The Age of Quality

Or is it?

In a time where the prices are rising, DLC is proliferating the market at a staggering rate and the quality of games is seemingly going down.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t great games coming out. I would be wrong in saying that. With new IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn coming out and selling millions of copies and of course perennial favourites like Zelda, one would say my argument falls flat on its face. But, let’s look at things in a little more general light.

There are tons of games coming out from the big studios: EA, Ubisoft, etc that are coming out to infamy, rather than renown.

For example: Mass Effect: Andromeda. Granted, ME3 did leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths due to the poorly thought out ending. But it was a series that, for the most part, was beyond reproach. It’s one of those series, like Uncharted, that no one would dare question the quality and notoriety of. But here comes the latest installment and man, I haven’t seen anyone turn on a series so quickly or thoroughly in all of my life. It would be like if all of a sudden someone tried to tell you that Mario sucks. It seemed as likely as that.

Halo 5 is another one of those AAA entries that just bombed. It’s rare to see an big titles that go on sale as fast as it did (save for the big Ubisoft titles…but I’ll get to that). They were practically giving away the Halo 5 limited edition after a while.

Then there’s Ubisoft…Oh how the mighty have fallen! I remember when AC2 was rocketing in sales and everyone was looking at Ubi like it was the company of the future. And now? Now we get games like Unity, Wildlands, For Honor which get big sales numbers because people want to believe that the series has the potential for greatness. But they just flop. And then when they come out with new IPs, people want to buy into the possibility of how great it’s going to be. Then games like For Honor have their fan base setting a day of protest so that the company will listen to them. I mean, really Ubisoft? Is this what you’ve become? Is it only a matter of time before we end up with landfills like this:

119122_146_news_hub_111872_677x251

Only, piled high with Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy games.

With that said – Is this the age of the decline?

I worry that the great games coming out now are just the diamonds in the rough. The few and far between. I can say for myself that I was very excited for all of the Tom Clancy games coming out this year. Each one of them ended up more disappointing than the last. And then I had high hopes for the new ME, and I can say I’m glad I cancelled my pre-order.

Of course I still have high hopes for the industry as a whole. I know it doesn’t seem like it. I just worry that if the big companies let the quality slide, and they continue to buy up all of the small studios, it creates a dark cloud over the industry for me. One would assume that things should only be getting better with improvements in technology and people more willing to take chances on creating different styles of games, and the consumer willing to go along with them on an adventure.

But then why do we have so many bad games? Is it because the large studios are so set in their ways that they just produce garbage and assume people will buy it? There is definitely a symptom of complicity among the fans. Obviously, to some extent, to problem is that this has simply become a business. I don’t know that there’s one answer. I guess only time will tell whether or not things will get better, or crash.

– The Ego

 

Tell me a tale

How important is story to a game anyway?

I only ask because it seems there are two huge sub-sections of gamers these days. One group is the Call of Duty/Battlefield bunch. If they’re playing those games for some sort of story, then clearly I’ve been horribly, horribly wrong about the “quality” of the content those particular titles offer. I know it’s not something people play for the witty repartee. The other camp, from my experience and recent conversations: story is only worth mentioning if it’s too short or not good enough.

I can understand the concern with gameplay. Good or bad gameplay can make or break a title. That makes sense to me. Since, as the audience, we aren’t passive viewers. Even in games like Heavy Rain or L.A Noire, which are highly cinematic, they still force the player to take an active role. Quick-time events not withstanding, the end-user is a part of the game, part of the story. When thinking about how important gameplay is, it seems like the only time the story has that same effect is when the story is bad or too short.

The title I have in mind, as a good example, is The Order 1886.

Now I can’t go into detail defending the game. I haven’t played it. I want to, and I will, despite the “issues”. That being said, I know the arguments against it:

(She’s hilariously stupid by the way. I couldn’t resist using it once I saw it)

So it’s a five to eight hour campaign. Yes, generally speaking, it’s less than desirable. I like my games to last as long as they can. Getting value for my dollar is very important. However, the statement that duration =/> quality is a far sight from the truth. It’s like the seasons of the BBC Sherlock. I wish they were 20 episodes at an hour a piece, but they’re not. Does that detract from the quality of the story, writing or acting? No, not at all. I think if we all had our way, every piece of media enjoyed would be never ending, because of course, forcing something to stay in the public eye never takes away from the overall quality…

I digress. So it seems like quality and length are directly tied together. With that in mind, though, it seems like even the length camp of fans can’t agree either. It’s a real Goldielocks situation. Some say too short, others complain too long. When the game is just right, no one seems to care. I can’t say I personally have a “perfect” amount of time I want a game to last. I think it is like any story or piece of literature or media. If the ending is satisfying, things are wrapped up into a neat little box – then I’m happy. Even if it isn’t all that tidy, it can still be a good thing.

I definitely know that a game severely lacking story can be a huge issue *cough* Destiny *cough*. Playing that demo and knowing the “story” was going nowhere made it a pass for me. Despite being one of the best mechanical shooters I’ve played. So I can certainly empathize with someone saying the lack of story is a derivation from a quality game.

But what is it that makes people call a good game a good game? I don’t know that there is a single idea, a single specific set of criteria. I know a lot of this stuff is subjective. It’s the appreciation of art, after all. I wish I could point at something and say “Yup, there it is. The secret to a great game”. But we all know that’s not going to happen any time soon. What makes something great usually falls somewhere between the truth and illusion.

Oh, and I know I’m breaking my one pic per post rule again, but I had to throw this one in too.

It’s just so apt, and who doesn’t love this Joker, right?

– The Ego

Fadtastic

So, Skylanders, Disney Infinity and now Lego Dimensions.

The horizon seems more like an infestation than a boon. I won’t lie or pretend like I haven’t played it, don’t own it, etc – because I do.

The appeal of Skylanders, at first, was two-fold:

  1. My wife agreed to play it with me if I bought it (and better yet, she ended up splitting it and the supplementary characters I bought).
  2. I am a collector. The thought of having physical DLC that I could handle, display and appreciate – was pretty appealing.

The unfortunate truth, though, is both of those reasons were fleeting.

So, with 1, my wife had enough. Understandably. I put out a lot of time and effort in hunting these things, well after she lost interest. The truth is, when the figures were about 8$, it seemed okay. Grab the ones you want, pay a bit at a time, not a big deal. But then Skylanders: Giants came out. The Giants, of course, were huge and thus more expensive. 14.99$ was a hefty price tag for a small toy, but hell, there were only 8. Grabbing one at a time over a period seemed reasonable. But then Skylanders: Swap-Force came out. I kept it up. The prices, they also kept up. In other words, they got more and more expensive. Which seemed okay, again (you know, we can justify just about anything to ourselves), because the figures had new tech and were built a little better. But then the figures were 16.99$ and two per element…I kept it up, and I basically ended up buying almost all of them – mostly on the secondary market because the scalpers scalp well.

Then Skylanders: Trap Masters came out. So now it’s mini figures, regular figures, Trap Masters and traps. I knew the whole time that all of these things were a cash grab – and I didn’t care. But a man has his limits. You can imagine my opinion of the new annual release – Skylanders: Superchargers. I can only imagine what accessories you’ll have to buy beyond the vehicles.

The problem is, a game like this is tantamount to a virus. Once it settles, it spreads and multiplies. Which is way people convince themselves it’s okay to buy in droves, and in turn, sets a dangerous precedent for the publishers and developers.

So while I was busy buying and collecting a legion of Skylanders figures, Disney was hatching their own bundle of cash-grabbing monsters. Their concept, slightly different, but “compelling” enough to find a place for it in the market. With Disney buying both Lucas Arts and Marvel in a short period of time – it was obvious that they’d be making their Infinity debut eventually.

And then, like a classic 80’s wrestling match, a third contender is running down the isle to vie for the title.

Lego Dimensions. I get the appeal. The Lego games are way more fun that I’d have likely given them credit for before I’d engaged in a few of them. I was fortunate to be able to grab one of the Lego: Harry Potter games, I think I got Years 5-7 before 1-4, but I knew the series well enough to justify it. They’re easy, but compelling.

So, on that basis, I get why people would be interested. But the market is so saturated now with these toy/games. Something has to give. Given how little I see come into the store, and how little I see go out – I feel like the rug is about to be pulled out from under their collective feet.

It looks like the early fall is going to be a rumble in the jungle. All three games will be out within the same thirty day period. That being said, I feel it in my gut. I think this is going to be the year where the camel’s back is finally broken. Shelves are stocked and interest is waning. Hopefully we can all get back to business. Oh, and don’t get me started on Amiibos.

– The Ego

Batteries (not) included

I love, yes love, collector’s editions of games. I have belt buckles, masks, statues and stickers. I think I even have a Kingdom Hearts keychain batting around somewhere. For a very long time, I would pre-order and hunt for basically every special edition that I could get my hands on. The few I regret not getting: Splatterhouses’ mask, the Alduin statue from Skyrim, the bobblehead/lunchbox from the Fallout 3 set and most of all: the Borderlands 2 loot chest. I came pretty close to shelling out the cost on the set when I found one on kijiji. But I didn’t.

With that in mind – I find myself getting pickier and pickier about which sets I’m going to pick up. Part of it: It’s getting way too expensive to just pick it all up. I mean, when I was doing it in the hay day of collecting, the prices of collector’s editions were somewhere in the area of 90-120$. Now, they barely add anything worth picking up (in most cases) and the prices are sky-rocketing. And frankly, I think that they’d have a pretty hard time justifying the price tags.

Compare this:

To this:

Now, granted, the Borderlands set ran somewhere around the 200$ mark (at least in Canada), but something that was 1.5 or 2x the cost of the WoW set – you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck. I like Blizzard, and the packaging and digital stuff is cool. The only thing is: Aside from the digital, and the box, all you’re getting for your extra money is a mousepad and a soundtrack.

Another great example of something worth the money is the new Fallout Pip Boy edition. Look at this thing:

So, it’s a Pip Boy and box I can display. Check.
Amazing videogame collectable. Check.
It actually functions with a smartphone and app. Seriously?

At 160$ – this is a license to print money. It’s no wonder that it sold out within the hour of being posts on Bestbuy and Amazon.

Todd Howard put it best when he said: “As far as stupid gimmicks go, this is the best fucking one I’ve ever seen,”. I don’t envy the people on the buying end of the secondary market.

If this is going to be an on-going trend, other companies need to step up their game. Mousepads, stickers and dinky bobbles are the collector’s prizes of yesteryear. They are going to have to be economical, they are going to have to be something that doesn’t take up an obscene amount of space and they are going to have to be next-level fun. If they can manage that, and I definitely think it’s in the realm of possibility (Bethesda is proof in the pudding). I get that not every edition will come with something that actually functions. Statues aren’t bad. Alduin would look awesome on my shelf – as awesome as anything made of plastic can be. It has to be fantastic. I’ve always liked about half of the pack-ins for the Assassin’s Creed sets. But there are only so many statues of their protagonists that I can reasonably handle. Especially since they’ve all kind of been duds since Ezio…

I hope, going forward, that companies take what Bethesda is doing and step their game up. Assuming they’re going to continue the trend. And why not? People will buy them and the manufacturing of a plastic statue, mousepad, some digital content or a steelbook is a low cost with high margins.

I know this is just a fan mock-up, but look at this:

I dare you to tell me that sucks. I’m not even a huge Star Wars mark, and I would happily display a cool stormtrooper helmet on my shelf.

I’ve already gone way over my image budget, but this:

Yup. If this was an Xbone exclusive set, I’d buy the console for it.

Both helmets, and the rest of the plastic that I have, and will continue to buy, will all look great next to my portal gun. Whooosh.

– The Ego

“Coincidentally”

I read a couple of good, albeit old, articles on the concept of day one DLC. You can find them here: Forbes + Cinemablend.

They both offered some interesting perspectives on the day one DLC issue. I have to say, I hadn’t considered it from the business perspective, that, offering that extra content to the end-user up front definitely influences the possibility of the extra purchase attachment. So, go businesses, I guess.

Pretty sure this is how the first meeting went:

That being the case, honestly, I still feel like releasing DLC that is a paid release the same day as the game comes out, is a huge gob of spit right in the face. To me, and others I can safely assume, telling us that the money that we’ve chosen to spend on that particular diversion over, say, going to a movie, a night of drinking, etc isn’t good enough for the developers/publishers. Now, obviously, not all of them fall into that boat. Getting that in my copy of the Witcher cemented in my mind that I will be that much more likely to purchase a CD Projekt Red title. Even if the DLC is minor contributions (though they are adding a New Game + option), I’ve never been as moved by a videogame company as I was when I cracked open my copy of Wild Hunt.

So when I see games go live, and then they “offer” you the further experience that can be added at a minimal cost, I just get mad. The issue is with the duality of my interests as a gamer. Because, like many, I do want the “complete experience”. Now, I’d like to have that out of the box, but the industry seems to think that we are just brainless consumers who are going to buy whatever is put out in front of us. Sadly, to some extent, they’re right. If we weren’t buying it, it wouldn’t keep being made and put under our collective noses. So we want it. Not necessarily on day one, but knowing that it’s there and you can buy it and then complete it at your leisure, it makes it that much harder to avoid. Especially if you want everything that is meant to capture the full picture. While the other side of me is screaming: THE GAME JUST CAME OUT AND YOU WANT ME TO BUY MORE!? So, where’s the line?

I also hate how a lot of companies sell the concept of day one DLC like it just so happened to work out as such. I can tell you, from my experience working in the gaming industry as a tester, DLC doesn’t just fall out of the core product like an apple from a branch. It takes weeks to prepare something as simple as a fully functional E3 demo. Weeks. And that’s, generally, a subsection of an (otherwise) functional game. Actually putting together a complete piece of DLC is something that can take months.

So when something comes out as DLC the day the game drops, there is no way that they just happened to wrap it all up after the game has gone gold. Hell, when I was working on the project I was on, they stopped even finishing correcting polish bugs just to make things look a bit shinier. So you can bet your sweet-ass they’re not producing even something as small as a new bonus character.

Like I said, releasing expansions, like WoW or Borderlands, at least, isn’t something that drops at release, and is easily justifiable in terms quality. If I have to put any real thought into whether or not it’s something worth it to pick up, then the truth is, it probably isn’t.

Now, I know how businesses work: They aren’t running charities. So, even when they are doing something good (Witcher 3) there is probably still something they’re planning on the back end.

Stay tuned, I’m prepping to tackle day one patches next. Hot topics in-bound.

– The Ego