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Too Much Junkie Business

Reading through Todd’s great piece last week on his apathy toward video games, I found myself thinking over and over again “I could have written this”. I feel almost exactly the same way he does down the line about where the industry is heading, how it abuses its customers, and how spending time with your kids simply blows away anything you will ever do in a video game. What really struck a chord with me more than anything else though was this- “why on Earth should I make time for the hundred-hour slot-machine slog that is Diablo III?”

Paired with some forums discussion here a couple of weeks ago about freemium games operating on the same business principles as dealing heroin, it struck me that this entire business is based on, thrives on, and encourages addiction- perhaps not clinical addiction, but that kind of nasty consumerist addiction that tends to affect the young and weak-willed more than anyone else. It’s practically predatory, except for the fact that entertainment is voluntary. Video games are a junkie racket, from annual releases of the top franchises to the DLC sales model to buying funny money to speed up building in a freemium game. Gotta catch ‘em all.

You sell- or give- people a product. They use it up. They come back. You sell them something else, but you promise them more. Advantage. Special abilities. Improvement. Power. And everybody’s doing it, do you really want to be the kid at the party that doesn’t have the NEW Call of Duty map pack? Cut out the middlemen like the used sellers, buy direct from the dealers, and keep those marks on the mill.

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We’ve always talked about getting “hooked” on games and there’s nothing wrong with digging in and enjoying a great game. I don’t know any game player my age that wasn’t hooked on Civ 2. Everybody’s gotten hooked on Tetris at some point. And yeah, Diablo really is based on the same addictive press a button, get a prize impulse that works on everything from Vegas slots to the claw machine down at Pizza Planet. But the difference in getting hooked in 1997 and getting hooked in 2012 is that you’re not getting hooked on great gameplay in a great product, you’re getting hooked on marketing, sales, and purchases. That new game smell. This year’s is better than last year’s, we promise. You like this game? Well, for $10, we’ll sell you more of it. You want to be better than your friends or some random Joe on the Internet? Well, if you preorder we’ll give you this special gun so you can kill him better.

Buy into this patter and you’re a junkie. Buy into the peer pressure to buy a map pack and you’re a junkie. Preorder a game based on screenshots and “previews” (read: auxillary marketing) and you’re a junkie. Buy in-game currency to unlock widgets and gewgaws and you’re a junkie. Play an MMORPG until you literally die in an Internet café and you’re a junkie. Neglect your children and abuse them when they interrupt your game and you’re a junkie. There’ s a lot of money to be made off junkies.

They even sling their shit to children. They call it Smurfberries.

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Thinking back to Todd’s comment about the Diablo III slot machine, why should I give any time- or money- to games and an industry that are based on this junkie-exploiting racket? The answer is that I shouldn’t, and the resolution is that I won’t. It’s why I would rather play a four year old JRPG like Tales of Vesperia right now over the AAA releases or something like Diablo III this week. It won’t treat me like it expects me to be a crack whore.

When you get older and things like family, career, and Real Life start to chip away at your game time, it becomes more precious. But more than that, you start to realize that you don’t HAVE to play games, you don’t have to be constantly worried about what the new release is and what the new screenshots are and what’s going to be in the DLC. You don’t have to be obsessed with the next level or next pieces of loot Because you come to realize that you have so many great things in life to choose from on which to spend your time and money. Games are a luxury pastime. But when you’re a junkie- whether it’s on drugs or video games- you get that addict tunnelvision and all that matters is the accommodating soma of play. You either tranquilize yourself and act like anything you do in or around a video game matters in the scope of your life. Or video games are your cocaine power-trip, complete with paranoid delusions that Activision is out to get you.

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The scary thing is, that when you’re hooked on what they’re selling, they are because they need you. It’s codependent. They’re as hooked on you as you are on them. Yeah, you can buy whatever you want and make whatever choices you want, but junkies need enablers. Preorder that $60 game that you know full well will be $20 in three months and you’re enabling them.

This business is dependent on the junkie “must play games” mentality to stay afloat, and as we head into a console generation that will be defined by freemium, pay-as-you-go games and business models that favor repeated purchases over selling quality, lasting products, it’s going to get worse. So tap the needle and tourniquet up your arm for an injection of DLC, come back next week and buy some more. You absolutely NEED to see these gameplay trailers, don’t you? Peddle your ass to these companies so that you can build that field faster. Set the precendent. Be their whore. As for me, I ain’t waiting for the man anymore. I love video games too much to participate in the junkie business that’s destroying its joy.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

55 thoughts to “Too Much Junkie Business”

  1. This is why my Xbox is sitting unused for long periods of time. It’s also the source of my startlingly quick dissatisfaction with the freemium games that I’ve tried. More and more, I find multiplayer gaming a damn unpleasant atmosphere as that’s the major focus of most of these awful tactics.

    It’s too bad. Some 15 odd years ago, I felt like I was at the forefront of something huge with multiplayer DOOM, Quake, etc. Where we are now is as remarkable compared to then as it is a shame.

    The more I think about gaming bringing me joy, the less of a connected experience I want. The less important that is, the easier it is to wait for price drops. Such as the Darkness II for $15 and the holy crapamoly Steam Summer Sale. Between those two, I spent about $60 and have at least 10 high quality games to enjoy.

    1. Wow, that is a really profound way to put it Ben- wanting _less_ of a connected experience. I’ve not really thought about it in those terms, but I think that’s right on the money for me too.

      It is an unpleasant atmosphere, if you’re wise enough to see through the marketing schemes. From the DRM issues to things like the Battlefield “premium” membership club, it’s all stuff that like I said is killing joy and removing the “fun” from games. And if you remove all of that kind of junk- as well as all of the “added value” purchases you’re expected to make, games get to be fun again.

      Again, that’s why I’m finding my joy in JRPGs right now…it takes me back to the mid to late 1990s, when gaming was just fun. And I wasn’t treated like a whore by the people I gave my money to.

      1. That is a totally bang on way to put it – “less connected”. I’ve been enjoying some indie stuff like Fez and Bastion, and Darksiders 2 is one of the only AAA releases I’m actually looking forward to, assuming THQ doesn’t cock it all up with DLC and online passes. I need to go find some wood to knock on quick…

    2. Yeah, I agree with this too. Its actually the “connected” “be like the rest of the group” “if i dont get the new maps even if they suck, I cant play with everyone” thats causing ALOT of the problems.

      1. Right, it’s that socialization of the gaming experience…taking it out of the loser’s basement, so to speak, and making it a social event. I remember when I played The Sims over a decade ago I thought “this is it, games are no longer for nerds and geeks anymore”. Because it was a game about the mundane, day-to-day of common folk. but it was still solitary, and there wasn’t a YouTube or Twitter to share experiences generated by the game. Once console games like Halo and Halo 2 sort of broke that social threshold by offering online play and- gasp- voice communication, suddenly gaming wasn’t something you did by yourself anymore.

        And of course, into that breach of the social come businesses making money off of peer pressure and the drive to compete and keep up with the other guy. It does become “be like the rest of the group”. Buying the horse armor becomes acceptable because a million other people did it. And there’s the game company, more than happy to oblige you.

  2. Hey man, I can stop any time I want!

    No, seriously, I really stop when I want. I played Diablo III, found it terribly dull through Act II, and only finished the story to ensure nothing interesting would turn things around. Nothing did. I uninstalled. Same deal for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Dragon Age II, and Rage.

    Diablo III cost me $13 and some Wal*Mart store credit I was never going to spend on anything else. It’s the closest I’ve come to paying full price for a game in nearly three years. Even Darksiders II, which I’m anxious to begin playing first thing tomorrow, was acquired with a 20%-off coupon through Steam.

    I’ve never spent one dime on a freemium game and I can count the number of DLC packs I’ve purchased on one hand. Usually by the time I’m done with a story campaign, I’m ready to say goodbye to the game itself. Add-ons like Minerva’s Den or Zombie Island of Dr. Ned sometimes make the cut though, giving me a few more hours in a world I’m not yet prepared to leave.

    This is why I’m kind of perplexed by the concept of game fatigue: I feel like a spectacularly average gamer, with tastes well represented by the JtS panel, yet I have *tons* of stuff to play. While waiting for Darksiders II to come out, I’ve been enjoying Dead Space 2 ($20) and Space Pirates & Zombies ($3), and experimenting a bit with Terraria ($2.50). Todd is also making me want to play the copy of Driver: San Francisco that I got a while back for $15, but since my real life limits my gaming time, I work through these things pretty slowly.

    It’s also why I don’t feel particularly hamstrung by exploitative marketing ploys and invasive DRM measures. Enjoyable games are too numerous, too sophisticated, and too inexpensive to waste time waiting for Ubisoft’s servers to decide I can play Heroes of Might & Magic VI. When something gets to be a hassle, I simply move to something else.

    1. Great points AA (see what I did there?).

      The thing is, you are probably like most “minnows” that play video games and don’t buy the extras, wait for the sale, and so forth. It’s the “whales” that matter, they’re the ones that spend millions of dollars a year on DLC and banana dollars in freemium games. They want to make more whales, and that’s why game designs are increasingly focused on addictive properties and asking you to insert coin to continue.

      It’s a good point that you’re making, whether you intended to or not, that these issues including the fatigue tend to affect people that are either more “hardcore” players or that are around games more often. Like, say, writers. Most folks aren’t even aware of all of this going on. They go into Wal-Mart, see a poster for Black Ops II, and think “cool, maybe I’ll get that for Christmas”. They do, play it off and on, and then forget about it. And that’s the extent of it.

      But it’s the guy that preorders the super deluxe meathead edition, pays for the “Elite” service, and buys all the map packs that they make the money from. The junkie.

  3. All due respect, I think there’s a lot of subjectivity at work here. Why is it such a bad thing that I enjoy games like the much-maligned Diablo 3? Yes, it’s a slot machine to some, but to others, it’s a fun way to do a dungeon crawl. The difference between my opinion and yours seems to be a bigger question of what addiction is. If I play Diablo 3 on the weekends with my friends, there’s no “addiction” at work there. If I play Diablo 3 when I should have been to work an hour ago, well there’s your problem. I smoked cigarettes for 13 years. At first, I enjoyed it. It became clear to me that towards the end that I wasn’t having fun, I was just trying to fill a void with nicotine. I think it’s dangerous to talk about gamemakers preying on people’s addictive tendencies. I’m not saying that they don’t, but giving a gamer what they want is probably high up on the priority list for most manufacturers, isn’t it? Is that really such a wrong mentality to have? And if it is, where is that line where gamemakers stop making things that are fun and start becoming predators hunting for your wallet?

    1. Of course it’s subjective. It’s an editorial/opinion piece.

      No, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Diablo III- many healthy, normal folks do and it’s not the issue here. The issue is that game design is increasingly geared toward fostering addictive behavior, as is the business model that supports these games.

      If you don’t think that gamemakers- not all of them, mind you- do prey on addictive tendencies, then you’re just dead wrong. Like I said, there’s money to be made from addiction. It’s kept big tobacco in business.

      “Giving people what they want” can actually mean giving them addictive experiences…some people LIKE that.

      As for where the line is, that’s hard to say. If games like Farmville or Diablo III weren’t fun and didn’t hit the pleasure centers, then people wouldn’t keep playing them. But what’s happening more and more is that the built-in, designed-in monetization is almost always keyed to the more addictive, compulsive psychological aspects of the games. Increase power, decrease waiting.

      Imagine if Civ2 had a feature where you could put in a credit card number and it would speed up the building of a Wonder…in 1995, that would have seemed absolutely repellent. But now, people have said “yes, we will spend our money on things like that”. And the result is that designs are centered increasingly around microtransactions and peoples’ compulsion to play.

      1. Actually, my theory remains that people play FarmVille because they don’t know any better :).

        I am pretty much a gaming minnow at this point. I have never paid for freemium anything and if you are planning to charge me for something that should be a core part of your game you won’t see my money. Once in a blue moon I will grab a cosmetic item, that’s about it. I am very, very careful with my gaming dollar.

        I really miss the old days when manufacturers earned money and loyalty with stellar games. I have been spending a fair bit on GOG this year for precisely that reason.

        1. The old ways worked, and still work for a number of titles, but at some point things change. If you’re in the industry, you can choose to fight it (like the music industry did), or adapt and adjust. I share your caution, and on a personal level I tend to stray from freemium models as well, but clearly the model works. I don’t see it going anywhere. I can see the benefits as well, if I bought a game for 50-60 bucks and it sucked, then I’m out that much money. If I try out a freemium game and even spend 5 bucks with it not working out. . . well, I’ve spent more than that at a bar on a number of given nights and had a lot less to show for it. I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

          1. There are a couple type of freemium games models out there that we don’t really have a further vocabulary for at this point. There is the ‘our game sucks but we try to hook you on it even though there is no gameplay’ and there is the ‘you will pay us because our game is awesome’. Tribes: Ascend and LotRO fall in the latter category. Farmville and Sim City Social fall clearly in first.

            I’m all for giving games in the latter category my money. I am completely against those in the first.

      2. Yes, there are many people who can’t handle their own addictive tendencies, big tobacco being the one I brought up. Take casinos into consideration as well with that for a moment: Should these institutions just stop existing because some people can’t help themselves? If we’re equating Zynga and Blizzard to Caesar’s Palace or Marlboro, I’m not sure it’s a fair one on all fronts. Zynga’s history of shady tactics might finally be catching up with them, but do you honestly see Diablo 3 on par with a roulette table? One might argue that by offering a real money AH, they were actually assisting players who might otherwise be purchasing accounts on ebay and possibly getting ripped off. Sure, Blizzard makes money off it, but that’s what they’re in business to do, isn’t it? Provide a fun experience to customers, and in return those consumers provide them with large profits. You don’t *have* to participate in the RMAH (I don’t) to have fun or be competitive.

        I wasn’t the biggest Diablo 2 fan, but I’m really curious as to why all the hate for this title when it seems to be in the same spirit as it’s predecessor.

        1. Now there is where the finest line lies in all of this- the fact that these companies are capitalist ventures, and their function is to turn a profit. Yes, teenybopper forumista, all they care about is money. Sorry if that breaks your heart. But if we’re to support capitalism and encourage these people to make money off of what they do best, then there does have to be a certain understanding that they will do what results in the best profit. And they should.

          Diablo III and Blizzard may not be as shady as big tobacco or a casino, but we’re getting to that point, Zynga is a good example. The fact that organized crime, especially overseas, is already involved in MMORPG farming and whatnot speaks volumes. Addicts=money.

  4. You guys are just going through burnout as any of us do when our personal life and professional life are intermingled. When I “retired” from the bicycle industry and went back to school two years ago after 25 years in I also stopped riding regularly, anything beyond just commuting to school and back was just too much bike time. Last month my wife decided she wanted to start riding seriously and we started putting in some big miles (125-150 miles a week) again. I haven’t enjoyed riding regularly so much for at least a decade. Sometimes you need to step away or learn to compartmentalize to make it through the burnout periods.

    I never liked Civ or Tetris, but Nethack or KOL is another story. I do sometimes get hooked on games, but I’ve also set limits to stuff. I don’t buy much used and only buy new once the price gets to $30. I don’t buy DLC or add-ons unless they’re on sale. I also have a time limit of about an hour or two a day to play. I don’t spend much time at any of the big games sites, Penny Arcade and NHS are the only ones I check daily. Sure I don’t follow the rules 100%, but they help me not get sucked in like I have in the past.

    1. It’s not really burnout though, I still very much love to play video games (and board games). It’s the stuff around it, like the business and culture, that’s the problem.

      But I do know what you mean, you’ve got to rediscover the joy in what you love…usually, for me at least, that means getting away from the politics, cliques, attitudes, and cultural clutter. For me, not giving two shits and a somersault about AAA releases for the past couple of months has helped me avoid getting burned out, as has pretty much shutting out all trailers, previews, screenshots, and so forth.

      I just do not care about any of that stuff anymore, no matter how hard the teenybopper blogs and IGN try to make me.

      1. I enjoy multiplayer, I really, really do. When I play with friends that is. My biggest problem these days is that online communities have grown increasingly volatile. And this really puts me off of a lot of games. TERA for instance, I enjoyed the combat and all that, but once my friends stopped playing for various reasons I unsubbed as well. I just wasn’t willing to submit myself to a MOBAesque community to try and find those needles in the haystack. It’s mindboggling how many people are just plain rude and annoying like hell for no apparent reason. So lately I’ve turned to playing single player games, something I haven’t done in quite a while. Legend of Grimrock be praised. Heck I even enjoyed the Game of Thrones RPG to some extent. If it was a thing I’d diagnose myself with “online gaming fatigue”.

  5. My game playing and purchasing habits have changed drastically over the last two years as I’ve felt the AAA game companies trying to reach further and further into my pockets for a $30 price tag. I willingly paid for their product, but I became the enemy because I wanted to sell the game I paid for and use that money towards new purchases. Day one DLC was touted as a feature, but I passed kindergarten and saw through that lie. Online passes started showing up if I wanted to connect to the multiplayer part of the game. They tried to sell me horse armor, and I said hell no.

    I used to preorder the next big thing and be able to talk about all the big games. I haven’t purchased a AAA title all year, but I’ve played a bunch of them thanks to Gamefly and my 2 games out at a time subscription. $24 a month buys me all the AAA gaming I can handle. Albeit I don’t necessarily get to choose when I am going to get to play a game, but I was just as happy(or sad) playing Mass Effect 3 four months after it came out and spending a weekend running through The Darkness II a couple months after that was released. I’ll still play the next big thing, I just might not get around to it for half a year.

    I’ve moved the majority of my gaming dollars and time over to small studios and indie games and I figure that trend will continue for quite some time.

    I might have forgotten to mention that I still subscribe to and play World of Warcraft.

    Some habits die hard.

        1. Good ol’ 1985. I was 4 years old and hadn’t even booted up my dad’s Intelevision yet. I truly was a gaming virgin at that point.

  6. I’m a middle-aged guy with kids, and with time at a premium, the quality of a gaming experience is the number one determinant in what I play. There haven’t been a lot of quality games out lately that I can really sink my teeth into. And F2P games, by their very nature, do not count as “quality” because my old-school brain refuses to accept that model as anything less than cheating.

    Price is not so important. Make a game that just blows me away with how immersive, intelligent and fun it is to play, and I’ll pay lots of money for it, up front. Heck, I’ll even pay a monthly subscription.

    The market is full of cheapass games for broke teenagers. I want to see more on the other end of the spectrum: expensive, top-quality games for middle-aged men with lots of money but no time. The rest of the service economy delivers on that front, why not games?

    1. This is an interesting perspective Keith, and it’s one that actually (of all things) reflects the hobby games model.

      Most folks would hear the words “$100 board game” and assume that buyers of said product would be out of their minds. I mean, you can buy Monopoly for $15 at Target…who would pay that much for a board game?

      But hobby game makers operate in very small volumes, and sell to a very specific clientele that is willing to pay a premium for a very specialized product.

      I wonder if this is a model that would work in video games…the thing is, I can see a future in the next three to five years where $60 is regarded as the premium price and companies like Paradox and Matrix are doing these kinds of specialized games in smaller volumes. I guess they’re kind of already doing that.

      I generally hate saying “I’d pay $X dollars” for something because I don’t think we ought to be encouraging companies to charge us more for anything. But that said, with reputations established, I’d pay a premium price for a CD Projekt Red game, anything from the Dark Souls team, and another Rocksteady superhero game. These companies have earned my patronage with great products- not by stringing me along.

      You’ve got another great point here too that other service industries cater to older customers with money and no time…as the industry matures (which is taking forever), then we may see something like that happen.

      1. Catering to people with money and no time is exactly what many freemium games are all about. I don’t have 50 hours to grind RP in League of Legends. I will gladly pay $6 for a champion I enjoy playing. In a way Diablo 3’s auction house is similar. Money is just a substitute for time.

        Things have been pretty negative around this site lately. There are plenty of “new” games out there that are worth playing. A few friends and I have been playing Day Z the last few weekends and having a blast. I picked up the new Syndicate for $6 at Gamersgate (linked to here on NHS) yesterday and have already received more than $6 of enjoyment out of it. AI War just had a very cool expansion announced that brings about a very interesting gameplay twist. Cost? $3.99. The Mechwarrior online beta has been going for almost a week and the game looks very promising.

        I visit gaming blogs looking for reasons to play games, not to read staff members say why they don’t have the interest anymore. Nothing personal against all of the folks here, they seem like great people. But lately I think NHS has lost sight of the reason people visit sites such as this.

        1. That’s fair, but honestly, I don’t think we’ve lost sight of anything. The point is there’s a lot of industry trends that flat don’t interest some of us here. I think the ultimate point of both Mike’s post and mine is to say we’ve lost interest in keeping up with a large chunk of what’s happening in gaming in favor of focusing on things that do bring a genuine sense of joy. Michael specifically referenced more JRPGs.

          I’ll stop speaking for Mike there and just say I know that was the point of my post. I want to get back to focusing what I do like in games because that’s what I do like writing about. At the same time, for me, that likely means paying less attention to what’s new and just poking around for stuff (new and old; probably mostly older) that I will enjoy and can play at a more relaxed pace, not worrying about whether or not I’m throwing 2k words a week into the ether.

        2. Well, I’d agree with you Jeff but I think one of our strengths here is that we’re honest about things. We’re not going to cheerleader the companies engaging in these kinds of business models and act like everything’s fine as long as there’s a new video game we like. This isn’t a pollyanna site at all, but I do agree that we do need some levity around here from time to time. There are PLENTY of games worth playing, and plenty of games with lots of joy to share.

          For my part, I know you’re here because you like games. And I, like Todd said in his piece, want to talk about things we’re excited about and are passionate about. But when that joy is getting beat into the ground by destructive practices and businesses treating their customers like villains, whores, junkies, or marks, then there are issues that need to be address. And we talk about it, discuss it, and we figure things out together so that we can ALL get that joy back. Ben’s comment above about wanting less of a connected experience for example, really opened my eyes…that so much of this loops into that connected experience, which is something I do not want and should not pursue. Which is why I’m finding the most joy in Japanese RPG designs right now. Because they really haven’t changed all that much at a fundamental level since the 1990s, and I kind of love that.

          But anyway, maybe we can get some sunshine in here over the next week. Anybody seen Bill?

          1. That’s my take it on it too, Michael. I have even less time to read gaming sites than I do to play games, so I skip the pageview accumulation sites and come here first.

            Yes, there are still high-quality games, which is why I still enjoy this hobby. For example, Batman: Arkham City, which I bought on the Steam sale for $10 and am playing now, is pure joy.

            Also, on the off chance that some game executive is reading this in the hopes of penetrating the potentially lucrative 35-55 year old gamer demographic: what I’d pay real money for, right now, would be a turn-based strategy game for consoles, with hotseat multiplayer. I loved Master of Monsters on the Sega, and Panzer General on the Playstation (and went out for a while with Commanders: Attack of the Genos on the Xbox 360).

        3. I think Mike and Todd are speaking more about their disenchantment with the top American AAA game companies and where those trends are taking the industry. They are making an honest and, in my opinion, accurate critique of the current big publisher industry.

          If therr is any fault in their argument, it is giving to much attention to that part of the industry and not enough to the smaller developers that still have a desire to make great games.

          There are plenty of great games out there still that would still excite both of them (I hope Todd and Mike don’t mind me saying so). They just need to get out a big F-U to the shareholder run publishers that are treating their customers as the enemy.

          I can’t give a loud enough shout to go along with their message.

  7. I never had that problem with video games. But playing Magic the Gathering had that effect on me for some time. Always a new edition and most of the time with a new ability/spell in it you could only counter effectivly with cards from the new edition.

    1. Magic is a junkie business too, 100%. Nobody buys five booster packs and says “nope, not for me”.

      You buy $1000 worth and realize that.

      But yes, it is absolutely made to keep you chasing the power curve, and the metagame is all the marketing it needs.

      It’s funny, at my game shop I could ALWAYS sell somebody five more boosters than they intended to buy just by putting the display box on the counter while they opened their cards. They’d open their packs, and there’s the box…each of which might have a Jitte in it. They’d sigh, and open another. And another. And another. It was seriously like watching someone taking drugs. Some of my regulars would actually ask me not to put the box on the counter or they’d joke about it.

  8. I have played probably 1000x more Ascension on my Iphone over the last few months compared to all my console games combined. And that game with all the expansions cost me less than 10 bucks. I haven’t bought a single new console game in that time. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t find the value and quality versus the cost as far as 60 dollar video games go.

    1. I’m at that point too. I do not see the value in buying a $60 _unless_ it’s something that I feel confident I’ll want to play extensively and over a long period of time. I bought Persona 4 Arena because I love fighting games, I love both Atlus and Arc System Works, and I’ve been playing Persona games lately so it felt like a good investment. And I think it will be, because I like it a lot. But will I play it as much as my $10 download of Summoner Wars? Who knows. Probably not.

      Thinking about the releases this week, as recently as six months ago I would have gone to Gamestop tomorrow morning and bought both Darksiders II and Sleeping Dogs, no questions asked. And then I’d turn around and trade them in two weeks, a month later.

      But why wouldn’t I just Gamefly them or wait until they’re $20? I mean, the wait for a price drop is getting to where it’s like a month if a game doesn’t blow the doors off at retail.

      They count on you being a junkie though, going in and ponying up on your preorders…

  9. Over at GamersWithJobs this has been in my sig for a couple of years now and I don’t think I’ll ever change it:

    “How did I live before digital distribution of old, cheap games?”

    “You did live before digital distribution of old, cheap games. Now you just play games.”
    Thought you might find it interesting.

    1. Heh…I was thinking about this earlier…the one truly positive, joyful thing about this generation has been that older games have become more accessible- and cheaper- than ever. If you value shop, you can spend ten bucks and come out with some really amazing games. Spend $60- the cost of one five hour AAA game with bullshit multiplayer- and you can wind up with five or six incredible games with tons of playtime from GOG, Xbox Live or PSN, the App store, or Steam.

  10. Good article, but there is an upside. When you’re sick, gaming can be a godsend. If it weren’t for UbiSoft, Acti-Blizzard, and Zynga I’d have an extremely positive outlook on the entire game industry, but those 3 publishers embody so much of what’s wrong and going into the crapper. Outside of EASports Monopolitsitc behavior, EA has been a pretty good company of late. It is of extreme irony, that I could mention EA… even remotely being a pseudo-good guy.

    Paradox Interactive is getting their **hit together and also represent one of the good guys.

    1. Well, the big companies also the trend- and pace-setters, which is problematic…but it feels like there’s a winnowing-out of the big companies waiting in the wings…

      The thing I _like_ about EA is how upfront their leadership has been lately.

  11. I find it funny that Paradox is considered “one of the good guys.” Nobody, and I mean NO-BODY markets more frivolous DLC than Paradox. Hearts of Iron III alone has more add-ons than all of the Call of Duties put together. Their games are often broken and unplayable at release. And Paradox is notorious for fixing game issues in expansions that could and should be fixed in patches.

    But since they make niche PC-only strategy games I guess they get a pass.

    1. ^ This. I like a lot of Paradox games, but I don’t quite understand how they get a pass if we’re taking companies to task for BS practices. The bug issue especially. On the plus side, I also know that their games will be available in every Steam mega sale for $2, so I accept that the software might be buggy. I can’t stomach paying full price for it though.

    2. Well, first of all Michael didn’t bring up (nor to my knowledge has he ever brought up) Paradox. So I’m not sure what that has to do with his post. And to say I gave Paradox a pass in my post isn’t really accurate. I said they’re, among a couple of others, a company I do like and respect even if their games aren’t all in my wheelhouse and they’re not perfect.

      Paradox does have issues with stable releases, but by and large they do continue to support their games post-release and they’re engaged with their consumers on a level that your larger AAA American publishers are not. I also thought Crusader Kings 2 was a positive step in the right direction in that regard.

      On the DLC front, that’s exactly what I had in mind when I listed them as a company that wasn’t perfect. I don’t particularly care for some of their DLC channel-stuffing, but taken in conjunction with everything I do like about them then no, frankly, I don’t mind giving them a pass. It’s a company that publishes on a platform that the so-called big boys take for granted, they publish into markets and genres that are generally overlooked, they engage with their fans, and I genuinely think the guy running the show is one of the good guys in this business. I call that a net positive.

      1. Not to speak for Jeff, but directly above jpinard say they “represent one of the good guys”. So it might not be entirely directed at you. That said, yes, I think Paradox sometimes gets a pass on NHS (maybe not specifically you, Todd) that I don’t quite understand. I could search the site I suppose, but I’d rather not.

        It seems weird to me that we’re still taking Blizzard to task three months later for the RMAH, which is completely, 100% optional and is just a legitimization of what was already taking place in D2. Or pooping on the D3 gameplay mechanics as if it isn’t the exact same mechanic that’s been around for two decades or longer. It’s like people are outraged more about what it could represent rather than what it actually is.

        At least Blizzard games work. I bought EU3 Complete with Heir to the Throne on Steam sale, which had been out for almost a year, and had to later buy the Divine Wind expansion *just to stop the game from crashing* because Paradox refused to support a fix for HttT but included it in DW. How is patching mainly through expansion acceptable?

        We slam big companies for Day One DLC, but Paradox gets a pass for releasing two DLC packs with Crusader Kings 2 of shield and face textures? It’s the definition of horse armor.

        I’m glad Paradox is around making strange, complex, and really interesting games. I’m sure the CEO of Paradox is a good guy. For every Kotick that you want to hit in the face with a baseball bat I’m sure there a hundred genuinely good people in this industry. But that doesn’t mean their company should get a pass for shitty practices, be they ActiBlizz, Valve, Paradox, or whoever.

        1. Yes. I was responding specifically to JPinard in my post. But I agree 100% with McKay. I couldn’t have said it any better than that.

          1. Sorry, Jeff. Without the oh-so-handy WordPress comment indentation I didn’t realize who you were responding to.

            I don’t think Diablo is intentionally being picked on, but I do think if you’re making the slot-machine argument there is no better poster child for the kind of thing Michael’s talking about then D3. (And I agree with him.)

            I specifically noted D3 just because it’s emblematic of the kind of thing that I’ve lost my taste for. I think the mandatory online thing does make it even more distasteful in some respects, but in all honesty, if we were talking D2 here, I’m not sure I’d feel any differently about it. Now, I did play the hell out of D2 for a long time, but this is where I may just be evolving a bit as a gamer. I really dunno.

            The specific DLC comment (McKay’s, I mean) really is a fair point. I haven’t cared for the exact CK2 DLC offerings you mentioned. Totally agree with you. But I do find them less distasteful than say, ME3’s or DA2’s day 1 DLC bits (I forget their names and am too lazy to look up) simply because it’s easy to ignore shield and face textures. Is your game really incomplete without those? I don’t think so. But I do think your DA2/Mass3 experience is incomplete without those bits of Day One DLC. To think of Origins without Shale is blasphemy to me (but at least that came free with new purchases). I think I tend to be in the minority on that opinion, but I do feel that way about it.

            And just to extend a little from there, for me it’s not that it’s any one thing that’s turning me off to a large chunk of the industry that I used to be a dedicated follower of. It’s the combination of it. As much as I like a lot of Mass 3, it’s the Day One DLC, combined with how that DLC is being used as extended DRM, combined with stuff like Galaxy at War (which I *really* hated), combined with how it’s all being sold to consumer to juice pre-orders, combined with…

            It’s just… icky. And it’s not that there aren’t still some really good games out there from publishers both big and small or that I’ll never play another EA game or anything like that. That’s not something I intended to imply. But it does sour me on making the time to separate the interesting from the not and to write about games and the game business (which is a *serious* time sink). I’ve got other stuff to do, you know?

            And, again, for me it’s not that I’m done. I want to get to highlighting what I think is great in gaming because that is what I enjoy writing about. But I’m also done with pushing myself to write/play just for the sake of it and as great as you all are (seriously), I thought the NHS community deserved an explanation for that.

          2. @Todd: Hey, I have no problem that you’re tired of dredging through the shit to write about gaming. I didn’t reply to your original post (at least I don’t think I did) because, well, it makes sense. I have no beef with your stance there.

            The only reason I piped up here is because Barnes is a master at baiting, a master baiter if you will (zing!). But also because it’s human nature to try and create heroes and villains, and sometimes I think D3/Blizz gets an unfair portrayal while others get a pass because they’re smaller.

            I concur with the ME3 DLC; that was total BS. Hell, I agree with the vast majority of what you and Barnes were saying. I just get ruffled at the notion that somehow D3 is the equivalent of Zynga trash or SimCity Social because it has a RMAH and/or continues using loot methods that have been in existence for decades for almost every RPG that uses a loot table.

      2. I have more of a problem with Paradox’s fans than with Paradox themselves.

        You want to get the crap flamed out of you on the forums? Post a thread saying that three dollars for a three-song DLC pack is overpriced. The number of would-be grognards that swarm to insist that it’s your duty as a gamer to buy all the DLC the “good guys” put out is nothing short of astounding.

  12. Thanks Michael for making me feel guilty for buying all the CoD DLC as it comes out, and the Skyrim DLC, and the Max Payne DLC…!

    I don’t consider myself an addict, and at 41 with a young son I couldn’t afford to even if I were, but I do soak up my late nights with gaming and I do so because I enjoy it. But then, I tend to purchase things of substance….I can’t imagine who would buy the boosters in ME3 multiplayer, for example, and RMT auctions in Diablo III seem beyond the pale. That said, these are well and truly intended to suck the gullible, weak and addictive personalities in and the reason more normal gamers and those who like the hobby for its great potential (raise your hand if you loved the story bits and dialogue in Diablo III and could care less about the pinata monster explosions) …the reason we need to care is because sooner or later one day we’re going to see every game has been fully monetized, and there will be no more Triple AAA titles that don’t demand our credit card and not just that we accept egregious DRM when downloaded.

    Sure, the industry wants to make money. But they want to do this by making each and every one of us addicts. So good article, we need more of this beating the drum.

    (Still buying that Skyrim and CoD DLC though….but I promise to feel guilty when I do!)

    1. I bought an ME3 booster pack. Once.

      I was drunk. And my wife wasn’t home. I’m a weak man.

      I’ve have moved so far in the direction of waiting for big games to price drop, relative to where I was before at least. But I will always, always stand in line at midnight for a Halo release. And so will my kids dammit. I can’t help it, I gush over that big green guy and his adventures.

      1. I love alcohol too, buddy. But it can make us do stupid things.

        I can’t count on two hands the amount of games delivered to me by GoGamer.com that I didn’t even know I ordered until they arrived.

        Stupid college student.

    2. Hey, a little toot here and there won’t hurt, right? ;-P

      It’s not like I’ve never bought DLC or preordered a game…but I’ve learned my lesson. If it ain’t Minerva’s Den quality, or substantial value to an already substantial game like the Borderlands add-ons…no way. No more map packs, unless it’s for Halo 4, which I will buy at launch because I know I’ll get a lot of play out of it- and it’s a game designed with TONS of play in it, assuming that they follow on from Bungie’s lead. They may not.

      But yes, you got the point of this 100%…instead of making us customers by selling us quality products, they want to take our money by making us addicts. Just today I read this bit about BioWare claiming that microtransactions will eventually end online passes…yeah, that’s great assholes…so I’ll have to put in my credit card number to access certain areas of the game or to pick up equipment but at least there won’t be an online pass? Wow. What a deal.

      Hey, I can’t wait to play Final Fantasy IX!

    3. If you are buying DLC for a game that you love and are going to play a lot of (the DLC), then I don’t think there is any reason to feel guilty. You would be one of the minnows that Mike and Todd reference.

      If you buy the DLC for all kinds of shit and don’t really spend time with it then you are the problem.

      Doesn’t sound like that’s you though, camazotz.

  13. There has been an explosion of interest in not only gaming culture but also “geek” culture in the last 4-5 years. People call these “casuals” or “soft-core” gamers, and companies are doing what they can to exploit them. Are we surprised that tried and true tactics that have been present in other industries are working their way into our gaming culture? Especially when you think about the point that the bigger publishers are actually looking to CREATE “whales” out of the ever expanding gaming audience. People that are new to the gaming industry think this is normal, and don’t have the nostalgic frame work of 20 years of gaming culture to realize that they are feeding a repulsive “slot-machine”.

    But ultimately I think the gaming industry, like any other is cyclical, eventually the interest will wane and publishers will become dependent once again their core audiences. Its up to us to “vote” with our wallet and support the “diamonds in the rough” like CD Projeck and show the big publishers that this (CD projeck) is what we want.

  14. It’s too bad that a lot of younger gamers don’t know anything better than what exists now. I’m lucky as I have always played mostly strategy games and board games, and things are great on that front, for the most part. I rarely play the so called AAA games, unless they are strategy games that interest me. Games have always been, in some balance, an art and a business, but the corporate gaming companies hell bent on squeezing every cent from their customers come what may can die a twitching death. I won’t miss them, and I’ll gladly pee on their grave.

  15. If you don’t like certain aspects of the gaming industry, then don’t participate in them. Or do so in a manner that sidesteps all of the accumulated BS. I got Diablo 3 on day 1, played it enough to get several level 60s and beat inferno. Never spent a dime on the RMAH because paying your way to success in a game is not something I’m interested in. I’ve been an off-and-on WoW player for years, but with all the content in that game I really can’t say I regret paying for it (though getting a race change on my warrior was a questionable decision). I played a lot of ME3 multiplayer but never spent money on it, just bought stuff with earned points and waited for the free DLC. If you don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed by the industry you really don’t have to be.
    Personally, I have a much bigger issue with how skimpy games are. I loved Darksiders, but at only 11 hours I left it feeling a bit unsatisfied. As a result, I’m going to wait for some reviews to come in (most notably Brandon’s) before I buy the next one. The Uncharted series had similar problems. Portal and Journey were great experiences, but neither were enough to even fill an afternoon. Contrast that to more niche/specialized titles like Disgaea, Persona, Dark Souls, or my new favorite Xenoblade (all at least 40 hour games) and I’m not sure why I bother with the mainstream titles. Maybe the answer is just to find your own niche and stick to it…which might have been the purpose of your post anyway. I just got lost in my own rant. Oh well.

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