This Dumb Industry: Another PC Golden Age?

By Shamus
on Nov 14, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Back in September a reader emailed me asking about my 2008 article The Golden Age of PC Gaming. That article can kind of be summed up in one image:

Yes, the image quality is terrible. Sorry. I made this image in 2008.

Yes, the image quality is terrible. Sorry. I made this image in 2008.

Games started out in the dark ages with simple gameplay and they were were hard to get runningI have to reboot with a special version of config.sys and autoexec.bat just to have enough memory to get this thing running.. Then we entered this wonderful age where games basically worked and we were getting several legendary titles a yearWe got Half-Life, Grim Fandango, Thief, Baldur’s Gate, Starcraft, Unreal, Starcraft Brood War, Descent Freespace, Fallout 2, and Forsaken. And that was just 1998!. Then we entered the stupid age of DRM, day-one DLC, buggy launches, and PC titles being dumbed down in pursuit of the console audience. You can’t really draw a hard line between these eras and the whole thing is pretty subjective, but in my own reckoning I’d say the golden age ran from 1998 to 2004. You could probably convince me to move the endpoints a couple of years in either direction, but you get the idea.

I didn’t ask permission to use the reader’s name, so I’ll call them KC. The email KC sent was too long to quote in its entirety, but it boiled down to the question of “Could we be in another PC golden age?” Certainly things are better now than they were in 2008. But are they good enough to qualify as a golden age?

To answer this question, let’s look at a few industry markers and see how things are now and compare it to how things were back in the supposed good old days.

Digital Rights Management

Why make a better padlock when we can just make it EXTRA illegal to open crappy ones?

Why make a better padlock when we can just make it EXTRA illegal to open crappy ones?

Back in the golden age, you could buy a game on disk and it was yours for as long as you could keep it running. Even if the developer, publisher, and distributor all perished in an asteroid strike, your copy of the game would remain yours. This is obviously no longer the case. Today the games are distributed digitally. Even if you buy a disk in a store, it’s very likely linked to some sort of online storefront like Steam or Origin, and if that service succumbs to an asteroid then you lose the ability to install and play your game. These days you’re buying a cardboard box that contains nothing more than a pinky promise that you’ll be allowed to play a game.
Buying digitally generally involves paying the same, and you don’t even get the box. “Games as service” means the distributor can stop serving you and your access to the game will end with no recourse.

So it looks like DRM won, right?

On the other hand, we’re better off now than we were a few years ago. For a stretch in 2008 or so, it really did look like PC gaming was set to embrace a world of increasingly intrusive and anti-consumer policies in an attempt to fight “piracy”. We were looking at the possibility that games would only allow you to install them a few times before you lost access to them forever. A world where gaming without the internet was impossible because games needed permission every time they were launched.

I guess we’ve settled on an uneasy truce with publishers where we’re willing to tolerate the risk of digital platforms in exchange for the convenience of same. Denuvo was paradoxically successful enough to prove its own uselessness. We had a couple of years where a few titles were piracy-proof during their critical sales period, and despite industry claims that “piracy steals 90% of our business”, none of those protected titles enjoyed a ten-fold increase in sales. It turns out that anti-DRM whiners were right all along, and all of the trouble and expense was for no real benefit to anyone. Not even the publishers. Not even in the short term.

Most of the publishers have figured it out. The only company still pushing harder DRM is Ubisoft, and they’ve continued to do so well beyond the point of reason. This year Ubisoft layered one DRM system on top of another and then insisted that the stacked DRM wasn’t to blame for the game’s horrible performance. It’s sort of darkly hilarious that they’re essentially throwing their own programmers under the bus and blaming their product for the slowdowns in order to save the reputation of their DRM. I guess the only thing worse than being an Ubisoft customer is being an Ubisoft developer.

Verdict: DRM is nowhere near golden-age status, but we’re better off than we were 10 years ago.

Quality and Availability

Factorio is a game that no major publisher would EVER greelight, because it`s nothing like things that were already making money.

Factorio is a game that no major publisher would EVER greelight, because it`s nothing like things that were already making money.

GoG now offers an amazing catalog of good old games for low prices and without DRM. The indie revolution has brought us a flood of titles that cater to retro, mainstream, and niche markets. The brown age is over and games have color again. The proliferation of titles has pushed prices downward, which might be bad news for developers but a boon for customers. We have more titles than ever before, in more styles, at lower prices, with effortless availability. While Steam is still a market hegemon, we have more digital storefront competition than ever before.

Verdict: Golden age!

Business Practices

On behalf of the greatest work of genre fiction in the twentieth century, I`d like to invite this game to go fuck itself.

On behalf of the greatest work of genre fiction in the twentieth century, I`d like to invite this game to go fuck itself.

Games for Windows Live is dead. That’s nice. But now Windows is pushing the Windows 10 Store, and I’ll feel better once they give up on itAs a marketplace for games, anyway..

But Microsoft’s griefing storefront isn’t even the worst thing on my radar right now. No, it’s not Uplay, either. And while I don’t know how I’ll maintain sanity in a world where both Uplay and GFWL 2.0 are competing to see which one is the more prolific source of annoyances and hassle, these digital storefrontsNo, Uplay isn’t really a storefront. But like, what IS it, really? aren’t the worst thing about gaming on the PC. Or even just gaming in general. No, my big worry is with microtransactions intruding into game design.

Bad: Key parts of a game are pulled out and put into preorder “bonuses” and day 1 DLC.

Making it worse: You can’t even buy the content directly. Instead you pay for loot boxes for a chance to get the desired content.

Making it MUCH worse: In order to drive sales, the final act of the game is deliberately designed to be tedious and grindy, with loot boxes promising a way to skip the tedium and gameplay mechanics designed to nudge you into engaging with the loot boxes.

Dilbert for Friday April 28, 1995.

Dilbert for Friday April 28, 1995.

Mr. Btongue had that one really good video on BioWare where he talks about “Making money to make games” versus “making games to make money”. This is the clearest demonstration of the latter that I can think of. If your passion is for the games, then you’re not going to want to damage them to make more money. If you’re just in it for the money, then the game is simply a means to an end and you don’t particularly care about the game as an artistic product.

Worse, I don’t even think this is the good kind of greed. This is clumsy, short-sighted greed. How does this work on multiple playthroughs? Will I need to buy more crates for my subsequent trips through the game? How many people will hit that late-game quagmire and simply lose interest? How many of them will skip the next Shadow of [thing] titles because of their disappointment with this one? For an industry so obsessed with sequels, this is a very dangerous thing to do to a cash cow.

Verdict: We’re beyond the “Stupid Age” now. We’ve entered some sort of dystopian nightmare. It’s true that only a few games are doing this now, but I predict all the major publishers will flirt with this idea sooner or later.

Compatibility Headaches

The 90s brought us the full RAINBOW of PC case colors, from infra-taupe to ultrabeige.

The 90s brought us the full RAINBOW of PC case colors, from infra-taupe to ultrabeige.

A couple of years ago I might have proclaimed we were in a compatibility golden age. The upgrade treadmill had slowed down to sane levels, and I think graphics cards were a little less confusing to buy. The nice long lifespan of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii meant that everyone stopped pushing so hard for new graphics. Gone were the days when you needed to shell out the price of a console for a decent graphics card. Instead you could shop for something around $200 and still enjoy games on high graphics settings. It was a win for everyone.

But now the madness is back. The new console generation launched, then staggered a bit and did a soft secondary launch of more powerful machines. This has kept the graphics engines in upheavalI’m assuming this, based on the number of graphical glitches we’re seeing lately.. On top of this, the new Vulkan API is forcing developers to learn to ride a bike all over again. While Vulkan may give us faster and more stable games in the long run, in the short term it’s doing exactly the opposite.

Two years ago Batman: Arkham Knight had a disastrous launch. Assassin’s Creed Unity’s glitches were pretty hilarious, assuming you didn’t personally pay $60 to see them. No Man’s Sky was a deeply flawed game, but on the PC it was deeply flawed and also janky as hell. Mass Effect Andromeda was a mess on all systems, but anecdotes suggest it was more of a mess on the PC. And of course Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a terrible heap of broken technology. Prey wasn’t a disaster, but it did have a handful of slowdowns, glitches, and bugs.

To rub salt in the wound, Bitcoin miners have begun gobbling up graphics cards, which greatly inflated prices right when PC gamers really needed to be upgrading their machines. So once again, buying a good card is going to set you back the price of a console.

Verdict: It depends. If you’re into the new AAA stuff then this is as bad as its ever been. But if you’re into retro and indie fare then everything is peaches. I try to cover a bit of both, so this is a pretty mixed bag for me.

General Industry Dysfunction

It ends with you, too.

It ends with you, too.

EA closed Maxis. I don’t know how incompetent you have to be before you can fail to make money with SimCity, but EA found a way. Also they closed down Visceral. Square Enix sold off Hitman developer IO Interactive. Irrational Games was shuttered. THQ kicked the bucket, and we’re not sure if we’ll see another Saints Row.

And yet somehow people keep giving money to David Cage.

Verdict: In general, this is a lot like 2008. Lots of studios are closed for the lack of vision and leadership on behalf of a publisher, and good titles end up vanishing despite their virtues. I don’t think things have gotten worse so much as they failed to get better. And as long as the major publishers don’t understand their products or customers, I don’t expect them to.

Conclusion

I don’t think we’re in another golden age, but I think there’s a lot to like about how things are going now. I think the things that are good (lots of cheap, innovative titles) are going to stay good, and the things that are terrible are just an industry shakeup away from being fixed. I think the upgrade treadmill should calm down soon and we’re probably about to settle into another long console generation. I think Ubisoft will continue to make dumb tedious bullshit I don’t care about so I don’t have to worry about Uplay. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the loot boxes. I assumed this would be another dumb pointless fad, but apparently it’s making a lot of money. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I don’t think we’re in a Golden Age, but if the next couple of years are nice to us then we might enjoy like, a Silver Age or something.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] I have to reboot with a special version of config.sys and autoexec.bat just to have enough memory to get this thing running.

[2] We got Half-Life, Grim Fandango, Thief, Baldur’s Gate, Starcraft, Unreal, Starcraft Brood War, Descent Freespace, Fallout 2, and Forsaken. And that was just 1998!

[3] As a marketplace for games, anyway.

[4] No, Uplay isn’t really a storefront. But like, what IS it, really?

[5] I’m assuming this, based on the number of graphical glitches we’re seeing lately.


A Hundred!2020202013I bet you won't even read all 193 comments before leaving your own.

From the Archives:

  1. Thomas says:

    Weren’t Grim Fandango and Fallout 2 famously buggy on launch?

    I don’t think bugs have got worse, I think it’s got better so we’re noticing the bad cases more. There was a time when it wouldn’t be that unusual to have a questline that broke if you sold the wrong item or did the wrong bit first. Now games are open world they might be a bit worse than 3-4 years ago

    I have fallen to Golden Age thinking all of a sudden though. It didn’t happen with the PS2 era, but suddenly I find myself thinking ‘Gosh we don’t have games as good as the PS3 days any more. Modern games are too open and repetitive and long’

    I know it’s silly, because my golden age is the previous generations ‘rubbish modern age’ and kids are going to love the PS4 generation in the same way I do the PS3. But now im feeling it, I admit it’s real. I genuinely do prefer to dig out a PS3 and play Mass Effect or Last of Us again

    • Anitogame says:

      Fallout 2 definitely was. But it was also a hugely complex title, especially for 1998, and the team still wasn’t what might be called huge. We also didn’t have the internet we do now, so getting around bugs in a game like that was a case of randomly poking things, clicking buttons, reloading, and hoping it’d magically fix itself, lol.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I think the fairly ubiquitous internet might just be making devs/publishers lazier. No need to thoroughly test a game when you can just rely on customers submitting bug reports after launch…

        • Thomas says:

          Its just as a kid, I can name 3-4 of my favourite games where I had to jank to even get past the title screen.

          Theme Hospital I had to hammer enter during the engine credits or it would crash before the title screen. Spartan I had to delete the engine credits from the directory because it would crash before then. Characters would get stuck on the geometry all the time. Escort characters would get lost and break the mission.

          Every game crashed if you alt+tabbed. Every game required a reboot to change options.

          I remember this stuff and find it hard to believe modern developers are ‘lazy’. Particularly given the continual crunch.

          And despite streamlined mechanics, games are more complicated now right?. Assassin’s Creed needs to render a 3D world where any building can be climbed at any point, revealing what’s behind it, with tens of AI actors, several of whom need to be able to climb buildings themselves to track the protagonist in multi-dimensional space. That’s probably not easy.

          Maybe I just had a bad computer as a kid and that’s why I remember buying games at that time and crossing my fingers that they’d even run

          • Richard says:

            Several Freespace and Freespace II missions had gamebreaking bugs. If you did the wrong thing – or the right things in the wrong order – the mission would never complete, and you’d have to restart it.

            I think there were even a few that would break the pilot file so you’d have to start the whole game from the beginning.

            The ‘free upgrade’ SCP has fixed the all the ones I knew of – there may still be others lurking though.

            Gamebreaking bugs aren’t new and aren’t going away – but at least it’s now possible to patch them.

          • Falterfire says:

            Plus pre-internet any given user only knew the problems they had. How many times have you had a conversation where you mentioned a bunch of bugs you had with the game and the other person told you they didn’t have those issues? Or maybe it was the other way around and you saw somebody describing a game that ran just fine for you as an unplayable quagmire of bugs.

            Before the internet, people had fewer opportunities to find out about bugs they didn’t personally experience, which could easily lead to games seeming to be less buggy in general – Outside of really messy things like the Arkham Knight launch, even buggy games tend to run fine for a good portion of the audience, which means that even if 20% of players who played your favorite game encountering gamebreaking bugs, you might remember it as working fine if you weren’t unfortunate enough to be in that group.

        • Moridin says:

          More importantly, thanks to the internet, you can actually patch games later and get those patches to everyone who bought the game.

        • NoneCallMeTim says:

          I don’t think they are lazy, don’t forget that games are exponentially more complex than they were.

    • Potsticker says:

      The Golden Age for just about anything is the time when you are between 10 and 18 years old. You’re in middle school/high school, you have a lot of free time (Seriously. School ends at like 2:30pm. Imagine if your job did that). And kids’ brains are able to fill in gaps in weak stories and get imaginatively immersed in a world in ways that you can’t do as easily later on in life. It can still happen – I didn’t get into Mass Effect until I was into my 30s, but the ME1 Codex and World still completely grabbed me and was super compelling. But if you go back and read some of the books and novels you loved as a high schooler, let’s just say not all of them hold up super well.

      So I agree with Shamus’ outline, in general, but his Golden Age overlaps my high school years pretty substantially (I graduated in 2002). I have no particular attachment to the PS3 era, although I love quite a few of those games. For people in that age group, though, I completely understand why you all loved it so much and thought of it as a Golden Age.

      For me, the bugginess on release is a huge issue. I honestly can’t say if it’s worse now than it ever has been, but my tolerance for it has gone way down. If I buy a thing, I want it to work. So I’ve very much gotten into the habit of waiting on games. The price goes down, reviews come out and tell you what is worth playing and not, which DLC is worth it and not, etc. The only downside is that you are behind the times with what people are talking about.

      • Henson says:

        Your ‘high school years’ Golden Age hypothesis doesn’t explain why Shamus would choose 1998-2004, though, since he’s roughly ten years older than us. We may have been in high school, but Shamus was well into full employment.

        • Thomas says:

          Its never going to be one to one, and with the game industry in particular, there’s an upper bound on the theory.

          Potsticker correctly guessed my age. Bob Chipman would be an example of someone who thinks the Golden Age was earlier than the 2000’s and I would guess he might be in that age bracket during the SNES era.

          On the other hand, it’s a big time window anyway

      • Thomas says:

        My tolerance on bugs has definitely changed. I used to be prepared to hunt down patches and search forums just to get the game to run ~8-9 years ago. I’d think that was bargain bin bad now.

        I did switch to console gaming in that time now (with the reliability of console games running being an incentive to switch – it might be the reverse nowadays)

        • Potsticker says:

          Yeah, it’s not a hard and fast rule, as Thomas notes. The Atari 2600 came out in 1977, so the entire history of video gaming is a little longer than 40 years. Denoting a decade as a Golden Age of Video Games identifies 25% of the whole thing as a Golden Age.

          But I think the years you spend as a middle schooler/high schooler have an oversized influence on developing your tastes in many things, but particularly video gaming. It determines what your normal is, what you’re willing to put up with. I, too, remember the necessity of diving into forums for fixes. It was annoying as hell and they’ve done a lot to remedy those problems. But at the time I got used to it because that’s just how it was. People now are getting used to Loot Boxes just being a thing. And that scares me, even if I think it’s ultimately not going to be a trend that stays around.

        • Cubic says:

          I was mostly into consoles for a long time (well, Playstation 1-3) and it was admittedly a pretty smooth experience. Towards the end, there were a couple of games that froze for no good reason here and there, and enormous mandatory updates were becoming commonplace. Still nowhere near what’s described above when it comes to bugs, nor the DLC/microtransaction hellscape.

          So even if I didn’t think too much about it at the time, maybe that was a golden age.

      • Fade2Gray says:

        Class of ’02 represent!

        While I think it’s easy for people to confuse nostalgia for a Golden Age (especially if, like us, you were young during said Golden Age), I do think it’s possible for there to be a semi-objectively better time period compared to others. Sometimes the stars align and random factors fall into place that simply make one time a Golden Age and another a Dark Age.

      • Volvagia says:

        Except for superhero comics fandom, which uses Gold (1938-1944), Silver (1956-Early 1970s), Bronze (Early 70s-1985), Dark (1986-1996) and Modern (2000-now) to refer to specific historical areas as opposed to high point or low points.

        • Thomas says:

          Comics are a good example of ages definitely existing. Even without quality judgement, there are easily recognisable changes in storytelling.

          You could do that somewhat with games. There’s be the massive proviso that there’s always a ton of indie games doing something different, but you could mark out eras of RTS games, FPS, the MMO craze, third person action games and now multiplayer survival games and open-world collectathons.

          That would be a fun exercise to be honest. You can see the changes in some franchises. The evolution of Mass Effect into a third person action game. The change of Deus Ex from systems driven FPS to ‘with RPG elements third-person adventure’ to ‘open-world driven’

          • Volvagia says:

            I’d generally mark the eras by what the dominant “action” genre of the day was. So 1985-1999? Platformers, 2D and 3D. 1997-around 2010? First Person Shooters. 2011-now? The Sandbox.

      • Steve C says:

        @Potsticker, I disagree. Baked into what you said assumes we are all the same age. We aren’t. I’m not your age. Shamus isn’t either. The games I had in highschool were relatively great. Because nothing existed. In absolute terms they were shit. It was definitely the dark ages of computer gaming.

        School ends at like 2:30pm. Imagine if your job did that

        My school day went from 8:30am to 3:30pm. I did not get home until 4:15pm. There’s really nothing in it between that and a job with gov’t hours. Maybe kids have it easier these days.

        My point is that I believe you might have had an overlap between your teenage years and the ‘Golden years’. Anyone your age would have too. However those of us who weren’t teenagers then also agree it was a Golden Age for games.

        • methermeneus says:

          It’s not that kids have it easier so much as they start earlier. I’m a year younger than those other guys (high school class of ’03), and I recall starting progressively earlier as I got older. My high school ran from 7:05 to 2:18, and you’d get home around 4:30 only if you were in some sort of after school club. My senior year, they extended the time between classes (five minutes is not enough when your school consists of ten buildings along a ¼ mile footpath, plus another similarly-long footpath to get to the girls for days when gym class is held outdoors), and thereafter school ran from 7:00 to 2:30.

    • Anthony says:

      Isn’t it ironic that, in the past, everyone’s dream was a game with wide open landscape and miles to explore? And now that everyone’s doing that we all hate it and wish they’d go back to something more like the old linear story based experience?

      The problem with open world is that it leads to games with lots of very bad, poorly thought out content, that is all modularized and not connected to each other in a satisfying manner. There were a few great examples that tried to avoid this, but nearly everyone just seems to be cranking out bland crap these days. I saw this back in 2010 when I played Just Cause 2, there was this vast world to explore that you eventually realized is filled with absolutely nothing. Back then people thought I was crazy for complaining and desiring a more linear experience though.

      Yeah, Baldur’s Gate II and Planescape: Torment had distinct areas, the content was chronologically isolated and you couldn’t access everything in the world at all times. But they both had way more actual content than any “freeform, limitless, open world” game that’s come out since then.

  2. Anitogame says:

    “It’s true that only a few games are doing this now, but I predict all the major publishers will flirt with this idea sooner or later.”

    2K have already stated ALL their games going forward will have this garbage. So that’s nice.

    “Square Enix sold off Hitman developer IO Interactive.”

    Yeah, and it couldn’t have gone better for them. If you look at the content they just released for the GOTY edition while they work on Season 2, it’s pretty awesome (especially the final mission, which might be one of the best in the whole franchise due to the changes and additions it made). And no more episodic bullshit!

    • Redrock says:

      I feel bad for Square Enix. They’ve released some great games in the last few years, like Hitman and the Tomb Raider reboots and Deus Ex, but don’t seem to be able to budget and monetise them properly, which is a damn shame. It’s like they try to be a decent publisher, but can’t stop themselves from spending too much and end up demanding unreasonable sales and in the end everyone is just sad and frustrated. IO lucked out, unlike Eidos Montreal.

      • Thomas says:

        I do wonder if good games practises are enough to keep a publisher alive? Is there a single example of a publisher who publishes games bigger than at the indie level and doesn’t survive through BS or because they own an income source which isn’t just selling games?

        • Anitogame says:

          If a publisher NEEDS to do things like this (which none of the big ones do, it’s simple greed), then that’s an indication that they need to change their business model. Or adjust their expectations in the case of Square and their ilk.

          • Thomas says:

            I can’t think of a template of a working model though. The winning formula seems to be owning a storefront/engine so you make money off other people making games. Not making them yourselves. Or you own WoW

            Square Enix’s expectations aren’t a completely hypothetical thing. Investors care about Return On Investment. If you could spend £50 million on a game and make a £55 million profit, that’s not a success. For that time and effort you could have put your money into pens or TV or whatever and made more money, so it’s really still a loss.

            And it doesn’t necessarily scale down. If you’ve got £50 million, pumping that into Devolved Digital probably won’t work either. Its unlikely their business model would scale and the returns are probably comparatively small.

            • Hector says:

              This is true – but it is also kinda wrong-ish.

              Investors expect a certain rate of return, yes, but that doesn’t make it remotely sensible as a management practice to bet the farm on every product. You have to consider the market and develop a practical plan for allocating resources. That isn’t easy, but it’s also exactly what management exists to do.

              Square seems to have had a serious case of Chronic Inability to Budget for the last decade. Part of this may have been that some of the executives had poorly-performing pet projects they wanted to justify, but either way they had wildly unrealistic expectations. Having wildly unrealistic expectations does not fix the investment problem – it just makes it worse, since you’ve over-invested in something that couldn’t possibly support it. The simple solution is to have an array of projects on different scales – which is basically what publishers exist to do. And if you still can’t find a use for your money, then you invest it back in the market or return it to your investors or whatever.

          • Redrock says:

            The budgets need to go down. And that starts with graphics. And the graphics race won’t stop, because while everyone would say that gameplay is more important, once a game releases, people wouldn’t stop bitching about it not looking like the frickin face of God.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              As mentioned somewhere else,its not the graphics that wastes the most money,its marketing and hiring big names.Especially in the time where there are more and more third party engines being sold,so there is less and less reason to make one in house.

              • Redrock says:

                I think it’s a bit trickier than that. Money spent on marketing probably has greater return on every dollar spent than money spent on graphics, design, programming, etc. Also, I’m not a big expert on game development, but are the costs of making graphics for a game limited to developing a new engine? It’s not like if you buy an engine you have to spent zilch on visuals, is it?

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Money spent on GOOD marketing has a great return.But when you spend millions to plaster your shit around for something that everyone and their pet already knows about,say fallout 4,then its just a waste.

                  As for graphics,engine is not the only thing,but it requires the most resources.Thats why sequels built on preexisting engine and games built with licensed engines can be shipped faster and with more visuals for the same buck.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          CD Projekt is the most well known.But stardock has been alive for longer,though Im not sure if they count since they have a bunch of non gaming software that they sell.

          But,if you want a pure gaming publisher,then there is 1C Company,with a rather extensive library,ranging from crap to pure gold.

          So yes,a publisher can make money if they dont do these things.They just cant make ALL OF THE MONEYS,which seems to be the goal of the biggest ones.

          • Redrock says:

            1C doesn’t really do AAA, now does it? By which I mean big games with modern graphics, action, etc. A lot of publishers can do well in a niche, like Paradox. But AAA? No. The tech has become too expensive to be supported by a single payment of 60 bucks. That’s the sad truth. You can’t really avoid additional monetization.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              He asked about above indies.Mid tier is still above indie.Also,some of the games 1c published were definitely better graphically than its contemporaries(like kings bounty the legend).

              • Redrock says:

                Come on, King’s Bounty is an isometric turn based strategy. It’s not AAA in the slightest, although decent. Also, I’m not sure, but I feel like 1c has been winding down it’s gaming segment for the last few years. It makes most of it’s money from business software, which you mentioned briefly. It also has a retail chain in Russia, but I dunno if it’s profitable.

          • Redrock says:

            Yeah, well, as mentioned above, CD Projekt has GOG. I absolutely adore the company, but I don’t think their experience can actually be repeated by others or serve as template. CD Projekt is a unicorn for all intents and purposes.

            • stratigo says:

              they also cut costs down by paying their employees shit and operating out of Poland.

              • Thomas says:

                Yeah, CD Projekt was actually an example of it _not working_. If they didn’t have GOG and they weren’t based exclusively in Poland and paid low wages, they would have probably been steeped in debt before The Witcher 3 was released and had to sell or tie their hands financially.

                Stardock on the other hand might be a real example. They also own/owned their own platform right? But I don’t reckon that counts because I don’t think it was very big.

                And they definitely publish at least AA games and their are a genuine publisher. I’ll look into that one

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  they would have probably been steeped in debt before The Witcher 3 was released and had to sell or tie their hands financially.

                  Thats pure speculation.Also,they didnt start out with gog,they used the money gained from selling other stuff to start it.They basically are the polish equivalent of valve.

                • Redrock says:

                  Funny how now that CD Projekt is successful, people consider operating out of Poland some sort of boon, like it makes everything cheaper and easier. While in reality it was mostly a handicap given how difficult it is to bring an Eastern European IP to an international audience, where the money is.

                • Gethsemani says:

                  Owned. They sold Impulse to GameStop a few years back, most likely because it wasn’t really making much headway between Steam, the rise of Origins and GoG.

                  • RCN says:

                    According to their CEO, it was because Impulse was so successful it was taking their time and efforts away from developing games and software. Since they weren’t a retail company and didn’t know how to run one since impulse was getting too big to be managed by some software programmers, they sold it to Gamestop so they could get back to focus on the development side of things.

                    Sure, that could all be bollocks, but if it was doing that badly, it’d never would have been bought by Gamestop (and I used Impulse. It was pretty great. Superior to Steam in many ways, especially the lack of DRM. I was allowed to use a single copy of an Impulse license to play on four different computers through LAN or net.) Also, considering how Valve is… charitably said, not all that interested in software or game development anymore, putting all their efforts and programmers squarely on the maintenance of Steam, it doesn’t sound too much like bullshit.

                    But since Gamestop took over the platform is shit. I’ve long forgotten my password to it but couldn’t be bothered to remember because the things I liked about it are all gone and replaced with their EXACT OPPOSITES. I had Batman: Arkhan Asylum, King’s Bounty, Supreme Commander, Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod and several other titles in the library that I played frequently, but now I’ve just resigned to buy them again on Steam or somewhere else…

        • Philadelphus says:

          Paradox Interactive? Their grand strategy games from their own studio Paradox Development Studio are quite a bit bigger than indie. Granted, there are a…wide variety of opinions on their current business model (I personally have no problems with it) so they may not fit your definition, but let’s just leave it at that.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I wonder,will 2k be able to inject this into firaxis?So far,firaxis managed to,more or less,avoid most of the 2k bullshit.

  3. Ian says:

    Speaking as someone who won’t use Steam, the market is worse now than it’s ever been. If it wasn’t for GOG, and the occasional indie heroes releasing their games direct, I’m not sure I’d be playing games at all.

    Why won’t I use Steam? See here.

    • Daimbert says:

      I’m kinda in the same boat, since I won’t use Steam for at least some of the same reasons you won’t. The most recent games I bought from GOG are all older games. I will play a little on consoles, but the latest game I bought was Injustice 2 and there aren’t really any games on the horizon that I really want to buy other than Persona games. I don’t really see the market as being at all great.

      Which since I don’t have the time to play the games I have NOW, probably isn’t a bad thing for me [grin].

    • Echo Tango says:

      Whenever possible, I try to buy games on GoG, Humble, or direct from devs. Unfortunately Steam (and the dev-option, if it exists) is the only place that’s actually guaranteed to have the latest updates / patches. People just don’t treat non-Steam platforms with respect; It seems like they only begrudgingly put their games on there, and forget to put up the patches.

    • Anitogame says:

      I use Steam… but mostly via buying keys on Humble. I ignore the Steam storefront entirely unless there’s a sale on these days.

    • Steve C says:

      I’m right with you there Ian. (Including the T-shirts.) I have purchased a couple of games from Steam because I couldn’t find another option. Only 2 though. And I’ve used Humble etc that provided steam keys. I hate it though.

      Here are two extra reasons to dislike Steam you didn’t mention:
      – Steam has a hidden service that powers up unused hard drives it’s never been on. I’m talking about when Steam isn’t running and you’ve gone through a lot of steps to make sure it’s not running– it’s still running. It took me a long time to figure that out. It’s super annoying.

      – Gabe Newell valve CEO is not a healthy guy. He has publicly mentioned his health a few times. To everyone who thinks that Valve as a company will outlast their games collection– the CEO is not going to outlast your games collection. It will effectively be a different company when the CEO changes.

      Honestly, I have no idea why anyone likes Steam.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Pretty much everything you’ve noted about Steam and Valve (and stated in the article you linked) can be said about many of the big digital distribution platforms for games. They’ve all got DRM, crap storefronts, obnoxious gamification features, and crappy social features. I don’t actually like using Steam (and hate Uplay). Even its friends-list stuff I’d prefer to not to use – I already have a massive list of friends on Facebook, plus all of the social-chat apps I need to use to keep track of friends. Steam however, is the least annoying / bullshit of its competitors, though (from my experience anyways).

        As for actually liking Steam, a big part of it is the many sales and discounts. I’ll use myself as an example – if I can get a game at 50% discount or greater from its initial price, or if the price is less than a cheeseburger for at least a few afternoons of enjoyment, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay, for something that might disappear after a year. There’s also a lot of people who don’t actually care about keeping their game collection for the long-term, and don’t view it as something they actually deserve to “own”. For example, some of my friends just want to play the newest shiniest games, and don’t care about anything older than a year or two at most. For them, they literally don’t care if the older games are gone, because they have no interest in playing them anymore. This is the main demographic Valve is targeting, and people like me are the demo for the long-tail sales.

        • Echo Tango says:

          OK, I wrote this when I’d only read half of that Polygon article. Now I’m pretty pissed about how Valve is treating mod/item creators, its workers, and…the list goes on. That article is making me pretty ashamed to use Steam now.

      • Redrock says:

        I find that article a bit too breathless, but it does raise some valid questions. Although the idea that Valve owes something to the people that make memes about Steam sales is pretty weird. But yeah, I’ve always marveled at Valve’s reputation, its cult of personality, for lack of a better word. I remember how much I hated Steam at first. And it’s still an ugly piece of software, slow, bloated, intrusive, with a hideous UI. But Steam gets a pass, while Origin got crucified at some point. I don’t really see Valve as some sort of villain, but given how important it’s become to PC gaming, it could do with a stronger sense of responsibility.

        • Shamus says:

          That article is indeed frustrating. It doesn’t actually say anything until the very end, when it finally says one thing important. I totally agree with your assessment that they have a lot of power and not a lot of accountability. They could do better. But the whole article has this goofy vibe of “They make a lot of money and people like them so therefore they’re evil.” Ugh. The analysis is very shallow, hyperbolic, repetitive, and vague. Terrible.

          That article annoyed me so much I spewed out a few thousand words arguing with it. I was going to make the rant my next column, but then I realized it was basically a rant against the author specifically, and that doesn’t seem like an appropriate line of attack.

          Also the article is months old, so there’s that.

          • Redrock says:

            Well, Polygon describes the author as a trade union officer, so that sort of attitude might well be an occupational hazard. I’ve first encountered that article in Summer and spent a good few hours fuming about it. But, well, Polygon is gonna Polygon, and those kinds of articles can’t really serve as a starting point for meanigful conversation. I mean, I’ve once tried to make some counter arguments in the comments section of a Ben Kuchera column. Won’t be doing that again any time soon.

          • Asdasd says:

            Well, if you want to do the ‘Shamus posts an article in the comments’ thing I’d be happy to read your rant :)

          • Echo Tango says:

            I agree that vilifying a company just because they’re making money is rather frustrating. If a company isn’t making money at a thing, then an individual human would be. Money itself is not evil. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hold Valve to a high standard. They’re one of the top companies for digital game distribution, and set a standard that others follow.

            To that effect, some of the behaviours the article (alleges and) ascribes to Valve are short-sighted, and damaging. The sale (and now, re-sale) of assets made by 3rd-party artists (e.g. hats or weapons) should not be a guessing game about when or if the artists will be paid, and should not have the actual sales amounts obfuscated. When the number of items sold for a DOTA tournament is hidden, and the payment the artists receive is under NDA, the promise that those artists are getting a fair cut is pretty difficult to believe. (And the smart artists are allegedly leaving.) Valve built a single infrastructure to allow those items to be sold, but the bulk of the work (i.e. creating actual content to sell in that store) is done by the artists, which I think entitles them to the majority of the profits. Even if you think Valve is right to charge whatever they want, the 75% cited for in-game items is short-sighted. It’s driving away artists, because the remaining amount is not worth the time investment to create the items. I won’t belabor the rest of the behaviour listed in the article, since it’s somewhat short on sources, and the previously noted things are already fairly bad.

          • Steve C says:

            Even though I linked it, I am not particularly fond of the article either. I also do not like how it was written. I’d be happy to read your rants against it. I’m afraid you might be preaching to the choir.

            Though if you want to defend Valve/Steam that will be a tougher sell. I already knew most of Valve’s shenanigans before reading the article. I’ve always hated Steam and Valve because I’ve kept in mind the things they do and the type of company they are.

            • Mousazz says:

              I’m afraid you might be preaching to the choir.

              And yet, choir members are laymen too. Shamus ranting about what’s wrong with the article would, as always, help us put into words our own gripes with what was written there.

      • djw says:

        Steam has already outlasted portions of my game collection…

        I seem to lose game CD’s every time I move, and even when I am in one place for a while the CD’s somehow migrate out of their carriers to god knows where.

        The claim that your game CD library is “forever” implies a specific personality profile that I (evidently) do not possess.

        I do assume that eventually the games I bought on Steam will disappear. C’est La Vie… Entropy always wins in the end.

  4. Ian says:

    EA closed Maxis. I don’t know how incompetent you have to be before you can fail to make money with SimCity, but EA found a way. Also they closed down Visceral. Square Enix sold off Hitman developer IO Interactive. Irrational Games was shuttered. THQ kicked the bucket, and we’re not sure if we’ll see another Saints Row.

    And BioWare of course, bought, broken up, now to all intents dead. What kind of short term insanity buys an IP like BioWare, then allows the actual people to dissipate?

    • Joshua says:

      Look what Valve did to themselves with letting their own people dissipate. Lots of faulty thinking in the business.

      • guy says:

        Become filthy, filthy rich? Sure, they’ve mostly dropped out of making their own games, but from a buisness perspective they’re on a winning streak.

        • Thomas says:

          Valve is a bunch of smart video game developers being told they can do whatever they think is the best way to earn money. And they all decided the correct answer was ‘not make games’.

          • Supah Ewok says:

            Nah, my own thinking is that Valve probably has over a dozen great game prototypes in their vaults, but without upper management to force them through the chore of hammering those prototypes into a game or a financial need to make a release, folks just start dispersing from a project when the fun workshop stuff wraps up and the grind is supposed to start.

            • Richard says:

              I’m certain you’re right.

              Their corporate culture has become “start something fun”, rather than “get it finished enough to ship”.

              They probably have a thousand “90% done” games, half of which are probably potentially great.

              But balancing, bugfinding and bugfixing isn’t as much fun as starting something new, so…

              • Thomas says:

                Well given they’ve lost all their writers – every single known writer at Valve has quit the company – the Left 4 Dead guys left, a couple of key portal guys left and so on… I wouldn’t have much hopes for them producing anything without hats any time soon.

                • Asdasd says:

                  This gets talked about a lot as a dark portent, but people (games journalists) are watching the exit door at Valve much more closely than they are the entrance, because employees leaving companies is more dramatic and makes for juicier stories (and also plays into a pre-established narrative of Valve getting out of the game-making business).

                  Now, I’m not going to sit here and try to argue that high profile departures are ever a good thing… but I am open to the idea that our perception may be a little skewed, and that Valve may have hired promising replacements that flew under everyone’s radars by their being unknown, or that there may be people among their famously multi-talented staff who can pick up writing duties – after all, you hardly need a string of Booker wins under your belt to churn out the sort of stuff that passes even as good writing in games.

                  • RCN says:

                    Counterpoint: The DOTA card game.

                    That’s a sign that Valve really doesn’t care about games anymore. Not developing them, at least. It’s been years now that they’ve hinted at Half-life 3 and built up the hype to then pretend they never did such thing and fail miserably to deliver.

                    • Asdasd says:

                      Er, it might not be the game that you want, but it IS a game and they ARE developing it. I’m not sure how that constitutes damning proof that Valve ‘doesn’t care about developing games’.

                    • RCN says:

                      What Valve is looking for by developing a computer TCG with a famous IP is the same everyone else is doing: free income through loot boxes that needs minimum effort on the part of the developers.

                      You can’t really tell me that they have a huge team of talent behind that game.

      • Adrian Burt says:

        They think BioWare’s strength lies in the brand, not the people. So idiot businessmen like EA buy a company, make it a hostile work place to all the talented people, and once they leave think “I won” and then drive the brand into the ground. This isn’t even related to EA. You see this everywhere in corporate business.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          The sad thing is that they are not wrong.People get really attached to the brand.I learned this long ago when I tried reasoning with two of my friends who were bickering about which of their football teams was better.They kept bringing arguments about how the opposing team was increasingly devalued by every new owner,effectively saying “My team is better because yours was fucked worse”.Trying to reason that doing this was pointless and that these practices dont deserve their monetary support only ended with them both allying against me.

          • Taellosse says:

            But they’re only right up to a point. People get attached to brands, yes, but almost everyone also has a threshold of tolerance for bad products – when the brand they love stops making things they like, eventually they stop buying from that brand. Which is why EA keeps closing down studios – every time, they drive away the talent that made the brand great, and eventually that attrition leads to a similar flatlining in sales with that brand attached.

            Brands accrue value by producing products people like. When they stop doing that, they stop being valuable.

  5. John says:

    One of the reasons I generally prefer GOG to Steam is that with GOG you only need to download a game once. Steam downloads and installs a game for you, but GOG lets you download an installer. Once you have the installer, you can copy it to a flash drive and install the game on whatever system you like. It is very like Ye Goode Olde Days with the added benefit that installing from a single flash drive is far more convenient than installing from multiple optical disks ever was. I keep copies of the installer for every GOG game I own on the backup drive in my PC partly to save myself the trouble of re-downloading things and partly as insurance against the proverbial asteroid doing away with GOG.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Plus, you now have the option of installing an older version of a game, if the people making it decide to change some feature in a way you don’t like. It won’t have the bug-fixes from the latest version, but it’s an option if you want it. :)

  6. Redrock says:

    I kinda think that in many ways we’re past the practice of cutting off key content and pushing it as DLC. It seems like Bioware was actually the worst offender in that regard. The DLC vendor in the camp in Dragon Age Origins was horrible, the whole From Ashes Mass Effect 3 fiasco was obnoxious, but now? I think those examples are few and far between. Maybe The Dreadful Crimes in AC: Syndicate. And honestly, I prefer it that way. I find it much easier to spend additional money on story content than on resources, skins, guns, etc, but, of course, it’s just me.

    I’am also still unsure about whether we can really attribute grindiness in some open-world games to pushing microtransactions or lootboxes or whatever. Is Shadow of War really more grindy than, I dunno, Mad Max or Freelancer or, please don’t kill me, Dark Souls? I know that some games are actually manipulative and messed up in terms of economy. But the presumption of guilt when it comes to microtransactions rubs me the wrong way.

    • Nimrandir says:

      I haven’t finished either Dark Souls or Freelancer, but I have yet to have encountered a method in those games to reduce/eliminate the grind if I pop open my wallet and pay for a randomized chance of getting a key resource.

      • Redrock says:

        My point is, if you take, say, Dark Souls, keep the balance intact and just add microtransactions, the same people who praised for its “fair” difficulty would instantly assume that it was deliberately made so punishing to make people buy “soul packs” or whatever. It would be one of the most hated games in history. While the core balance would be exactly the same, with only the added option of paying for stuff. The rerelease of Two Worlds 2 did that, basically.

        That’s my problem with the basic assumption that the inclusion of microtransactions means that the game’s balance was tweaked to promote additional spending. There are numerous examples of that not being the case – the last few Assassin’s Creed games, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Agents of Mayhem, to name a few. Dead Space 3 did push microtransactions, the economy there was screwed. I’m sure other games do. But it’s not a given. Sometimes it really is just an extra option for those with money to burn and little spare time for the grinding others find enjoyable. Sometimes, mind you.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          So my understanding of the Cuphead nonsense is that some gamers lambasted critics for allegedly trashing the concept of “challenging” games for suggesting things like easier difficulty levels. (I didn’t follow this too closely, so apologies if I’m off-base.) Are the same squeaky wheels criticizing loot boxes as well? Because I’m wondering what’s the fundamental difference between a game that offers easier difficulty settings as part of the game itself, and one that allows you skip boring, repetitive, or difficult content if you throw enough money at it.

          • Redrock says:

            Well, not quite. Easy mode is free, and lootboxes are about getting more money out of the consumer. Also, the randomness element is a big sticking point for many, because lootboxes are a bit too close to gambling. The money is the fundamental difference, I guess. The question is: is the game hard just because it’s hard, or is it hard because the intention was to frustrate players and make them buy lootboxes or microtransactions.

    • Christopher says:

      Thankfully, the amount of studios that have actually sold endings for their games as DLC has remained low. The worst I can think of is Dragon Age Inquisition and ASura’s Wrath, who essentially sold their True Ending as DLC down the line.

      I’m afraid that the current trend in AAA development might move towards a Destiny style, though. That’s what Anthem seems like it’s gonna be.

    • PPX14 says:

      Haha Freelancer did drop the pace a little every now and then ;) I’m not sure I ever did get to the Tau-31 system to sell materials at their insanely high prices.

    • guy says:

      Shadow Of War isn’t that grindy by absolute standards, but I feel comfortable in blaming microtransactions for its grind because of the nature of certain changes from its predecessor. Most particularly the way it redid the warchief and infiltration system.

      In the original, you planted an infiltrator on a warchief via a standard mission, which you could directly intervene in to prop up a weak captain. Then to get a warchief loyal to you, you could brand him in battle or let a branded bodyguard promote to the slot automatically.

      In Shadow Of War, you assign an infiltrator by sending him into a pitfight with another captain, with no ability to influence the outcome. Then when you fight a warchief, if you kill him bodyguards don’t promote, and if you brand him he stops being a warchief. To get a warchief infiltrator, you need to send a captain into another pitfight. The net effect is that it’s much more important to get high-quality captains if you want branded warchiefs.

      • Redrock says:

        I’ll take your word on that. Personally, I just couldn’t get through Shadow of Mordor after several attempts. Nothing about this game seems to click for me. But is the gameplay loop enjoyable for you in Shadow of War? Or does it wear thin? I hear people praise it in terms of movement and combat and kinesthetics, so I wonder how much of a bother that final act really is.

        • guy says:

          Gameplay itself is fun, but I’ve stalled out looking at the final grind; it’s a series of fortress defenses, and you want a bunch of defending captains strong enough to help hold out against the mass of attacking captains, which means leveling them up, which you do via more pitfights. If it was just fighting and branding I could do it all week.

  7. Infinitron says:

    You can’t write an article like this without mentioning the word “PUBG”. The demographics of Steam and PC gaming are being radically altered right in front of our eyes, and game design will follow suit.

    Look at “Language”: http://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey

    • tmtvl says:

      Every time I see the Linux usershare on Steam I cringe. But I guess it’s only a percentage which says little to nothing about the actual amount of people using Desktop Linux.

      • Philadelphus says:

        Interesting to note that the percentage of Linux users on Steam has held almost rock-steady for the past few years…at the same time as the absolute number of Steam users is skyrocketing, implying that there are actually a fairly steadily increasing number of Linux users on Steam, they just happen to be growing at about the same rate as the overall growth.

      • I finally joined the ranks of Linux desktop users after I had to re-brain my desktop and wanted an alternative to Windows 10 – and I get a quiet kick out of gaming on Linux. :) (Although I do need to go clean a bunch of old kernels out of the boot drive in the very near future, it’s presently sulking about having no lebensraum….)

  8. Chad Mercer says:

    Typo alert: I think the things are are good…

    Should be “that” instead.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Whole article on the main page boss.

    You know,you could turn this into a feature if you were to leave every article on the front page for about half a day,and only then insert the break.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I didn’t ask permission to use the reader’s name, so I’ll call them KC.

    Krusty the Clow?

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Certainly things are better now than they were in 2008.

    Thats highly debatable.Especially in the midst of the current ea lootbox uproar thats going around for the past week or so.

  12. Christopher says:

    Speaking as a console gamer first and foremost, there’s been a lot of talk on the sites I hang out on too about how it’s a new golden age just in general. 2017 has been such a strong year for games that GOTY discussion has been all anyone has talked about since March. I wouldn’t say it’s the best time I’ve ever had with video games, or that the amount of good current-gen stuff matches up with the good games that came out during the decade of wii/360/ps3/ds. And if you’re not into roguelikes or open world games, or have mainly niche interests like 3d brawlers, boy are you in for a rough time. But it sure is one of the best times in recent memory anyway.

    Is the diecast mail still the place to go if we wanna send you a question?

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Quality and Availability
    .
    .
    .
    Verdict: Golden age!

    All you have described here is quantity.And of course,the peak of any product will be high quality.But the overall quality depends on the ratio of brilliance to shit,not on the number of best/worst games.If during the golden age we had 10 brilliant games out of 100 published,thats a far better ratio than the current one of 100 brilliant games out of 10 bajillion published.The shovelware on steam is really EXTREMELY massive and it definitely overshadows the few good games.

    And sure,the changes they implemented improved things slightly,but not that much.

    Also,theres the mobile market which is huge and does sway the entire industry even more towards the shit side.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Given how limiting a touch-screen is for a gaming device, I’m not surprised that we don’t have many good games for them. The best you could do is something like the puzzle game, The Room. You could do turn-based stuff like NEO Scavenger, but that was only for PCs, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and that was only for the Nintendo DS (original was only for Playstation). There’s a lot of genres that can work on phones, but nobody seems to be porting them, and then there’s things like RTSs, which can only be played properly with proper input devices.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Youd be surprised how much you can achieve with a clever design on a mobile.There are a bunch of mobile games that are otherwise great,but are utterly ruined by mictransactions crap.Clash royale,plants vs zombies 2 and dominations are all great games where you battle in real time against the ai or other players,yet all three re utterly ruined by freemium bulshit.Ive also played a few solid platformers,so I know this is something that can be done on a mobile as well.

        • Echo Tango says:

          Could you give some examples of good platformers for mobile devices? I’d like to see what control schemes they use, and how deep they are. I have a hard time believing that somebody could make something that needs the reflexes/inputs of Super Mario Brothers (1-3), let alone something like Super Meat Boy or I Wanna Be The Guy.

          • Groboclown says:

            VVVVVV works almost like the PC version. The mobile controls take some getting used to, but it’s pretty good.

            Terraria is fairly good control-wise, but switching between active items takes too much time at critical moments.

    • Zack says:

      Does the ratio really matter? I think the absolute measure is more telling.

      I don’t, generally, buy crap grames. I do buy great games. So the 100 great games example is better for me because 100>10. Developers might not feel the same.

    • Wolf says:

      I disagree strongly, even given Steams refusal to help find the pearls in the pigsty.
      I am much happier if a million games are released of which 1000 are good than if 1000 games are released with only a single good one.

      The internet age has enabled us all to find what we are interested in even in a relatively big pile of dung. If it does not exist in the first place though…

      I might agree that we have reached the limits of our current search and curation tools, but I do not really care for myself since even word of mouth provides me with more good games than I could ever play.

      Are other people hurt badly by this mountain of shovelware that Steam is unable to curate?
      Does it maybe turn people away from gaming as a hobby?
      Is there any data on that that could convince storefronts to work on the problem?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        But how are you going to find those 1000 gems in all the crap?TotalBiscuit has made several videos on this topic,and there have been good games that no one knew of until he dug them out to shine a spotlight.

        Heck,on this very blog,you can find talk about how a video game was buried simply because steam decided ITS VR WEEK!VR CRAP FOR EVERYONE!WHETHER THEY HAVE GLASSES OR NOT!

        So yes,people are hurt by this,developer more than gamers sure,but gamers also lose out because of this.Im not sure if the shovelware has turned anyone from gaming,but it definitely turned me away from any game that has “open world” or “crafting” in it.And there is data that can convince storefronts to do something about it,which is the very reason why steam finally decided to attempt to do something about it.

        • Richard says:

          That said, digging through the shovelware and curating is a soluble problem – at least in theory.

          Of late, most of the games I’ve bought were on the back of watching a Let’s Play video, and thinking “Yes, that is the type of game I’d enjoy”.

          In a couple of cases *cough spacebase df9* this turned out to be a mistake as the early gameplay was ok but it failed in the mid or late game, or was broken by misplaced updates.

          In most cases it worked.

          As time goes by, that’ll improve. Somebody will figure out how to filter the dross – and they’ll eat Steam’s lunch when they do.

          Steam bringing in refunds has helped actually, as I can now return some of the dross – as long as I realize it’s awful early.
          That said, at the moment I have about £10 worth of “SteamCoin”or whatever it’s called, and nothing I feel like buying at all – at least until I’ve played more of my backlog, anyway.

          That is an odd concept though. Until the last year or two I’ve never had a backlog of games – I always bought one game, played it until I “finished” it (whatever that meant), then started looking for something else.
          Yet right now I’ve got three or four games I’ve never even installed.

          • Asdasd says:

            A further compounding issue is that the problem is obvious but the solution is hard. Even if you perfected an algorithm to filter out the crap and only show worthwhile, underrated gems to the consumer – and judging by the crap that Valve puts in my steam queue, we’re a way off that yet – there’s still no guarantee that they wouldn’t just play it safe and buy whatever had adverts plastered all over IGN that week. In other words, we don’t actually know how many thirsty horses there are before we even start leading them to water.

        • Redrock says:

          I don’t think that shovelware buries that many brilliant indie gems. That’s a rather optimistic outlook to have, actually – that beneath a mountain of shit there’s a hidden trove of diamonds that no one has managed to discover. More likely, it’s shit all the way down. And the few actual diamonds tend to find their way to the audience one way or another.

          Now, the smaller indie games that are merely solid or good enough – they might have trouble with being discovered. But, unfortunately, being merely solid in a highly competitive market is not nearly enough, and that’s not exclusive to Steam.

        • Philadelphus says:

          But how are you going to find those 1000 gems in all the crap?

          Well, to be honest, I’m not exactly lying awake at night worrying about all the games that could potentially be on Steam that I might really enjoy but don’t know about and have no way to discover. I’ve got more than enough games to keep me entertained for years to come in my library RIGHT NOW, and since I tend to like game with high replay value I can easily get by with buying just a handful of games a year or even less and be perfectly content. And generally the ones I do buy are ones I find out about from watching Let’s Players or otherwise just stumble upon, so that’s perfectly adequate for my rate of game consumption.

          Sure, I can see how that might not be enough for some people. But from my perspective, “more games than I can reasonably discover and play” is a better problem to have than “none of the games that came out this year were ones I actually wanted to buy”.

          In principle I do agree that I wish there were less shovelware, and I can see how it might hurt an indie developer’s profits if I don’t find their game, but discoverability isn’t a problem unique to gaming; it’s just finally starting to catch up with the gaming industry after a few short years of “getting your game on Steam as an indie developer = instant fame and fortune”.

  14. Joshua says:

    My graphics card died a couple of months ago. I was blissfully unaware of the price and availability issues with graphics cards until that happened. :(

    • Zekiel says:

      I had a nasty shock at the start of the year when I decided to replace my (6 year old) gaming PC. I am now the happy owner of a Playstation 4 (and a 6-year old PC). I’m not really sure how I could ever justify buying a new gaming PC but I do feel a little bit like a traitor :-(

      • John says:

        I suppose it depends on what you want to play, but the last time I checked (about a year ago now) you could build a surprisingly respectable gaming PC for about the cost of a new console, especially if you could re-use parts from an existing PC. You might have to run things at 1080p, say, but I don’t see why you couldn’t match console-quality graphics.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          My pc* was bought about 5 years ago for about the price of two consoles.I can play games from the current generation,though some with lowered settings.The only upgrade I require is the graphics card,but that can wais since Ive shifted focus to indies.And maaaybe I could get a ssd,but that doesnt bother me much either.

          *Motherboard,graphics card,processor and half of ram.I already had a decent ram chip in there that I just paired with a new one,and I had a large storage combo consisting of three 500gb drives.Still,hdds were already cheap at that time,and I wouldnt need much in order to get a full computer from scratch.

          • John says:

            When I built my current machine a year ago, I was able to re-use the power supply, the hard drives, and the optical drive from my old computer. I could have re-used the case as well, except that I wanted a smaller, more tasteful case because I have the computer hooked up to the TV in the living room rather than a monitor in an office. If I had been willing to re-use the old case I could have saved myself $50 or so on what was a fairly low-budget–about $400–build to begin with. The computer can handle every game I currently care about and I picked parts that would give me a certain amount of future-proofing to boot. Unless PC gaming suddenly gets much more processor-intensive I should be good for the next several years, particularly since I generally wait for deep sales and tend to buy older games.

            • Redrock says:

              Well, Ubisoft titles seem to be pushing CPUs really hard, from what I’ve heard about AC Origins. Which sucks. i7s have always been an extravagance rather than a necessity. I’d hate for it to change.

              • John says:

                In that case, my guess is that the CPU-intensiveness is driven by the number of NPCs for which the game must do AI calculations. The new Hitman is similarly CPU-intensive for what are probably the same reasons. Interestingly, the latest Deus Ex game does not seem to suffer from this problem.

                • Redrock says:

                  Well, the general assumption is that it in the case of AC: Origins has to do with DRM, but that wasn’t exactly proven. I remember Watch Dogs 2 taxing my 6600k quite above average, so I think that it’s some general Ubisoft optimisation problem. Leave it to these guys to find unique ways to screw up a PC port. I still can’t get horse carriages in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate to stop stuttering. The rest of the game is silky smooth 60 fps for me, but once I get in a carriage – stuttering and crazy pop-in galore. Also, the game would very occasionally just freeze for maybe 5-10 seconds, than carry on as normal. Doesn’t seem to have to do anything with the graphics settings. That’s Ubi on PC in a nutshell.

        • Zekiel says:

          This needs to be considered in the context that:
          a) I needed to replace both the CPU and GPU to meet the minimum requirements for games released a few years ago
          b) I’m a big scaredy-cat about building my own PC so I don’t want to do it in the first place and I certainly don’t want to buy components which would require me to upgrade again in a year or two
          c) When doing my research I read lots of advice warning me against buying the sort of cheap-and-cheerful components which would allow me to build a PC on a budget even approaching a console

          • John says:

            Fair enough. I was a nervous wreck and not much fun to be around during my first PC build. In the years since, though, I’ve done motherboard replacements, drive swaps, and added (and removed) various graphics and TV tuner cards. I’m much calmer these days. It helps that I no longer fear that motherboards will snap at the slightest application of pressure. But a new build is always a little fraught. I had a small moment of panic when my new PC failed to boot after I turned it on for the first time. (The problem turned out to be a loose power cable.) If you don’t want to deal with that, I don’t blame you.

            For the record, GPU swaps are pretty easy, at least for the PCI Express cards I’ve owned. You open up the computer, pop the old card out, and then pop the new card in. The end. (Budget GPUs usually don’t require extra power connections and budget PCs are never water-cooled.) CPUs are trickier, mostly because you often need a new motherboard to go with the new CPU. And then there’s the thermal paste. But I would say building a PC really doesn’t require a whole lot of skill or manual dexterity. Patience, yes, especially your first time, but not skill or manual dexterity.

            • Zekiel says:

              Thanks for the sympathy. GPU swaps I’m OK with, and I also managed a hard drive swap OK. In this case I felt like it was silly to buy a new GPU when the MOBO, processor and case fans were all 6 years old… and I don’t feel at all confident about swapping any of them!

    • DeadlyDark says:

      Brother. My card died in June. Still didn’t buy a new one. Spent this money on laptop for my work. At least I was able to finish Prey there.

      I hope I’ll scramble something for the New Year. I mean, I have a PS4, but play there sparingly – see no reason to buy non-exclusive games there. Better to buy these on sales for PC, when I have a card. PC player to a core, for some reason.

    • Richard says:

      I got properly screwed by Intel in my 7-year upgrade.

      I ordered a new GPU, motherboard and 7700K, and received it just as they were announcing that the Coffee Lake would require a new chipset and not run on any existing motherboards.

      Add to that the ignominy of paying 30% over the odds due to the Etherium miner craze…

      This machine had better last as long as the previous one!

  15. Arakus says:

    Minor correction:

    “THQ kicked the bucket, and we’re not sure if we’ll see another Saints Row.”

    Not being sure if we’ll get another Saints Row has nothing to do with THQ. Volition moved publishers to Deep Silver before Saints Row 4 came out, and they just released Agents of Mayhem a few months ago. The only reason we might not get another SR is that the developers are tired of making them (as stated in multiple interviews).

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Where do you even take another Saints Row? The criminal open-world sandbox genre it was born from is pretty much over for the time being (I guess if you squint hard enough Watch_Dogs is still flying that flag, but has Ubisoft even announced a third game yet?), it pretty thoroughly satirized every other trend in gaming that was happening when SR4 came out, and ended the series on a high note. I wouldn’t blame those devs at all if they want to move on.

      A new satirical IP, maybe one directed at the current trend of Ubisoft-style open-world games, would be welcome, if the devs think they have a good hook for one.

    • Adrian Burt says:

      Yeah Volition said they were tired of making Saints Row but then they made a game that was Saints Row in all but name and open world gameplay. Agents of MAYHEM is a wacky humor game tha has a predominantly purple and white color scheme, a more stylized Fluer-de-Leis is the logo, and it even has fucking Johnny Gat in it (why Volition loves Gat so much I’ll never understand), and it’s canonically set in the near future of Saint’s Row after Gat Outta Hell. So basically they can say they are tired of making Saint’s Row games but clearly they’re not tired of making games thematically identical to Saint’s Row.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Id label the current decade as the “greedy age”.Mobile market is full of freeware dime a dozen quick cash grabs,pc market is also full of reskinned bare bones unity clones and other similar shovelware,and lootboxes are becoming the staple of practically every aaa publisher ON TOP of the long running scam of pre ordering and season passes.

    And the only somewhat reasonable excuse of “Games being more expensive to make these days” is rather flimsy,if not outright untrue.

    • John says:

      Development costs must surely depend on the game. I suspect that big AAA games with big AAA graphics really are more expensive. As the number and quality of art assets increases, so too does the number of hours it takes artists to make them and the amount of money those artists must be paid. For more modest games I would be willing to believe that costs have come down due to such factors as the widespread availability of licensable game engines like Unreal or Unity.

      • Adrian Burt says:

        I might have agreed that AAA graphics are expensive but honestly, after Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice it’s pretty clear that it is very possible to make an amazing looking game on a budget. There are so many tools and talented artists out there that the claim that good graphics are expensive is dubious. I think AAA production is more wasteful. They spend a huge amount of money on marketing, almost to the point where marketing costs equal development costs, and then AAA companies flush more money down the drain getting Hollywood actors and composers. Like Crysis 2 had Hans Zimmer as a composer, and while Crysis 2 has a really good main theme, no one bought that game because Hans Zimmer composed some tracks for it. Sure many of the talented actors do great work for their games but unlike movies, games aren’t sold on which actors are in it, and this isn’t even covering studios like Bethesda who flush probably millions down the toilet getting Hollywood celebrity actors to act their hearts out and then use character models that suck all the performance out of it. But that’s the sort of idiot wasteful spending that goes on in big business.

        • Redrock says:

          I loved Hellblade, and it looked great, but it also cheated a bit with live-action segments, was short and mechanically limited. But I agree that AAA is generally more wasteful. Although, funnily enough, Bethesda is pretty decent when it comes to additional monetization, while still being prone to spend money on useless celebrity cameos.

    • Asdasd says:

      Not that I disagree, but we’ve also seen a plethora of inventive, beautiful, characterful and downright fun indie games being released, for relative peanuts, at low system requirements, often DRM-free and under the good old ‘buy once’ or ‘pay to own’ model. If the AAA space has been in the doldrums for a decade, and the second tier (THQ et al) endured a grisly holocaust trying to keep up with ever-escalating production costs, the indie tier below them enjoyed an inarguable renaissance.

      Where we go now from here is a separate question. Are deserving indies getting squeezed off of store front-pages by a toxic sea of unity asset flips? Are profit margins being erased by a ‘race to the bottom’ model of competitive pricing and ‘wait for the sales’ gamer mentality? Will the prophecy of the Indiepocalypse come to pass?

      I look forward to Shamus giving us all these answers and more with another (eminently readable!) history lesson ten years from now…

    • Redrock says:

      Also, that video is way weird. His argument is based around the decrease in cost of goods sold, which he says is actually the production of physical copies and maybe licensing fees and digital storefronts’ overhead. So, not actual development. And I’ not actually sure whether logistics are included in COGS, that varies from company to company. Long story short, the industry really needs some transparency. At this point we are practically guessing.

  17. tremor3258 says:

    I always feel better about loot boxes in MMOs than single-player games, but the items have to be nice but not better in a way they are required to play. If the items are auctionable with in-game currency everyone can get, that is a big help. That makes it a money versus time graph for people to decide, and helps keep player population up, which is vital for MMOs.

    This is harder to do in PVP-focused games, admittedly. And if single-player games are offering to pay to skip deliberately tedious parts of gameplay, that needs to go.

  18. Darren says:

    I feel like we’re seeing a resurgence in a few specific genres. Strategy games are doing quite well, with Firaxis reviving XCOM, Sega quietly becoming a real supporter of the genre, and Creative Assembly having an explosion of, uh, creativity and experimentation. “Immersive sims,” like Hitman and Dishonored, have come back into the spotlight, and while they’ve struggled somewhat I can’t help but notice a lot of similar design principles popping up in indies like Shadow Tactics and Divinity: Original Sin.

    Meanwhile, Kickstarter has brought a lot of dead genres–and/or genres that hadn’t really graced the PC before–to public attention. Pillars of Eternity is a triumph, while smaller games like A Hat in Time are winning over audiences.

    And finally, we’re seeing participating from Japanese companies to a degree we’ve never really seen before. Square-Enix has a very respectable library of games available on PC now, Sega continues to exploit the relative lack of Japanese competition, and Capcom is bringing some bona fide classics like Okami and Monster Hunter–which is criminally underplayed in the West–to the platform.

    So, depending on what exactly you want from video games, it is something of a golden age for PC gaming, at least in terms of the types of games we’re getting.

  19. Droid says:

    Since you mentioned it, I recently had the most peculiar experience with Uplay: I bought some newer Assassin’s Creed games, because they were like five dollars apiece in a sale. Now, a week or so ago, the nausea of buying a Ubisoft product receded and I thought I would be physically fit enough to actually play one of their games. Then I launched the game through Steam and sure enough, Uplay started up. Then:

    nothing. It just launched the game. And just when I thought this might be a bug in their inconvenience program, I found out I had to restart AC to change the in-game language. Again, I clicked on “start” within Steam, and this time, there wasn’t even a useless delay. Uplay just stayed open and functional in the background and … launched a game without giving me any hassle. It’s … it was just too exotic a thought, it never occurred to me that this could be possible.

    It even shows some in-game achievements now without cluttering up the Steam overlay that I would actually use as an in-game overlay, should I ever need one.

    I don’t know what to make of this, is Uplay no longer ransomware?

  20. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Speaking of lootboxes and content locked behind lots of grinding, I’m surprised no-one linked to this gem from EA yet (unless I’m blind).

  21. “But if you’re into retro and indie fare then everything is peaches.”

    This is pretty much the boat I’m in, and I’m quite enjoying it.

  22. Mephane says:

    To rub salt in the wound, Bitcoin miners have begun gobbling up graphics cards, which greatly inflated prices right when PC gamers really needed to be upgrading their machines.

    And that is the good news. The bad news is all this bitcoin (and other similar cryptocurrency) mining is a massive waste of energy, resources, time, and effectively a ponzi scheme…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Everything youve mentioned applies to physical currency.The only difference is that physical currency wastes even more resources,because you also need to mine actual metals/cut wood/extract oil in order to make it,AND you need to spend even more resources on top of that to transport it,AND you need to spend yet even more resources on top of that in order to destroy defective ones.

      • baud001 says:

        Still, for the bitcoins, the energy consumption apply also in the case of validating transaction (since mining bitcoins = validating transactions).

        The energy cost of one bitcoin transaction is a different order of magnitude than an equivalent electronic transaction in normal money.

        • Echo Tango says:

          If crypto-currencies used proof-of-stake methods instead of proof-of-work, they would (by definition), not use a lot of energy to make a transaction. There’s researchers trying to make this a reality, since proof-of-work systems are bad for the environment (lots of energy use, and resources spent on hardware), and generally a hassle (i.e. all the graphics cards being taken by non-graphics uses).

      • Richard says:

        Actually no, crypto-currency and fiat currency are fundamentally different things.

        Fiat currency (eg US dollars) is numbers in several bank databases and an agreement between said banks to only increment one set of numbers when another set decrements by the same amount.

        “Crypto-currency” (eg Bitcoin) is numbers in a distributed ledger and an agreement between payment-processors that have a copy of the ledger to only change the numbers when they get a cryptographic proof-of-work (or similar signature) from enough other processors.

        The US Dollar has value because people generally trust that the US Government will pay its debts.

        Fiat currency is created by banks loaning countries, people and companies money to buy things like houses, cars, machinery and office space. It’s destroyed when the loans are fully repaid.
        – In theory this is a closed loop, in practice many loans are never repaid.

        “Crypto currency” is created when a payment-processor completes a cryptographic item.
        It is never destroyed. This means that interest-bearing loans simply aren’t possible.

        The impossibility of loans is where it fails, and means they’re not actually currency. They’re commodities to be traded – which makes them very volatile compared to actual currency.

        People can and do make huge amounts of fiat currency by trading in all kinds of commodities, so it’s no surprise when this happens with Bitcoin, Ethereum et al.

        • Matt Downie says:

          There’s a fixed amount of gold in the world, but people treated gold coins as currency for a long time…

          • John says:

            It’s true that gold and silver coins have been used as currency for much of recorded human history, but that does not mean that all or even most transactions were conducted using gold or silver coins. As recently as the colonial period in North America, actual coins made from precious metals were very rare. People in what is now the United States often conducted transactions using shavings or pieces of Spanish coins because metal coins from Britain–the country whose currency you might expect them to use–were so difficult to get. Many other transactions were conducted on a barter-basis. Later on, people used metal coins, most of them copper-based (the penny) or nickel-based (the nickel) , some of them silver-based (the quarter, the dollar) for transactions. But large transactions, when not conducted by check or bank-draft, were conducted in bank notes. Bank notes were supposed to be redeemable for hard currency at the bank where they were issued, but banks typically printed more notes than they could actually redeem. If the issuing bank had a bad reputation or was far away, a note could be worth much less than its nominal value and if the bank went out of business–as banks often did–the note was worthless. The reason that people held notes because they were much easier to acquire and use than gold coins.

            The point of all this is that even when a country nominally uses a commodity-based currency, the actual money supply can be and almost always is much larger than the actual supply of the commodity. Changes in the supply of the commodity can, however, cause inflation or deflation. The Free Silver movement in the United States advocated for the “free and unlimited coinage of silver” partly because some members of the movement owned silver mines but mostly because most of them were farmers who wanted inflation. The idea was that crop prices would go up but the nominal value of the farmers’ debts would stay the same.

            • djw says:

              On a similar note, in modern days, inflation can be good if you have a job (with cost of living increases) and own a home with a fixed rate mortgage. Its really bad if you are living off of your savings (eg. retired).

  23. baud001 says:

    For the loot boxes, you’ve got the most down-voted comment on reddit when a community manager tried to defend the loot boxes of battlefront 2 (link)

  24. Tetsubara Kaori says:

    I feel like lootboxes are the product of game prices remaining largely static for a couple decades now. $60 in 2017 isn’t the same as in 1997 due to inflation. And while games in 2017 might not be much more expensive than in 2016 or 2015, they’re undoubtedly more costly than they were when the $60 price point became the norm. So companies need some way to make up the difference.

    And like Shamus said before, even if lootboxes suddenly went away, there’s no guarantee that they won’t be replaced by something even worse.

      • Redrock says:

        That’s just wrong. That’s Jim, whom I love, twisting the facts to push his own agenda. Special editions and whatnot rarely contain essential parts of the game, like the whole Mass Effect 3 From Ashes thing. It’s mostly extraneous bells and whistles, skins, additional weapons, etc, in games that already have tons of that stuff in the basic version. Often the special edition stuff is obviously not part of the main game – it can be stuff that you aren’t really supposed to have initially, stuff that breaks early hours game economy. You absolutely do get a full experience on most games for 60 bucks. I don’t think I’ve purchased a special edition for years now and I’ve never felt cheated out of an essential part of the game that was “cut out”.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          What you say is,mostly,true for single player games.Multiplayer ones,howver,DID gate a bunch of content from the players unless they preordered a SUPER DUPER DELUXE ULTRA MEGA GIGA edition for a while now.And not just cosmetic stuff,but entire classes.Granted,you could usually get these by playing(grinding) the game for some XX hours,or by lumping more cash after you bought the game,but the point still stands.

          • Redrock says:

            Yeah, I was talking about single player. Personally, I think that multiplayer-only games are a rip-off from the word “go” and should just switch to free to play. Even without the additional payments, you are stuck with half a product, largely dependent on the whims of the community, which might abandon the game at any time, and the lifespan of the servers. Basically, multiplayer-only sucks however you slice it.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              It wasnt like that with early multiplayer only games that offered both lan and dedicated servers.I can still play the original unreal tournament and quake arena with friends,even though those games are two decades old now.The reason why such things were omitted from modern games is mostly because they make grinding for loot rather trivial(there have been a bunch of achievement hunting private server for team fortress 2,for example),and thus reduce the need for payment.Which is precisely the anti consumer practice Jim is advocating against.

              • Redrock says:

                I dunno, personally, I think that it’s quite reasonable that online multiplayer games are built with some sort of ongoing monetisation model in mind. Yeah, it wasn’t like that in the early days, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inherently wrong idea. Modern multiplayer games are usually constantly tweaked and maintained, as far as I understand, and usually developers keep working on them, which means costs and salaries. I mean, MMOs used to and still often use monthly subscripitons, and that’s alright, isn’t it? Like I said, I’m a long time fan of Jim’s work, but I feel that in recent months he has been going just a bit overboard in his criticism of the industry, basically denying publishers the right to make money in any way except selling games for a strict one-time payment of 60$. While that’s an understandable reaction to the rise of truly greedy practices we’re seeing, it’s not a constructive or helpful stance. Multiplayer games can and probably should have ongoing monetisation. But that monetisation should be reasonable and balanced. I think that one of the first steps should be moving in the direction of F2P, or at least dropping the starting price of multiplayer titles below 60$. I also think that lootboxes are completely fine in multiplayer, as long as they don’t affect players’ power levels, like in Battlefront II. Both Erik Kain and Paul Tassi over at Forbes have decent articles on that, I think.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  I have nothing against subscription based games,or freemium games.But at the same time,I think that fully priced “Buy once own forever” multiplayer games can survive just as well.Yet those have been squeezed out and replaced by this horrible hybrid of “Buy once,own for just a bit,also sink more cash into it to get the really good stuff”.

                  As for Jim,he isnt against companies making money in different ways.He repeatedly said so.What he is against is companies wanting ALL THE MONEY,and using disgusting business practices to do so.Yes dlcs are fine.But a season pass for dlc that hasnt even been planned yet?That not ok.Yes getting a limited preorder item like a coin or a map is fine.But pushing a preorder for an unlimited supply of digital only stuff?Thats not ok.Buying in game items for real cash is fine.But hiding those items under a crapton of crap inside of an essentially gambling?Thats not ok.

                  • Redrock says:

                    I agree that any multiplayer games should be playable without sinking additional money into them. I think that the Overwatch model is more or less fine. Hide cosmetics in lootboxes, leave game balance and power out of it. That way everyone can decide for themselves how much they want to spend on the game.

        • Asdasd says:

          I think that highlights the absolutely toxic effect that fragmenting content at different pay points has on a game. As a developer, do you decide cut out key content to use as leverage to get more money out of your customers? Was Dragon Age a full experience at the entry price point, given that it had party companions and quests locked out and a DLC vendor showing up in your camp to tastefully prompt the hero to enter ‘thine credit card detailes, sirrah?’

          Or do you decide that the $100 Turbo Digital Deluxe Gamestop Exclusive Edition’s additional content will be completely superfluous, and that the $60 offering will be a basically full experience. While this is less greedy, it’s still not great, especially if the bonus gear you do put in your uber-tier version ends up breaking game balance, spoiling the experience for the poor saps who paid nearly double.

          In either case, you can’t square this circle. Either the content exclusively available above the $60 price-point is worthwhile, in which case the de facto price of the game isn’t $60 any more, or it isn’t, in which case why on Earth are you trying to charge people money for it?

          • Redrock says:

            I agree that Bioware used to be one of the few real examples of carving up games to sell DLC. It’s quite obvious that some DLC parts of ME3 and, say, DA:Origins we’re parts of the initial game and pretty much essential.

            But I think an argument can be made that most of single-player DLC is truly additional content, a way to add extra stories or elements to an already complete game. I don’t really understand the idea that anything ever made for a game should automatically be part of the 60$ package. If the DLC is a side-story or an expansion, or indeed extra weapons and skins, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be sold separately, as long as the original game was complete on its own merits. It doesn’t add to the original price of the game. That would imply that you get 80% of the game for 60$, and have to pay for the other 20, like with From Ashes. But my argument is that most of the time you do get 100% of the game, and get the option to pay to get to 120%.

            • Asdasd says:

              I’m not philosophically opposed to the idea of additional content. (IIRC, Jim wasn’t either in that video.) What I really dislike is the way the industry is atomising these offerings. We’ve gone from expansion packs (big lumps of DLC) to horse armour (small lumps of DLC), to DLC which you get for preordering (Assassin’s Creed n and its thirteen editions) and DLC which you have to preorder (Season Passes on sale before their contents are announced), to tiny scraplets of DLC (microtransactions) and the premium currencies that obfuscate their true cost, to – finally – DLC which you can only buy a chance to acquire (loot boxes).

              I don’t mind developers coming to me with further offerings that expand on their base game, provided that it’s not too much of a chore to understand the proposition and assess whether it’s good or bad value. I really don’t want to have to do a bunch of research on what DLC from a 47-point list is considered essential and what is inconsequential fluff, or worse than fluff, damages the game’s balance by over-empowering my character.

              But that’s the direction in which games seem inexorably headed, towards further obfuscation and manipulation, towards making it harder to tell whether or not a base game truly is complete on its own merits, and to slice everything thinner and thinner to capture as much of the potential revenue floating around as possible – be it from whales, dolphins or mere plankton.And with every step, the membrane through which this stuff bleeds into the fundamental elements of game design becomes that much easier to penetrate.

              Additional content is one thing, but what happens when what you’re paying for isn’t a skin or a quest, but a means of accelerating through a portion of the game which has been made artificially grindy and unfun? We’re already starting to see it in the single player portions of games like Shadows of War and Need for Speed.

              • Redrock says:

                I’m not defending all the shadowy practices of additional monetisation, I’m simply saying that stating that the real price of single player games is no longer 60$ because of DLC is more than a little disingenuous.

                Regarding grind and lootboxes, as I’ve already written above, I think it’s a complex issue. It may be hard to tell if a game is grindy just because it’s grindy or if the grind is their to sell lootboxes. It may not always be the latter, although Shadow of War does sound iffy. Can’t tell, didn’t play it, really hated Mordor, which was already way too grindy for me.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Wolfenstein The New Colossus is currently listed at $80 on Steam. As are Call Of Duty: WWII and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Not all games are $80 nowadays, but neither were all games $60 in the past. Your argument that DLC is because of stagnated prices seems to be based on a false assumption.

      • evilmrhenry says:

        All 3 of those games are listed as $60 for the base game for me. Are you outside the US? The $60 thing is specifically referring to the base game’s price in the US. In other countries, it’s less rigid.

        • Echo Tango says:

          Crap. 1. Steam was listing CAD for me. 2. The Canadian prices are actually a few percentage points higher than the exchange rate, so I’m getting ripped off. :S

      • Tetsubara Kaori says:

        All three of those games have options to buy them for $60. It’s the the first listed option for all three. The options below them that are more than $60 are all special/deluxe editions that include extra content. The base game is still $60.

        Are you in a country like Canada or Australia? I think the games are more expensive in those countries. In the USA, however, the base game is $60.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        I was going to check this and I realized that some time in the last few days Steam prices decided to change from USD to my country’s currency. This has completely and entirely thrown a wrench into my purchasing system.

        Negatives: I am entirely used to see prices for games (and other digital items) in USD, so seeing the prices in national currency is almost the same as trying to read in a foreign language (well, one I’m not versed on anyway). Now if I want to see the “real” prices I need to do a conversion.

        Positive: Thanks to regional pricing now many games are actually cheaper to me than they’d normally be (which was already a benefit other latin american countries had). Injustice 2, for instance, being a newly released game is price at $60 in the US, but to me it costs $34 (holy crap, and, of course, right after I purchased it in its original price someplace else, so I can’t even get a refund).

        Negative (?): Some games (such as all GTAs) are entirely unavailable for me to purchase. Apparently, this thing might be temporary, so I cannot accurately claim it as a negative until I have more information.

        Negative-ish: Many credit cards do a double currency conversion rather than directly accept the local currency. That means that during these conversions a small percentage is lost. Of course, considering how prices are much lower, complaining about this is practically moot.

        This is one thing that people living in the US don’t count on, but for people like us, it’s a notable improvement on gaming. While my country is not what you’d call “poor” we certainly don’t count with the level of income people on the US do, so it’s nice to see the industry taking us into account.

  25. Matt Downie says:

    “DRM is nowhere near golden-age status, but we’re better off than we were 10 years ago.”
    Now that I have reliable internet, I find Steam DRM less intrusive than having to swap physical disks, own a disk drive, etc.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Consider for a moment that USB sticks can hold enough data for an entire game[1], are easily swapped, standard, and rewritable. A rewritable thumb drive costs about $0.5 – $1.0 per GB currently, and you wouldn’t want to be doubling the cost of a game just for the media it’s written on, so you wouldn’t want it rewritable. However, thumb drives could be made write-once (at the factory), and the price would be cut substantially. An internet connection is not required for distributing games conveniently; It’s just required if you want to have always-on DRM for your customers.

      [1] e.g. Wolfenstein the New Colossus uses about 50 GB.

      • Matt Downie says:

        Downloading a big game is inconvenient, but so is having to buy a USB stick, and find it when I want to reinstall something, and having to download all the patches from the internet separately. (They’d be less convenient than internet distribution for indie game developers too.)

        Also, a USB dongle could include pretty powerful DRM based on the presence of the physical object. I’m sure DRM-obsessed publishers could supply ‘secure’ USB games if there was a market for them.

  26. Liessa says:

    Agree with pretty much everything in the article. I’m appalled by the growing popularity of microtransactions / lootboxes, and the combination of this and ever-more-obnoxious DRM is why I haven’t bought an AAA game since finding Dragon Age 2 in a bargain bin for £5.*

    On the other hand, the indie scene is booming, as are mid-tier games from companies like Larian and Obsidian. They’re often every bit as good as your typical AAA offering, with the added bonus of not frying my poor little computer. And a lot more games are showing up DRM-free on GOG, even if it takes a while longer (anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the publishers’ level of cluelessness).

    * It wasn’t worth it.

  27. Jeff says:

    Loot boxes will only go away when it gets classified under gambling legislation. Which it really should.

  28. RCN says:

    We got Half-Life, Grim Fandango, Thief, Baldur’s Gate, Starcraft, Unreal, Starcraft Brood War, Descent Freespace, Fallout 2, and Forsaken. And that was just 1998!

    I feel some minor umbrage at the fact that this list has Starcraft TWICE in it but lacks Total Annihilation and Heroes of Might and Magic III.

    It is stark how sometimes people you admire haven’t even heard of the fandom you love even in the same areas of interest.

    • djw says:

      I was going to +1 this, because HoMM 3 was by far my personal favorite from that list (only Baldur’s gate is close on my personal meter).

      However, I checked Wikipedia , and it has the publish date of HoMM 3 as Feb 1999.

      IMO its so good that we can call it the best of 98, 99, and 00, but others may disagree.

      • RCN says:

        Huh, I could swear it was from 1998. Since I played it in 1999 and I usually only got my hands on those games in my country 1-2 years after release.

        And Total Annihilation is definitely 1998. And that was the game that I thought would define RTS for the years to come, not Starcraft. It was so ahead of its time in engine and ideas that it planned for a resolution of upwards of 1920×1080… at a time 640×480 was considered top graphics and 800×600 was pushing the envelope. Today you can play it 3440×1440 with mods with minimum fiddling. Considering some maps were SMALLER than a 1920×1080 could fit, it was truly impressive.

        Granted, many RTS ended up copying several features of Total Annihilation, but everyone for the following decade was trying to be the next Starcraft…

  29. Taellosse says:

    I don’t know what’s going to happen with the loot boxes. I assumed this would be another dumb pointless fad, but apparently it’s making a lot of money.

    That’s because they operate under exactly the same business model as gambling, and are problematic for exactly the same reason: for lots of people, it’s not that interesting, for most of the rest it’s kind of fun in small doses, and for a few, it makes them completely lose their minds and spend absolutely ridiculous amounts of money trying to “win” a rigged system designed to fleece them. That latter group are called “whales” in the industry parlance because they subsidize the entire business model for all the other users by spending a ridiculously disproportionate amount of money. It’s a business model that tends to be highly profitable (see casinos), but also fundamentally predatory, because all the incentives push you to literally hijack the worst impulses of those vulnerable to such fundamentally unfair systems.

    The worrying thing here is that, because it IS highly profitable, it will probably also spread like wildfire through the mainstream gaming industry, and fundamentally ruin that sector of video gaming, both for people with personalities that tend to have a problem with gambling and those that find it actively unfun (I’m personally in the latter camp). And it will probably ruin that sector more or less indefinitely, because there’s very little chance of it actually getting CALLED gambling, legally speaking (because that would subject them to limitations and regulatory oversight the gaming industry would prefer to avoid – for example such games could not be marketed or sold to minors).

  30. With games like Hellblade, _observer, and Cuphead, I’m really hoping this is the start of the re-emergence of the middleware industry…or as Ninja Theory calls it, the Independent AAA.

    • Taellosse says:

      Didn’t the terminology used to be that was the “AA” sector? Wasn’t the whole point of the “A” nomenclature meant to indicate, approximately, budgetary scope (and in theory some measure of overall average quality)? “A” games were small indie titles, usually made by a single developer or a very small team of people, often as a passion project; “AA” were “middleware, or the product of smaller but still multi-person studios, and usually had actual outside funding from either investors or a major publisher; and “AAA” was the big-budget titles, often produced by studios that were either subsidiaries of a major publisher or had multi-title contracts with them.

      I’m not sure how useful that nomenclature ever was, but it seems really silly to be keeping just one of the three terms and trying to contort it to fit one of the other categories.

  31. CrushU says:

    I just wanted to comment and say that I am disappointed you didn’t use a Civilization series graphic for a Golden Age.

  32. Zak McKracken says:

    I guess it’s fair to say that the current “age” of video games has managed to expand the field far and wide enough that there’s something to lvoe for everybody, and also something to hate.

    This is both better and worse than the time around 2000. Worse because if you were “in the scene” at that time, the whole market was for you, and now it’s not. Better because no matter your preferences, you’ll find something you like these days. For me, that’s interesting-but-inexpensive indie titles from GOG and Humble bundles. No DRM, but cool new ideas (or sometimes cool old ideas, why not?)

    I think I’d have left gaming altogether if it was still all AAA games with shiny graphics and basically all the same gameplay, combined with DRM and stuff, for lots of money…

    Not that there’s something inherently wrong with liking AAA games, but I just can’t get myself to care about Shoot Guy IX anymore, I mean, there are supposedly people listening to music that’s in the charts, but after several decades of liking mainstream stuff myself, I need something else. Sorry.
    The whole forced online, DRM, microtransactions, play-to-win, DLC, loot market, grinding… stuff made the departure a lot easier, too.

    (also: no time! I’ve got a job now, so no time for superlong epic games! I’m happy if I can finally finish Shadowrun:Hong Kong within one year…)

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