Take 5: JDR's Gaming Conclusions - 25/10/19

October 25, 2019

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: When is a pre-order not a pre-order? Ask Google

Funny thing, pre-orders. The whole point of them is to let you purchase something ahead of time, so that when that product is launched you'll receive it on launch day. Companies love pre-orders. It lets them get cash ahead of time and provides an indication of how popular something is likely to be. It helps with financial forecasting. Generally, it's a bit of a money-spinner which builds excitement in the consumer that they're going to have the new shiny thing in their hands as soon as it's available.

Google seems to have a different idea about what a pre-order is. As The Verge learned this week, pre-ordering Stadia Founder's Edition or the newly launched Premiere Edition doesn't mean that you'll receive either purchase on the launch date of November 19th.

A lot of people have paid $130 upfront to get Stadia on launch day. That is entirely what a pre-order is supposed to involve. Yet, Google has stated that Stadia will "start arriving" from November 19th. Will you have it in your hands at that date? Quite possibly not. The Stadia Founder's Edition has sold out, and kits will be sent out in the order they are received.

It's essentially first come, first served. So if you ordered it right at the beginning, you'll likely get it on or around launch. If you didn't, then we would suggest that what Google has offered you is "an order". We live in an era where words are meaningless and fake news is prolific. Pre-order and order are now apparently interchangeable words. Nice one, Google.

Conclusion Two: Don't sell your Xbox One controller if you're getting Scarlett

We've all been there: it comes around to buying into the next console generation and the guilt gets too much. You gaze forlornly at the special edition Gears of War Xbox controller you purchased for a ludicrous amount of money, just because it has a funky stencil on it. Then you realise that you've used it twice and you're now going to have to ditch it because someone thought it would be a good idea to have a new, different controller to go alongside their shiny next-gen console.

BUT WAIT! That was before. This is now.

Microsoft has now confirmed that all current Xbox controllers will be compatible with the new Xbox console when it launches in 2020. This news came courtesy of James Shields, the product marketing manager for Xbox accessories.

Phil Spencer had already said this would be the case in an interview back in June but this second confirmation (and a rare instance of forwards compatibility) will likely ease the minds of anyone who has recently paid top dollar for a fancy Xbox One controller, regardless of whether Marcus Fenix's face is all over it.

Conclusion Three: Bethesda — the company that keeps on taking

It's starting to look like Fallout 76 isn't so much a game, but a living, breathing troll. A hungry troll whose greed can only be sated by players accepting more and more ludicrous requests for hard cash. This week, Bethesda announced Fallout 1st, a membership subscription for the aforementioned game. It can be purchase in monthly or yearly flavours and promises to "enhance" the existing Fallout 76 experience.

However, Bethesda appears to have made a slight mistake, as when we looked at the price for this subscription it was a penny off being a three-digit sum.

After further investigation, it seems that they hadn't made a mistake at all. You can actually buy a 12-month subscription for £99.99, for a mediocre game whose ongoing issues have turned it into a laughing stock in the gaming community.

Maybe we're being harsh. Let's see what you get for dropping a ton on this sub, shall we?

PRIVATE WORLDS - Play in a Private World exclusively for you and up to seven friends.

SCRAPBOX - Unlimited storage for crafting components in your own new Scrapbox container.

SURVIVAL TENT - A new placeable fast travel point with a Stash, Sleeping Bag, and more for your basic needs.

ATOMS - Receive 1,650 Atoms per month to use in the Atomic Shop.

RANGER ARMOR OUTFIT - An iconic Fallout outfit, exclusively for members.

ICONS & EMOTES PACK - Unique icons and emotes, available only to members.

To sum up then, this "premium membership" will give you emojis, a skin, some in-game currency, a fast travel point (which players have been asking for, but which has now been paywalled), unlimited storage (an issue which Bethesda itself created, and is now selling you the solution to) and... a server.

An empty server. Do you want to drag seven friends around an empty server? The original game was basically a soulless mess anyway, but really? And if that wasn't bad enough, Forbes discovered that not only are the private servers not actually private, but the unlimited storage scrapbox is eating your items.

If you want an idea of how hilariously poor value this offering is, Xbox Game Pass's monthly subscription is £10.99, compared to the £11.99 for Fallout 1st. Yes. You can get access to over 100 games for a cheaper price than some content of questionable quality for a game which you would also have to buy up front in the first place.

Bethesda promised a massive free update to the game this year in the form of Wastelanders, which then got delayed until Q1 2020. Now, this paid subscription has popped up in its place. The only logical conclusion to be drawn here is that this is an elaborate hoax. Bethesda is trolling players with Fallout 76 and we can only assume they will put their hands up and admit that this is a joke in the next week.

The alternative — that this is a genuine service that they are expecting people to pay almost £100 for — is simply too ridiculous for words, and would probably destroy the last remaining vestiges of goodwill that players had in the Fallout series. Bethesda wouldn't do that. Would they?

Conclusion Four: Naughty Dog shows AAA studios how releases should be handled

The Last of Us Part II
is a sequel that has built up extraordinary levels of hype, as every new gameplay video or tidbit of information sends fans spiralling away grinning. The release date had been set for February 21st next year, a launch day that seemed tantalisingly close; once the holiday season was over and everyone had got past the January blues, the game was basically begging to land on your doorstep.

So the news this week that Naughty Dog has pushed back the game’s launch to May 29th could well have annoyed a lot of people. And yet, it hasn’t. In announcing the delay, Neil Druckmann was forthright about his reasons for doing so. 

“As we were closing out sections of the game,” Druckmann said, “we realised we simply didn’t have enough time to bring the entire game up to a level of polish we would call Naughty Dog quality.”

He continued, “At this point we were faced with two options: compromise parts of the game or get more time. We went with the latter, and this new release date allows us to finish everything to our level of satisfaction while also reducing stress on the team.”

So - delaying a release date to a) make sure the finished product is as good as the studio can possibly make it and b) ensure that the staff working on the game aren’t subjected to a super stressful crunch period just to get it out of the door. 

Fans on Twitter reacted mostly positively to the delay. Druckmann’s candour and approach to game development is something that we wished other studios (like Rockstar, for instance) would adopt. Rushing your game out of the door and breaking the backs of your employees in doing so to meet an arbitrary — and often financially motivated — deadline benefits no-one. Games aren’t just a product but an art form and Naughty Dog are one of the few AAA studios to recognise that. While the power they’ve been able to exercise in delaying this title is no doubt due in part to the success of their previous games, we hope that other publishers and developers take note. Turning the screw will only hurt you in the long term. Those extra few months of polish could be the difference in turning the game from “great” to “exceptional”. See you in May, Ellie.

Conclusion Five: Sony may be getting ahead of itself

If marketers know one thing, it's that it's never too early to fire up the engines of the hype train. Sony made the news this week with a recent job posting which raised eyebrows by claiming that the PlayStation 5 — a gaming machine that isn't out yet — was going to be the world's fastest console.

Given that the Xbox Scarlett's specs haven't yet been officially released, this is an interesting claim. The PS5 is certainly going to be faster than its predecessor in many respects, not least thanks to a solid state drive which will allow for loading times to be reduced to a fraction of the PS4's. However, this bullish claim feels like it was written by an enthusiastic intern.

Sony obviously noticed the attention it was getting and amended the job spec to remove references to the console's speed and assumed record-breaking power. We expect that someone was given a bit of a talking to on how to build hype in an "appropriate" manner. The first proper shots in the console war have yet to be fired, but with both consoles heading onto the market next year it's likely that some entertaining tit-for-tat digs will start coming out at the beginning of 2020.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.