Microtransactions: The Future of Console Gaming?

Games that base their revenue off microtransactions utilize a very profitable business model. 93% of the profits made off mobile phone market are free to play. Anyone who’s watched the January 31st Game Scoop would’ve picked up that tidbit information. They would have also heard one of IGN’s editors, Justin Davis, claim that this type of model is on its way to consoles. Those words tend scare us gamers, “microtransaction” is synonymous with “pay to win” or “always online” or “subscriptions”.  It seems that as technology evolves the doors are opening for companies to utilize this type of model.

Take for example a game I don’t think a lot of people have talked about for a variety of reasons, NBA 2K14. People aren’t talking about this because of much of a better quality game 2K14 is compared to NBA Live. It destroyed Live to put it bluntly. It’s been put on a pedestal somewhat because of this, and it’s also marketed towards a more casual consumer base. Before we all hop on the hate train, I’ll admit that 2K14 is a fun game and the multi-player is great. Yet people don’t seem to be talking about the in-game microtransactions. I’ve played that game upward of 50 hours so far and I am not even close to unlocking all the features that were standard in the older games. In order to unlock these features you have to spend gold coins that you earn from playing games or buying them. Usually the idea of grinding to unlock features or items is analogous with MMO’s or mobile games. I can honestly say I had to grind in 2K14 in order to unlock in game items. Tired of playing single player games but needing to unlock more core gameplay, I bit down and continued to grind to unlock features. I can’t even bear to play association mode because of how many features I still have to unlock. I used to almost exclusively play association with friends and compete to see who the better GM was. On top of all this you can’t even play multi-player association on the same system like every other past NBA 2K, you’re forced to play online. One of my friends that I played the association mode with often told me that it was a deal breaker for him and he wouldn’t get the game because of it. To be clear though, I wouldn’t be mentioning the game if this was the worst part.

A humorous but exaggerated look at NBA 2K14’s microtransaction system

Most people saw the gamers’ victory in Microsoft’s reversal of its always-online DRM policy as the end of that B.S., at least for now. You may want to reconsider. Let’s take a step back for a moment and assume Microsoft wasn’t the bad guy, or at least not as bad of a guy. What if Microsoft was doing this to offer you the most content possible and to make the Xbox One have higher quality games? What if this wasn’t purely about monetizing your living room with ads?

To see what I mean let’s go back to NBA 2K14. The microtransactions weren’t the worst part about the game, nor was it the lack of multi-player association mode. It was the always online aspect of the game. A few weeks into playing 2K14 my account couldn’t connect to the servers so almost none of the core features worked besides exhibition games. All I wanted to do at the time was to continue with my character in the My Career mode and I couldn’t even do that. It was awful, I sent an email to 2K and I didn’t hear from them for a month. It took over two weeks for my account to be able to connect to the servers again. My brothers account on the same PS4 wasn’t affected, only mine for some reason.

Now were going to go back to Microsoft. What if this DRM nonsense wasn’t Microsoft’s idea? Rather, it was the big game companies that came to Microsoft. The promise to optimize their games for the Xbox One then port to the PS4 and offer more exclusives is nice bargaining chip. It would have been in back to back generations that Microsoft beat Sony in game content. Sony’s supposed advantage in specs would have been all hype because games would have been optimized for the Xbox One. Microsoft would have had far superior exclusives and a much fuller library. It would have seemed like Microsoft cared more about getting content to its customers. In reality, the required online and no used game policy meant that the big publishers microtransaction-based model of games would have been implemented easier and have reached a much wider audience (everyone with an Xbox One). This may be why it was so easy for Microsoft to reverse their policy once they heard all the uproar. It was a tacked-on feature rather than built into the foundation of the system.

“Okay, but what’s the big deal about what-ifs? I mean, it’s all hypothetical. We were able to stop Microsoft from doing this by making our voices heard.”

That’s true; we were able to stop something from being implemented that wasn’t the norm. It’s a lot harder to do once it does become the norm. This is why it’s significant that more games like NBA 2K14 are using microtransaction or always online based models. It will become the norm and there will be no reason to speak up. I’m not saying this because I believe that all of us should grab our pitch forks and torches. The reality of it there’s nothing we can do about it. It may sound pessimistic, but we simply can’t stop it. We’re gamers and we love to game. We’ll buy the new titles, and those that are disciplined enough to avoid these types of games are too few in number.

I’m not claiming this to be some incredible insight into the industry. Many assumed Microsoft wasn’t alone in proposing this new structure for console gaming. But the question isn’t if micro transactions are the future of console gaming; because they’re not. They’re a fundamental part of gaming right now, and they’re here to stay.


The NEW Generation

Is it fair to stop calling it the “Next Generation”? The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One have been out for over two months and the WiiU (if you want to include it in this generation) has been out over a year. It deserves to be called “Current Generation” but to be fair to those people that haven’t gone out and gotten a PS4 or XboxO, we’ll call the “New Generation”.

One thing that has been on a lot of gamers’ minds has been what about this console lineup makes it Next Gen? So far all we’ve really seen is a slight improvement in graphics, nothing about the environments has done a whole lot of wooing and the size of games aren’t considerably larger either. Last generation had interactive sidelines (I’m looking at you Madden) and the end of last generation had 30-40 Gigabyte downloadable games (to be fair this generation does include a few 50 Gigabyte games thus far). So what about all this makes it Next Gen? Is it the home entertainment system aspects? improved camera features? more dynamic online interactivity?

Well, so far it is all of that. But there’s not much more you can say about this generation, SO FAR. The things that make it Next Gen won’t be seen for about a year, maybe more. Developers need time to learn how to optimize their content on the new systems. Compare GTA:  V or The Last of Us to launch games from the PS4 or Xbox 360 like Resistance: Fall of Man. The differences are drastic. And I don’t use this example arbitrarily.

Resistance: Fall of Man gameplay

Last of Us gameplay

Back in ’06 I was at a friend’s house that just got his hands on Resistance: Fall of Man and we proceeded to beat the campaign on co-op mode (which by the way needs to be re-introduced games). During this marathon gaming session, at one point after we killed an enemy chimera my friend proceeded to unload his magazine into our fallen foe, like any good teenage gamer. He apparently hit one of the tubes on the dead chimera and it reacted to the bullet, proceeding to break and gush air. He turned to me in astonishment, “Look how detailed this dead one looks, I don’t know how much more realistic games can get.” And I agreed with him. There was little room to improve graphics in my mind. I was young at the time but no gamer, regardless of age, can say there wasn’t a point at which they looked at a game’s graphics in complete disbelief, only to have that bar shattered in two months.

The point of that tangent was that the Next Gen-y aspects of the New Generation are coming, just give it some time. Resistance: Fall of Man (Killzone: Shadow Fall/Ryse: Son of Rome) will eventually become The Last of Us or GTA: V (???), patience my friends.

Assassins Creed III

Hey guys I apologize for the time away. I had a camping trip with the family that I needed to attend along with a hectic few weeks getting ready for my next year at college. I promise I’ll be back to posting on a regular basis.

So without further ado… a preview for the newest addition to the epic Assassins Creed franchise, Assassins Creed III.

The last game the Assassins Creed franchise concluded the story of the Italian pretty boy Ezio Auditore. The story of Ezio was a trilogy starting with Assassins Creed II, released in November of 2009, continued to Assassins Creed Brotherhood, released in November of 2010, and finally wrapping up with Assassins Creed Revelation in November of 2011. Assassins Creed III has been in work since the release of Assassins Creed II, way back in 2009. The size of the game is enormous and the game is far more ambitious than any of the previous titles.

The game takes place in the United States during the American Revolution. You are a half Native American half British assassin known as Connor. The main areas of battle are on the frontier, in Boston, and in New York. The game is much more of an RPG compared to the previous titles. Made possible by the powerful engine.

All the hype points to this being the biggest leap of the franchise. We’ll have to wait to see if the story-line and character development prove to be up to par, but the game play and graphics are easily the best of the series. If you are a fan of the series its a no-brainer to go get the game, I’d recommend reserving a copy. If you haven’t played any of the previous installments or are skeptical due to flaws in the preceding titles I’d still make it a priority keep an eye on it and get a general feeling of the game after it is released.

What do you guys think? Are you going to get this game? How do you feel about the previous Assassin Creed Games?

Wild, crazy, fun!

Borderlands 2 is one of the most anticipated games coming out this fall. The first installment in the series was known for its wild antics, crazy humor, and all-around fun action. The question is can Borderlands 2 live up to this and exceed it?

So far indications are yes it will live up to the title and will most definitely exceed the wild, crazy, fun of Borderlands. The success of the previous games allowed the makers to go after ambitious goals and have a larger budget. The game is still a first person shooter but now has more RPG elements weaved into the game. There are far more side-quests, more enemies, and more ways to customize your appearance and guns. The game still takes place on the desolate wasteland of Pandora and many of the same enemies reappear in the sequel.

For those of you who have not played the first game of the series, Borderlands was a first-person shooter with a few RPG elements. The graphics are more cartoon-ish than most games and the story isn’t terribly deep. Yet the humor, great action, and all-around bad-ass feeling of the game made it one of the most surprising titles a few years back. It is extremely well made and anyone who plays it will have a ton of fun.

This game will no doubt be a best-seller this year. The first game was so good I will undoubtedly be buying the second.

How about you, will you buying Borderlands 2? What’d you think of Borderlands?

NCAA Football 13

Another year another set of EA sports games.  There are many reasons to hate this company for how they handle the games and many reasons to love them. Every year they come out with the same game as the previous with a few tweaks. Yet the familiarity and simple controls keep us buying it year after year. People are frustrated when companies don’t change-up what they come out with yet get angry with companies who change and don’t stick to “what works” (see Bioware and Dragon Age). It’s a tough situation to be in as a company.

So how did EA do with NCAA Football 13? Surprisingly very well. NCAA Football has been year in and year out a well-presented and interesting video game with all the different game modes like dynasty and road to glory. Yet this year they added to it with the Heisman Challenge mode. In this mode you get to play as one of ten selected previous Heisman winners on any team the player wishes for one season. The mode has its flaws such as the announcers don’t acknowledge their names but overall its pretty fun and interesting. Definitely a welcome addition to the game

The game play also got a little more intriguing with Reaction Time. Reaction Time enables a player to slow the game down during a play to avoid defenders or to make a tackle. The player only has a limited amount depending on how good they are and their experience. It adds a little flavor to the game play which resembles every other football game out there.

There were a lot of issues not fixed in this years game though. You’ll probably here most of everything the announcers will say with in two games, the Road to Glory mode is far too easy, and recruiting in dynasty mode is still an annoying, time-consuming, pain in the ass. Players still put their arms and shoulder through the ball or another persons body and tight-end streaks are nearly unguard-able. One of thing I am very happy with though that they did fix is that you can’t run twenty feet backwards, throw off your back foot and throw a perfect ball to a receiver fifty yards down field. A very welcomed change.

Overall the game is a better improvement than you will get with most sport video games. I don’t advise getting the same sports video game two years in a row but if you’re going to get NCAA Football any year, it’s this one.

If any of you have already played the game, what do you think? If not, will you be buying this? What have your previous experiences with NCAA Football been like?

An End Once And For All

Now this is old news and if you do not like discussing the ending of Mass Effect, please do us all a favor and do not continue reading then complain that the subject has been beaten to death.

Mass Effect is the greatest story the media of video games has to offer. The amount of information presented to the player that provides the lore to the game is unparalleled. The amount of time put into the personality, background, and overall like-ability of every character in the series makes even the most hardened of men care about their fate. The story consumes the player and makes it feel as though they are truly apart of the narrative. The tale of Commander Shepard is an epic one, used in both the current meaning of amazing and the Greek form of a tale. Unfortunately in a sense, the latter can be said about the series as a whole as well.

Mass Effect 3, the last installment of the Mass Effect series, concluded one of the greatest stories of all time. Unfortunately it didn’t end like the one of the most incredible stories ever told. The ending was surrounded in so much controversy that even the Penn State athletic department would feel sorry for Bioware.

For any of you who have not played the series, the best comparison I’ve ever heard to this ending was: Imagine in Harry Potter that the real enemy wasn’t Voldemort, the true mastermind behind all that evil was Dudley. But that’s not all, the only way to stop Dudley is for Harry to destroy the magical world. And to top icing on the cake, every character you’ve come to know is probably dead (Ron, Hermione, George, Fred, etc..).

Yeah, it was that bad. The things that I explained earlier that made Mass Effect great were completely abandoned in the final moments of the game, the most important moment in the series. They lost narrative coherence, continuity, and the main character lost the things that made him great. Everything you know about the Reapers seemed to be uprooted in the final moments of the game with the introduction of the “AI Star-Child”. The continuity of the story seemed to be lost when some characters magically appeared on the Normandy or the Citadel. Shepard also seemingly loses the ability to gather information to make an informed decision. Much of the controversy that surrounded it had to do with players making the most important decision of the series near-blind.  They completely destroyed the lore of the series in the final moments of the game as well with the destruction of the Mass Relays.

All of this could have been forgiven if Bioware did what they said they were going to do from the beginning, allow decisions that were made through out the series change the outcome of the ending, an interactive ending that told YOUR story. They always talked about how Commander Shepard’s story is the player’s story. Hell they even said it wouldn’t even be a simple A, B, C choice. (Actually you’re right it was Red, Blue, Green). Part of the problem had to do with the great expectations Bioware fed their audience.

It was bad, but that’s not what this post is about.

Bioware heard our complaints and acted, something people do not give them enough credit for. They accepted that the ending wasn’t satisfactory and tried to fix it. They didn’t owe the fans anything, they could have left the game as is. Yet they manned up and took responsibility. Hell, who really knows if it was even their fault? One only has to look at the destruction EA causes wherever they go to see that there may have been a bigger bully rushing/changing the project. In any case though they changed the ending with the extended cut DLC.

The extended cut fixed many of the things previously stated – narrative coherence, plot holes, destruction of lore, too many questions, not enough closure, and so on. They fixed it, and while some may argue that the concept of the ending wasn’t well thought out (I would be one), one can at least accept the new ending presented. If this had been the ending they had originally presented to us many would have not have been mad and the public outrage would have never of happened. In fact most would have been content with the ending and it probably would have been acclaimed to be one of the greatest finishes in gaming history.

There was too much right in this series for it to go that horribly wrong in the end. I’m glad they came out with the extended cut DLC, and although the bitter taste from the original ending still lingers, I can truly be happy with the ending and can move on with gaming.

What do you guys think? Did you like the series? What about the endings-original/extended? What were your favorite moments of the series?

Side Note: the music to the ending was spectacular in both endings. Original= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5JvbD2Zc9I Extended = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLxv_g_zQkY