Saturday, 17 January 2015

Whiskey Commentary: Calling Out The Bullshit (Plus Competition!)

This week has been an eventful week for gaming culture, we've seen exciting announcements, great game releases and enough bullshit to drown the whole herd. Whiskey Reviews isn't afraid to wade in and pick out the peanuts for your pleasure and entertainment so hit the link and dive right in.

ABC Nightline Bullshit


This week we open up with something Mookie linked me to, a video posted to Youtube from ABC Nightline titled "What It Feels Like To Be A GamerGate Target" that features such 'esteemed' outspoken members of the community such as Anita Sarkeesian and Briana Wu.

For anyone unable or unwilling to watch the video it's a piece on the violence against women in games and the industry, mixed with the usual hack-job reporting we gamers have come to know as fairly standard from the mainstream press.
ABC sets the tone early on when the presenter opens with the line; "Violent depictions of women being beaten, raped and run over by cars. It's not the movies, it's videogames."
I'm sure the unfortunate presenter didn't write those words himself so lets spare Mr Pitts the hate, but the statement is false in one regard - I can't think of a single instance in a game since the 1980's where there has been a depiction of a woman being raped in a game. There's allusions to sexual violence and I can think of a couple of instances off the top of my head where the hero steps in and stops it before it starts but taken in context the statement opening that piece is plain and simply false.
He follows on to say that the women calling for change (i.e. Anita Sarkeesian and Briana Wu in this case) are facing death threats for their efforts.

While that may be true, these women have had their details published online and have had various threats made against themselves and their families, those threats come from a small corner of the gaming community. A corner that 99.5% of the gaming community abhor as much as anyone on the outside looking in - but did ABC bother to do their research and find that out? Of course not.
There's a small segment towards the end of the piece featuring Chris Pratt where he gets a chance to speak up for gamers and defend the hobby but it's far too late to be of any good - it's seven minutes into the eight minute piece and far too late to make a difference.
That late into the piece most viewers have already made up their minds or tuned out and lost interest due to the more aggressive reporting on the opposite viewpoint.
He makes a good point though, condemning GamerGate and the extremists on both sides while stating what should be obvious - the gaming community at large should not be judged by a handful of people saying or doing something stupid.
Mr Pratt even compares the current hate to the negativity towards rap and hip hop from decades ago when artists singing about more violent topics got mainstream attention and gave that whole industry a bad rap (pun intended).
Negative press makes for views though, it's why we see so many murder and war stories on TV, it's why newspapers and other outlets lie, exaggerate and twist the facts and figures to their own advantage and it's the equivalent of a journalistic cess pit.

I'm honestly not sure what I can add that the video itself doesn't say, anyone with a rational mind can see the sheer bullshit spewing from every second of the video, with both the presenters and interviewees doing their best at what amounts to a hack job.
Tim Schaefer steps up and offers a brief 30-ish second opinion from the developer's point of view which amounts to, at best absolutely nothing and at worst encouragement for these SJW assholes. Don't get me wrong, he's right that there should be games that can appeal to everyone. He talks about trying to find a character that his daughter can identify with and feeling bad that he hasn't included that in his own games and that's an admirable sentiment but there's a big difference between making more 'girl friendly' games or characters and what the SJW feminists want.

To be clear, I do not (and no one should) condone the kind of behaviour that has been directed at these women - as much as I don't agree with them it is fact that a small corner of the gaming community has directed threats at them and posted their personal information and that is absolutely not acceptable.
I can't believe I'm posting anything in defense of these SJW assholes but free speech is free speech, they're entitled to their opinion as much as I am my own and I can sum my own feelings up in less than a single line of text;
Fuck you. All of you. Fuck the feminists, fuck the press, fuck GamerGate.

With that out of the way lets move on to the next largest log to be shat out this week;

Sony Online Entertainment's H1Z1 Bullshit

For those that don't know, H1Z1 is a zombie survival MMO cooked up by Sony as an answer to the growing popularity of DayZ. You need food, warmth, weapons, etc to survive the brain munchers and several months ago John Smedly popped up on the game's subreddit to say the following:
""Some of our outcomes. Please note I'll do a comprehensive posting after we're done with this. We have another meeting Thursday to discuss.
1. We will be selling wearables. We felt like this will be a good, fair revenue generator. However - we recognize how important finding wearables in the world is so you'll be able to find and craft a lot of stuff. We agree that's something important. We've also come up with a pretty awesome idea to let players who kill other players loot stuff. So if a player has a black ski mask and gets killed by another player, that player can wear the ski mask for a few deaths (we have durability in the game. Station Cash wearables won't degrade at all but when you loot something.. it will degrade. Please note the original player always keeps their SC purchased wearables. This gives the great feeling of whacking some unsuspecting fool who decided to bring a knife to a gun fight.
2. We will NOT be selling Guns, Ammo, Food, Water... i.e. That's kind of the whole game and it would suck in our opinion if we did that.
3. Nor will we sell boosts that will impact #2.
4. Emote Pack - of course we'll have the basics for free. But we felt like this is another good and fair revenue generator.
5. Character slots - feels reasonable.
6) Crates - You can find crates sometimes in game. They're filled with random cool stuff from the store. We're considering letting you see what's in them before you buy a key (ala Dota 2.). This idea isn't fully locked yet.

That Monetization thread has turned out to be a terrific source of ideas and it also is helping us steer clear of the stuff you just don't want to see.

More to come late this week.

Smed""

The point that's pertinent to this week's bullshit blizzard is number 2 up there; "We will NOT be selling Guns, Ammo, Food, Water..."
H1Z1 came out in Early Access on Steam to the tune of £15 for the basic edition of the game. With such a seemingly honest statement straight from the horses mouth many gamers thought they knew what they were getting into.
Putting aside the sour taste of microtransactions in a paid for game (more on that later), we're still left with a statement that the first players found to be blatantly false as soon as they called in their paid for airdrops.
Many players found these in-game airdrops to contain guns, ammunition, food and clothing. Often high quality gear such as automatic weapons and military clothing. I can't speak for how much this upsets the game balance since I've not played it myself but it's the kind of pay to win bullshit that every gamer fears.
Sony already know how to do this kind of thing right - look to Planetside 2 - they sell guns in that too but the items are side-grades instead of upgrades whereas in a game like H1Z1 the man with the bigger stick has a blatant advantage over his poor stick-less neighbors.
What I'm saying is that there's no excuse for this kind of cock-up. Sony have experience with free to play and paid-for games and have an excellent marketplace and monetization strategy in place for Planetside 2 that's fair to players. Meanwhile pay to win is the boogeyman of any game featuring in-game purchases and has plagued titles both big and small (Ghost Recon Phantoms I'm looking at you) in the past but isn't hard to avoid - Smedley himself has laid out the guidelines for how to avoid it above, just don't sell anything that affects the gameplay for anyone else.

So how does this kind of thing happen?

Smedley may have made an honest mistake, believing what he said to be true at the time, and you can't fault him for his excellent level of communication with the fans and generally friendly attitude in that thread on Reddit. However, I don't believe this to be the case, and I present to you the evidence.
If we view the airdrops in the same light as Smedley/SOE (as 'server-wide events) meant for everyone to take part we open up a whole new can of worms. Lets break it down;
There must be at least 50 players on the server for it to even be possible to call in the airdrop.
A message is sent out to the entire server population that an airdrop is taking place.
The plane makes a lot of noise (drawing zombies and players) and streams green smoke to indicate its position.
Other players can steal your stuff.

See anything wrong with that picture? I sure do.
Losing your loot is a standard part of the zombie apocalypse genre, if you die you've lost it all and start fresh. The issue here is that you can lose items you've paid real money for and perhaps I'm old school but I equate that to straight up theft. Sure the players know the risks before they spend the money on these items but there's not even any kind of safety net in place to make sure that a paying customer even gets what they paid for in the first place.
You could argue that they're paying for an 'event' rather than the items, and I'm sure some generous individuals will buy them for that purpose, but many players will indeed be after what's in the box rather than the experience.
It's honestly a simple fix for this issue; instead of having items that drop in and can be lost by dying, etc. Change them so that they are added to a loadout menu at character creation and put in some kind of limitation to what the players can take (e.g. one gun, one box of ammo, one set of clothes) so that buying multiple weapons doesn't give someone the ability to become a walking armoury.
This would introduce the issue of how to deal with these players dying and dropping their bought guns - another easy fix; just have the guns be a lower quality when dropped, make them almost broken or with a chance of breaking after only a handful of uses.

In the interests of fairness I can't just rag on Sony without taking a shot at the players (sorry guys, you're at fault too!)
Right on the Steam store page for H1Z1 is the big blue 'Early Access' information box and right at the top, on its own line and in bold text are the words "Click to learn what to expect from H1Z1 (yeah, there's only one " there too, it's not a mistake).
Now that I've got the overuse of brackets out of my system you can click those words here too and see the page they link on steam which explains everything, even about the crates/airdrops.
I've seen this kind of thing happen time and time again over the last couple of years and while it's not a new phenomenon the rise of Early Access and more public open betas, kickstarter, etc has lead to the rise of complaining customers who simply didn't read all the available information before buying.
It's not just reading either, go watch livestreams, videos, etc. Go read forums and Reddit (I can't believe I just typed that) and look at screenshots.
Don't trust what you see on the store's marketing blurb. While it's not outright lying to you it is meant to encourage people to buy the item, it's a marketing blurb afterall, and people should be smart about their purchases to avoid cries of "you lied to us" or "I want my money back".
My point is, don't be stupid. Every last one of us gets excited when a game we're interested in releases, even if we know it's going to be broken or buggy in Early Access we still want it now anyway and our gamer-brains are already running through the muscle memory of buying the game before we've even finished reading the title but we need to show some self restraint and responsibility.
I'm not saying don't impulse buy things, just do a little digging around first, okay guys?

To Sony's credit they're being gracious about the affair and offering no-questions asked refunds for buyers and that's an admirable move. They could have hidden behind Steam's "no refunds" policy or called everyone dumbasses for not reading and watching the available material but they've taken the high road and that most certainly wins them some brownie points in my book.

It's brown but it's not points, this week's final topic is:

Mobile-to-PC Releases Bullshit

Many PC gamers automatically write off mobile games as shovelware perpetrated by scummy companies looking to scam a quick buck out of the unwary and you know what? They're right in a lot of cases. You don't have to venture far into the App Store or Google Play to find wallet raping programs masquerading as children's games or cutesy avian flinging or farm managing 'sims'. Was I subtle enough there?
Not all mobile games fall into this category though. Android and iOS are host to a multitude of quality developers that do their best to put out good products that are fairly priced for their customers.
Companies like Kairosoft and Vlambeer or games like Knights Of Pen And Paper, Bardbarian and Battleheart Legacy are regularly so high quality you'd think they could have been ported from PC instead of the other way around (hint-hint Kairosoft/Mikamobile, get your games on PC!)

Those are paid-for games though, with an all-in price tag, what about the other end of the spectrum, the free-to-play money-sinks? The sad truth is that they're 99% garbage but the odd diamond in the rough can work its way to the top of the pile occasionally; Shadow Strike, Strikefleet Omega, games by Halfbrick Studios.
Shadow Strike for example is an arcade style drone strike game where your piddly little plane circles above a warzone and you rain down explosive death on anything not marked as friendly. It's a prime example of the type of game where you'd see cash gouging by the developers. 
Shadow Strike is quite the opposite however; it's a very generous and sizable game that you can play for dozens of hours without ever paying a penny if you want. You might even buy something, like I did, just because the devs have been so generous.

My point is that the mobile gaming market is as diverse as any other, with wide-ranging quality and morals. It's sad that the scummy underbelly of this industry gets so much attention and I'm sorry to say that today it's going to get a little bit more, which is why I want to preface the following by urging you, if you have a smartphone or tablet, to check out the games I've mentioned already. Some of them are already on PC in superior versions (Knights Of Pen And Paper and Bardbarian in particular) and it's well worth everyone's effort to support a quality product and developers.

Enough of the mushy stuff now, this is bullshit week. Time to name and shame!
Sharing a sin are Warhammer Quest and Sky Gamblers, both released on PC (Steam in particular) this week. What's the sin you ask? Pricing.
Warhammer Quest, on iOS the base game is $4.99 (£3.29 at the time of writing) with the rest of the content bundled off piecemeal for an additional three to five dollars a piece for characters, maps, etc. The very same game, on PC will set you back £10.99 for the base version and £19.99 for a 'deluxe' version that contains (I think) the remainder of the piecemeal DLC items.
Adding up the in-app purchase prices from the App Store reveals there to actually be a saving on the Warhammer Quest Deluxe Edition but it's still a very high price for what they're hawking.
Sky Gamblers meanwhile is 63p on android but £6.99 on PC. On the surface it's a tenfold price hike that doesn't make sense but it apparently includes all the in-app purchases present on the mobile version as unlockables through playing instead of having to pay for them, arguably decreasing the value of the in-app purchase items further anyway.

In the interests of being fair it does appear that both developers/publishers have taken the same tactic; take a game they've already got, port it to PC with little/no improvement, tally up the price of all the in-app purchases and sell it for that price. On the surface of things it's a sound strategy and it certainly sounds fair from the publisher's side of things but what about the customer?
There's a reason I called it a sin in the previous paragraph and that's because at the end of the day they're ports of mobile games. Sure they 'can' be as high quality as PC games (I'm not talking about graphics or sound, some AAA PC games have terrible sound or textures) but they still have an inherently lower value in the eye of the consumer even if they're as open-minded to these kind of things as I am.

To put it into context a bit; I bought Far Cry 4 this week for £15, it's a huge sprawling 3D open world with unlockables, multiple missions, etc. Warhammer Quest looks like a kick in the dick at that price. I can get the actual physical board game for what they're charging there, and I can play that with friends!
Their prices aren't actually 'bad value' they're just not 'perceptible value'. If these games had come out the other way around, on PC first and then mobile, you'd bet your ass they could charge more for these games on mobile because they've got the added perceptible value of being a PC game.
This may sound a bit hypocritical but a true gamer knows that all kinds of gaming is valid, whether you're playing a NES or PC, mobile or arcade, a good game is a good game no matter where you're playing it but once you introduce cash and wildly disparate prices (at least on the surface) into that equation then you've got a recipe for disaster.
Just like Sony's issues above there's an easy fix for the issues; just lower the prices to a more friendly point. Warhammer Quest would benefit from scrapping the basic edition and making the Deluxe edition the standard and just dropping £5-7 from the price - it'd be sitting on my wishlist right now if the Deluxe edition was only £12-15.
The same thing goes for Sky Gamblers to a lesser degree, they've already got an okay price point but it's not that friendly looking right now, especially with the reputation for microtransactions that the mobile version has (the PC version has none of these I'm told). If they dropped the price by even £2 to an easier to stomach £5 for the full game then I bet they'd have the attention of a lot more potential buyers sitting on that fence.

Again, in the interests of being fair, 'perceived value' is skewed to opposite ends of the spectrum by developers/publishers and gamers. The buyer always wants lower while the publisher always wants higher.
I'll freely admit I may be wrong here, and please do correct me if I am, but the point of view difference seems to also be the key to resolving the issue; sure the developers have to get paid and have worked hard but the buyer is an individual with bills of their own and each unit of currency, be it dollars or pounds or rupees, is worth more to the individual.
That's not to say developers should just give in and only sell their games for the bare minimum to keep operating, that'd be silly and we'd never get anywhere like that. Developers/publishers need to give a little instead; because smaller amounts of currency have more value to an individual, a smaller price reduction (as proposed above) is seen as better value while the company only loses a minimal amount of profits.
There may be factors at play that mean these reductions aren't possible though; licensing deals, contracts, an already tiny profit margin or any one of another dozen things may mean that the current prices of these two games were the bare minimum they could be sold for so that's why they're last in this week's bullshit lineup - because they're just 'percieved bullshit'.

Thank you for reading!

Competition

In keeping with the theme of ports I'm giving away a game that's been ported to pretty much anything with a processor; Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition. You'll get a copy on Steam, via the Humble Bundle and all you have to do is use the email contact form to answer this question:
Who was the voice actor of Duke Nukem in Duke Nukem 3D?
The lucky winner will be chosen on Monday the 19th January 2015 at whatever time I feel like it.
Good luck everyone!