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2:59 AM on 05.30.2013

Used and Abused

Tonight, I watched a video that was posted by a British gamer named Total Biscuit where he makes an argument against used game sales. Used games have been a hot topic lately and this is one of the few commentaries on the subject that goes against popular opinion. However, while Mr. Biscuit does a good job of explaining the particulars of the used game market and the effects it has on the consumer, he doesn't make a compelling case against it. In summary, his suggestion is to "deal with it."

He begins by explaining his experience of the used game market as an employee for GAME, the supposed British equivalent of Gamestop. As a business, their objective is to push used games sales over new game sales because there is a much higher profit margin for the store when a customer buys used. His argument that used games are essentially no different than new games is sound. The experience is the same, more or less. I am familiar with Gamestop's practice of selling used games for a mere $5 cheaper than the new copy sitting next to it. And if there is a 90-95% profit for the store on a used sale, the numbers are pretty staggering. So it's understandable that developers and publishers would want to strike at that point because it's a substantial amount of money that they will never see for a product they created. However, this isn't a problem for the consumer, who ends up feeling the retaliatory inconvenience and cost of anti-used game measures. This is a matter between the publisher/developer and Gamestop/GAME. It's on the game makers to demand a better deal when it comes to used game sales. This boils down to greed on the part of stores like Gamestop or GAME. If they are going to hawk used merchandise as the core of their business then I think it's fair for the creators of said merchandise to demand a higher cut of the sale since it's potentially infringing on new sales of their game.

Total Biscuit also mentions the various revenue streams that other forms of media enjoy as compared to video games. Once again this is a sound explanation, but he shows great indifference towards the cost of these items. Purchasing a brand new Blu-ray movie is around $30. A new book is probably half that (even less if it's digital). Music is dirt cheap these days even if buying tangible media. He even goes so far to equate the production of a audio compact disc to a promotional item, intended to get people interested enough to plunk down the real money to see a live performance. This doesn't happen with games. A new game is going to cost you $60, most times regardless of the method of distribution. If you spring for the season pass you're looking at $80. $80! That is quite an investment on the part of the consumer. Now I'm the type that is perfectly fine with buying things on Steam or from iTunes even with the knowledge that I don't technically own the product or any right to resell it. And why should I if I'm paying $1-$15. That's rental-esque money and good value if it's something I can replay whenever I feel like it. If the game sucks, oh well, I'm out a few bucks. To give another example, if I go to the movie theatre and watch a movie that I don't enjoy, at least it only cost me $10 for the ticket. Gamers are being asked to put down $60-$80 for new game releases with no guarantee that they will enjoy the game. And the one recourse that we have is to sell the game back to the store for a modest amount of credit or money that we can put towards the purchase of something else.†

I have no qualms about developers and publishers asking players to pay a small fee for a multiplayer license or delivering DLC to fans of their products for some extra bank. I don't even mind the season pass. One of the best DLC purchases I made was the season pass for LA Noire. Obviously, a lot has to do with loyalty towards a brand or developer which is why I will probably put down the money for the season pass for the Last of Us. It's a great way for game makers to reward their fans while at the same time locking up some additional revenue. But greater respect needs to be paid to the consumer when we're asked to put down large sums of money to buy a video game brand new. If the end of used games is coming, there is no guarantee (or precedence for that matter) that game publishers and developers will lower the cost of purchasing a video game, especially since they are already charging $60 for digital versions any way. When console manufacturers use their systems as a platform against used games, it only hurts the consumer. We are the ones that have to pay for a business relationship that unanimously favors one side over the other. We are the ones that lose out when our ability to resell a product like we would any other tangible item on Earth is undermined because of the toxic relationship between game makers and stores like Gamestop or GAME. These companies need to sort themselves out because used games aren't the problem and consumers shouldn't be footing the bill for it.   read

7:41 PM on 05.14.2013

For What It's Worth

After recently deriding the purpose and value of Dishonoredís Dunwall City Trials DLC, I was excited to finally get my hands on the newest add-on offering from Arkane, the Knife of Dunwall. This extra set of missions focuses on the memorable assassin Daud and his band of mercenaries. It was a return to the gameplay and narrative style of the original title and was what everyone was waiting for when DLC was originally announced for Dishonored. However, after playing through it twice (one for high and low chaos) Iíve been thinking about where the real value of additional content lies.

For me, Dunwall City Trials was everything I hated about DLC: it didnít add anything to the experience, it fractured the gameplay, and it made me rethink my feelings about the original game. It was also only $5. I probably spent at least 15 hours playing the DLC, trying to get all of the trophies and stars. After all, that seemed to be the point of the challenged-based structure, to get the most points and complete all the special tasks. It was a frustrating experienced that did provide an incredible feeling of accomplishment once I was able to complete each objective or score total.

With the Knife of Dunwall, I couldnít wait to get started. This was the Dishonored I remembered and I quickly fell back in love with the game. Despite the two-part setup that leaves the story incomplete for the moment, the plot was interesting. It also built upon the gameplay by adding new weapons and tweaking some powers, and it made me want to go back and play through Corvoís adventure all over again. The $9.99 price point seemed fair even though I finished the entire DLC in about 6-7 hours. I felt better about making this purchase than I did Dunwall City Trials.

However, after finishing the Knife of Dunwall, it occurred to me that I basically just played through a glorified demo of Dishonored. Nothing was as complete as it was in the main game and it felt like I was only getting a small piece of the pie. The powers and weapons were moderately interesting, but aside from a few differences, everything was exactly like it was for Corvo. New features, like Favors, were fairly mundane and didnít really have much of an impact. The story (or at least the half that weíre given) was predictable and actually made Daud seem less interesting. And while I did replay the original game after completing this DLC, it seems a bit of a stretch to find that as true value for $10.

Itís unusual because as I look back, Dunwall City Trials probably gave me more for my money. It also makes me think about what the goal of DLC ultimately should be and how much that goal is worth. Is it worth more to get a small dose of the main gameplay features like Knife of Dunwall or perhaps Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or a totally separate experience like Dunwall City Trials or Pigsyís Perfect 10 from Enslaved? Is it worth more to simply get more of the original title like the $4 mission add-ons for L.A. Noire or $2 songs for Rock Band? Itís an interesting conundrum, but I think it likely boils down to the individual making the purchase and how they feel about the content. Is it better to pay $5 for 15 hours of gameplay that makes you miserable, but leaves you oddly satisfied? Or is it worth more to spend $10 for 7 hours of enjoyable gameplay that leaves you hollow and longing for more? From a business perspective the answer is obvious, but as a consumer, Iím not sure where I stand on the subject at the moment. Itís definitely something Iím going to pay more attention to in the future.   read

4:30 AM on 04.17.2013

Variety is the Spice of Gaming

I recently watched a presentation and Q&A session with Ken Levine, director of Bioshock Infinite and co-founder of Irrational Games. The video was interesting enough, but it wasn't until the final question was asked that I really started to think about the video game industry and what developers like Irrational mean to it, The question, and I'll paraphrase for those that don't want to watch the clip below (skip to 1:40:41), was from a gamer who really enjoyed Bioshock because of the thematic plot and the choices that he was forced to consider.He was curious as to why more developers hadn't taken to this formula. Levine's answer was simple, but poignant. The designers at Irrational "don't wake up in the morning and think 'today I really want to elevate the industry.'" They make games that they like about stuff that they are interested in.

It felt really great to hear him say that because I am always disappointed when companies start carbon copying each other to the point where all you see is the same game with a different coat of paint. I've recently been told off from comparing video games to movies (and rightly so), but I think the analogy works in this instance. One of my favorite movies is Amadeus, the dramatic retelling of the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It has funny moments, serious moments, and an obviously amazing soundtrack and I really enjoy it. But I don't want to see Amadeus every time I go to the movies. Sometimes I want to see Gerard Butler running around with a machine gun or Kristen Wiig running across the street in a dress looking for a toilet.

Now I loved Bioshock Infinite and it's definitely on my list for Game of the Year, but I don't want every game to be Bioshock Infinite. If every developer tried to force thematic storytelling or FPS mechanics into every game then the industry would become even more stagnant. We already see enough of this homogenization with yearly CoD and Assassin's Creed releases. And whenever a game becomes successful, there will always be some company trying to "piggy-back" that success with a rushed clone of their own. So it's refreshing to see that there are still developers out there (and a lot of them from the independent scene) that don't want to keep making the same games as everyone else over and over.

I like having variety because there are too many experiences to miss out on if you just stick to one type of game. Games like Journey, the Walking Dead, and Ni no Kuni would have been overlooked if I sat around waiting for the next Bioshock to be released. I hope developers like Irrational keep doing their thing without shifting to something else because they see another company have success. Without variety, gaming would simply be boring.   read

3:00 AM on 04.15.2013

Too Hardcore For You

I recently purchased the Dunwall City Trials DLC for Dishonored. I really enjoyed Dishonored and it is one of my favorite new IPs for this generation. I had heard that this DLC, which is essentially just a bunch of mini-games, was difficult. I enjoy a good challenge and the $5 price tag seemed fair. I'm also the kind of player that enjoys completion for the games I play. While I wouldn't call myself a trophy hunter, I like the challenge of getting 100% completion when I can. However, after playing through the DLC for a week (and still being 3 trophies short of completion), I can't help but feel that I've wasted my money and time.

For starters, as the name implies, the "trials" aren't really that fun. They've basically divided up the mechanics of the original game, which are fairly uninteresting by themselves, and packaged them as individual challenges. This is unfortunate because each mechanic works so much better when combined with the others. For example, the combat is fun, but it's even better when it is married to the stealth. As for the trophies/achievements, they are extremely frustrating. 90% of them are pure luck because most of the challenges randomize everything each playthrough. The one I'm currently having issues with is Daredevil. This trophy requires you to complete six "tricky" jumps during one run of Bonfires. This challenge is basically a parkour-inspired run from point to point, with additional time granted each time you hit a red beam of light that randomly spawns at some place on the map. As such, it is next to impossible to practice a perfect run because the layout is completely different each time.There is also no indication as to what the tricky jumps are or where to perform them. My best run so far has me at 19,000 points (11,000 short of the 30,000 needed for three stars) with 5 tricky jumps completed. And this is just the normal version. Assassins are added to the expert level difficulty.

Now I'll admit that $5 isn't a big deal and that it is completely optional content. You get what you pay for after all. All the same, when I think of Dishonored now, I don't think of the fantastic environments, engaging story, or thrilling stealth gameplay. I think of fruitlessly jumping from point to point before running out of time or falling into the void. I'm pretty sure Bethesda and Arkane could care less since they already have my money, but they should. The DLC should be something to reinforce the idea that you made a good purchase and will continue to buy their products because you know you'll have a good time with it. DLC like this cheapens the experience by breaking down exactly what made the game fun in the first place.

I'm having a similar experience with another game, Metal Gear Solid 4. I originally finished this game before they added a trophy patch and now I'm replaying for the trophies and because I was a bit nostalgic after seeing the MGS5 trailer. While I enjoy the game immensely, playing through it 8 different times is ridiculous. Additionally, some playthroughs force me to approach the game in a way that is counter to the stealth action that is the heart and soul of the series. I also completely skip the story and cutscenes because I've seen them 5 times already.

I am not really advocating any sort of seismic change to how DLC and trophies are handled, but I think developers should pay more attention to stuff like this. There is a sizable number of people that enjoy these things and making trophies and DLC more frustrating than fun doesn't exactly endear people to such games. Getting a trophy should feel like a grand achievement, but not at the expense of the experience.   read

8:06 PM on 04.12.2013

Tropes vs. Women Part 1

The first installment of Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter-funded web series "Tropes vs. Women" was released last month. Ignoring all of the nonsense that came out of the creation of this series of videos, I think there is real value in what Ms. Sarkeesian is examining. You might disagree with some things, but her points are valid and really add to the discussion of how women are portrayed in popular culture. I think that the "Damsel in Distress" trope is fine when it is used in an individualistic fashion. But when it is applied too often (as has been the case for the past century), then society begins to adopt this viewpoint as a characteristic of women across the board. I really recommend watching this series and the other videos that are on the page as it makes for really good discussion material.


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