–which means not just iPhones, but Playstations, XBoxes, and Switches must also be wrong, too, because it’s arguably the same thing. Video game consoles are a unique platform that aren’t replaced by anything else, just as mobile phones are described in Epic’s own words. They need to set a precedent, and that’s not going to be easy.

Thank you, Epic’s lawyers for making your own case against yourself.



Especially since it’s already been passed on by other countries. To hedge their bets, they launched suits in as many countries as they could, to increase their chances of a win. Seems like a desperate move to begin with, but with all other countries deferring to the judgement of US courts, it seems like it’s all going to come down to the trial to be held in California, starting May 3rd. Should be interesting to watch, either way.

So how is this all killing Epic?

Well aside from the undeniably ridiculous amount of money they are burning on the EGS for unexplainable reasons, they clearly have all of their eggs in one basket: Fortnite.

Because that’s what this all about. Fortnite is paying for the whole party: EGS, Unreal Engine, everything. That 12% cut might be covering “operating costs” but there’s no way it’s cutting into those hundreds of millions they’re dumping on free games and platform exclusivity–especially if that number is growing.

People don’t actually buy games on EGS.

That’s a lot of faith in one product. One product they aren’t even really claiming is a game anymore, either. That’s the thing that is particularly apparent in this document; they constantly refer to Fortnite as some sort of venue, or vehicle for other forms of entertainment than the game itself. It goes on to mention the various films and events they have hosted, and the creative and social spaces which exist within the game, and while true, I don’t see Fortnite having the lasting platform hosting ability of say, Second Life, where the user has ultimate control over the space they’re in. Fortnite is not itself an open platform; it’s a closed game environment.

So if Fortnite is more of a platform than a game, does that mean Epic would be cool with Apple opening an App Store inside Fortnite?


Epic is speculating that Fortnite will at the very least, maintain current profits or better, when there is absolutely no way to prove that. We know how fickle the game industry is, and all it could take is another, similar game to come along for everyone to jump ship. And the thing is, Fortnite could probably be profitable with only 10% of its current userbase–but not if Epic is using it as a piggybank.

This is where the shades of Blockbuster come in. I dunno if any of y’all checked out the recent Blockbuster documentary that popped up on Netflix (The Last Blockbuster), but it was extremely enlightening as to why Blockbuster fell, and it wasn’t because of Netflix. Blockbuster was set to compete very well with Netflix, but had incurred a ton of debt while Viacom was the owner and were using them as a cash cow. Since they were literally the only name in movie rentals for so long, Blockbuster was both unstoppable and immovable for a time. Those of us over a certain age remember when it was unfathomable to think that there would never be movie rental shops again. Blockbuster was more than just a store; it was a landmark where you’d go to pick up your weekend entertainment, whether movies or video games. It was a social gathering to prepare for sleepovers, date nights, and so many others.

The Last Blockbuster by Popmotion Pictures — Kickstarter
If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a good watch.


Blockbuster was still beating Netflix when Netflix was rising up via its mail order system, and Blockbuster was competing with their own mail service quite well. So what happened? Blockbuster deleted 2/3rds of their revenue when they decided to nix late fees. Not because late fees were that big a fraction, but because people simply weren’t returning rentals, so they were constantly having to rebuy and restock. At the same time, digital streaming was just starting to take off. For a company of Blockbuster’s size and reputation, it shouldn’t have been any more than a reorganized business plan, and a shuffling of management. But because they had piled on so much debt over the years by cash-cowing for Viacom, they had no runway to restructure, and imploded seemingly overnight.

Consider Fortnite to be Blockbuster in this scenario, and Epic is Viacom. Right now, Fortnite is a massive cash-cow, and they are using it to pay the bills of their other projects. Which is fine, but they haven’t actually diversified profits. Their income is still entirely based on Fortnite. If Fortnite has one single misstep, Epic folds. That one misstep could be a bad update, or a competing game. Or being countersued by Apple for $billions after losing their current suit to them. There are a number of scenarios where suddenly Fortnite ain’t paying the bills anymore, and now they need EGS to become profitable. They claim it will be by 2023. It better be, because if anything happens between now and then that changes the profitability of Fortnite, Epic folds faster than a house of cards in the wind–and Unreal Engine gets sold off to Tencent or Microsoft just to pay the debt.

Anyone remember playing Unreal Tournament 2003/2004 and how genre defining it was? Or Gears of War a few years later? Epic needs to go back to making video games instead of trying to take down tech companies with decades more experience in the kinds of games they’re playing. I think we’d all have a lot more fun.

/gameon

The Last Blockbuster Is Alive, And Here's 189 Of Their Funniest Tweets |  Bored Panda
Here’s a Blockbuster meme for making it to the end of this long ass article.

Something, Something Game News – X3 has a New Expansion on the Way

So I was working away at my Monster Hunter Rise review, when I suddenly happened across an announcement on Steam: Unveiling X3: Farnham’s Legacy. Whoa.

X3 is easily one of the greatest space games ever made. Often touted as an offline EVE-like, it’s a dense, open-world space conquest game where you can play anything from a simple trader, to a galactic warlord. X3 Albion Prelude was the final expansion released a full 10 years ago. Seeing this come up on my feed was stunning. I have well over 500 hours in X3: Terran Conflict (the previous expansion) alone.

As it turns out, this is a fan-made project that started around 5 years ago, and was recently completed under the supervision of Egosoft. Anyone who is a fan of this series should be pretty excited, since Egosoft really hasn’t been able to deliver, since. X: Rebirth was an abomination that stripped away many of the things that made the original series great, and X4 still feels unfinished for how many expansions it currently has, especially considering it will cost you nearly $100 to put it all together.

So, you can imagine I’m pretty hyped to check out Farnham’s Legacy and relive some of the greatness that was X3. It is slated for release on May 4.

/gameon

Here’s a cinematic trailer if you’re into that sort of thing. Yeah, it looks old af.

Something, Something Game News – Nintendo 64DD: Let’s talk history of content expansion

So a couple days ago I came across this this rather intriguing tweet from a guy who managed to get his hands on a Nintendo 64 Disk Drive Development Kit that looks effectively brand new in the box.

It was sent to him by a private (unnamed) collector for verification and documentation. Thankfully, all of that wonderful documentation has been provided for free to all of us via The Internet Archives in the form of massive, hi-res images.

Check out this absolute unit.

So what was the 64DD?

Well, it was a planned expansion drive for the Nintendo 64 that just never quite got off the ground. It was intended to provide additional content for games, not unlike modern downloadable expansions. Those of you who have owned an N64 may have noticed an extra slot on the bottom where this machine would plug in to your existing console.

I love coming across stuff like this.

It’s a reminder that the wheels are always turning, both long before and long after the popular games and systems are actually in our hands. We can postulate both on what Nintendo’s plans were for this device before they even released the N64, as well as what may have come had it actually come to market. They sold a couple units in Japan, but it was so late, it never picked up enough attention to actually create meaningful content. Most of what has been made available through the dev kits is very limited, though some sources say it would have allowed for personalized content creation; like taking screen recordings, making 3D animations, and even producing music. It’s fun to imagine what would could have been if we had that kind of creative freedom back in the 90s. Maybe we’d have seen additional content for popular games like Ocarina of Time, or Majora’s Mask, as well. Maybe there are entire games that simply never came to be because of the technological limitations of data storage in the 90s, which may have been solved by a device like this.

It didn’t stop some dedicated modders from making their own attempts at expanding some legendary games with this hardware, however.

This guy plays a full Ocarina of Time expansion on an N64 via the DD and it’s pretty remarkable.


It’s this kind of creativity that leads to new innovation. One of the reasons why I love digging up old games and hardware is because there is no limit to where people’s imagination will go. Between the speedrunners, the enthusiasts and the modders, entire genres and subgenres have been spun out of completely separate and original IPs. It’s no secret that modders have been the lifeblood of the gaming industry as we know it. Games like DOTA, Day Z, and Counter-Strike began their existence as fan-based add-ons, only to evolve into their own franchises which in turn inspired entire genres.

Even in recent history, Rockstar paid a modder $10,000 for fixing GTA Online’s load times. Mods quickly become part of the ethos of many popular games, and sometimes are even made more popular for it. Skyrim was made infinitely better by the modding community, and it is arguably its most compelling feature. And of course, I would be remiss in failing to mention the fan-made and Valve-approved Half-Life remake, Black Mesa.

It doesn’t always have the most positive, history, however. Remember when Steam tried to turn their Workshop into a marketplace and it lasted… oh about 48 hours? Sadly, Bethesda doubled down on this idea and tried to charge for mods as well, leading to allegations of theft, due to modder’s hard work being put on their store without permission.

Unfortunately, code theft is common within the modding community, because a) mods are by their nature, open source and b) the original owner of the game being modded ultimately has the final say in what code is allowed to exist within the framework of their game. If you add code to their game, and they decide to use it themselves, they are really under no obligation at all to pay you for your time, or even acknowledge that you did. So, kudos to Rockstar for paying out.

Modding isn’t always strictly above ground, either, since it sometimes does require some reverse engineering, especially when ripping from a current console game. Of course, that certainly didn’t stop the modding community from almost immediately getting Breath of the Wild working on PC. Mere weeks after it officially launched with the Switch, people were already inserting other and non-Nintendo characters and creating more hype for a game which, ultimately could only have helped Nintendo sell more copies of the game, and more Switch consoles through popularity alone.

Waluigi is finally redeemed.


I truly believe this power is underestimated even by the largest and oldest establishments in gaming. Especially since you see the influence of mods, and even emulators everywhere you look, even from the big guys like Nintendo.

Don’t believe me?

NES/SNES Online has a full-time save-state feature. You can stop a game at any moment: right before a boss, during a cutscene, whenever– save it, and instantly return to that spot at any time you want. I first saw that feature in old console emulators when I first stated trying to play SNES and PS1 ROMs on my PC in the early 2000s. Yes, I’m talking about nearly 20 years ago. You can thank the emulation community, largely accused of “stealing” games, for plenty of optimizations over the years.

On the top, a 3rd party emulator. On the bottom, the Suspend menu on Switch.


While I don’t necessarily condone piracy, purely based on the fact that I am myself an artist, and I believe in supporting other artists, I also don’t see it as the ugly underside it is often decorated as. Not only do I believe that information should always be freely available between people, but time and time again, it has been proven, especially for the gaming industry, that piracy can actually increase sales.

It may seem like a strange phenomenon, but it actually makes a lot of sense from an economics perspective when dealing with digital content. For example, piracy is still as available as it was 15 years ago (albeit, you definitely want to use a VPN these days, which are plentiful), yet far more people are willing to pay to stream video and music content. Why? Because streaming is insanely convenient. That’s what Daniel Ek, for all his faults, set out to do when he created Spotify in the first place. He wanted to create a better service than piracy could provide, and people were willing to pay for it. I thoroughly believe this is how the free market ought to work, if it is truly to be called free.

And yes, Daniel Ek is still a dickhead.


I can admit that I pirated a number of games when I was young and broke. Mostly because I was broke. So as a broke kid, I got to play, Civ V, Skyrim, and Mount & Blade and XCOM… all games which I have bought and paid for since. That’s the other thing, too. Piracy doesn’t negate the possibility that someone will buy the game later. It could be used as a demo of sorts. Plus, it’s far harder to ensure reliable updates, and online service is usually spotty or unavailable on pirated copies, so it behooves the player to buy the game in order to get the complete experience. I also firmly believe that most people who pirate a game without eventually paying for it were never going to buy it anyway. That makes it hard to justify the assertion that it counts as lost profit. Piracy also acts as a potential counterbalance to exploitative practices like platform exclusivity, or arbitrarily raising prices of AAA games. For better or worse, piracy is a form of free speech and freedom of information. Like drugs, its prohibition just leads to it being associated with seedier practices, but it cannot prevent it from happening.

Again, where would we be without the people who crack into software and share their findings and creations with the rest of us?

Despite the disappointment of Blizzard shutting down the private WoW Classic servers, I bet they would never have built their own version of it otherwise. I also bet there’s already another more secret one out there somewhere as well. Where there is a will, there is a way, as they say. The City of Heroes private servers still go on, even after having been revealed to the public, likely because NCSoft has no future plans for the franchise. So, in hearing that those severs are ever closed, it might be a sign of renewal, which could ultimately be a good thing. To that end, piracy is actually creating competition and demand, or at least revealing to companies that there is a market for something they didn’t originally have faith in producing.

AM2R Updated to v1.4.1 | RetroRGB
A fan remake of Metroid II that Nintendo DCMA’d before releasing Samus Returns on the 3DS.


So, how does this all tie back to the 64DD? Well, it could have been a modding platform for the N64 back in the 90s, had it released on time and in the West. It most certainly is now. Nintendo may not have been too happy about it, since it was also tied to an online subscription service, which would have been costly to maintain in the 90s with dial-up internet, and modders would have most certainly looked to circumvent that. But we may also have seen content creation similar to what we see now, just far earlier. Nintendo was very nearly way ahead of the curve on that one. It’s what I appreciate about them, in the end. Even if they don’t always hit the mark, you can rarely accuse them of sticking to conventions and following the crowd.

At the end of the day, innovation is what drives the market to reach for new heights, develop new game ideas, and design new hardware concepts. It’s why Nintendo is still so prolific after more than 35 years in gaming. It’s also why modding and emulation will always have their place in gaming history.

/gameon

Here’s a topical meme, as a treat.

Something, Something Game News – It’s time to bring back the subscription-based MMORPG

Microtransaction stores killed the modern MMORPG.

Yeah, I know, some people will fight with me about this, and I have had lengthy arguments on the topic. The free-to-play model has indeed created opportunities for less fortunate players to get countless hours out of games, while even potentially profiting off the wealthier players. In some cases, it’s a win-win, and there are games which don’t abuse RNG mechanics, or gate content behind paid progression. Path of Exile is a solid example of this, and I managed to pump ~140 hours into it without spending a dime. When I do eventually decide to spend, it’ll probably only be around $40, which I’d say is pretty worth it for hundreds of hours of play time.

That said, if microtransaction stores and free-to-play models were made extinct tomorrow, I would not lament their demise. More often than not, they are exploitative casinos, or at the very least, include gated content and limited progression in a way which encourages spending just to have a little more fun. Fun and general progress should not be gated content.

If a game is otherwise slower, more tedious and less enjoyable because you don’t spend $200/month in the microtransaction store, then the game’s model fails. If the existence of “whales” (those who will spend thousands or more) is not only acceptable, but encouraged and tempered, then the game’s model fails. Genshin Impact is a prime example of a game that many love, but has a dark side of exploiting people who will empty their bank accounts regularly just to stay ahead.

This just isn’t a business model to me. Or at least, an ethical one.


While some may argue that this is a personal choice of the player/consumer, the fact is that these mechanics are introduced at a very young age to children who have no concept of responsible spending, or how gambling affects your chemical reward system. It’s literally gambling for kids, regardless how you package it. These mechanics are especially prevalent in mobile games.

Ok, ok so I know some of you definitely agree that microtransactions can be exploitative–and EA is even fighting a class action lawsuit as we speak–I can also agree that games like Path of Exile can do it responsibly. So, there is room for free-to-play with some oversight, and especially if we can just do away with cash-shop lootboxes entirely.

That said, I still believe a pure subscription model is the least exploitative and gives you the best potential bang-for-buck from a “game-as-a-service.”

While it’s easy to look back at some of the classic MMOs with rose-coloured glasses–since it’s hard to emulate nostalgia without pandering, and it’s equally hard to compare modern experiences as an adult with past experiences as a teenager–there is still something to be said for the rise in classic MMOs compared to how quickly new ones lose players.

lol, Bless.


WoW Classic is huge and was a massive return for a lot of players. EverQuest Classic has over 80k monthly active players, and even the City of Heroes private server continues to live on. So there is clearly a demand for classic style MMOs, and not just because of the gameplay, but because you rarely had to consider your wallet when expecting new content. While you’d occasionally have to pay for an expansion every few years, and some games still had cosmetic shops–most of the time you could expect to have the same experience as everyone else, and could always expect a consistent flourish of new content.

It’s true that the argument existed, and even to some extent still does, that free-to-play allows for a much larger potential contingent of players, and especially casual players who may still drop $20-30 or even up to $100, when they wouldn’t even have considered paying a monthly subscription.

But these days, I don’t see that narrative holding up when everything is becoming subscription based. Aside from the rise in streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Prime, Disney+, et al, we are even seeing a rise in game-based subscription services as well. Like Microsoft’s Game Pass, which is making waves with a solid library of games, and even recently added EA Play’s basic plan to it, effectively giving you two subscriptions in one. Along with Sony’s PS Now game streaming, and growing support for Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google’s Stadia platforms, it’s hard to argue that people are unwilling to pay a monthly subscription for content.

So why should it be hard to sell a grand MMO with a monthly sub? If the game actually delivers content that isn’t arbitrarily gated, has consistent updates and regularly rewards players with events and surprises, then what is the hard sell? Sure, EVE and WoW have technically free-to-play content, but the majority of players pay the subscription. Same with Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online and even SWTOR you ultimately want to pay the monthly sub if you want to get the complete experience. The oldest and most prestigious MMOs still seem to get away with a subscription model for the most part, so why are new MMOs so hesitant?

I’m weary of New World’s current lack of a funding model beyond the initial purchase price, because this often leads to dramatic changes in expected player funding either near, or post-launch. MMOs require constant upkeep and maintenance. They are the original, “game-as-a-service.” I can’t see it being profitable long-term without either, frequent paid content updates, a cash shop, or a subscription. It’s not to say that Amazon doesn’t have the runway to keep a game running in the red for a while, but how long would it be sustainable?

It seems to me that corporate targeted nostalgia and inspiration often misses the things that made older online games good: and that was their general lack of structure and ability to immerse the player without reminding them to buy something. Because even in a game like Path of Exile, where immersion is high, and advertising is minimal, there’s still a wall when you start to run out of inventory space in the late game. Even if it is a less obtrusive and arbitrary wall, it’s still a wall. It’s still a line you have to cross in order to make your continued game experience more convenient, less tedious, and thereby, more fun.

Forget freemium: ex-Rovio chief says “view-to-play” is the future for games  | Ars Technica
South Park actually did a whole episode about this, and how blatantly evil it is.


I just can’t get behind the idea of paying extra for gated fun. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe nostalgia’s call for the glory days of participating in grand space battles with dramatic political ramifications in EVE, or the sprawling freedom afforded in the open world of Ultima Online has summoned in me the opinion that it never got any better than that.

It’s not to say that I didn’t find fun in more modern MMOs with micro-transaction schemes, and shady lootbox systems like ArcheAge and Black Desert Online, but eventually it was those very systems that burned me out–even more so than the tedious gear and level grind they presented. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

Maybe I’m a relic of the past who needs to get with the times and forget about the whales who probably have more money than brains anyway–but I still feel like my empathy for those with addiction problems or children who simply don’t know any better still gets the best of me.

Maybe I just think the consumer deserves better.

/gameon

There, I “Ok, Boomer”d myself.

Something, Something Game News – Neo Geo for Archaeologists

I’ve been working on a new rant about modern MMOs, but I can’t stop thinking about this piece by Eurogamer from a few days ago, about an archaeological find of a decades old Hyper Neo Geo 64 game prototype (arcade machine guts) found under a tree in a California field.

Not only does it contain a thought-to-be-extinct demo of Samurai Showdown 64, which would go on to help set the stage for early 3D fighting games, but it is also the very first of only a few of these ever to be made, with a 00001 printed on the PCB.

It also worked flawlessly right away, which is pretty remarkable for a bit of electronics sitting out in a field for 24 years. Since Eurogamer not only covered this subject quite thoroughly, and even got an interview with the man responsible for getting it running, I will simply direct you to their article, along with the video made showing gameplay, and comparing it to the finished product.

Check it out!

/gameon

I love this kinda stuff

Something, Something Game News – EA Play finally arrives on GamePass on PC and it’s a good thing

I have a lot of feelings about both EA and Microsoft these days, and most of them are bad. I even recently had a big ol’ rant about exclusivity and how big publishers owning everything is bad for everyone.

That said, GamePass is a good idea. While the XBox software sucks on PC, which I will repeat until that changes, GamePass has a pretty solid selection for the monthly cost, and with EA Play’s standard library now being included in the Ultimate plan, that selection just got a whole lot bigger. Not that I’m a huge fan of EA titles, especially those with exploitative microtransactions, or limited content for the “AAA” price, the fact that I can now play them for all-in-one price of a GamePass subscription means I don’t have to pay for any of it.

This is pretty tempting.

I’ve had a GamePass subscription since November which is currently valid through May. While I never actually paid for it (ok, technically $1) thanks to various promotional offers, it continues to get more and more tempting, at least on short term bases. With a lot of big titles available to pay for a single monthly cost, there are plenty of games that I know I’ll only play once, or games I just want to try out… picking up GamePass for a month or two could be well worth it.

Mostly though, I use it to check out games I eventually want to buy for my Steam library, because games are typically more stable there. Although, recent reports say that the new version of Neir Automata which just arrived on GamePass is a new build that is more stable that its Steam counterpart.

I’ll likely check it out for myself.

/gameon

A handy guide for linking EA Play and GamePass.

Something, Something Game News – Microsoft, Bethesda and Epic Games: Why Exclusives are bad


Ok, I will try not to be completely inflammatory in this one, but holy shit, this crap is getting old. As of this morning, Microsoft now officially owns ZeniMax Media (Bethesda’s parent corp), and wasted no time telling us that there will be Bethesda games exclusive to PC and Xbox in the future.

As you may surmount by my intent to restrain myself from writing an entire post of just expletives, I don’t like platform exclusivity. I fucking hate it.

I hate Epic Game Store with a fiery, burning passion and have never spent a single dollar of my own money in there because it is a shallow, contemptable cesspit where competition goes to die. And yes, this is me holding back. I will likely have a rant about EGS alone at some point in the future.

Better than Unebin Games | Epic Games Store | Know Your Meme
It true, tho.


Platform exclusivity is anti-consumer. Plain and simple.

I know, I may have already lost some of my audience due to my language, or because I might be coming across as a Steam fanboy (I am, a little), but just hear me out: exclusivity on a platform that should and can be open (like PC) is a cancer that burdens the consumer with less choice, more complication and ultimately, encourages piracy.

I wasn’t going to go in on this today, but fuck it, we’re here, so let’s do this. Get ready for a long rant about why exclusivity is bad.

First, let’s talk a bit about film and music.

Back in the late 90s and early 00s, digital piracy was all the rage. Napster and other early file share programs were credited with killing both the film and music industry. (More so the music industry, but that’s not particularly relevant). And of course it did. Not only did it change the price of a $20 CD or DVD to free, but it also made it incredibly easy to find anything you were looking for. Both free and convenient. Hard to beat that kind of value.

But as some of us will remember, quality was often lacking, and there was always a risk you might download something illicit, or harmful to your computer. So when iTunes, Netflix and Spotify came along… it was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, I can buy any song for $0.99, or just pay a monthly subscription and get a huge library of content that I can access anywhere at any time. Plus, now I’m at least giving something back to the artists.

May be an image of 1 person and text that says "App Salesman: slaps streaming service this bad boy can fit so much fucking exposure in it Spotify"
Daniel Elk is still a dickhead, though.

Yet, as we’re all well aware, these days it’s become less simple, at least for film and TV. Music remains fairly available across most platforms, but movies and TV shows are being more and more sectioned off as they were when they were on cable and network television. When before, you just had Neflix and Hulu, now there’s also Amazon Prime, HBOMax, Disney+, CBS All Access, CRAVE, Crunchyroll, and a host of others. Most of these have exclusive content which was at one point, (or even still, depending on what country you’re in) on Netflix. What was once a $8/month sub, has become $80-100/month, which is basically what we were paying for cable in the before times.

This is exactly what we were trying to avoid. This is why millennials and younger generations ditched TV in the first place. It’s expensive, riddled with advertising, and sectioned off into “packages” which very intentionally kill consumer choice, because we really have no options when it comes to service providers. Even in a big city, you rarely get more than 2 or 3 options that are worth anything.

maybe: brigid on Twitter: "Comcast is out across the country and it reminds  me of the South Park episode where the cable companies would get off on  inconveniencing their customers lmaooo… https://t.co/PItEGAFXxp"
Been a while since I’ve made a good South Park reference.


So what happens? We go back to piracy. I’m certainly not paying for 6 or more subscription services. I’m paying for one or two at most–and then I will find the shows and movies that are otherwise unavailable, via other means–or just not watch them.

I feel the same way about gaming platforms, and especially those which are available on PC. Some of you will say, “well a launcher is just a launcher. You can still play it on PC, so what does it matter if it’s on Steam or Epic?”

A lot, actually.

First, let’s talk about platform features and software design.

I wouldn’t mind other launchers so much if they weren’t absolutely atrocious in their design philosophy. While Steam is by no means perfect, and can be a bloated, dated looking mess sometimes… it’s nearly 18 years old. It’s old enough to vote, as of this year. As such, it has features that other platforms have never even considered adding that I can tell, and it blows my mind, since this should be the bar of quality we’ve come to expect. Especially considering Steam was virtually the only combined DRM platform and store that existed on PC without any competition for years. It is nearly single-handedly responsible for the entire marketplace of modern PC gaming as we know it.

GameSpy arcade. So many demo games played through here, as my parents  wouldn't buy me any computer games : nostalgia
Anyone remember GameSpy Arcade?


So why can’t we have the same standards for design on other platforms? For example, no other platform has default controller compatibility other than their own. Sure, Sony supports Dual-Shock controllers, and Microsoft supports XBox controllers, but Steam supports any controller, fully in-UI whether in full-screen or desktop mode. Even the Switch Pro Controller, which was never given any official PC support by Nintendo–Valve just took it upon themselves to make it work. No other platform even attempts this kind of stuff.

Certainly not EA, with Origin which has been around nearly as long as Steam at this point, and not Ubisoft with UPlay, which has also been around almost as long. So why should I support their platforms when they bring nothing to the table? Plus, at least EA and Ubisoft, for all their faults, still bring most of their games to Steam, and allow you to use both launchers (awkwardly).

The good people at Valve added support seemingly overnight, with little fanfair.


So at this point, you start to look at some of the exclusivity that publishers like Epic and Microsoft are trying to pull lately, and I just have to ask, “why?” What is the value they believe they bring to the table? If anything, exclusivity agreements have caused actual irreparable damage to some games and developers. The recent fiasco with Hitman 3, for example, wherein the developer intended to include content from Hitman 1 and 2 for those who already owned the game, but this turned into a technical impossibility, because Hitman 2 doesn’t exist on Epic Store, and Hitman 3 is a timed Epic exclusive, so no one can get Hitman 2 content for Hitman 3 on Epic Store without having to individually buy the content. It’s a fucking mess that could have been avoided simply by not enforcing exclusivity. People who already own the first two games on Steam could be enjoying all the content in Hitman 3 right now on PC, but they can’t, and the only honest answer to “why not?” is greed.

I wouldn’t even mind Microsoft having platform exclusivity if the XBox software on PC wasn’t so horrendously bad. For some reason, they hide game files behind complicated hidden folders, which causes games to crash. This is common problem, and I’ve solved it more than once by purchasing the same game again on Steam. And again, because these files are hidden, it makes it harder to hook the game as a “non-steam game” (a feature Steam has that allows you to hook games outside of Steam so you can use Steam-releated features like 3rd-party controller compatibility). So I can’t use my Switch Pro Controller with Xbox Gamepass games without complicated workarounds. Which sucks, because I otherwise think Gamepass is a pretty good idea.

So, when I see Sony release first-party Playstation titles on Steam and other PC stores a couple years after they release, I see a publisher who understands that branching out to other platforms is good for business.

More games on the way from Sony (allegedly).

Because here’s the thing:

People often argue in favour of Epic’s exclusivity deals because they are pro-developer. Admittedly, they are, especially for tiny devs who would otherwise not get the exposure, or financial runway. When a multi-billion dollar publisher comes along and offers you millions for a one-year exclusivity deal, it’s hard to turn down, and in some cases, I would totally say it’s worth it for the developer. Epic also takes a comparatively low cut from sales.

But why can’t they do both? Why can’t a game launch on both Epic and Steam at the same time? Wouldn’t the developer stand to make more money since both platforms are popular and well-funded? It would be the best of both worlds, really. Epic advertises as a smaller, but curated list of games that has fewer overall customers but takes less of a cut, whereas Steam has the mass appeal and larger potential outreach. It’s a win-win for an indie developer.

Stardew Valley is playable on everything including your latest smart refrigerator, and is developed by one man.


Besides, Epic doesn’t do any of this out of some sense of nobility, or “pro-developer” sentiment: they just want their slice of the pie. As is evident in their on-going legal battle with Apple, they just want to have their own store on every platform, so they can continue their effort to establish their exclusive brands. They aren’t fighting “against” Apple and Steam’s 30% cut, they just want to cut off a bigger piece of the industry for themselves while appearing to stick it to the man.

It’s not David vs Goliath, it’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. Sure, it’s fun to watch, but the result is a destroyed city that neither of them have to clean up. Or in this case, a joke of a “AAA” gaming industry that cares more about revenue than QA, because consumers will flock to a popular franchise, just because it is popular. They don’t give a shit about quality control. Hence, the abomination that is the recent Avenger’s game.

Platform exclusivity just encourages people back to piracy. It’s doing it for TV and film streaming, and it will do it to games, as well. In an ideal world, we’d pay artists directly, and tell major publishers to fuck right off.

King Kong vs Godzilla as Donkey Kong and King K Rool | Godzilla | Smash  bros, Smash bros funny, Super smash bros memes
This is scientifically the best G vs KK meme, and if you don’t get it, I feel bad for you.


We can look back to Dark Souls as an example. The first PC port was an afterthought. It was locked at 30fps, low texture resolutions, and had terrible online functionality. Despite this, it was still a hit, and resulted in From Software not only remastering it, but also releasing every subsequent Souls’ game on PC, simultaneously with console release. Same with the release of their latest IP, Sekiro. None of this would have happened had From decided to keep Dark Souls a Playstation exclusive.

Exclusivity does not breed competition, or innovation. It only stifles consumers and reduces potential outreach, while encouraging piracy and other alternative means. While I excuse a few companies like Nintendo, because they often have a platform which is dramatically different from others in a way that makes it worth while just for its unique features… the fact that Breath of the Wild emulation and modding on PC is so popular should be evidence enough that Nintendo could stand to make even more money with an official PC release.

Not that I’m expecting Nintendo to start pushing Mario and Zelda to Steam any time soon, but it’s a nice dream.

/gameon

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild mod turns Link into Waluigi - The  Verge
Because who doesn’t want to play Breath of the Wild as Waluigi?

Something, Something Game News – The Switch “Pro”, and Sony loves PC: a week of console leaks

I’m going to have a little dignity, and spare you the sight of yet another poor fan-made mockup of what the next Switch might look like. Crap like that is one of the reasons I started writing again. There are no images of what the next Switch what will look like, and we know very little about the appearance in general, other than it is very likely to be sporting a new 7″ Samsung OLED. So, while I will be doing a lot speculating here, remember that it is still just that–until we get an official announcement from Nintendo.

According to a fresh batch of information from reputable online leakers and insider reports from Bloomberg, who has been a strangely consistent source of gaming news in recent days, it sounds like production of the next version of Nintendo’s Switch is just around the corner. According to the Bloomberg report, a 7″, 720p OLED screen will start mass production in June, and insiders say it will be for Nintendo’s next console.

There, I did a mockup, just for you guys.


While the screen is a bit of a step up in size, and will likely have higher contrast with lower power requirements, it remains the same fairly low resolution as the original Switch. That said, our reputable online leaker says the console will be 4K capable in big-screen mode, thanks to Nvidia’s DLSS technology. Since the first Switch uses a custom Nvidia Tegra mobile chip, it does make sense that Nvidia would be responsible for the Switch’s new GPU as well. Considering the leaps DLSS 2.0 has made in the last year or two with improving framerates, especially at higher resolutions, it sounds like the next-gen Switch should have no issues keeping up with its next-gen counterparts from Sony and Microsoft.

Despite having a rough time competing with Xbox and Playstation throughout the late ’00s, and early ’10s, Nintendo has maintained strong performance with Switch sales, and has been the number one selling console since 2019, even since the release of the new XBox and Playstation offerings.


While Nintendo’s stumbles have been no secret, they’ve never waivered from trying to innovate, and Nintendo’s diversion into motion-controls was quite a hit with the first generation of Wii, even if the more hardcore gamers were turned away from its lack of traditional style games, and popular 3rd party franchises. So much so that even Phil Spencer of XBox legend, recently admitted he’d never have Nintendo’s brevity when it comes to challenging the norms.

That said, both Sony and Microsoft are looking strong, provided they can push consoles out to break shortages which have been ongoing for months. Against my lamentations over poor software design, I have to admit XBox Gamepass is a marvel subscription service, even on PC, and Sony seems to understand that PC is a viable market as well, with not only recent hits like DEATH STRANDING and Horizon Zero Dawn, but we even have a fresh batch of new rumoured first-party Sony titles on the way:

I hope this is accurate, because I will play them all.


Bloodborne and Ghosts are two games I’ve considered buying a PS4 to play. There are a few others as well, but I really have to hand it to Sony for understand that there is a market beyond console exclusivity.

I guess the real question is: will Sony and Microsoft have product to ship this year? Or at least, will they have product to ship by the time Nintendo announces their Switch successor, which is sounding more and more real all the time? It’s even suggested there will be a few exclusives, which begs speculation as to whether it will be a refresh, or an entirely new console.

The rumoured name of the new machine is the Super Nintendo Switch and I honestly love it. I believe the SNES is the machine that first was able to capture games as more than just a past time, but as a piece of art. Grand RPGs, colourful adventure games, platformers of every kind, spawning and inspiring entire genres, and showing us some of the greatest talent from early developers like Rare and Midway.

Will Nintendo or any game maker ever capture that magic, again? It’s hard to say, but it’s also hard to compare this current era to what was the boom that created modern gaming as we know it. Sometimes, you’re just chasing nostalgia, and it’s an easy dragon to chase and never catch.

/gameon

As a treat for making it to the end of this article, watch this guy make a portable Wii and be jealous.

Update: One last rumour to end all rumours, as far as I’m concerned. If this one is true, then it’s the final nail of confirmation we need that the new Switch is not only on the way, but due for that fall-winter release we tend to expect from major consoles.

According to an insider report from Gamereactor, Nvidia will be discontinuing the Tegra X1 Mariko chip, which the current line of Switch hardware uses. Yes, both the Switch and Switch Lite. If this is true, then a successor would have to be on the way by the end of the year in order to supplant demand for what has been the highest selling console for a while.

Something, Something Game News – Where the hell are my modern, Ray-Traced Mecha action games?

So I came across this video today from an earnest, Japanese solo-project called Vulture – Unlimited Frontier. You can actually download and play this project, too. It’s pretty rough around the edges, but it’s got some fun in there for sure.

We need more modern mechs doing aerial summersaults.


After marveling at the sound effects and dancing robot animations, I was quickly reminded of the absolutely travesty that is the lack of good, modern mech games.

The late 90s and early 2000s saw tons of titles and full franchises, especially for Playstation 2, from big developers like Kojima (Konami) and From Software (Dark Souls). Zone of the Enders and Armored Core series are lauded entries in gaming. I pumped a lot of hours into Armored Core: Nexus, and ZoE: The 2nd Runner, is lauded as one of the best games ever made. They even remastered it for 4k and VR to varying degrees of success.

It’s a bit tough on the stomach, but piloting a mech in VR is a thing.


So where the hell are the new mech games? Sure, there are some fun indie projects out there, and I’ve played… all of them, basically. But many of them lack content, or gameplay, or even just a little bit of modern fidelity. I know, I’m not usually one to complain about graphics, but this feels like the one genre being completely ignored, when giant robots seem like a thing that could take advantage of modern graphics engines.

I always hear the argument that “there is no market for mecha” especially in west, but I call B.S. Michael Bay’s awful Transformers movies still made a ton of money despite being awful. The first Pacific Rim film did, too, and it wasn’t great, either. So imagine if they made something with giant robots that was actually good! Instead, we get Piranha Games clinging on to the Mechwarrior IP so it can prey on those desperate for the glory days of when that series was good. I have a couple of articles from the past about why they’re worst.

It’s not to say there isn’t a small indie market, though. But many of them seem either under budget and under produced, like War Tech Fighters, or lack depth of gameplay like DAEMON X MACHINA. The best indie title right now is probably M.A.S.S. Builder. It has great mech customization options, but it too lacks depth of gameplay.

M.A.S.S. Builder is probably the best thing out there right now for raw mech customization.


The closest thing we ever got to modern mech action was the Titanfall series, but it was criminally undersold, and instead Respawn was pushed to devolve the universe into Apex Legends, which is effectively Titanfall without the Titans.

Mecha seems trapped in its era of 20-25 years ago, and for some reason we can’t do better. But I honestly believe From Software could save us if they pulled themselves away from Souls-likes for a while. Furthermore, if Kojima can sell millions of copies of the masturbatory clusterfuck that was DEATH STRANDING (it was a great game, though, to be fair), then he can sell a new mecha action game.

I elect that the west would eat up a modern game with giant robots if given the opportunity. This is my open challenge to the industry to give us the goods!

/gameon

Obligatory Rick and Morty reference.

Something, Something Game news – Valheim hits 5 million in 4 weeks, and Fallguys goes to Epic

Are they related news? I dunno, who cares? I mostly can’t be bothered to write more than one post in a day. let’s just say it’s because they’re both indie games.

Current indie darling, Valheim is continuing an unstoppable pace of selling more than a million copies a week, putting them over a staggering 5 million copies sold since Steam launch on February 2. It routinely sits at 2nd or 3rd most played game, and has peaked at over 500,000 simultaneous players. It also sits at the 39th highest rated game on Steam with over 100,000 ‘overwhelmingly positive’ reviews. Pretty remarkable for an early access game in the hands of a tiny 5 person developer.

Please, enjoy this video of a boat bouncing on water like a trampoline.


Meanwhile, the developer of last years’ indie summer blockbuster, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has decided to drop the indie moniker, and has officially sold to Epic Games. Mediatonic promises Fall Guys will remain on all currently available platforms, and will continue with plans to bring the game to Switch and XBox. Time will tell how this will affect the now not-so-small dev in the future, however. It’s pretty safe to say as an Epic brand, any future titles will likely be Epic exclusive, at least on PC.

Perhaps I have paired these two because the significance of indie development and availability is important. I have a very complicated opinion of Epic Games, and I think I share others’ hesitation in considering what the purchase of a developer who has made a game that is available across many platforms, by a publisher recently made famous for platform exclusivity.

I’ll definitely elaborate more on that point in a later post.

/gameon