Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tamriel Unlimited. Hololens

The news from Zenimax is that they are ditching mandatory subscriptions for the Elder Scrolls Online from St. Patrick's Day this year. It's going buy-to-play (which just means "buy" in everyone else's language). Wilhelm has the full story over here. One thing to which I'd like to draw your attention is that if you ever bought ESO, even if you let your subscription lapse (as I did), you won't have to pay a penny more after March 17 to play it again. Heck, they'll even throw in 500 crowns (whatever that's worth).

That's great news for me, because I got it at launch, but then found myself unable to devote enough time to it to justify a subscription, so I ended up letting my subscription lapse. Once it becomes free to play, I'll definitely be taking a look in (especially as Draenor is not floating my boat as much as I had hoped).

One of the games that attracted my attention recently is Elite: Dangerous. What particularly excited me about it was that the Oculus Rift works with it, and this amazing review from Ars Technica has just about sold me on it. What am I waiting for? Only for the Oculus Rift to come out of Beta.

But yesterday came fantastic news from Microsoft. They unveiled the Hololens, whose demo blew me away. The Hololens is not only a HUD display like Google Glass, it also holographically projects images onto your eyes so that you can see virtual elements (for instance a schematic) projected onto  the real world. Even better, it watches your hands, and allows you to interact with these elements (for instance zooming in or out, rotating, and so on). We will all be Tom Cruise in Minority Report. This is the future of gaming. Hell, this is the future of everything! Here's a review from Wired on it. Check out the video.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cosmetic items and paying for power

Gevlon has a very interesting article on what defines a "cosmetic item" in a game. While I generally agree with much of this I have a few reservations. The value of "cosmetic" in Gevlon's definition is one that won't affect anyone's gameplay. Gevlon goes further and suggests that this is the basis on which we can determine if a game is pay2win*. If an item affects somebody's gameplay it is a pay2win game.

Whilst I can agree with that, I don't think it is sufficient to determine that a game is play2win. There are items that may not affect my gameplay that nonetheless increase the power of other players competing with me.

To take an example, let's look at premium tanks in World of Tanks. Premium tanks are acquired in one of two ways: usually they are bought with cash, either directly through the web-store, or indirectly by buying a currency called gold through the web-store, and buying the premium tank with gold. The second and more unusual way is to win the tank by completing an in-game time-limited mission (for example, I won a ToG II by completing a mission called Togtober last October. Most dedicated players were able to complete this mission: it wasn't onerous, only time-consuming. However no new player can ever complete the mission, because the closing date is past). Most premium tanks aren't available in this way.

My premium tank may be no better in a particular match than your standard tank, and will not change your gameplay, but I have two extra advantages that I bought with my premium tank:
1. I earn extra credits, so I can afford more credit-bought premium ammo than you can (all else being equal), and
2. I can share a crew between my premium tank and a standard tank, thus training that crew twice as fast as  you can train your crew - I mean that I'll have one well-trained crew capable of crewing two tanks, to your two half-trained crews (or well-trained and untrained) after an equal number of matches.

Of course, in-game, you won't know whether my crew was fast-trained, gold-trained or simply normally-trained. You won't know if my premium ammo was credit-bought after a long grind, credit-bought after a short grind in a premium, or shop bought. And you won't care. You'll never meet me again, and it won't change your gameplay - driving a premium tank doesn't signal any level of competence or damage-dealing ability to other players, and plenty of non-premium tanks carry premium ammo**. The tank itself is nothing special in battle. Nonetheless I buy myself power when I buy a premium tank, which seems like a cosmetic item. In itself it is not more powerful than your standard tank. It gives me a little more power than you over the course of several matches, but that is irrelevant to you, because we will only meet once in battle.

See Hetzer Forever for more on that.

* Syncaine makes the point that it's more exactly pay-4-power. I think we can all agree that this is what we mean by pay2win.

** Of course, premium ammo is a clear non-cosmetic pay2win item. My point is that the premium tank seems like a cosmetic item, while also being pay2win.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tobold's Game

Tobold is at it again: pretending not to know the difference between toys and games. I pointed it out to him back in 2013. He doesn't want to know, though, because he wants to buy his progress in the cash store, and doesn't want to acknowledge that this hurts other people's games (see Toys and Games for why)

By the way, that's the second time Tobold has used the title "Everything is Pay2Win". The previous time was back in 2013. which prompted me to ask how Free2Play games could be monetized without being Pay2Win. Nobody came up with any suggestions. Can you think of any?