Spending, with Games-As-Service

Today over at Massively there’s an article regarding MMO end-of-service issues, as regards to player spending for virtual items. It’s particularly about STO, which got my attention, with the person who wrote in talking about how they’ve spent a lot of money for a rare ship, which ship will of course go away once the game shuts down.

This is of course a thorny issue. All games will eventually end. But, traditionally, you buy the game itself. In a lot of MMO’s, among other games, you can buy in-game items for real money. Sometimes a lot of money. But still, the game will go away someday. In a game you actually own, you can at least look at the item in your inventory, or on your character. But if a MMO, or gacha game, or any other sort of game where those items are stored on an exterior server, dies, that’s it, poof goes the item.

The article was more talking about emulators and stuff, so the person who bought whatever could potentially continue enjoying their purchase. That’s not what I’m going to go on about, though. I’m more talking about the very idea of in-game purchases, and my philosophy on these.

The way I see it, it’s not “is this item worth the money?”. It’s not. It’s just a part of a game. It’s not real. No, the real question is “will I enjoy the game enough in the future to justify spending the money?”. Of course, I take the actual whatever into consideration when making that purchase, since being without can potentially change the answer. But I look at the game itself as the product. Will I get $X of enjoyment in the future from this game? Does the publisher deserve $Y for providing this game for however many hours I’ve played it? Will I play for Z hours in the future?

Let’s look at a couple examples. First, ESO. That is a buy-to-play game. However, there are also in-game purchases, as well as a subscription. I have no problem buying games themselves – I do it all the time (even ones I have no intention of playing any time in the near future!). But paying extra, when I can play just fine for free? This, however, is one of those times where not making the purchase would have made me not have nearly the enjoyment I’ve had otherwise. I got a sub, which includes an infinite craft bag among other perks. But without this craft bag doubt I’d still be playing the game – crafting and gathering is a big part of how I play. It’d be a serious pain without it. In fact, even at the beginning it was, which is why I subbed very soon after I started. I haven’t bought any in-game items otherwise, though. (I did buy both expansions, but that’s different.)

For a negative example, let’s look at STO again. At the anniversary this year, there was a big ship pack being sold. Very big. All the hero ships from the shows, with new end-game versions. Some of these were lock-box-only before. But being such a big ship pack, it was expensive. Years ago, I would have bought it, no question. But this year? I decided against it. I didn’t think that I would enjoy the game in the future to the tune of $150+. Or maybe not even $30. With the way the game’s going, I thought it’d be best to stick to f2p for now.

Purchasing in-game items as in-game items is a losing move, I think. You absolutely will lose them. I guess it’s alright if you think of said items as perishables, like food: the food will go away, but the immediate benefits are worth the cash. I mix this approach with what I said above when it comes to gacha. No, buying these rolls isn’t worth it, in-and-of-themselves, even if I get exactly what I want the first time. But the act of rolling is fun, in a sense (I imagine it’s kinda like what gambling feels like, though I’ve never done that), and I do generally figure that I’ll get further enjoyment of the game worth that amount, even if I don’t.

A Year Of This Blog

Looks like it’s been a year since I’ve opened this blog. The actual anniversary was a few days ago, but I missed it. Oops. I actually wanted to post something on that day, but I had the day off and forgot.

I originally made the blog to participate in Blaugust. It’s almost that time of year again (as you’d expect), but I’m not truly participating in the strictest sense. Because Blaugust has changed, man. Sure, I can follow along, but why would I do that? Just because we just did the whole “post for 30 days” thing back in April, doesn’t mean I can’t do it again.

So I think I will do just that. There are a lot of things I want to write about. I just didn’t have the drive to actually write them. Because I’m lazy. Hell, I was going to write something yesterday. Since I’m so lazy, and have the ADD, I won’t do things unless there’s a specific goal I’m working towards. I know that’s basic motivational psychology, but there you go. So, I will write. Every day of August. I didn’t quite make it last year, I think I missed a day or two, but I did it in April, so I know it’s possible. I just have to do it.

And, since making prompts seems to be the thing to do, here’s a list of things I will probably write about:

  • A series on Bang Dream Girls’ Band Party (something like MoeGamer does with games, though not good like him)
  • Finally write out my potential historical timeline for Deus Ex
  • Give my review of the first season of Picard, which I’ve been promising since that ended
  • Do an impressions post on the Greymore expansion of ESO
  • Review the Destroy All Humans remaster
  • Review the Princess Connect anime (and thus actually watch it)
  • Reflect on the various summer events and stories in the games I play
  • Complain (?) about the heat
  • Complain some more about grinds
  • Talk about food
  • Solve world hunger
  • Bring peace on Earth
  • Talk about Stellaris

Pokemon Masters: Just What Does This Game Want to Be?

Pokemon Masters is a game with an identity problem. Is it for kids? But how can you justify a gacha game for children? Is it for adults (like all gachas)? Then why is it so basic and childish? Does it want to welcome lots of new players? Then why is the difficulty curve so steep? Is it appealing to veterans? Then why is the difficulty cap so low? Let’s explore some of this.

Pokemon Masters should be a no-brainer game. Pokemon has long had appealing human characters; while the game obviously focuses on the monsters, they didn’t skimp on the npc’s, either. Why not make a game where the focus is more on said npc’s? In the age of gacha mobile games, this makes even more sense, as gambling addicts and horndogs flock to pretty ladies (and men), basically printing money. Pokemon is already a franchise about collecting all the things, so why not add the npc’s to the list? Pair a trainer with a pokemon, and you can basically print money.

Somehow the oldest protagonist is also the shortest.

At least, you’d think so. Trouble with gacha is that it’s aimed at adults, by design. Even disregarding the gambling part of it, gacha is designed for people with money. Lots more money than you’d expect a young kid to have access to. There’s an image out there, describing the different levels of paying customers in mobile games. They classify people that pay about $75/mo as “killer whales”; in gacha land, that’s minnow money. So, you need a game here that would appeal to working adults. (In Japan, the typical gacha-game player is a man in his 30’s or 40’s – the stereotypical Salary Man.)

Thing is, Pokemon Masters doesn’t do that. The gacha focuses exclusively on the gym leaders and protagonists/rivals. This means that all the characters the older playerbase might be nostalgic for (since the early games’ non-gymleader npc’s are quite basic, compared to those of later games) are likely low-rarity – meaning they’re easy to acquire. Some are of course top-rarity (particularly the protagonists and rivals), but many aren’t, at least of the ones included at the start of the game (gachas rarely add much to the lower-rarity pools – the gacha filler – after the first few months of the game).

That’s why they wait until you’re in their line of sight.

Another factor complicating this is how safe and simple everything is kept. That Elesa up there is the sexiest outfit in the game (besides the Swimmer npc, who is not in the gacha, ever). This is an age where bikini alts and all sorts of other sexy outfits are standard for gacha games; say what you will about how appropriate that is, but that’s where the money is. Then add on the simple and short plots in the game, which make the anime seem Shakespere in comparison. And the simple combat system, even compared to the main games, is almost insulting to the intellect. So it’s hard to tell if this is for adults or kids.

Next, we look at how this handles newbs vs. veteran players. As mentioned at the start, the difficulty curve is rather steep. Even old main story fights can become real slogs for a newer player, or one who doesn’t focus on building up just a few pokemon. Even story events – which are typically how games entice new players – can have steep performance requirements for advancing their story (good thing there isn’t much there to miss…) A lot of resources for improving performance are held behind the harder missions, so giting gud requires being good to begin with. It’s very frustrating until you’ve been playing for a while – not at all friendly to new players, or retaining them…

Until you do finally git gud, at which point you’re set. Just max out your best monsters, and do what you want. Stick with the meta, and you’re even better. Lately they’ve been working on this, where you need to have a modicum of strategy besides “hit it with your biggest stat stick,” But it’s still quite easy for those already on the top – just look up the meta strategy and plug it in. It’s not like there’s any pvp at all (or even guilds) to apply your brain power – or your money.

So, there’s a problem with identity with this game. I don’t know who it’s for, or what it’s aiming to do. I don’t know if the devs do, either. It was clearly originally intended to be a low-effort cash-grab, but that didn’t work out. So there is some effort put in, now. But to what end?

June/July Update

Whelp, things didn’t go as planned.

Didn’t even touch my Switch after I put it back. Haven’t gotten any new games in the past month, or played any of the ol’ backlog. Just kinda coasting on what I have.

Did get some of the DLC for Stellaris when it was on sale. These are things that really change the base game. Actually take it from boring nothing to something almost good. Almost, not quite there – that’s just a flaw in the basic game, I think. Even ran a game as techno hivemind zombies. Didn’t turn out well for me – turns out zombies don’t need to trade, which really kills the energy production for some reason. No energy means no research, which means no good ships, which means enemies have an easy time beating you up. And techno zombies don’t do diplomacy either, so you just take, or give up, territory. And wars last until one side or another is destroyed. Whoops. And building tall still isn’t fun, either, since AI’s always spread like a plague, which takes the fun out of exploring, or doing anything really. Like I said, just short of being a good game. Still compelling for a run or two, though.

Spent a lot of time on my mobile games. Bandori scratches the “anime game” itch quite well by itself. I’m still not good at it, but I’m almost good enough, and am getting better. Dragalia Lost is still going, and enjoyable for now (no June Bride banner…I’m not mad, I swear). Pokemon Masters…well, it’s compelling, if nothing else. There’s a post in that, which I might actually get around to writing.

I did do one thing that I am sort of proud of (in a game). One of my Cities Skylines games from like a year ago went kinda poorly. I had tried to be clever, but that didn’t turn out well – I had done basically the worst things possible. Some months ago I tried various tricks I’d learned to try to fix the situation (I find fixing problems in this game is almost the most fun to be had). They worked, a bit, but ultimately weren’t enough. The other night I was looking at it again, and decided that, as sometimes happens, I just needed to rip off the bandage and have a fresh go at the main issue. Fortunately that didn’t involve too much destruction, but it was a more involved than I anticipated. But it worked! (I’d go into more detail, but without screenshots, there’s not much point.)

As for the current Steam Sale…I don’t think I’ll get anything. Like the past several big sales, there aren’t any great sales, compared to the random normal sales throughout the rest of the year. Why buy now? Especially since I’ve bought some more expensive Japanese shelf plastic…being a weeb can get expensive.

I played a bit of ESO this month. The Greymore expansion came out in May, but I didn’t get much time to play then. The main draw for me was the Antiquities system. It took quite a while for me to really get how that worked – while the systems themselves are pretty easy to understand, accessing said systems is unclear. The big breakthrough for me was finally grocking that I could do the same antiquity multiple times – and indeed have to, for it’s a grind in itself. It’s a compelling loop, and mostly enjoyable (it takes a bit too long to find the dig spots once you’ve narrowed down the general area, as the glow effect isn’t obvious until you’re almost on top of it).

For the next month? I’m sure things will continue on as they have been. I don’t see gaming things going much differently. My patience with Pokemon Masters is wearing thin, though. I’ll stick it out until the anniversary in August, though, as if there’s any improvements coming, that’s the time. Summer events in various games are starting, which is exciting.