Bits and Bytes #1


Over the last few months, a few stories have popped up on large sites such as Polygon and Kotaku etc. which have been worth commenting on. But for one reason or another, I never really got around to it.

This was largely a result of either my son and job taking up an extraordinary amount of time, or the news pieces in question being too small for me to write an article of any effective length, rather than a blurb better fit for Twitter.

So, with this in mind, I present to you the first installment of a new feature we’re calling Bits and Bytes. This column will allow me to put together several things I have thoughts on, but that aren’t long enough to constitute regular articles on their own.

This week I have two things I’d like to talk about.

1. Yearly titles

As we all know, it’s becoming something of a fad to make a yearly installment in a video game franchise, regardless of the necessity of a new title. After all, publishers say, they need to have a franchise in order to make money.

And it seems Microsoft is no stranger to this. They have recently re-assigned Canadian developer Black Tusk Studios to become a new branch of Microsoft called the Coalition. This team has exactly one series they work on: Gears of War. Rod Fergusson, who previously worked on the Gears titles at Epic Games, was hired to oversee the series.

Now, I never played Gears of War, but I have a number of friends who played and enjoyed what many would consider to be Cliffy B’s magnum opus. And, having said all he needed to say with the series, Bleszinski walked away, turning his attention toward indie projects he’d been dying to make but couldn’t get the publisher to fund.

But, because of how this industry works, Microsoft has kept the IP. Unsurprisingly, they’ve announced plans to continue milking the Gears cash cow until it drops dead of dehydration.

As you might’ve surmised from my turn of phrase, I take issue with this. Because moves like this represent the further homogenization of the games industry. Publishers constantly piss and moan they need a tried-and-true flagship game to continue sales and income, but I call BS. These publishers are conveniently forgetting these flagship IPs of theirs were, at one point, new. Fresh. Different. And a lot of them sucked (like the first Assassin’s Creed) but still went on to be monumental hits.

And it’s not like gamers go out of their way to shun new IPs. Okay, so there’s a certain appeal when you see a sequel come out to a game you loved, but gamers crave new experiences too. Look at all the excitement surrounding Splatoon.

And I’m sorry, but when Nintendo of all studios is releasing a new IP and making a killing, these other publishers have no excuse not to take a chance on some new content. It’s insane.

2. Ten-dollar still-life drawings

Dear Blizzard: Screw you and the Hearthstone horse you road in on.

It’s not very often I come right out of the gate swinging at Blizzard for some sort of unparalleled stupidity, but this week they managed it, and it makes me more and more concerned for their other IPs as I start to notice trends.

They finally announced, for the “low low” price of $10 USD ($12.40 CAD) you can now change out Garrosh Hellscream as your Warrior for Magni Bronzebeard. Complete with his own emotes, and… well actually that’s it. No new hero power, no new gameplay. Nothing. Just a new set of voices for the five or six things he says.

And they are doing this for every hero. So, nine heroes at 10 bucks a pop… $90? Give me a frigging break. And, given they’re all launching individually, there’s no way to buy them in some kind of discount pack.

Look, if you did desperately need to lose 90 quid, I can think of several bridges I could toss it off for you. The sight of all those bills dancing away on the breeze would be about as worthwhile as what Blizzard’s offering here.

The pro-Blizzard folks are saying it’s a choice. It’s cosmetic. It doesn’t change the game.

But here’s the thing. The part of the game you can pay for which does change things? You know, the cards? They’re a $1.99 a pack if you buy the smallest amount. And the price just drops from there as you buy more.

And, if you please, let’s not forget a lot of these cards aren’t switches, or balancing cards to cancel out previously released content, but are objectively better cards. You pretty well have to buy them (or at the very least, earn them with gold) if you want to be competitive.

That’s another thing. Blizzard hasn’t said what these new hero portraits will cost in terms of gold, or even if they’ll be available to unlock that way.

So yeah, I think I will get pissed when they are gating content behind an insane price scheme. At least in Heroes of the Storm (like LoL) the purchase of certain characters and skins is supposed to be a demonstration of commitment to the game, and thus skill.

And you could argue such for this portrait. You’d be wrong, but you could. The purchasing of packs is the equivalent. This Magni portrait? It’s a $10 boondoggle which needs to be sorted out. Especially since I don’t have my increased deck slots yet.

Give your head a shake, Blizzard, you’re turning Hearthstone into the Blizzard version of Dungeon Keeper Mobile.

Bits and Bytes #1

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