Thursday, July 3, 2014

PAD #33: Gamers Do Love Their Punching Bags

Looks like a news post hit the gaming scene like a powder keg.  The UK's Advertising Standards Authority declared that EA cannot post their game as being "Free to Play".  To keep things short (I could easily do an entire post on this), I disagree with their assessment.  Of course, that hasn't kept the gaming community from shouting a collective "Hurrah!"  It seems that the desire for bloodlust has overwritten the sense of justice.  Like or hate the model of gaming used for Dungeon Keeper, it CAN be played without the need for purchases.  The fact that you can pay to bypass the timegates doesn't negate this, as the timegates are the core mechanic.  Remove the timegates and the game is just tapping a bunch of upgrades and then you're max-level by the end of the day.  Having to slowly upgrade your rooms and minions is what gives the game some pacing.  Paying to bypass that is mostly for the hardcores who want to tackle the game more seriously, and would rather pay to get up there than to take the time to do it slowly.  Another thing I noticed is that the ASA is taking exception to the fact that the ad in question doesn't mention that there are in-game purchases, which I suppose is fair enough.  It makes me wonder if this is the ruling that most gamers are making it out to be, and if EA will just put-out the same ad in a couple days with "Features in-game purchases" as an added disclaimer.

Looks like Extra Credits put-out a video talking about Early Access, and they presented a rather interesting spin on the whole thing.  Most complaints about the system that I've heard thus far have focused on the consumer side of things.  Discussing things like how developers can sell a game and then aren't obligated to deliver, and that some developers even seemed to be abusing on that notion.  Things only got worse when the developer of Towns scrapped the project entirely, but I digress.  Rather, Extra Credits talked about it a little from both sides, and spent a bit of time talking about how Early Access can be harmful even to the developers.  Discussing things like would-be enthusiasts getting bored by the time the game is officially launched so that there isn't any real community, or journalists getting bored of talking about the game by the time it's out, so the release comes with little fanfare.  Basically that whether you're a consumer or a developer, the whole Early Access system is something to be cautious of and to make sure that you're completely certain before you jump on board.  Definitely some great insight, though I think there's a little more to discuss.  Early Access is such a new system that there are a lot of aspects and angles to consider.

Another thing that I've seen discussed lately is the whole concept of "save scumming".  For those unfamiliar, save scumming refers to the practice of saving frequently during a game as to lose as little progress as possible when the player messes-up and needs to reload.  It also refers to using said saves as a way to by-pass what would otherwise be a random dice roll.  As an example, maybe a conversation requires the player to pass a speech check (likely affected by a speech-related stat).  If the player has a low skill in speech, then there might only be a 10% chance to bypass the check successfully.  Passing the check can mean anything from getting better items from the character, to having the character not attack you (or maybe the speech check was just the opposite and you wanted to provoke him).  That 10% success rate is no problem when you can just save scum through it.  As such, it's a practice that is often frowned-upon, and is also why many games today are largely checkpoint-based for saving.

To keep things from getting into a full-on Game 4 Thought (though I probably will do a GFT on save scumming), I've never considered the practice to be a bad thing.  Or rather, I don't think that checkpoint-based saves doesn't fix the issues that make save scumming a bad thing.  Take the above example, many would argue that save scumming is bad because it makes the speech skill worthless when you can just save scum through the conversation.  Okay, but what happens when the game uses checkpoints so that you can't save scum it?  Does speech continue to be useless because even when maxed it can sometimes fail?  The problem then isn't that the player is able to save scum the conversation, it's that the speech skill was implemented into the game in an inherently-broken fashion.  The solution isn't to remove save scumming, but rather to find a better way to execute the speech skill in such a way that players with low skill have no chance of save scumming through it, while players with high speech skill can generally make their way through the conversation with optimal results.

I think that should wrap things up for today.  Thanks for joining me on today's PAD, and I hope to see you around next time.  Until then, game well.

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