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Sometimes, I feel like I enjoy reading and talking about games more than actually playing them. :p
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gigantor21
9:25 AM on 06.10.2014

So, I watched all 4 conferences yesterday. Here's my take:

- MS had a WAY better showing than last year, but Sony had more surprises. Neither convinced me their consoles were worth buying before 2015, though--we didn't see much for the rest of 2014 that wasn't known already. So neither of them "won".

- The Order looks worse every time I see it. The gunplay doesn't look interesting at all.

- I'm so glad to see TJ Combo in Killer Instinct again. Can't wait to find out more about his playstyle.

- The Last Guardian being a no-show AGAIN didn't surprise me, even with all the IGN drama.

- MKX looks pretty damn cool.

- No Man's Sky looks amazing. I've never been big on procedurally generated content, but that game makes a hell of a case for it.

- The villain in Far Cry 4 is hilarious and awesome.

- The EA conference was dogshit. They had nothing to show for the new games announced last year, and the usual yearly stuff was boring.

- Way, WAY too much CG was used. It's still better than "in-engine" smoke and mirrors, but I prefer actual gameplay.

- I can't WAIT to play GTAV on PC.

- Batman: Arkham Knight looks incredible.

- Timed exclusivity, PC games being on one console before another, and exclusive DLC are never going to be a big deal to me, no matter how much the platform holders try to convince me otherwise.

All in all, the conferences were pretty good, but not Earth shattering. I went in wondering whether I should wait until next year to buy a new console; now I know I'm not buying them until then.

How did you feel about the conferences? Let me know in the comments.








Up until the PS2 days, buying games at retail was a pretty straightforward process. Most games were "what you see is what you get" affairs, where the game you picked up in the store that day was a locked-in, static product for the entire time you spent with it. Now? Not so much.

Publishers have fallen in love with the  "games-as-a-service" model. It's not enough to sell millions of copies, or even be a multimillion selling series, even on a yearly basis. No, that $60 disc must be a stage for multiple rounds of DLC, as well as the more controversial use of microtransactions. Take Two recently reported the latter made them $200 million dollars last year, largely from the paid credit system in GTAV.

That extra content is also used by retailers to drive business towards their stores/websites. The infamous chart of Watch Dogs Collector's Editions is just the most egregious example of a long standing trend. Not ONE version of the game offers the full slate of DLC and extra content, even if you buy the Season Pass on top of it. The reason? Retailer, platform and region specific incentives.

When people bring up their concerns about such practices, game companies are quick to assure us they're cognizant of the potential pitfalls. That they're only trying to provide extra value to consumers. That the base game has more than enough meat on it's bones to justify building so much extra stuff around it.

I, for one, have rarely bought those reassurances.

As it stands, buying a AAA game at $60 feels like buying a console at day one. You're buying the game and whatever extra content you might want at the highest possible price, just like a console and it's launch titles are at their most expensive. In both cases, you don't get a full sense of what either has to offer until well after launch. The specter of network issues and key features being broken or missing looms over both. More and more, lining up to buy a big new release at launch feels like a sucker's deal, whether it's hardware OR software.

I'm in a "Steam Sale Holding Pattern" on Watch_Dogs for the same reason I don't want either next-gen console until Christmas at the earliest. In both cases, I know I can just wait it out, and get more content with better performance at a later price. A big reasons the "games-as-a-service" model exists is to incentivise more pre-orders and early sales--to the point that they'll promote DLC before we even see proper gameplay, like Arkham Knight, Far Cry 4 and Evolve did recently.

But for me it's having the opposite effect. Often games will have so much more to offer at a lower price down the line that there's no reason to even consider a full-price purchase if I'm not 100% sure. Meanwhile, I'll gladly double dip at full price on something like Dynasty Warriors 8 XL without even thinking about it--let alone looking at what DLC offerings it has to make up my mind. The fun I had with past DW games is a better "incentive" than whatever physical or digital knick-nacks publishers trot out.

So how about you? Does the raft of content that devs and publishers push make you more gunshy about early purchases? Let me know in the comments.








Back in August, I made a bunch of random Metacritic score predictions for upcoming games. Now that most of them are out, I say it's high time to check back and see how I did.

Killzone Mercenary:
Prediction: Mid/High 80s
Actual Result: 78


...well, I was right about it being the definitive handheld shooter experience, but it turns out that wasn't worth as much as I'd expected. This one ran the gamut, with a very even range of scores between the 90s and the 60s, with an equally diverse set of opinions on both the single-player campaign and the multiplayer.

Tearaway
Prediction: High 80s/Low 90s
Actual Result: 87


Right on target for this one, though. Can't wait to pick this up soon. :)

Killzone Shadowfall:
Prediction: Mid/High 80s
Actual Result: 73


A constant refrain here is that, for the absolutely gorgeous visuals, the gameplay itself isn't anywhere near as ambitious or inspired. Only the graphics were praised as being a big step forward into next-gen territory.

Knack
Prediction: High 60s/Low 70s
Actual Result: 57


Ouch. I expected this to get the shittiest reviews of all three next-gen consoles this year, and critics ended up dropping the hammer on Cerny's work for the reasons I expected (oversimplified gameplay, lazy phoned in visuals and story). But they ended up being much, much harsher than I expected. Ironic, really, as I actually enjoyed the game more than I thought I would when I tried the demo at the mall. Still wouldn't buy it at full price regardless though--Shu was right to call it a "secondary purchase."

That this was held up as a successor to Spyro--one of my favorite games growing up--really rubbed me the wrong way. I'm glad that Knack was punished for falling short of the bar Cerny himself set for it.

Dead Rising 3:
Prediction: Low/Mid 70s
Actual Result: 78


Technical glitches and rather lackluster visuals that belie it's current-gen origins drag down the scores for a game that, at it's core, delivers the simple visceral zombie-killing pleasures the franchise is known for. That core, however, has become long in the tooth for some critics. Even so, it actually did a bit better than I thought, LOL.

Forza 5
Prediction: Mid/High 80s
Actual Result: 83


Slightly below my expectations. Critics loved the core gameplay and feel the Drivatar implementation was good, but the paucity of content compared to previous games ended up being a drag, however slight. The shift towards mobile-style forced grinding to promote microtransactions was also cited as a negative in some reviews.

Ryse
Prediction: Low/Mid 70s
Actual Result: 61


So I was right about this and Knack being at the bottom of the high profile releases (the ones that weren't delayed anyway), and that this would do slightly better than Knack. I severely underestimated just how badly reviewers would punish it though. "Style over substance" is the impression I got from the game footage, and what it lost points for, but it ended up being even worse than I thought.

Killer Instinct (2013)
Prediction: High 70s/Low 80s
Actual Result: 73


The lack of content at launch ended up hurting this more than I expected, especially considering how often the combat itself was praised and the cheap cost of entry. But considering how Skullgirls gives you more content for $5 less than KI's full Season 1 package, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me.

Super Mario 3D World
Prediction: Mid/High 80s
Actual Result: 93


Like many people on the internet, I was rather underwhelmed by the initial rollout for 3D World. Nintendo did little in the early goings to present it as more than a multiplayer-enabled upgrade to 3D Land with cat suits. As we saw and learned more about the game, though, it ended up looking better and better as time went on. As such, I'm not surprised that it ended up scoring higher than I expected, and I'm actually glad to be way off on this one. The game looks amazing now.

Wind Waker HD
Prediction: High 80s/Low 90s
Actual Result: 90


On target again, finally. :p

Wonderful 101
Prediction: Mid/High 70s
Actual Result: 78


Yes! 3 for...uh...on second thought, never mind.

Sonic: Lost World
Prediction: Mid/High 80s
Result: 62


Ergh...so much for this turning around critics' opinions or being a return to form.

As great as the game looked in press footage and trailers, and how much praise it got in preview builds, reviewers found the actual game to be badly marred by convoluted controls, inconsistent difficulty and aimless level design. There was the potential for a good game here, but the execution was totally fucked. I was off by more than 20 points. XD

Assassin's Creed IV
Prediction: Low/Mid 80s
Actual Result: Mid 80s across all platforms


4-for-please-don't-keep-count.

COD: Ghosts
Prediction: Low/Mid 80s
Actual Result: Mid 70s across all platforms


Well, damn. I wasn't expecting this. COD has long been a point of contention between gamers who accuse Activision of phoning it in and reviewers saying the core gameplay holds up well enough to justify the yearly iterations. This go-round, however, it seems that they just weren't feeling it, with several saying that the series is playing it too safe now.

Battlefield 4
Prediction: High 80s/Low 90s
Actual Result: Mid 80s across all platforms


This ended up being just slightly below expectations, although the gap between BFs and COD is FAR bigger than I expected. BF4 had it's own problems, whether it was a dull campaign, technical problems (in multiplayer especially), or multiplayer modes and maps that vary wildly in quality. Critics absolutely LOVED the game when things went right, but it didn't happen consistently enough.

GTA5
Prediction: Mid/High 90s
Actual Result: 97 across both platforms


Come on. What else did people expect?

Saint's Row IV
Prediction: Mid/High 70s
Actual Result: Low 80s across all platforms


Slightly better than expected. The humor turned out to be more hit than miss with critics, along with the superpower-infused gameplay and the sense of power that came with it. Also, there was a notable sharp drop in score between the PC and 360 version, and an even bigger drop between the 360 and PS3.

-----
All in all, this was a fun little experiment. I had no first hand evidence to judge most of these games--Knack and Sonic: Lost World are the only demos I actually played. I'll be doing predictions for the first half of 2014 soon.








(Cross posted from my blog on Pixlbit.)

Over the course of this generation, network functionality has radically changed the landscape of console gaming as we know it. No longer are games a one-and-done deal; the industry is pushing hard to present their games as longer term investments, with a slew of DLC and network features implemented to extend the life of a title for weeks, if not months, after launch. For me, though, this approach has had the opposite effect.

I'm not nearly as willing to buy games new as I was in generations past, specifically BECAUSE of the online functionality that's supposed to make them more attractive early purchases. There are several reasons for this:

- The vaunted online features almost never function properly in the early goings. GTA Online was a mess, SimCity was a disaster, and Diablo III was rendered unplayable. The incentive to simply wait it out while the bugs are fixed is much higher. Games that depend on netplay, meanwhile, are crippled if it doesn't work well. As much as I love King of Fighters XIII, for instance, the terrible netcode has severly hobbled it. That's true of fighting games in general nowadays.

- Games are being shipped out with far more bugs and glitches, under the notion that they can be patched in after the fact. As such, I see little reason to be the first kid on the block to get a new title when I'm not sure it's working properly. This is something that extends even into the offline play; Arkham Origins, for instance, has had any number of serious bugs that Warner is swearing up and down they'll be patching to fix. And speaking of the Arkham games...

- The proliferation of DLC has led to the rise of GOTY editions--enhanced versions of the same game with most of the DLC included for free, released several months to a year after the fact. I find that the rather piecemeal pre-order bonuses and Day 1 content used to counteract this pales in comparison to the shit-ton of money you save by simply waiting for the GOTY bundle. And in some cases they aren't even waiting a few months to do it; Warner Bros. just announced a 3 game Arkham series bundle with the GOTY versions of Asylum and City included with Origins, just a few weeks after Origins was released.

- One counterargument to this idea is the issue of community shrinkage. "If the game revolves around playing online, then waiting it out means less people to play with! And you run the risk of falling behind!"

But the thing is...I'm not interested in riding the initial wave of players who want to try out their shiny new disc, only to lose interest in a few weeks and drop the game entirely. My interest is in games good enough to support sustained communities over time--which may not be as big as they were on Day 1, but are more committed and passionate. A good game will have no problem ensuring there are plenty of those people around.

- But the biggest factor, for me, is simply pricing.

One of the central arguments for the Xone's initial used game policies was that devs were being undercut by a used market they didn't see a dime out of. Defenders of the always-online functionality were quick to point to Steam as proof that a connected future wasn't so bad--and that gamers were hypocrites for embracing Valve while shunning Microsoft. Putting that argument aside for a second...I really don't think the industry would want a Steam-like future across the board.

As much as I like Steam, my relationship with it is ultimately a marriage of convenience. I've never spent more than $20 on a Steam game, and the vast majority of titles on my Library are games I got for $10 or less--usually impulse purchases of games I would never have touched outside of sales and special promotions. Going back to Arkham Origins again, the reason the collection isn't a big incentive for me is that I got the GOTY versions of AA and AC for $5-10 a pop. That's pricing they've had several times on Steam and Amazon over the past year or so.

Without the prospect of simply trading in or selling the games on my own terms, or being able to rent or borrow them in advance, the amount I'm willing to spend on games in the PC space is FAR lower than it is on consoles. It has to be at a price point in which not having those options doesn't matter. And I'm hardly alone in that regard.

Playstation Plus, with it's game rentals and extra discounts, has allowed that same approach to bleed into my Vita and PS3 purchases. Sure, it incentivizes me to buy more digital copy, but it makes paying anything near full price look like an expensive gamble. Why not wait for the digital version to go on sale instead, where I can get a more functional copy for pennies on the dollar? Does the industry really have a good answer to that question in their constant "digital is the future" push? Because I can tell you right now that if we continue to see the same $60 pricing nonsense on digital stores after discs go extinct, I'm not going to be buying nearly as many games.

So how about you? How have stuff like patches, GOTY versions and digital sales impacted your spending habits this generation?