Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Elder Scrolls Ditches the Subscription Model

Well, they didn’t TECHNICALLY go Free-to-Play, so I can’t say I told you so.  It looks more like they are going with the Guild Wars model.  I can’t say I’m a fan yet – from what I’ve heard the game would sincerely benefit from the massive influx of population that would happen if they ditched all barriers to entry — but I guess I can see the merit in getting what you can from what is hopefully a reasonably large console launch.  Console gamers still need to be taught how free-to-play works, so this is arguably a necessary hedge.

I still bet the entry price falls to below $10 by the end of the year.

‘Built From the Ground Up for DLC’ is Not a Selling Point

Jimquisition has something to say about Evolve’s seemingly all-consuming monetization focus.  Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait here.

Here’s one example of Turtle Rock saying that Evolve was built to support DLC “more than any game ever before.”  Now, I want to be clear: it’s great to hear of a team that had that foresight and that luxury.  Building good monetization infrastructure isn’t technically trivial, and adding all of that stuff late in development or even post-ship can often mean you’re jamming something balance-breaking into a game that wasn’t built for it or, in the minds of players even worse, ripping off a piece of the core gameplay and putting it up for sale.  So a company thinking ahead about this stuff well before launch, and addressing these issues ahead of time, is good.

And having a game built around the billing model is not crazy.  I mean, Magic: the Gathering is built around a billing model of selling packs.  Candy Crush was built from the ground up to be free and microtransact.  These are both billing-model centric designs, and they work BECAUSE of it.  So why is Evolve being forced now to defend themselves for their DLC plans?

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The Orphans of GamerGate

As the temperature around GamerGate continues to fade, the various forums and threads about the subject have been cooling.  Many people around the industry seem to be warming to the idea that the worst is finally over.  KotakuInAction is slowing, GamerGhazi is encouraging discussions of other topics, NeoGAF is looking to let its gamergate thread die without replacement once it hits max length.

Zoe Quinn, on the other hand, reminds us that for some people, it’s not over.  Abusive shithead behavior towards her and Anita long precede GG, and there is no real sign that will end in the future.  This is probably true of many of the prime targets of GG, including Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander, Grace Lynn, Mattie Brice, Chloe Sagal and Randi Harper, all of whom can’t pretty much say anything without getting Sea Lioned to oblivion if not worse.   And often, its way worse, as in lose-your-faith-in-humanity worse.  Zoe’s take reminds us that for a small, select few, it isn’t just about throwing spaghetti on a screen and hoping you don’t piss off 8chan, it’s instead about lawyers and legal dates and leaked legal documents, it’s about trying to explain to cops what the fuck twitter is, and its about having a number with the FBI so your regular contact there can add more shit to an open file.

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Pornhub Metrics are Deeply Fascinating Look at Worldwide Trends (SFW)

If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t get offended by the notion of porn, then you’ll likely be as intrigued as I am by PornHub’s annual statistical review, which gives in-depth analysis to the trends of their viewership.  The report is here, and is, at least visually, safe for work.  The previous year is here.  I realize that some may find the topic distasteful but, truth be told, large data analysis like this really IS what gets me all excited.  (Seriously, I’d equally love to see this kind of statistical infographic breakdown of the board game database I discussed yesterday.  Because I’m a massive data nerd)

It’s also somewhat interesting to see parallels between that entertainment industry, and the gaming industry – which makes sense, to some extent.  If you think about it, we’re all competing for the scarce spare time of the public.  One clear parallel is that, much like gaming services, PornHub also sees serious declines during major sporting events.  Among other interesting tidbits.

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The Best and Worst Board Games

538.com is long one of my favorite sites, as it was founded by Nate Silver, who is of course the statistics savant who made a name for himself pretty much nailing the last two presidential elections based on a lot of disparate polling data.  Since that time, they’ve left their home on the New York Times and expanded their mandate to pretty much do statistical analysis of anything anywhere there happens to be a large amount of data to examine.

Recently, they gave this treatment to Board Games, utilizing the database housed on BoardGameGeek.  Of particular note, they examined the best-ranked board game in the database (Twilight Struggle) and then delved into the list of the worst.  The latter list tends to contain a lot of passive aggressive hate for classics like Candyland and.Monopoly,  both because these ancient bits of family fare are poorly designed by modern hardcore standards, but also because board game geeks tend to have quite hipster attitudes towards any game you can pick up at Target.  Both articles are great reads.  Continue reading

Wardell on Diversity

Brad is far more sympathetic to GamerGate’s goals and tactics than I am, so I’m not totally surprised that he calls bullshit on Intel’s diversity announcement (which I discussed previously here).  That being said, there are a couple of fallacious arguments that should be brought up.

During the event, Intel even featured the Feminist Frequency logo which, to me, implies that she’s either compromised her position or surrendered it outright if she’s now in favor of more people getting into game development rather than arguing how bad games are for society.

Welp, that certainly is a massive mischaracterization of both her goals and her tactics.  Anita simply wants to see better and more games.  She’s not always right, but she’s more right than she is wrong.  As a reminder, enough devs thinks that what she’s doing is good and important to the cause of making games that she earned an Ambassador Award from the GDC last year – a forgotten part of the story where her appearance earned a bomb threat from assholes unknown.  GDC isn’t going to do that for someone they think is trying to shrink the industry.

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Pentagon Wars, Foldable Humans and Other Miscellaneous Stuff

It’s been a while since I did a grab bag of stuff, but there was a convergence of minor stuff that merits a mention.

* Remember the GamerGate 8chan child porn story?  People who aren’t horrible human beings will be pleased to know that the journalist who found, documented and reported on the child porn, only to have zealous true believers attempt to get him arrested, will be pleased to know that he’s been questioned and cleared. Also, in the discussion, the officer reported that there was plenty of child porn in plain sight on the site – which is probably a good thing to know before you go traipsing around on 8chan. Well, you could if 8chan wasn’t mysteriously down all day.  After yesterday’s awesome events, it’s overall been a good week for people who find GamerGate distasteful.

* To celebrate, you should totally watch this video that Dan did about Fight Club, and the themes of toxic masculinity that are discussed within.

* Car Wars was reprinted.  Just as fun trivia, did you know that the makers of Auto Assault were flirting with acquiring the Car Wars license for it?

* Polygon points out that this clip of the Pentagon Wars is a pretty good analogy for how large software projects (such as AAA video games) often lose their way in the hell that is conferring with upper management.

* Watching this video of Nicole Kidman telling Jimmy Fallon he had a chance to date her, but blew it, is oddly heartwarming and yet horrifying.  Watching this video of the women of Downton Abbey play Cards Against Humanity is a nice chaser.

Intel Steps It Up On Diversity

Yesterday, Intel made a major announcement, effectively setting a dare up for other tech companies by declaring a $300 Million dollar investment in Diversity, including the goal of a fully representative workplace by 2020. This is a pretty staggeringly ambitious goal for a large, major international company, and by at least this account, we largely have GamerGate to thank.

In October, though, Intel unwittingly became a villain in a controversy over the treatment of women in gaming, which has come to be known as GamerGate. A loose-knit brigade of Internet users lobbied the company to pull an advertising campaign on the game website Gamasutra because it had run an essay attacking the male dominance of games culture.

Intel, which was caught off guard by the ensuing controversy over its actions, eventually resumed advertising on the site. Mr. Krzanich said he used the incident as an opportunity to think more deeply about the broader issue of diversity in the tech industry. The issue resonated with him personally.

“I have two daughters of my own coming up on college age,” he said. “I want them to have a world that’s got equal opportunity for them.”

Note that this hilariously seems to not quite match Breitbart’s super secret report of Intel’s super secret GamerGate fanboyism.  The remaining dregs of Gamergate were not pleased, largely because both Anita Sarkeesian and the IGDA were listed as key partners of the initiative.

GamerGate adherents are already are planning a counter-email campaign, making sure, as always, to hide their GamerGate affiliation specifically to avoid getting filtered.  They continue to unload on Anita as a  ‘member of a hate group‘ and a ‘demagogue’ among other old, debunked crap,  (as frequently noted, she’s not always right but she’s definitely enlightening, and her voice should be welcomed).  As for the IGDA, GamerGate adherents have that organization on the shit list for at one point having a link to Randi’s GG Autoblocker on their website to help out game developers felt under siege (unlike ).  As an amusing artifact of history, this all happened while there was a bug in the blocker, which resulted in KFC’s official twitter account being included, which is why you’ll occasionally hear a Gator cry out ‘KFC!’ in Twitter the same way Braveheart shouted ‘Freedom!’

If you pay attention to the zombie-like shuffling husk that is the GamerGate saga nowadays, this last paragraph is what you’re going to get –petty, unworthy bullshit  peppered by anonymous harassment targeting individuals on both sides of the fence.  Many, particularly the moderates on both sides, have backed out — there was a particularly large egress on the topic in the week when people were discussing the relative defensibility of various child-porn like substances that ultimately cost 8chan their Patreon.  Reddit banned KiA from posting the email addresses of boycott targets to prevent witchhunts  which caused some on KiA to declare reddit a left-wing enemy of free speech (really), and some suggesting starting their own reddit, only with blackjack and hookers.

Doxing and swatting remain hot topics, though usually sourced to theoretically unrelated 8chan boards famous for stirring shit up for the lulz.   The Mens Rights Activists continue to eagerly throw their cancerous opinions into the fray.  Some asshole told TotalBiscuit that he hopes he dies of the cancer he’s currently battling (anti-GG forces are being blamed, though no one knows who the fuck the tweeter is).  Randi Harper pointed out that many Facebook GamerGate user groups were set improperly to be public, which caused a freakout that she ‘doxed 9000 people’.

The actual time spent discussing anything that looks like what reasonable people consider ‘ethics in journalism’ continues to approach zero.  For their part, the games press continues to mostly ignore the whole nine yards, other than occasionally doing things like having fun with disclaimers.

So yeah, the whole shitstorm is still a complete and total cesspool of suck that most journalists and developers do and should avoid.  For those who were smarter than me and stayed away, congratulations, and I envy you!  For those who were not, perhaps this one man’s tale of dealing with Post-GamerGate Depression may aid you.

 

Design Features I Love: Saboteur

The first single-player open world game of the post-Playstation era that I ever loved was Saboteur.  I realize that may seem to come a little late, but to be honest, if you’re used to the wide open worlds of MMOs for your entire career, GTA and the like actually seemed kinda … empty.  After all, MMOs are massive open world games, but with people saying awful things about your mother. Saboteur, on the other hand, hit a primal chord with me.

On the surface, the game design is simple: it’s a GTA-like, but set in occupied Paris, where you play as an Irish race car driver turned French Underground sympathizer.  So you can still steal, rob, and blow stuff up, but most of the time, the innocent victims were Nazis, which nicely solved the whole ‘feeling human empathy for the computer-AI driven cops you are running down’ problem that GTA has.  Also, you drove a lot of period race cars, and the car radio played cool, period jazz pieces.  Which was awesome.

But what grabbed me was the chance they took on the color palette.  You see, when you played the game most of the time, it played out in a very Schindler’s List color palette – black and white, with reds and yellows as splashes.
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Endless Legend Revitalizes the Civlike by Rethinking the City Expansion Game

Well, when Civ:BE failed to grab me, what I reached for instead was a different 4x game that was recommended to me: Endless Legend. This is a Civ-like set in a fantasy universe, similar to a Masters of Magic. And man, does it scratch the Civ itch in ways I find new and different for a Civ-like.

Endless Legend’s fantasy setting means that the game still has emotional resonance, even though the tech trees still have magic and other non-realistic advances. They lean on fantasy tropes quite a bit, but manage to stretch the lore in some new and interesting ways, particularly in the creation of their alternate races, many of which play almost entirely different games due to the nature of their mechanics. The exploration aspect of the game is ramped up – similar to what you see in CBE. Military is both viable (i.e. it doesn’t drag the game too much) and (in many games) somewhat dodgeable if you prefer to turtle and just build a great society.

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