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Please, Stop.

please-stop

Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, I am Max Urso and I implore you: Please, stop.

This is not a rant, this is a plea.

The gaming industry is inundated with pre-ordered, crowd-funded, early-access betas that fill the internet with hatred and vitriol when they fail to appease. We’re so addicted to instant gratification that we can’t wait for a finished product to come out. The game developers are more than happy to take our money to fund their unfinished products. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and I’m not sure who the abuser is and who is the enabler.

Mind you, I’m as guilty as the next guy of feeding into this destructive behavior. My Steam library is full of early-access games that I’ve booted up maybe once or twice, only to toss them aside in favor of the next new game that’s not quite ready for the light of day. I have over 100 games in there that aren’t getting played because I’ve drifted back to World of Warcraft and Diablo III. That will change in an instant though, bets are already placed as to how long I’ll stick with my WoW subscription this time. All it will take is a shiny new game on the horizon to catch my eye.

Then, there’s the case of games that are blatant lies. No Man’s Sky sold itself on false promises. There were over 200,000 players on launch day on Steam alone, and today there’s slightly over 2,000. That’s a 90% loss due to features not present in the finished product but talked of in the promotional media leading up to it’s release. These remaining few die hard fans who read between the lines, ignored the hype, and knew what they were buying are the only ones still playing it.

My gaming habits aside, I still play NMS. I like it, but I made it my own (The Lost Files 1). I don’t play it everyday, but I do enjoy it. My point is that we, as consumers, are obligated to think before we spend our money. It’s too easy to click-click-click and purchase a game without thinking of the consequences, but we must. The game developers will keep offering pre-orders if we keep buying into it.

Day one patches, and paid DLCs (that years ago would have been free) are more of the same bad relationship symptoms between us and them. If nobody bought DLCs, then would they still make them? Would they instead offer them for free or as part of the initial content?

Use the power of your wallet intelligently. Wait for the release. Wait for reviews. Sure, most critics seemed biased or possibly even show a preference, but that’s why we need to do our research. Stop giving the game developers an excuse to release a shoddy game. It is the responsibility of the developers to put out a finished, polished product, and it is our responsibility to hold them accountable by not paying for anything less.

 

Refunds on Video Games and the No Man’s Sky Debacle

TT_NotTheFandom

Recently, the internet is abuzz with debate over refund policy changes from sellers like Steam in regards to the game No Man’s Sky.  Refunds for games have always been sort of a gray area in the past.  Most of us knew, coming up in the community, that if you bought a game it was pretty much yours unless there was some defect in the media.  Especially when it came to PC games.  You didn’t return a game because you didn’t like it, though in some cases you could get a little cash for it at resale shops and from friends.  Then again, back then games didn’t release with a ton of game-breaking bugs that required several patches just to get them going.  You also didn’t have DRM to worry about that prevents the resale of a lot of games.

That all changed as recently as last year when both major digital game sellers Steam and GoG began offering broader refund options.  Previously, a game had to have some serious issues, and refunds were only granted in extreme circumstances.  So far that I can tell, twice now a game has been made an exception to Steam’s two hour policy, Batman Arkham Knight, and now No Man’s Sky.  Out of the hundreds of games on the marketplace, as best I can tell, these are the only two that have been considered so broken, or so bad, that sellers are offering the customer such a deal.

Some in the community are happy with this, glad that a developer is finally held accountable for how they market a game and what they charge for what many are saying is a broken game missing many of the features originally advertised.  Others were upset at how massive the media hype was, only to find out how disappointing the reality is.  There’s a few who aren’t happy, however, one of them being former Sony employee Shahid Ahmad, who called those getting a refund after 50 hours of play thieves.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>If you’re getting a refund after playing a game for 50 hours you’re a thief.</p>&mdash; Shahid Kamal Ahmad (@shahidkamal) <a href=”https://twitter.com/shahidkamal/status/769882257964294144″>August 28, 2016</a></blockquote>
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Honestly, 50 hours seems like a lot of play time to then get a refund, but not if you consider this player most likely got more than two hours in before they realized the game wasn’t what they expected, and may have played it further knowing they were stuck with it.  Once it was announced they could get a refund, they jumped at the chance.  Some people have also pointed out that with the size and scope of the game, it could have taken that long for a player to realize that the game wasn’t going to live up to expectations.

Other developers have made comparisons to art, and stating developers deserve to be paid for their work.  First, yes games are art.  Second, yes artists should be paid when people collect their art.  The problem here is there’s one more caveat that isn’t being talked about.  Games are also a product that has to be experienced after they are purchased.  Imagine if you were told you were going to get a beautiful painting of a Greek Goddess, complete in classical style, exquisite frame, hand-painted in traditional oils.  You like the sound of that and you like the small samples of the artist’s work, so you buy it.  Then when the painting is delivered you find that it’s actually a puzzle depicting a Greek Goddess, glued to cardboard and in a metal poster frame.  Then imagine you justifiably ask for a refund, and the artist calls you a thief for demanding your money back for his ‘art’ that is not representative of what was promised.

That’s what it boils down to for a lot of gamers on this.  There are the bugs, many of which still haven’t been fixed, but more importantly are what are being seen as broken promises based on media and marketing hype leading up to the release.  Cymen90 broke a lot of it down on reddit with links to interviews and articles from the developers about what we could expect.  It’s probably one of the reasons other developers don’t talk about features for games until they are confirmed as part of the final release.  When you are creating a product, even as art, that people really only experience after they pay for it, you need to deliver what you advertise.  No one wants to see a great action trailer for a huge blockbuster movie, only to show up at the theater to get a mashup of Spongebob and Teletubbies.

What’s the final word from this guy?  Well, if you like the game awesome, you keep on playing what you enjoy.  Has this refund debacle started a precedent?  Yes, and I think it’s a good thing.  For so long, we’ve had developers, AAA and indie, banking on the fact that they can put out a product that doesn’t meet consumer expectations and once they have your money there’s little recourse for the purchaser.  Sure, you can avoid buying their next game, but how many times do we see a developer continue to cheat the gaming community time after time?

People have short memories, new gamers coming into the scene don’t always know a developer’s history, and let’s face it, our gaming media has been doing a terrible job informing us about the market.  Hell, even after Tim Schafer made off with millions, breaking promises and essentially scamming gamers, people still gave him another 3.8 million for Psychonauts 2.  This sends a clear message to developers that they need to start releasing quality product, not rush to market and promise fixes and updates down the road.  They cannot promise features and cut them out unexpectedly, or not put them in at all.  No more counting on our addiction to games to slip one by us.  You can return just about anything else that doesn’t live up to expectations.  There’s no reason video games can’t be part of that model as well.

More Gamers are Noticing how Out of Touch the Mainstream Gaming Press is

 

TT_NotTheFandom

Whatever your opinion of the events and controversy in gaming has been over the last three years, it’s hard to deny that the mainstream gaming press (and some non-gaming press) has come out of it looking worse for wear.  Gawker, infamous for printing vapid articles and putting up a sex video from Hulk Hogan, lost 7 figures in advertising when a staff member thought he was being funny saying nerds deserve to be bullied.  Then Hogan came along and now Gawker, as well as all of their subsidiary media, is being auctioned off to pay for the lawsuit.  More readers are becoming disillusioned with the sites they read, whether it’s a site claiming PCs cannot record games, or how apparent it’s becoming that many people who write about games just aren’t that good at them, or don’t play them at all.  Should a reviewer have a passable skill at playing video games?  Well, authors are expected to have a pretty good understanding of literature to write, mechanics should be able to drive a car, and we do hope that someone telling us how to spend our money is at least competent in the related field.  Even Wikipedia has become questionable with its practice of determining reliable sites.

Probably one of the biggest indicators that the big games media has lost touch is with their reviews:  how many times have you seen a game rated a 9 or a 10 only to play it and find that it’s garbage?  Or a game the critics pan for one reason or another, only to discover a gem?  The latter isn’t as common, but take a look at the recent release, No Man’s Sky.  On Metacritic it’s holding a decent score from the media of 71 for PS4, while users are giving it a 4.9 failing score.  On Steam, as of this writing, it’s sitting at about 40% negative reviews out of almost 38,000 since its release just a few days ago and some of the positive reviews include food recipes and a thumbs up for the refund button working.  To make matters worse, it looks like Metacritic is getting flooded with fake perfect reviews of the game.

Even the new-wave of YouTube ‘journalism’ isn’t immune to the problems we’ve been seeing.  A big case recently was against Warner Brothers paying YouTubers to give positive reviews.  While Pewdiepie was named in the press release from the FTC, he was not actually one of the offenders though a lot of our high profile media outlets reported it that way.  EA has also been accused of paying for good reviews, and until recently guidelines haven’t been very clear.  With more focus on ethics, and the FTC taking a more solid stance on ads and disclosure, it’s now becoming a little more important that reviewers let us know when money or gifts are involved in the process.  In the case of Ubisoft giving reviewers free tablets, some refused, some disclosed, but some did not.  It has gotten better over the last couple of years, but it will be a long time before these outlets earn that trust back.

The Warner Bros case above brings to light another issue with our games media, and that’s in how they report the news.  It seems that  many of these sites would rather be the first to print a mistake than be the second to print the facts.  Whether it’s laziness, an agenda, or simply incompetence is often impossible to tell.  With Pewdiepie, they simply ran with the fact he was mentioned in the FTC release, but failed to verify if he did a review, or if he disclosed the fact it was a sponsored video.  A few minutes of searching, and maybe an email to the target of their articles could have saved them, and Pewdiepie, a lot of grief.  Worse can be when they print accusations that are unproven, and turn out to be untrue.  These accusations can often ruin a person’s career, or seriously impact them negatively.  Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity is one such case, falsely accused of rape, but our games media is quick to point out how he was wrong in defending himself the way he did.  Falsely accused… and he is in the wrong for how he responds.  Another case involved Brad Wardell of Stardock Games, again falsely accused of sexual harassment.  The law suit was eventually dropped, and the accuser apologized, but that didn’t stop the media from writing up so many articles that to this day people still think it was true.

Also, how often do we hear how awful gamers, and the gaming community are?  From our own media!  I know I’ve talked about this here, and elsewhere, many times so I won’t beat this horse too much.  This is just a huge pet peeve of mine and it needs to stop.  Yes, absolutely there is a small group of morons that say stupid things, usually directed at women.  They are not even close to being a big enough number to represent the gaming community.  Our games media is doing a wonderful job of building a false perception of gamers, just like the regular media, and religious nuts did back in the 80s and 90s.  I know, I was there.  Go to a convention, look around, do you see any haters?  I was at GenCon just a couple weeks ago and there were over 60k people there.  I didn’t once see anyone yelling about there being too many women, or minorities.  I didn’t see anyone being told they don’t belong, or forced out.  60k people!  If the gaming community was so full of hateful, neckbeard, shitlord misogynists you’d think I’d have seen at least one person acting that way.  You know what I saw?  I saw a beautiful group of geeks, from all walks of life, all genders, ages, colors and creeds sharing in what they love.

Our community is awesome!  The games media would have you believe there’s some majority movement to keep women from gaming, and whether they like it or not it’s simply not true.  I know too many women gamers to even remotely believe they’re being kept away.  If anything is keeping women from getting into gaming it’s the constant barrage of negative articles telling them how scary it is and how mean everyone is.  You know what’s making men more bitter than anything else?  The media telling everyone how awful we are.  Of course, geek guys are going to be a little weird around girls.  Most of us are introverts, and the rest are scared we’re going to be accused of something just for saying hi.  Look at the articles that spew just that sort of crap.  A guy said hi, wanted to talk about a game they were both playing, but “Stop hitting on me…”

Bottom line, the games media needs to be watched with both eyes open, and everything they print measured against several sources.  Even me, in all the places I write, don’t take for granted that I’m calling out fellow journalists for bad behavior.  Don’t take my word for anything, read as much as you can and make sure you get all the information.  I would never intentionally write something that’s false, and I do strive for ethical and unbiased reviews, but I might make a mistake, and I hope you’ll call me on it when I do.  Take those opinion articles with a grain of salt, and the news articles too.  Talk to your fellow gamers before listening to the media telling you what our community is like.  They’re doing a great job of dividing us, don’t let them.  We made this community great before we even had a games media, and we can keep making it better without them.  Let them know that we don’t need them and maybe, possibly, they’ll get the hint and start actually doing their jobs.

Games to Get Excited About: August 2016

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Games to Get Excited About: August 2016

Welcome to August! Our scorching summer is wrapping up but there are still a few interesting titles coming our way. The fall rush of releases is just around the corner but here are a few promising games we’re looking forward to getting our hands on before the big name titles start releasing in September.

No Man’s Sky

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It shouldn’t be any surprise to see this on our list, given that we previously wrote a spotlight about it. No Man’s Sky will be releasing August 9th on PS4 and August 12th on PC. The game promises a frankly ridiculous amount of space to explore along with an art style that is reminiscent of sci-fi art of the 60s and 70s. Think classic paperback covers come to life.

God Eater 2

god eater 2

The God Eater franchise belongs to the hunting action genre pioneered by the Monster Hunter Series. It trades the medieval fantasy setting of Monster Hunter for an anime-inspired post apocalypse and places a heavier emphasis on story than some of its peers in the genre. God Eater 2 continues the story of the first game and introduces new monsters, new customization options, and new ways to upgrade your gear. Don’t worry if you never got the chance to play the first game on the PSP. Buying the game for PS4 or PC will give you the updated remaster, God Eater Resurrection, for free so you can get caught up.

Abzû

abzu

One of the best games to come to Sony’s PS3 was the meditative and surprising hit Journey. After that game was completed, a few members of its design team left that studio to form a new studio and begin work on what many are viewing as Journey‘s successor. Abzû puts players in the fins of a diver, exploring gorgeously rendered ocean environments and seeking answers to the game’s central mysteries. The game promises an extremely dynamic virtual eco-system and hopes are high that it will capture some of the magic and wonder of its predecessor.

Grow Up

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Grow Home surprised many with its robust and intuitive climbing system. Given its success, it should come as no surprise that the game is getting a sequel. Grow Up is releasing for PC, PS4, and XBox One, so whatever you game on, you’ll be able to take on a whole new world of climbing challenges and colorful surprises.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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If No Man’s Sky is the epitome of techno-optimism in science-fiction, then you could probably make the case that the Deus Ex series sits at the other end of spectrum as a representation of the idea that progress can never truly save us. Following the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mankind Divided continues to tell the story of cyborg Adam Jensen as he must attempt to navigate a murky future of conflicting loyalties and frightening advances in technology. Square Enix has promised to give fans of the series more of the action, stealth, and choice that they love, while also addressing criticism of the previous game such as lackluster story paths and poor boss fights.

This is just a taste of the games coming out this month. We’ll also be seeing the release of a new Madden game and Assetto Corso, if sports or racing are more your speed. As always, there are more Indie games releasing at any one time than we could ever hope to cover. Here’s hoping you have a great month and happy gaming!

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

 

Guest Post By: Michael Wells

 

Happy April and welcome to this month’s edition of Games to Get Excited About! This month we’re taking a look at No Man’s Sky.

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No Man’s Sky is a game you may have been hearing about for a while. The game is the brainchild of Sean Murray, formerly of the Burnout series, and was unveiled by developer Hello Games and publisher Sony back at E3 2014. The game generated a lot of buzz for its popping visual style and promise of seamless gameplay. A particular standout for me was the part near the end of the trailer where the player hops in their spaceship on the surface of one world, then flies into space and down towards the surface of a neighboring planet with nary a loading screen in sight. With a heavy emphasis on freedom and exploration the game made a positive first impression for many gamers. That early reveal was a tantalizing glimpse of the project’s potential, but it left a lot of questions in its wake.

 

No-Mans-Sky

No Man’s Sky promises a LOT of space

How Does It Work?

One of the first things that was revealed about No Man’s Sky is it’s scale. The game promises 18 Quintillion unique planets to explore. Obviously it would be impossible for any designer to come up with that much content so instead the game universe is proceduraly generated from seed code that mixes and matches from potential combinations of traits for planets including the atmosphere, biome, geography, and presence of intelligent life. The game renders that in real time as the player explores, and discards it when the player is not present. What makes this interesting is that any player who goes to the same spot will see the same things but the game doesn’t need to use the processing power to depict more than a infinitesimal fraction of its vast universe.

What Do You Do?

Hello Games has talked a lot about the scale of the game and the math that makes it possible. It’s obvious that they are proud of the work they’ve done, and rightly so. But the promise of an infinite universe only gets you so far if that universe isn’t full of interesting things to do. Details on the actual gameplay have been scarce until recently. So what can you do in a playground of this frankly unimaginable size?

The primary motivation of the game is exploration itself. Every planet you discover, every alien creature, and every landmark will be tagged as your discovery. A lot of the initial draw for the game will simply be seeing what is waiting over the next hill, on the next moon, past the next star… The eventual goal will be to make your way to the center of the Universe. As you progress further towards the center the game will become more challenging. Planets will become more dangerous, not only will they have stronger and more aggressive creatures, but they will also have extreme temperatures, toxic atmospheres, and other hazards. In order to survive you will need to upgrade your spacesuit and weapon to overcome the challenges. More dangerous planets will yield more valuable resources which you can use to craft more powerful upgrades. Crafting will utilize the game’s periodic table as you synthesize compounds from the raw elements you obtain from mining, scavenging ruins, and salvaging enemy robots and ships.

Your ship can be upgraded as well, to improve your speed, weapons and defenses, and even your FTL drive so that you can jump further and speed your progress towards your goal. Space provides its own challenges in the form of factions that can ally with or attack you based on your behavior. If you act like a pirate, don’t be surprised when the local faction drops a hunter killer fleet into your system to deal with you. But if you move to a sector controlled by that faction’s rivals they may reward you for attacking their enemies and give you preferential prices on trades. You can even take part in large scale space battles between factions that happen based on ongoing changes in the persistent universe.

A Shared But Lonely Universe

No Man’s Sky is an online game and the marks you make on it with your discoveries and interactions with factions will leave a permanent mark on the universe of the game. With that said, Hello Games has crafted what promises to be a strangely solitary experience. With the magnitude of the game’s universe it will be a very rare occurrence for players to run into other players. The game doesn’t provide any way to track other players or party with them. It doesn’t even incorporate any way to talk to each other. In some ways this design ethos reminds me of Journey. It will be interesting to see whether people coordinate outside the game to meet up within it. Will we see a galactic mapping project, or a safe planet become a de facto meetup spot? Will we see players build a structure around potential PvP? This is one part of the game which will probably surprise even the developers once it is released.

no man's sky

So Why Get Excited?

No Man’s Sky is promising to bring an unprecedented amount of scale to a genre of game that has always benefited from having wider horizons. The ultimate question of whether the game is mechanically satisfying and rewarding to play won’t be answerable until the game is in our hands but the game has a staggering amount of potential. To get an idea of why I’m excited look at the picture above this paragraph. In the foreground there is a stone tablet that will help you decipher an alien language so you can better communicate with that faction. In the background is a small outpost of some kind. Maybe it’s a trading post, or maybe it’s home to some unfriendly natives. In the sky is a moon or sister planet that you can fly to with no loading or instancing of any kind. No Man’s Sky offers the final realization in some ways of that old game developer’s promise: If you can see it, you can get to it.

That level of seamless exploration is something that I have been waiting for since I started gaming. With high expectations there is always the potential for disappointment, but at this point I can’t help but be optimistic. Wherever the game ends up taking me, it is a journey I’m looking forward to taking.

No Man’s Sky releases for PC and the PlayStation 4 on June 21, 2016. The game will have a physical and digital release and there are two collector’s editions including a PC only edition that comes with a model space ship in case the digital ship isn’t enough for you.