The New Gaming Revenue Model?

Halo 5 GuardiansThis fall/holiday season has seen the launch of a pretty amazing mix of games, easily the best since the current console generation started. And with that mix of games there are a couple of different ways I’m seeing developers go about supporting those games post-launch. So I thought today I’d talk a little bit about what I’m seeing, and how I see it moving forward.

First, there are the games that are sticking with the tried and true method. Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Fallout 4 and Rainbow Six: Siege all have gone the classic Season Pass route – with varying value in them. I’ve talked here about the Rainbow Six silliness, but in brief, I think it’s far and away the worst season pass I’ve seen in a long time. There is no content in that season pass that provides a true impact on gameplay – nor is there future content there that I would think is imperative to have. The only truly gameplay important items are early access to future Operators. Not purely DLC Operators, just quicker access to them. The other games I think are pretty standard fare for season passes – guaranteed access to the DLC at a discounted price. It’s worked for a few years now, and while it might be reaching critical mass, I still think it’s a really safe way to approach DLC.

Fallout 4 Box Art

On the other hand, we’re seeing a lot more games take a new approach to post-launch support. Halo 5: Guardians, Rock Band 4 and Destiny: The Taken King all have a similar approach to it. The base game acts as a bottom line, and then future content is added in piecemeal, at little or no cost, and is supported with small microtransactions that are optional. Halo has the Warzone REQ packs, Rock Band restarted weekly song DLC, and The Taken King added in emotes and now event specific items. That’s the money side of things, but each game has also added in free game content too. Halo has already had one patch that added Big Team Battle, and has another coming soon to the game; Rock Band just added in Brutal Mode along with a refinement of the core mechanics; and The Taken King is currently hosting the Sparrow Racing League. That’s a lot of cool content being put into big name games – totally for free. I think this model in particular draws heavily from MOBAs. Developers have seen the success of games like League of Legends with the unique hero skins and are trying to find ways where it works with console games. I think this is really early on to say for sure that this will stay for the whole generation, but I do think that each game has a system in place right now that does look like it works – Halo in particular. There isn’t a right answer here, just that developers actually do support the game post-launch and that we has players do the same.

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Destiny Sparrow Racing League Event Thoughts

DestinyWith yesterday’s 2.1.0 patch for Destiny the new holiday event started: Sparrow Racing League. I spent a few hours messing around with it, playing a good handful of races and thought I’d put down some thoughts on what I managed to complete. I still have a few more things to unlock – I’m working on my Class A License quest, and there’s still S Class after that.

One thing to note quickly that I neglected to mention in the 2.1.0 patch thoughts yesterday is that the Three of Coins consumable now works in Crucible matches. Pop one any point before the end of match rewards, and you will gain the increased chance for the exotic engram. It’s not a guarantee still – I got one engram from maybe five or so matches, and a second from PvE. I think Crucible grinding with Three of Coins is actually a little easier than PvE though – match time can vary, and there’s no worry about performance or getting the Ultra damage for the kill. Just finish the match and reap the rewards. And since Sparrow Racing League is counted as a Crucible mode, you can pop those Coins during your racing.

Destiny Sparrow Racing League

As for the Sparrow Racing itself, it’s a mixed bag for me. Yes, it’s actually a lot of fun – the courses are built pretty well, they still feel like you’re in the Destiny universe as it lives and breathes. The rewards, for Crucible in general, feel like they got a stealth buff yesterday – I saw consistently higher light level gear dropped at the end, including a number of legendary items right up near 300 Light even before the Class A level. It feels a bit like Bungie is shifting the loot focus towards PvP more as we get away from launch – which combined with the shift away from DLC I think makes perfect sense. But while it is a lot of fun to tear through these tracks on your sparrow, it gets old relatively quick. Even if you don’t play Destiny all that much any more, I think you’ll still get pretty bored with the two track pretty quick. That’s really the weakest part of the SRL from a pure content standpoint – there are two tracks, and that’s it. Fun tracks sure, but limited in their longevity.

In terms of the other content, most of the really exciting looking Sparrows and fun horns are all tied to the Silver microtransactions. Sure you can earn a new Sparrow through the Class C quest, and armor and horns do drop after races, but you also add in the other typical Crucible loot to the table. You’re just as likely to get rare quality armor or Motes of Light/Strange Coins as you are the legendary quality gear. If you want the new Sparrows that they showed off in the trailer, you’ll have to drop some real money for them – randomly getting a legendary Sparrow for a few bucks. That’s actually my biggest issue with the new microtransactions added yesterday – anything that’s tied, gear-wise, to SRL is random. You roll the dice on your Sparrow or Horn purchase and hope to get a sweet looking vehicle or neat horn. I think Bungie might have made more from Silver had they just offered the Sparrows directly – that Arc based Sparrow is pretty sweet looking after all. The new emotes also are a mixed bag for me. I like the Jump on It emote, and the Jazz Hands one, but the rest just feel lackluster. I think overall the Fall set was better, but this is still early in the game from that standpoint.

One last thing that I’ve really felt with the actual racing is that this is the one game mode where player collision definitely matters. In PvE, you’ll only deal with it if your fireteam groups up too tightly. In normal Crucible, it’s also unlikely to really play a big part in any fights – maybe if you can’t get around a teammate while escaping through a doorway. In SRL though, you’ll be jostled around nonstop if you’re anywhere near the pack. Since you are all aiming for the same boost gates to keep your speed up, those gates turn into massive bottlenecks. It’s very easy to head into a gate with a great line, get bumped and pushed all the way back to sixth place. It’s frustrating, especially when you have racers who base their whole racing style on bashing into people; and really comes to head with the somewhat sketchy detection on hitting the gates. I’ve had plenty of gates where I’m clearly hitting the gate and I don’t get the boost. When that happens on the last lap, that really sucks cause that’s almost a guarantee to lose a place or two. Aside from that, I did have one other rather interesting issue pop up with the Vex gate on Mars – I hit it, and it pushed me right into one of the huge pillars. Cost me two places on the race, and was my first death – in race – since the event started. Maybe some network nonsense going on, but it really was frustrating.

All things considered, I think the Sparrow Racing League is a really cool idea for Destiny as a timed event. It’s limited in scope, and can certainly be frustrating to play, but when it works, it’s damn fun. Since we know that Destiny is going to be featuring these kind of timed events moving forward, it’s a good starting point, but I really hope that Bungie maybe gives us a little more with them. If this is a handful of content, I want them to maybe give us two. Two tracks is pretty weak, when all four main planets could very easily feature spots for some fun racing. But, it’s free to participate in, and again, it is fun when it works, so I do think that everyone that is still out there in Destiny should give it a try.

Destiny 2.1.0 Patch Thoughts

DestinyWe expected the full 2.1.0 patch to come out this week for Destiny, and after the announcement of the Sparrow Racing League event, I thought it was a given that it would come out today. Sure enough, Patch 2.1.0 is live for all users, and with it we get our first big rebalance since The Taken King came out. There was also a couple reports out today – from Eurogamer and Kotaku – talking about the future of Destiny moving forward that I want to touch on quickly.

Destiny The Dark Below

We’ll start with those articles first. The big takeaway is that moving forward we probably won’t see much in the way of DLC for Destiny. Instead we’ll be getting these timed events, like the Festival of the Lost and the Sparrow Racing League; and those events will be supported with new sets of microtransactions. This seems like a pretty simple statement by Bungie and Activision, but if you read between the lines a little bit, it really says a lot. First, thanks to some extra reporting from Kotaku, we know that the original Year One style of DLC just wasn’t sustainable; both economically and physically for the developers. That I think really explains why Activision put High Moon Studios on the project. They could see that Bungie just needed more bodies on the project in order to even deliver on the DLC. Offering these smaller events, and supporting them with microtransactions, really just makes sense. Sure I would love to see bigger additions to the game, but if this helps out Bungie develop the game more according to their vision, I’m okay with it. It also takes the pressure off to be constantly playing Destiny – you can take a break, play the other awesome games out there, and come back for the events. One last thing I think this kinda spells out, is that I think it’s fairly obvious that Bungie is starting to really commit resources to the actual full sequel – which right now we’re expecting next fall.

On to the new patch, let’s talk a little about the big points. The first thing that matters is the weapon rebalance. I talked a little last week about it – expect auto rifles to show up in Crucible play a bit more, and pulse rifles to come back to the pack a bit. It’s still a little early to really say for sure if this is the balance that we’ve been waiting for, but looking at the notes I think this might be the closest we’ve ever been. Bungie has really started to focus on the different archetypes for the weapons, and balance them individually. Doing that first is important, because once those archetypes are settled, that’s when outliers and exotics can be looked at closer. Weapon-wise, I really think this patch is just what we’ve been saying the game needed since The Taken King came out.

Titan Flag

The next big part is a pretty sizable retooling of the Titan subclasses. I’ve been a Titan player since the beta, so I like to think I’m pretty educated on the class. Overall, the changes make a lot of sense. Sunbreakers needed to come down a little – Hammer of Sol was just too strong, especially compared with the other similar Supers. I think the changes will work fine – especially in Crucible play, which is really where it needed it. What I think is a nice addition to the patch is that the old subclasses – Striker and Defender – are also getting some attention. It’s been a running joke pretty much since Day One that Titans have little T-Rex arms. So the melee range has been extended a bit. Strikers have had a completely useless charged melee attack since launch – it got a pretty sizable damage buff, along with the upgrade nodes getting tweaked. Defenders even better fit the role of mobile fortress – recharging their grenades and melee on Ward of Dawn activation. Those are all awesome changes for both PvP and PvE, I think just what the Titan needed. What this patch really does to me is show that Hunters and Warlocks are going to be getting similar passes – and I think both could use it. I would bet on seeing that come next month.

Overall, the 2.1.0 patch looks like it’s exactly what Destiny needed right before the holiday. Every Christmas brings in a brand new set of players, with The Taken King out this year, I would expect to see that trend continue with this year. It’s a good time to get into Destiny. I’ll have my thoughts on the Sparrow Racing League up this week, after I’ve had some time to play some races.

Sony PlayStation Experience Thoughts

PlayStation 4Over the weekend, Sony hosted their second annual PlayStation Experience conference. It’s kind of become a second E3 for Sony, where they’re able to show off their games right before the holiday and keep the buzz high on the coming year’s games. The keynote showed off a good mix of huge exclusives, but what I liked was the real focus on a lot of smaller titles. That said, there was one thing that kinda soured my feelings on the event – and it’s no fault of Sony this time.

Uncharted Nathan Drake Collection

First let’s talk about a few of those games they showed off. Opening the show with Uncharted 4 was a bold move. I wouldn’t say it’s a big stretch to say that game is Sony’s most anticipated exclusive – probably by a pretty clear margin. And while they really didn’t show off a whole lot, they did show a pretty big addition to the game – branching dialogue trees. There’s still plenty about it that we don’t know – including whether the different dialogue choices will have major impact on how the game unfolds. That, however, was pretty much end of the end of that level of game. Sure, Street Fighter V is a PS4 exclusive, and sure they showed some Call of Duty: Black Ops III – a DLC PS4 exclusive; but I think in general most of the games shown were a step down from Uncharted‘s hype level.

Where I think the keynote really shined was the last third – where Sony put the spotlight on third party and indie studios. We saw games like 100 Fr. Robot Golf, Ni No Kuni II, Ace Combat 7, and Golem all get announced. Also getting some strong time was the PlayStation VR. I think it’s a cool system, but VR is still so hard to show off on stage to really make it look exciting, plus I still think it’s a little gimmicky. What I think helps the PSVR out is that Sony has really bought in, and has a lot of developers working on games for it – and those games hit a number of different styles. There are more artistic games like Eagle Flight and Golem, very tongue in cheek games like 100 Ft. Robot Golf and Modern Zombie Taxi Company, and serious triple A quality games like Ace Combat 7.

Final Fantasy VII

Now, as cool as I thought the show was, there were two parts where I saw some issues show up. And like I said, they weren’t Sony’s fault at all. One revolves around Final Fantasy VII Remake – which we finally got to see some actual gameplay of. I thought that the Kingdom Hearts influence is perfect and helps bring that 20 year old game forward into the modern RPG world. That content isn’t where the issues showed up though – instead it’s that we got a press release Sunday night that seemed to say that the game will be episodic. Twitter exploded – I saw tons of professional people start complaining about it – and we don’t even have a release date yet! Never mind we don’t officially know that it’s episodic or how it will work. People really need to cool their jets on this and think about it for a second. Detach yourself from the fandom of the original. It’s a 20 year old game. If I want to play that game, I’ll play my copy of the original. I don’t want the exact game with fancy graphics. RPG’s have evolved a ton in those 20 years, and I think what Square Enix is doing could be exactly what the whole franchise needs. Think about what Square could do with an episodic set-up. Each episode could focus around building backstories for the characters. They already have built a universe around the original game with a couple spin-offs. I think that basically is a given now that stuff from those games will show up now. And I saw people worried about the story now. I would remind them that the pacing on the original was pretty damn slow. You have this intense first section in Midgar, then the pacing hits a wall. The story is still great, but streamlining it could actually be the best thing that has happened to FFVII since Advent Children. Focusing an entire episode just around the events in Midgar could help focus that section even more. I just think that people are really overreacting about the episodic announcement. Hell, if it is episodic, it could be coming out next year as opposed to 2017! Relax, enjoy the fact that we’re getting a remake of one of the best games OF ALL TIME, and one that we never even expected to get.

Destiny

The other kinda nasty reaction was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in reaction to Destiny‘s announcement. We expected Bungie to show something off, and they detailed the new holiday event, which will begin tomorrow and run through the rest of December: the Sparrow Racing League. It’s literally content that we, as a whole community, have been asking for since the launch of the game; and I saw tons and tons of people yelling at Bungie: “That’s It?!” Again, relax, step back and think about this for a second. Yes, The Taken King is starting to reach its limits – I do think that Bungie needs to share with us the next content soon. But right now probably isn’t the best time. We’re expecting a massive live-game update this week, with a major rebalance to the weapon meta, along with the first class rebalance in a year. Which you might notice is another thing to we’ve been yelling at Bungie about forever, and can’t be a small undertaking. Add in the fact that this month holds the biggest commercial holiday of the year, at least in the U.S. with Christmas; which always brings with it a pretty sizable increase in players. Finally, after the Festival of the Lost, we kinda got the idea that Bungie was starting to figure out ways to have live-game seasonal events. Going into the weekend, I saw a few posts over on the subreddit wondering about a Christmas event. Instead of a specific one around the holiday, we get a three week long event with the SRL; which again, is something we’ve been asking for since launch. I think when you add those all together, this weekend wasn’t the right time to announce the next DLC. We are definitely getting close to that line though, so I hope Bungie has a good plan ahead for it; but again – chill out a bit folks. Enjoy the racing, enjoy the amazing games out right now, and remember that the point of playing these awesome things we call video games is to have fun.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Thoughts

Xbox OneWith the new Xbox One Experience that launched last month, Microsoft has brought to the console a feature that we have been asking for since the original launch of the console. We can now play, in a limited capacity, Xbox 360 titles on the Xbox One. The really nice thing is that that isn’t limited to physical copies of games – Games on Demand titles can be brought forward as well.

While it’s not an exhaustive list – and really we shouldn’t expect to be at all, there were easily thousands of games on the 360 – Microsoft was smart with this first 100 or so titles. They feature a lot of the biggest games from the last console generation. From Microsoft exclusives like the Rare games and Gears of War; to big third party titles like Rainbow Six Vegas and Fallout 3 there’s a really good mix of games out there. One other nice thing here is that you don’t actually need to currently still own your 360 to get the digital games – you can purchase them right on Xbox.com. For people who maybe sold their Xbox 360 to make room for the Xbox One, this is a really nice addition.

The actual execution of the backwards compatibility play is also pretty damn smart. Instead of having it behave vastly different, it works just like it already does on both consoles. The Xbox One requires games to be installed to the hard drive – including the 360 titles – so that’s the first step. And it’s a step that anyone with an Xbox One already takes with games. That keeps people from having to learn another way to move about their console. When you actually load up the 360 game, your Xbox One transforms right in front of you. It runs the 360 start-up noises, and acts just like an emulator. As someone who played the 360 for almost ten years, it’s a pretty welcoming feeling to see it come up. You still have access to the Xbox 360 Guide even – that’s fantastic.

It might be a little later than we would have liked, but now that it’s here, I think it’s a really good addition to the console. Sure the Xbox One has a couple quirks to it that I would like to see tweaked. Sometimes it’s in specific games – I’m looking at you Destiny and not having private in-game fireteams. But Microsoft has done a really good job, this year in particular, of looking at the console and the wants of the fanbase, and then applying what they can to the console. We’re still very early in this console generation, and while I do think that the PlayStation 4 got off to a much strong start, I think the Xbox One is starting to finally come into its own.

Predicting the Destiny December Meta

DestinyWe know that Bungie has another sizable update coming to Destiny sometime this month, bringing with it an updated weapon balance. With every weapon re-balance, that means that the PvP meta shifts – the last time was with the launch of The Taken King, pushing pulse rifles to the forefront. And when the meta shifts, the PvP community rushes around trying to find the new weapons that give them a leg up on the competition.

As the meta stands right now, the current world revolves around guns like Hawksaw, Bad Juju and Red Death for primaries. Pulse Rifles in general are strong across the board – even with the shift toward needing headshots. Because fast firing pulses are basically the best auto rifles in the game now, the reduction of base damage and needing more headshots doesn’t really matter. Secondaries have revolved around the 1000 Yard Stare sniper, and Conspiracy Theory/Party Crasher +1 shotguns. I don’t really see a whole changing here – except hopefully the way people use shotguns. What Bungie was trying to do with the 2.0 patch, I think, worked for the most part. There really isn’t a single weapon that you absolutely need to use to have a hope of breaking even. The days of Thorn/Last Word ended, and really up until the last few weeks, there was actual variety in loadouts. More variety means that the game feels fresh, even with the same maps and game modes.

Destiny Suros Regime Year 2

And to that effect I hope with this 2.1 patch they continue that idea – keep tweaking the base archetypes for the weapons, and that will get the game actually where it needs to be. Once the archetypes are settled, that’s when the Exotic weapons can really be looked at. Obviously, when there are standouts like Thorn, they need to be addressed. But I would really rather see Bungie get the base lines set finally before really fine tuning every little gun out there. I think that we’re actually pretty close to that point now, and based on the early patch notes I think we could be even closer after 2.1 drops.

What I think we’ll see moving forward is that those high rate of fire pulse rifles will drop back to the pack a little, and I think hand cannons and auto rifles will no longer be a liability. The biggest change I think will be with the shotguns. There’s another range hit coming – which they still need – but what could really impact their use is the movement and handling speed nerfs. To me, those are the things that really should have been part of 2.0. If they work properly, the ability to just warrior through gunfire, slide and shoot from ages away should be reduced severely. I think it’ll also help fight the blink-shotgun combo that’s plagued the game pretty much since launch. I think we’ll always see shotguns in the game – they’re just too good at dropping targets instantly. But the way that we use them will have to be adjusted a little bit. I would expect a more defensive and, hopefully, tactical use of them. We kinda see that with snipers – you can’t use exclusively a sniper, because it limits your options – shotguns need to be in that same spot.

What really will be important in the new meta is the exotic weapon choices. I still think that Bad Juju and Red Death will be good, but I actually expect to see the rise of a couple other weapons. Suros Regime could very well return to its old spot on top of the mountain. It’s far and away the best auto rifle – stable, good range, and able to get your health back while taking down enemies. I really think that, depending on just how effective the patch is, Suros will be all over the place. Since we’re also getting some returning Year-One guns, I would try to get hold of a MIDA Multi-Tool. It’s, I think, the most versatile scout rifle out there. It fires super fast, does strong damage, and since it boosts your agility AND keeps your radar on-screen all times, it keeps you alive. Hand cannon wise, I still think you’ll see the usual suspects – Hawkmoon and Last Word.

Before I wrap up, I want to offer up a potential surprise exotic choice: Hard Light. It’s never been a particularly exciting weapon – skip rounds as an exotic perk is pretty lame. Add in that it’s a bullet-hose style auto rifle and you get a weapon that can’t stagger enemies in PvE, and takes way too long to kill in PvP. But the 2.0 patch gave it it’s first truly exotic feeling update – it no longer has damage dropoff on its bullets. Since range now actually matters way more than it did before – especially in PvP – that’s a pretty huge deal. If you can control the recoil, you very well could see this thing doing some decent work at slightly longer ranges than most auto rifles could hope for. Since it’s one of those Year One weapons returning, I could easily see this one being a sleeper choice.

Destiny Challenge Mode Hullabaloo Thoughts

DestinyYesterday with the weekly reset in Destiny, Bungie started rolling out the new Challenge mode bosses in King’s Fall. And with that came a whole hell of a thing in the online community. So I thought I’d offer up my thoughts on everything that’s gone down in the last 24 hours or so.

We’ll start with the actual challenge mode Warpriest fight. I’m not exactly the most dedicated raider anymore – I’ve only actually ran King’s Fall once, mainly because my play group has dwindled with Halo, Fallout and Battlefront. But now knowing what the actual challenge is for Warpriest, I totally get why the more dedicated PvE players are maybe a little disappointed with it. That challenge – having multiple players gain the aura during the damage phase – is probably something that a lot of raid groups already do. That, to me, kinda defeats the idea of it being a challenge. And here’s where I think the issue lies – it’s not so much that it’s an elitist mentality, I think it’s more that Bungie just chose the wrong word to describe the new fights. I think a lot of streamers and YouTubers were going in expecting challenge to mean difficult – not specific circumstances in a fight. That’s not on the community, or even Bungie, I just think it’s an unfortunate poor choice of wording.

The Taken King Logo

Now, what I do like with the challenge mode is that it does exactly what we’ve been asking for from a loot standpoint. It gives us a direct path to specific loot – in this case 320 Light artifacts and weapons. It doesn’t totally move away from RNG though, there’s still the actual talent grid to roll. That is what we’ve been wanting from the end-game loot table for a while. The previous raids kinda had it, with each boss dropping specific gear – but were a little too RNG based. The problem now is that now top Light level gear is tied to a rotational boss mode – it’s Prison of Elders bosses, in Raid form. What I actually would have preferred is Bungie put that top level artifact into Oryx’s Hard Mode fight as a possible drop. Then the challenge mode fights should just have dropped cosmetic gear – emblems, shaders, ships that sort of thing. That keeps the loot progression in the “normal” raid runs, and would have opened Challenge mode to be more of actual difficulty boosted fights, with loot that is more of a status-shower-offer.

Destiny Oryx

Which now brings me to the whole hullabaloo that showed up yesterday. In the greater community, there seems to be this notion that because the players who play Destiny for a living took issue with Challenge Mode, they were attacking the “normal” community. And the “normal” community responded with some pretty nasty comments and Reddit posts. What I think is more accurate here is that because of the semantics of the new fights, the “hardcore” community was expecting true difficult fights. And because the fight wasn’t really that different from normal, they were let down. Unfortunately, the wider community took that to mean that they didn’t want that loot out there. It became a “elitist V. casual” fight. The problem I have with that idea is that if you’re on Reddit checking out posts every day, watching streams and YouTubes – you aren’t a casual player. There’s been a pretty major disconnect between play-dedication and skill, and how they “classify” you as a player. Casual isn’t skill related – it’s time dedication. If you only play Destiny a few hours a week – that’s Casual. You can be a really skilled player and still be casual. Elite is a little trickier, but with this whole nonsense, they’re more talking about players who play for pretty sizable chunks of time every week. That only has bearing on skill in that if you play a ton, you should naturally get better thumbskill and decisions in-game.

I’ve written a few times in the past about player entitlement and community frustration based around it. Just because we buy a game doesn’t entitle us to complain and shout into the void about every little perceived slight. Instead we need to take advantage of the fact that we can so much more easily communicate with developers now to provide actual constructive comments. With Destiny, it shouldn’t be us just bitching on Twitter about a bad loot drop to Bungie. It should be us reinforcing the things we like, while telling Bungie about the issues that the game definitely had – story, progression and connection issues. It’s a wider problem than just in Destiny too – I see a lot of it with Call of Duty, and somewhat with Fallout even. That said, there is one thing about this whole Challenge mode nonsense that I think is a good thing is just how much I’ve seen the community as a whole react. That to me shows off that the Destiny community is still really strong, even though every couple weeks I see a comment or post about how the game is dying. Is Challenge mode good? Sure. Is it what I think the Raid needed? Not really. I find myself more in the “I’d like harder fights for personal gratitude” camp. I like hard games that push execution and punish poor decision, not arbitrary silliness. Maybe we’ll see it still – we’ll wait and see.