Thoughts on the Steam Sale, also Dust

It’s like Valve read my mind (or blog). I hadn’t really planned to buy much in the Steam Sale but they kept putting up games on my list so what’s a girl to do? Current haul this time around includes: XCom, FTL, Kerbal Space Program, SIns of a Solar Empire Rebellion and Dust: an Elysian Tale. I don’t feel manipulated and am a happy customer (at least now that I’ve figured out how to get XCom to save) but it’s true that I spent more than planned.

I am epically ambivalent about Steam’s strange trading cards thing – is it a game or just a bizarre hook to reel in collectors? Not sure, but it seems popular and I picked up some pocket change by selling my cards on the Steam marketplace to people who (for whatever reason) seemed to want them. It is worth noting that people will also pay pocket change for cards generated by playing the games so if you buy a game from Steam that has a lot of associated cards, you can recoup some of your outlay/put the profits towards your next purchase. This makes it one of the most excruciatingly clever promotions ever seen.

Also I kind of like the design that collectors get rewarded with being able to collect things, and I can still  get rewarded for NOT being a collector (ie. by being able to sell the unwanted collectables.)

Jamie Madigan has spent more time thinking about the psychology of steam summer sales.

So what’s the score with Dust?

I haven’t booted up Dust: an Elysian Tale yet, as am currently too occupied with XCom. But the name does remind me that I haven’t heard much recently about CCP’s Dust 514.

I assume from this that no news is bad news, given that gaming companies tend to hype every minor piece of positivity to the ends of the earth and beyond. So colour me unsurprised that Brendan Drain just slated the game on Massively after trying it last week:

Last week I finally sat down to play the game myself and was thoroughly disappointed with both its 2005-era graphics and fundamentally broken gameplay.

The review a couple of weeks back in Edge Online was also harsh.

Combat has about as much personality as the bleak, dust-blown worlds. There’s none of Halo’s gently exaggerated physics, Shootmania’s relentless velocity or Call Of Duty’s immediacy. There’s just shooting people with guns, albeit while battling against some suspect hit detection and sludgy controls.

It’s in stat-packed menu screens, not on the battlefield, that Dust feels most part of the universe in which it nominally takes place.

I don’t know of any official figures about Dust, but I remember wondering last year how much CCP had invested in developing Dust and what the knock-on effect might be on them if it wasn’t successful. I guess we’ll find out.

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Brief catchups, Steam Sale, and a RPG kickstarter not to miss

There are two main reasons that I have been quiet on the blogging front lately. The first is that I’m feeling quite uninspired about MMOs at the moment – my main games are WoW (in which I’m still raiding with my awesome guildies) and LOTRO (which I’m playing about a session a week with Arb on my runekeeper). They are both oldish games. Maybe I’m just an oldish school MMO player.

The EVE experiment ran to the end of the first month, by which time I was really only logging on to tweak the skill queue. I have no doubt that the game is all about the corps and PvP, but I’ve played sandbox games enough to know that even with all these things in place, it’s still not going to be a game for me during the long slow summer gaming slump. It is in the nature of sandbox games to involve a lot of hanging around and being bored in between flashes of interest. It’s a pretty game though and I miss Elite.

Like many other players, I often fall into a summer gaming slump. This year feels different, because my enthusiasm about upcoming MMOs is so muted. I have played the FF14 beta and it was OK, but I felt bored. I saw nothing to make it stand out from the other themepark MMOs I am playing. I may have missed the aspects that make the game stand out, but I played until I got too bored to log in any more. TESO is likely the next new MMO I will play, and mostly because a friend of a friend told me that the writing was good. We’ll see.

The (not so recent now) news that Blizzard have ditched whatever their old plans were for Titan and are starting from square one didn’t surprise me, I’d already wondered whether they have dropped previous redesigns and had to redo due to changes in the market. But it does mean that WoW is going to be the Blizzard staple for a few more years yet. They’ve done a lot of things right with MoP but by this stage in the expansion, I am still feeling generally unenthused. It will be hard work for them to keep coming out with this level of content output and even if they do, they will be constantly losing players.

And as I have pretty much no interest in shooters, the upcoming shooter type MMOs are largely going to pass me by also.

The second reason for not blogging is that I’ve been busy with new job, which is all quite positive but takes a lot of energy.

I will however try to do more regular updates in future. Even if I am on a downswing in MMO playing (and the genre in general is also) it is still worth documenting. Along with some generic thoughts about MMO tropes that I will not miss. It is the vast virtual worlds to explore that I will however miss. I’m not sure how great a feature those will be for any new entries to the genre, such as it is.

Steam Sale

It’s that time of the year again. Anything big on anyone’s wishlist? I’m not sure I do, this time around. A lot of the games I wanted I have already been able to buy at good discounts. Kerbal Space Program sounds intriguing though, and I’d be up for Sword of the Stars or some kind of 4x strategy game. Any indie games anyone would recommend?

Clearly it is a bad idea to buy new games when there are older ones I have not started yet, but such is the world of extra disposable income.

Kick out for Chuubo

And lastly a shout out for a kickstarter that is ending soon, which is a (pen and paper) RPG by one of the most talented writers in the industry. Jenna (probably best known for Nobilis and some of the better received Exalted books)  is often hailed as either a genius or a quirky cultish author but aside from her evocative writing style, the real smarts are in the way she plays with rules and mechanics to build games that just work differently to the standard D&D wargaming based dungeon crawls.

In Chuubo the goal is to make it interesting and easy to run pastoral games, where character development and exploration is core to the game rather than just killing monsters and looting their corpses. If you want to know how she does this, plonk down $15 for the KS and you can have access to the entire first draft, as well as various other freebies, examples of play and short stories that she’s put up for the KS supporters. And as you might guess from the fact that the first draft is up, the game is already  completed and the KS is funded – further funds will go towards the stretch goals.

She describes the game as:

It’s an RPG that strives, as its first principle, to make it worthwhile to spend your time on both the little things and the big ones — a game that’s meaningful and fun whether your characters are drinking tea with their friends, exploring their new home, doing their daily round of chores, or hunting horrors in the dark. It’s a work that strives, as its second principle, to bend but not break when the same people who were sweeping or arguing over television shows a few minutes before start throwing around godly powers, breaking the world with their poorly-phrased wishes, and heading out into the dark to challenge Death.

I especially recommend this one to game designers. She is honestly a genius with mechanics. Enjoy!

Gaming News: Changes at Cryptic and Mythic, Bioware SWTOR multiplayer demo, Steam Sale, World of Tank and Need for Speed beta

News is a bit thin on the ground this week, must be the silly season.

Crew Changes at Cryptic

Craig Zinkievich is leaving his role as executive producer of Star Trek Online. In his leaving letter, he says that he’s decided to take a break from Cryptic and focus on other things, none of which seem to be work related.

Hope he enjoys his break, whether it was enforced or not. The vacant position has been filled, but it’s hard to know what this might mean for STO. It’s not usually a good sign when the producer packs up.

Mythic changes name again

Mythic has changed its name again and is now Bioware Mythic, in a move which makes the actual organisation of MMO studios within EA very clear (ie. Bioware has not also changed its name to Bioware Mythic.)

They also this week finally completed the handover from GOA for running the EU servers. Remind me why we need special EU servers again? Aside from various beta shenanigans and a really awful website, I found GOA did a decent job on running the EU side of WAR. Bootae’s Bloody Blog agrees. Let’s hope Mythic can at least do as well.

SWTOR multiplayer demo

Some of the E3 reports mentioned that journalists had played through a multiplayer SWTOR demo which showed different classes taking up different roles. The official multiplayer demo trailer has now been released. Moon over Endor discusses this along with the rest of the E3 news.

Steam continues to demonstrate how to run a cash shop

Today is the last day of the infamous Steam Summer Sale. If you don’t yet own World of Goo then I do not know you! (Mount and Blade, and Portal are also awesome.)

Syp writes a plaintive post about all the great deals he was forced to pick up this week.

I snagged Gothic 3 and Thief 3, two games I always meant to try but never got around to. I might still never get around to it but at least they’re there on my PC now … or something.

Steam has basically eliminated the myth of the short tail for computer games. Older games will sell, they just need to be enticingly priced and easily available. There have also been some good MMO deals this week, including EVE and Champions Online.

A couple of beta announcements

Yup, struggling for news this week.

World of Tanks enters its closed beta. Sounds dull to me but it’s nice to see the genre expanding. Not sure what you do with your tank other than drive around in it and shoot other tanks – does that make for a good MMO?  But what do I know?

Need for Speed: World is also opening up its beta this week. It is technically an MMO, and to be honest, this sounds way more interesting to me than the tank one. At least with a racing sim, I see the possibilities in training up your car/driver/support team/ manufacturer. Either way, I’m definitely intrigued to hear more about this one.

Monster Hunter Frontier Online tops Japanese xbox sales

This was an interesting story from Massively. An xbox exclusive MMO has made it to the top of the sales charts in Japan. No mention of it being released abroad but with all the anxious discussions about MMOs on consoles, it’s interesting to see proof of concept.

What do you expect to get for your monthly subscription?

It’s hard to put a value on content, but the expectations of the MMO community have changed over the past few years. Whereas once, access to the virtual world with all its trappings was considered worth the price of entry, we now expect a stream of additional content patches to justify the monthly fees.

Or do we?

Champions Online has put the cat among the pigeons by announcing a paid mega-adventure pack, Vibora Bay,  (sounds similar to the sorts of big content patches we get in WoW). The player base is less than thrilled. There’s a sense that this business model is fine in a free to play game like DDO where you expect to pay for extra content, but a lot of players expect that a monthly sub should include this type of thing.

Perhaps it is time for MMO publishers to be more up front about exactly what you do get for your monthly fee, because games that do include content patches are definitely looking like better value.  And when you can pick up a cool little game like Psychonauts for £1 off Steam in the sale (last day: today), just how much should you expect anyway for your £10 pcm?