I wasn’t completely on board with Pokémon Let’s Go when it was first announced. I liked the concept. I absolutely loved the graphics. I was very happy with the idea of playing with an actual Pokeball as a controller. But between the pricing and the fact that it was just a remake of a game I had already played (Pokémon Yellow), I wasn’t sure I was Going to buy it. Keeping Mew behind a physical accessory paywall made me really angry as well. Ultimately I did buy the game but it was a number of months after the original release and was more because of Pokémon Go than the game itself. It just Goes to show that the current trend of strong arming people into making purchases because of their effects on completely different products really does work.
After 57 hours, I finally completed Pokémon Let’s Go (Eevee). By completion I mean I defeated the Elite Four, caught all 153 Pokémon available in the game (includes Meltan and Melmetal), defeated Blue, Green, and Red, and obtained the Crown accessory. It was an excellent adventure that filled me with fond memories of my childhood.
While there are a few issues I have with Pokémon Let’s Go, I have to say that I very much enjoyed it. Linking the show to the game by focusing on Jessie and James of Team Rocket while also recreating the general plot of Pokémon Yellow, which is really just a supped up version of Red, Blue, and Green (if that’s how you roll) was very nostalgic. But more importantly, they also managed to turn a long turn based RPG into a 40 hour experience that still allowed me to get the whole story, collect all the Kanto badges, and capture all the Kanto Pokémon. Plus I didn’t even have to buy both versions of the game or find people to trade with because of the connection to Pokémon Go. While I would never say that this was an authentic Pokémon core games experience, I will absolutely say that it summarizes the experience of playing Red, Blue, Green, and/or Yellow quite well. It was also really nice to not have to use Pikachu as my buddy.
What Pokémon Let’s Go achieves is the ability to get the general experience of playing generation one Pokémon games without having to go back and experience generation one hardware, graphics, gameplay, and play times. It’s the perfect catch up game for people who are new to the series and want to play the newest games without completely ignoring the older ones. This is how these games should have been packaged and sold to begin with. It’s also what needs to happen with every other current generation of Pokémon games.
Pokémon is seven generations long with the eighth generation releasing this year. That’s amazing and also way too burdensome to jump into now. Many younger players don’t go back to older generations. Their first Pokémon game is whatever generation gets released when they’re old enough to play. This is sad, because it means missing out on great stories from the past as well as literally hundreds of Pokémon, but quite effective. But if you’re like me and started playing the games at gen one, then you don’t want to skip everything since then. I played Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver. That means that when Pokémon Sword and Shield, which I will buy eventually, releases I will have missed five generations of Pokémon games. For me, that’s a problem. But going back and playing that many older RPGs of the same type is never going to happen. Especially not before Sword and Shield release later this year. But what I would do, having now experienced Pokémon Let’s Go, is play similar games set in every generation of the franchise working my way up to gen eight.
Pokémon Let’s Go streamlines the process of experiencing gen one. It’s easier and shorter than actually playing through the original games. It negates the need to purchase both/all versions of the game in that particular generation. Plus the graphics are really nice. So now I want all the generations to get this treatment. This would turn several hundred hours of games into a much more manageable amount of time. It would give me a reason to keep playing Pokémon GO and it would increase the value of that $50 Pokeball controller. This is of course assuming they don’t force you to buy another one to get the Mew equivalent in each proceeding generation. It’s the perfect solution to a common problem for gamers today. How do you catch people up on franchises without making them buy old hardware or play tons of hours of ports of outdated software? Pokémon Let’s Go provides the solution to that problem.
I really hope they create Pokémon Let’s Go games for the other six extant generations of Pokémon games now. I’d happily play all of them if they’re made with the same level of quality and focus on narrative that Pokémon Let’s Go was. The real question is do I wait to buy Pokémon Sword until after all these other games get released or do I play Sword first and then play the others as they trickle out? And why is Game Freak/Nintendo doing it in such a disorganized order? It would have made more sense to make the decision based on how Let’s Go performed. When they announced Let’s Go, many people were mad because they wanted a new generation of Pokémon game to release, which was already in development, because Game Freak knows what they’re doing. But what they should have done in light of how successful Let’s Go is was announced Let’s Go – Johto and hold off on Sword and Shield; the Kingdom Hearts way. They could have kept putting out Let’s Go games and then the culmination of that would end with Sword and Shield being announced/released. That would have created peak hype while allowing all current Pokémon players the chance to catch up on the franchise before releasing a new generation. Because now chances are people will jump straight to Sword and Shield and be much less interested buying more Let’s Go games. That game did so well because there were no other Switch Pokémon options, except for Pokémon Quest.
I don’t know what the grand plan is now, but I really do hope they release Pokémon Let’s Go games for every generation. That’s the only way I see myself catching up on the franchise. Let’s Go was way better than I expected and is way more convenient than trying to go back and play the older games. They just need to get a logical release schedule in order.
The Division 2 dropped last week and I am loving it. Ubisoft was kind enough to grace me with a copy of the Ultimate Edition. Now normally I would of course write a full review of the game. But because I already wrote a very thorough review of the beta, I decided that it wouldn’t be super productive for my readers to write a review of the full game because much of the experience is the same. That’s not to say that no changes have been made since the beta, because a number of crucial ones have in fact been implemented, to my surprise. But they’re mostly smaller details that don’t warrant an entirely new review. So instead I decided, for really the first time in the history of this blog, that I would write an easy starter guide for the game instead.
My intention here is not to give you a fully encompassing guide to The Division 2. I’m only at level 11 and I’ve only played it for just under 11 hours. There are people who are already much farther along and can give you very specific tips for specific sections of the game. I don’t want to do that. My intention here is that if you haven’t started the game yet, or haven’t really gotten past the tutorial missions, then this guide will help you settle into the game more effectively from the beginning. Now of course these are my opinions on how to most effectively play this game early on. Some of the tips will be obvious, others might be obscure, and not everyone who’s already playing the game will agree on all of them. So take it all with a grain of salt. Just know that I’ve been playing the game solo up to this point, I’m averaging about 1 level up an hour, and while I have died a number of times, it’s not often and it’s rarely a surprise when it happens to me. So without further ado, here are my top 15 tips to starting The Division 2, in no particular order.
1. Solo Play is A-OK
The Division 2 is sold as a squad based third person loot shooter, and it is, but team based play isn’t a requirement early on. The truth is that other players are a hindrance in many ways when playing a game. They tend to slow you down and aren’t going to necessarily want to do what you care about past the current mission. Thankfully, The Division 2 doesn’t require you to play with others early on. In fact, it discourages it in many ways. You can’t even join a clan until you get to around level 10. It’s not based on level, because it’s a progress/achievement based unlock, but the required challenges have a difficulty minimum of seven with a recommended difficulty of 10. You don’t need a clan to play with randoms via matchmaking and friends, but really you don’t need them early on. You can very comfortably play the game solo for the early portion of the game. I haven’t played with a single other player and I’ve not struggled to clear any missions or side missions. I do die on occasion, but not often. Rather than jump into playing with others, you should use the early stages of the game to get a feel for it and figure out your preferred playstyle, skills, and weapon types.
2. Armor Number Only on Gear (Does NOT Include Weapons)
While there is a large selection of armor with various enhancements of various types, the reality is that none of this matters early on. You should devote no time to looking at buffs, specs, enhancements and so on when choosing gear until you’ve hit at least purple gear and chances are you can probably do that all the way up to gold gear or even post level 30 legendary drops. Just look at the armor number, because the increased defense will do way more for you in the early stages than buffs will. You will find better armor, often with better buffs, literally every time you level up so it doesn’t make any sense to put effort into trying to create a steady build until you hit the armor wall and stop finding better stuff every other mission. Just wear whatever pieces you find with the highest armor stats, change them out for the next better thing frequently, and don’t think about anything else. Ignore colors all together early on because you will often find higher rarity gear with lower defense stats than gear with a lower rarity. Choose the higher armor stat. Rarity only really matters once you start getting mods, which you won’t for quite a while.
3. Craft Armor (Don’t Buy It)
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the farther into the map you get, the better stores you’ll find. So purchasing anything from the early vendors is a waste of credits because it’s almost all trash compared to what you’ll find in shops later on. I did see one purple mask in the first vendor early on but it wasn’t worth the price compared to the mask I already had at the time, even though it was only blue rarity. But more importantly, crafting is a lot more affordable. Some crafts do cost credits to complete but the prices are always better than buying directly from the vendor. Your crafting potential corresponds with your level, meaning the higher your level the better gear you can craft. This also means that every time you level up you can potentially improve your gear right away if you don’t want to stick it out for a gear drop, which in my opinion you should. One note about crafting is that, like in the first game, it’s RNG based on a performance range. You should not craft anything unless the minimum armor stat in the range is higher than your maximum armor stat on whatever type of gear you’re considering crafting.
4. Try Different Weapons
You are going to find a ton of different types of guns. Most of them you will have no point of reference for either in real life or in games. Some of them you might know, and because of that you’ll probably consider sticking to them. Don’t! Everyone’s playstyle is different when it comes to shooters but this is not a traditional shooter. Aim matters, but not as much as in a normal shooter. There are headshots and weak points, but those aren’t required to kill enemies effectively in this game. This is an RPG, which means everything goes by the numbers. You get additional damage and XP for getting headshots, but that shouldn’t be your strategy for how to approach the game. Just use base damage to calculate your effectiveness. Whether you hit center mass, a leg, or a hand, the damage is basically the same. So don’t worry about being super accurate. Instead think about total DPS. The number of shots is technically irrelevant as long as you can kill your target(s) without reloading. That’s not to say that you should just pick up a chain gun and forgo all accuracy. Different guns will feel better or worse for different people. The point is that you should never disregard a gun because it’s not your preferred style of weapon because in a numbers game it may actually do better for you overall. So don’t be afraid to try new guns you pick up while looking for that ideal weapon.
5. Damage > Range > MAG > RPM
Just like with armor, you are going to find a lot of weapons and be unsure which ones to use. Now as I’ve already said, you should try different types of weapons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a stat based component to picking which ones to try. As with armor, you should be picking the most baseline effective weapons you can find and upgrading whenever possible. But comparing guns is a lot more complicated than comparing armor. I’ve found that the most effective way to compare guns is by comparing their specs in this order. Damage comes first of course. As I said, this is an RPG. So it’s not about getting one great hit. It’s about getting the most effective combination of hits in the shortest amount of time. I don’t measure effectiveness based on number of shots. I measure it based on number of reloads. Now of course number of shots is a factor of number of reloads, but every gun has a different mag size and will be only as effective as the shooter and situation. You’ll also find some guns that have really great damage but garbage everything else and ultimately aren’t that effective. Shotguns are the worst about this. You will find some amazing shotguns. But their range is usually garbage. If an enemy gets that close to you it’s often already too late. And most shotguns have trash reloading times. So while damage is important, range is only slightly less important. I’ll take a slightly lower damage sniper rifle over a higher damage shotgun any day of the week because you can play from the safety of distance and cover while still getting a large amount of damage and often about the same reload time. Really you want something that’s effective at mid to far range for most instances but easy to aim in close distances as well. My favorite beginner gun is the Classic-RPK because the range is quite good, the damage is fairly good, and it’s fairly stable.
Next you gotta look at mag size. Now again, it’s not about number of shots fired as much as number of reloads. But the number of shells per a mag defines how often you need to reload. Even if it’s one shot one man, which it rarely is outside of using an SR, that still means that a five shot mag only lets you kill five enemies before having to reload or change guns. Yes you do get to carry two weapons and a pistol at all times, but I wouldn’t recommend hot swapping rather than reloading every mag as a normal method of play. You really should have your second weapon as a special scenario gun, which I’ll get into later on. I can’t tell you what the right number of shots per a mag is for you, but I can tell you that you should be able to kill a group all standing in a cluster without reloading. Whatever weapon you’re using, if a group of enemies maxing out at six people, assuming none of them are heavy armored, aren’t all taken down without reloading, then you’re using the wrong gun. Later on you’ll get mods and buffs that can heavily speed up your reload time, but you shouldn’t rely on that early on because mods won’t be coming for a while and even when they do that’s a high risk way to play the game, and the reason I don’t suggest maining a shotgun. Once you do get good mods though, I’d say sacrificing mag size for better reload speed is worth the trade off in most cases.
Last but not least. You should consider RPM. While your secondary weapons can have a lower RPM, because it’s a special case weapon, your main weapon really needs to shoot fairly quickly. Again, unless you’re running a one shot one man build, it all comes down to DPS in an RPG. So the faster you can shoot, the more damage you can get, and the faster your enemies will go down. What you really want to do, once you get there, is find a high damage high RPM gun with a decent to high mag size, put on a fast reload mod, at the expense of some mag shots (around 15%), and then you have a powerful gun that’s fairly accurate at mid-range that reloads at a competitive speed and not often. Currently I’m using an M249 B which deals 402 base damage, shoots 550 RPM, and has a 100 shot mag. This is hard to use in green rarity class because of the lack of mod slots, but once you find a blue one and the mods to go with it, it’s a top shelf gun for beginners and veterans alike. But ultimately when comparing any two guns, compare the specs in the order I’ve given even if it means putting down a gun you really like. Chances are you’ll be more effective now and eventually find the gun you like again with better stats in the future.
6. Use a SR as Your Secondary Weapon
I don’t really play too many shooters and because of that my aim is often a bit shaky. I can count all the successful snipe kills in PVP I’ve gotten on my fingers because I’m terrible at it. But the sniping actually feels really good in The Division 2. Like surprisingly good. So good that I’m genuinely starting to feel like I actually have talent. So even if you’re not traditionally a sniper, you should be one in this game. Specifically because of how it affects the rules of engagement. Again, this is an RPG. You don’t need headshots to get kills. They net more XP and damage, but if you have a good SR and you’re not playing above the recommended level threshold you should be getting one to two hit kills for hitting enemies in the finger. The range makes this gun worth using for two main reasons. The first is that a lot of enemies will be trying to snipe you or take you out from long distance. Closing that gap can be difficult, dangerous, and time consuming. It’s way easier just to blow them away from long range. The other reason is that you can engage challenges from outside the challenge area with an SR and the progress counts. Taking control points is a great example of this. If you can find a good location where you can see the enemies clearly without crossing into the control point boundary, you can engage them and they’ll pretty much never come after you. They’ll shoot towards you if they see you but they won’t try to storm you or flank you. They’ll stay in the control point area and let you pick them off like flies. And they will not respawn. Because of this, the SR is one of the most effect tools a solo player can use. And because of the RPG style of gameplay, you literally just have to hit the broadside of a barn to be effective with it.
When it comes to picking an SR specifically, I say focus on base damage coupled with mag size. RPM and reload speed aren’t as important because you should ideally be getting one to two hit kills. At the same time, there are some lower damage fast action sniper rifles if that’s your preference but these will give your position away quicker and won’t get one hit kills, which gives enemies a chance to take cover.
7. The Junk Function is Life
As with the first game, you’re going to find a lot of junk gear but not want to throw it out right away. You may want to sell it, store it for specific uses, or deconstruct it. At no time should you just throw it away. In The Division 1, every single piece of gear had to be dealt with manually. You had to deconstruct one piece at a time. You had to sell one piece at a time. It was slow and annoying. In this game you have the junk function, as well as the favorite function. You can mark pieces of gear with either a junk or favorite mark. This is helpful for organization but also for efficiency. You can deconstruct all junk in one shot. You can sell all junk in one shot. There is zero reason to deal with trash gear one piece at a time ever again. Once you upgrade your inventory to max capacity, you can just keep collecting and marking junk till the bag is full and then throw it out in one shot for a profit or crafting components. One of the best improvements from the first game.
8. Cover Is NOT Optional
If you played the first game then you already know this. But this is a guide for noobs so I felt like though it should be obvious it should still be included. This is a cover based shooter. You cannot Destiny or Halo your way through this game and rely on shot accuracy and DPS to get through firefights. You have to use cover. You have to reload while in cover. You have to use the move from cover to cover function. If you’re not in cover that means you’re either sure you’re going to get the kill(s), moving to cover, or about to die. Always be in cover no matter how weak the enemies are.
9. Use Armor Packs at the End of Armor not Life
You can’t refill life in this game. It refills automatically by not taking damage for a certain amount of time. You can refill armor though, with armor packs. Armor is the white bars floating above your life bar. As long as you have armor, you HP won’t be affected. You can carry a limited number of armor packs at any given time as well as find more from enemy drops and certain refill boxes. Armor also restores itself after firefights conclude but refill packs don’t. Your first instinct may be to use armor packs only once your life bar is nearly depleted, believing you can win the fight and save the armor pack for a worse situation. This is the wrong mentality. There are too many stray bullets, hidden snipers, unseen grenades, and other massive damage attacks to take this kind of risk. As soon as your armor is fully depleted, get behind cover and use an armor refill pack. You’ll replace it later. There are also upgrades that increase how many armor refill packs you can carry and automatically refill them in safe houses. I recommend getting all of these upgrades as early as possible.
10. Early Progression Should be Natural
This genre is known for its XP and loot grind experiences and yes The Division 2 absolutely has that. But it’s in the late/end game. The level cap appears to be 30 currently. You do not need to grind for at least the first third of that if not more. I haven’t done anything a second time unless I failed it the first time. I haven’t gotten stuck in any missions for an extended period of time. I haven’t struggled a ridiculous amount while trying to complete challenges. You can naturally progress through the opening chapters of this game just by completing the challenges available. Do the main missions, do the side missions, collect the SHD caches, and complete the projects at your own pace without forcibly grinding XP. The early game is set up so that it’s very balanced and fair for a solo experience. You should not even be starting the road to grind fatigue for at least the first 10 – 15 levels of the game.
When it comes to entering new areas, each one has a suggested level range. I recommend finishing all the available single completion activities in an area and collecting all the SHD caches before moving to the next area. Based on my experience, you should be at the half way point of the level range at a minimum before entering the next area. So for example, the third area in the game has a level range of 4 – 8. This means you shouldn’t try to go in there till you’ve hit at least level six.
11. SHD Caches First
Right away the game will deal you lots of different activities including main missions, side missions, random activities, and SHD cache locations. You should absolutely go for SHD caches first. These net XP, but more importantly unlock your permanent upgrades. Upgrades have a huge effect on gameplay. And there are a lot of them to unlock. So before you run into missions or try to take down that special bounty, just take the time to collect the SHD caches first whenever you reach a new area. And on your way to them you can unlock the safe houses. This way you’ll get some easy experience, upgrade faster. and ultimately be more effective overall. Note that almost none of the upgrades have level caps/minimums and the ones that do all have minimums of level 30 because they’re specialty upgrades. This means that from level one you can start unlocking the majority of upgrades as you collect more SHD points.
12. Control Points are Fast Travel Locations
In The Division 1 you only had safe houses, main landmarks, and DZ entrances as fast travel points. You could also fast travel to main missions. In The Division 2 they’ve added control points. These are basically not so safe houses. They are points on the map that you have to liberate through combat and then once liberated they’re occupied by friendlies. You can use these as fast travel locations. This is super convenient because it means now when you die you don’t have to go all the way back to the nearest safe house which is often not really near your last death location. It’s just in the same map area. Control points are placed in much more accessible locations around the map area so you can get back to the action much quicker. You can also lead enemies towards these points and friendly NPCs will help you fight them.
13. Keep track of Hyena Boxes
In The Division 2 the main villains early in the game are known as hyenas. These are just thugs that wonder around in gas masks terrorizing people. You will get familiar with killing them very quickly. In certain missions you will come across hyena lock boxes. These hold special items but require special keys to open. Sadly keys are very rare and you will almost certainly not have any the first time you find a hyena lock box. In fact, you probably will find a number of lock boxes before getting a key. I still haven’t exactly figured out what nets keys. I only have acquired one so far. But I’ve found multiple lock boxes. It’s for this reason that it’s important to take manual notes about the location of lock boxes. I use screenshots of the map and physical location to keep track of them. Now obviously there will be guides online for this, but if you’re trying to play without walkthroughs then you need to keep track of these yourself due to the game’s lack of a manual map marker function. Really I’d like to see that patched in.
14. Pop Your Skills Prematurely
One of my favorite improvements from the first game, and the beta, is the addition of number based skill cooldown meters. You can see the exact amount of time it will take for a skill to recharge so you can use it again. But there’s a strategy to this, depending on the specific skill you’re using. There are eight skill types available with multiple versions of each type. Some of them are single use and have to go through an entire cool down cycle. But some of them give you a bit more control of the situation. The turret being the best example. When you use the turret to completion, the cooldown time is 117 seconds. But you can end any skill prematurely by holding down the skill button it’s tied to. Doing this cuts the cooldown time in half. Smart players will use this to their advantage. You can see how much life/time the turret has left before it will disappear. If you destroy it at any time before it dies naturally, the cooldown time is only 59 seconds. That means that if you pop it manually just before it breaks down you can use turrets two times as often. And you can use this trick for any skill that’s not a one off. So obviously it’s not gonna work for the seeker mine because that’s a one off explosion and will always need to fully recharge unless not used at all, which does happen from time to time. It can still die off after being out a certain amount of time so in that situation you should also pop skills as soon as possible to get the reduced cooldown times.
15. Turret is a Must (For Solo Play)
Of the eight available skills, all of which can be unlocked from the beginning, the basic turret is without a doubt the most effective skill for solo play. It really is like having a second man on the field. It auto-aims but can be directed at specific targets. It lasts a fairly long time unless destroyed. It has a 360 degree view so it can cover from just about anywhere on the battlefield. Its range is fairly decent. And most importantly it gets kills. A lot of AI support in games doesn’t finish the job. It does some of the work but leaves it to you to close the deal. The turret initiates the negotiation, negotiates the deal, and closes the deal all on its own. At the same time though, you can drop it and it won’t engage until you engage first or it’s attacked directly. This means you can set it up as part of a plan of attack without the set up starting the firefight prematurely. It really is the only required skill option for a solo player. Your secondary can be whatever floats your boat. I prefer the seeker mine but I’ve decided to try out other things for science.
That’s it for my start tips for The Division 2. If you have any more questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. You can also watch me stream the game almost daily on my Twitch channel.
Recently Anthem, the new shared world loot shooter from Bioware, released. The review scores have not been kind, but who really cares about that? What I’m more interested in discussing is the split in public reception of the game. I haven’t tracked the numbers by any official means but there seems to be an almost even split between people who really like the game and people who think it’s trash. Usually this isn’t the case. Most of the time the majority of people hold a similar opinion about a game and some outliers think the exact opposite. This is the case with Battleborn (2016). It was a fairly average co-op shooter that came out at the same time as Overwatch. It’s by no means a bad game but it’s fairly forgettable and as such it failed to gain traction over Overwatch. But even today you will still find a few diehard fans of the game that swear it’s way better than it actually was. This is the norm. But every so often you get a game with a hard split down the middle. This appears to be the case with Anthem.
I don’t own Anthem but I played the closed alpha, closed beta, and open beta. Ultimately my experience with those pre-builds made me opt not to buy the game. I did enjoy the basic gunplay and the graphics are quite impressive. But ultimately it was a hollow overall gameplay experience devoid of meaningful narrative structure and riddled with issues such as preposterously long loading screens. That is how it was for me. But even I still could see myself picking it up in year two, which I’ve been advocating since before the game released, as can be seen in this old blog post.
Anthem is a fairly repetitive loot shooter with bullet sponge enemies that relies on the sensation of playing cooperatively with other players to have a meaningful and enjoyable gameplay experience. That is not a knock to the game but an objective description. I would use the exact same description to describe Destiny, The Division, and a number of other games. That’s the basic tenant of this genre. Some games do it better and some games do it worse but at the end of the day you’re paying for the experience of farming loot with your friends or randoms in order to get better stats so you can farm more loot with your friends or randoms. There is usually a story component to games in this genre but the level of quality and importance of it varies from game to game, just as it varies in necessity from player to player. As far as how Anthem compares to other games in the genre, it’s got its high and low points. The graphics are awesome. And the ability to fly in an iron man suit makes them even more awesome. It has too many loading screens. The classes (Javelins) are very differentiated but you aren’t locked to one class like in Destiny. The coop aspect is important, but playing the game solo is not nearly as fulfilling or manageable as in The Division. The narrative is no worse than that of Destiny. I could go on, but the point is that it’s not a worse game than the other games as service loot shooters currently leading/exemplifying the genre. It’s more of the same. You just pick your poison and get pretty much the same overall experience. I’m most likely going with The Division 2 this year, if anything, because the alpha and closed beta really impressed me and I very much enjoyed the base game of the first one. But I wouldn’t say that this decision is any more valid than choosing Anthem or Destiny II.
*I keep referencing Destiny instead of Destiny II because I refused to play Destiny II so it would be inappropriate for me to cite it for comparison having not played it.
While Anthem is a fairly standard iteration of the loot shooter genre, it seems to be getting considerably more hate at release than other games of the same type. Destiny, Destiny II, and The Division all did fairly well at release as far as public reception goes. I personally enjoyed playing Destiny and The Division at release. It’s only a bit later after the base content has run its course and people are stuck with lacking end game and waiting for updates that they start to complain, usually. The pricing/release model for additional content in Destiny is the only reason I chose to wash my hands of the franchise. So why does Anthem seem to be getting considerably more hate during the initial release window? I think it has a lot more to do with BioWare than it does Anthem.
In marketing and product sales, which I do work in professionally, we often use the term “target audience”. You probably already know this term but basically it means who you’re actually trying to sell products to. Often people outside your target audience will purchase the product, and that’s great, but when creating a product and the marketing strategy for said product, or game in this case, the company chooses a specific demographic to focus on based on a number of factors. One of the most important factors in choosing a target audience is past purchasers/loyal consumers. Basically people who have bought products from you in the past and didn’t hate them are more likely to buy more products from you in the future. This is fairly obvious in entertainment. It’s the reason people buy music from the same artists again and again and follow specific actors, writers, and so on. The same is of course true for games. That’s the reason you care when you hear “new game from Naughty Dog” and really don’t care at all when you hear new game from (insert some unknown indie dev you’ve never heard of here). That’s why brand image is so important. But what it also means is that over time as brands build up a loyal consumer base they also become beholden to the expectations and desires of that consumer base. This is why developers tend to develop a consistent style over time and often focus on specific genres or gameplay mechanics. As they establish their base more, that base tends to want more of what they first enjoyed when they joined that base. And they stayed loyal because they kept getting more of what they enjoyed the first time. This makes it fairly easy for studios to figure out what to do to keep their customers happy and more importantly loyal, but it also comes at a cost.
Having an established and strict product style often means being limited to that style. If developers want to branch out and try new things it’s often met with anger and disdain. This is what happened when CD Projekt Red announced that the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 would be a first person game. After three third person RPGs over the course of eight years culminating with The Witcher 3, arguably the greatest third person RPG ever made by any objective criteria, people came to expect their next great RPG, which they’re already marketing as bigger and better than The Witcher 3, to also be in third person. Because the bulk of their loyal audience are people who like/prefer third person RPGs. I’m personally in this boat. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for first person RPGs, because the 50 remakes of Skyrim prove that there absolutely is. It’s just that CDPR’s base like their RPGs in third person. So when CDPR picks/picked their target audience for Cyberpunk 2077, they had to choose between targeting their established fan base, the most common choice for developers today, or they had to risk that base in order to target a new audience. They chose the latter. Again, this doesn’t mean that people they aren’t targeting won’t buy the game. Many absolutely will. It simply means that they decided that their focus audience/market for this new game won’t be their established player base. At least not in totality. And that’s fine but it does come with a risk. In my opinion, the negative repercussions that come with that risk are what’s plaguing Anthem today.
BioWare has been making story focused, character driven long form, single player RPGs for more than 20 years. They brought us hits like Knights of the Old Republic I & II, still the gold standard in Star Wars games, the Mass Effect Trilogy, the Dragon Age series, and the highly acclaimed one off Jade Empire. For the bulk of almost two decades they were the gold standard for single player, story driven western RPGs. Didn’t matter if it was a gun, a sword, magic, or a lightsaber. If you wanted a great single player RPG you bought it from BioWare. Then suddenly they put out a shared world co-op loot shooter with arguably less meaningful story content than The Division with a butt load of preposterously long loading screens and you don’t even get to see what your character looks like outside of the iron man suit. While none of that, other than the loading screens, makes Anthem an objectively bad game, it absolutely makes it a game that’s way outside the interests of BioWare’s usual target audience. But that didn’t necessarily stop all of them from trying/buying it.
I think this is the real problem Anthem is facing. Destiny was made by Bungie and published by Activision. If you play Activision games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players. If you play Bungie games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players, but those people you’re shooting aren’t necessarily earthlings. The difference between the two companies’ target audiences and loyal bases are purely cosmetic. It was a marketing match made in heaven and that’s why they were able to make not one but two overrated games that raked in a shit ton of profit they didn’t by all rights deserve. The player base and the target audience were perfectly aligned for both the developer and publisher without either company going too far outside their norm. The only reason the companies recently split was because of disagreements about late stage management of the franchise/installment. The same cannot be said about BioWare, EA, and Anthem.
BioWare made a game for the Destiny crowd. The problem is that the bulk of people who have been buying games from BioWare for the last 20 years aren’t the Destiny crowd. Conversely, much of the Destiny crowd hasn’t been buying BioWare games for the last 20 years either. Obviously EA is involved in all this, but in order to streamline the post/conversation, I’m ignoring that aspect for the most part because it may change the reasons why this happened, but it in no way changes the fact that it did and the results of that decision. What this means is that a bunch of people, let’s say half the current player/purchaser base, who have been playing BioWare games for several years bought a BioWare game expecting the same type of game they’ve grown used to. While the other half of players bought a loot shooter expecting a loot shooter, which they got. To their credit half isn’t bad. The fact that they were able to get about as many people to migrate over from Destiny II and The Division, among other loot shooters and battle royale games, knowing full well that The Division II, which after playing alphas and betas for both games I do have to say is superior overall, is coming out just a month later, as people who traditionally buy BioWare games is fairly impressive. Or sad depending on how you want to look at it. There is still a lot of bad blood over Mass Effect: Andromeda, which personally I don’t get because I thought it was a fun game. But in any case you have about 50% of players enjoying the game because they buy loot shooters and like loot shooter mechanics. But that other half is serious Western RPG players who went in expecting Mass Effect or Dragon Age with Iron Man suits and instead got Destiny with only one planet and fluid classes.
I truly believe that while Anthem has a number of flaws (I’m gonna keep mentioning those loading screens BioWare) it’s not a bad game. It’s by no means a traditional, or even subpar by comparison, BioWare game for their core fan base. But for a loot shooter it’s fairly decent. Ultimately this is the dilemma for every established studio with a loyal player base. They can’t make outside the box projects because the people who usually provide the bulk of their revenue don’t want to see huge changes to the formula and often won’t stand for it. For creatives this is a pretty depressing deal. They can’t pursue anything radically new or different for fear of angering their loyal customers. And we know this hasn’t only happened to BioWare. Many studios have had similar problems both critically and commercially when trying to do something new. While I’m all for consumers voicing their opinions with their words and their wallets, one must admit that this is why the industry has become more repetitive while delivering less and less risky and interesting content. The reason we’re seeing so many battle royale games is because they’re really easy and cheap to make by comparison to fully fledged games with a story focused campaign. Even the ones that aren’t ultra-successful still tend to make a profit when produced by larger studios with a popular brand attached to them. Even Tetris battle royale is super successful and that cost basically nothing to make by comparison to the last Nintendo first party game. And tons of people are saying it’s worth subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online just to play that one game. It’s a big problem with no clear or easy solution.
So what’s the answer here? If Anthem had been released by a different studio with a more established loot shooter pedigree would it be facing the negative responses it is now? In my opinion the answer is no. It’s still not the top of the line loot shooter so it wouldn’t necessarily be garnering high praise but I think it would be doing a lot better in the public eye. It’s very difficult for a studio to change its stripes this drastically and garner success and positive reception out of the gate. The only truly great example that comes to mind is Guerilla Games with Horizon Zero Dawn. But that’s a much different situation than BioWare and Anthem. Similarly to BioWare, Guerilla Games was known for only one genre of game, FPS, in the 13 years it had existed before HZD. They did release a third person shooter no one remembers in the same year as their first FPS game, but ultimately that IP never went anywhere. They went on to release four more FPS titles in the years leading up to HZD after their first game. But there is one key difference between them and BioWare.
All the first person shooters Guerilla Games released are part of the same franchise, Killzone. If you’re not familiar with Killzone, that’s exactly my point. Before HZD, the only thing Guerilla Games was “known” for was a lackluster franchise of PlayStation exclusive FPS titles that pretty much no one was playing. And even if you did know the name Killzone, since it was a release title for at least one PlayStation platform, chances are you didn’t know the name Guerilla Games was attached to it. They simply didn’t have the brand recognition or success with their games that BioWare has had. And BioWare had/has it across multiple IPs. It was way easier for Guerilla Games to make something entirely new for them and be met with open minded consideration because most people went into HZD with no preconceived notions or expectations about the studio. BioWare, and of course EA, do not have such privilege when making games. They’re simply too big and well known to ignore their current player base’s expectations. This is exactly what’s crippling Anthem. About half the players shouldn’t by all rights have even considered touching the game if not for the developer name attached to it. If anything EA should have stealth released under some new established studio as a dummy brand for BioWare. This of course would never happen, but I’d be willing to bet it would have been met with more positive reception.
There’s a reason Capcom can put out a totally repetitive game about killing monsters in order to get stronger to kill more monsters with the most mediocre story ever and it can win RPG of the year while BioWare can’t put out a loot shooter and get above a 70 on Metacritic. Capcom has been around twice as long and has been making games from a plethora of genres since their inception. The expectations are way different for them even though in many ways they’ve created a similarly repetitive game with its own list of design flaws and issues. And yet I bought Monster Hunter World almost a year ago and still put in more than 20 hours of gameplay in the last two weeks alone. BioWare is in a problematic situation. And with EA pulling the strings, there’s a good chance the studio will be shuttered in the not too distant future. And yet all BioWare is really guilty of, other than getting into bed with EA to begin with, is making something they’ve never made before. Honestly it’s kind of unfair. And yet I’d sooner support the studio closing down than I would consumers being forced to buy a game they don’t want from a studio they’ve supported for years simply to keep that studio open out of no longer deserved loyalty. It’s a shitty situation for everyone involved.
In September of last year, I wrote a post calling for a boycott of Nintendo Switch Online. Actually many people were and still are on board. I won’t claim that it was solely because of my blog post because many people posted similar sentiments on various platforms, but the point is that the service Nintendo released at cost was, and still mostly is, a bad service that isn’t worth the money. Even if it is the cheapest online console service currently, that doesn’t somehow magically justify the cost, though many fanboys would make that argument. I’m still boycotting Nintendo Switch Online. I love my Switch. Since that post I’ve purchased Smash Bros Ultimate, Super Mario Party, Pokemon Let’s GO – Eevee, and though I received a review copy and thus didn’t pay for it, I also got Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Every single one of those games is excellent. I would recommend purchasing every one of them. None of them are flawless. But I don’t regret buying/playing any of them. And there are more games on the way that I can’t wait to play.
Nintendo just released a demo for Yoshi’s Crafted World. It’s amazing. It’s exactly what I wanted from the next Yoshi game. I will absolutely be buying it. The point is that I in no way regret purchasing a Switch. There are numerous amazing games to play on it and I have a decent sized backlog of unfinished titles to play. And honestly though it does affect me occasionally, for the most part I’m fine not having access to online PVP. Currently there are only two games that I really want to play online against other people, not counting Super Mario Party, which I absolutely do want to play online against other people, but they don’t have the full board game mode available for online PVP and that’s what I want to play against others. So currently the only argument that can be made for why I should pay Nintendo $20 a year for online multiplayer is Smash Bros. Ultimate and after the latest Nintendo Direct, Tetris 99.
Tetris 99 is the combination of probably the closest thing to a perfect game ever made and the current battle royale craze. Now personally I hate this BR bullshit. I hate PUBG. I hate Fortnite. I hate Blackout. For many reasons I hate this entire trend and concept. I don’t like the idea that developers can release games with no story and they become super popular and make billions of dollars in loot boxes and skins. That’s everything wrong with the gaming industry and community today. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to projects like Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s not OK. But Nintendo, being Nintendo, took the concept and made it not suck, innovative, not a cash grab, and for once worth my time . . . maybe?
Tetris 99 is the first BR game I’ve ever had an interest in. For starters, it’s the only BR game to date that can justify not having a story. It’s a simple puzzle game that’s been around since 1984. The game is so old, many games couldn’t have stories back then. It’s justified. It has no loot boxes, microtransactions, or DLC. You download the game and you have the whole game. It’s free. Well it’s not free, but it comes as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription so it’s free-ish in the same way that we describe PlayStation Plus games and XBOX Games with Gold games. I haven’t personally played it, because again I’m not a subscriber, but this the first time since the service went live that I really wish I had a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Or more accurately, I really wish the service was good enough to warrant me subscribing. Tetris 99 is the first step in the right direction. This is the kind of content and release model that I need to see coming from Nintendo consistently, as in on a monthly to bi-monthly basis, for me to consider the service worth my money. What’s important here is that they were able to create a game that I actively want to play. I think about it a lot. I’ve been watching Tetris 99 videos, something I never do. I do not normally just watch other people play games without some specific reason tied to it like I’m stuck in a game or I know the person playing personally. And yet I’ve taken the time on more than one occasion to watch videos of people playing Tetris 99. As a side note, most of you apparently such at Tetris. I’ve been appalled by some of the low quality performances people felt were appropriate to post online. And I know that sounds arrogant and hypocritical considering many of the lackluster gaming performances I’ve posted to my Twitch and/or YouTube channels, but Tetris is not that hard. Granted I have been playing it semi-actively for more than 20 years so maybe I’m just at a level of experience that makes me unable to relate to new players. But I digress.
This is the kind of content that I want to see from Nintendo Switch Online. This is how you sell me this service. And you don’t touch the current price point. It stays where it’s at or gets lower. So my point with this post is to tip my hat to Nintendo. I see you making moves trying to add value to your online service. I respect that. That’s what I want to see, not just from Nintendo, but from XBOX and PlayStation as well. Make online subscriptions great again. And I’m fine with Nintendo focusing on old games. They said they were gonna do that from the beginning. But this is the first time since the service started that they did it in a way that’s actually interesting and worth my time. I don’t want to take turns playing old NES and SNES titles. I can do that with my SNES Classic without paying a subscription fee. Tetris 99 justifies the need for online PVP access. Now I’m not gonna pay $20 a year just to play Tetris. I wanted to get Tetris Effect, but that won’t happen till that price goes way down. I am not paying $40 to play Tetris. But if every month we got another Tetris 99 style game free as part of the service, I’d definitely sign up. So hopefully this is the beginning of Nintendo Switch Online actually being worth the money. And if and when that’s confirmed, I’ll definitely sign up. So the next question is what’s the next Tetris 99?
I’ve given this only a little bit of thought so far but I do have some ideas that I think would be equally successful, if not more so. The entire concept of Tetris 99 is take an old game that’s simple to understand but, apparently, hard to master that has an indefinite amount of play time and apply some sort of mechanic that allows multiple players to play single player rounds of the game at the same time where a certain occurrence negatively affects the other players in the lobby. Here are just three of the ideas I came up with in a matter of minutes.
This seems fairly obvious. Really it’s just a variation of the Tetris concept with different rules of engagement. Just apply the same multiplayer mechanics and it’s good to go.
My idea would be exactly the same as Tetris 99 where all 99 players are playing their own game of Pac-Man, still with three lives and the ability to earn more, but it’s only one map/stage. There are no regular pellets. Instead the only task for the player is to survive. More specifically, don’t get eaten by ghosts. Power pellets would still be present and reappear over time, possibly tied to eating a certain number of pieces of fruit. When you use a power pellet and eat ghosts, you send those ghosts to other players’ games. It would work just like Tetris 99 where you can send ghosts to randoms, attackers, those soon to die, and badges, which I haven’t put a lot of time into conceptualizing yet.
Similar to my Pac-Man idea, everyone would be playing their own game of Galaga concurrently. When you kill an enemy, you can send it to other players’ games. There would probably need to be some limitations set upon it like the number of enemies that can actually get sent and some sort of limit to how many enemies can be sent to the same player at the same time.
Have you played Tetris 99 yet? What do you think of it? What other games would like to see this concept applied to? Let me know in the comments.
Monopolies are a bad thing. They are great for the companies who have them and terrible for pretty much everyone else. In some cases they can be convenient for consumers, such as with Netflix, but ultimately they hurt consumers in a number of ways in the long run. Competition is a good thing. Capitalism only truly works correctly when multiple companies are able to compete fairly and consumers are given real choices about where and how to purchase the things they want and need. So today I want to discuss this recent controversy between Steam and the newly founded Epic Games Store (EGS).
Steam has an interesting history. Originally launched in 2003, a game development studio called Valve Corporation wanted a platform that made it possible for developers to easily distribute games to PC gamers. The key tenants of this platform were two fold. The first was to make PC game and update/additional content distribution easier for developers, specifically smaller ones that lacked publishing assistance. This was important for Valve because they themselves were producing games that were great but hard to get out to the public. You may remember projects from them like Portal 1 & 2, Half-Life 1 & 2, Team Fortress 1 & 2, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It’s important to note that many of their projects were developed in collaboration with other studios or actually created by studios they acquired over the years. The point though is that their reason for creating Steam started out as very personal in that they needed a platform to distribute their own projects, similar to why Ubisoft created UPLAY several years after the creation of Steam. The second key tenant of Steam was to make it easier for consumers to purchase, download, and ultimately play games. Before Steam, most people still were purchasing physical copies of PC games as well as expansions and additional content for them. Some other platforms that ultimately didn’t take off were created either by individual studios for their own games or by independent corporations trying to essentially do what Steam does today, but really Steam established the modern PC gaming ecosystem.
In the almost 16 years since Steam was established, many changes have taken place, both with Valve and with the platform itself. For example, Valve really doesn’t make games anymore. The last project released that was made by their core development team was Dota 2, released in 2013. Really now they’re just a publisher buying smaller studios like Campo Santo and acting as a main distributor for projects created by the developers under their umbrella of ownership. Steam is the bulk of their business and revenue now. Steam itself has changed a lot over the years. Many things have been added such as forums, a return policy, a user review system, and of course an ever expanding library of games. Most people today would say that it’s the most successful PC games distribution platform in the world with a majority of developers distributing on the platform and more PC based users than any other currently extant platform. But not all the changes have been good . . . for the consumers and developers that use their platform.
Over time, Steam has gone out of its way to keep people from having access to user data. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable. Steam currently takes 30% of profits from sales of software, meaning developers make at most 70% of the sale price, not factoring in additional costs such as publishers. Steam once had some of the best sales in the PC games market but over time the quality of their sales has dropped. Often you can find better prices for the same products from third party sellers even if the codes being sold are to be used on Steam. Humble Store, Fanatical, and Green Man Gaming are just a few examples of such third party sellers. Steam’s DRM policies have become exceedingly more troublesome over the years, sometimes even lowering the performance of games. As with all companies in gaming, Steam has slowly turned to the dark side, or the EA side as I prefer to call it, over time. That is not to say that Steam is a bad platform. That’s completely subjective to each individual user. But to say Steam is the best possible platform for both developers and consumers, outside of volume of games available, would be a ridiculous statement. Personally I think GOG is a much better platform for consumers. The only real complaint I have about it is of course the limited selection of games. I much prefer UPLAY to Steam. The prices are often better and the rewards system for Ubisoft is built right into the system. But of course this only works for games published by Ubisoft, which is very limiting in the grand scheme of PC gaming.
People often argue that Steam has a monopoly in the PC games market. This is inaccurate. Monopolies are technically illegal in the US. We have anti-trust laws and have since at least 1890 with the Sherman Act. Now of course the US government basically never polices monopolies anymore, but technically they could if they wanted to. This would not apply to Steam. In reality, what Steam has is a natural monopoly which is not the same and is not illegal. Steam has very little competition because it’s simply too big to fail at this point. Making a true competitor is difficult. It requires lots of start-up capital. It requires providing a service that’s just as convenient as Steam with at least as many extracurricular resources. It requires motivation to get developers to put in the extra effort to work with a new platform knowing full well that the user base won’t be as large as Steam’s. Truth be told, the only way a real competitor will be able to establish itself in 2019 would be to play dirty, which is exactly what’s happening with EGS.
Let me reiterate that I think competition for Steam is a good thing. I’m glad I have choices about where to buy my games. I have no problem using multiple launchers. I use Steam, GOG, UPLAY, Origin when I’m feeling dirty, and a few weird indie ones. I buy from whatever store front has the best prices and least DRM. I buy from Fanatical, Green Man Gaming, Steam Store, UPLAY Store, Humble Store, CD Keys, Kinguin, and others. I genuinely don’t care. The only reason I don’t use G2A is because it seems shady like I can’t really trust the keys. But I say more power to anyone who is comfortable using that store to purchase their games. I am a consumer. My only responsibility is to other consumers and fighting to make sure that we all get the lowest possible prices and best possible performance for our games while keeping our privacy and payment information secure. That’s it. I don’t owe any fealty or loyalty to any brand, platform, or company. Shills be damned. So whenever I hear about Steam getting some real competition, I consider it a good thing. That’s why even though I can’t stand Epic Games and the fact that they’ve made Fortnite Battle Royale seem like legitimate gaming, I was fully in support of them opening their own store. And I’m happy with a number of things about their store. The free game every two weeks being the best example of that. And they get some solid games for free on that store. Axiom Verge is free this week. That’s what’s up. And even though personally I’m not in it for the developers, I do want to see developers make as large a share of the profits from sales they can. So the fact that Epic Games is only taking 12% with no tiers and paying the 5% engine royalty is a good thing in my opinion. Because even if Epic Games doesn’t become as successful as Steam, it will force Steam to change things about how it runs for both developers and consumers in order to stay competitive. That’s the beauty and purpose of competition. It’s not to topple things you already use. It’s to force those things to be better or ultimately be replaced by things that are better. But EGS isn’t playing completely fair.
What exactly constitutes a monopoly when it comes to digital game sales? In the dictionary, a monopoly is defined as “the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service.” But that’s an extremely vague definition in today’s world. And the Supreme Court keeps it that way because our capitalist system doesn’t actually want to stop monopolies. Legally speaking, when it comes to digital game sales a monopoly would most likely be defined as one company being the only place where you can buy digital PC games. That means that if say Steam and Epic Games were to buy out every other PC game seller/distributor including UPLAY Store, or Ubisoft as a whole for the purposes of argument, then the government would step in if the two companies were to consider merging. But that’s the far extreme, lazy definition of what actually constitutes a monopoly. I would define a monopoly in the case of PC games as any store front that has exclusive rights to sell a game that isn’t directly responsible for the creation and publishing of that game. For me, it comes down to each individual game. So let’s flesh it out.
Epic Games created Fortnite. So if Fortnite was only available on the EGS it would not be considered a monopoly because it’s just them selling their own product. But if a company that doesn’t have its own direct distribution method makes a game and it’s only available for purchase on Steam with no other third party sellers, launchers, or other ways to legally purchase the game on PC, then that is a monopoly. Today we call this a platform exclusive but usually it only applies to console platforms and almost always means a game was published by the console platform’s company. Spider-Man on PS4 is recent example of this. It was not developed by SONY. It was developed by Insomniac Games. But it’s only available on PS4. That’s a monopoly. But we don’t formally count it as a monopoly because Sony published the game. But what if instead Anthem was a PS4 exclusive? That would be considered a monopoly because it’s not developed or published by SONY. It would simply be one company holding all the sale and distribution power of a game that they had no stake in the development and publishing of because BioWare, the developer, is owned by EA, the publisher. But even in that case it wouldn’t necessarily be a monopoly because you could still purchase the game from other distributors. You might say SONY had a platform monopoly but you would still be able to purchase the game from Wal-Mart, Amazon, Newegg, or any other games seller. To really consider it a monopoly, Anthem would have to be a PS4 exclusive that could only be purchased in digital form directly from the PSN Store. That’s how specific things would have to get for it to be defined as an actual monopoly. And that’s what makes playing dirty so easy in the current PC games distribution frame work.
EGS has started signing store exclusive deals with developers/publishers in exchange for that 88% profit share. Recently it was announced that this would be happening with Metro Exodus. The game was already available for preorder on Steam and has been for some time. Then suddenly, last week, it was announced that the game would no longer be available on Steam and that the PC version would only be available for purchase on the Epic Games Store, at a price of $49.99. This is a monopoly. Now we can’t call it a full monopoly because you can already preorder the game from third party sellers like CD Keys to be activated on EGS. Legally speaking, that means it’s not really a monopoly. Also, it’s not a PC exclusive. So again, legally speaking it’s not a monopoly. But it is dirty that Epic Games did that. Especially after it was originally available for preorder on Steam. But at the end of the day what really matters is that this is not the real definition of competition. Real competition means consumers have the choice to buy and play wherever they want. Exclusive titles, whether it be by platform, console, or launcher, are not competitive. This is not capitalism working as it should. They’re unofficial monopolies that stifle competition and ultimately lead to companies being able to manipulate players into making otherwise bad purchasing decisions due to lack of options.
A truly competitive market would have no exclusive titles and force every seller, distributor, and launcher to actively work to be the best possible service as a way to motivate people to buy from them. That’s true capitalism. I don’t want to see a scenario where I have to buy a game from EGS. I don’t want to see a scenario where I have to play a game on EGS even if I’m willing to pay more to play it somewhere else. In practical terms I will buy it from EGS if the price is better, but that should be my choice. I being forced to use their platform is problematic. And such practices will only make things worse for consumers and developers in the long run. We’ll slowly lose our freedom of platform as Steam, Epic Games, and others start forcing developers into exclusive distribution agreements. Player bases will become fragmented as people end up committing to different platforms because of such and such benefit or loyalty program. PC Gaming will essentially become console gaming without the actual exclusive titles that were developed in house to justify the exclusivity of a particular game/brand. I foresee bad outcomes if EGS is allowed to continue these tactics. I want to see real open competition. The people should be able to decide where to buy their games. Not be forced to change platforms or use multiple because developers are chasing large profit shares and platforms won’t play nice with each other. I want to see Epic Games Store continue to grow and thrive. But I don’t want to see it done in this way.
Once again, I had the pleasure of attending Taipei Game Show this year. It’s one of my favorite shows because of how hands on it is. It’s also one of the better game conventions that’s both completely open to the public and extremely affordable, with a single day ticket price of just $10. I will say though that the ticket price is up 50% from last year so while it’s not high, that increase in price percentage wise is worrying for the future of the show. I will qualify that statement by saying Taipei Game Show is one of the best shows for high quality free swag that’s open to the public. Every year I get a fairly good haul of stuff I probably don’t need and this year was no different.
The best thing about gaming events in Taiwan is the large number of playable demos. I’ve been to company specific events like PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei and neutral events like Taipei Game Show over the last few years and consistently events in Taiwan always focus on having playable demos open to the public rather than just footage and demos only available for VIP invited visitors. This is the main reason I keep going back every year.
In general, I’d say this was a weaker show than last year’s. At last year’s show, the bulk of games on display to try were unreleased titles or games that were very new. At this year’s show there was plenty of new stuff that hadn’t been released yet, but there were also a lot of demos for stuff that was already out. Even some stuff that I’d already beaten. Take the Ubisoft booth for instance. They had Just Dance 2019 on their main stage, which is fine because they always have that year’s Just Dance running with people dancing because it makes for a good show. But their other offerings were lacking. They of course had The Division 2 Beta and that’s exactly what should have been there. That was the main portion of their booth. But the only other games they had on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Trials Rising. That means of the five games they had on display three of them had already been released last year. And I personally own all three of them so unless you wanted to wait in line for over an hour to try The Division 2, which I didn’t having already played the alpha, I just tried Trials Rising, which I’ll discuss in detail in my demos review section of this post.
It wasn’t just Ubisoft that was featuring a lot of already released stuff though. Bandai Namco always has a large booth, and this year was no different. But the only game I tried from them was God Eater 3. The main focus of their booth was Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which makes sense because it literally came out this month. But they were featuring demos for Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and a bunch of Gundam stuff that’s focused on the Asia market that I’ve never heard of, as per usual. The only game that they had that was truly special for a show was One Piece World Seeker, which I didn’t even get to try because I didn’t realize they had it until the show was closing for the day. They did no special promotion for it. No large display, which they had for two or three other games, including Ace Combat 7, no posters, no special One Piece swag. They just had it set up on a few screens and you had to notice it on your own, which sadly I didn’t.
As usual, there was no XBOX presence there. Other than PC gaming, which is a big thing at the show every year, Microsoft has no showings at Taipei Game Show. You can buy some PS4 and Switch games at the show every year, but not a single XB1 game could be found. Speaking of which, they had physical copies of Kingdom Hearts III available which is awesome because the game launched in Taiwan the day I attended, which shows just how on top of their game SONY really was for the show.
The thing I found most disappointing about the show this year was the limited Nintendo presence. They didn’t take the time to show up in person like PlayStation does every year. You only get glances of the Switch through third party developers/publishers like Ubisoft and Bandai Namco. But an actual Nintendo booth and store would have been so much better. PlayStation had their own official booth and store, selling new physical games and merch, like they do every year. You could even buy Death Stranding t-shirts this year, though they didn’t have any new footage or gameplay for the game being shown, because of course they didn’t. In a way PlayStation is uncontested just about every year at Taipei Game Show because they put in the investment to make a spectacular booth and feature a huge number of playable demos including PSVR offerings. Most of the demos I played at the show this year, as is true every year, were at the PlayStation booth. And really I don’t think it should be that way. It simply is because enough other companies don’t care enough to participate, which is sad to say the least.
On the PC side of things, it was kind of disappointing because though most of the big Asian players attended such as Nvidia, HyperX, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, ASUS ROG, MSI, and even ThermalTake, they all focused on parts rather than games. They were selling parts in their booths, which is fine, but really that was the main focus of their booths. Showing off and selling products that could be used for gaming rather than focusing on actual gaming. And while this makes perfect sense from a business perspective, as these are hardware companies, it really detracts from the spirit of the show. They could do a lot more to feature more playable demos for new and yet to be released games and make that the focus of their booths while showing off their hardware. In my opinion, this would be the more appropriate way to do things. Of all the PC booths I saw, only ASUS ROG had a demo for an unreleased game. They had a small section where you could try out the PC version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as evidenced by a single mid-sized poster on the far side of their booth. In comparison, PlayStation had a giant statue of one of the game’s bosses and a small Japanese hut shaped structure where you could try out the game complete with Japanese style stools/backless chairs. This was the only PlayStation demo I experienced that did not require you to stand. The point is that PlayStation put in that much investment to display a game that isn’t even exclusive to their platform, meanwhile these PC companies were doing the bare minimum to talk about actual games.
On the swag front, I’m always really impressed most by the mobile app companies and indie studios. It shows just how much money mobile apps make in Asia, because their swag is on a whole other level compared to companies like PlayStation and Nvidia. The swag for the PlayStation booth was game specific. Meaning you got different stuff for trying different games, with most games having no special items at all. Every PlayStation demo gave you red envelopes with a 7 day free trial for PlayStation plus. This is very standard for Taipei Game Show as it always happens right before Chinese New Year, so the envelopes are culturally specific to Asia. Over the years I’ve gotten red envelopes from numerous brands. This year only PlayStation had them. But certain games also gave you special items for trying them. Dead or Alive 6 gave a lanyard and collectors pin. A VR game called Focus on You gave a full sized couch pillow. But most of the time you just got the envelopes. And remember that this is after waiting forever in those long PlayStation lines. Meanwhile some random mobile app company gave me a fairly large stuffed cow, which I named Mr. Moo Cow, for trying three apps over the course of maybe 10 minutes. I will clarify that trying the three apps gave me the chance to draw a prize and that’s what I won, but they had lots of great prizes and plenty of those cows to give away.
An indie PC game studio that I’ve never heard of gave me a full length mousepad of very good quality. Again I drew this, but the same logic applies. SEGA gave out blue lanyards. Nvidia made me travel to five different locations around their booth as well as one at another booth they were partnered with for the chance to draw a prize, which ultimately got me a Monster energy drink and some stickers. Of all the larger companies at the show, I’d have to say the best single swag item was from Bandai Namco. It was a Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! themed neck pillow. But it required you to try five different games they had on display, all of which had their own separate lines. Sadly I didn’t have time to complete this. I even offered to pay for the pillow because I really wanted one and they refused to let me buy it. Overall I was very happy with my swag haul, but my point is the larger companies in the industry really could stand to step their game up.
I will say though that Ubisoft impressed me this year by thinking more outside the box with their swag. Last year they had a system where you tried any game, of which they had several compared to this year, and you got a prize draw. You went to the claims table and they had you play a Just Dance themed prize machine like the one in Just Dance 2018 and you won a random prize, of which they had a large variety of prizes you could win. I got an Assassin’s Creed Origins t-shirt, a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle t-shirt, and a Rabbid Mario hat. It was a really nice system because most of the prizes were really good and the system was entirely random so you didn’t have to wait to try a game you didn’t necessarily want to try to get the swag you wanted. It did however mean that you could get swag you absolutely didn’t want or repeat prizes. They also had a special For Honor keychain which was only available to those who waited in line to try that specific game, which I of course did. This year they didn’t have general swag. You only got a 5% coupon to the Taiwan UPLAY online store. But their game specific swag for The Division 2 was very creative. You got a “Tommy the Teddy Bear” backpack charm which consists of a teddy bear with a bowtie and a The Division 2 keychain. But the really cool part is that it comes with an in game activation code that will give your character in the game the teddy bear charm for their backpack as well. That’s cool swag. It makes a direct connection between the live event and the game. It’s limited edition, which players really care about for some reason, and it motivates people to buy the game. And it was still cheaper to make than the neck pillows or Mr. Moo Cow while being just as valuable to the gamers at the show. Kudos to Ubisoft.
Now let’s talk about what’s really important at game shows: the playable demos. I had the privilege to play seven AAA/large studio demos for games that weren’t yet released at my time of playing (I’m counting Kingdom Hearts III because it wasn’t available in the US for another four days) as well as a few indie titles. Sadly, the three indie titles I recall playing, one on PSVR and two on PC, weren’t anything special so I won’t take the time to go over them in this already long blog post. So let’s just talk about the big stuff. Please note that at Taipei Game Show demos only last 10 – 15 minutes due to the sheer number of people waiting to play. They simply can’t let people play for as long as I would have liked to, and that makes sense. So be aware that my assessment of these demos should be taken with a grain of salt because I didn’t have time to change any settings or get super comfortable with the controls. Also note that the demos in Taipei Game Show are mapped for Asian players, which is different from standard button maps in the West. For instance, on a DualShock 4 controller O is the confirm button in Asia, while X is the confirm button in the West. These sorts of things do really make a difference. I remember going to Taipei Game Show back in 2016 and trying Attack on Titan for the first time and absolutely hating it because of the button map and my inability to read the directions, since they’re always in Chinese or Japanese at Taipei Game Show. Then when I got to try the game at home with an American button map and English directions I absolutely loved the game.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Of all the demos available, this was the one I was most excited to try. Obviously Kingdom Hearts III was more important overall, but that was set to release less than a week from the event so trying the demo for 10 minutes wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Sekiro on the other hand is one of my top games for this year that won’t be out for some time. The only game I wanted to play more than Sekiro is Ghost of Tsushima, which sadly wasn’t available to play. Though they did have a giant poster and a guy dressed up like a samurai to promote the game and taunt my very soul. But thankfully I at least got to try the next great soulslike title.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a rough demo experience. Obviously the game is difficult, which it should be. But it’s also not the same gameplay as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so you can’t just walk on with that past experience and expect things to just click right away. This is a completely different animal. For starters, the pace of the gameplay is much faster than even Bloodborne. You’re zip-lining around the level, dealing with long range attacks like rifles, and having to dodge the view of spotters stealthily hidden throughout the world. It’s as much about stealth as it is about combat performance. And you are not very powerful in the grand scheme of things. Basic samurai go down in a few swipes, or instantly with a stealth kill. But even the first tier armored samurai were quite the amount of effort/attacks to take down. And the first mini-boss was pretty much impossible for me to bring down in the 10 minutes I had. This is because he had four other enemies in the area with him, two of which couldn’t be stealth killed. The three of them together were just too difficult for the items I had. The long range attacks are severely lacking. At least what was available to me in the demo. I really hope to be able to get a bow and/or rifle in the full game. I really hated the button map in this demo. I hate to be one of those people that makes excuses like that for not being able to beat a game, but honestly if I can’t remap that game and that’s the final layout for the US version, I’m gonna have a terrible time. It did not work for me at all. It’s not that it’s drastically different from Bloodborne. It’s that what you’re doing in Bloodborne with the controls is vastly different and that makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the button layout.
I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think it’s a bad game after playing the demo. I’m fairly certain I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition day one. It’s very challenging, which is what it’s supposed to be. But there are definitely things I want to see changed in the final product from what I experienced in the demo. That’s of course assuming the conditions leading up to the point in the game the demo took place in are inevitable for the items, skills, and damage I was getting in the demo. It’s very possible that the experience I’ll have based on my preferred play style will net drastically different outcomes from what I got in the demo.
Dead or Alive 6
I’m a big Dead or Alive fan and have been since I bought the third installment on the original XBOX 18 years ago. I had played the earlier games causally in arcades but DOA3 is when I really fell in love with the franchise. It’s still in my top five fighting franchises and I play every game. Really I don’t expect things to be too different from game to game and I prefer it that way because the DOA formula is nearly perfect in my opinion. I just want some new fighters, new stages, and maybe some new special moves and I’m pretty much fine with it.
What I got from this demo is almost exactly what I wanted. The graphics are good. The roster includes all the characters I wanted, including Hyabusa, and the gameplay is much the same. There are some new specialty attacks, similar to what you get in the latest Soul Calibur, but by and large it’s the same buttery smooth, fast paced gameplay fans of the franchise are accustomed to. There was also a great selection of costumes for all the fighters. I’m very much looking forward to playing this game.
Devil May Cry 5
I’ve never beaten any of the DMC games, unless you count DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) by Ninja Theory. But I’ve always wanted to play them all. I’ve been very impressed by the things I’ve seen about DMC5 so I finally bought 1 – 4 remastered on PS4. The DMC5 demo delivered both what I wanted and expected. It’s fast paced, smooth, visually gruesome, and slightly comedic. I was very happy with the gameplay, though I do feel that I didn’t fully understand the robotic hand system they implemented. I thought it was a bit weird, but I also liked that you could completely destroy your hand and then have to fight with one arm. The different arm types were cool as well because it allowed you to create a more customized gameplay experience based on your preferences. The gameplay was fair. I’d recommend playing this one on hard if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise or genre. I beat the boss in the demo with little fear of dying. But overall I was very happy with it and I’ll certainly be buying the game.
God Eater 3
God Eater is a franchise I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to really play. I actually own the first two games on PC, but I’ve never played either of them. I really like the genre because of games like Toukiden and Monster Hunter World. But when you have games like Monster Hunter World available the motivation to take the time to play anything else in the genre becomes sorely lacking. But I still wanted to try this demo.
Personally I struggled a lot with this demo. A large part of that comes from the fact that it wasn’t in English. I had such a hard time trying to figure out the weapons controls. I kept accidentally changing from the sword to the gun mode and then couldn’t get the gun to fire properly. The demo had me running around looking for monsters but very few were spawning in the level. I actually ran out of time before the real monster showed up so my whole demo experience was really lousy. I hope they release a public demo because I’d genuinely like to try it again with a full understanding of how the gameplay mechanics work before passing final judgement. That is to say the game is not at all intuitive.
Kingdom Hearts III
I have waited more than a decade to play Kingdom Hearts III. I have watched as Square Enix dished out garbage handheld spin off title after garbage handheld spin off title. I have seen Sora travel to worlds that made up my childhood and fight alongside some of my favorite characters growing up. But in all these years I have never seen his story get a proper conclusion. It is my hope that I will finally get this in Kingdom Hearts III. No I did not need to play a demo for a game that will literally be released before this blog post is even published. But of course I took the time to wait in line and play it anyway.
The game dropped me directly into Toy Story world. I don’t know how far into the game that was/is, but it seemed like it was quite a ways in because I was really OP. I could combo through the air for what seemed like forever. I had magic attacks that were super powerful. It was definitely fun but it did not feel earned. The team up moves were amazing and quite beautiful. I also really liked that Buzz and Woody fought alongside me without me having to sacrifice Donald or Goofy from my team. The demo definitely did its job in making me excited to play the game. But I’m hoping they don’t just drop me in at that level of power from the start. The gameplay was very smooth overall, as is to be expected. And the AI for my team mates was very effective as well. I can’t comment on Donald’s healing AI/ability at this point because I didn’t take enough damage to require healing.
At the end of the day, I already preordered the game months ago so playing the demo didn’t matter much to me or have any impact on my decision to buy and play the game. But I am really looking forward to finally getting to play it. As I write this post, I’m preloading it onto my PS4.
Space Channel 5 PSVR
I didn’t actually know this game was in the works. Space Channel 5 was one of my favorite games from the Dreamcast. It’s one of the only games that I enjoyed with my sisters as a kid. Even my mom liked watching us play it. I’m a big music/rhythm game fan and SC5 was one of the best from that era. The blend of story, challenging gameplay, and sci-fi graphics made for a great music game experience. And it featured Michael Jackson. So I was both shocked and ecstatic to find out that a VR version of the game was in the pipeline and available to try.
I have to say that it worked very well gameplay wise. You really had to do the moves and keep to the rhythm. It was responsive, mostly fair in its judgement of your move accuracy, and quite fun. The demo didn’t have any of the more challenging dance battles because it was only the first level, but from what I experienced I think it could end up being a stellar overall gameplay experience. What I didn’t like was that they changed the level structure and presentation. In the original game you play as Ulala and travel through the stages dance battling aliens and rescuing people along the way. In this demo you played as Ulala’s trainee and the entire concept of traveling through the stage was removed. You just stayed in the same place the entire level and the aliens came to you, bringing their hostages along with them. This lazy way of doing the level really took away from the overall experience of the original game. And playing as a trainee was kind of a bummer. Especially since she never talked back to Ulala. I would have much preferred an entirely new story as the third installment of the franchise with this new system rather than change up the process of the original game in this manner. The gameplay is quite solid though so hopefully we’ll see something like that in the future whether it’s Space Channel 5 or a new IP altogether.
I only tried this game because I played and liked the beta for Trials Fusion and didn’t want to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both of which I already own. And I certainly wasn’t going to wait two hours to try The Division 2 beta. Especially after having already played the alpha. So I tried the one game that was completely new to me.
Trials Fusion is extremely hard. I’m so glad you can continue from the very plentiful and automatically applied checkpoints because wow is it difficult to get past the various obstacles in a given course. The ramps and angles are so unforgiving. Timing is everything and you rely on luck way too much. I crashed so many times trying to get through a single course that it got depressing. I don’t know who the target audience is for that game but it’s certainly not me.
The only two demos that I didn’t get to play but really wanted to were One Piece World Seeker and Concrete Genie. Both of these were under marketed, as in not marketed at all, so I wasn’t even aware of them till the booths were already closing up for the day. This was probably my biggest complaint from the show this year. There simply wasn’t enough put into providing people with information. Usually there’s an information booth in every main intersection. This year there was nothing. No people walking around to ask for directions. No help desk inside the floor. You could get assistance about specific booths from booth employees, but for general help about the show you were on your own with nothing more than a printed map, which I had to go out of my way to find because they weren’t handing them out at the door like they always have in past years that I’ve attended. There should have been a list of playable demos made available online before the show started so you could plan what you wanted to try in advance.
One thing I noticed about a number of demos, both indie and AAA, was that many of them had intros that were way too long. If you tell me I only have 10 – 15 minutes to try out a game, less than a minute of that should be taken up by story introductions. I didn’t wait in line for an hour to get plot points. I just want to try the gameplay and see the graphics. Between that and loading times, so many games were just wasteful in their time management of that 10 – 15 minute span of time. A VR demo I tried from an indie studio had me sit through 10 minutes of introduction with Chinese subtitles and not enough volume before I got to fire a single bullet. This is not OK.
I’ll end this post by sharing a rather interesting experience I had at the Ubisoft booth. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that I’m a big Just Dance player/fan. Though I’ve never formally competed, based on my online performance for the past two or three installments of the franchise, I genuinely believe and tell people that I’m in the top five players in Taiwan. At least on Nintendo platforms. While I was at the Ubisoft booth waiting in line, I mentioned to one of the employees that spoke English that I was a big fan of the franchise and that I was a top player in Taiwan. As they do every year, they had Just Dance, 2019 in this case, running on the stage. But this year they allowed anyone to walk up and play rather than limit it to invited guest players only like they usually do. I actually didn’t want to play because I had only played about three hours of Just Dance 2019 at this point, having just opened the game earlier in the week. This employee went and told the guy in charge of the Just Dance section of the booth that I claimed to be a top player. He, also being able to speak English, came and asked me if I’d play. I felt like I had to at this point otherwise it would look like I was lying about my skill level. After reaching the stage, they introduced me to the host and Ubisoft’s brand ambassador for Just Dance in Taiwan. The host seemed to be an active Just Dance player but he wasn’t actually playing at that time. The brand ambassador was introduced to me as the number one player in Taiwan. I chose to introduce myself by my Just Dance online name rather than my real name and to my surprise they both recognized my Nintendo Switch User ID from previous Just Dance versions. The brand ambassador was quite good. He had already mastered all the 2019 songs, which makes sense if you started playing it day one because it’s been out since October. I just got a late start because I usually close out the year with the previous version before starting the installment for the next year. I will say without argument that he was better than I was consistently. But of the four to five players playing, I was getting second place and the ambassador was not blowing me out of the water. At times I was even ahead of him but he was ultimately closing out each song in the lead. I actually really would have liked to play against him in some songs from 2018 because I do believe that I was at his level of play. Ultimately they interviewed me after I was done playing and featured my interview in this official Ubisoft Taipei Game Show video. See if you can figure out who I am.
So that’s it for another solid Taipei Game Show. Here’s looking forward to a great year of gaming and attending again next year.
A few weeks ago I attended CES for the first time. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show. It is the largest annual consumer technology trade show in North America and one of the largest annual tech shows in the world. The first CES was held in 1967, 52 years ago. I’m glad I was able to attend this year. Not only because it was an amazing experience that I’ve always wanted to have, but also because I don’t know how much longer CES will be around.
I have been noticing a trend in recent years with big corporate tech and gaming events. They’re dying. Not all at once. It’s not fairly obvious. It’s a slow death brought on more by the winds of change coupled with rampant, unsustainable profiteering rather than some singular obvious occurrence. I’ve attended and continue to attend a number of these events for work throughout the years. The ones I have the most experience with personally are Computex and Taipei Game Show, both held in Taiwan, where I live, but my company is involved at some level with larger and smaller tech/gaming events all over the world. This gives me a level of insight that most members of the public simply don’t have access to. And it’s because of this coupled with other obvious clues that I must conclude that the current large scale events model is dying and if it doesn’t change fairly soon will be gone for good.
I first started to notice this with E3 back in, I believe, 2016 when Nintendo first decided to stop attending the show in person. And I want to be clear that this trend is happening to many if not all larger events around the world and not just specific ones. Nintendo opted simply not to present at the show. They made their in house presentation and released it digitally on their own site. While we can’t know for sure, I’m fairly certain Nintendo didn’t pay E3 a single dollar to have them show the video on their screens during the show. They simply did it because they knew people would rather tune in to Nintendo’s presentation as opposed to anything else that would be shown at E3 during that time. And no other company was dumb enough to try to directly compete with Nintendo’s presentation release time slot. This Nintendo Direct concept seemed like madness when first announced but ultimately was a huge success and has continued every year at E3 since that first experiment and has since then expanded to multiple presentations a year from Nintendo not tied to any specific corporate events outside of their own calendar. Now in 2019, SONY has announced that they too will not be attending E3 this year in favor of their own currently undisclosed means of conveying information to the public and media.
It’s fairly safe to assume that E3 is going to suck this year. Microsoft/XBOX in its current form can’t carry E3 alone. EA, Blizzard, and Activision are all dumpster fires at this point. Bethesda has a lot of bad blood right now and The Elder Scrolls VI is still years away, leaving us pretty much Doom Eternal and maybe another Wolfenstein game from them? And the rest of the bit players just aren’t important enough to make E3 worth your time. The rest of these companies aren’t worth much more than a couple hours of watching trailers on YouTube and a few tweets. So if this trend continues and nothing about the model drastically changes in the near future, E3 is essentially on its way out. And that should be fairly obvious to everyone.
In similar fashion to E3, I noticed something odd about CES. Many larger companies, including my own, aren’t actually attending CES anymore. What many companies, big and small, are now doing is showing up to Vegas, renting a suite in a random hotel, and just inviting media, customers, and other industry contacts to just come see their stuff in private by invitation. This is exactly what my company and many others did at CES this year. Some examples of companies that did this exact thing at the show this year include Patriot/Viper Gaming, Cooler Master, and Alphacool. These are all fairly well known companies in the PC DIY industry. Several smaller companies you’ve never heard of did this same thing and have for some years now. I even found this forum post from back in 2010 where some companies got caught doing this at the actual hotel CES was held at and got kicked out. So this is by no means a new practice. And I see the same thing done by a number of companies during Computex in Taipei every year as well. This practice is now the norm. The sad thing is the companies that run these events know this but aren’t doing anything to address the reasons that it’s happening. Like EA and microtransactions, they’re just pretending nothing is wrong and doing business as usual with no consideration of what this means for the future of their event and events in general.
Let’s talk about why this is happening. There are a number of specific and easily identified causes of this trend. Not so surprisingly, all of them come down to money. The biggest issue I have identified is cost of booth space/attendance. The cost for companies to attend these events has grown to unrealistic proportions. Even companies that can afford it aren’t happy to just throw money away unnecessarily. Let me use my own company’s CES 2019 experience as an example. We rented a penthouse house suite in the top floor of a Vegas hotel for five nights to attend and present during, but not officially at, CES. This penthouse suite had two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, and a connected entertainment space added onto the living room. It also came with three private bathrooms, multiple balconies, and a hot tub, which sadly we didn’t use. As this was a private suite, we had security, control of who entered our suite, were able to insure the safety of the products we were presenting, and we could control our own hours for presenting regardless of what the official CES booth times were. We got all of this for under $20,000 USD a night including those bullshit resort fees and taxes. At five nights, this totaled just under $100,000 USD. Now that’s a lot of money. But to get a space on the CES show floor at a smaller size than what we had but large enough to meet our minimum requirements, we would have had to pay $200,000 USD. Without the private security, control of our traffic, safety of our products, three private bathrooms, the same amount of space, and of course the hot tub, we would have had to pay more than double what we paid for that suite. That’s preposterous. And that’s just the space. It doesn’t take into account the many other costs of attending CES. You have to pay to get your staff there and their hotel rooms and their food. You have to pay the cost of shipping your products there. You have to pay contractors to set up your booth. You have to pay media to show up and make videos about your products, because they don’t give two shits about journalistic ethics or conflicts of interest. The total cost of doing an event like CES even when you save on the space is astronomical. And remember that in the case of CES, the booths aren’t even all located in the same building or location on the Vegas Strip so the idea that having a suite is inconvenient do to location doesn’t even really apply as long as your suite is in the general area of at least one of the four buildings the show is held in.
You also have to consider the value of attending the event. These events are usually not public. Though it’s called the Consumer Electronics Show, CES is not open to the public. It is a private trade show that’s reserved for industry members and media. Of course many members of the public sneak in, but really the bulk of consumers see what’s being shown at CES, and most events like it, via media through YouTube videos, live streams, tweets, and so on. Even if the event was totally open to the public, the bulk of consumers would still rely on media platforms because the event is located in a physical location. Most people can’t afford to travel just to see the new overpriced computers coming out in the next year. One of the largest markets in the world is China. Most people can’t even get out of China. How do you think the majority of consumers will find out about the next iPhone? It won’t be because they went to some event held in Las Vegas. So you have an event that’s becoming more and more expensive to attend while the value of attending that event is forever declining as markets shift, grow, and change. This was one of the main reasons Nintendo gave when asked about the change from traditional E3 presentations to the Nintendo Direct model. Their largest market is Japan. Why would it make sense for them to spend boatloads of money to present at a show where most of the people attending/watching would prefer to see another COD or loot shooter in a language that most of their largest market doesn’t even speak? It simply doesn’t make sense from any sensible money management standpoint. It’s also considerably cheaper and more effective to produce videos in house and distribute them through in house corporate channels and free social media platforms than it is to pay media to make content based on your products and hope the content presents said products in a positive way. Remember that even though media charge companies to come check out their booths/suites and make videos about their products, there are no guarantees about what the content produced will say. They can and often do take payment, show up to the booth, and then make videos where they shit on the company’s products. Personally I think this level of honesty is a good thing and hope it continues, but media charging to create content when they rely on that content for their channels to survive is and always has been odd to me.
Finally, the need to attend events from the user standpoint is dying as well. Just last week, PlayStation had a concert by Utada Hikaru for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III. PSVR owners could attend the concert in VR and have front row seats. PSVR is expensive for sure. But it’s much less expensive than flying to Las Vegas, getting a hotel room for multiple nights, and dealing with the various other costs of traveling. The CES badge on its own was $300 USD if you bought it at the door. At the time of writing this, I can buy a PSVR bundle with two games, one of which I tried for the first time at CES this year, for under $280 USD not including taxes and shipping. Even less if I’m willing to buy it used. Why would anyone ever pay to go to an event again if you can attend them from the comfort of your home in a high definition, possibly interactive VR experience? It simply doesn’t make any sense. It’s not exactly the same as attending the event in person, but for the average person’s needs, it’s close enough. You charge people $20 plus the cost of the hardware to attend any event they want and don’t ask them to leave their home or even wear clothes while attending the event and most people will forgo the need to actually touch and smell the products in person. That’s the entire model of Pay-Per-View fights, minus the VR, and it’s still a profitable business model.
I can go into more specific details about why events are dying, but pretty much it comes down to the companies that organize them continue to raise costs beyond the realm of practicality, companies are actively seeking out and finding cheaper alternatives to attend or circumvent the need to be directly involved in these events because of the rising costs, and the public can’t really attend the events for the most part so the value of said events is limited to begin with. Now let’s be clear, these events weren’t originally established for the public. CES, Computex, E3, and most of the other well-known ones are industry exclusive trade shows that have allowed media to get involved as a way to include the public in later years. But that was never their original intention. These shows exist for the sake of conducting business. Distributors and buyers meet with producers to try to make deals. That’s the point. And that can now all be done digitally as well, so the value of these shows even at their core is dwindling while the added burden of paid media has increased the cost of attending the shows with no concrete guarantees about the returns on those investments.
Now in a way, I think it’s sad. These events are fun. I like attending them. I find value in attending them both personally and professionally. And regardless of how little value they actually have, the public tends to like them as well. Gamers look forward to E3. It’s a waste of time and money that usually disappoints in the long run because of misleading marketing and over promising from developers, but it’s still fun. It’s an enjoyable part of the industry that brings people from all over the world together to discuss their like-minded interests. That’s a good thing. Especially in 2019 when people are so divided on everything else, including gaming itself. So I don’t want to see these events die. But make no mistake they are dying. Pretty much all of them are dying. And if something doesn’t change very soon, I do believe we won’t see CES make it to 60 years. At least not in its current form, size, and popularity.