Microtransactions and FPS Games – The New Normal

Black Ops 3Now that I’ve finally gotten Black Ops III, I’ve now played all of what I consider the big four competitive FPS games in the modern market: Call of Duty, Halo 5, Battlefield: Hardline, and Destiny. There’s plenty to say about each game, how each game’s gunplay feels, the maps in each game, the story content, the post-launch content – so on and so forth. But what I’ve been thinking about most lately is the addition of microtransactions to each game.

Three of those four games – the odd man out being Battlefield – focus the microtransactions around cosmetic additions. Destiny uses Silver as a secondary currency, and Black Ops III uses COD Points to fill the same role. The difference really is that COD Points are earnable in game, while Silver is solely bought with real money. Halo 5 is similar to Black Ops III in that the in-game currency can be earned by playing the game. Where they really break away from each other is the purpose they all have. The Black Market in Call of Duty provides you with a random set of cosmetic items – that’s it. You can actually get duplicates, which can be burned for more cryptokeys to buy more supply drops. But anything you get out of those supply drops is purely cosmetic. Nothing in them has any actual bearing on the matches you’ll play. In Halo, the REQ packs you buy earn you the power weapons, vehicles, power-ups and such that you use in Warzone matches, as well as providing the cosmetic items to make your Spartan unique. In Destiny though, your only options are cosmetic emotes – you spend real money to be able to do the Carlton. Again, no real bearing on gameplay – but does help make your Guardian your own. When SRL was live, you could get those horns and sparrows, but those also don’t really have a direct impact on gameplay – just transit. With Battlefield, the microtransactions are the boosts which unlock all the items for a class or vehicle class.

Halo 5 Warzone

With four pretty different takes on microtransactions and post-launch DLC, I have been trying to figure out which I think has the most staying power. I think they’re all kind of based around the MOBA style for buying skins – which has proven to be pretty darn successful so far. In terms of how I see them moving in shooters, I think that the Halo/Call of Duty model will probably continue on. If games keep those real-money transactions based around cosmetic gear, they’ll definitely get sales, but they need to have some way to earn the in-game money actually in-game. It’s something that I think just about every major shooter will have to look at moving forward – I honestly think that traditional Map Packs might be on the way out if something like this can prove to be viable. I think that’s something to keep an eye on as this year moves on closer to the big launches later on.

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Another Week, Another Destiny Dustup

DestinyIt’s starting to be a pretty regular feature around here, each week it seems like there’s some big hullabaloo in the Destiny community. Whether it’s the Silver items, raid boss challenge mode or SRL being announced, it’s felt like there’s been something constantly bugging portions of the community. Today, there’s another one – the Spark of Light consumable that came with purchases of The Taken King is now for sale on the marketplace for $29.99 – essentially a $30 shortcut to level 25.

Here’s my issue with this whole thing. Most of the disapproval I’m seeing is coming from devoted players – ones that are already well past level 25. I think people are fishing for things to get outraged about here – sure I think it’s way overpriced – it’s half the price of the base game after all. But it’s not malicious – all it does is give brand new players a potential shortcut to The Taken King content. Since we’re in full holiday swing, it’s not hard to imagine a whole bunch of new players trying to catch up. Activision knows that, Bungie knows that, and they both know that offering the Spark of Light for money is basically a sure fire way to make some money. But for those of us who already have three characters with all three subclasses maxed out at level 40, this isn’t meant for us. I honestly think we have no real say in the matter here – we might not like the pricing and all that, but the people that really matter are the new players that this is intended for. I know, technically, veteran players could use them if they delete a character to make a new one, but I don’t really see a lot of veterans talking about doing that.

To play devil’s advocate for a second here about the pricing, I can kinda see why it’s so expensive. I definitely don’t agree with it, but I can kinda see why it is. Activision, by offering this item, is basically cutting out hours of gameplay. It’s not a direct comparison, but gameplay time is actually money for these games – it keeps eyes on the product and means future investment from players. So in a way, offering a shortcut through a good chunk of the early game can be a bit of a risk for Bungie and Activision.

At the end of the day here, while this is definitely a curious move from Bungie and Activision, I really don’t see the big deal this time. It’s an item that veteran players really shouldn’t be too invested in, regardless of its value. New players that buy it and use it I think are missing out on the point of the game. Destiny isn’t really a shortcut game to me – it’s about experiencing the worlds and leveling your character. But if someone wants to go ahead and drop $30 bucks on it, when I think there are more fun things you could put the money into in Destiny, that’s their prerogative.

Destiny 2.1 Patch – Titanic Changes

DestinyI’ve talked here already a bit about the changes that Destiny‘s 2.1 patch brought to the weapon meta. In brief though, the four different primary weapon classes are all a bit closer together than they used to be. Maybe the exact figures weren’t quite to the level that we expected, but I do think that in general they’ve accomplished their mission. That said though, the patch didn’t just bring weapon changes and Sparrow Racing. The 2.1 patch is the first time that the subclasses have really been adjusted in just about a year – and in this case, it was all about the Titan.

If you follow my Destiny posts here, you know that I’ve played as a Titan since the Beta – it’s always been the class that just seems the coolest to me. With the addition of the Sunbreaker in The Taken King Titans got a second option in PvE and a dominant option in PvP. But even I can’t look at how strong the Sunbreaker was and say that it wasn’t too strong. It needed to come down a notch or two – and the older subclasses needed to come up one or two. So the 2.1 patch made those changes.

Destiny Titan

Sunbreaker basically just got pulled back slightly, mainly in PvP. While Hammer of Sol is active, prior to 2.1, we were all but unstoppable. It gave us the highest damage resistance yet – even above Radiant Skin Sunsinger Warlocks. With the right build and gear, you could tank through a Golden Gun shot – that’s a little silly, even I have to admit. Supers should all do something to counter the others, with Ward of Dawn being a little different. So that damage resistance came down a bit, the actual Hammer of Sol damage came back to the pack a little too. It’s probably still the best Titan PvP subclass, with versatile neutral game choices that impact the different phases of Destiny combat. And with the 2.1 patch, it has some competition finally.

Striker Titans have had a bit of a rocky road over the last year and change. Since they were the only purely offensive Titan class for Year One, if you were an aggressive player, you were probably playing them. In Crucible play, they were definitely the better option without a strong understanding of just how to work the Defender builds. But in end-game PvE, well, they just were bad. Basing the subclass around melee combat proved to be way too dangerous for its value. Add in that Fist of Havoc really had limited use against bosses and big groups of majors and that Storm Fist did so little damage it was funny and you can easily see why PvE end-game demanded Defender Titans. Not anymore though! Patch 2.1 made Strikers not only better, but actually relevant. It’s been a running joke that Titans have little T-Rex arms and that’s why they can’t punch anything. Well now they can with a melee range buff – and it’s noticeable too. In PvP I have found myself making lunges almost on par with Warlocks – not quite that far, but pretty close, enough to trade in a lot of melee fights.

Where I think the patch really shines is in the adjustments to the subclasses neutral games. Striker Titan’s strength going in was a strong neutral game – fantastic grenades, and good upgrade nodes to build either around melee health regen, grenade duration or Fist of Havoc versatility. The patch went ahead and tuned those nodes to be even more useful. Headstrong – which previously just had you leap farther while Fist of Havocing – now increases your sprint speed, and feels like you leap even further. It’s actually worth taking now over Transfusion or Aftershocks. Storm Fist got a pretty sizable damage boost to the point where it actually is worth punching low and mid-tier enemies. Amplify gets you 30% more super energy per kill now, making melee kills worth going for. Striker is more that just trash clearing now – it’s still not quite on the level that Defender is, but it’s way, way better in PvE than it ever was. In PvP terms, Striker still has the strengths it always did, but got that melee range boost and damage boost for Storm Fist actually makes a huge difference and brings it right up with Sunbreaker.

Defender Titan also got a little attention, just not quite to the same level that Strikers did. They’re still the best PvE subclass in the game, able to provide not only a safe haven with the Ward of Dawn – potentially buffed by Saint-14; but they also provide a pretty substantial stat boost to anyone that enters the Ward, either offensive or defensive. Really the biggest change with the patch is that now when you activate Ward of Dawn, your grenade and melee energy is refilled – instantly putting you back at full strength. In PvE, that’s a huge boost to potential DPS. In PvP, it means that you can better fight back against whoever comes up against you. With Defender really starting to show up a lot more in PvP play thanks to suppressor grenades and No Backup Plans taking away the risk for Force Barrier usage, the 2.1 patch really just reinforces that having a Defender in the mix in PvP is a good idea in just about any game mode.

If you play Destiny still, at this point it’s likely that all of this is old news. Destiny has evolved very clearly into a game that’s supported by a dedicated fanbase – I think it might get a good influx of players next week, but right now I think it’s more full of longtime players. But if you’re new, you might be wondering why Titans are starting pop up in Crucible play more than they used to. And I think the patch really was just what the class needed to keep us relevant. One last thing to keep in mind is that in advance of 2.1, Bungie had said that the other classes will be getting similar changes, so Hunters and Warlocks will both probably see a patch next month. I think I speak for all Titans when I say I hope that there’s a lovely little Blink nerf headed their way.

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.