editorial

The Soapbox: Evaluating gaming monetization through the lens of Nintendo’s mobile history

Bloggers and journalists throughout the online gaming industry have been talking about monetization a lot lately. It’s not just lockbox/gachapon scandals, or their relationship with gambling, but basic monetization and what we want from it. Games, after all, don’t make themselves; we have to pay for something to make that happen. But some gamers seem to view free-to-play games as a game that should be free, not one to be supported if it earns respect. And on the flipside of that, far too few game studios give off a vibe not of experimenting with monetization but of maximizing profits above all else while barely veiling their greed.

However, outside the MMO world, there is a company that’s been doing it “right” for a long time: Nintendo. The AAA developer/publisher is known for both innovation and hesitance, following in others’ footsteps with great trepidation, trying to figure out the ins and outs while entering the mobile market long after it’s been established. The company recently released a new mobile title, but what’s interesting is that it and the company’s last four games are all different genres with different monetization strategies. Exploring these titles and their relationship to their monetization plans will not only highlight the potential success of the models but hint at why they work and how they can be curbed into models gamers and lawmakers can better accept.

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Slay-to-win: Massively OP’s hands-on with the Dauntless closed beta

The end of September marked a major milestone for Dauntless, the upcoming monster-slaying action-MMORPG from indie developer Phoenix Labs, as it officially concluded its Founder’s Alpha event and made the jump into closed beta. Since then, legions of would-be Slayers have stormed the Shattered Isles, taking up arms to defend the last bastions of human civilization from destruction at the hands (and talons, fangs, or similarly sinister appendages) of the marauding monstrous beasts known as Behemoths.

And as it so happens, I was one of them. As a long-time fan of Capcom’s venerable Monster Hunter series, which pioneered the “kill-carve-and-craft” action-RPG subgenre upon which Dauntless aims to build, I’ve been eager to check it out for some time now. So when closed beta rolled around, I shelled out for a Founder’s Pack and joined my fellow prospects in the frontier settlement of Ramsgate, where I hoped to prove worthy of the Slayer mantle, or failing that, then at least to avoid dying horribly.

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The Soapbox: Inconvenience is not immersion in MMOs or anywhere else

Inconvenience is not immersion.

This strikes me as something rather ridiculous to type; to mildly paraphrase Dan Harmon, it seems like should be one of the more automatic things to tell people, like “I am a human being” or “I have skin” or “I breathe oxygen.” And yet I see this coming up, time and again, the idea that accessibility is somehow a boundary to immersion. Or that you need this sort of tedium in order to have genuine roleplaying or some other tribute to broken mishmashes and unnecessary inconvenience.

Except that, as mentioned, inconvenience is not immersion. They mean two different things. If you’re conflating the two, you’re pushing two unrelated concepts together in a way usually seen in clueless movie executives. (“This movie about young adults with a love triangle did well, so every movie with young adults probably needs a love triangle.”) You are, I assume, smarter than that.

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The Soapbox: The long tail of game development isn’t an excuse for gouging

Don’t be too mad at Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s a symptom of a problem, not the cause. I mean, be mad at people dumb enough to put the blame for negative reactions on the press, that’s just plain stupid. But at the heart of the matter is a problem that’s actually choking through game development all the way down the line.

Because while people are talking about “well, maybe games need to cost more” (and that aforementioned none-too-wise comment of an analyst does precisely that), the reality is that this would still be happening no matter what. The problem is not a matter of Battlefront II costing too little money to pay for its development. The problem is that design and budgets are broken, the market is a mess, and microtransactions are being used as a bludgeon instead of a tool.

And all of this is exacerbated by the fact that every single publisher wants to pretend that everything is peachy.

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Divining the details of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite from a Pokemon Go player’s perspective

When we first heard rumors about a Harry Potter version of Pokemon Go, I said I could barely imagine what the game might be like before listing several other IPs that would translate better as AR games. It’s not that I don’t like the Harry Potter series (I do) or Niantic (someone’s got to push the envelope). My issue is that I can’t see how their respective styles could combine to create something great.

So I’ve gone back to some of my pre-POGO notes about Ingress and what would need to change before it went live and, well, Niantic clearly thinks differently than I do because this game is very much happening. I thought it might be useful to consider Niantic’s past and how it may affect its upcoming game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Let’s dig in.

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Working As Intended: Guild Wars 2’s new mount licenses are still lockboxes, but they’re not the worst lockboxes

Pretty much everyone assumed that back when Guild Wars 2 planned out mounts, it did so with its cash shop in mind. The game is already not-so-jokingly known as “Fashion Wars,” so it’s got a playerbase primed and ready to splash out for sparkly mounts, especially cosmetic upgrades to what is very likely the best mount system in any MMORPG to date. The first set of mount cosmetics arrived for Halloween, a whole pack of skelly skins that players could buy directly. The second set, however, has now landed with a new sales scheme, and it’s caused significant controversy just as anticipated.

As we explained yesterday, ArenaNet has added 30 new mount skins to the game, but instead of selling them directly, the studio is selling them in a hybrid sort of lockbox: You buy one of the mount licenses, which unlocks one mount skin on your account that you don’t already have. You always get a mount skin, and you never get repeats, potentially all the way up to 30 licenses for 30 skins.

Unless you get the one you want sooner. That’s a big unless.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s CCP Games is gambling with the livelihoods of employees

Last week we broke the story that EVE Online developer CCP Games is backing out of the virtual reality games market, closing its Altanta office and selling its VR-focused Newcastle studio. The long-held Atlanta office was acquired in the merger with White Wolf in 2006 and has been hit with several rounds of layoffs over the years, with a major hit in 2011 after the Monoclegate disaster and another 2014 when the World of Darkness MMO was cancelled. The Newcastle studio was the development house responsible for CCP’s VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, and both Valkyrie and CCP’s new VR game Sparc will now be maintained by the London office.

Around 100 staff were laid off in the restructuring, roughly 30 of whom worked in CCP’s headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Though we were informed at the time that these changes would not impact the development of EVE Online, it since became apparent that more than a few non-development staff were cut. In addition to the EVE PR staff and others that were stationed in Atlanta, all but two members of the EVE community team in Reykjavik have also been let go. There are reports that several GMs and the localisation manager for EVE have departed too, and the mood on twitter from staff in Reykjavik recently is best described as sombre and a little shaken.

In this extra edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into CCP Games’s history of taking risks with staff’s jobs, look at some of those affected by the layoffs, and ask whether there is more fallout to come.

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WoW Factor: World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth’s allied races, the knockoff factor, and future hopes

Every so often, when I can think of no better introduction, I put some genuine musing into the opening of What Are You Playing. Usually it’s meant to be absurdist nonsense, but this past weekend is an example of my actually thinking about something, debating how I felt about the whole Allied Races announcement for World of Warcraft. It feels like something I wanted, and yet it feels like it’s not actually how I wanted it, which was an odd sensation.

In some ways, allied races seem like something that we’ve long needed in the game, especially since some of the races in question have just been around for so blessedly long. In other cases, they seem like a patch on another issue… and yet it’s another issue that’s being addressed in the same breath. And at the end of the day, you can explain a lot of it just by thinking about action figures.

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The Soapbox: NCsoft’s bizarre silence on Aion’s server merges says everything you need to know

NCsoft done messed up. Again. Yes, I know the studio has already had a few black eyes for other things throughout the years, but this recent punch hit closer to home. So close, it involved multiple family members. What happened? A debacle called Aion server merges. Yeah, I know all server merges tend to feel pretty rotten and are fraught with troubles by default, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about them. And boy does it ever feel like NCsoft was all gung-ho for the wrong.

For example, as much as the ArcheAge server evolution affected me negatively, it was still is a shining beacon of doing more right — and that’s saying something! That merge left me feeling as if I could return to regular play sometime. The way the whole thing played out for Aion has chased an eager paying player away as well as a long time vet from the game, and who knows how many others who will be affected.

If nothing else, another black eye does not bode well for goodwill and trust, things NCsoft was pretty short on anyway.

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Perfect Ten: Why Star Trek Online is an underrated MMORPG

I’m the type of player who has a stable of games that I return to from time to time, particularly when I’m looking for a dependable, enjoyable experience. I’ll stay with these games for a while until I can feel the fringe of burnout approaching and then let them go until they are needed once more.

Among these titles is a long-running favorite of mine — and an MMO that I feel is somewhat underappreciated by the larger community. The game is, of course, Star Trek Online. I was there at launch with my Del Taco cup in hand (there was a silly promotion that involved shuttles you could get from buying a soda), I’ve popped in for most of the anniversaries, and I’ve generally had a great time going through all of the featured episodes again and again while nerding out in my starship.

While I won’t argue that it is a perfect MMO or that it’s free from cash shop shenanigans, Star Trek Online does have a lot going for it that can get overlooked when players are hunting around for a reliable and slightly different gaming experience. Here’s why.

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Working As Intended: The best and worst of Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire (so far)

I’ve spent a chunk of the last week moving through the first part of Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire, finishing up the Crystal Oasis zone into which a character is deposited right off the airship. Obviously, it’s far too early to give a formal stamp of approval until I’m fully through it, but so far, I’m pleased with my purchase. Very pleased. I’m already pretty sure the expansion is update-of-the-year material for the genre. But it’ll take a few months to see how it fully meshes with the existing game, and while the same was true with Heart of Thorns, my urge to stop writing and go back into Elona for the next zone as I type this already tells me that PoF has delivered on at least its basic promises.

So while we let the community savor the game until a fully informed consensus is reached, I wanted to dash off some quick thoughts based on this first week of midcore casual play. Consider it a top 5, bottom 5 list as we dig into the very best additions to the game – and the things that still annoy me.

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Elite Dangerous: A ground-pounding newbie’s perspective

Earlier this summer I wrote that Elite Dangerous community events were something the MMO community should watch. Watch. I never said play, and I never ended up pushing the “purchase” button when I saw it on sale. I’m not really a flight sim person. Heck, I’ve even mentioned several times that I prefer kart-racers to realistic racing games.

However, I recently snagged a review key for Elite Dangerous to try it out on the PlayStation 4. I even streamed my first experiences with the game. It was a rocky session to say the least, but I decided to stick with it for a few more hours after getting some support from viewers. I really wanted to be able to recommend the game as something to pick up, but honestly, I’m still in the “watch” category.

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First Impressions: Splatoon 2 is a lobby shooter for socializers

After my hands-on at E3 and experience with the first Splatfest demo, I was a little concerned about Splatoon 2. I loved Splatoon 1but something about the E3 Salmon Run fell flat, and after having experienced the full version of Splat 1, I thought that the demo of Splat 2 without customization felt too shallow.

So I was provided a review copy of the game prior to launch, and something still didn’t feel right. While it was good to get in time with the single player mode and prepare me for launch, I figured out what was missing: the real Splatoon community. It’s what gives Splatoon more of an MMO-y feel than most of Nintendo’s other titles.

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