Thursday, 27 May 2010

Should a game's community influence reviews?

Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing RTS multiplayer title Heroes of Newerth for Critical Gamer, and I must say it’s an intriguing game. You pick a hero from a staggering range of 65, each with their own unique abilities before setting off down a path accompanying some NPC creeps with the intention to smash skulls and destroy the opposing team’s base. It’s basically Warcraft 3 cross pollinated with a tower defence game. Whilst I found the game itself interesting, I did find myself wishing for the ability to send people cholera via email.

I hated this game, not necessarily because of the mechanics, but because the community was so hate filled towards new guys trying to learn. The problem was that it had been in open beta for ages, and is itself based on a classic Warcraft 3 scenario called Defence of the Ancients, meaning it has quite a sizeable cult following. It really did feel like stepping into the old boys club, and none of them are too happy when you join their game as it probably means the team with you on will lose terribly.

This leads to much abuse and angry jeering, more than you would expect from average netiquette, which is easily enough to convince Billy First Timer to uninstall and never touch it again. There is a matchmaking facility and servers labelled ‘noobs only’ but these also seem to drop you into games full of elitists who have no patience. There are a few good souls out there, but in every game you will find at least one guy who clearly hasn’t been taking his medication and has to wipe the frothy spit from his keyboard every half hour.

Is it fair to judge a game based on its community though? It is not necessarily the developers fault for attracting the kind of players they do, but there should at least have been more entry level stuff to ease newbies into the experience. I took my stance on this title because as a reviewer, you’re basically recommending to people what they should spend their money on. How could I possibly recommend Heroes of Newerth to someone who has never tried it before, if the welcome they will get mirrors a gazelle covered in fresh blood leaping into a shark tank.

It would be a bit like me recommending that someone watched the video tape from The Ring. “The initial experience is certainly interesting, but the harassment over the next seven days may get to you, and the conclusion might be a bit too permanent for your liking, but by all means give it a go.”

The problem with it being solely a multiplayer game is that new players are dropped straight into the frying pan without the limbs needed to crawl out of it. Couple this with a community that shows the same level of patience as a dog told not to go for the postman and it’s a raging explosion waiting to happen.

Playing an online multiplayer game is all about community spirit and synergy, so completely flaming newbies because they aren’t very good until the game ends just spoils the experience for everyone. We’ve all been called noobs before, but I’ve never seen it as bad as I have in Heroes of Newerth. It was at such a level that it has been a central point on several reviews. It comes to something when the largest criticism of a game is its core audience.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Better late than never, right?

It’s been a fun ride that probably took me too long to get here, but hey, I’m still happy with my 100th blog mile stone. I realise there is a bit of an irony to marking the 100th blog with a blog that does not really contribute anything other than a bit of ego rubbing for myself, but I’ll just assume that it’s okay to do as 100 seems like a good number to mini-celebrate.

This blog has been trundling along for 21,744 hours(ish) now, starting off as a project that was updated like clockwork on a Wednesday, to something a lot more sporadic, randomly springing back to life to deliver an insightful pellet of information to the front of your mind; a bit like a defective BB gun.

A lot has happened in the world of games over the life span of this blog. Unfortunately, the release of Half-life 2: Episode 3 hasn’t been one of them, but on the other side of the coin, the same company has brought us Left 4 Dead and a fully fledged sequel in that time. Team Fortress 2 has also seen the introduction of hats and numerous new weapons since I started bashing my fingers against the keyboard to edit my inner ramblings into legible jargon.

Model citizen simulator and sandbox city romper Grand Theft Auto IV also saw its release in this blog’s life, unfortunately failing to captivate me for as long as its predecessors did. At least they finally managed to crowbar in a slightly remodelled combat system that let you take on aggressors instead of always targeting innocent bystanders first.

I could continue to list things that have happened in the last two and a bit years but that would be as boring and futile as watching the sea dry out. Besides, I suppose this post is mainly filler for my enjoyment, but I needed to post something with a bit more substance than ‘100 posts, yay’. Having said that, I guess that is the message that I’m trying to get across, only I’ve managed it in 363 words. Please look forward to more actual content in the future.

100 posts, yay.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Are pre-owned games a good thing?

I must admit, I’ve never been a fan of pre-owned games. Ever since I was told not to put money in my mouth as you don’t know what kind of kinky stuff it might have been involved with, I seem to have applied the same logic to everything that is not fresh out of a factory. Apart from my various hygiene and quality stigmas though, are pre-owned games doing more harm than good?

The major problem with pre-owned games is that the publishers and more importantly the developers, don’t see a penny from the resale of their games. The only people that benefit from this are the customers, whether they are buying units to sell or games to play.

Whilst I can appreciate that games are expensive, and that the second hand market lets you pick up titles for cheap and get cash back for purchases you regret, it does mean that the developers end up getting less money and might struggle to make ends meet with their next project. This could result in a rushed or cut short production which means that an inferior product is released.

In a recent interview with Develop, co-founder of Blitz Games Studios, Andrew Oliver expressed his dismay over the situation.

“I understand why players do this, games are expensive and after a few weeks of playing you've either beaten it, or got bored of it so trading it back in to help pay for the next seems sensible when people are short of cash.”

He continued saying that, “while retail may be announcing a reasonable season, the money going back up the chain is a fraction of what it was only a few years ago. This is a much bigger problem than piracy on the main consoles.”

A bigger problem than piracy? Whether he is being over dramatic or not, it is clear that buying and selling pre-owned games are rustling feathers in places that we may not want them rustled in the long run.

I know that I’ve been banging on about this for quite a while, but I genuinely believe with all of my cognitive brain power that EA got it spot on with Mass Effect 2 and the Cerberus Network. In case you’ve been living under a rock, buried in a desert with a ball gag, ear muffs and a blindfold on, the Cerberus Network is accessed via a code you get with a retail copy of Mass Effect 2 to obtain in game content.

If you buy a copy second hand, the chances are you won’t get a valid code with it, meaning you need to go and buy one from EA if you want to enjoy the exclusive content. The system is genius as it helps the developers make customers out of those who buy second hand games. Then again, in this case, with the £10 price tag needed to access the network, it could well be better value for money to just go for a new copy.

The real winners when it comes to pre-owned games aren’t really the gamers, but the retailers. If you’ve ever walked into GAME or Gamestation and tried to trade in a game that no longer thrills you, it is very likely that they have offered you a price which is one up from them leaning over the counter and farting on you. Being offered £5 for a game that you know they will mark up and resell for £15 is just an insult and it makes me feel like some kind of man kettle, boiling my blood.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Rant: Not very stimulated

Activision certainly seem to have gotten themselves into a mess recently. Over the last month, ever since they forcibly removed the heads of Infinity Ward, one of the game publisher’s flagship developers, a huge majority of the team has also walked out after them. It certainly raises questions over the future of the studio and whether Activision can win back the support of the public that they seem to have lost over this whole debacle.

That’s not where my rant is going to settle today though, my fiery beef is not with the publisher directly, but with someone you probably know. What really grates the skin off of my knuckles are the masses of sheep that will happily throw their money into a big flaming pit and gawp at the crackling wonder of their stupidity fuelling a combine cash harvester.

Modern Warfare 2 already started taking the piss when it decided it was worth more money than every other game on the shelves. To be fair though, the game was so monstrously in demand, that retailers noticed they could make a quick buck underselling the competition and so you would probably find it a challenge to locate someone who paid the full RRP. Now, a few months after the game’s release, the Stimulus map pack comes out.

This is a full five maps tacked onto the multiplayer, with three of them being new, and two returning from the previous game. The sad thing is though that it costs over a tenner. The crushingly depressive thing that makes me question the sanity of the world however, is how popular this damn thing has come to be.

I was really hoping this would fail just to show Activision and the world that you can’t keep charging your paying customers through the nose for the same product. I thought the gaming community would be able to show some integrity and actually say ‘no’ for once. Instead, it seems like a large majority of players were more than happy to bend over and let Activision play hide the sausage to their heart’s content.

DLC is really starting to get on my nerves as it doesn’t add enough to the game to justify a price tag half of the time. I remember the days when £10 - £20 would get you an expansion pack for a game that would not be a half arsed attempt to squeeze more money from the player base, but instead a decent add-on that would breath new life and a different experience into the exhausted corpse of the original experience.

If you ask me (which I know you haven’t but I’ll say it anyway) the Stimulus map pack won’t really stimulate a great deal, as after a little while, these maps will simply get lost in map rotations, and the novelty will wear off quickly. They are just slightly new (well, two of them aren’t even that) environments to play the same game through, with nothing really added to the existing experience. This wouldn’t have bugged me in the slightest if they didn’t charge so much for it.

The trouble we have is that stupid people are more than happy to lap this up, meaning it can now be viewed as an acceptable practice in which to squeeze and strain money from loyal, paying customers in a fashion which is similar to twisting a wet tea towel to remove most of the moisture from it. I just hope this isn’t setting a trend. When I buy a game I expect to be getting a full package, not committing myself to a long term investment. This kind of thing is really bad because it starts to shard the game’s online community, something that companies like Valve take very seriously.

Not meaning to sound ridiculously old here, but I remember the good old days when maps used to be free. EA keep rising up in my imaginary rankings list of good publishers as they have said, probably as a snipe at MW2, that they will never charge for new maps for Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It’ll be interesting to see if they make good on that.

Anyway, sorry for that bit of rant which probably becomes an incoherent mess somewhere in the middle. It’s just this kind of thing makes me want to drink gallons of sea water and vomit myself into a coma in the hope that when I come around, the world makes more sense. Paying more than £10 for three new maps and two old ones is simply disgusting.