Friday Fireside Chat

Why fireside? Because it’s raining quite heavily outside and that seems like a cozy way to start off this Friday post. I also hope it helps distract from the fact that I might have missed last Friday… a little bit, or completely.

Sorry about that.

So what’s been happening? A little, a lot, really depends on where you sit.

I’m going to start with something I saw yesterday from one of my favorite YouTubers, Skillup. He started as a hardcore Division streamer and while he has since moved on to a much broader range of topics he has been covering Division 2. Since Ubisoft can’t stop stepping in it even when they’re doing well he released a video yesterday talking about their decision to sell stash space. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of versions of the game they have up for sale and at what prices.

Pretty sure you can all guess where I stand on this just based on my previous posts but I do want to reiterate: developers do not need to blackmail us to get our money. The reason that the subject of stash space and charging for it is so egregious is because of what a huge issue, among other things, it was in their first game. Massive and Ubisoft have been fairly adamant about avoiding the mistakes they made the first time around which layers this entire subject in sour irony. As Skillup points out in the video at this stage of development they don’t even know how much the space the base stash is going to have nor how many extra slots the Ultimate Edition will actually offer. They’re selling a product whose parameters aren’t even set in stone which in and of itself is insulting enough.

Ubisoft and Massive know definitively from their first release that they have a game people want, a game where people want to pay for cosmetic extras, a game that they can reasonably monetize. I have been and will always be vehemently against monetizing basic game mechanics and QoL (Quality of Life) improvements for players except in a Free-To-Play environment. There you can purchase what you want as you want or need it without any upfront cost to also consider, in effect you don’t need to purchase the game and it’s mechanics twice. Since this revelation my enthusiasm for this game release has been dwindling fast which is a shame as I fell in love the aesthetic and gameplay immediately and have been itching to play more. I want the story, I want the outfits, I want the guns and I want to continue exploring the world of The Division. I really do.

I just wish game companies like Ubisoft and Massive didn’t seem so dead set on making me weigh my morals as a consumer against my desires as a gamer. Being pro-consumer doesn’t mean you can’t make money, it never has, it’s just a way to make money while not making your customers simultaneously regret their purchase. I want to feel good about buying a product, feel good about the people whose jobs I’m supporting and about the type of business practices I’m encouraging. Eventually that grimace I make when pulling out my wallet is going to turn into disgust which is then going to turn into me looking elsewhere for my entertainment.

If you won’t take my word for it then listen to someone whose opinion you should at the very least respect: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Now that’s done with lets move on to some more fun things.

On a musical note the Moonbeam Rider EP by Slugabed has made frequent appearances lately in my writing playlists. I don’t know why honestly, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the genre but its funky, awesome and just kinda puts me in a trance while I write.

It’s nice, you should give it a listen.

On the YouTube front I re-stumbled upon the joy that is Loading Ready Run and the series they make in co-operation with Wizards of the Coast called Friday Nights. If you like MTG and sketch comedy I recommend you give it a look, it’s worth your time. They have quite a few other shows they produce on a regular basis including their long, but well worth, Pre Pre-Release streams they do for new Magic: The Gathering sets. One of the things I like about it is that they have a judge on hand while they play their games so you can see how rules enforcement works. They also do a rules and mechanics review at the start with the judge to help familiarize you with new effects from the set. Even for the casual fan I think it can have some pretty helpful information and their streaming setup is great with a card reader to display cards as they are played.

I ran across this amusing thing in the smartphone world from Nokia: The 8110-4G. I understand the push for minimalism and people who want their basic necessities met without going overboard. Unfortunately I think we all know exactly who is going to end up buying and using these and spoiler; they’re not those people.

To the folks who want this kind of tech I wish you well and hopefully this thing fulfills all your needs. To the people who are going to buy this simply as an affectation, just do us all a favor and stick with your Android or iPhone, it’s fine.

Also, apparently it comes pre-loaded with Snake. Nothing but value.

On the extreme other end of that you can take a peek at the upcoming Hydrogen One phone from RED, the camera company. Looking it over with special emphasis on the price tag might have me understanding the minimalists a bit more.

Alright, now it’s time to discuss what is apparently on everyone’s mind: Nipples. No, seriously. I have to say that I am honestly impressed you can get so much out of a subject like this. I understand that everyone feels differently about things but, really? This can’t be that big of a deal. Although we also had to apparently deal with the whole fiasco of Luigi dying in a trailer for the new Smash game so maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

I can’t tell if folks are having too much fun or too little fun that these things need to be reported on as news but either way, let’s all take take a moment and reflect on where we are as a planet.

While you’re contemplating that you should also check this out. I’m not the biggest fan of racing games but I am a huge fan of, the old, Top Gear and the new Grand Tour on Amazon so I’m tentatively interested in this. Especially if it has Jeremy, Richard and James doing voiceover for it. So far it seems like a novel idea where the tracks you’ll get to play through in the game are taken directly from things they do on the show with new cars and locations being added as episodes release. Hopefully it will add up to being more than just a gimmick and instead a fun way to interact with a show you love. Unfortunately it seems that the game will only be available for PS4 and XBONE which seems like a peculiar choice to me given the company that is making it but hopefully we’ll see a PC release in the future if it’s successful enough to warrant one.

There is always more but that is where I’ll leave it this week so this doesn’t risk becoming a truly uninteresting novella. Thanks for sticking around and I hope you have had a good week!

Was there anything I missed that you think I should have included? What interesting things did you stumble across recently? Let me know!

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back soon!

  • Non-Washable

To Iterate, Or Not To Iterate

I was reading this blurb over on N4G and while it adds up to little more than speculation by a developer I had an instant revulsion to even the suggestion that Sony or Microsoft would entertain this idea. Naturally that revulsion eventually coalesced into an opinion that I thought belonged here.

“With Sony and Microsoft expanding the line with PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, we might just see continual evolution in the line rather than completely new boxes and architecture. We can see both follow a similar formula that Apple has with cell phones.” – Colin Moore, Holospark

It’s not that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind since Sony announced it was dipping its toe in with the PS4 Pro to see how console owners might react to a mid-generation upgrade. By all current metrics the experiment certainly hasn’t been a flop and may even end up being an overall success but I don’t think we can really know that for sure quite yet. Their competition over at Xbox certainly haven’t been idle, putting in the work to upgrade already released games to make them worth revisiting on the One X. I’ll be very interested to see how the cost of that extra work tallies up against the sales numbers for the system which thus far has beaten out the Pro in units shifted. The biggest knock against Xbox right now is a lack of platform exclusives to stack up against the rather impressive stable Sony has built up but ultimately if you’re asking people to spend another $400-500 mid-generation they’re going to go where the value is and eventually developers will follow. All that can come in a later post-mortem once we get a little closer to the next generational step, for right now we have other things to talk about.

What is it about the concept of iterative consoles that repulses me and in my opinion should do the same for you?

For starters let me go back to the argument that console fans generally make against their bigger siblings, the PC. Cost. One of the things that is generally laid at the feet of PC enthusiasts is that while they may be better they also pay an exorbitant premium for that status. Unfortunately for people who use that argument its easily disproven and I don’t say that to be flippant, it’s just the simple truth. Consoles these days are using the same hardware that we use in PCs only theirs are a handful of generations behind almost immediately after their release. We can build budget PCs that cost less than consoles and perform better on modern games, this comes with the caveat that we have to build our rigs instead of pulling them out of the box ready to use but thats a pretty small speedbump even for the most tech-illiterate. The added problem with this argument is that we can easily upgrade individual components instead of having to build or purchase entirely new systems when we want to see a boost in performance. Smart PC builders can to an extent “future proof” their builds by leaving themselves room to upgrade without having to replace other core components due to compatibility problems.

What this boils down to is that the all-or-nothing limitation of home consoles necessitates a wholesale replacement of your system with an iterative release schedule if you want to stay up to date. A modular approach to home consoles where you could purchase specific upgrades for your system is most likely a pipe dream as I can’t see how they could possibly make that fiscally profitable or easy for consumers. The most common counterpoint to this that I can see is the mitigating affect of trade-in programs like those available at Gamestop which is a good point. Trading in your Xbox One or PS4 will net you $140 or $170 respectively which isn’t bad when weighed against the cost of an upgrade, sort of.

Those values leave you with eating $229 for a PS4 Pro and a real gut punch of $359 for the Xbox One X which leaves it only $40 shy of the non-Kinect release version you just traded in. Both of these systems are a definite improvement in performance so I won’t call them a ripoff or even a poor value but for your average console consumer that is a nearly impossible reality to swallow. This reality gets even worse when you realize that the Pro released just three years after the standard console for a combined $628 in just that time if you want to upgrade. I remember people theorizing about a 6-10 year lifespan for these new systems and while an iterative timeline doesn’t mean they are dead it does leave you feeling like you’re not getting the best the platform has to offer which leads to people feeling like they misspent their money.

This also leads me back to the quote earlier from Colin Moore and in particular this portion, “We can see both follow a similar formula that Apple has with cell phones.” which is a sentiment that I think should have people who game on consoles screaming bloody murder. I wont get into a long discussion on the price of cellphones but anyone who looks at an iPhone X with its accompanying price tag and thinks, “Makes sense.” needs their head examined. Just some quick context for those who may have forgotten, the original iPhone retailed for $499-599 however within three months that price was dropped to $399. The 3G retailed for $199-299. Fast forward a mere eleven years and your new iPhone X will run you a staggering $1,149USD or otherwise known as a low-ish end mortgage payment. But no need to worry, a couple of months prior to that release the affordable iPhone 8 series released covering the $700-900 range if you don’t want their flagship product.

If you think that iterative console releases wont end up skyrocketing the cost of your “cutting edge systems” I’ve got some bad news for you. I make no bones about the fact that cutting edge or even high end PC gaming is not every-day-affordable and I really don’t want to see the same thing happen to consoles for the sake of being able to play the newest Call of Duty in 4k. Focus on hitting a steady 60fps at regular HD, it’s cheaper and you’ll be happier, trust me. Consoles will never be out in front of PC tech nor should they be as that isn’t their purpose, the extra cost burden of an iterative release schedule will do nothing to really improve the experience in a meaningful way. Whats more I don’t think that the majority of their consumer base will engage with that schedule outside of a handful of early adopters with enough money to make the expense negligible.

Suffice it to say the cost to everyone involved, including Sony and Microsoft, just isn’t worth whatever if any potential upside that they see from mid-generation upgrades or the simple abolition of the entire current release structure. Let the PC market bear that burden as we have from the beginning, don’t poison the console market by needlessly dragging them into that mess. If you really feel like you need to close the gap then look at a shorter life cycle for consoles, I always thought that ten years was too long when compared to the speed of technology. I think you could make a reasonable argument that end-of-life for a console could start at year five and be phased out completely by year eight without burning out your consumer base on “constant upgrades”. If we look at the PS4 and Xbox One right now around four years from their release date I think we’re just about seeing their peak performance with releases like Assassins Creed: Origins, Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War 4. I’m sure we’ll see some clever developers squeeze a little more out of them over the next year or two but I doubt much beyond that. That puts us at a couple years to enjoy the plateau or marginal improvements before we start looking towards the next major generation. That period will be the real test for the Pro and One X, will Sony and Microsoft position them to be the exclusive console versions to bridge this generation and the next while ending support for the base models? If they don’t will we ever see games that really push the Pro or One X to their limit as it becomes harder to keep parity between them and their predecessors? Questions I am eager to see answered as it will give us hints to their plans going forward, for now its hard to say. Sony is riding high on being the current undisputed king of this console cycle and Microsoft is still doing its utmost to win back their customers in any way they can after stumbling hard at the outset.

You’ll notice I have yet to mention Nintendo in all of this and if you’re curious why I’d invite you to read my write-up about the Switch. They have smartly avoided this path with their main home consoles and I think they’ll continue to do that for the forseeable future.

I’ll work on cutting myself off here as I don’t want this to be overly long winded and save my further comments for later because I’m sure this will come up again before long. What my argument comes down to is that I don’t think the value proposition for an iterative release schedule benefits the consumer in any way shape or form and realistically only serves to enrich console makers. I don’t begrudge them for seeking out new profit avenues as I’m sure I pointed out in my lootbox post  but I have an issue when there is little to no value for the people who are shelling out the dough. When it comes to technology we’ve become a little upgrade crazy and overall we’ve become comfortable enough that companies like Apple will nudge us towards upgrading with some pretty underhanded tactics. Aging technology is not useless technology and allowing consoles to spiral into the money vortex of constant upgrades, trade-ins and iteration hell I think is something that is best avoided at all costs for businesses and consumers alike. And this is coming from a card carrying member of the PC Elitists you all love so much.

Till next time, happy gaming!

  • Non-Washable