5 Conclusions - 17/08/18

August 17, 2018
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A regular look at gaming-related stories from the past week or so whereby conclusions are drawn from anything and everything. These may be incredibly well reasoned based on events from the week. Alternatively, they may be highly speculative, drawn from very little evidence. More likely, they will be somewhere in between.

Conclusion One: To review a game, a reviewer needs to have the game

It’s not an exaggeration to say that game reviews are a powerful medium, one which can negatively affect hard-working employees, or even break a company entirely. Yet, they are an essential part of gaming culture and just like deciding what to watch at the cinema, it’s likely that many gamers will wait for the review scores of a new release to drop before forking out forty or fifty quid.

While the conclusion may be an obvious one to draw, it’s one which Bethesda have finally started to realise makes sense. A couple of years ago they made an unpopular policy decision which meant that any outlet that wanted to get a review copy of a game would have to wait until launch day to receive it. Normally, video game journalism sites like Jump Dash Roll will receive a game anywhere between one and three weeks before launch. It gives reviewers time to properly play the game and provide an objective appraisal of its merits and flaws. Preventing that kind of lead time by restricting review copies until launch has two possible effects. The first is that the game gets rushed through by the reviewer, since publications want to be the first site to have a review up gets those sweet, sweet hits (this, it should be noted, is the opposite to Jump Dash Roll’s approach — we take as long as is needed to provide an honest, accurate review). The second is that the review would come out much later and result in frustration on the part of any gamers who had pre-ordered before subsequently finding out they’d dropped half a ton on a pile of garbage.

Simply put, consumers want to be informed before they purchase, and Bethesda’s decision turned into a lead weight for the company. Subsequent reviews of many of their games were prefaced by numerous outlets focusing on the harsh policy before actually covering the game’s content. Even if those games, such as DOOM, were actually genuinely good titles, the shadow of Bethesda’s decision hung over their release.

Now, it seems Bethesda may have had a change of heart. In an interview with VG247, the SVP of global marketing Pete Hines said that while the initial decision was made with the best intentions, “we’re constantly iterating and reevaluating. It just didn’t make sense.” He also stated that Bethesda “were tired of reading reviews where the first paragraph spent more time talking about our review policy than the game. So we decided we’re not going to keep drawing attention to it – we’ll send out copies and maybe people will start talking about the game instead of talking about policies.”

While not strictly backtracking on their controversial decision, it does seem like Bethesda’s stance is softening. It won’t change for online-only games such as Fallout 76 but as Hines says, “we will continue to figure out what makes the most sense.” Fingers crossed that when Rage 2 comes out next year, we’ll have had ample time to play it before release.

Conclusion Two: New management evident already at Telltale

Last year Telltale changed management when Pete Hawley came in as CEO, replacing the studio’s founder.

One problem with Telltale games in the past was wondering when exactly the next episode would drop. 

Rarely predictable, typically inconsistent and at times momentum-breaking. With The Walking Dead: The Final Season we know exactly when each episode will drop, and the pacing is at a regular six-week interval.

Those three statements above are related, aren’t they? Already we can see what the new management is bringing to the table. Gamer-led improvements to the overall experience. The game, its story and its quality are yet to be seen but the very fact we know when we’ll be able to play each part of it, or when we can sit down and binge the whole thing is a significant improvement to us. It will also be a boon to the team themselves, making marketing campaigns that much easier, and hopefully provide the devs the requisite time to get their stuff done, tested and retested to hopefully avoid those Telltale bugs.

Conclusion Three: The world’s gone...

If you or I buy a physical copy of a game we might play it, play it again and keep playing it forever more. This is me and all my copies of Dark Souls, for instance. We might also buy a game, decide it’s not for us and want to pass it on to get as much cash back as possible. We might even buy something and not even take it out of the shrink-wrap (this is far too common for more mature gamers where time is more constrained than cash), then decide to sell that back for similar reasons.

So what if we tried that and the game’s maker rang us and told us we couldn’t? Could you even imagine it? No, is my guess.

And yet, in America Bethesda has stopped a chap from selling his copy of The Evil Within 2 as new because, well, various reasons according to gamesindustry.biz. These stated reasons include the fact the game wouldn’t have a warranty as if it were truly new (is this even relevant for gaming, really?); it can’t be verified that it’s not been opened and repackaged (surely an issue for the seller and his feedback on the chosen marketplace offering?) and the fact that he was not an authorised reseller of Bethesda games.

That final reason is probably the real one. Bethesda hasn’t said to this person that they can sell their games. He did not pay Bethesda to be able to do that; Bethesda does not benefit in anyway. Yet it did from the original sale and everyone knows he’s selling the game as new, not new. The world has just gone mad. Expect EA to be onto you soon when you try to sell FIFA 18 ahead of the latest version’s release.

Conclusion Four: Microtransactions are very bad

£70,000. That’s a lot of money, right? It’s around 1400 brand new games, or 70,000 litres of original Coke. It’s a lot of spending power basically. You could decide to spend it all on one mobile game, perhaps Game of War. If you don’t really have that money though — or that much money to throw around more specifically, then what do you do? Well, if you really like the game and very much want to do well at it, you use public libraries’ money to fund it, according to Kotaku.co.uk. The only thing is, this is very much illegal.

For various reasons microtransactions have been criticised a lot since they first came to be, with recent months seeing the pressure build more and more. Perhaps these kinds of case studies will force the industry into some better directions to grow and earn that money. But Game of War...seriously?

Conclusion Five: The cake isn’t a lie - Valve has it, and is eating it

Valve hasn’t endeared itself to many in the gaming industry over the last few months, and it seems that trend is set to continue. Following its decision to let pretty much anything onto the Steam store and thus washing its hands of corporate responsibility, its process for allowing adult content to be segregated has yet to materialise.

The new store was supposed to allow filters to be applied so that risque games such as adult erotic visual novels and nastier, more violent titles could be easily identified (which, given Valve’s shrug-shoulder stance, is pretty much all concerned parents have will available to them). Numerous developers are currently in limbo, however, after Valve admitted that this new filter is “months away” from being ready. This follows the company contacting developers and threatening to delist them if their material wasn’t censored.

So, to sum up: Valve didn’t want explicit material on their store (unless it was a school shooting simulator, which is fine). They then said they’d allow anything on their store (as long as it wasn’t “illegal” or “trolling”). They then followed up stating they would add measures to allow filters on said graphic material, but these measures have not been put in place and there is no timeframe to do so. Meanwhile, the small game studios who want to release their titles cannot do so because their games are stuck in a holding pattern awaiting approval. Developers are therefore faced with either waiting for Valve to pull its finger out (and take 30% for listing their game when they finally add filters), or look elsewhere. It seems Valve’s near monopoly on PC gaming is finally starting to creak and we hope that a competitor will look to take advantage sooner rather than later.

Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 30+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the Nintendo Switch and most things in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple right now, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either ad infinitum...