The Moomin Meta Game Failure of our Time

Moomin Amatin is what you get when you mix a dictionary with a kool-aid bottle

Disclaimer: Salivan Harddin is a member of Snuffed Out [B B C], a former member of Pandemic Legion [-10.0] and is acquainted with penifSMASH (we talked like, twice, omg bias!)

If you’ve played EVE Online for the last month and tried to keep up with any of the game’s news, the banning of Brisc Rubal would probably be something you’d be aware of. Not only did it make the rounds in the New Eden media circles, but even gotten coverage from the wider gaming press. To give you a short synopsis, Brisc Rubal is a member of The Initiative. [INIT.] which is part of the Imperium coalition that elected him to the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a body that discusses and debates upcoming changes to the game with the developers as well as acting as a conduit for the woes of the playerbase. Since it gets privileged information, the players are bound by non disclosure agreements (NDAs). That said, the CSM had been embroiled with plenty of controversy since its establishment, with Brisc Rubal seemingly the latest in a long line of players to take advantage of their position to leak privileged information for personal gain. Of course, if you did follow the saga to its eventual conclusion, you would have learned that Brisc Rubal was actually innocent all along.

Of course, following the exoneration, people wanted to know who told on Brisc, and why? Theories cropped up and it all culminated in a confrontation between Killah Bee and Hy Wanto Destroyer on the Meta Show. I can’t comment on the regular quality of a show produced by the dregs of New Eden, also known as Imperium News Network (INN for short, flaming pile of trash for accuracy), but it was a bizarre episode. Killah Bee, himself a member of CSM, inadvertently confessed that he informed CCP Games on the possible breach following a conversation he had with penifSMASH on the upcoming changes to high angle weapons (HAW). As it turned out, penifSMASH had acquired Dark Shines’, one of The Initiative’s fleet commanders who got banned alongside Brisc Rubal, Molok titan and regretted it. The rest, as they say, is history. Killah Bee informed CCP Games, CCP Games banned Brisc Rubal and another two players, one of which is the aforementioned Dark Shines, and a whole rollercoaster of speculation and backpadeling ensued.

Of course, mentioning penifSMASH’s name to The Mittani, one of the two hosts of the show, was enough to to cause the latter a stroke. I admit, I have never seen a grown man so enraged and possibly coked out of his mind. He flew into a rage, grilling Hy Wanto Destroyer for details and just constantly shouting that he is The Mittani and he needs no evidence because he is The Mittani! I mean, it would be entertaining if it wasn’t so pathetic. This is the leader of the largest coalition in EVE Online, a man boy so out of touch with the game that he has to assert that he knows whats up while obviously being utterly lost and trying desperately to gather crumbs of information from Hy Wanto Destroyer’s mutterings.

https://clips.twitch.tv/DaintyBoldEagleYouDontSay (I tried embedding it half a dozen time but either I am retarded or WordPress is)
He is The Mittani, he knows everything! (except not)

So why The Mittani was so enraged? Well there is a lot of bad blood between penifSMASH and The Mittani harkoning back to the days of GoonSwarm [OHGOD] when The Mittani was treated with the seriousness he deserved: None. Its not really clear to me what happened during those times and in the few public conversation penifSMASH had which I witnessed, he only said that the anger was justified, which already shows that penifSMASH, unlike The Mittani, is healthy enough to recognize when he is in the wrong and like a decent human being, own it and move on. I know this seems petty but as we go down the Moomin rabbit hole it will all make sense.

Regardless The Mittani, still upset and coming down hard from his drug fueled craze (allegedly), sent his lackeys to write a hit piece blaming the entire event on penifSMASH because of reasons. Thus enters Moomin Amatin, a sad little man so desperate to get The Mittani’s approval that he’d go to any lengths to appease his master.

Now I haven’t really followed Moomin’s career in INN closely because I have much better things to do with my life but I am no stranger to his writings. He has the Sion Kumitomo problem of needing to sound intellectual. You know the type; uses big words, long sentences and a lot of hyperbole. I get it, anyone who writes has that phase when they try to show that they are really smart. However most good writers grow the fuck out of it. For Moomin, that style is his life. His self esteem hangs on it!

Moomin goes about investigating the same way inspector Clouseau goes about gathering evidence: Like a blithering idiot. Once he gets the expected responses from penifSMASH and Hy Wanto Destroyer (that is, fuck all) he goes on to write his spin piece how it was all a clever ploy by penifSMASH who hates The Initiative because of reasons and how Hy Wanto Destroyer is nursing a snake and should act before its too late or The Initiative will have no reason to trust him and so forth. To be frank I skimmed most of the article because it was the most amateurish, blatant propaganda and disinformation piece I’ve ever seen, worthy of Fox News. Fuck the evidence, he is The Mittani!

Usually I’d just scoff at such blatant stupidity put on full display and leave a disparaging remark, insulting the intelligence and integrity of the writer, which I did. Of course my very respectful and totally innocent comment got deleted by the moderators who are obviously the enemies of free speech (when goons get banned, but weirdly not when others do), but I shrugged it off and made jokes about oppression to my fellow Snuffed Out pilots. However being linked excerpts of the article and reading them thoroughly as well as the comments of the imbeciles buying this blatant cow shit (equal opportunity insulter) made me quite mad. I admit it, I got angry.

firefox_2019-04-29_22-56-42
Very respectful!

I got angry because, in the end, I care for the truth. I care for the whole story to be told in the most neutral and impartial way. That is why I have kept off writing about the whole Brisc Rubal situation since things kept developing and I felt like I didn’t have a complete grasp of the entire affair, which as it turns out, I didn’t. Its why I write battle reports on the New Eden Report, tired of spin, hype and general inaccuracies and wanting to do justice by the pilots and fleet commanders who actually participate in those struggles. Because I’d like to think it all matters in the end.

You might think its a bit naive of me, and you may be right. Yet the fact Moomin blatantly misconstrued the truth and sought to create a vast conspiracy theory with penifSMASH at its center is something I feel shouldn’t be overlooked, but used to repeatedly bash him until his empty skull caves in, in-game of course.

The problem with Moomin’s article, besides the fact his reasoning skills are limited by the tiny oxygen intake his mouth breathing allows him, is that it undermines itself. Moomin has no evidence to work with so he keeps insinuating, using the pilot’s employment history as some sort of evidence. He has no ability to process the idea that people can, and often do, change their perspectives and relationships. He also can’t point to any “End Game” plan that penifSMASH supposedly has. I mean if you are accusing him of conspiring to take down The Initiative and failing, at least explain what purpose it would serve in the grand scheme of things.

Moomin can’t do that of course, because Moomin is a propagandist. He is the Joseph Goebbels of INN, only able to spout lies that convince the faithful, the converted, the indoctrinated. Buying into his own kool-aid, he had long thrown away any critical thinking skills he possessed, if ever. Thus, the uncreative hack fraud works to keep the line members happy by spooking them with the specter of penifSMASH. He is also trying to drive a wedge between The Initiative and Snuffed Out, to keep the former chained forever in service of the Imperium. After all, The Initiative is a much better organized, more experienced PvP group in the Imperium. Though the Imperium has a few gifted fleet commanders and special interest groups (SIGs) of its own, The Initiative is still a formidable power within the coalition and losing it will cripple the coalition somewhat.

Thus Moomin works to saw the seeds of doubt and fear. Snuffed Out is bad! It tried to take down your leadership! It tried to destroy you with the dreaded “meta game”, a term so frequently misused as to be devoid of any meaning it once had. Fear the outsider, trust in the coalition, after all when was the last time The Mittani had led you astray (2015 and 2016 called, wants to know why you never call them back). Snuffed Out doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and so forth and so forth. God, just writing this down makes me want to go and chug a bottle of bleach to kill the brain cells dedicated to his infantile writing.

Yet for all of Moomin’s ramblings, he can offer nothing, no insight. I kept wanting to shout time and again: WHY MOOMIN, WHY IS HE DOING ALL OF THAT!? No answer of course. To answer the question would simply raise more questions. The reality is penifSMASH finally bought a shiny Molok only to be disappointed by his purchase and complaining to his friend Killah Bee which was a lapse in judgement, nothing more. Twisting it to some nefarious plot is a skill Moomin doesn’t possess. You need actual brains to try and and concoct a good conspiracy out of it, and brains are sadly something Moomin wasn’t blessed with.

The most insulting bit is the fact that there is no artistry to these lies, no delicacy or some complexity. Its so blatant, so obvious that it infuriates me that such scumbags get away with it. That they are considered a legitimate news site while in reality being a third tier tabloid rag. When you make The Sun look respectable in comparison, you done fucked up. Just to take a page from their playbook, I am going to show you how their loaded questions work:

Is Moomin Amatin a pedophile? Does he molest little girls or boys? Is he a member of an EVE Online pedophile ring that includes Dirk MacGirk and Xenuria? Is The Mittani aware that there is a pedophile ring operating in Goonswarm Federation [CONDI] and what does he plan to do about it? After all he is the leader of the alliance and the coalition. I mean, I am only asking questions!

Jesus Dirk! https://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/bihnq3/maximum_overdirk_reaching_new_levels_someone_call/

This is what he does. This is what INN does. They keep insinuating and planting seeds of doubt and division. They have no evidence, no real knowledge or facts. Yet they push relentlessly the most absurd theories and notions to insulate their captive audience. When you call out their bullshit and expose it as what it really is, they hide behind the “Just asking questions” tag, feigning shock horror that you’d go and trample on their sacred freedom to ask misleading, loaded and malicious questions to lead their gullible flock.

There is no good faith basis here, no equal valley where we can meet and discuss facts, they don’t care about facts! These people are so twisted and deranged that they have convinced themselves and others that the entire game is against them. Everything that happens in the game is some sort of ploy or scheme to hurt them. Nothing is their fault! World War Bee? You mean the Casino War which CCP Games endorsed! The developers themselves are against us! More whining, more crying and of course, always spin things.

Some of you would wonder, well, why? Why do they do these things? The simple answer is fear. These are mentally ill people who invested their entire image and identity in the game. They built their thrones on lies and misappropriated credit and fear their exposure. People on the know how, people who had helped build those empires only to see themselves marginalized and thrown out are treated like the enemy. Endie, Darius JOHNSON, penifSMASH, all part of the founders of GoonSwarm, all treated like traitors and mentally ill. Because they know the truth, thus they must be discredited, persecuted and destroyed. Because they can see the emperor has no clothes and allegedly snorting cocaine.

Thus they have their useful idiots like Moomin spout off propaganda for the masses to consume and remain ignorant while suppressing any shred of the truth. Create narratives, build that “us” versus “them” mentality and always be vigilant of penifSMASH, for he may pop up behind you and snag your Vexor navy issue! The sad part this seems to work, but I’d be damned if I’d allow it to go on unchallenged.

Now when is The Mittani going to address the rampant pedophilia going on in his alliance? Just asking questions!

(I am in no way insinuating that The Mittani uses recreational drugs or that Moomin Amatin is a pedophile. Not so sure about Xenuria and Dirk McGirk though…)

Story Time

The real issue with lack of story in computer games

I have a habit of watching old reviews on YouTube. I either put them as background noise while playing strategy games, or watch them while eating. I enjoy listening over and over to the way different people analyze a game and present their opinions. The focus on certain aspects, the consistency or lack thereof in a series, the style of presentation, I find them all fascinating. I say this because I have recently watched several reviews of various Call of Duty and Battlefield titles.

In particular the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reviews had weighed down on my mind. The game, the latest installment in a… somewhat(?) venerated series had launched without a single player campaign, which rubbed certain reviewers the wrong way. Now, I myself had not played a Call of Duty game ever since the first Modern Warfare title whose story was good, not great. I also understand, by watching reviews and reading comments, that the series’ main campaigns had been getting sillier and sillier with each installment. With many people playing Call of Duty for its online portion only, axing the single player campaign seems quite fine. Like removing a vestigial tail. So why were people angry?

This question gnawed at me for a while and when I finally sat down to ponder it, it didn’t take long to reach a conclusion. There are several things wrong with removing a component of a long standing franchise. I may have found the Call of Duty series a pandering mess (just reading the synopsis of some of the titles is enough to induce a migraine) but many people do like these stories and buy the games for the single player aspect (those mad bastards!).

Another issue is the trend chasing. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has sacrificed its single player campaign for a few cooperative missions and a battle royale mod. With so many battle royale games saturating the market already, its no wonder some long standing fans were turned off from the franchise as they felt abandoned by it. After all, if there is one thing Call of Duty was known for was its fast pace, twitch reflex combat. Sidelining it for some battle royale mod, no matter how well implemented, feels like a betrayal of the very core foundation of the series. I know that feeling well considering Battlefield V had a battle royale mod announced for it close to release and as a lifelong Battlefield fan I voted with my wallet and said “no”.

However it wasn’t until Apex Legends that the full answer came to me. See, all the things I detailed above are important. They are core component of what makes Call of Duty basically Call of Duty. It is the reason people pay 60$ at least for the basic game, not to mention season passes, expansions and cosmetics. Angry Joe said it best when he stated that they basically removed a third of the title’s value. That is what at the heart of the removal of a single player campaign; expectations.

It is always about expectations. The computer games industry had conditioned us that certain titles, priced at certain values, will contain a set amount of content. In first person shooters, that content may vary by franchise, but most often its a single player campaign and a multiplayer component. When you purchased Call of Duty you bought a story and an online component. That is why you paid 60$. For a while, that was seen as a reasonable price but with the rise of free to play games and independent titles gaining more mainstream appeal, that pricing point has become tenuous at best.

Thus, when Call of Duty basically threw away one of its key selling points and added a mod that, while I understand functions well, is still anathema to the core experience of the series. So much so that it lost much of its identity and advantage over its competition. This forced fans to ask themselves if they are still willing to support such a title when there are alternatives elsewhere, much cheaper yet just as good. After all, you don’t see anyone going after Apex Legends or Counter Strike: Global Offensive for having no single player story or experience. In fact, both titles are enjoying huge popularity, with the latter being a staple of online first person shooters for decades and the former threatening to unseat Fortnie as most popular battle royale game with its monstrous growth in popularity.

Of course, there are other factors in play here as well, such as Activision-Blizzard’s nickel and diming of its player base, but up until now, that base was fine with some of it so long as the core experience remained the same. Get a new title, play an over the top, cliche laden campaign, have some online matches then move to the next release. Rinse, repeat. Messing with this formula by removing a key component had thrown the whole equation off. How can you justify buying the same title for the same price when it has less to offer you than before? A new battle royale mod is nice and all, but it is still part of the online experience. Merely a new multiplayer mod to add to the rest. It is no substitute for the single player experience.

Activision-Blizzard is not alone in basically gouging out core features that had been the standard in computer games only to sell them back later on or just ignore them completely. We as consumers already lost cosmetics, full game on release, demos, betas and the list goes on. Now we are losing story as well. Just read Electronic Arts’ line on the single player campaign being a mistake or the fact that their first Star Wars: Battlefront game launched without a single player campaign either and the second one included one only due to fan backlash. The reason for the backlash? The pricing.

I pointed to expectations previously and I’d like to repeat it. When we purchase a 60$ game, we expect a certain experience. In major published first person shooters, it is the campaign feature. Regardless of the overall quality and length (a discussion for a separate article), we expect a single player story. It is how first person shooters had slowly evolved. Heck, Call of Duty’s entire success as a franchise to eclipse Battlefield was thanks to the first Modern Warfare’s title blowing everyone’s minds. Having such a poignant story showed everyone that gaming can tackle mature, adult themes while having fun gameplay.

Taking it away is removing a third of the experience. A battle royale game in the Call of Duty series is not a bad thing altogether, and as I mentioned before it seems Blacklight (Black Ops 4’s name for its battle royale mod) is quite a fun experience. However I don’t think, and as comments and reviewers have demonstrated, its worth 60$. There is a reason why Fortnite and Apex Legends are thriving, and that is due to be a free to play experience. I enjoy playing Apex Legends immensely. If it was sold at 30$ I may have bought it. As a full priced release though, I’d hesitate immensely because my expectations of a 60$ title differ greatly from a 30$ or a free to play game.

That is the heart of the matter. As time went by, we as consumers have been getting diminishing returns for the same dollar price. While people argue about inflation and how games should cost more, the consumers have been getting less and less at a time where development costs have remained more or less stable as profits soared. Now they’ve gouged out a major component and sold us the same title, banking on previous installments’ reputation to purchase an inferior version. Its not just insolent, its downright depressing.

It is depressing because people continue to purchase these titles. It is depressing because for all the cost saving, corner cutting measures major publishers deploy, there are still good stories waiting to be told that never get the option or platform to do so. If it weren’t for the stories of the Call of Duty and Battlefield series, we wouldn’t have gotten an amazing title such as Spec Ops: The Line. Now with the story component erased, what is the point of a new installment? To re-do progression? To have a slightly more polished version even though current online connectivity allows patching and overhauls? What differentiates previous Call of Duty titles outside of a reskin? Well, the fact that they offer us less for the same exact price.

This is the ultimate problem with removing story experiences from major titles. It is the exposure of the underlying greed which turns us into cynics and nihilists. What else would publishers strip from their flagship titles? I don’t wish to speculate for fear I’d be giving these people ideas. What is for sure, is that the games we once cherished as complete packages have become a threadbare affair, not worth their asking price. Pour one out for Soap Mactavish.

Evolving the Review

Computer game reviews need to adapt to the new gaming reality

The one good thing that came out of the entire Fallout 76 (my god, I get tired just thinking about that game) debacle for me was the discovery of the Skill Up channel. For those of you who don’t know, Skill Up is a very talented game reviewer on YouTube. His reviews are more akin to long form essays that are well researched, brilliantly built, wonderfully presented and just tied up in a nice narrative ribbon. Just from a writing perspective I must give him mad props.

Now after sucking off Skill Up’s proverbial… thing, I wanted to address one of the points he made in his videos. In his review of Destiny 2, Skill Up dissented from the wider critic praise given to the game, instead calling it a more shallow copy of the first game. Of course, if anyone remembers the original launch of Destiny, it would make them scratch their heads. After all, Destiny 2 seemed to have launched with a lot more features and a lot more content than its predecessor.

Skill Up of course, had an answer for this seeming contradiction. While it was true the original launch of Destiny was a lackluster affair, the game had since been patched and iterated upon with downloadable content and expansions to the point that it quite surpassed its sequel in many areas. The sad fact though, was that many game critics didn’t play that final version of Destiny. Most of them played it around its launch window and after writing their reviews continued on to the next game launch. You can’t really fault them considering their job is to review games. Unlike consumers that often buy a handful of titles a year, game reviewers who wish to remain relevant must keep up with all the major releases in a year.

A good example is Zero Punctuation. Zero Punctuation is one of my favorite game reviewers partly due to his wit and partly because of the way he approaches game reviewing itself. The man posts a video a week, with only the end of the year video being a re-post. This means he reviews 53 titles a year. That said, not all of his reviews are of games themselves, as at times he may highlight important events in gaming history or just pull a sneaky retro review during a barren post major release season. Even so, around 80 percent of his videos would still feature games published in that current year.

Think about the amount of work each review entails as games continue to grow in size and complexity. To give a personal example, one of the early reviews I wrote was for Battletech. As a MechWarrior and MechWarrior Commander fan I was excited to see a new take on the franchise a la XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I must admit I wasn’t disappointed as the game was pretty much everything I wanted and more. Yet before sitting down to write the review I had sunk more than 50 hours into the game in order to finish the main storyline and explore many different options and other side content before I felt confident enough to give my final verdict.

Of course, game reviewers who make actual money reviewing games have the luxury of time compared to amateurs such as myself. Still, just looking at the amount of time I invested in a game such as Battletech, it is comparable to a working week, without taking into account the script writing, the filming, editing and other activities needed to produce good reviews. The amount of work is staggering, and the worst part is that launch seasons can pile the work unevenly. October is already referred by many as “Broketober” due to the amount of major game launches that hope to capitalize on the approaching holiday season. Being a major game reviewer during that time must be quite stressful.

Thus, game reviewers have very little time to invest in re-visiting old games. In another video, Skill Up re-visited No Man’s Sky and reported how the many features that the game was lambasted for missing had since been added, along with myriad of fixes and other improvements that made the game resemble its initial trailer rather than the blend, featureless mess we received at launch. However, most reviews of it still up will be of its launch build because game sites can scant afford to have staffers review old games when new ones are constantly published at a wallet strangling rate.

The problem is, with most major publishers moving towards a “games as service” format (I got plenty to say on that subject but will do so in a separate article) the old style of reviews becomes inadequate. As Destiny proved, whatever faults the game may possess at launch, as time goes by, more and more content is added on a yearly basis, enriching the game and often times fixing a lot of the initial complaints. By the time the game is more or less “complete” it may be radically different than what it was at the beginning and old reviews will not reflect that or give accurate information to prospective buyers, which is kind of the point of game reviews in general.

Another factor to consider is the technological shift. In the past, you shifted a physical copy and that was that. Cartridges, floppy disks and CD-ROMs represented a final version of a game. The moment they were out, that was that, over. If developers wanted to iterate upon a game, they needed to make a new boxed product and have it shipped as well. This meant that reviews could also be final since there was no real way to change or add to the game.

Of course, nowadays games get shipped broken all the time and subjected to day one patches thanks to internet connectivity. Almost every gaming household has a stable internet connection and with game launchers and digital distribution platforms like Steam, applying patches has become an easy and automated process. With the elimination of the need for physical copies comes greater freedom for developers to iterate on their games. Prominent examples are the Paradox Interactive games, each the subject of numerous expansions and downloadable content packs.

Stellaris is my favorite all time Paradox Interactive game. It is the game I have sunk the most hours in other than perhaps EVE Online. The fact is, every year sees new content added to the game with expansions and free patches that fundamentally alter core mechanics. Just last year the Le Guinn free patch (paired with the release of the MegaCorp expansion) saw a complete revamp of the game’s economic systems, changing the way many players including myself play the game. Any review predating it is now factually incorrect, doubly so to reviews from the time of the game’s launch in 2015. Even my own review of the patch is guaranteed to be obsolete within a couple of years as new content and changes are made.

The last example are online games. I already mentioned EVE Online so allow me to elaborate further. EVE Online is a complex game filled with politics and espionage. It is the game that ignited my writing passion. I started by writing battle reports on major engagements where hundreds, even thousands of players fought each other in a myriad of wars and conflicts. It is a living massive multiplayer online game where player interactions drive the narrative. Stepping away from it for a few months and only recently returning both to the game and to writing, I was amazed at some of the major political upheavals that happened in my absence. To catch up to the current political landscape, fleet doctrines and other mechanical changes will take me weeks. Keeping tabs on it all is a full time job considering the amount of player contacts you need to make and maintain.

All of this pretty much proves that the old, set in stone, game review model just doesn’t fit the constantly changing, shifting reality of modern game development. Games have become to some extent living breathing things. Constantly changing and updating by their own nature or the vision of developers and publishers. Thus what was true yesterday no longer applies to today and even less for tomorrow. Navigating this constant change as a consumer can be a real nightmare, as you are deprived of reliable sources of information.

Some outlets have recognized this shift in the gaming landscape and have made strides in hiring staff to write either exclusively on certain games or have existing staff return to older titles to give them a second look. That said, I still think this is more of a stopgap than a real solution. Some reviewers online dedicate themselves to covering certain games or gaming genres and thus often give updates on the same game regularly, while others re-visit their old work to try and see what changed.

That said, I have no real solution to offer. Even Steam user reviews are not a good metric to use since some could have been left by players that have since abandoned the title. Consumers though, need guidance. They need reviews that they could trust and that would give a full picture that will enable them to make an informed choice. So far, some games are being passed over due to bad reviews that refer to earlier builds, while others coast on good reviews that have since become obsolete due to unwanted additions such as microtransactions (looking at you Call of Duty: Black Ops 4).

Whether its a constantly updating review page for a game or weekly re-review of older titles, some sort of system is badly needed. Unfortunately, like the rest of you all I can do is just to keep up to date with my favorite games and write a new review with every major patch or content release.

BioWorn Out

Anthem is shaping up to be the final nail in BioWare’s coffin

In the last week YouTube has been flooded with Anthem videos detailing the experiences of various players and outlets with the timed demonstration. Watching these, I couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension. I felt as though I was watching a general rehearsal for Anthem’s, and BioWare’s funeral.

I am not going to lie, as intrigued as I am by Anthem, I am also acutely aware of the baggage it carries. A game published by Electronic Arts, one of the worst publishers in the industry and made by a developer that had more misses than hits in recent years. Add to it that it tries to enter a crowded niche that already has several prominent titles to compete with such as Warframe, Destiny 2, The Division and with The Division 2 just around the corner. All of these make for a difficult start.

The demonstration itself didn’t help things. The myriad of technical issues from logging into the servers and instances of lag, random disconnects and characters getting stuck on scenery marred an experience that frankly, as an observer, didn’t exactly wow me. In all fairness, as nice as Anthem looks and as interesting some of its mechanics are, the feeling I got was of a heavier Destiny with a tad more aerial maneuvering. Worse yet, from all reports, it lacks even the basics of social interaction required to give a bit more life to hub world. This is the point where a difficult start slides into very challenging, and sadly the hits aren’t stopping.

2018 was a terrible year for Electronic Arts, and like many gamers, I am not shedding tears about it. The company lost a great deal of its share value, caused legislators world wide to look into loot boxes and micro transactions and even had several European countries demand, and succeed in removing them from games. It managed to rile up large segments of the gaming public with its poor launch of Battlefield V, a game that also caused controversy in various ways which could populate an article of its own. This of course, coming on the heels of the horrible monetization and mangling of Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that was supposed to be Electronic Art’s apology to those that purchased its predecessor and received a rushed, half baked product then.

Not surprising, the gaming community at large is carrying a grudge against Electronic Arts, quite justified considering the long list of crimes it committed against gaming as a whole. However it does mean that anything associated with it, even remotely, will be under a cloud of suspicion and outright hostility. This is already putting Anthem in such a disadvantage that I scarcely believe it could overcome, not even with an 80’s montage. So damaged is the image of Electronic Arts, and to a lesser extent, BioWare’s.

People seem to forget thanks to the relative success of Dragon Age: Inquisition just how damaged BioWare truly is. The studio that brought us classics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect also produced some of the greatest duds in those same franchises. Dragon Age II pretty much single handedly killed my interest in the entire series after being nothing but a poorly written, lazy, repetitive and obvious cash grab of a game. People may rightfully pillar Mass Effect: Andromeda, at best a mediocre game with atrocious writing that was further dragged down by a plethora of bugs that served to immortalize it but it wasn’t a true BioWare game. That said Mass Effect 2 was, and it also served to alienate me from another franchise by the same developers. The stripping out of many role playing elements, the plot holes and obvious retcons, not to mention the transition into a mediocre squad based third person shooter all contributed to create a disappointing sequel. Had it not been for the characters themselves and some of the side stories, I would have written off the entire game.

Which is why I was surprised when people were shocked at the original ending of Mass Effect 3 and some of the other issues that cropped up with the horrible downloadable content carve outs Electronic Arts had experimented with in the series. The seeds had already been sown in the previous title and were finally blooming into a great big flower of disappointment and crushed expectations. I have to admit I did enjoy sitting on the sideline watching the entire fiasco go down. That said BioWare at least addressed some of the issues, but the fact remained that the overall trend had not been reversed. In some ways it was accelerated.

Departures of prominent staff members are not uncommon in large companies, doubly so in the computer game industry which is relatively young yet extremely profitable (if you hit it big). Yet when the people that were considered the heart and soul of the company call it quits, you should take notice. Add to it the constant pressure from Electronic Arts that had been riding the loot boxes and microtransaction high from its sports games and slowly polluting the rest of its products with that toxic garbage, and you have a recipe for disaster.

First and foremost, Anthem is a departure from BioWare’s usual style. BioWare is known for creating universes from whole cloth with deep character writing and in the past, interesting and complex stories. These experiences were always delivered in a single player game. Now Electronic Arts is making the studio create an online experience, where players cooperate together to grind missions for equipment and loot in what is known as the looter shooter genre. Basically a style of gaming that can be considered anathema to the studio. Though it does have some experience in the massive multiplayer online field thanks to the Star Wars: The Old Republic title, in reality that game still played more like a regular BioWare role playing game.

BioWare only has to look at Bungie and the mess that is the Destiny franchise to realize just how dangerous this leap of faith is. Unlike BioWare, Bungie had a lot more experience with compelling shooters. After all, its Halo trilogy is still held as some of the best first person shooters in gaming history. Yet even with all that experience, Destiny had a lame start and an okay finish, with a sequel that was somehow even worse than its predecessor. Bungie also had a 10 year contract for the game. Does this ring any alarm bells yet?

This would have been bad enough if it weren’t for one last horrible fact; Electronic Arts needs Anthem to succeed. It had burned so many bridges, lost so many sales that the company is desperate to have one huge financial success. That means it will put impossible expectations on the game that will ultimately disappoint. We saw how shareholders react when a game fails to make 10% more profit than its predecessor a la Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. What will happen when a game falls far wider off the mark? I shudder to imagine.

At this point some of you will be certain that I want Anthem to fail. I’ve been ragging on and on about BioWare’s many failings, the hurdles it must jump over and other difficulties. You couldn’t be more wrong. The reality is I want Anthem to succeed because I don’t want to see a developer that created some of the best games that I truly enjoyed and was even were inspired by go under. I don’t hate what I saw from the demonstrations. I don’t think that the hard work of hundreds of developers should go down the drain, considering their passion and abilities. That said, looking at all things objectively, I just can’t see Anthem succeeding. The deck is stacked against it to such a degree that its just plain tragic.

I wish circumstances were different. I wish Anthem had been given more time to be polished and had a much better demonstration. I wish I could care about a BioWare game like I did when I was a teenager. I wish Electronic Arts didn’t own and control BioWare. I wish and I wish and I wish. But as Gurney Halleck said, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets into the sea. Reality is, there is nothing I, or anyone else outside of Electronic Arts and BioWare, can do to make Anthem not just successful, but worthy of that success.

Thus, after seeing all of this, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that BioWare is doomed. Anthem will not be a smash hit. Electronic Arts will once again fail to meet shareholders’ expectations and the consequences will be dire. Sadly, a lot of good people will lose their jobs due to the greed of a few who refused to see the damage they were inflicting up to the very end. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the urge to open a bottle of whiskey and down it.

Measuring Stick

Does length matter? After you are done snickering from making the obvious jokes, the question remains: does the length of a computer game matter?

I ask this because often times I see it brought up in reviews. Time after time reviewers would bash a game for being “too short” or “too long” or lacking “replay value” whatever that means. I saw rants go on and on about criminally short campaigns in first person shooters. Saw reviews where people praised the “value per dollar” of sandbox games and companies boasting about all manner of activities their games have which will keep players occupied for the average length needed to gestate a human fetus.

With all these examples, the answer seems obvious. People wouldn’t keep bringing it up if it didn’t matter. Yet I am a still left wondering if this is truly as important a factor as people make it out to be. Or is it something we, as gamers, have been conditioned to accept.

The problem starts with defining adequate game length. Both the film and music industry have it down pat thanks to a variety of factors; from human psychology, financial compromises and technical limitations in the early days of the mediums. All of these helped to shape the consensus that movies are about two hours long and songs are approximately three minutes long. Though its true that there are outliers and exceptions, but for the mainstream these truths still hold up.

Computer games don’t really have that benefit. There is no industry standard because the industry itself is quite young. Add to it the fact that both it and the technology upon which it relies constantly advance in leaps and bounds (though not so much the last few years) and there really is no reason, at least from the industry’s perspective, to create a game length standard.

Of course, there is a bigger issue which stops the industry from creating a standard and that is the way games are consumed. Unlike movies, books and music which are pretty much passively consumed (if you are going to argue books require effort to read and turn pages I will shove the entire works of Larry Niven up your…) games require player engagement. Okay, good games that are not walking simulators require player engagement. Players have to actively further the story and plot along.

This means that different genres have different mechanics and ways to tell their stories which impact length directly. One example are role playing games or RPGs for short. Though the genre itself is quite broad and has a huge variety of styles, still most of the games that fall under that category will take quite a long time to finish. A single game may take upwards of 30 – 40 hours not counting replay as many of them offer diverging story paths and multiple endings. Often times the player in such games will have a wealth of side quests and grinding to help them level up before confronting the final boss, all of which require a large investment of time.

Its opposite is the first person shooter. Most first person shooters will have short campaigns that can be finished in one or two sittings (looking at you, Call of Duty) while focusing mostly on the online experience where player progression in multiplayer matches takes most of the play time. The actual campaigns will often be filled with cliches, be terribly scripted and filled with loud explosions that will make Michael Bay orgasm (of course, there are outliers like Doom [2016] and Wolfenstein: The New Order).

Between the two there is a huge time gulf that can hardly be bridged, and this is without talking about simulators, grand strategy games, card games and so forth. Truly, genres in gaming differ so wildly that there can be no set standard made. And yet, people keep complaining about games being either too short (often times in relation to first person shooters) or too long (your average sandbox game) or lacking replay value (again, what the heck does replay value mean!?). Why?

The answer is quite complicated and comprised of several factors. First is the idea of the prudent consumer who buys games for the amount of entertainment they offer. It is part of the reason why the AAA game industry had mostly transitioned to making sandbox games since they offer a lot of side activities and empty, boring treks that remind me of the mundanity of my own personal life, interspersed with some flashes of actual action. After all, games are expensive (to buy, not so much to make considering profit margins) and a “prudent” consumer would want the best bang for their buck. Of course this means they often buy mediocre experiences as open world sandboxes offer terrible story pacing with constant distractions and immersion breaking moments. Subsisting on such a diet can really warp one’s views and taste in games.

Another factor is lack of satisfaction. The reality is that a good story paired with good gameplay will deliver a satisfactory experience. That experience, whether long or short, will be both memorable and worthwhile regardless of the length of time played. I bring this up because games like Spec Ops: The Line and Max Payne are some of my favorite and even though neither one takes more than 10 hours to complete, I found myself enjoying every moment of playing (in the case of Spec Ops: The Line its not really enjoyment per se but whatever) and felt they were worth every penny I paid. To contrast, Just Cause 2, a game I picked at a sale for peanuts, felt like a slug. While I enjoyed it at the start, as the game progressed and the size of the island and pace of the story became apparent to me, I just quit. I felt that even the few bucks I paid for it were a waste of cash and that game gave me around 20 hours of gameplay and I wasn’t even a quarter through.

The last factor I can identify is expectations. Players expect a certain experience in return for investing a certain amount of money. The bar for a 15$ game in terms of entertainment and length is much different than one sold at what is considered full price (60$, but considering AAA landscape that is merely an entry fee). If the experience is short, no one will begrudge it since it cost only a quarter of what a “real” or “full” game does. We adjust our expectations based on pricing and the people (studio basically) behind it and so form our opinions accordingly. Thus if a 15$ game is only a couple of hours long, we don’t see it as an issue while if a 60$ title in a major franchise is only four hours long we see it as a betrayal and a bad investment.

Taken together, its not hard to see why we insist on length as a measuring stick. It enables us to filter out possible duds and give us some illusion of a smart or prudent purchase. The reality though, is that by insisting on game length we’ve helped create a AAA industry that homogenizes experiences to create samey, sprawling monstrosities that demand a huge investment of time and artificially lengthen gameplay with grind, as I highlighted before. Thus, length has been more detrimental to gaming on a whole. Which is why we need to retire it.

A game’s length shouldn’t be totally ignored. It should still factor into reviews, but done so in a more intelligent way. It should be discussed in regards to pacing and story progression, rather as a general statistics. If the story feels rushed and incomplete its okay to say its too short. If the story feels like it keeps stalling and spinning its wheels, it should be treated as “too long”. However in both cases its given proper context which is the important part. Lastly, replay value should be ditched entirely.

I’ve already shown throughout the article that I don’t understand the concept of replay value. As a consumer of popular culture I’ve re-read books that I liked (god knows how many times I’ve re-read Dune). I re-watch TV series I liked, not to mention movies. I listen constantly to certain songs depending on mood. The same goes for games. Whether linear or open world, I replay games because I like them and the stories they presented, not because I am compelled to reach 100% completion. If I didn’t like it the first time, whether or not I could replay it means nothing because I won’t regardless.

Length should not be an important statistic used to inform game purchases but a properly contextualized factor in judging the quality of the game. It should be put alongside pacing, game flow and other components of a story experience. It should not be looked at like a supermarket bargain. If the media and consumers start treating it like this, we may all get better games. Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to have another playthrough of Max Payne.

Words Matter

*unrelated photograph of Gearbox Software’s CEO, proven liar and alleged pedophile Randy Pitchford

 

The gaming media has a credibility problem called game developers

There hasn’t been a week since the launch of Fallout 76 in which Bethesda didn’t somehow manage to humiliate itself. Time after time the developer\publisher was found to be either; lying to customers, overreacting and hurting loyal fans, allowing others to swindle said fans with terrible products or just being overly incompetent to a farcical degree. It has gotten so bad that I hardly want to click on any news story or video with the word Bethesda in its title.

Yet, as the slew of bad news and burnt bridges continues to spew from Bethesda’s headquarters, one word has been repeatedly used to describe this ongoing trainwreck: misled. I see it pop up again and again to describe the debacles surrounding Fallout 76. From the limited game editions canvas bags, the actual game features to other marketing ploys such as the Nuka Cola rum bottles that turned out to be just cheap plastic casings for an industrial waste cleansing solution, or so I’ve been told they taste like. The word doesn’t seem able to leave headlines and video titles even though I think it is high time it should be replaced by a different word: lie.

Because this is what Bethesda ultimately did. It lied to consumers. It lied to its fans. Its representatives such as Todd “It just works” Howard stood in front of crowds and simply lied to the faces of gamers worldwide. They lied and lied and lied again and all the gaming media had to offer in return is to label it all as “misleading”. Now, words have meaning. Misled is a very soft word in comparison to lied. It gives a wiggle room in terms of intent. It gives the impression that it was erroneous rather than nefarious. In a way it exonerates the accused of malicious intent. And it is absolutely used erroneously by reporters and writers in relation to the whole situation.

After all, Bethesda had been caught lying not once or twice, but pretty much on a weekly basis since the launch of Fallout 76. Not calling it lies at this point looks like dereliction of duty from the gaming media. That said, I can understand why the gaming media is afraid to bust out the “lie” word. First and foremost, it opens them to libel lawsuits. Though at this point the only court Bethesda could win a libel lawsuit in would be in opposite land, the fact remains that lawyering up is expensive not to mention intimidating. No one wants to get sued, not least gaming sites and YouTube content creators who don’t generate the amount of cash needed to keep a fancy lawyer on retainer.

However, there is also another reason why these people are reluctant to name the problem child and it is the fact the entire gaming industry is built on lies. Jim Sterling made a good video highlighting this, calling it the business of lies, and he is not wrong. In his 20 minute video, Jim Sterling was able to highlight just a few examples from a few years prior to the video’s release, and since then more have been shamelessly uttered by executives and game directors. Lie after lie, all provable, all documented, all ignored or given different labels so as not to offend the people in the industry.

I can understand why, after all, the people lying are the people signing on access to exclusives, press passes and review copies. If these people are made to feel uncomfortable or get called out for their lies, of course the ones feeling the repercussions would be the reporters, not the game developers and suits in management. In the vicious and savage place that is the internet, a loss of access can cost a media outlet its advantage. Many consumers want launch day reviews and recommendations. Sites blacklisted will not be able to supply those reviews and subsequently lose readers, which in turn means a loss of revenue. A site may survive one or two blacklists, but when most of the major publishers decide not to work with a site, that can spell its doom.

Thus the media sites publish the lies and give their enthusiastic impressions to all the fancy trailers and pretty but vacuous cinematics. They’ll disregard years and years of lying, act all surprised when a publisher messes up a launch and publish the corporate response which could be literally copy and pasted from all the previous incidents. Even when they would rebuke these people, they’ll soften the blow using comfy words like “mislead” rather the obvious “lie” even though they have proof. It’s predictable as it is maddening to see.

Of course, there is another reason for the shoddy journalism on display. Like myself, most people writing in the gaming space are not professionals. They are enthusiasts who got into gaming media following their passion. As Jim Sterling himself pointed out, there are very few real journalists in the field of gaming media and it sure as hell shows. Thus it is not hard to see how many writers get bedazzled by the treatment, the access to the people that pretty much made the games they grew up on. Without the proper training or background, these writers simply succumb to the charm and the VIP treatment.

There is also another side to it. People in the game media often work with developers and public relations personal. These are the people they are in constant contact with. Whether it is for interviews, game conventions or events, the two sides often interact with each other. Thus it is no surprise that developers and media people develop friendships and relationships. It is after all, human nature. While it is always nice to see people get along, the downside of such connections is reporters are less willing to challenge or pressure their friends. Too many times reporters would softball questions, be unwilling to challenge developers or just won’t call out blatant lies and bad behavior.

If the above makes you think that perhaps this is why the gaming media often takes the side of publishers and developers, its because it does. I still remember when Geoff Keighley disrespected Angry Joe in the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, a show that basically functions as one huge commercial. Now, Angry Joe was a young upper comer, still wet behind his ears. However the way Geoff pretty much humiliated him spoke volumes. The fact that Geoff is also a friend of Hideo Kojima and often helped him in his stupid pranks only further sheds a light on how many of the so-called “professionals” in the field view themselves: on the side of the developers. After all, these are the people they often work with, depend on, and develop friendships with.

This was on full display when Jason Schreier, a somewhat respectable game journalist, pretty much went to war with YouTube to justify microtransactions in AAA games. Even though microtransactions and loot boxes are exploitative, have been proven to be so and have poisoned much of the mainstream gaming landscape. To attempt and justify such a measure, after it was proven time and again to be harmful to consumers, exploitative of children and hurtful to the quality of the games themselves (see Middle Earth: Shadow of War) shows exactly who Jason Schreier stands with, and it is not his readership.

Last, but not least, there is also fear. The fear that clouds the gaming media is not just the fear of publisher retaliation which I already covered, but something much more stupid and horrible – the fans. Every time the gaming media actually tried to act more aggressive towards bad actors, the fanboys reared their ugly heads and attacked the reporters. To fanboys, their lives are intricately connected to the products they consume. They will defend these products, and those who produce\manage it, to the death because their entire worth as human beings rides on the perception of the product. It would be sad if they weren’t such a toxic, frothing mad population that sends death and rape threats against reporters who dare state the truth. I wouldn’t want to find myself in their crosshairs, a target for constant, unhinged harassment. Why would any sane reporter would either?

All of this contributes to the erosion of trust. It fuels reader backlash and further poisons the well. After all, what gamers need, what consumers should have is strong advocacy. That is the role of the media – to inform them and amplify their voice. It means researching, it means questioning every corporate message and public relations statement. It also means to frame things correctly. If unable to use the word “lie” outright, then at least remind the readers of the long string of disasters a company such as Bethesda had (my, Bethesda really can’t catch a break these days). George Lakoff put it best when he created the concept of the “truth sandwich”. If media must repeat a lie, it should do so by starting and ending with the truth to nullify the impact of said lie.

Gaming media needs to have a reckoning with itself. For a brief moment, I thought that was what GamerGate would force. Sadly I was mistaken as the conversation was hijacked by political agendas. Yet in its heart, the argument about ethics and disclosure remained. If the gaming media could remember that it serves gamers, not companies, and start acting accordingly we’d all gain for it. That is because there is a little secret that publishers and developers don’t want the media to know: they need the media. Without gaming sites and reviewers, there won’t be hype. Without gaming media to print the lies, no one will buy them. If gaming media stops reporting on a company, that company will die.

For once, game journalists and writers, game sites and YouTubers should look into their mirrors. They should meet the gaze of their reflections, look deep into them and decide who exactly do they serve: game companies, or gamers?

Ground to Dust

Game publishers are ruining their games with one simple mechanic

I’ve been ruminating a few weeks on the issue of cheating. It all started with Bethesda banning cheaters in Fallout 76 even though that game was so horrible and broken that cheating seemed the only option to make any parts of it bearable. I usually don’t advocate cheating in multiplayer games but considering the PvP aspect of Fallout 76 was so vestigial, cumbersome and unrewarding that I really didn’t see how cheating could even negatively effect it.

I admit that the article was poorly written for my standards, more akin to an angry stream of consciousness rant than a cohesive, well constructed argument. That said, it did serve as a catalyst for me to examine something that had bugged me considerably in the last couple of years. That subject is grind, or to be more precise, its rise in “AAA” games.

Most gamers will be familiar with the concept of grind, but for those unaware it is a term coined in MMOs (though precedes them) which means the investment of a great deal of time and resources in order to surmount an artificial obstacle in the game to unlock more content. Many MMOs are built around these mechanics as they are (or were) subscription based, and creating artificial barriers for progress encourages players to continue and pay for the experience. The form the grind takes may differ from genre to genre but it remains identical in essence.

An example of grind from an MMO I played are officer modules in EVE Online. Of course with the in-game market its possible to purchase them (at a high price) from other players but if a player wants to get them themselves they’ll have to find the region the specific officer spawns. They will then have to find which systems have the highest negative security which increases the possibility of said officer to spawn in the system. After that, they will have to scan belts and celestial objects after every scheduled downtime. Once they did kill the officer, they have to loot the wreck and hope the item they wanted spawned. Otherwise they’ll have to keep doing so until the correct item drops, which is all based on loot mechanics coded and controlled by the developers.

This is of course just one example, and there are many more, but its enough I think to illustrate the point. Grind is putting countless hours into a singular activity. I don’t think there is something wrong with grind in particular. I play a lot of games where grind is a key component. A lot of JRPGs for example, like the Final Fantasy or Yakuza series. Heck, the entire dungeon crawler genre is based on it (Diablo III or Path of Exile anyone?). That said the grind in all of them is kind of the point. You grind to become stronger, get the best gear and take down bosses.

I am pointing this out because lately the grind had seeped into games in which it has no business appearing in. Games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to name a few have all had grind shoved into them without any adequate reason. Call me old fashioned, but I thought that series about pounding tactical espionage action and assassins respectively had little to do with grind and loot. Of course I’d be very wrong.

The reason for these mechanics isn’t in service to the story or the experience because neither series had these mechanics to begin with. Metal Gear Solid had been up until then a third person stealth\tactical shooter with a somewhat bonkers premise, ridiculous characters and many botched ideas though with some poignant points (more on this in a future article) and Assassin’s Creed was about assassinating people in various historical settings and the occasional pirate adventure. So why was there an introduction of grind elements in the form of base management, unlocks, resources and weapon tiers? Simply put – Microtransactions.

In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain players could buy currency to speed up research projects or purchase the mad amount of resources needed to unlock more stuff further down the line. In Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey players can purchase experience boosts in order to level up faster, not to mention the usual loot box malarkey. Reading user reviews of the latter I got the same impression I got playing the former – A fast, smooth progression at the start which quickly hits a concrete wall in the middle game, forcing countless hours of repeated grind just to surpass what feels in every conceivable way an artificial road block.

I could feel in my playthrough of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain how the grind was negatively effecting the story and my own enjoyment. It became so slow, tedious and soul crushing that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I quit the game because I just couldn’t keep clearing these artificial road blocks even though I was enjoying the story (as weird and insane as it went). The grind was literally holding the story hostage for me and asking me to pay for it. Yeah, not gonna happen. I don’t negotiate with terrorists . And for what was all of this done? As stated above, microtransactions.

After all, these are genuine modern ills in genres that had never been truly plagued with them before. An experience that throttles enjoyment from a story, halves or even halts progress and threatens players with endless tedium. However this malady has a cure. Funnily enough, the same publishers that sell you this ailing game have the medicine to treat it. The only thing a player needs to do to lessen or completely ignore this disease is to pay cash. In return, the publishers will give them the experience boosts, top tier gear and all the needed resources to remove the blocks they imposed to begin with.

Of course, some people have been skeptical of this. They refuse to believe publishers will sabotage their own products to such a degree and often insist that the extra monetization is simply an aid for people who have less time on their hands. The excuses baffle me completely because they ignore the examples to the contrary. The biggest one is Middle Earth: Shadow of War. The sequel to the unexpected hit Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, it was saddled with microtransactions from the start to such a degree as to cheapen its main selling point (the nemesis system) and turn the final act into a test of patience as players were forced to grind endlessly in order to unlock the game’s true ending. When the publisher saw no further profit from direct monetization, they had the developers remove it in order to score some publicity points and pick a few late sales. This forced the developers to revamp the entire game economy in order to remove the microtransactions.

Would the exclusion of microtransactions from the start had boosted the popularity of Middle Earth: Shadow of War and had players express more favorable opinions to its story? Possible. What is known though, is that the microtransactions had alienated part of the original game’s player base, caused a lot of bad publicity for the game itself and left a lot of actual paying players with bad taste. A good game completely ruined by a mechanic that had no point being included to begin with.

This is the core of it all. This addition of grind feels foreign in such series, because it is. Grind was never meant to be core to the Metal Gear Solid experience, and I certainly don’t remember Assassin’s Creed formula requiring endless faff to get better weapons. In fact, the story progression rewarded the players with the tools needed. Now though, if a player wanted a better weapon, they ought to grind enough hours to gather the resources for it, have it spawn as a percentage drop or perhaps buy a loot box and hope they get it – basically gamble.

This is the end result of the microtransactions and loot boxes. After all, for companies to get more digital currency sales, they need to create demand. For demand to exist, they need an incentive for players to purchase microtransactions. Just carving parts of the game and day one downloadable contents isn’t enough and often have negative coverage. Instead, put in soul crushing grind and offer people the ability to skip it with an easy payment. Its so scummy and transparent as to make my skin crawl. It is also very effective as microtransaction revenue keeps growing.

The worst part is that many gaming sites fail to report on this at the start. Grind itself is often set up at the middle\late game in order to trap customers. Give players the feeling of smooth progression, get them hooked on the rewards then spring the trap when they are already halfway into the story. Since many game sites compete to release early reviews, they fail to mention the effects of the microtransactions because they rarely reach the grind stretches. After all launch windows are small and writers need to push reviews out as fast as possible for consumers to read. Missing that window literally costs money for those sites. Whatsmore, if they lean too hard on the score due to the effects of over monetization, they may get blacklisted by publishers, which further decreases their launch window opportunity. Not to mention that nowadays many publishers simply keep the microtransactions offline during the review window and turn it up after the period where most game copy sales are made (usually the first couple of weeks).

The last part is that in order to accommodate these services and limit consumer recourse, many major publishers seek to introduce their own platforms. Electronic Arts’ (with the biggest quotation mark on the Arts) Origin, Activision Blizzard’s Battlenet and Ubisoft’s Uplay are all examples of platforms created specifically at first to sell the publisher’s games and now offload microtransactions. Even Bethesda has gotten into the game with their own buggy, broken launcher and I suspect we may see more major publishers go this route. The problem with such platforms is how cumbersome they become. The average gamer will often purchase a game from Steam, then will need to install a Uplay or Origin client, register in that client and make sure its online just to play the game. God forbids if that player loses connection to the internet. What happens in five – six years when the publishers’ turn off the specific game’s server? The answer is one non functioning game. So much for amassing a game library and replaying games.

Yet we continue to see the insidious introduction of more grind into games. We already lost the sports games to them and now they threaten all sandbox games. What will be next? Will we need to grind hours or buy a loot box in order to get a tank in a real strategy game? Will recruiting soldiers in grand strategy games take two real time hours unless I purchase a booster from the online store? Will a weapon in a first person shooter only become usable if I gather 230 pieces of metal playing online matches? If yes, then I suspect that I’d be turning to other developers for my games, or just cheat. Because cheating seems to be the only remedy for the amount of grinding required to play any modern game. So let us cheat and be proud of it. Fuck grinding!