Alright the year is over, listicles have been compiled and forgotten, upcoming release lists have been edited to replace 7's with 8's and so many things went wrong that it’s easy to lose track of what went right. And that’s not because gamers are entitled or more prone to overreaction than other hobbyists, as AAA publishers and business analysts like to whine when they need an excuse to bump their self image back up to omnipotent demi-god from merely unimaginably wealthy business guy. No. That’s because there was a truly epic mountain of rushed releases, broken ports, obnoxiously Orwellian PR bullshit and game breaking monetization strategies to annoy us this year.
Now I freely admit tobeing easily annoyed, it comes with age I think but even the most relaxed gamer has to admit this was a turning point year in the hobby.
With all that said several games I played this year did more than anything else to really point out just how full of shit the biggest corporate developers are and provide important lessons that could teach those companies how to keep and please their customers but will ultimately, of course, be forgotten almost immediately.
As always lets really quickly get a brief history of the AAA publishers failures this year before moving on to the four games and how they proved the publishers were either incompetent, full of shit, or more likely, both.
Activision/Blizzard. Maybe they should change the name to Blizzard Activision. That way when people whoplay games had to say it out loud it would go Blizzard!/....activision. Instead of sigh....activision/Blizzard?
Now that’s not to say that Blizzard doesn’t need to answer for their own shitty practices like....using a team of sleazy corporate lawyers to figure out a loophole to circumvent Chinese law rather than simply tell their customers what the odds associated with their lootboxes were or....basically popularizing the microtransaction in premium game system with their very early sales of mounts in WoW. But Blizzards ability to craft unique and beloved gameplay experiences and their ability to communicate with their players without sounding like soulless corporate husks has insulated them from much of the fury that Activision engenders when they engage in the same practices.
This year Activision has dealt with crisis after crisis in Destiny 2 including a suddenly extreme and in your face microtransaction system that’s getting as much if not more content put into it than the base experience of a game that quite literally is built around getting loot. A post launch DLC controversy that is the exact same controversy Destiny 1 had, a controversy stemming from Destiny lying to it’s players faces by hiding how much XP was actually being earned and...honestly just Destiny 2 being a huge pile of meh.
Outside of Destiny Activision was caught filing a patent for a grotesquely manipulative system wherebyplayers would be match-made based upon their microtransaction purchase history. Remember that? This was the one where players would be put into matches where they’d succeed after making a purchase to reinforce the behavior and put up against better players who had bought MTX’s to “encourage” purchases.
Oh yeah, they also used Normandy Beach as social hub in COD. A place it forced players to have to visit so they’d be compelled to watch other players opening loot boxes.
And double oh yeah the COD Modern Warfare remastered shit was actually going on early last year! Holyshit Activision.
BTW I’ve become convinced that the move away from direct loot drops and to the token system In Destiny 2 was a way to subtly get players used to the idea of no longer getting gear IN the game. You can’t tell me anybody thought it was more fun to beat a raid and have to wait through 2 loading screens and a jog to get the suddenly underwhelming raid gear than to immediately get it from a boss kill. Activision’s year shows that they’ve been exploring ways to subtly manipulate players behavior and writing this it kind of suddenly makes perfect sense.
I’m not going to get into the controversies about Warner Brothers paying YouTube“Influencers” for positive reviews. Because that was last year and they had more than enough go sideways this year. Quick aside. Ireally hate the term “YouTube influencer”, It makes my skin crawl.
Not content to publish a guaranteed to be successful massive sequel to a previouslysuccessful game WB had to stuff MTX’s in there somewhere. And not content of to just sell people products they had to sell the possibility of getting digital products. Of course the odds of getting any particular product was hidden from the consumer. This system was so shitty the lead developers themselves said they wouldn’t be buying them.
When the person sent on interviews to defend a shitty system can only say they exist for player choice but that they themselves wouldn’t buy them you know it’s a garbage system. Getting the “true” ending of the game (of this SINGLEPLAYER GAME)was, of course, proved to be a nearly endless grindy mess clearly balanced around compelling completionists and whales to dump money into a gambling system in the hopes they would get the orcs they need to finish the game.
Oh yeah. They also announced that in tribute to the death of a beloved member of the team at Monolith they had made a character called Forthog the Orc Slayer who would be available for download on day 1. For $5.
Sometimes I like to envision conference rooms where dozens of people sit discussing decisions that are so amazingly bad, so obvious to be a disaster and wonder how many people looked down at their laps and thought, “Welp, this will be a shit storm”.
And don’t tell me about how WB said they wouldn’t get any ”Profit” from these sales. I’m not sure why I’d believe them unless they’re willing to open the books. And either way it’s just ridiculously tone deaf to have a MTX “memorial” as you’re dealing with a MTX scandal in your game.
Bethesda and Take 2 Interactive
Bethesda spent the year shooting themselves in the foot by continuing an absolutely ridiculous and self defeating policy of not allowing reviewers to get advanced copies of their games. This is not an issue with games like Fallout because they could release Fallout New Orleans tomorrow, unannounced and it’d sell a bazillion copies.
But this year Bethesda released a game that was a completely new IP that strangely still bore the title of a game it had nothing to do with, from a studio who is known for smaller release stealth based games, that had a really terrible beta, and actually stacks it’s worst, shittiest 6 hours ofgameplay right up front.
Bethesda quite literally killed it’s own game with a policy that serves absolutely no purpose for it. What’s worse is they stuck by the corporate double speak “reason” for the policy. See Bethesda wasn’t limiting access to reviewers to try and insulate itself from mediocre reviews. No no no. Bethesda just wanted to make sure that everyone can experience the game together. It’s a total crock of shit and if you believe that I don’t know what to tell you other than to let you know that you are entitled to a huge inheritance from a long lost relative and in order to pay out you’ll have to forward me your checking account and routing numbers. It’s totally on the up and up.
Oh yeah and they tried the fucking paid mods thing. Again.
Take Two continued literally drowning in the money from Shark Cards, said they’d be putting MTX’s into every game possible going forward and then shu toff all mods for GTA V. They also still wont fucking let me get screen shots or game capture for any of the original BioShock games,the remaster, or for Borderlands 2.
Listen I only have so much time before my readers have their eyes glaze over and while I normally push that as far as I possibly can, I’m discussing EA here so I have a moral duty to consider the needs of those with medical conditions that cause nausea. As such we’re going to keep this section short and sweet before moving on to the good news.
EA. Sigh. EA was involved in the conceptualization, design, creation, testing, beta and launch of Star Wars Batllefront 2. That whole time EA didn’t see a problem. Just days before launch they didn’t see a problem. EA then sent corporate shills out into the world to explain to people just how stupid they were for being mad and not realizing that the ridiculous, terrible, RNG progression system, the endless grinding,the selling of gameplay advantages in a casual focused multi player shooter and the loot boxes weren’t there for EA’s benefit.
They were there for the players benefit. You know for choice, and time and accomplishment and stuff. They went on reddit to slowly repeat themselves and got testy when players pointed out their bullshit. Then patted themselves on the back for listening. Then said they wouldn’t change their strategy. Then they changed the strategy and gave themselves an applause for removing the boxes. Then explained they be coming back. Then said that removal somehow wouldn’t hurt the games bottom line which, incidentally completely undermines their argument for why this piece of shit system had to be in the game in the first place.
They also said that they couldn’t possibly have kept their loot boxes cosmetic because of lore and shit. This despite previous games having had cosmetic options and the Star Wars universe having a tremendous cache of lore to choose from. And then it was quickly found there were already cosmetic options in the game waiting to be turned on at a later date.
EA also did their usual shuttering of studios, shat on it’s own obscenely expensive Star Wars license by canceling a game certain to be a hit because it“was shaping up to be a linear single player experience,” and, of course, we all know nobody wants those.
The Publishers Laments and The GamesThat Proved Them Bullshit
Ok this piece isn’t and never really was meant to be about any of those particular controversies. What this piece is about is showing how several of the most successful games this year demonstrated that almost everything the big publishers say about how they must do business is bullshit. Let’s keep this positive by organizing it by the games that succeeded and what they teach us.
Nier Perfect (been waiting to use that pun)
My last piece was about Nier Automata, a fantastic game with great combat, an amazing story and some of the best music I’ve ever heard in a game. If you haven’t played it and like me were a bit skeptical about it you’re doing yourself a disservice. Nier Automata put the lie to one of the AAA publishers biggest whines. That games are so expensive to make they must be packed full of microtransactions because, how else would Ubisoft make a profit? Well in my Nier analysis I spent a good deal of time pointing out all of Niers “flaws” which were obvious ways to keep the production cost of the game low. Most NPC dialogue is text based as opposed to AC Origins where basically every NPC has voiced dialogue. Nier’s map is fairly small by modern standards as opposed to AC Origins which has just the most ridiculously,unnecessarily huge map ever, there is pop in and low resolution textures as opposed to AC Origins which features almost life like fidelity and the best rendering of water physics I have ever seen.
But Nier shows that all those things developers like Ubisoft claim they have to do? It’s all bullshit. It was Ubisoft not players who decided they needed life like water and a map that’s so large my eyes glaze over thinking about it and NPC’s who have voice actors but nothing interesting to say.
Ubisoft and theother huge developers decided they have to have these things notbecause they make the game experience all that much better for theplayer but because they make marketing and PR easier.
Sending someone out to do interviews with a postcard telling him (yes, it’ll be a him) to stress “The largest map ever in a game, true 4k resolution, and thousands of lines of voiced dialogue” is easy. The big publishers have allowed marketing to interfere with design. Nier took the Assassins Creed open world formula and distilled it to include only the most important things that players would actually care about.
Nier is one of the best games of the generation made by a studio in financial trouble reportedly on a comparatively very small budget. And they showed,once again, that a great game doesn’t need to cost so much to make that it needs to cut corners on music and stability and cram it fullof gambling mechanics to make a profit.
And it sold over 2 million copies with a very modest marketing push behind it.
Oh and it had absolutely zero microtransactions at all. Not one.
Horizon Zero Dawn And The Death Of New Single Player Games....Again
AAA publishers have a habit of deciding that what they would like to happen (which coincidentally is precisely what would take their business from obscenely profitable to ludicrously profitable) is what has already happened. For years we’ve heard from these companies about the games as service model and how every game has to have a crammed in multi player mode or be a multi player only title because players just don’t want single player games anymore. EA and Activision aren’t forgoing interesting new ideas and pumping out Call Of Duty and Battllefield and Madden and Fifa as often as is humanly possible because those games can be developed quickly and easily be crammed full of microtransactions. No, they are doing that because they’ve listened to gamers and players just don’t want to engage with single player games anymore.
And, listen games as service are an important and, for me, very fun area of gaming. I still play Overwatch consistently because my 11 year old daughter isa mega fan of the Overwatch universe. I played WoW from Vanilla through WoD, I spent 1500 plus hours with Destiny 1 and I’m currently in the process of trying to get my kids into Warframe because Destiny ruined itself. But the idea that good single players games are being released less often by the big studios because players don’t want them is just absurd.
I haven’t bought a Switch yet so I can’t use Mario and Zelda to make my point but I did play a game that shows EA is full of shit.
My tastes run to pop. Even though I’m a former hardcore kid and current indie rocker I like POP indie rock. So even in video games I generally like easily accessible stuff. I’m not into JRPG’s because I don’t like turn based combat. I find adventure games and most walking simulators boring. So, in general, I am the average normal EA customer. And despite EA insisting I don’t want single player games my favorite game of the year was Horizon Zero Dawn. And apparently I’m not alone because the game is on track to sell 8 million units init’s life span.
Horizon Zero Dawn breaks no new ground. It’s a very standard open world game. It manages to be nearly perfect because it isn’t bloated and tired and it’s story and combat are refined and polished enough to be near perfect. It also has the best total package of visuals of any console game to date. Almost everyone who played this game loved it.
And you know what? It’s a single player game. It doesn’t even feature a tacked on multi player option. It’s just a perfectly balanced, wonderfully produced, fun single player game that was a huge hit and has a sequel on the way.
So how is it that a AAA single player game managed to be a critical and commercial success when we’ve spent the last 3 years hearing that these types of games are dead because no one wants them and they cost too much to be profitable?
Well it had a production budget of only 47 million with most of the development having a team of only 20 and at it’s peak 200. And on top of that it’s a new IP! The big developers spent the previous generation furiously spending tens of millions of dollars ripping each other off with crappy clones in search of a hit. This strategy obviously failed and the lesson the big publishers took from that wasn’t “Hey,we need to stop making shitty clones of other games that got there first.”
NO the lesson they took was “Gamers don’t want new IP’s or single player games” It must have seemed truly wonderful that the lessons of the last generation reinforced ideas that make their jobs easier and entail less risk.
Unfortunately for them they were deluding themselves. Gamers don’t want anything inparticular. They don’t want great graphics, they don’t want huge maps, they don’t want single player games, multi player games, always online games. They just want great NEW games.
Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the best games of the year at an almost bargain cost for a AAA open world game because it was a game that Guerilla wanted to make. It was a game with a vision and it made the best game it possibly could around that vision. Without all the bloat, without focus groups shaping the design, without a tacked on multi player ora baked in loot box system for sale.
EA shut Visceral down this year. Visceral, a studio they had basically ruined by murdering Dead Space 3 with a microtransaction progression system. EA’s stated reason for shuttering the studio and killing it’s own new Star Wars IP is that the game was shaping up to be a linear singleplayer experience and gamers no longer want games like that.
EA claims they’ve been carefully monitoring the maketplace and the conclusion they’ve drawn is that what would be best for EA is actually what players want. I guess they missed that the vast majority of this generations best games were single player games and that Horizon Zero Dawn was a completely single player, big budget massive hit.
Hey But A Huge Multiplayer Hit Was One Of The Biggest Stories Of 2017!!!
But unfortunately for EA it wasn’t Star Wars Battlefront 2. EA spent a tremendous amount of money on the Star Wars license comfortable in the knowledge that it would be almost impossible to NOT make boatloads of dough off ten years of Star Wars games at a time when the film franchise has been revitalized. EA sold FOURTEEN MILLION COPIES of their first,hugely disappointing, barely half of a game, Star Wars Battlefront 1.
Fourteen Million Copies. Even if none of those were Super Vader Diamond Gold All Universe Editions (and of course a shit load of themwere) that would have been $840,000,000 dollars in revenue before one piece of overpriced garbage DLC map packs had been sold. That’s apretty good amount of money for a game that was not very good.
But EA said they heard the fans and promised to make SWBF2 the game that players had been expecting. With no paid DLC, a single player campaign and space battles it stood to reason that SWBF2 would be the biggest story in multiplayer gaming in 2017.
That title goes to a game that was made on a tiny budget, by a single dude, using mods of Arma 3.
Player Unknown Battlegrounds even has a name that could literally be a case study in a first semester marketing class about how to not name your product.
But PUBG is the biggest multi player hit of the year and SWBF2 is such a disaster that EA’s doesn’t have an easy way to fix the game.
Once again this comes down to the myth that games are so damn expensive to make that players need to either pay $120 for a complete game like SWBF1, or pay infinite amount for the complete game like SWBF2 or they just can’t afford to make good games.
But PUBG proves that good games don’t come purely from the profit motive. Yes,nobody would make games if they couldn’t get paid for their efforts. But games are a form of art and ALL good art comes first from the creative impulse.
PUBG was made on a shoe string budget from existing assets. It’s graphics are pretty good on PC and adequate on console. It’s gunplay is solid if unspectacular. It’s map is good but nothing groundbreaking or special. What PUBG proves is that the way to make a hit game isn’t to make a list of what other hit games have done and meticulously check off boxes until you’ve got every one. It’s to ask what is a new and interesting and fun way to play.
Even PUBG’s gameplay isn’t as revolutionary as Bluehole’s tweets would imply. But it’s got a great hook, a low skill floor, high skill ceiling and a gameplay loop that is wonderfully refined because the game was crafted FIRST to be fun and then to be profitable. IT even leaves open the door for mountains of cosmetic MTX, hopefully some will be for direct purchase. But even if lootboxes are the only reward system the game wasn’t designed around them.
SWBF2 had a core gameplay loop literally and obnoxiously and so very obviously crafted around the MTX system. The entire progression system isn’t run through loot boxes because that’s fun, it’s run through that system because if players had stood for it it would have been a system that finally fused gameplay and lootboxes completely.
EA said that was totally necessary because big, persistent, games as service games are so expensive to make that their just taking a beating on every game they make unless they cram it full of every single monetization strategy they can think of. PUBG proved they were full of shit in2017.
Players Are Too Stupid To Understand Games And Stuff
You might not realize this but EA, Activision/Blizzard, Take Two, WB and all of their buddies think you’re an idiot. They think you’re too stupid to realize that you’re getting half the game you used to.
They think you’re so stupid you’ll believe that the big publishers are hemorrhaging money. They think you’ll believe that loot boxes are an absolute must and that they simply couldn’t afford to release a full game or make a few maps without them despite the fact that game after game does just that. And, worst of all, they think you’re too stupid to handle things like...oh, a decent story and a deep progression system.
You’ll often hear the bro gamer types lamenting the “casuals” ruining gaming. But it isn’t the “casuals” ruining anything. People like what they like and they have the time they have. What’s ruining games is that big companies quite literally think that casual players are idiots who will refuse to engage with a game. They think that people who don’t play 6 hours a day will look at a progression tree and say “Holy shit what am I doing my taxes? Nah fuck that gimme my phone and I’ll play Candy Crush.”
No game better demonstrated the lack of respect that big developers have for their players this year than Destiny 2. A game that served as a sequel to an extremely simple RPG lite and literally removed even the very basic RPG elements because somebody decided the reason Destiny reviewed badly wasn’t because it was empty, shallow, vacuous and lacked content but because it was just too damn complex for the morons to handle.
I’ll just rundown a real quick list of the changes Destiny 2 made in an effort to make the game simpler.
Removal of random gun perks.
Removal of the swap-able gun perk system.
Removal of a skill bush in favor of a skill shrub.
Removal of ability to choose from multiple skills in favor of a binary choice of set A or set B.
Removal of meaningful armor perks.
Removal of interesting exotic armor.
Removal multiple currencies.
Removal of strike scoring.
Removal of strike modifiers.
That’s literally just off the top of my head and I haven’t played the game in weeks now. I logged back in for Curse of Osiris, was deeply disappointed that it’s still Destiny 2 and then I logged back off for good until I hear that the game has gotten deeper and respects my intelligence enough to deliver even the minimal build diversity D1 had.
But there was another loot grind, space opera, multi player PVE focused game that continued it’s shocking rise to success this year.
Let me begin by saying I’ve only just started playing Warframe 2 weeks ago. It’s been installed on my Xbox’s and my PC for a couple of months but during that time I still had hope that Bungie would reveal that Destiny 2 had actually been an elaborate ruse designed to make people realize just how good Destiny 1 was.
Now if Warframe had the budget and smooth gameplay of Destiny it’d be a nearly perfect game. But after about 20 hours with the game I can see what it is. A very good free to play game that has defied the odds to be a success. How did a game that literally no AAA publisher wanted anything to do with end up with 36 million registered users and a peak PC player count of 121,377? By not condescending to their players and crafting a deep, highly customizable RPG shooter.
A game that respects players intelligence. Warframe features graphics that aren’t cutting edge. It doesn’t have “the largest map ever created in the universe”, and it has microtransactions.
But Warframe has consistently and repeatedly refined and added to the game and taken player feedback to heart. Warframe has a huge variety of classes (those would be...Warframes. The classes are called Warframes? Am I a dude inside the frame? Or am I just the frame? I haven’t found that out yet), and those classes are further differentiated by weapons and mods and cosmetic customization. The game is absolutely loaded with content with more coming all the time. And as for the microtransactions? If you would like a Warframe or Mod slots or a weapon you can trade money for that item. Then you receive that item. You don’t receive a (hidden) percentage chance of getting the item. You actually get the item you want. Almost like what used to be called a transaction or purchase.
Warframe was developed with all of Digital Extremes money and self published. Then the game was given to players completely for free with consistent and often quite large content updates all being free and it’s been a huge commercial success for DE. Because DE respected their players intelligence and ability to engage with a game with depth and trusted that if they made cool shit and offered to sell it to players at a fair price that players would reward them.
I’m not suggesting Destiny needs to be as impenetrable as Warframe. In fact that would be a pretty obvious mistake. But I am saying that Warframe proves that if you want players to stick around for months in a row you need to respect their intelligence. There needs to be a decently high level of complexity and customization so players feel like they are always working towards something. Destiny doesn’t need 50 classes and thousands of mod combinations to be a successful game. But it needs to respect it’s audiences intelligence enough to give them systems with enough depth to not feel like once you’ve played for 10 hours you’ve seen everyting the game does.
Warframe proves that developers were completely wrong when they decided that a rich,complex, customizable progression system just can’t be successful.
It also proves that when you hear Activision or EA or WB say that there’s no way they can be profitable without adding lootboxes to their $60-$120 game they are just full of shit.
Or you could just google their stock prices.
2017 The Year That Broke Gaming
It was real easy to spend 2017 constantly vacillating between being amused at the huge publishers incompetence and self defeating practices and being furious as games that would have been hugely successful and profitable were ruined by focusing on monetization before making a fun game.
Any successful company needs to focus first on making products consumers want and then worry about how best to sell it but the biggest publishers have gotten it all backwards. If EA continues releasing unfun games with odious monetization strategies, if Activision keeps condescending to it’s players, if Warner Brothers keeps meddling in the development process these companies can fail. There was a time when nobody could have imagined anyone but IBM would be the biggest computer company in the world. Then Microsoft and Apple ate their lunch by making products that consumers wanted.
We can only hope that PUBG, Nier, Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda, Mario, Warframe and all the other great games of the year finally show the big publishers the error of their ways. Or at least that one of the big publishers starts to take notice of what games actually succeeded and why. Because what’s good for the player is what’s good for EA not the other way around and the sooner they learn the better off we’ll all be.
Alright. It would be positively glorious if you’d watch my videos on youtube and read my other articles. . And if you watch those videos and read those articles I’d be ever so pleased if you liked, shared and subscribed. I have a twitter account too you know? And if you do all that I’d be most gratified if you were to join us in the garden for tea this afternoon. Oh it shall be mostdelightful indeed.
Pliny The Welder is relatively cranky old man who was once young. There was a time in New York as a lad when he looked at the old Itlalian men sitting in their driveways drinking coffee with fear and loathing. Now Pliny is that old Italian man. He writes and makes videos about games, records a strange blend of post hardcore and pop and has two dogs and three kids. He’s undecided on whether the kids or the dogs are the better behaved.