Don’t Look a Humble Bundle in the Mouth

A new Humble Bundle deal was released today: the “Humble THQ Bundle” features Saints Row 3, Darksiders, Metro 2033, Company of Heroes, and more. As of writing the average bundle price (which you must beat to get all games) is $5.31. In short, this is a really good deal.

In fact, I was saying as much on G+ — I bought two copies of the Bundle, one for myself and one for a future Secret Santa recipient — when I was informed that in fact this Bundle is bad. Even Ars Technica apparently agrees, or at least thinks there’s enough there to report about, with today’s article titled Humble THQ Bundle Threatens to Ruin the Brand’s Reputation.

Oh lord. Spare me from video game hipsters.

Look, I think my history of writing shows that I am all about sticking it to The Man when it’s deserved, and personal purchasing power. And that is pretty much why I think trying to attack Humble Bundle for not being “indie” enough is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

Point the first: The Humble Bundle makes no promises of being independent games only. Yes, they produce the Humble Indie Bundle and it’s been pretty great for both consumers and indie developers. And I’m sure there will be Humble Indie Bundles again in the future. (In fact this was confirmed by the organization earlier today.)

However, it’s not like the Humble Bundle was a huge source of exposing unknown titles, the developers of which will now go hungry. Most of their previous indie games were pretty well known in gamer circles before they hit the Bundle, like Braid, Binding of Isaac, and Trine. For me, the Bundles were more a case of “oh, I’ve always meant to pick those up” than discovering totally new titles.

Plus The Humble Bundle has had multiple interactions with Double Fine games like Psychonauts, which while not a “AAA” title certainly dances on the line of “indie”. Apparently that was okay, though.

Point the second: Big developers/distributors should actually be encouraged to seek out alternative pricing schemes, such as the Bundle’s “pay what you want”. If you listened to yesterday’s podcast we talked about how many brand new $60 games we’ve bought in the last two years compared to sale or indie titles, and it seems like the big titles are losing that war. Why not explore other pricing strategies, rather than just blindly keep trying to sell $60 games that maybe hit a sale price of $30?

Like, by buying the Bundle but refusing to give any money to THQ or whatever to “send a message” (as I see people encouraging each other to do on Google+) we’re just telling THQ and other big companies that unique pricing structures will fail. Letting the consumer decide what they want to pay will fail. I turned the charity slider way up and the THQ slider way down (although not off) myself, because I have the ability to do that thanks to the Bundle.

Again, why exactly do we want to tell big companies to stay away from innovative pricing systems that give us more purchasing power? Why not welcome them to the Bundle fold, indie or otherwise? It’s not like it’s a “AAA” bundle that we have to buy for $60 and all the money goes to a giant bonfire in the office of EA’s CEO.

Point the third: Charity. I’ll be totally honest — the $10 that I gave directly to the American Red Cross and Child’s Play through my Bundle purchases this morning would be otherwise earmarked for lunch or something. The Bundle gets charity dollars out of my budget that otherwise would not go to any group. Like, this is a good thing.

Point the fourth: The Humble Bundle people are not, in fact, coming to your house and threatening to shoot your dog unless you buy it.

I realize that this Bundle differs from previous ones in that it requires Steam and Windows, and the games are from a big publisher. I also realize that this is trying something different, and there will be the old standard Bundle that we all know and love again soon.

Basically, the way I see it, a bunch of nerds are getting all snotty about an organization that raises millions of dollars for charity and provides cheap games for consumers because.. there’s no Linux version. Usually nothing sets me off faster than when some industry or media person calls gamers “entitled”, but man, some days we kind of deserve it.

Cat Context Episode 15: Daily Quests Are Upsetting

Three years ago Liore, Arolaide, and special co-host Corranhorn were pretty serious business MMO players. Today, all three of us have scaled our MMO participation down considerably, if indeed we’re playing one at all. So what happened, and are we just part of a general trend away from MMOs? Does the genre even mean anything today? Are MMOs for old people? Can there ever be another WoW-like behemoth?

Because staying on topic is hard, we also briefly discuss SWTOR’s move to free-to-play and why EA are big jerks, as well as how much we hate daily quests. (Hint: it’s a lot.) Additionally we lament our gaming budgets and the Steam Autumn sale: we already have more games than we could ever truly play, and yet we can’t resist good deals!

Note that Aro had a fantastic rant about how it’s disrespectful to call Optimus Prime just “Optimus”, but her microphone went robot and I had to cut it out. It is a loss for us all.

Some links you might be interested in after listening:

* ESA Industry Facts
* The Steam Calculator will make you feel bad about your game purchases
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

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(Don’t forget to leave 5 stars!)

RIFT Dimensions: the levelling killer
Nov26

RIFT Dimensions: the levelling killer

I’m still in that post-expansion content glow when all I wanna do is play some RIFT.

History has proven me to be a notoriously slow leveller, and it’s certainly not a part of MMOs that I particularly enjoy. The level requirements for Storm Legion feel steeper than I’m used to, although it’s probably just the memory of gathering XP and heirlooms in WoW. That being said there are a number of ways to accrue XP in Storm Legion and I’ve managed to stave off boredom and impatience by hopping between the story quests, the carnage quests, dungeon runs, and Instant Adventure.

In fact, last week I was levelling at a frankly un-Liore-like pace. In under a week I had gone from 50 to 54 and felt on track to hit 60 in fairly short order. I wanted to be near the forefront of the new content, if for no better reason than to harvest high end nodes and bring in sweet, sweet new expansion dollars. (Money Tip: Sell all crafting materials for the first couple of months of an expansion, then level your own skills by buying materials for cheap once the market crashes.)

In fact, it was while basking in the glow of hitting 54 in good time that I decided to celebrate by buying my first dimension. I was originally intending to wait until 60, but I had the platinum in the bank to buy the biggest, most picturesque personal housing area (Dormant Core) so why not just get it now? Then later I can worry about building a house and decorating….

That was over a week ago and since that night I have earned exactly two bars of XP, which is a teeny, tiny amount. Instead I have put literal hours into perfectly aligning concrete walls, hanging lanterns, and staring at furniture vendors deciding which bed best represents Mercredi’s modern décor.

In short, dimensions are the horrible horrible wonderful timesinks that we all anticipated they would be and kudos to Trion for giving them to us. Fortunately I am going to run out of platinum for building materials soon so I’ll be forced back out into the levelling wilds.

Until then if you need me … I’ll be in my room.

The view from my house-in-progress:

RIFT houseoutside RIFT Dimensions: the levelling killer

The shell of my attempt at a weird mod 70s house. Originally there’s nothing here except some sand:

RIFT housefront RIFT Dimensions: the levelling killer

So Long, Glitch, and Thanks for All the Piggies
Nov16

So Long, Glitch, and Thanks for All the Piggies

thursdayglitch So Long, Glitch, and Thanks for All the PiggiesGlitch, the quirky browser-based MMO, announced earlier this week that it was closing down for both financial and technical reasons. The news came as quite the shock to most industry observers. While Glitch was never a powerhouse title, it was definitely a recognizable name with a lot of great talent on board and it filled a niche that no other game did.

The news was particularly shocking to me because the week before I had been in the Tiny Speck offices in Vancouver, talking to President and braintrust Stewart Butterfield about taking on a Community Manager role. The physical home of Tiny Speck looked almost exactly as I imagined an indie game company would, from open floor plans to funky mismatched furniture to the exposed brick wall. Everyone I spoke with was incredibly polite and even in the brief time I was there I got the sense that it was a collaborative workplace full of passionate, creative people, lead by the frankly brilliant Butterfield.

In retrospect, though, there were possibly a few signs that a closure was being considered if not actually immediately forthcoming. Usually I leave an interview feeling excited about a product or company, or at least as though my interviewer wanted me to be excited about it. I left the Glitch offices, though, feeling thoughtful and oddly nervous about where the game would fit in to the MMO ecosystem. Butterfield was quite honest about the limitations of Glitch, including talking about the unfortunate decision to harness the game to Flash technology and the fact that there needed to be many many more players and quite soon for the game to survive.

In fact, I got the sense that Butterfield saw Glitch as less of a game and more of an interactive social platform, more like Second Life than World of Warcraft. The game elements were there to give people structure for interacting and socializing rather than to actually be a game, which seems like the opposite of most MMO developers who create a game first and then think of social interaction second.

I feel a bit hypocritical for saying this because while I have given Tiny Speck money in the past for cute hats I didn’t play that game that much, but we’ve lost something really unique in Glitch. For one, its player base was mostly women, and of those women most were age 35-50, which is a pretty maligned and ignored demographic in gaming. The dominant player culture encouraged sharing and collaboration, and slurs and other non-inclusive behavior was shamed by the community. Perhaps the biggest indicator of Glitch’s culture is the fact that there was no such thing as a “male” or “female” Glitch character, and no one was ever limited to dresses for “girls” and baseball caps for “boys” or whatever gender boxes we tend to put things in.

Glitch was one of the few non-combat games in any genre (the occasional rook attack aside), and I think because of that it had an amazing, deep crafting system, which we aren’t likely to see again soon. People have been heralding Guild Wars 2′s emphasis on appearance upgrades over stat upgrades as a new paradigm in MMO design, while Glitch has been quietly chugging along for two years with that exact attitude (and, frankly, a way more adorable and flexible array of clothing choices). And of course there was the dry, whimsical humor in the game, with plenty of wordplay that Butterfield agreed seemed to be a draw for the booksmart crowd.

I have no idea what has been actually going on behind the scenes or exactly why Glitch is being shut down, aside from the public letter. My sense, though, is that it’s not so much a failure of the model or the market as it is the promotion. Glitch actually “unlaunched” a year ago and went back into beta and never really came out again. As someone who has been studying their community engagement for the past few weeks, I feel as though while the Glitch community itself was amazing the company wasn’t aggressive enough at grabbing people outside of that community to come play. Their social media accounts were relatively quiet until a few weeks ago, and there wasn’t a concise message of what Glitch was and why people should check it out. (But hey, that’s just my amateur analysis.)

If you read the Glitch closure announcement you’ll notice it’s full of personal sentiment. It mentions that the folks at Tiny Speck are “heartbroken” about this, and from my experience in both playing the game and meeting some of the people behind it I absolutely believe that. For good or for ill the Glitch team truly loved their game, truly loved their game’s audience, and dreamed of making something different. I’m sure this decision was made with a heavy heart and a lot of soul-searching, and that there’s no way to keep the game going.

I hope the Tiny Speck folks aren’t finished with the online social space genre. I hope they don’t lose that spark to be different. To quote the final thought of the closure announcement, “The game was absolutely preposterous. And yet, we kind of liked it.”

Hello from Storm Legion

See that new cartoon in the sidebar? Earlier this week my coworker created this wonderful character version of me in real life. (Well, a stylized version.. I’m not always toting around a giant sword.) If you need any contract graphic design work done, look her up! :)

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Someone said the other day that for the MMO genre the first expansion is always the best expansion. I’ve only been playing it since Tuesday, but thus far Storm Legion would seem to fit that pattern. It certainly feels like Trion has taken the original game, applied all the lessons they’ve learned over the last 18 months, and refined it.

Quest mob tagging was removed and quests are laid out in a more organic way, which in turn allows for a little more freedom in zone design. Thought has clearly been given to making towns and cities feel like a place where a virtual person could actually live rather than just a hub for quests. Almost every mob you run into is part of a carnage quest, which  you can pick up, complete, and turn in while out on the move.

Although I’ve only seen a smattering of the gear and wardrobe items available, my initial feeling is that Trion has spruced up their design as well. Complaints about RIFT’s original character and costume design were always well founded, and while it would be nice to see a race option with an unusual silhouette at least the gear is showing some imaginative flair now. (And weird hats. So many weird hats.)

The new zones have embraced RIFT’s more steampunk, “magitech” design elements, and the move away from archtypical fantasy is welcome.

There are so many things to do now, although to be fair that’s always the case at the beginning of an expansion. There are a million different ways for me to level, there are new souls to investigate, new dungeons to run, crafting to level. I haven’t even bought a Dimension yet, although that’s in large part because I’m saving money to buy a fancy one.

There are certainly things that other games provide that RIFT does not — the story in SWTOR, or the crafting in GW2, or whatever — but if you want a solid themepark game in my opinion Storm Legion places RIFT solidly ahead of WoW, LotRO, and other similar MMOs.

Oh, and speaking of Dimensions, I poked my head into one of the public ones that has been heavily upvoted and saw this amazing statue. It was created by combining boulders and wooden planks and other standard objects, and it is even more impressive in person. Enjoy this photo and a few more below it, and I’m gonna get back to playing!

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