The Leaks of Us

I’m not really a fan of advanced release date announcements. I hate the hype trains and unrealistic expectations. I think announcing release dates far in advance ultimately leads to broken promises or even worse, unfinished games. Most importantly, I would rather see a game as near to perfect as possible before release rather than a promised deadline met and an unfinished product sold to be patched later. So I don’t actually have a problem with games like Beyond Good & Evil 2 being very vague about when they will be released. In fact, I wish games weren’t even announced till they were already gold so that there were no broken promises or delays because we honestly shouldn’t be notified about unconfirmed possibilities to begin with. I understand why early announcements are made. I understand why companies announce release dates far in advance. From a business standpoint, it all makes sense. Even the added pressure put on the development teams, though scummy, is a perfectly sensible business decision from the publishing side of the games industry. I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to agree with it, but I definitely understand it. But it’s also important to note that these early release date announcements are what ultimately lead to delays and even cancellations. I’m still not over Scalebound. The issue that rarely gets discussed though is the meaning of release dates.

beyond-good-and-evil-2As consumers, we’re sold the idea that release dates aren’t arbitrary. We’re led to believe that they take into account a number of factors based on estimated development time coupled with budget limitations. But we also know that’s not really the entire picture. We’ve seen countless games go gold and then still not release for months. We’ve seen games get delayed at the last minute when it should have been obvious it wouldn’t be ready on time much sooner, if the delay was really an issue of development and not business. It’s also quite preposterous to assume that every single project, with differing sizes of development teams, differing scopes of project size, differing starting points as far as resources available, and differing numbers of years in development can all always be ready in summer or holiday season just after Black Friday or just before the school year starts. Release dates are not solely based on development. They’re based on business analytics in order to maximize sales. Games are often ready to launch much sooner than they are. And they’re also often launched before they’re actually ready in order to make a peak selling date since they can be patched later. While there was once a time where announced launch dates may have been truly based on development time, they’re now more the business/marketing side of the industry than anything else. That’s why I don’t really feel bad for publishers when a game is delayed. Because I know that original date probably wasn’t right to begin with. It was probably much too soon.

TLoU FebThe Last of Us Part 2 is an interesting story in the fact that Naughty Dog had kind of implied it was basically ready to ship before it was delayed the first time. Originally it was announced to be releasing in February of this year. Then it was delayed to May 29th because they felt like it “wasn’t polished enough”. They didn’t say they couldn’t launch in February. They said they were choosing not to. That’s a weird situation in the fact that it’s fairly rare for a AAA developer to be so transparent about making a decision that fans won’t like. They could have said that the game wasn’t ready and had to be delayed three months and pretty much no one would have gotten angry. People would have griped, as they always do. And they would have been sad, as they always are with delays. But if people were led to believe that the game truly wasn’t ready to be launched then they would have accepted it. What people didn’t want to accept was the idea that the game was basically ready but was just being delayed for an extra spit and polish. Now as a cynic I don’t actually believe the game needed to be delayed to May. I believe the game was ready by the original February date but Naughty Dog and/or PlayStation decided it wasn’t a great date to launch from a marketing standpoint. Probably because the world was being plunged into chaos in the midst of a global pandemic.

HL Mencken Money Quote BigReleasing a game about a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated by a virus probably didn’t seem in good taste to the marketing department over at SONY. So they chose to delay to May hoping things would have quieted down about the coronavirus by then. Sadly that wasn’t the case, but since everyone already had to work from home or stop working altogether by that point, the virus became a great alibi to layer on top of the original polish story and justified saying the game was being delayed indefinitely due to the team’s inability to finalize it because of the coronavirus limiting development practices and resources. The pieces just kind of fell into place for that second delay to work with the first one. But at that point the public wasn’t having it anymore. Because if they’ve already said the game was basically ready it doesn’t make sense to indefinitely delay because of the virus. That is unless the release date has basically nothing to do with development and everything to do with profit analytics. It’s no secret that now is not a good time for businesses to launch new products. Especially entertainment products. A lot of people have been hit hard by this virus. People do not have leisure funds right now to pay $60+ for a video game. Lots of people are just trying to keep their homes and feed their children while worrying about devastating medical bills or at the very least the threat of them. So it makes since for PlayStation to want to hold off on releasing their GOTY contender and one of the biggest exclusive sequels they will have ever launched until things get back to normal. And yes I do believe this is more a decision from SONY’s side more than Naughty Dog’s.

Not StonksSo what happens when you finish a game and then set it on the back burner indefinitely while trying to wait out a depression level economic collapse? People get both angry and bored. A dangerous combination when dealing with digital products. Physical products are fairly easy to safeguard. You store them in a safe place, secure them, and guard them until you want them distributed. And yet they still get stolen all the time. Digital products are hard to safeguard. They can be copied, hacked, data mined, accidentally leaked, and are susceptible to a whole host of other security issues. And when hackers are bored, they’re even more motivated to take advantage of those digital weaknesses. Now I don’t know exactly how or who leaked The Last of Us Part 2 story details. I’ve heard rumor that it was an actual employee of Naughty Dog. Then I heard that was false. I don’t know and honestly I don’t really care. But I do know that anyone with even a sophomoric level of knowledge about the history of gaming leaks wasn’t surprised that the leak happened. It was always going to happen once that second delay was announced. I’m surprised we made all the way to the latter half of April before it happened. But how curious is it that within a week of the leak happening and people getting angry about the story details that were leaked magically the game is ready to launch in June. We went from the game being finished but needing a polish for the sake of assurance in February to an indefinite delay to a launch date in just two months’ time. That sounds fishy to me. That sounds like the date never actually mattered as far as development is concerned.

Failed PlansWhat happened with The Last of Us Part 2 is no different than what happens with every other troubled entertainment product long term marketing campaign. A company made a plan, unforeseen circumstances damaged that plan, the company overreacted to that damage, that overreaction caused more damage, and then the company gave up and scrapped the plan altogether in order to recoup as much profit as possible. The company I work for has done the same thing many times. The release date for The Last of Us Part 2 could have been more than two months ago and wasn’t because of a failed attempt to maximize profits. That’s how the game is played. PlayStation just didn’t win this round.

Now personally, I didn’t care about the delays for The Last of Us Part 2. I don’t care about most games being delayed. I am so backlogged that they could delay all games for a year, which I suggested in a previous blog post, and I’d still come out of the other end backlogged. In fact, they could cease all game production for a decade and I still probably wouldn’t be done with my backlog. So I’m infinitely patient. I also had no intention of buying the game at launch. Like with most games, I was just gonna wait for it to go on sale and pick it up for Black Friday. And that is still my plan. I haven’t seen any of the leaks and even if I do, I’ll still play the game at some point because I’m not a child. You knew Thanos was going to die before you watched Avengers: Endgame. You knew the Joker was going to get captured at the end of The Dark Knight. People aren’t stupid. Stories are fairly predictable. Getting bent out of shape about leaks is immature because you already knew what was going to happen anyways a large portion of the time. You just didn’t have confirmation. And it’s not as if the experience of the story is completely diminished by not being surprised at key moments. Stories are more than just who lives or dies at the end.

Thanos inevitableWhile I’m always happy to see a company get called out on their bullshit, I do want to take the time to address the fact that weaponizing leaks isn’t OK. PlayStation delaying the launch date for reasons that had nothing to do with development is dishonest, anti-consumer, and just plain disagreeable. But it’s not hurtful. It’s not illegal. It’s not outside of their rights as a company. It’s certainly manipulative. But all marketing is manipulative. That’s the entire point of marketing. And yes launch dates are a part of marketing. That’s why hype trains exist and are desired by corporations. But forcing PlayStation’s hand by leaking content from the game is not an acceptable response. That’s a scummy move. Essentially the public used the leaks to create negative hype in order to push SONY into launching sooner than desired before the leaks became too widespread and preorders began to fall off. That’s not a good precedent. I do believe we as consumers should organize and work together to make demands of both studios and publishers. I do believe that we get mistreated by the industry a large amount of the time and not enough protections are in place to prevent or curtail that. But I don’t believe that using illegal and invasive means to push back is the answer. Because that’s not a world I want to live in.

Big Leak
Leaks are not a good thing.

Game companies could take on my idea of not announcing launch dates until set in stone and ready to go. But they could also go overboard and not announce games at all until they’re ready to release. I’d be fine with that, since I don’t usually preorder games anyway, but a lot of people wouldn’t. Using leaks as a weapon will ultimately lead to companies releasing as little information and explanation as possible for fear of being hacked and having their projects leaked. You won’t try to steal something if you don’t know it exists. So I think we shouldn’t be encouraging leaks or using them to force companies to be honest with us. Do we deserve honesty? Yes. Should we use dishonesty in order to obtain it? No. There are much better ways to motivate companies to stop bullshitting us. We just need to organize, make our demands known, and stick to them. It really is that simple.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

The Nail in the Coffin (E3 is Dead)

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

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

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ubisoft e3 cancelled

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

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

E3 is Knocking on Heaven’s Door

It’s no secret that I’ve been over E3 for quite a few years now. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know I think it’s an outdated media event that does little in service of both the consumers and the companies presenting that couldn’t be done in much more efficient and cost effective ways. I also see the idea of praising media personalities with a weeklong party where they pretend to work while critiquing hard working devs based on a couple images often released years in advance is preposterous. So I’m fine with the event pretty much dying off and have said as much many times. It seems Sony is in agreement with me because now for the second year in a row they have announced that they will not be attending the show.

Let’s be very clear about something, right off the bat. Neither Sony or Nintendo needs E3. To say otherwise is either willful ignorance or a bold faced lie. E3 needs Sony and Nintendo. Yes there are other companies outside of the big 3 that present at E3. EA, Ubisoft, Devolver Digital, and others all present and that definitely matters. In fact, it’s safe to say that, just like last year, even though Sony wasn’t officially at E3 they still attended. The number of games that were presented at E3 2019 that will ultimately release on PlayStation hardware was more than enough to say that PlayStation users/fans were given plenty of reason to continue being happy as PS4 owners. So it’s more accurate to say that Sony not attending gets most of the benefits of E3 but none of the hassle and expenses. It’s kind of like how Kleenex is a brand but everyone just refers to all tissues as Kleenex at this point because the brand name has become synonymous with small squares of soft white paper for blowing your nose. PlayStation simply is part of console gaming DNA at this point so even if they don’t formally attend every game not specifically locked to XBOX consoles will almost always end up on a PlayStation console as well. Unless of course it’s a Nintendo exclusive. So from a business standpoint Sony doesn’t really need to be at E3.

Sony and E3 BreakUpI have been really happy with Sony’s continued support of the State of Play series. Similar to Nintendo with Directs, I think this is the future of gaming announcements. I still remember when Reggie Fils-Aimé said at E3 some years back that the purpose of moving over to the Nintendo Direct system as opposed to doing formal presentations at E3 was in order to reach a broader audience of Nintendo users around the world in a more direct and accessible way. I agreed with this statement so much and that’s even more so the case having now lived outside the United States for more than five years. The Nintendo Direct system is way better for the millions of gamers who aren’t fluent in English and/or don’t live in North America. Seeing Sony follow suit is a good thing. And if E3 dies in the process I’m perfectly fine with that.

Since the announcement that Sony would be skipping E3, I’ve seen a lot of people online malign Sony, calling them things like anti-gamer, selfish, and out of touch. I find comments like this to be laughable, ironic, and in true American style, extremely narcissistic and self-serving. I’m no Sony Pony and I’m happy to acknowledge a list of issues I have with how the brand has operated the last few years, but their choice to leave E3 isn’t an example of them being bad for consumers. One of the things that I really liked about Sony’s announcement that they were skipping E3 again is that they also stated that they would be participating in “hundreds of consumer events across the globe”. I totally believe this statement because I’ve been seeing it first hand for years. I go to Taipei Game Show every year and Sony always has the largest booth with tons of demos. I tried Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Kingdom Hearts III months in advance because PlayStation demos were available at that show. Sony also hosts a special event in Taiwan that’s essentially an E3 show floor that only features PlayStation games. At Gamescom 2019, which I attended in person, PlayStation had one of the largest spaces at the show. Quite possibly the largest. What all these examples have in common is that they didn’t take place in the US and weren’t focused on by American media. And that’s the point. Sony is expanding their focus to gamers of all places, cultures, and languages. Americans don’t like that because they’re used to being the center of attention and nothing expresses that more in the gaming community than E3.

PlayStation FestivalRemoving the focus from E3 is a slap in the face to all Americans, and honestly that’s a good thing. And I’m speaking as an American born citizen. Gamers come from all over and they should all have equal access to news, demos, and attention from the publishers they patronize. Sony isn’t anti-gamer. They’re pro gamers worldwide. They may be a for profit company and thus are selfish by nature, but pulling out of E3 isn’t an example of that. Microsoft never shows up to Taipei Game Show. Would it be fair to call them selfish? Maybe. But it’s no more selfish than Sony not showing up to E3. Sony isn’t out of touch. The PS4 sold way more than the XB1. Why? Because Sony understands that the US isn’t the only market and has taken steps to expand their market reach outside of that one country. A country they aren’t originally from by the way.

Microsoft will of course be at E3. It’s an American based company with a predominantly pew pew focused audience made up of mostly Americans. They have almost no market penetration in Asia. How could they possibly even consider not going to E3? It’s pretty much the only AAA focused show they really matter in every year. And once again they’re gonna focus on things like Cyberpunk 2077, a cross platform game that you will be able to play on PS4/PS5. Free advertising for Sony yet again. Sony is playing chess and winning while Microsoft is losing at checkers. Microsoft better hope that third party publishers like Ubisoft don’t eventually bow out of E3 as well or it will basically be an XBOX circle jerk event they have to foot the entire bill for. And having done corporate budgeting for events like Computex myself, let me tell you that it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesPersonally I have no problem with E3 going the way of the dodo. But even if I was still a fan of E3 I’d still completely understand why Sony no longer attends. And make no mistake, they no longer attend. Every year now people will wait for the announcement as if there’s a chance they’re going back, but they won’t. That ship has sailed and there ain’t no turning back. Especially now that a lot of media have already turned on E3 after last year’s data leak fiasco. Enjoy it while you can kids because E3 will be dead in no more than 10 years. And that’s a conservative estimate. If this year’s show tanks hard enough, it’s probably dead in five. See you at Taipei Game Show.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

PS5 – The Waiting Game

A few weeks ago, the PS5 was officially announced. I can’t say I was particularly surprised, but I will say that I didn’t personally want that announcement to come so soon. And based on the responses from many I’ve seen on social media, I was not alone in that opinion. The PS5 was of course bound to happen and I’m glad that it will. But the truth is that it feels very early. This probably comes from the fact that console generations seem to be getting shorter while the leaps in performance from generation to generation seem to be getting smaller, from a purely practical use standpoint. Numerically we’re seeing large leaps into 4K and even 8K performance, but most people don’t really see a difference, most people still don’t own 4K televisions, and the way games are played still hasn’t really changed much since the PS3. And if we disregard online aspects and DLC, then really games haven’t changed all that much on PlayStation since the PS2.

Graphics have gotten better, loading times have gotten faster, and more buttons have been added. But the general concepts in most games remain mostly unchanged. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I like the consistency of PlayStation consoles and games. I like that it’s called PS5 rather than some weird confusing name that’s not really grounded in obvious logic. And I like that the controller hasn’t changed much since the PS3. I’m also really happy to hear that PS4 controllers will be directly compatible with the PS5, saving me a ton of money. But my point is that the PS5 feels early. I think the fact that the console industry has also shifted to half console releases like the PS4 Pro also plays a large role in my feelings about this “rush” into the next generation.

The Force UnleashedTo be fair, the PS5 is releasing seven years after the PS4. The PS4 released seven years after the PS3. The PS3 released only six years after the PS2. So in general Sony has stayed consistent. In fact they’ve stayed more consistent than Microsoft with XBOX and at least as consistent as Nintendo. So it makes perfect sense that they’re releasing the PS5 next year. But again, the PS4 Pro, which I personally don’t own, seems to throw things off. But I actually think it’s even more than that. When I got my PS3, two things had happened that were undebatable for myself and really most users. The first was that there were basically no more games available on the PS2 that I wanted to play and couldn’t also get on the PS3. The second was that games no longer looked and played well on the PS2. The last game I played on the PS2 was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008). This was two years after the PS3 had already released. It was not the last game made for the PS2. But it was the first game I played on the PS2 that was also available on the PS3 that looked really bad. This is when I knew it was time to upgrade. The PS2 just couldn’t live up to the standard of the games being released anymore. So after I completed that last game I boxed the PS2 and never used it again. I still have it sitting in the same box.

My transition to the PS4 was similar to that of the PS3. The last game I played on the PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014). It released 1 year after the PS4. This game was the first game I played on the PS3 that just didn’t perform well due to purely hardware based limitations. It froze, sputtered, deleted my save file, and just generally looked bad by comparison to the PS4 version. I knew long before I finished the game that it was time to upgrade to the next PlayStation console. This is how I have always moved from console generation to console generation. I use a console until it’s no longer viable for an acceptable gaming experience. That’s when it’s time to upgrade. To upgrade purely because something is new is nonsensical and wasteful. To refuse to upgrade for the sake of nostalgia is equally nonsensical. There’s a time and a place to upgrade to the next generation console. The issue with the PS5, in my opinion, is that 2020 just isn’t that time.

Dragon Age InquisitionI already said that there were two conditions required for me to upgrade to a next generation console: games available exclusively and performance. In my opinion, the PS4 is nowhere near dead performance wise. I’m still using a PS4 regular and I’m very happy with the performance. My games run fine. They look good. The controls don’t lag. The loading times aren’t bad. It’s still a very viable machine for gaming. And this is even more true for PS4 Pro owners. The PS4 Pro launched in 2016. That means if you bought one as your first PS4 then this generation has only lasted four years for you when the PS5 drops. That’s not long enough for a console generation. Even Nintendo does a minimum of five years per a home console generation. And supposedly the PS4 Pro kicks the crap out of the basic PS4 performance wise. That means pretty much no one normal is unhappy with the current performance of their PlayStation console if they bought a PS4 Pro, because as I said I’m using the basic PS4 and it still runs games great. So that second condition simply hasn’t come into play yet and I doubt it will within the next year based on the games I’ve seen announced to release within the next year. That means games will be the deciding factor for the PS5 at launch.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxWe are arguably in the golden age of gaming when it comes to high quality options. I won’t argue that games are the best they’ve ever been in the more than two decades that I’ve been gaming. But I will absolutely argue that there are more games worth taking the time to play today than there have ever been before. And with all these remakes of older games, that list is growing exponentially on the PS4. My backlog has never been longer than it is this generation. There are so many games on my PS4 I still need to play. And I’m not talking about junk titles or unknown indies. I’m talking popular, well received and reviewed AAA titles. And that’s not even counting my PC backlog, which I don’t even really want to get into. I’m so backlogged this gen. I still haven’t even played Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls III, or Horizon: Zero Dawn. I don’t even own Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or Devil May Cry V yet. These are just a few of the titles I will absolutely be playing on the PS4 before I even consider buying a PS5. And there are still games coming to the PS4 this year that I will absolutely be playing before I upgrade. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Shenmue III, and possibly Death Stranding if it’s not the garbage I think it will be. Plus there’s a list of titles coming out for PS4 next year that are must plays like Nioh II, The Last of Us Part II, and Cyberpunk 2077. There’s simply no practical reason for me to upgrade from my PS4 next year.

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperNow it’s very likely that some of the unreleased games I mentioned will also be available on the PS5. And with the backwards compatibility announced, all of them will absolutely be playable on the PS5. We don’t know how the backwards compatibility will work yet, but we do know that the option will be there. Personally I’m hoping my entire digital PS4 library will be available to play on PS5 for nothing more than the price of a PS Plus subscription. Anything more than that and Sony is basically telling me not buy a PS5 for no less than three years, and that’s an extremely generous estimation of how long it’s going to take me to clear my current PS4 backlog without including not yet purchased and/or released PS4 titles. But the backwards compatibility is a double edged sword for Sony. On one hand, not losing out on my PS4 library motivates me to be comfortable upgrading sooner. But on the other hand, knowing that I won’t lose any of my PS4 games when I do upgrade motivates me to purchase them on PS4 and play them there until the system simply won’t run anymore because I know I won’t lose any of them when I do finally upgrade to PS5. If anything that security blanket is a reason to just wait for the inevitable PS5 Pro. Because maybe by that time I’ll actually be done with my PS4 backlog, the price of the PS5 will have dropped, and the PS5 will already have a large library of released games that have dropped in price. So it doesn’t make any sense for me to upgrade to PS5 at launch or even in the first year. And this is all without even considering my Switch and PC backlogs to tide me over. Even if I didn’t have another PS4 game I wanted to play, I still could wait out the PS5  Pro without getting bored. I haven’t even played The Witcher 3, Doom, or Middle Earth: Shadow of War yet (all games I own on PC). And Pokémon Sword and Shield have already been preordered on Switch, so that’s gonna take some time as well.

The Witcher 3Obviously I can’t speak for everyone but I don’t know anyone who isn’t backlogged. And I don’t know any realistic people who think the PS4/PS4 Pro runs like shit at this point. So it just doesn’t seem practical to launch the PS5 in 2020. The PS4 has a gigantic market share that’s still technically growing. And it’s a strong, stable base of players, most of which are very happy with their PS4. So happy that I don’t think they want a new console anytime soon. So I just don’t see the PS5 launching successfully next year. For the first time in my life as a gamer, we are in a prime waiting position to upgrade. As I’ve clearly shown, there is no reason to rush to the PS5 as a PS4 owner. Maybe XB1 owners will finally come over to Sony with the PS5 but PS4 owners simply don’t have to pick one up any time soon. I’m sure plenty of people will buy one at launch just to say they did, but in practical terms it’s unnecessary. There has never been as many games worth taking the time to play at the end of a generation as there is today. And the current generation hardware has never been so strong in comparison to the next generation hardware as it is today either. The practicality of buying a PS5 in 2020 as a PS4 owner simply isn’t there. So I will be playing the waiting game and I can wait a long time. The only way Sony will get me to buy a PS5 any time soon is to guarantee me that all my PS4 games will work on PS5 at no extra cost to me and release some amazing exclusives that aren’t also available on the PS4 and able to run adequately on it. I just don’t see them delivering all that in 2020.

Will you be picking up a PS5 near launch? If so, why? Let me know in the comments.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

I Think You’re Mistaken, Sony was at E3 2019

What is the purpose of E3? I’m not asking that in a philosophical sort of way. I’m asking that question in the most literal terms possible. Why do companies spend exorbitant amount of money to give presentations to a room full of “press” and influencers to talk about upcoming games and gaming related products and services? Because they believe it’s profitable is the answer I’ve concluded upon. But I’m certainly willing to consider other points of view. I don’t believe it’s for love of the fans. I don’t believe it’s to do actual business like at basically every other trade show. I believe companies show up to E3 as a means to market products based on the belief that doing so increases sales which, in most cases, increases profits. That also means that if companies believed they would take a net loss by showing up to E3 then they wouldn’t show up. Or at least that’s my opinion on this question based on the information I’ve seen and my own understanding of the gaming/tech industry based on my involvement through my job, which is related to gaming on the PC hardware side.

PlayStation didn’t have an official press conference at E3 2019. This was the first time they didn’t show up since the company first started attending in the mid-90’s. This was not a surprise since they made this announcement back in 2018, but it was still a much different E3 experience without PlayStation being there. Arguably, the lack of PlayStation, and to a much lesser extent Activision, not being there considerably lowered the value of even attending the show. That’s not to say that it wasn’t still worth going. I certainly would have gone if I had been able to. It’s just to give a realistic accounting of the cost benefit analysis of attending E3 in 2019 vs that of previous years. Remember that even though Nintendo doesn’t give a live presentation at E3 anymore that they still have a booth on the show floor, which in my opinion might even be more valuable than the presentations when it comes to attending these types of events. For example, I never attend the presentations at Taipei Game Show, but I go every year to see the booths and try out demos. It’s well worth the effort just for that.

E3 Schedule

Many people have argued that E3 suffered with PlayStation not being there. Even XBOX boss, Phil Spencer, voiced this opinion in an interview. The whole industry cares about E3 and the whole industry suffers when the caliber of E3 is lowered, even if it gives a company a leg up on the competition . . . at the show. Also let us remember that every company that doesn’t show up to E3 burdens other companies with having to show cross platform titles. Cyberpunk 2077, as an example, had to be shown at this year’s E3. It did not have to be presented by Microsoft though. But with CDPR not doing their own presentation and PlayStation not attending, that meant Microsoft had to take responsibility for showing that game, whether it was good for them or not. In this case it probably was good for them, but that won’t always be the case. If I’m honest though, I don’t actually agree with the opinion that PlayStation wasn’t at E3. In fact, I’d say that PlayStation was very much at E3 but decided not to present their in house exclusive titles. Allow me to explain.

As I said, showing up to E3 is about increasing sales, in my opinion. This means that anything presented that will potentially increase a company’s sales can and should be considered beneficial to that company regardless of when and where it was shown during E3. So for example, Ubisoft always does their own presentation, but any games shown by Ubisoft are usually cross platform. Meaning all platforms that will have Ubisoft games presented distributed on them benefit from Ubisoft’s presentation and thus can be considered to have a presence at the Ubisoft presentation. So in the case of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, which was presented by John Bernthal (The Punisher), PlayStation, Microsoft (XB1 & PC), and Google (Stadia) were all present at/during this presentation. Nintendo, since Ghost Recon: Breakpoint will not be available on Switch, was not.

Just Dance 2020 e3
Everyone was at E3. Even the Wii!

The real reason PlayStation doesn’t have to show up to E3 is because they’re now there by default. Outside of Nintendo, PlayStation runs the exclusive market. Meaning the only AAA titles you saw at E3, that weren’t presented by Nintendo, except for Gear of War 5 and Halo Infinite will be available on PlayStation hardware. Unless I’m missing another title. Furthermore, there were a few announcements made that were exclusive to PlayStation such as undisclosed content for the Marvel’s Avengers game. Sure there’s a few things XBOX showed that won’t be available on PS4 but pretty much all of them will all be available on PC and none of it was top shelf games. All other games showed from all other conferences, again other than Nintendo, that people will actually whine about not being able to play will be available on PS4. Watch Dogs Legions? PS4 title. Cyberpunk 2077? PS4 title. Marvel’s Avengers? PS4 title. Final Fantasy VII HD Remake? PS4 title. Anything actually worth talking about at E3 this year that isn’t a Nintendo exclusive will be playable on PS4.

PlayStation got free announcement after free announcement during most of E3. Because the fact is that even though you saw Cyberpunk 2077 presented by Microsoft, you are not going to buy it on XB1 if you own a PS4 (or PC). Until the exclusive market reorganizes itself, which it won’t anytime soon since Microsoft seems committed to the play on any device thing, PlayStation simply doesn’t have to attend E3. Every company is presenting for them free of charge. Imagine if E3 2019 had shown no games that will be available on PS4. Like every company just made it a point not to give any sort of free marketing to SONY. What would the show have looked like? These are all the games presented during press conferences at E3 this year that are not currently announced to be coming to PS4.

Cyberpunk 2077 CE PS4

  1. Halo Infinite
  2. Gears of War 5
  3. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Originally announced before E3 2019)
  4. Blair Witch
  5. Bleeding Edge
  6. CrossfireX
  7. Microsoft Flight Simulator
  8. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
  9. Battletoads Remake
  10. Phantasy Star Online 2 Remake
  11. RPG Time: The Legend of Wright
  12. Spiritfarer
  13. Twelve Minutes
  14. Way to the Woods
  15. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  16. Luigi’s Mansion 3
  17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  18. Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
  20. Super Mario Maker 2
  21. Astral Chain
  22. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
  23. Cadence of Hyrule ~ Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
  24. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  25. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
  26. Dragon Quest Builders 2
  27. No More Heroes 3
  28. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  29. Panzer Dragoon: Remake
  30. Carrion
  31. Devolver Bootleg
ff7-collectors-edition
XB1 and Switch weren’t even in this presentation.

That’s 31 games. Of those 31, 15 are Nintendo exclusives, all of which were presented via Nintendo Direct rather than live presentation, as Nintendo has done for the last few years. There were also some small indie projects that were mentioned offhandedly and not given any real stage time during presentations. Of those 16 remaining games, only two are AAA titles and neither of those are new IPs. That means without giving free marketing to SONY, we would have exactly two games worth really talking about from E3 2019 that were presented live on stage. And yes some of these games are timed exclusives for XB1, in the same way that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a most likely a timed exclusive for PS4. But do those actually affect sales by platform that much? Remember how badly Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) did at release because of the timed exclusivity? No one is going to go buy an XB1 to play Cyberpunk 2077 a little earlier. If anything they’ll just buy it for PC. Which most people who have PC’s, myself included, were probably going to do anyway because that game is just asking to be modded and ran in glorious PC MasterRace settings.

For reference, here’s all the games I’m probably buying on PS4 after seeing them at E3.

  1. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  2. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  3. Doom Eternal
  4. Watch Dogs Legions
  5. Marvel’s Avengers
  6. Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout
Fallguys
Another PS4 console exclusive shown at E3.

That’s compared to just one game on PC (Cyberpunk 2077) and nine games on Nintendo Switch. PlayStation sold me 38% of the games I’m planning on buying after E3 2019 and they weren’t even officially there. Microsoft sold me only 6% of the games I’m planning on buying and it’s for PC via GOG so they won’t even really get any revenue from it. And honestly the only reason I plan on going the PC root for this game is for mods. And if the game does ultimately get a third person mode, I’ll probably just get it on PS4 because that’s the only mod I really care about.

The fact is that PlayStation has solidified itself so much into the gaming industry as a whole this gen, mostly by controlling the exclusive market and dominating the console player base, that they are automatically present at E3. It’s almost how Steam is synonymous with PC gaming . . . well at least for right now (Lol Epic Games Store). If you play newly released console games on anything other than Switch, it’s more than likely that you’re playing them on PS4. That’s not an opinion. It’s a numerical fact. And because of that, every game you purchase that isn’t an XB1 exclusive, so pretty much none of them, will most likely be purchased for PS4. PlayStation was absolutely at E3. And between the lacking exclusives on XB1, the continued Epic Games Store controversy for PC games, and the lack of blockbuster cross platform titles like Cyberpunk 2077 going to Switch, it’s almost fair to say that SONY won E3 . . . except for Switch owners like me. I have a PS4 and I will be buying a number of games shown this year on PS4, but Nintendo absolutely won E3 for me based on the sheer number of games I’ll actually buy on Switch after watching the Direct. If things continue the way they are now and Microsoft can’t seriously turn things around with Project Scarlett, I wouldn’t expect to see SONY show up at E3 again for a very, very long time. Maybe they’ll show up to present new consoles in release years but other than that they simply have no reason to. Because why spend the money when you don’t have to?

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

State of Play(Station)

Last week, Sony debuted the first episode of “State of Play”. In short, this is the PlayStation version of Nintendo Direct. I think this is a great thing. It’s just another example of how E3 is dying, which I’ve been saying for years. Every year I do a blog post about E3 and in the last several years I have been very critical. I want to reiterate that my problem with E3 is not the general concept but the business model and execution. I think live gaming events for the public are a good thing. I think making them private events that only allow media while charging game companies a fortune to give the event content is preposterous and outdated. And I praised E3 for finally selling some public access tickets in my post last year. But really it’s too little and nearly too late. If drastic changes aren’t made to the model soon, the entire concept will be dead in the water if it’s not already. All that is to say that I happily support State of Play as a concept.

Let’s be honest, the content shown in this first episode was lackluster. It was a bunch of VR announcements that affect less than 10% of the entire PS4 user base, a remake we don’t really need, an indie Gauntlet clone with a minor PVP component, Concrete Genie, and footage from two AAA titles that we were already well aware of. Concrete Genie was probably the only part of that presentation that had any real value to the bulk of PS4 users. And please don’t try to tell me that presentation told you anything about Days Gone you weren’t already aware of if it’s a game you were actually interested in before watching the presentation. But the content shown isn’t why I already consider State of Play a success and ultimately a good thing.

5 Nights VR

Sony announced that they weren’t attending E3 this year months ago. They were very open and honest about the fact that they have very little to show for this year. Between such a strong 2018, with games like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the all but confirmed transition to PS5 coming in less than two years, they’re basically riding out the rest of this generation. Also remember that there are great third party titles coming out that Sony has no real reason to try to compete with directly this late in the gen when the largest user base is on their platform anyway. Games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice put plenty of money in Sony’s bank account for a fraction of the work it takes for them to make the next God of War level project. And since they’re putting out a new console soon anyway while concurrently dominating the current generation, and have the largest console multiplayer base with games like The Division 2, there’s really no reason for them to rush out anything. I genuinely believe the only reason this first State of Play was released now is that they were trying to console people who have been complaining about the lack of announcements directly from Sony since the last E3. Remember that PlayStation Experience was cancelled last year as well. In a way, this is the ideal scenario though.

Sony and E3 BreakUp

When a company has nothing to show, it’s fairly common for them to say nothing, make up some bullshit, or show something way too far in advance. For whatever reason, a large number of gamers seem to be happy when the second or third thing occurs, but get livid when the first, the most honest of the three, happens. Yet Sony did none of these three things with this State of Play. They had nothing and they used it. Even with very little to show, they put together a 20 minute presentation about what was on the way, and in true Nintendo Direct style, they only showed things that will be out relatively soon. This level of transparency has never really existed in the gaming industry before from a AAA publisher and hardware manufacturer. I would much rather a company honestly tell me they have nothing than lie to me or show me stuff that may not even happen (glances at Scalebound). So for me State of Play was great even if the games shown were a combination of junk and information I already had.

scalebound
Still not over this.

I also really liked the format. I want all gaming presentations to be done like State of Play. No bullshit. No random people I don’t care about trying to make badly written jokes to transition between projects. Just a single faceless voice giving bare bones facts about upcoming projects over gameplay footage, with release dates in the not too distant future. They showed 17 games, all releasing this year, with gameplay footage, in less than 20 minutes. That’s amazing. The recent Nindie Showcase showed 18 games and took more than 25 minutes. The time of the long drawn out presentation is past. People watch these at work in a corner window or while traveling, on their phones and tablets. I don’t need pomp and drama in my games presentations. I need facts and footage in an efficient and informative manner. And there’s no resentment.

I won’t speak for everyone, but a large number of gamers are fed up with media and gaming personalities. Over the last several years, a lot of faux pas, bullshit, and disappointing moments have been perpetrated by the games industry and media, not to mention “influencers”. Much of this has been overblown, but there have also been many valid criticisms. People no longer want to see unqualified hacks or unknown randoms present games. Unless it’s an actual developer talking, I could personally do without a face at all. A large part of this comes from jealousy, and I include myself in that statement.

pewdiepie

Why does this random millennial get to present games while I have to work my boring job? Do they game more than I do? Do they have some degree in gaming that I wasn’t aware I could get? What gives them the right above all the gamers watching to have that job? This is the thought process that has developed over a generation of random unqualified media personalities with nothing to justify their positions except a social media following getting the privilege of working alongside the games industry. It has bread a lot of bad blood that has even often spilled into development as well. Many people are kind of just done with people, which is admittedly sad but not unjustified. I appreciate that Sony recognized this in how they formatted this first State of Play. Faceless voice presenting games with a minimum amount of marketing fluff. No one to get jealous of. No experiences to envy. No reason or target to hate. Just gaming. And really isn’t that what these presentations are supposed to be about?

AAA State of Play

I genuinely liked State of Play. The content was disappointing but the way it was presented was ideal. And this also showed that Sony is willing to do State of Play presentations even when nothing huge is in the pipeline. That’s great for indie games. There are so many great smaller titles that never get any attention simply because people don’t hear about them and they don’t have the budgets for marketing. But if Sony, like current Nintendo with the Nindies Showcase, will take the time to do presentations with no spectacular announcements, that gives indie titles a real chance to shine on PlayStation consoles.

I guess the point I’m making is that a lot of people have been complaining about State of Play but I think it showed a great amount of potential as a format and the future of gaming news. Slowly but surely we are breaking down the walls between the developer and the gamer with more direct access to information without the need for middle men, media companies, and elitist events that most of the gaming community can’t attend for one reason or another. In my book, the future of gaming information distribution is going in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on State of Play and what this means for the future of gaming news?

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

The Division 2 VIP Beta Review

Let me start by saying that I did not preorder The Division 2. I did play the VIP beta, because I was fortunate enough to obtain a code. But I would never preorder a game in order to demo the game. For me, since demos are now almost completely dead (written as I currently download the Devil May Cry V demo), betas are the new demos. This is even more true when you consider just how little beta feedback actually changes the final game from the beta these days. Betas are the new way we try before we buy. And developers know that which is why they’ve started doing these closed betas that require most participants to pre-order the game. It’s a dumb system and dumb choice to fall into it, but lots of people do it so developers will keep getting away with it. That opening statement was not in any way, shape, or form meant to disparage The Division 2 as a game. It’s merely to comment on current business practices I disagree with while also stating my objectivity with this review because I haven’t spent any money on the game and thus can judge the beta from a neutral position.

The first thing that needs to be said about The Division 2 is that Ubisoft did not reinvent the wheel, and that’s a compliment. I really liked The Division. I liked the core story. I loved the gameplay. I loved the map. I loved the concept of the dark zone. I loved a lot, but not everything, about the gear system. For me it was a great game. The endgame was severely lacking at the start and then by the time it released I had no interest in jumping back into the game so I never really got to experience a lot of the later content. But in general I thought it was an excellent game. Really what I wanted from The Division 2 was the same core game with a lot more polish in a new locale with better endgame content. While I can’t speak to the amount of content in this sequel based on the beta, I can speak to the gameplay and basic mechanics and those are for the most part almost exactly what I wanted.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 01-48-49

Improvements have been made. One of the most noticeable is in the storage. It’s organized now. As soon as you open it, you notice the specific gear type categories. Thank God! So much more convenient. And managing your gear is streamlined as well. You can mark things as junk and leave them in your backpack or stash to return to them later still marked as junk. Or you can press “Deconstruct Junk” from the sub-menu and all your junk gear is instantly deconstructed. I will never go back to manually deconstructing again, because it takes longer to manually deconstruct one item than to just mark the one item as junk and deconstruct it through the sub menu. The gameplay is still really tight, but I think the cover to cover movement is even smoother than in the first game. The weapons and gear system is pretty much the same with the color coding, numbers, and special attributes. And that’s fine. The compare items system works much better than I remember it being in the first game. Maybe I’m just imagining that part though. But in general the gameplay feels better while not totally different. The crafting is still an annoying RNG system though.

The world is much more interesting. I know a lot of people were/are whining that it’s no longer set in New York, but that’s a stupid complaint. What really matters is how alive the setting itself is regardless of where it is. The world of The Division 2 is much more alive . . . with NPCs. There are many more animals in the map now. Not just dogs. There are dear, raccoons, rats, birds, dogs, and probably other things. Hopefully a bear appears at some point. And all the animals are interactive. You can even kill the rats, which I of course tested FOR SCIENCE! There are many more patrols of enemies as well as friendly NPCs roaming the map. You can call for backup from NPCs, which is awesome. You can take control points and then they get guarded and managed by friendlies, who you can then supply with resources to make them stronger. And these control points act as fast travel points so you have a lot more efficiency when traveling around the map, if you want it. At the same time though, the world outside the DZ seemed pretty devoid of other players. I want to believe this was just because it was a closed beta, but I saw plenty of other players in the safe houses. But outside I had very little contact, or even sight of, other players that I wasn’t personally grouped with. And honestly even the DZ wasn’t as populated as I expected/hoped it would be with actual people.

Dead Rat
Rat postmortem.

The lack of players was hopefully the cause of this, but I had so much trouble with the matchmaking. Really that was my only serious complaint about the beta. The entire matchmaking system outside of main missions is/was absolute trash in the beta. The first problem, which the game didn’t notify me about, was that your settings are defaulted to friends and clan members only. The problem with this is that it didn’t tell me which led me to spending over an hour trying to find people to join my group from the matchmaking station with no luck. Someone on Twitter had to tell me to change my settings. But that didn’t even really help. First, the game kept switching back to friends and clan only no matter how many times I set it to open. I’m not sure what was causing this. But even when it was set to open, I had no luck with getting people to join me. I’d sit at the matchmaking station forever and no one would join. I’d get tons of invites to join others but never got anyone to join me. Now usually I don’t care about being the group leader, but because of what I consider a content management flaw, being group leader when you’re actually trying to complete stuff outside of main missions is required.

The matchmaking in main missions works great. You go to the mission start point and the matchmaking station is right there. It works quickly and effectively. And when you complete the mission it’s done for you even if you weren’t the host. The same cannot be said for random map activities. Taking control points is challenging. It’s not impossible to do solo but it is hard. The final control point on my map was too difficult for me to solo with the gear I had at the time. So I opted to try to do it with other people. I joined a random group and we cleared it. Then when I returned to my session it was still unfinished, leaving me stuck still unable to finish it and still unable to get people to join my group. My main issues with the matchmaking come down to a lack of hard controls/customization options.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 01-53-25

First, why do I have to go to the matchmaking station? It’s 2019. This is supposedly a map full of players constantly roaming around looking for things to do. Why can’t I just initiate matchmaking from anywhere in the world and nearby players can just join up? In Destiny I you would see people running around the map all the time. You could easily work together without being in the same group and easily join up without having to change sessions or forgo your own game’s progress.

Second, why can’t I control specific details of the matchmaking process? I would get countless invites to other groups but no one ever joined mine. Why can’t I set that option in the matchmaking? I should be able to tell the game exactly what I’m looking for, whether or not I want to be the group leader, and what specific type of activity I want to do. The matchmaking station only had six categories: random activity, random main mission, open world exploration, answer the call, and random bounty and dark zone, both of which were not available during the beta. These matchmaking options aren’t specific enough. Random activity truly was completely random. It would just pick a task with no regard to what I actually needed to do on my map and try to toss me into some random group. Random main mission seems completely pointless until/unless you’ve already done everything and are just looking to farm XP. I hope I never need to use that. Open world exploration is too vague. Instead you should be able to choose from a list of available activities on the map like take control points, farm XP/gear, side missions, or any other number of things that can be done on the map. Random bounty gives me hope because bounties are a nice new addition. They’re randomly occurring hunt missions where you have to take down a specific NPC within a time limit for special gear and additional XP. Having a specific matchmaking option for this gives me hope that there will be tons of them constantly running on the map. During the beta I only encountered two or three bounties. A dark zone matchmaking system is of course necessary and will obviously be present in the final game. I just hope they put a matchmaking station in the DZ entrance, since there wasn’t one in the beta, in the final game because the safe houses aren’t near the DZ entrance, which you can fast travel to directly.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 01-11-01

The answer the call feature is the beginnings of a great idea that I hope works better and easier in the final product. While you can’t match make from anywhere on the map, you can call for help. This is not when you’re bleeding out and hoping for a revive. You can send up a call directly from the map or menu at any time. People can answer your call and randomly join your group to help with whatever activity you’re doing. This was the only time I was able to get someone to join my group. It took a while, but eventually a white knight answered my call. The nice thing about this feature is that you can leave the call on while still playing the game so you’re not just sitting around waiting like at the matchmaking station. And the game notifies you when someone puts out a call nearby. The problem is it doesn’t show you on the map where they are unless you answer the call so you never really know how far it is till you’ve already committed. Another problem with the feature is that I think you have to go to the matchmaking station and use the answer the call feature to help someone else. I kept getting random notifications via ISAC that someone was in need of assistance and had put out a call. And I genuinely wanted to join these players and help them. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that from where I was when getting the notification. I hope I’m wrong and just couldn’t figure it out because the feature will only be effective if at any time from anywhere you can just answer the call, join their group, and run directly to the location of the player in need. If you actually have to go to a safe house and use the matchmaking station first then it’s a wasted concept no better than the open world exploration matchmaking feature. The matchmaking needs to be heavily improved. Being part of the Division is the main crux of the game’s plot/concept. If you can’t easily and effectively team up and work with others then it’s a waste of what’s for the most part an excellent shared world shooter.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 01-52-21

The Dark Zone seems much improved in some ways and worse in others. There is no longer a single dark zone that everyone plays in. Instead, like the map itself, there are dark zone districts of varying difficulty levels, each with multiple entry points. This is a way better system. It allows players to choose the level of challenge they’ll be facing and better manage their DZ experience. I kind of hope there will be some sort of management controls from Ubisoft’s side that will ensure that super high rank players can’t just roll into the noob DZ and tear through lower level players. That’s the only problem I see with a system that actively tells you where the easy and hard parts of the DZ are. It’s essentially creating a shooting gallery for advanced players. The DZ otherwise works much the same as in the first game. But now there are more marked enemy spawn points and notifications to tell you when they’re occupied so you can better manage your roaming time and not just wonder around hoping to find stuff to do. I didn’t see enough other players in the DZ, but again this was a closed beta so I assume this won’t be a huge issue in the final game. My biggest complaint about the DZ was the frequency of valuable drops. There were not nearly enough air drops taking place. In the time it took me to reach DZ level 10 I saw only two or three total air drops. This is too slow for a populated DZ. They should be happening every five to ten minutes so there’s enough swag for all players to at least have time to get to and try to fight for. And the occupied landmarks weren’t dropping enough valuable stuff at all. Many times I would clear areas and not even get any contaminated gear. While I really liked the fact that you could get some gear in the DZ without having to do the extractions, this shouldn’t be happening at the rate it was compared to finding contaminated gear. And the contaminated gear I was finding was mostly complete trash.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 02-28-56

Since there was no DZ matchmaking available during the beta, I ran the DZ solo. I liked that I was able to do that effectively. I worked with other random players I found within the DZ without ever officially teaming up with them. The system works and people are able to coordinate well within the DZ without being in groups. I was also able to kill a rogue agent, steal his gear, and extract it solo. I only saw two the entire time I was in the DZ so a 50% success rate is pretty good. The DZ leveling system is nice. You can level up fairly quickly if you stick to farming landmarks. In The Division 2 DZ levels come with special perks that only affect the DZ. There are level tiers every five DZ levels and each tier grants you a perk. Some levels have only one perk and others have you choose which one you want to implement, sacrificing the others in that tier in the process. You can respec your DZ perks but this feature wasn’t available in the beta so I don’t know what the cost or process of doing this is.

In general, I really like how the map is broken down. Each area, including the DZ is clearly marked with level range recommendations/requirements. There are a fair number of fast travel locations in each area, once you’ve unlocked them. There are events constantly appearing to farm additional XP such as bounties, hostage situations, and broadcast hacks. Even if the endgame isn’t super strong, there seems like there will be more efforts to keep the game alive past the base game. But there is definitely going to be what seems to be a lot of end game content as well.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 02-45-17

Endgame is always the Achilles heel of these types of games. It’s especially difficult when they’re not trying to go the Destiny route of adding plot based expansions at additional cost, which I can’t say will or won’t be the case with The Division 2 at this point. What I can say is that the beta featured a number of endgame clues and teases. There is of course the DZ, which I already discussed. Each mission can also be replayed on a harder difficulty. But that’s not all there is. There are definitely going to be raids because they’re mentioned in the beta’s pause menu. But there are also invasion missions. Invasion missions are replays of old mission maps with completely new enemies and plot tie-ins. But these aren’t just the same enemies with new skins. These enemies are way harder, way smarter, and way different. I finished the final (second) main mission in the beta at level six. The maximum level you could reach during the beta was level seven. That’s regular level as opposed to DZ level. Upon completing the last available main mission you unlocked special access to an invasion mission. This gave you access to three specialty builds that were much higher level and had way better gear. This gear also included an additional (fourth) weapon with a special feature. Examples included a grenade launcher and a compound bow. This mission had enemies set to level 32, more than four times higher than the enemies in the regular mission. They were a special military group that was invading the area and presumably trying to conquer Washington DC. They had crazy stuff including literal attack robots. This mission was difficult. It took me, as part of a four man team, 58 minutes to complete. It was stressful, it was scary, it was exhilarating, it was satisfying as hell once completed. While I don’t love the idea of replaying the same mission maps over and over, calling these the same missions does a disservice to the people that designed them. It is a wholly different experience. In light of all this, I’d say it looks like there is going to be a fair amount of endgame. I just hope it’s available as soon as I reach the end of the base game.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-08 03-10-59

Finally, there seems to be a new PVP mode other than the DZ. The Conflict mode was described in one of the tutorial messages, but sadly I didn’t have time to try it before the beta ended. Hopefully I’ll be able to try it in a public beta before the game releases. Based on the little bit the tutorial screen tells about it, I believe it’s a PVP mode with multiple specialized maps and modes that nets rewards. It also has its own leveling system, making a total of three within the game I’ve seen so far. I could also believe that many people were playing this mode which might explain why the map felt so devoid of players to me.

Overall I was really happy with this beta. It showed me the things I needed to see and experience to want to buy the full game. Gold edition seems like it will probably be necessary, but without a content timetable, I can’t say if it’s the best decision for me, as I really didn’t make proper use of the season pass in the first one. I had a good time with this beta and I think this game will do very well. It’s the same core game from the first one with a number of noticeable improvements, added modes, and a new setting. I’m definitely looking forward to retaking Washington DC.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.