Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Predatory Capitalism at its Worst

When I was a youth, the very first Animal Crossing was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was such an odd game. The concept was different from anything I had ever considered playing before. It was like The Sims and DinoPark Tycoon had a baby. But it was intriguing, so I bought it. It was a surprisingly fun game. I still remember it quite fondly. And I’m speaking as a person who doesn’t play games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or The Sims and have never had any interest in those types of games. But Animal Crossing was just the right level of resource management and progress to be fun for a casual sim player.

More than one sequel to Animal Crossing has been released since the first one launched in 2001. The franchise expanded into handheld consoles and mobile games. I skipped all of these. It’s not that I didn’t want to play more Animal Crossing. It’s just that I never owned any of Nintendo’s handhelds after the Gameboy Advance and didn’t want to. It wasn’t until two decades later that I finally purchased another Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch. This is of course the recently released Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-08-20I really like New Horizons. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is quite fun, for whatever reason. It delivers that same feeling I got playing the original all those years ago. It is interesting how the game is very much driven by money and Capitalist ideals while also being very relaxed and easy going. People often joke about Tom Nook being a robber baron type but if we’re honest he gives you interest free loans and lets you pay them off at whatever pace you like. He’s very fast about completing construction projects and doesn’t charge you extra for labor. Money is certainly a component but it’s not the driving force of the game. Really the game is just about building a community that makes you happy. I have seen so many amazing creations, designs, and concepts developed in New Horizons. I have visited islands that made me feel like an inferior Resident Representative because of how shitty my island looks by comparison. It is a delightful game that allows people to express themselves in ways I couldn’t have even conceived of when playing the original Animal Crossing back in 2001. But money is still a part of the game and that fact has brought out the worst in Nintendo’s user base.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-00-12Nintendo fans, which I do include myself in, often get a bad rap. We are known for our incessant complaining and unruly demands.  We are often labeled as some of the most virulent members of the gaming community. While XBOX and PlayStation users are constantly at each other’s throats, Nintendo users are usually fighting each other and attacking the people who make the games we play. Look at how people responded to Pokémon: Sword & Shield. Look at how the Smash Bros. Ultimate community behaves when it comes to discussing DLC characters. One has to admit that Nintendo fans are often guilty of heinous levels of nonsense. Many people see Nintendo fans as childish. The fact that most Nintendo games are geared towards younger audiences definitely adds to that image. At the same time, that childish image has allowed Nintendo fans to be seen as some of the most wholesome members of the gaming community as well. Nintendo fans aren’t complaining about loot boxes or the level of gore in a game. We just want to be able to give our characters purple hair and green shoes. Or at least that’s how the stereotypes tend to come off. If you had asked me which group of gamers were most likely to try to take advantage of each other for profit, I never would have said Nintendo users . . . until I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Royal CrownWhile money is not meant to be the main focus of New Horizons, it does play a crucial role. Money allows you to do all the fantastic things you want to do. Increasing the size of your house costs money. Changing the layout of your island’s buildings and infrastructure costs money. Adding new villagers to your island costs money. Buying the awesome clothes you want like the Royal Crown (sold at the in game store for 1,200,000 bells) costs money. Now the point of the game is to take your time. Things don’t cost money to make you care a lot about money. They cost money to give you a concrete reason to keep playing the game. To keep catching and selling fish and insects. To keep cultivating fruit. The money is there as a motivator to keep you playing the game. But the online component of this particular Animal Crossing installment allows money to control the way players play the game both alone and with others. And it has brought out the worst in people.

Over the 105 hours I’ve played New Horizons I’ve come to understand the game as having three main stages of gameplay which I will refer to as early game, mid game, and late game. Note that I’m not saying this was Nintendo’s intent when building the game. I’m just saying that based on what I have witnessed in other players and felt myself, this is how users are playing/experiencing the game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-58Early game is some of the most gratifying but also depressing gameplay. Everything is new. Everything is fun. You are motivated to do all kinds of things without complaining. I chopped so much wood during the early game. Every day I went through my entire island and shook all the trees for twigs and then hit them all for wood piles. I did this almost religiously without complaining. I made sure to hit every rock, dig every dig spot, and catch as many fish and bugs as I could. Why? Because I needed more money. I needed to turn my tent into a house. I needed to expand that house for more storage space. I needed to buy land plots so I could add more villagers. I needed money. In the early game, I was happy to do manual labor in order to acquire that money. For me, it was about work ethic. If I wanted to expand, I had to be willing to earn it. And for a long time I did earn it. I paid off all the home loans save for the last two with manual labor. I paid off two inclines and two bridges with manual labor. Every piece of furniture or clothing I acquired was either crafted, sourced from the environment/villagers, or paid for with manual labor. I didn’t even get to play the stalk market for the first time until I was already on my second to last home loan, built the Nook’s Cranny store, and had manually paid for at least five villagers to move in. I did this because I had a vision for what I wanted my island to be and I was motivated to work towards it.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-46Late game is when the player has finally reached their vision. It’s when you’ve paid off everything, gotten the clothes you want, gotten enough houses for the number of villagers you want/need, and have finally built the island you want. The infrastructure, the building placement, the land marks. All these things that make your island a home are finally acquired and in place. It will have taken you lots of time and several million bells to accomplish, but it can eventually be done. Late game, which I haven’t personally reached yet, is an interesting place, because it’s like the early game in that you’re playing for the enjoyment of it. You don’t have things you have to do anymore. You have things you want to do. You don’t have to farm every day for bells. If you want to fish or catch bugs you just do it for love of the game. Money is no problem. You have millions of bells stored in the bank. You simply play the game because you want to and wait for special occurrences and events. It’s the way the game was meant to be played and it took time and hard work to get there. It’s a beautiful place that all Animal Crossing players hope to reach some day. But to get there you have to get through the mid game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-26Mid game is a bad place. It’s where most players are currently and where you spend the bulk of your time and effort. This is where you are now a bit jaded and tired of manual labor. You have found certain ways to make money faster. You play the stalk market regularly. And worst of all, you’ll do just about anything to make a quick bell. Because you need those bells. You’re not in it for the fun anymore. You’re in it for the vision. You want to build that amusement park with giant robots and rides. You want a perfectly paved road system lined with Imperial walls and high end bridges. You want that royal crown. Fun is gone. Now it’s about respect and prestige. You know what you want and you see it in reach. But it will cost you a lot of money. And making that money manually is just gonna take more time than people in 2020 want to devote to hard work. So you start wheeling and dealing. And you become a monster.

New Horizons has an optional online component. They want players to interact with each other both locally and online. In order to motivate players to do this, they have built in a number of incentives. People, being people, took advantage of this fact and have turned to profiteering. This is the mid game in a nutshell.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-17One of the quickest ways to make money in New Horizons is the “stalk market”. The fact that it’s a play on the phrase “stock market” is intentional and sadly prophetic. Every Sunday morning, you can buy turnips. They are sold by a single traveling vendor at a price that fluctuates from week to week. You then have seven days to sell them to a different vendor and hopefully make a profit. The vendor that buys them from you changes prices twice a day every day except on Sundays when they aren’t buying. If you do not sell them within seven days of purchase, they rot and become useless. As the old adage states, “buy low, sell high” is the name of the game. The way it’s meant to be played is one week the vendor may sell the turnips at 104 bells and then the other vendor will hopefully buy them from you at an increase. Say 155 bells as a common example. You then have to choose if you want to sell at that price or wait for a better one. Sometimes a better price comes and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a price lower than the best you saw comes that will still net you a profit and sometimes the price is lower than what you bought at. The name of the game is knowing when to sell. Most of the time the sell price is relatively normal. It usually falls somewhere between 80 and 200 bells. The price you bought at usually ranges between 90 and 120 bells. So if you invest 100K bells you’ll probably net about 50% in profit or about 50K bells total, give or take. But every so often the buyer will offer a crazy high price like 600 bells. Enter predatory human capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-15Now you can play the right way and just buy and sell on your own island. Or you can play the smart way and buy and sell on whatever island you can get to with the best price. This week my island had a turnip selling price of 108 bells. That’s a pretty meh price all things considered, but it’s very normal. I didn’t buy on my island. Instead I went to the Discord and found an island selling turnips at 91 bells. I bought my turnips there. Then a day later my island was buying at 107 bells. Now if I had bought at 108 from my local vendor, that’s a losing price. I would absolutely have needed to wait for a better price later in the week and hope it eventually came. But since I bought at 91 bells on a different island, I could have turned a profit selling at 108 bells. I didn’t do that though, because it’s not smart and only mildly profitable. I found another island buying turnips at 621 bells. I sold there. I flipped 250K bells worth of turnips in less than 24 hours for a profit of about 1.6 million bells. Before that, the most money I had ever had at one time was 750K bells, which I earned from manual labor. I made more than double that in a fraction of the time. It’s a great way to get to the late game faster. It should be no surprise that islands that can offer those services are in high demand. And anything with a high demand can be used for profit. Even when used by Nintendo gamers.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-02-52Nintendo wanted people to interact with each other in friendly ways. They wanted people to help each other with the occasional friendly trade or visit for fruit. That’s not how people are playing the game though. People are using the benefits of their islands to make staggering profits. Here’s the scenario. Person A has invested one million bells into turnips at a price of 94 bells. That’s a good price. It’s also a big investment. Person A only has seven days to flip those turnips before they rot. If they aren’t sold in time, that’s one million bells down the drain in the form of 10,638 rotten turnips, which cannot be sold for anything. In fact, I think there’s even a fee to dispose of them. Person B has a vendor buying turnips at 600 bells. If Person A can manage to sell his 10,638 turnips at Person B’s island, he will net a profit of about 5,382,800 bells. Assuming he can flip those turnips at those prices on the first day, that’s more than five million bells made in less than 24 hours. Now Person B can choose to be a good Samaritan and just let Person A come sell at his/her island. But that doesn’t help Person B at all. Person B has to do some things in order to let Person A sell at their island. Person B has to be online the entire time it takes Person A to sell. If it takes multiple trips, because of carry inventory limits, then Person B has to wait around for Person A to make multiple trips. Person B can’t do much on their island while Person A is there, due to limitations set by Nintendo to make sure nothing nefarious happens like thefts or people being trapped on foreign islands. Person B also has Person C, Person D, and many other people also wanting to sell their turnips at 600 bells a piece. Person B will logically feel entitled to something in return for helping Person A make all those bells. And arguably Person B isn’t wrong.

Rotten TurnipsPerson A understands Person B’s situation and offers to share some of those bells or something else they might have that Person B wants in exchange for letting them sell their turnips at a profit. But Person C also wants to sell on Person B’s island. And Person B only has a limited amount of time before the turnip price changes. So Person C offers Person B more than what Person A offered. Now Person B is in a position of power. Person B can make demands. Person B can hold an auction. Person B has a supply that’s highly in demand. And Person B knows it.

I didn’t get to flip my turnips for free. I got to buy at 91 bells for free because I found a good Samaritan, but those are rare. Most people on the Discord are charging an entry fee to buy/sell turnips on their island, when the prices are good. And some of those fees are absolutely ridiculous. I had to pay a fee to sell my turnips at 621 bells. It cost me six Nook Miles Tickets (NMT) to travel to that island and sell my turnips. NMT are weird in the fact that their value is very relative. There are many different ways to qualify them. For whatever reason they have become the main currency in the Discord market. I think the best way to qualify them is based on the amount of manual labor it takes to acquire them. Without getting into the minutia of it, it’s fair to say that one NMT takes about 2 hours to acquire on average if we’re talking minimum earning rates. So six NMT equals about 12 hours of gameplay labor time on average, if you earned them honestly. I did not, but we’ll come to that later.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-59-16The point is that the owner of the island where I flipped my turnips charged me 12 hours of labor as an entry fee for something he did not earn. And I paid it happily. Because that was actually a really good price in the market. A large number of players charge astronomically high prices just for entry to their islands. 10 NMT is common. Rare materials and recipes, special items, and large numbers of bells are all common demands. The most ironic part being that they often refer to these taxes as “tips”, as if they’re optional. It’s a disgusting display of greed and opulence. But again, this is what happens when you’re in the mid game. Because you don’t want to be there so you do whatever it takes to get out as quickly as possible. And I am just as guilty as everyone else.

The problem with this predatory profiteering behavior in New Horizons is that it spreads like a virus. One person doing it leads to more people doing it because they all need to come up with fast ways to acquire the means of paying the entry fees to other players. I needed to flip my turnips. This required NMT. Now I could spend my Nook Miles and buy them, but as I said, that’s about two hours of labor per a ticket. It was much easier and more efficient to take part in my own greedy business dealings . . . and that’s exactly what I did.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-20 00-04-34Celeste is an NPC that occasionally visits your island at night. She visits maybe three times in a month at most. Every time you speak to her on a new date or island, you get a special rare recipe. There is a list of these rare recipes that can only be acquired from her or from someone else who acquired one from her. Some of her recipes are also seasonal, meaning you have a limited amount of time to acquire them before you have to wait an entire year to get them again. So being able to visit islands that have her is very high in demand. So high in fact that people will literally line up to visit them and happily pay a “modest” fee.  The night I bought my turnips, Celeste showed up at my island. I had already spent several hours trying to find an island that would let me sell my turnips at a good rate (600+ bells each) for a “fair” price. The demands were often atrocious. 10 NMT, super rare recipes, 5% of the total turnip earnings, and other ridiculous demands. It was a gross display of greed. Eventually I realized that I simply couldn’t afford to pay these entry fees if I did not also play the game in order to amass resources to pay them. So I too succumbed to the allure of predatory Capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-19I advertised on the Discord that I would let people come to my island to see Celeste for their choice of 99K bells (the minimum unit currently used in the market for passage to other islands), one NMT, or any number of rusted parts. Let’s be very clear what I was doing. I was charging people to come to my island to spend a few minutes with Celeste. Celeste is not part of my island. I did nothing to get her to come there. She just showed up for a visit and I trapped her there so I could sell visits to her off to needy strangers for personal gain. Essentially I participated in forced prostitution. Nobody’s going to call it that, but in reality that’s what it was. And it was damn profitable. In a span of just two hours, Celeste had serviced more than 20 customers. I amassed six NMT, four or five rusted parts, and enough money to pay off my second to last home loan (1.7 Million bells). Business was booming. The only reason I finally stopped pimping out Celeste was that it got to 3AM and I had to work the next day. Ultimately I used those six NMT I “earned” to pay for passage to sell my turnips. All of this was/is gross. It’s a disgusting display of greed, selfishness, and a complete lack of ethical business practices. Even Gordon Gekko would be ashamed. Yet so much of the player base is doing it, and they’re unapologetic about it.

Turnup ExchangeThe online business of New Horizons is so commonplace and so lucrative that someone created a website to help people manage their visitors. Turnip Exchange lets users post their island to a public list and automates the entire process of finding and queuing players to visit their islands. It’s scary how well it works and how realistic it is to real world business practices. It’s impersonal, it’s efficient, it’s Capitalism at its worst. Yet I played along. We all do. That’s just how the mid game is. You don’t want to be there and people are charging. So you have to charge in order to be able to pay the fees other players are charging. It’s an endless cycle of mindless consumption and greed. And it’s all happening with wholesome intentions. We all just want to build our dream islands and reach the late game. That desire has turned us all into monsters and ultimately the game is made worse for it. But I need to amass like 10M bells to accomplish everything I want, so what choice do I have?

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Rip & Terror

Recently I finished DOOM (2016) for the first time. I was not planning on playing it when it was originally announced, because it’s way out of my normal wheelhouse. Not only do I not like shooters for the most part, but I specifically hate FPS. I also tend to dislike Hellish/Satanist aesthetics in games, with some noteworthy exceptions such as the immaculate Dante’s Inferno (2010). So while highly praised by most, I was gonna pass. After many people recommended the game to me, I still wasn’t going to play it until they finally released a demo on PS4 sometime in like late 2018. I don’t know why the demo was released on PS4 so far after release, but this was the first time that I actually got to try the game hands on. While I’m not a fan of the genre, I immediately could tell this was a well-made game. That’s the mark of a truly good game. It’s when someone who isn’t a fan can play it and quickly tell that it’s a good game to a point where they want to play it even though they usually wouldn’t. After finishing this demo, I agreed to eventually purchase and play the game. Several months later, I was able to purchase it on Steam for $5. Then several months after that I finally decided to play it. I’ve actually been live streaming a let’s play of it, which you can check out here if interested.

Dante's InfernoMy reason for not usually wanting to play shooters is that I’m not a fan of guns. But I play many third person shooters anyway when they seem compelling. I’ve streamed many Ubisoft shooters such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and The Division 2 as examples. My reason for not usually wanting to play FPS games is that I really dislike the first person view. I often find it disorienting and don’t like not being able to see my character. Especially when they look like a badass. That’s the main reason I’m appalled by games like Deus Ex. Why would I want to be a badass looking cyborg if I can’t see him in action? As with shooters in general, there are exceptions where I will play a game in first person, but these are much fewer and far between. This is especially true for FPS titles. I’d much rather play a first person RPG like Skyrim over a first person shooter. The last “full length” AAA FPS game I recall playing was Destiny (2014). So playing something like DOOM is extremely out of character for me. But as I said, exceptions do occasionally occur. DOOM being the most recent one.

I tend to dislike hellish themed games for similar reasons to why I hate zombie games. The subject matter calls back to internalized fears that stem all the way back to my childhood. It’s for this reason that I don’t play many Hellish themed games. Or at least not the Western/Bible inspired hell aesthetic anyway. I have no issue with demon filled games from Japan. I can’t wait to finally play Nioh 2. I also don’t have any issue with games like God of War, where you visit Hades. These alternate interpretations of the underworld do not instill any sort of fear within me and thus I have no problem playing them. Whereas the last game I played based on the Christian idea of Hell is probably Dante’s Inferno, which I played at release. And the last zombie game I played was probably The Last of Us Remastered in 2017. I guess you could also say The Last of Us – Left Behind DLC, which I finally played this year, if you want to be completely accurate. They’re just not games I play. To date I’ve never played or watched a single Resident Evil game or movie.

Nioh 2What I think is interesting about DOOM is that not only am I playing it, but I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the gameplay. It’s quite good. I don’t really think I need to delve much further into this because I’ve already stated that the main reason I decided to play it was because the gameplay in the demo was so good. But what I think is more interesting is the fact that I don’t feel uncomfortable playing it aesthetic wise. As I said, Hellish games make me uncomfortable. The only times I generally allow myself to play them is when the graphics aren’t trying to be too realistic or when the gameplay is just too good to pass up. The latter was the case with both Dante’s Inferno and now DOOM. I went into the game expecting to be uncomfortable. One of the reasons I decided to stream it was that I’d not be playing it alone so I could distract myself from my discomfort with the aesthetic. But I haven’t really had any issues playing it. And I think the reason why is Doomguy.

Doom Screenshot 2020.03.30 - 18.43.34.68In general, there are two main types of protagonists in any sort of narrative driven game focused on violence as the main form of gameplay. There are of course occasionally exceptions, but for the most part you’re always either the underdog or the badass. The underdog is not qualified to be in the situation he/she has been thrown into. They get placed in a conflict they didn’t really want to be in and then sort of luck and hard work their way through to the end. Nathan Drake, modern Lara Croft, and Joel all exemplify this underdog persona. It doesn’t matter how many adventures they’ve been on or what they’ve already accomplished. They always seem to be up against overwhelming odds with little chance of succeeding/surviving. But with brains, a can-do attitude, and luck they somehow make it to the end alive. The badass is unsurprisingly the polar opposite. This character is always the go to person for the task. They’re over qualified for whatever the problem is and no one believes they can’t actually complete the task given to them except the villain, for obvious reasons. This is how protagonists like Kratos, Master Chief, and Doomguy are characterized in their games. They’re revered and downright feared by almost everyone they come into contact with. Their reputations precede them, and rightly so. Take just about any super successful story driven AAA franchise and the main protagonist usually falls into one of these two archetypes.

 

Episode - Screenshot 2018-05-04 22-48-07You never see a game where you’re just some average cop, solider, or agent who’s qualified but not the ideal choice. It’s either a highly decorated person or a rookie who literally just started. This is done intentionally in order to set the tone of the game. The developers either want you to feel unqualified so victory seems so much bigger at the end. Or they want you to feel overly qualified so they can give you lots of awesome weapons and moves without having to justify them narratively. But there’s also an experiential aspect to these types of characterizations. The underdog instills a sense of fear in the player. As you’re being told you shouldn’t be there and you have no chance, you feel inadequate as the person controlling that avatar. Conversely, as you’re being told you’re a badass and this mission shouldn’t be a problem, you feel confident that you can get it done as the person controlling the avatar. And very few avatars are built up to be as badass as Doomguy.

I think the reason I haven’t been uncomfortable playing DOOM is that the persona of the Doom Slayer, or Doomguy as I will continue to call him, is just so epic. It’s a man that’s so badass and powerful that the demons in Hell literally set up monuments in memory of his legend. He’s said to be a man that was so angry at the demons of Hell that he was granted immortality by the Seraphim (angels) in order to fight eternally against the demons and take revenge for whatever wrong they did him. How can you be scared when the enemy is literally afraid of you as part of the canon? And it’s not just in the canon but in the gameplay. On more than one occasion I’ve seen demons of multiple types try to run away from me during combat. Doomguy is the epitome of the epic declaration “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.” And that level of confidence and badassery is transferred to the player.

Doom-Glory-KillI’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, all three Dark Souls games, and Bloodborne. Yet every time I go to start another From Software soulslike title I’m intimidated. It’s not because I don’t think I can beat it, because I have more than enough proof to know that I can. I’m intimidated because the game presents itself as being more than the player can handle. The motto is literally “Prepare to Die”. The game chops your comfort and confidence down from the start. DOOM does the exact opposite. It actively builds the player up from the very beginning to feel like you can achieve anything and already have. And as such you can stroll into Hell by choice, rip and tear through demons twice your size, and then stroll back out at your leisure. Because you’re Doomguy.

The positive psychology in the presentation of a game is not something I’ve thought much about before playing DOOM. The negative psychology I’ve thought about many times. It’s fairly obvious how it works and how effective it is. Because the player almost always goes into a game with a natural inferiority to begin with. I’m not a super solider, monster hunter, or Dhovakin. I’m just a guy that plays a lot of video games. So it’s fairly easy for the developer to make me feel unqualified for the challenge to begin with. This is how most zombie games are presented. You’re always a normal guy with at best a bit of cop training plunged into an undead nightmare. Even the zombie games where you’re not an amateur still pretty much make you an average guy with a bit of experience at most. You’re never an otherworldly epic badass seasoned by a mountain of corpses beneath your feet. That’s because zombie games are always framed as survival games. You’re always trying to survive an apocalypse. From a narrative standpoint that makes sense because zombies always bring about a dystopian reality in narratives. But that doesn’t mean it has to necessarily be that way.

Resident Evil ProtagonistsI don’t like zombie games but I would probably enjoy one that presented itself like DOOM. Rather than a random gym teacher or beat cop, make the protagonist a complete over the top badass. Not a wannabe badass with a motorcycle and a sob story but an actual balls to the wall, no strings attached badass. I don’t want to fear Mr. X. I want Mr. X to shit his pants when he sees me. Give me a game that frames the protagonist like the Doom Slayer at the beginning of DOOM Eternal. Make the humans more afraid to piss me off than they are of the zombies. Give me epic armor and crazy badass weapons. Don ‘t set me in a world with zombies. Set the zombies in a world with me. I’d probably enjoy that zombie game.

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The Nail in the Coffin (E3 is Dead)

Last week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) formally announced the cancellation of E3 2020. Or more specifically they officially announced the cancellation of the digital E3 2020 event that they had previously announced would take place due to the cancellation of the regular on site E3 event, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To be fully accurate, what originally happened was SONY, among other entities that usually are expected to attend E3, decided not to attend this year because of the coronavirus. Eventually enough companies, and media personalities if we’re being completely honest, decided not to follow SONY’s lead causing the ESA to decide it was in their best interests to cancel the physical event altogether. Almost certainly due to projected financial losses. But rather than formally cancelling, they decided to try to save face by promising a digital event in place of the normal physical event. Now they have cancelled that as well. In my professional opinion, I have to say that this is the final straw for E3.

Even without the coronavirus, making E3 into a digital event makes a ton of sense. It’s more cost effective, more accessible to more people, and allows companies with lower budgets a better chance at being able to participate. Honestly there’s little reason for E3 to continue to exist in its current form and this has been the case for years. Note that I am not saying that there is no place for a Los Angeles based physical video game event in the current video game industry. What I am saying is that E3 should no longer be managed and treated like it’s as important as it currently is. E3 today should really be more like a Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show where it’s just another event where companies can and sometimes do announce things but ultimately it’s just about interacting with fans and local business interests for convenience sake. It should no longer be the end all of game industry events. But that’s not even really what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about the fact that E3 is now for all intents and purposes dead.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

The promise of a digital E3 event was kind of a tall order to begin with if we’re being honest. See Nintendo’s E3 Direct every year doesn’t actually have anything to do with E3. They simply create a presentation independently and just choose to release it during E3 at a scheduled time based on the presentation schedule, which is publicly available. And because Nintendo is such an important player, the ESA chooses to stream the Nintendo Direct on site because they know if they didn’t people would take the time to go watch it, thus reducing traffic at E3 during the presentation. Nintendo does still participate at E3 by putting up a booth, but in terms of announcements and a presentation, that’s all handled outside of E3 and in no way is affected by the ESA. The reason E3 continued to work even after Nintendo decided to do this was because no one else decided to do it. Nintendo was essentially forced to work around E3’s schedule in order to stay relevant in the gaming news cycle. But if no one is presenting live then suddenly there is no E3 news cycle. There’s just a bunch of digital presentations by different companies. Why would any company allow the ESA to manage and police the release of their gaming announcements digital presentation? Nintendo doesn’t and no one else would either. And they especially wouldn’t pay a fee to release their presentation to the internet. So at that point the only thing the ESA could offer them was a scheduled announcement time surrounded by other digital presentations. But that’s not really a selling point.

E3 2019 ScheduleIf anything, you want to release your digital presentation before all the other companies or after all the other companies. Because you want to garner the most continuous attention and hype for your presentation. So really companies wouldn’t want to release their digital presentations that close to each other at all. They’d be better off picking their own random days throughout the year and being the focus of the news cycle when they do release. And if they’re smart, like Nintendo often is, they’ll make their presentation interactive. As in release a presentation that announces a downloadable demo going live that day. Or beta sign ups, etc. If it’s a digital presentation, it can be as long or as short as a company wants and include all sorts of promotional gimmicks without having to be approved by the ESA or any other external entity from said companies. And that’s true for both AAA and indie developers/publishers alike. So the prospect of a bunch of companies, especially the bigger ones like EA, Ubisoft, and Microsoft actively choosing to share the spotlight of their digital presentations with other companies’ digital presentations is pretty ridiculous. Think about the hype Nintendo Directs get throughout the year. Why would any company choose to share that limelight with their competitors, ultimately weakening the impact of their digital presentations?

State of Play CoverThe only reason events like E3 even exist is simply that putting on your own event is very expensive and hard to promote. It’s more cost effective, even though it is still very expensive, to just attend another event. So you sacrifice that spotlight by sharing it with other companies that are all in the same boat trying to save money and garner as much attention as possible. But when it comes to releasing online, everything is backwards. You want nothing to do with anyone else’s content. Imagine if by some miracle you were the only person on Twitch streaming for like three straight hours. Just by some miracle there were zero other channels streaming during that time. You would garner so much attention just because nothing else is going on at the same time. It’s the same concept for these digital presentations. So the idea of a digital E3 was built solely on hope for companies to adhere to tradition rather than sensible business decisions. And of course in 2020 we know tradition doesn’t mean shit. So no these companies were not about to turn over their digital presentations to the ESA and give them control of managing and releasing them. That was never going to happen.

Here’s why I say E3 is now dead. We’re about to have our first year with no official E3 since 1995. For the past 24 years “we” were all led to believe that it was a must. That the only way game companies could properly announce their games to the public was through this one offline event. We were told it was important for the companies, media, and public to interact with each other and share their love of gaming. And many people believe(d) this. Now suddenly we’re not only not having E3, but we’re not even going to have any large scale coordinated gaming events at all. They’re all getting cancelled or postponed and replaced with digital presentations. Mark Cerny’s GDC PS5 presentation was a great example of this. It proved that PlayStation could effectively present their new hardware ideas and intentions to developers digitally without losing any effect or hype and they saved money doing it. Not only that but they were able to garner more media attention and get the public more involved in the discussion. I wrote my first GDC related blog post this year because of that presentation, which I would not have even watched had it been a normal GDC year. SONY isn’t going to forget that. God willing this pandemic ends soon and events can go back to happening again. But don’t think for a second the companies involved are gonna just go back to the ways things were. They will see the hype, the efficiency, the reduced costs, and whatever other benefits and decide they can just keep doing it that way. That’s what’s gonna happen to E3.

GDCFor the next year, you’re gonna have every company create and distribute digital game presentations. They will all be different and specific to their companies. Some companies will copy the Nintendo Direct model and try to keep things current and relevant for the short term. Some companies will do a presentation for the next year’s worth of announcements.  Some companies will create individual presentations for each game coming in their portfolio and release them periodically. But no company is going to coordinate with any other companies to release their presentations concurrently or close to each other. And what we’re all going to have to finally accept is that not only is that OK, but it’s better. It’s better for everyone involved.

Every E3 I don’t watch the presentations. I find a website like IGN or GameSpot and look at their roundup article and then watch the clips from the presentations of the games I’m interested in. Why? Because there are too many presentations to deal with in too short a time span. And a lot of the junk presented is stuff I don’t give two shits about. And when you’ve got Microsoft, SONY, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, Devolver Digital, and others even if you just look at two games from each one that’s still way too many games to try to reasonably keep track of and give a proper amount of time and attention to. But if instead each of those presentations was released at a completely different point in the year with nothing going on around it, I’d probably watch every presentation in its entirety. Especially right now. The number one problem with the quarantine for most people is boredom. They have nothing to do at home. Would you rather have everything thrown at you in the span of three days for you to binge and then go back to being bored or have things peppered out throughout the quarantine so that you continuously have things given to you to help combat your boredom in the long term? A singular event is really good for the company running the event, because they can turn a large profit. But for literally everyone else involved, including the audience, it’s at best a troublesome burden disguised as convenience due to travel restrictions/costs and time. But when no one can travel and everyone has too much time on their hands, a singular physical event isn’t useful at all. A singular digital event is only slightly more useful.

Everything is FineAfter this year of disconnected digital game presentations, everyone will be forced to acknowledge that it was fine. Gaming didn’t stop. Profits didn’t go down . . . due to the lack of E3 and other such events. Hype wasn’t reduced. Nothing negative will have happened to any of these larger companies because of the absence of E3. And because of that, when the ESA tries to get companies to invest a large sum of money to be featured at E3 2021, many if not all of them are going to say no. They’re gonna go the way of Nintendo and say it’s just not worth the money, labor, time, and inconvenience. At that point, the event simply won’t have enough attendees to warrant most people buying tickets. And at that point, E3 is dead as a door nail.

Change tends to come by force rather than by choice sadly. This pandemic has forced companies to change the way they announce new games. Yet these changes should have taken effect long before a pandemic because technology had already provided the means to do so more effectively, efficiently, and affordably. These changes were a long time coming. Companies and consumers only fought them out of some odd dedication to tradition. Now that tradition is being forced out, things will never be the same.

game-changerThis statement from the ESA, as reported by PC Gamer, is more telling than people will probably give it credit for right now.

“Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June.  Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on http://www.E3expo.com, in the coming months,” the rep said. “We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences.”

Ubisoft e3 cancelled

The shift from an online E3 event to “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements” is a fancy way of saying that the ESA will shift into being a promotional company similar to traditional online media. In other words, they will become leeches that garner value by promoting content created by other companies online. Now of course this statement acts as if it only applies to 2020. The ESA has already stated plans to return to normal for E3 2021. But this assumes that all the companies decide to go back to the old model. I’ve already explained why that won’t happen. In 2021, E3 will be cancelled again, but ideally it won’t be because of coronavirus. It will be due to lack of participation. And once again the ESA will be “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements”. Over time the ESA will either shift completely into the media space and operate as a digital promotions platform that operates pretty much the same way as any other mainstream media/games marketing company or it will cease to exist. At best, E3 may end up becoming a smaller event that acts similar to PAX with a focus on smaller companies and projects desperate for any attention at all. While I have been predicting the end of E3 for some time now, I had originally given it a few more years, as can be seen in previous blog posts. But with the virus accelerating things, I think it’s done. E3 is de facto dead in the water from here on out.

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Focus on the Objective

If you’ve been following me for a while then you know I don’t really like shooters and I tend to hate PVP games. Especially those with no story based campaign. To this day I can proudly say that I have never played a single match of Fortnite. While I enjoy the art style and quirkiness, I absolutely loathe the Overwatch model. These games simply aren’t for me. So when I was invited to try the closed alpha for Rogue Company I went in assuming that I would dislike it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case.

I don’t want to write a full review of this alpha. Not only was/is it under an NDA, but it was also very limited in what was available so writing a full review at this point would most likely do the game more harm than good in a way that won’t necessarily be beneficial to consumers. What I will say is that the game blends a number of different styles together in order to make a very satisfying gameplay experience. It has the single life mechanic of a battle royale game coupled with the condensed maps and team mechanics of Overwatch. This is done in a first to five rounds won model. The two modes available in the alpha were 3v3 fights to the death and 4v4 objective matches. I enjoyed both modes. The pacing is very fast with single life elimination. The gameplay, though flawed mechanically in certain ways, is very well balanced and accessible to amateur players. The best way to describe it is the weapons are balanced in a way where the amateur shooting first isn’t automatically going to get creamed by the more experienced player like you see in so many other shooters.  The in game money system that allows you to upgrade between rounds worked fairly well and added a layer of depth to the game that I think harkens back to CS GO but in a more refined form. I have to say that it’s the first team based round by round shooter with no story that I’ve ever actually enjoyed playing.

Dark Souls 3 Screenshot 2020-03-14 12-57-00I spent most of my time playing the objective mode in the alpha. This was much simpler than Overwatch’s objective mode. It’s just a bomb in the center that you have to reach before the other team and hack with a single button held for about four seconds. Once the bomb is hacked you have to defend it for 60 seconds. The other team can re-hack the bomb and claim it for themselves. The same rules apply afterwards. Hold it for 60 seconds to win the round. The “problem” with this mode is that when combined with the single elimination mechanics it devolves into killing the four guys on the other team first equals a win. You can win the round by completing the objective, which takes the time to reach the bomb plus the time to hack the bomb plus the 60 seconds defending the bomb. This is how the mode was actually meant to be played. But you can also just kill the opposing team’s four members in a fraction of the time, if your team is better, and net the same results i.e. a victory for that round. As you can imagine, once people caught wind of this they stopped caring about the objective entirely.

I’m one of those people that actually care about the objective. That’s why I play(ed) the objective mode as opposed to the team kill mode. When I first started playing, I was misled into believing I was playing with people but was actually in the bot mode. I had so much fun. Not because the bots were easier but because they were playing for the objective. Rather than just going for kills, the bots had been programmed to play as if completing the objective was the only way to win. This made for a much more interesting and varied gameplay experience because while killing the opposition mattered and happened, it wasn’t the main focus of each round. Both sides played for the objective as their main concern. This shaped the way they approached the map and the firefights. Once I started playing with actual people, I quickly started to enjoy the game less. This was because human players didn’t care about the objective.

Dark Souls 3 Screenshot 2020-03-15 00-39-35Playing Rogue Company’s objective mode, and so many other shooters with objectives I’ve tried, with humans always ends up being the same garbage experience. This is because everyone except me always seems to think they’re playing slayer mode and just ignores the objective. This makes sense when you look at the framework for how these types of games work though. Notice that people who play shooters rarely discuss wins. Have you ever noticed that before? No one ever describes their win percentage when talking about how good they are at shooters. The talk about their K/D ratio. In a way this makes a lot of sense. K/D ratio is more effective at describing an individual player’s skills in the game while wins accounts for a number of external factors that aren’t all related to the individual player’s performance. You can be the best in the world but if you’re playing a team based game against the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best in the world and the other members of your team are crap then you probably still won’t win the match. Also, even when you do get a good team, the map layout usually gives one team the advantage. In Rogue Company, the objective location changes each round but it’s always to a particular spot from a preset list of locations on the map. These spawn points absolutely deal an advantage to one team over the other and I could see no formula for how these spawns were decided. Some matches my team got the advantage multiple times over and other matches the other team got the advantage more often than we did. It was random and yet clearly gave an advantage to a particular team. Factors like this play a huge role in determining why K/D seems to matter more than win percentage to most committed players of shooters.

KD Ratio meme

Another huge factor in why players tend to ignore the objective is the rewards system in these games. Rogue Company, like most shooters of this sort, has player levels. You amass experience based on your accomplishments and that experience levels up your account. Leveling up presumably has some benefit, but as this was an alpha, I don’t know what the particular benefits will be in this particular game. I assume it will be similar to most other shooters by being a mix of cosmetic options, avatars, and titles. There is of course always the prestige of having a higher level as well. Experience is given based on accomplishments but kills always net more than completing the objective in these games. Completing the objective may be the stated purpose of the game but the experience points given to the individual player for completing the objective never compares to racking up kills. So if you’re a player that cares about leveling up your account, it is the objectively correct decision to focus on getting more kills rather than completing the objective. Again acknowledging the fact that killing off the other team will get you a win even if you ignore the objective completely.

Ignoring the objective becomes the standard of play because it’s always profitable. This is so common that playing for the objective becomes a taboo. This was definitely the case in Rogue Company. As I said, I play for the objective. It’s what I like to do. It’s the reason I play that mode in these types of games in the rare instances that I do play them. I was criticized multiple times during the alpha for trying to prioritize the objective. People would take the time to jump on their mics or text chat to tell me to stop going for the objective and just focus on killing. That angered me, but I understood their reasoning behind it. The truth is that by being the only person on the map playing for the objective, I tended to die first fairly often. But let’s unpack that a bit. Seven of eight players on a map ignoring the objective and one playing for the objective and getting criticized for it should not be seen as acceptable from a game design standpoint. Why even make an objective mode if 87% of players are just going to ignore it anyway? Because there are simply too few players like me who will risk victory for love of the game. What should have happened was not that my three team mates criticized me for pursuing the objective but instead cover my ass so that I can get the objective before the other team does. That’s the intended way to play. But it’s not the common way people play.

greed is goodIt’s very telling when you look at the scorecards from the matches I played. It was extremely common to see something like me with the lowest score on my team but with the most objective completions while the person with highest score on my team would have zero objective completions but the most kills. It’s no wonder most players ignore the objective and I can’t blame them for that. But this, in my opinion, should be considered bad game design. Yes the gameplay loop is fun. Yes the combat is balanced. Yes the round to round character development system is well made. But if more than 2/3 of your players are flat out ignoring the gameplay methodology you’ve built into the mode then it’s a badly designed mode. And that’s not a knock against Rogue Company specifically. That’s a criticism of all these shooters. Because they all tend to have this same issue. So my question is how do “we” fix this?

There has to be a way for a developer to create an objective mode in a shooter that has a fulfilling gameplay loop, meaningful objectives, and encourages people to actively prioritize completing the objective(s) over mindlessly killing the other team regardless of the objective being completed. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if it’s already been done, because I don’t play every shooter. But I do know that this is something that I’ve never witnessed before.

Overwatch-XP-ScreenI’ve got some ideas. Maybe completing the objective should net the individual player way more points. Like 10x that of a single kill. Or maybe the game shouldn’t let anyone get killed permanently until the objective is completed. Or maybe if the round is ended without the objective being completed everyone gets zero points or at least severely reduced points. I don’t know the answer but I do believe there’s a way to make a meaningful objective mode in a team based shooter where people on both teams actively care about the objective more than getting kills. But then we have to ask the question does it matter?

If 87% of players will happily ignore the objective in a game, maybe the answer is to stop building objective modes in these games. Clearly people don’t care about them. But is it that they simply aren’t made to be meaningful enough or that most players genuinely don’t want them but play in that mode for some other reason. Maybe they prefer the maps for example. In Rogue Company the objective mode maps were much more interesting than the one straight slayer map that was available. There is a risk that making an objective mode where players have to actually play for the objective could backfire on the developer. People might say they don’t like actually having to take the objective seriously and ultimately not play the mode. This is a real risk to be considered. But I believe that there’s a way to do it successfully. I believe that players will change their conduct when motivated to do so in an effective and meaningful way.

Rainbow-6-SiegeI don’t know if what I’m looking for in a team based shooter already exists. It may have been here for years and I just don’t know about it because of how rarely I play shooters. Maybe that’s exactly what Rainbow Six Siege is and I just don’t know about it. In any case, I want a team based shooter with Rogue Company’s fast paced gameplay loop with an objective mode that actively motivates players to take the objective seriously. Until then I’ll probably keep ignoring team based shooters with no story mode.

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Let’s Talk About Mark Cerny’s PS5 Talk

A few weeks ago, Mark Cerny delivered the originally planned GDC presentation for PS5 digitally. In this he spoke at length about hardware developments for the upcoming PS5 home console. To start, this was the GDC presentation. GDC stands for Game Developers Conference. That’s where the presentation was originally intended to be given but because of the coronavirus this was changed to a digital presentation. So to be clear, this was originally intended to be a presentation given exclusively to developers about what the new PS5 architecture will look like and how it will help them better create the games of the next generation. Which means it was not and was never intended to be a presentation of new games. PlayStation was very transparent about the fact that this was the GDC presentation. Meaning if you were one of those mouth breathers that responded to the presentation with “this is boring where are the games?” you’re either an idiot, misinformed, or some combination of the two. The presentation was exactly what it was always intended to be, should have been for the venue it was originally created for, and was actually extremely interesting and informative if you actually care about the technology you’re going to invest hundreds to thousands of dollars in over the course of the next 4 – 7 or more years.

GDCCerny spoke at length about a number of things, but the two topics I found to be most interesting and informative were the SSD and the audio experience enhancement technology. I’ll start with the audio technology because it’s a bit more straight forward and less debatable. He showed that the PS5 is working towards fully immersive 3D sound from normal TV speakers or headphones. Now I’ve never been a huge sound guy but I do appreciate the fact that PlayStation is trying to build up the immersion factor by giving audio technology its just deserts. What I was extremely interested in was the idea of using HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) to mix sound in a more immersive way. HRTF can be summarized as the way ears receive sound. The idea being that if you can master the way the ear perceives sound then you can trick the listener into thinking they’re hearing sounds from different angles and locations regardless of where the sound is actually coming from. This is how PlayStation is attempting to make TV speakers sitting in front of the player simulate sound coming from behind, above, or anywhere else not immediately in front of them. This is also how and why headphones are better able to simulate sounds from multiple directions than just left and right.

What was fascinating about the HRTF was how it could be applied to make games seem more real without changing the sound in games all that much. Really it’s more about how sound is delivered than the sounds themselves. The problem is that HRTF is person specific. Meaning that your HRTF profile and mine can be very different. So for most games they use a general HRTF based on average testing. This isn’t optimum for any player but works generally well for most. Cerny showed this in the presentation next to his own specific HRTF and they were noticeably different. He went on to say that when his own personal HRTF was applied to games for testing the games sounded way more immersive to him. He then went on to say that the problem is that there’s currently no practical way to personally get every player’s specific HRTF profile and apply it to game audio, but he does see a future where that is the case.

HRTFI think the idea of being able to have games tailored to my own sound profile is amazing. It would completely change the way we as individuals experience games. They would be way more immersive, audio (not music) would be taken way more seriously in the discussion and judgement of video games, and everyone would have a more personal direct connection to the games they play. I do believe one day it will be easy to measure your own HRTF. There will surely be an app that you use with a VR headset or something like that. Since your HRTF generates an image, it would be easy to send to developers and they could tailor the game’s audio to your specific hearing profile. But that’s still a lot of work. If every person that purchased FIFA wanted their own sound profile applied that would be millions of profiles to implement for the developers. So there certainly needs to be an AI component added where the game can automatically apply your HRTF directly without human intervention. I imagine a world where you measure your HRTF directly on your console, have it tied to your username/profile, and AI applies it to all the games you play automatically. The only question is how does this work for couch co-op? Unless everyone has headphones, you’d still need to have the general HRTF in place or the audio experience might be severely reduced for other players if the profile owner has a really abnormal HRTF. But that’s the smaller hurdle in my opinion. In any case, I’m very interested in seeing how personalized audio experiences develop in gaming.

PS5 SSD StatsThe SSD aspect of the presentation was very interesting but left me with a number of concerns about SONY’s approach to storage. To be clear, the use of an SSD is a great development for consoles. The things Cerny described made me really happy. The idea of no more wait times for fast travel, no more annoyingly long hallways and ladders just so games can render in the background, lightning fast respawn times, and many other examples given made the future of gaming sound great. And you could tell that Cerny was actually thinking about the problems the ways gamers think about things. His examples spoke directly to the problems we often face. My new favorite gaming quote is “What we euphemistically refer to as fast travel.” Currently I’m playing Dark Souls 3 on PS4. If you’ve ever played a Dark Souls game then you know the fast travel function comes with really long loading times. Cerny implied that with the new SSD architecture this would no longer be the case. Amen!

While I thoroughly support the move to SSDs, SONY’s cost cutting and proprietary measures are no bueno for me. The out of the box PS5 SSD will only have 825GB of storage. Now Cerny explained that with compression, this translates to considerably more, but at the end of the day it’s not nearly as many games as I want to store. Currently I have an internal 2TB HDD and an external 4TB HDD for my PS4. I’m using a total of just under 4TB of that 6TB total. Now I’m willing to admit that I have a lot of free shovelware in my hard drives. But I also have a large collection of meaningful games I actually paid for. Technically speaking I have just under 450 applications listed in the purchased section of my PSN profile. Again, not all of this is meaningful paid for software. But I’d say I’m storing at least 250 plus meaningful games between my two drives. Cerny stated that this is not the way PlayStation envisions the PS5 to be used. The 825GB number was stated to have been chosen based on the average weekend use of players. In other words, he’s saying that if you look at the data of player usage the average player only uses up to 825GB worth of software on their console in a single weekend. While that is probably true, or even inflated for wiggle room, it’s not the way most gamers handle storage management.

Dark Souls 3 loading screenI’m happy to admit that at most I’m playing three console/PC AAA games at one time. Currently I’m playing Dark Souls 3 (PS4), Nier: Automata (PS4), and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS). I’m also casually playing a few other games irregularly such as Smash Bros: Ultimate (NS), Pokémon Sword (NS), and Strange Brigade (PS4). In a given weekend it’s possible but unlikely that I’ll actually play all six of these games. Even if we said each game was 100GB, which I don’t think any of them actually are, that would still be only 600GB if they were all PS5 games. And that’s without applying compression. Cerny is right in saying that 825GB is enough storage space for the average user’s singular weekend. But the implication here is that PlayStation believes that I want to download/manage my stored games for the weekend every week in advance or that I have lightning fast internet so I can quickly erase and install new games if I want to change any of my currently installed list on the fly. These are two grossly misinformed assumptions because personally I’m not doing the former and while my internet is pretty solid, it’s not good enough to quickly download a new 100GB game on the fly in a manageable amount of time relative to when I decide I actually want to play the game. Now for most players this will be a rarity. It’s accurate to say that if you’re in the middle of a game, such as an RPG or adventure title, then you’re probably going to be playing it for a while so you won’t need to uninstall/install games often. But that doesn’t change the fact that in practical terms if I did want to change games I’d most likely have to delete one of the ones I have installed. Personally I don’t like being asked to do that.

RDRD2 Install SizeThe other reason storage is important is because it retains “ownership” of the games you buy. We’ve all seen games disappear from PSN and other online stores. This can happen at any time. Servers are repurposed, games are discontinued for political reasons, and businesses are sold or sued. There are countless examples of games being made unavailable to download both temporarily and permanently that apply to countless games over the years. Not to mention that one day the PS5 server will inevitably shutdown. When that day comes, you don’t want to be limited to just 825GB worth of games to store forever. I’d be giving up more than half of my digital PS4 collection in that scenario. I buy a lot of games and I want to be able to play them at any time I choose, even long after the PS5 server goes down.

Of course SONY is aware that 825GB is low so they have provided players the ability to upgrade storage. The problem is they did it in the most expensive way possible. The PS5 uses an M.2 SSD. From a hardware standpoint, that’s awesome. From a consumer standpoint it’s an absolute nightmare. M.2 drives are really fast. But they’re unregulated for size and are extremely expensive. A normal 2.5 inch SSD looks like a bargain compared to a large M.2 drive. Large size M.2 drives aren’t common. 2TB is more widely available but 3TB+ drives are extremely rare. And again, there’s no regulated form. So even if you do manage to find one, it may not fit in the PS5. The pricing is atrocious. A 2TB M.2 SSD is gonna be a minimum of $200 and they can go over $500, still at only 2TB. Add the fact that prices will mostly inflate for “PS5 compatibility” being used as a selling point and you’re paying more for the storage than the console in some cases. For reference, you can get a 2TB 2.5 inch SSD for under $200 easy. And technically they go all the way up to 7.6 TB. Good luck paying for that size though.

M2 CostThis storage limitation and cost issue is a huge problem for many, myself included. As soon as it was announced, people got angry. And rightly so, in my opinion. 1TB default drives are the minimum standard for consoles, Nintendo notwithstanding, in 2020. What I actually would like to see is a multiple SSD board on the PS5 that works like a PC motherboard. Imagine if you had three or four M.2 SSD slots and you could install them as time goes on, thus increasing your storage without having to completely gut and reset your system every time you upgrade storage space. These could work more like interchangeable memory cards with the default one being the only one that has to be changed prior to initial startup in order to not have to gut your whole console and start over. While I will definitely buy a PS5, this storage issue means I won’t be buying one until way after initial launch. I’ll have to wait both for the price of the console to come down and the price of a large M.2 SSD that’s compatible to drop.

The future looks bright for actual gameplay. Mark Cerny’s presentation gave me high hopes for how games will play and sound on the PS5. But the way they want me to manage software is not acceptable. I will continue to store my entire digital library concurrently and if that means investing in large drives and having to wait longer to buy the console then so be it. I’m backlogged anyway so upgrading from PS4 later is a non-issue for me.

How do you feel about the PS5 based on current information?

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