Destiny EverVerse April Update – Pay-to-Win?

DestinyIn last week’s Bungie update, Deej cleared up a couple questions from the community (thanks to Datto) and one of those questions has turned into a bit of a hot topic over the weekend. The armor that is found in the Sterling Treasure packs, which can be purchased from Tess, does have random rolls when the pack is opened. That’s a curious decision, and has had a good chunk of the community asking – is this pay-for-power? So let’s talk a little about it.

Ultimately, if you boil this down to the nitty gritty, it is technically pay-for-power. You are trading real world money, for in-game items that have Light levels on them. That’s pay-for-power. However, if you actually look at the way it’s implemented, it’s not so much pay-for-power as it is pay-for-potential. Armor perks, while useful, aren’t really as important as getting a good weapon roll. That’s because in PvP, most of the armor talents don’t really provide a huge impact. Increased melee or grenade energy on kills is only on minions of darkness, the ammo increases from those perks really only provide minor increases to power, and most of the orb based perks are so situational that they aren’t super important. There are a couple of talents that do provide PvP power – reload speed increases, extra heavy ammo, and the elemental armor boosts can all help get you a few more potential kills. So in that regard, the rolls on the Taken armor or Tron armor are important. Where I think people were maybe worried was in PvE.

In the PvE game, armor talents become a lot more important. You try to roll the right ammo perks, reload skill, energy boosters and health regenerators. With that basis, I understand why people were worried about the potential pay-for-power impact from microtransactions. But Bungie did a sneaky thing to combat that – they changed the infusion process. Because it’s a lossless system now, pretty much any armor is now end-game armor. Since the Sterling Treasure armor drops at three Light, you already need to have higher level armor to infuse into it. So even if you spend a bunch of money on the packs and manage a God roll, if you don’t have armor that’s already relevant, your new gear is useless. So in that way, it isn’t actually pay-for-power. It’s pay-for-potential, as well as pay for kickass looking Taken armor. You need to already be at a level to complete the end-game activities in order to make those new armor pieces useful. It’s really more of a way for Bungie to have armor customization options available for purchase. I look at the Spektar and Desolate armors more like Shaders – they’re more designed as customization/cosmetic items. Bungie doesn’t have a way to put in collections or things along the lines of armor skins, at least not in Destiny itself. I see this as a trial run for those sort of things in the full sequel next year.

Destiny Taken Guardians

At the end of the day, the Sterling Treasures aren’t game-breaking items. They’re shortcuts more than anything. They offer people who want the new armor sets a way to bypass the time constrains and get them, without giving them immediately useful items. They are about as close to that line as I think they should be, at least I hope they won’t go any closer to that pay-for-power line. As long as they stay clear from weapons, I think they’ll be alright in Destiny – at least the first game. There’s still a lot of time for Destiny to evolve and grow – this is Bungie experimenting with ideas and seeing what works. We’ll see how well it works if it sticks around for the future.

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First Person Shooter News Roundup

TitanfallOver the last handful of days, we’ve had a few pretty sizable news items drop all relating to different FPS games. Each one isn’t really worth a full article exploring, but they’re definitely worth talking about at least a little bit. So that’s what we’ll do today.

We’ll start with the easy one to digest – Titanfall 2 has apparently officially been unveiled and it’s going to have a campaign mode included. There’s a couple things here to look at. First off, this is the first official word we’ve gotten about a sequel to Titanfall outside of some speculation about platforms. I think it was kind of an open secret in the gaming world – the first game did so well and really helped bring FPS games to the current-gen consoles, that a sequel was a no-brainer. While we still don’t have any real concrete details, knowing that Respawn and EA saw the lack of a true single-player campaign as a shortcoming and are addressing it is a good thing. I thought that Titanfall had a really cool universe that it built, and the campaign Multiplayer matches, while a cool experiment, just didn’t quite deliver for me. I think that because it came out when it did in the current-gen lifespan, the player count dropped pretty quickly, despite it being a really great game. I’m hoping that putting in a true campaign mode, bringing along Frontier Defense mode as well as keeping the overall multiplayer mode more or less the same will keep players invested in a shooter that has a truly unique feel compared with the rest of the market.

Call of Duty Black Market

The other two bits of news I want to talk about today both revolve around Activision’s two biggest FPS games, and probably their biggest games period: Destiny and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Let’s look at Call of Duty first. Yes, they just launched a new DLC map pack on the PS4, and while there were a couple pretty big issues with a couple map exploits that got patched quickly, I think the overall reaction has been mainly positive. Which is what makes this latest little influx of content we got this week kinda surprising. Treyarch added in over 100 new Supply Drop items, to all platforms, including new guns, not just melee items. That’s got the community a little divided, and understandably so. Here’s the problem – all those new items, including a couple really compelling weapons that I want to try out, are tied totally behind RNG based loot drops. It’s like fishing for a certain loot drop in Destiny all over again, just with the looming shadow of “COD Points” to look at. Since Call of Duty‘s loot drops are all tied with microtransactions instead of just in-game play/currency, there’s always going to be that shadow looming over new content. There needs to be something done with the Cryptokeys – either a permanent increase to the rate their earned, some kind of daily challenge that earns a Rare Supply Drop, or the weighting on the new weapons should be favored. Since I’ve been playing the game I have yet to see any of the Supply Drop weapons for me – and in truth, only a couple instances of them in my playing. I know that they have to have some incentive to buy COD Points, but tying cool new guns to them isn’t really the way to do it. I think keeping the customization items there is totally fine, but actual in-game items that can impact matches I wouldn’t have gone that route.

Destiny Crimson Days

On the other side of the Activision coin, we have Destiny. Crimson Days started yesterday and I have to say, it’s kinda underwhelming. Sure the Crimson Doubles look pretty cool – it’s a neat twist on Elimination. But that’s literally it – there’s one quest and one set of weekly bounties. In theory, you could reasonably complete everything that the event brings with it in a day of playing. They only added in two distinct pieces of gear – two Ghost Shells – that’s it. Festival of the Lost and SRL both added in a lot more, granted gear that didn’t really do anything for your Light level. But still, two Ghost shells, two shaders and one emblem is pretty weak. Tess Everis has a couple new Emotes that you can buy with real money (Silver) but again, not really worth it unless you’re really invested in the social side of Destiny. This really isn’t what Destiny needs right now – mainly because there is no PvE content added in with this at all. And that’s the real problem here – I think we maybe lose sight of this because a lot of streamers and YouTubers in the Destiny community do play a good amount of PvP, but the majority of players are PvE based players. There needs to be some kind of influx of PvE content quickly – I would hope next month instead of the April that we’re thinking now. What kills me especially is that in the Crimson Days Grimoire Card we get a glimpse of what Crimson Days could have added on the PvE front – and it’s something that was in my fantasy development for the sequel I did last week: Horde Mode. Two-man, co-op endless waves of enemies on the different planets we have – they even mention it happening in the Vault of Glass! How cool could that have been – fighting off endless waves of Vault of Glass Vex with a partner for increasingly better rewards. Even if it’s a short timed event, that’s pretty much exactly what the PvE side needs right now.

Ultimately, the FPS news is a mixed bag – the Titanfall news has me optimistic about the sequel coming our way; but the Activision side of things is a little muddier. It seems like they’re both short-term additions to games that need long-term attention. If Destiny is supposed to live for ten years, this isn’t the kind of content it needs. If Call of Duty is going to have microtransactions moving forward, tying game-altering items to them sets a bad precedent. Hopefully Activision, Treyarch and Bungie all can start thinking a little farther out, and each game can very easily bounce back from this no problem at all.

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.

In Defense of Microtransactions

The Taken King LogoOver the last couple months, I’ve seen a lot of talk in various places about microtransactions. With Destiny adding Silver for emotes, and Halo 5: Guardians having the option to buy some REQ packs with real money, they’ve been at the forefront with two of the biggest games of the season. So the debate continues to rage on – are microtransactions good for gaming? The easy answer is no – they give developers a way to charge for content that might normally be in the game. But that’s the cynical way of looking at it. In truth, the answer is a lot more complicated. If you’re looking for reasons why their bad, just go search around Reddit or game forums. I’m playing devil’s advocate today.

Destiny Tess Everis

When they’re done properly – like I think they are in Halo and Destiny – they supplement the game that’s already in place. In Destiny‘s case, it’s a secondary revenue stream for Bungie to use. Activision came out in their latest revenue call and said not to assume that all future DLC for the game would be free just because Silver is in the game now. That irked some players – but to me, that makes perfect sense. Silver alone would never be enough of a revenue stream to support a game of that size. What Silver does is provide a little cushion, and gives Bungie a way to maybe put out smaller chunks of content for less money or for free. I don’t think that something like House of Wolves would ever have been free – but maybe with Silver something a little smaller in scope now can be. Maybe a Quest that has a couple missions in it and has a few new pieces of gear, or a new Crucible map – those are more what I think we’re looking for moving forward now. Bungie was also smart about what Silver is used for. Since it’s only good for buying Emotes that have no direct impact on gameplay, there’s no penalty for not getting Silver. It’s not a Pay-to-Win system that seems to be a pretty prevalent way of implementing microtransactions.

Which is what worried me most about the REQ system in Halo 5: Guardians. Since I wasn’t super interested in diving into the info pre-launch (I tend to do that a lot with games I like) I didn’t really know that REQs were only in Warzone. Now, Warzone isn’t a super competitive mode – it’s a good way to just zone out and play a few games with big teams. The REQ system actually works really well, removing weapon spawns on maps, and putting them in the players hands with these REQs. Now, if they were only tied behind real-money purchases, that would definitely be a real issue. But they aren’t – you gain in-game currency from playing and leveling up, which you can use to pick which tier REQ pack to buy. Sure the very top level is only real-money, but that’s not a necessary purchase in any sense.

Halo 5 Warzone

Ultimately, I see microtransactions as a great tool that developers and publishers have access too. When they’re used right, they do nothing but enhance the game. Whether it’s with customization items, or status things, they make playing it a little more fun. It’s a tricky line to tread for sure – it’s real easy to use them as shortcuts to victory. Battlefield is guilty of that – after a few months from launch, they offer the shortcut packs for each class/vehicle to unlock all of the items and upgrades. It’s supposed to be a help for new players to get caught up, but it does make me feel a little punished as a day-one player. It kind of alienates the original fanbase. Now Battlefield has gotten away with it – mainly because I don’t think those items are really promoted or needed. What microtransactions really do is open up a different way for fans to support the game they love. DLC takes time to make, and while playing the game is always the best way, buying these little things helps in the meantime. Like them or not, they’re here to stay too – so it’s more important for us as players and fans to find the games that do them well and support them. The power with microtransations is in the players’ hands – if they don’t work, the publishers feel that and adjust moving forward. That’s how we progress as an industry.

Bungie’s Microtransaction Plan for Destiny and Why Everyone Needs to Relax

Destiny Tess Everis

Yesterday afternoon Bungie announced that Tess Everis, the special order vendor in Destiny, will be returning next week to the game. Instead of her usual inventory being made up from promotional code items though, she’ll feature brand new items that will cost a new currency. And that currency – Silver – will only be attained by spending some real world money on it. Yes, microtransactions are headed to Destiny, for better or worse, and we all need to just relax a bit.

When we hear microtransactions, it more often than not feels like communities fly into a rage about them. We instantly start worrying that developers and publishers will offer up shortcuts to power through a quick couple dollar purchase. And in some games, that actually does happen. Battlefield has featured a series of shortcut packs that unlock all items in a specific class – both in Battlefield 4 and Hardline. As someone who has grinded out all his gear in those games, I do get a little bothered that someone can spend a few bucks and catch up to me in a minute. But all signs point to that not being the case in Destiny. Bungie said explicitly in the news post that they only plan on adding cosmetic items to the new store – in this case, it’s new Emotes. There’s no impact on gameplay with those Emotes, so there really isn’t any harm with adding them in.

Of course the community immediately began worrying that this was just the beginning and those shortcut items would show up soon. I totally disagree with that sort of pessimism. And my reasoning is because of who publishes Destiny – Activision. I may dislike Activision for tending to be a little on the greedy side – and for killing two of my favorite series back in the late 2000’s (THPS and Guitar Hero) – but this is one thing that Activision actually does really well. You don’t need to look any further than their flagship franchise – Call of Duty. The last three games have featured cosmetic microtransactions, starting with Black Ops II. Weapon camos, player skins, calling cards and various combinations of those items have been sold for a few bucks at a pop. Those don’t have any direct impact on the gameplay at all – sure that guy might have lightning painted on his gun, but that doesn’t help if he shoots like a blind guy. That’s essentially what these new Emotes will do – they’ll look cool, probably some will be rather funny, and might be pretty cool to do in Crucible play; but they don’t directly impact the game. They won’t help you beat Oryx, or win in Trials; they don’t give you Exotic items or help you earn Legendary Marks.

What really I think these Emotes – and potential other cosmetic items – do is open up a whole new way for Destiny to evolve moving forward. There are already reports out there that the plan is to provide story and mission content now for free and support the game through these small purchases. And I gotta say, I think that might just work. I’m such a fan of the game I might just buy a couple Emotes to show off in Crucible play. If they end up adding in other cosmetic items, I could see springing on a sweet Jumpship or shader. You can see the foundation with that demand with the Blacksmith shader from pre-ordering Advanced Warfare – codes for that shader sold for real money on Ebay and Amazon. There’s a demand for these items – if they look good, they’ll sell well. And when they sell well, the next Dark Below or House of Wolves will be cheaper, if not free, and will benefit from the lessons Bungie has learned. I know microtransactions can be a little scary – but every really just needs to calm down and let this play out. This could be a really good thing for Destiny.