There are still a couple of beta weekends yet to come but since it’s been a few days and I’ve had a chance to process as well as look at some other impressions I think it’s time to reflect. One topic in particular I think has people really up in arms and to be quite honest, they’re not wrong. So let’s get into it–
Money, Money, Moneeeeeeeey
That’s right, it’s all about the money, for everyone really. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics want ours while we want to get the most value we can for it although in fairness at the end of the day we do want to give it to them. Or at the very least we want to want to give it to them. In the olden days for grey-beards like me we would pony up our hard earned allowance dollars and in turn receive a game which we would play, enjoy (Or not), and then place on our shelf. It was a simple transaction where the people who wanted our money made things we wanted to buy, we gave them that money and got the thing they made.
End of story.
If they wanted to exploit that IP further then it was really about ancillary things like toys or branded clothes, knick knacks or what have you. Otherwise it would probably be a few years before they could manage to pump out a sequel that you may or may not buy. Nowadays the game has changed and we’ve found ourselves in a world where “incomplete” games are released as live services which will be constantly updated for years, possibly even a decade or more to keep us engaged. The quotes around incomplete are there because I think the definition is still, well, ill-defined. What constitutes an incomplete game? Do we need proof that certain things were removed from the game after it went gold and then sold to players at a later date? If you want to take a quick detour back a mind-bending eight years you can read about this very problem with Mass Effect 3 via Jason Schreier over at Kotaku. This is just one of many examples that have existed going all the way back to that god damn horse armor.
As a brief aside I want to say that I absolutely respect to the core of my being game reviewers who still rail against predatory monetization to this day and in some ways wish I had the energy to take a firmer stance against it. Reality is though that the battle was lost a long time ago and the billions that companies like EA and Activision make off of games like FIFA ensure unequivocally that we will never, ever be without it again. Even if a game flops due to it’s monetization you can be damn sure that before it does it will probably make back it’s budget from a core group of enthusiasts spending money before it shuts down.
I’m going to turn you over to Tommy Lee Jones for a moment to explain why –
On an individual level many of us are smart enough to see that what we get in return for our money spent is a hilarious mis-match in value. Fair monetization in games is a rare thing but when well done it can do amazing things for the legacy of a game and it’s creators, The Witcher 3 and it’s DLC being a prime example. Whether it’s loot boxes, battle passes, packs, skins, season passes or what have you it’s a lot like gaming in a casino, no matter how good you feel or how on top you think you are, in the end the house always wins. There are varying degrees of value disparity and there are a decent amount that come close without making you feel like you just flat out got screwed. For instance I never felt like I got less than I paid for with the majority of Borderlands DLC, you could quibble over general quality but I always felt like Gearbox wasn’t just phoning it in so I’d open my wallet. For more active versions of monetization i.e. lootboxes I do have to give some credit to games like Overwatch where during my time with it I never felt like I had to spend hundreds of dollars just to get the things I wanted and I felt like I was decently rewarded for my time invested. Even towards the end of it’s life, for me, Division 1 had what felt like a decently fair lootbox system with the ability to earn cosmetic keys through regular play. You probably wouldn’t earn everything you wanted quickly but you at least felt like as a largely Free to Play participant that you weren’t simply cutoff from that part of the game.
Anyways, to get us back on track the question was, what constitutes an incomplete game? If it hard locks my console one or more times? If I encounter bugs? If I don’t like the story or feel like the side missions are too repetitive? What if I don’t enjoy their mocap or the game doesn’t reliably hit 60fps? My point here is that all of these are to some extent subject or explained away by various factors related to the level of complication that modern day games bring. I may not personally agree simply hand-waving a lot of these issues away, at least not always although I have done so in the past to my own detriment, but it’s a way of understanding why so many games still go on to sell well. In spite of a sea of red flags leading up to their release. What is worse for us as consumers is that betas are now being used as a sort of sly way to soften the blow of a game that may not quite be up to par at it’s official release. Game companies may not say so explicitly but I suspect that having a veritable army of fans willing to shriek, “It’s a beta!” at naysayers or even post launch explain away issues as, “We knew about this from the beta, they’re working on it! Jeeze!” can help take some of the heat off. You get a lot of time to offer re-assurances to would be buyers that the issues are being looked into even though it’s entirely possible that they may not be resolved for months after a release.
There is no shortage of examples of games which have released in varying stages of being disasters in progress only to find life far down the road. Final Fantasy XIV released as a game so broken, hated and poorly done that they actually un-released it, restarted development and then released a still running, hugely popular award winning title in it’s place. I’m all for developers not giving up on a title but that took some serious cajones to pull off, and I’m glad they did as I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the the title myself. The Division 1 was a complete mess for years after it’s launch and finally after a ton of work actually managed to turn into a beloved title that people still play even though it’s sequel is out. Granted the sequel is going through much the same pain the first one did but that is a whole other discussion about stupidity on a scale so grand I won’t have time to cover it here. Destiny 2 was also in a similar boat for a long time as they somehow mysteriously managed to unlearn all the hard lessons they got from their first game and decided to speed-run them again for fun. No Man’s Sky had one of the more hilarious launches where players in rather short order managed to pull off something the creators confidently asserted was virtually impossible, also proving that their multiplayer claims were a lie. Yet here we are all these years later and it’s a huge hit after a ton of additional work went into the game.
The list goes on and on.
All of these games demanded a full $60 at release with many of them offering more expensive versions that included season passes, cosmetics or other incidentals to bump that price up. Knowing full well prior to launch or even prior to the title going gold that it would release in a semi-broken state which would most likely persist for months and in some cases years into the titles life. The prevalence of day one patches in games alone shows how many known issues games ship with in this era of gaming. It’s baked in, it is the industry that we have allowed to happen as the sole people who fund it’s existence. While I myself and probably you have contributed to it on an individual level there is only so much for us to do, without the full co-operation of our fellow gamers, casual, core, mobile or otherwise then it’s a largely lost cause.
So where does that leave us?
The Big Green Monster
The gamma-irradiated elephant in the room is the upcoming release of the Avengers game and whether or not it’s mostly unexplained monetization system is more of the same or the worst thing we’ve seen yet. According to reviewers like Skill Up he feels like it’s definitely going to be a further step in a battle we’ve been losing for decades. I recommend checking out his video if you haven’t already –
I’m sure that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have dreamed up all manner of sneaky and predatory monetization schemes to put into this game because it could easily be a goldmine just based on the IP itself. The math for me however breaks down to whether or not I can extract $60 worth of entertainment for myself without actively engaging with potentially egregious or predatory monetization. Based on my first weekend with the beta I believe that to be the case, regardless of the DLC, new characters, character-specific-season-battle-cosmetic-passes or whatever else they have, I think that the base game, warts and all, is something that I can sit down and get my moneys worth out of. Whether or not that will be the truth come release day is another matter entirely and it is possible that I might be wrong. One of the worst disasters in my personal gaming experience over the last couple years was Anthem and I can say that I managed to get my moneys worth out of it. The game itself was a disappointment because I saw it’s potential and imagined what could be. They failed to deliver what I dreamed it could be but at the end of the day I played the campaign, partied and raided with my friends and then moved on to other things. If Anthem 2.0 actually somehow manages to hit the shelves sometime in the future and not itself look like a complete train wreck I’ll even go back and play that too.
Even if Avengers falls prey to, as Skill Up put it, “Going in all the wrong directions at once” I think that I’ll get my moneys worth and I believe over the years that is where I have found myself as a gamer. I’ll still rail against injustices when I see them, boycott games or developers when I think real change could happen and even drop some of my all-time favorite IPs like Fallout if I must. All because no matter how immovable I think the business side of the games industry is on things like Live Service Games and monetization, somewhere deep down I hope maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are still companies and developers out there, some indie and some real powerhouses, who are doing their best to conduct their business as ethically and fairly as they can for their consumers and employees. We should enthusiastically support them as long as they do and for the others simply do our best to extract value and enjoyment from titles when we can while doing our level best to avoid supporting practices we find abhorrent.
Briefly however on the subject of injustices as it relates to the Avengers game I do want to point out a couple of things, the main one being that Spider-Man is a planned exclusive, I assume timed but who knows, for PlayStation owners. Even though I’ll most likely be playing the game on PS this is horseshit of the highest order and if I learn that it is in fact not a timed exclusive I’d be hard pressed to not skip playing the retail release of this game, ever. That is how much that news would piss me off. We’ve repeated it often enough that at this point it should be a mantra that cosmetic exclusives, while annoying, are something that we as gamers can probably live with. Functional items, ones that affect game balance and especially entire characters should be completely off-limits as they are effectively telling you that the only way to have the complete experience is to shell out the cost of the game and the cost of another console. At worst it’s essentially a message to everyone else that you’re an idiot for choosing how you did so fuck you but we still want your money so please buy our game. The whole entire concept of it from start to finish is just idiotic, I really don’t know how much more plainly I can express how much I hate it. Anyways, I’m not really going to touch on the Verizon and Virgin Mobile cosmetics being offered for Avengers but suffice it to say it’s weird and I know it’s only happening because of the property the game is based on but… still, ugh.
Overall a lot still remains to be seen and for now I will be playing more in the upcoming beta weekends because as I said before, it was fun and I honestly didn’t have enough time to really try a bunch of the available missions. I encourage you take in a wide range of opinions on this game and absolutely do not be afraid to hold off until well after release when the critics have had their go at it. Borrowing a phrase from D&D circles, no game is better than a bad game. There is still plenty of time before release so no rush and if for nothing else there are plenty of other games to play in the meantime.
Speaking of, what are you playing right now? More importantly do you have any thoughts on the Avengers game or the beta itself? Let me know!
Thanks for hanging out again, I hope you all have had a good week so far and I’ll probably see you again on the weekend.