I’ve had a long and colorful relationship with the game Cuphead. I remember when it was first announced at E3 as an XB1 exclusive back in 2014. I was actually the person who started the wiki on IGN for Cuphead when I worked on their E3 wiki creation strike team. I knew from the first announcement that I wanted to play this game but I also feared that I never would because I was absolutely not going to buy an XB1, and I still haven’t. But thankfully Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. That’s also how I finally got a copy of Sunset Overdrive, which I still need to play.
Before Cuphead was released on PC, people were already talking about it on XB1, and they were not happy. While the game was praised for both the art and gameplay, so many people took issue with both. The art angered people because of the racist history behind the style. And the gameplay angered people because it was considered too hard for many (noobs). Now I don’t actually agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be able to use this art style for non-race related projects, so I won’t get into that. But the gameplay thing was a real worry for me.
I have never shied away from a game because it was too hard, provided it still felt balanced, but it can be quite intimidating to purposely walk into a game that everyone else is calling impossible. I still remember how much everyone was talking about Demon’s Souls when it first released. Even a GameStop clerk told me it was so hard that he had given up playing it. By the time I finally sat down to play it, I was horrified. Soulslike is now one of my favorite game genres. So I still wanted to play Cuphead, but I was really worried that I’d get stuck and not be able to finish it. The game happens to be in one of my worst performing genres, which worried me even more. People found the game so challenging that they petitioned for an easy mode to be added and the developers actually delivered one. It doesn’t allow you to finish the entire game, but it does let you reach the penultimate boss. To me, this entire thing was ludicrous, but it also made me want to play the game even more. The demand for an easy mode always motivates me to take an interest in a game. Not because I want to play on easy mode but because I want to prove that I don’t need to.
After several months of actively waiting for a price drop, having already waited years for the game release and then finally the PC port, I finally bought Cuphead. This was before the Switch version was announced or else I probably would have gotten it on that. When I first started the game, I was using a DualShock 4 controller. That and a Wii U Pro controller were my only viable options for playing on PC. I was not going to use a keyboard to play this type of game and at that point did not own an XB1 controller. So I went with the DS4 because it’s the controller I had the most experience with between the two options I had.
I struggled so much to beat The Root Pack. This was the first boss I faced when I started Cuphead. It took me literal hours to finally beat that boss. I was shocked at how hard the game was for me. To get stuck on the first encounter in a game was an experience I’d never had before in more than 20 years of gaming. I felt depressed. Maybe this game really was too hard for me and I actually needed to use the easy mode? But I refused. I would quit the game altogether before I would belittle myself to playing on easy mode.
After many hours of frustration, I finally defeated The Root Pack and went on to fight Ribby & Croaks. I could not beat them. I struggled and struggled for hours but I absolutely could not beat them. Ultimately I stopped playing the game altogether because I simply couldn’t move forward and refused to play the easy mode. I promised myself I would return to the game at some point but honestly I didn’t see the point when it was just too hard for me. I think I probably should have faced Goopy Le Grande instead of Ribby & Croaks second but that’s not what happened. I put the game in my start menu to remind me that I still needed to go back and beat it but I never actually attempted to because I knew I’d not be able to beat Ribby & Croaks.
It wasn’t until several months later that I finally returned to Cuphead. I had wanted an XB1 controller for PC gaming for some time, because it’s the only controller that consistently works properly with just about every PC game. But I didn’t technically need one because I had the ability to use any of my controllers on PC with an adapter I had purchased more than a year earlier. I just happened to luck into a free one that was being thrown out at my office. Ironically I had to spend more than the cost of a controller to buy a Bluetooth adapter and battery pack but I now had an XB1 controller for PC gaming. I decided to test it out with Cuphead since it’s one of the only games in my PC I could start without logging into Steam or another launcher and I was already familiar with the game so there wouldn’t be any delays to starting the test. I went right back into the Ribby & Croaks fight.
I did not defeat Ribby & Croaks immediately when trying the XB1 controller, but I did immediately realize that I was performing well enough to where beating them would be possible. After a few more tries and shaking the rust off, I defeated Ribby & Croaks and then went on to quickly defeat Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation, and Hilda Berg. Suddenly I wasn’t just OK at Cuphead. I was good at it. I realized that the whole time it wasn’t my lack of skill that had made the game so hard. It was my lack of proper hardware. The game was literally made to be played on an XB1 controller and as soon as I corrected this issue I was zooming through the bosses. That’s not to imply that the game has to be played on an XB1 controller. My friend beat the whole thing with a keyboard, which I still think is ridiculous. But now I too was progressing through Cuphead at an appropriate rate, without using the easy mode.
Though there were some bosses that were tough for a short while, in general I flew through the rest of the game. I played it sparingly over the course of several weeks, but basically no regular boss took me more than two hours to beat and most of them I cleared in under 30 minutes. I even managed to defeat Baroness Von Bon Bon on the first try. I got held up a bit at Carla Maria, which I think might be the hardest boss in the game other than maybe King Dice, but ultimately I reached the Devil.
It took me about three hours to defeat the Devil. He wasn’t hard to figure out. Just hard to fight without taking stray hits. But eventually I defeated him. It was so satisfying to finally beat Cuphead. And it made me feel great to not have had to use the easy mode. It almost feels like a chapter of my life has closed. I’ve spent five years wanting to beat that game.
Cuphead was fun. It was challenging, but not in a stupid way. Really the boss fights were just as much about thought as they were reflexes. Each one was a bit of a puzzle. Choosing the correct approach with the right weapons, special ability, and charm made the difference between winning and losing. Yes you did have to be able to jump and move dynamically and quickly, but this was only a part of the boss fights as a whole. And of course, the art was beautiful. I would absolutely play a sequel. Now that I’ve completed Cuphead, I’ve removed it from my start menu. The delight in not being reminded that I might be a noob in disguise is a great feeling. Now to find a new game to casually torture myself over. I’m thinking Dead Cells next.
I’ve been a frugal gamer for a great many years. I have been actively watching and comparing game pricing patterns and trends across all platforms for at least a decade. I have learned to be patient about buying games. I don’t fall for day one purchases for fighting games, except for Smash Bros., because I know the GOTY edition with all the DLC will drop later. They just announced a full edition of DragonBall FighterZ as a perfect example. I often wait multiple years before buying a game just to get the price I want. I’m still waiting for Cuphead for instance because I won’t buy it until it drops to $10. What I think is important as well as gratifying is that I am not alone in these practices.
Gamers the world over have established their own systems of measuring the value of games and setting their own bite prices well before games even release. The fact that this practice is so common tells me two things. First, not all gamers are mindless drones throwing their money at anything with a pretty trailer and a big publisher name behind it. Many gamers are like that but I wouldn’t even say the majority of them are. Second, the market isn’t really interested in paying $60 for new games and thus $60 is probably not the optimum price of new games even though that number has been normalized for a great many years.
Gaming is a buyer’s market. While the industry would have us believe that it’s a seller’s market and that we should be thankful that prices are as low as they are, this is patently false. The truth is that we as consumers control and shape the market as we see fit with our wallets. We simply fail to exercise that power as a collective group. Microtransactions exist because the collective we continue to pay for them. Unfinished games are released and patched later because we continue to buy games released in an unfinished state. If we collectively decided not to do these things, they would cease to be a problem or exist at all. The real problem comes down to the fact that we rarely do get organized and too many gamers, especially in America, simply don’t care about the collective good of the community. If you have the money to overpay for games and spend on microtransactions, more often than not you participate in the current corrupted system regardless of how those decisions affect other, often less fortunate, gamers.
After thinking about these topics in detail I came up with an idea that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The closest thing to it would be the Humble Bundle system but that’s a much different concept when it comes down to it. Crowd funding might be comparable in some way, but it too isn’t the same type of thing. Before I go into details let me state for the record that I am fully aware that what I’m about to suggest will never actually happen. I am fully aware that a lot of people, day one purchasers and pre-order players almost exclusively, would be livid if such a system were introduced. Shareholders of large corporations would hate the idea of their returns being regulated so directly by consumers. This is an idea that I think would revolutionize the games market, but I understand that it’s strictly for discussion purposes. I’m optimistic not naïve.
If we know that many, possibly most, gamers don’t buy games at release price then there’s a service that the industry is severely lacking. Why can’t consumers pre-order/pre-purchase games at their own chosen price? Currently we can purchase games digitally or physically before they are released. The process is simple and fairly efficient in most cases. We also have the ability, in limited frequency, to pay for certain games, and other forms of media, at any price we set. That’s the entire system behind Humble Bundle with a few slight regulatory factors. So why can’t we apply this concept to purchasing all games in a pre-paid scenario?
Imagine a system where, just like you do already, you see a game you want and you set a price. Let’s use the soon to be released, and already pre-ordered in my case, Kingdom Hearts III. The game will be releasing for $60 on January 25th. But let’s assume, unlike me in this case, you have decided that it’s not worth $60. Let’s say you have gone through whatever process you use to determine your bite price and have concluded that you will spend only $30 to get the game. Completely fair assessment and decision. You know you will buy the game and you know you will buy it as soon as it’s $30. Being an experienced gamer/consumer, you already know that this will probably not be the price for at least four to six months if not longer. But you want to make the purchase now. Why do you want to make the purchase now? For many of the same reasons people pre-order games.
Pre-ordering a game has a number of positive benefits for some people outside of just being able to play it on day one. First, the purchase is already made. You don’t have to think about paying for the game anymore. It’s already yours. You don’t have to worry about having the money later or thinking about looking for a vendor. Second, you are supporting the dev/project. Pre-ordering games shows devs and their publishers which projects you really care about and helps to ensure the game looks good to investors and media based on the number of units sold in advance as well as the amount of money made. Third, pre-order bonuses. Though I find the practice extremely predatory and unfair, rewarding people for buying games in advance of real reviews and established public opinion is a common practice and one of the main reasons I occasionally get pulled into pre-ordering games myself. These are just a few examples of the benefits of pre-ordering but there are plenty of other ones.
So you want to pre-order Kingdom Hearts III but you only want to pay $30 for it. You know it will take four to six months for it to hit that price on the platform of your choice and you’re perfectly fine with that but you would still like to pay for it in advance. Currently this is impossible. There is no way for a normal consumer to pre-order a game and reap the benefits perceived from pre-ordering, for their chosen price. They can either pay more, in this case double, what they actually want to pay for the game, or they can wait until the price drops and hopefully have the money still lying around. But why can’t a person instead declare in advance that they want a game for the price they want to pay?
I think this system would fundamentally change the way games are bought and sold. If people could declare their chosen price for a game in a concrete way that shows companies in dollars how much the public perceives the value of their games while still netting most of the same benefits of preorders for both consumers and developers, it would improve the system for everyone involved. Consumers could give direct feedback about their perception of games to studios and publishers in a way that actually matters and is measureable. Companies would be able to better perceive how the public feels about their games pre-release without having to necessarily incur a hard boycott or lacking unit sales numbers early on. Publishers could set more acceptable starting prices based on actual sales data from the public, ultimately leading to more units sold quicker in the long run.
Such a system would create a more symbiotic relationship between studios and consumers where business decisions would be based on actual data rather than perceived public opinion from the vocal minorities that often control social media. It would even help shape marketing plans because companies would be able to track the number of dollars made for specific ads and campaigns compared to the number of preorders and dollar amount applied to them. And it would considerably reduce gamers complaining about pricing because they’d be setting their own prices. And it would help publishers and retailers to better track and plan their price reduction strategies, ultimately allowing them to maximize total profits.
It would be an extremely simple system to implement in the digital market. The only trouble with doing it in the physical market is storage space. If everyone pays $30 for a $60 game, companies might have made more money faster, but they’d then be responsible for storing all the pre-order units until the prices hit the level of each customers’ desired bite price. This would admittedly be troublesome and costly for brick and mortar stores. But the digital market could easily handle this system. It would be no different than pre-ordering a digital game today other than that the release of the game would be tied to the digital store price listing as opposed to a specific date. And it would be great for consumers, if the games are automatically delivered as soon as they hit the target price or below, because it would mean no more missing sales. At the same time it would allow sellers to make more than they would have necessarily made if the sale price goes below the target price.
The system wouldn’t refund any money. It would simply take the amount of money the consumer wanted to pay for the item and set the item as purchased in the digital store. Then instead of tying the release of the item to that account based on date, it would do it based on price paid being at or above current price in the store. Fairly simple to implement within the current digital marketplaces for games we have available.
While such a system would take some getting used to for everyone at first, I do believe that it would be better for all parties involved in the long run. It would give consumers more agency to shape industry trends while also not forcing us to do full boycotts of games when we have a complaint pre-release. Imagine a scenario where instead of outright boycotting Star Wars: Battlefront II people were able to simply show that they were unhappy with certain decisions made by quantifying how much in value the game was missing from that $60 target price. DICE wouldn’t have had a game completely tank but the public also wouldn’t have had to be taken advantage of. Fallout 76 is an even better more recent example. A lot of people actually really like many aspects of the game but they still want all the bugs and server issues addressed. Currently there’s no way to show that in dollars and cents, the only language publishers really care about. Either people buy the game to show they support the concept and have to be disappointed in their purchase. Or they don’t buy the game and end looking like they are completely against the concept, which is an inaccurate set of choices for many gamers.
I will say that there is indeed one serious potential flaw with this system and that’s the minimum price. If you can set any price, what happens to people who set a price lower than the game will ever really go? Let’s take GTAV for example. The game released on the PS3 in 2013. It never really dropped in price until it had already hit the PS4 a year later. And it took another half a year after that for it to finally hit PC. Even today it still costs $30 on PSN without a sale discount. The Black Friday sale price was $20. What this means is that even five years after release if you had pre-purchased for $10 then you still wouldn’t have had the game delivered. This could be a potential problem. To combat this there would of course have to be minimum prices for the pre-purchase system. I’d say $20. I chose this price based on the PlayStation Greatest Hits system currently in place. While many games do eventually fall below the $20 greatest hits rate, it’s objectively the only price we can almost guarantee that most games will hit on a platform before being unavailable for one reason or another. This price also works for pretty much all platforms, except for maybe Nintendo, because there pricing system is totally screwed up. At the same time, one could assume that Nintendo would eventually adjust their pricing schemes based on all the newly collected pre-order data.
Again, I don’t actually believe such a system would even be implemented. I believe that it easily could be and that it would make things better for everyone involved. But the people at the top of these companies and their boards would never happily cede so much control of profits to the public. The current system is akin to voter suppression in American politics and it works. So why would they change it? What do you think? Would you take advantage of a system that allowed you to have your cake and eat it too with purchasing games? What specific ideas do you think would make a system like this work even better?
I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed games since the beginning and always in order. I’ve never skipped a console release title, including those Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games, which actually weren’t that bad. I’m currently behind so I only just finished Syndicate this week, but I can’t wait to play Origins and Odyssey. I, like most long time AC players, have a weird relationship with the franchise. It constantly teeters between love and hate. There are things that are truly great about the franchise and to have seen how far it has come since the original release more than 10 years ago is both impressive and inspiring. But there are also issues that have plagued the games for years, many of which have only gotten worse over time. In my opinion, the storytelling is the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and has been since at least Assassin’s Creed III. But the storytelling issues have existed since even before that game which was already several games into the franchise. This is extra depressing because the story is ultimately why I continue playing the games. I want to see a clear ending to this franchise. That’s not because I don’t like the franchise and want to see it end, but rather that I play games for the stories and I hate stories that don’t have clear endings.
AC has a host of storytelling problems. This is due mostly to the disjointed nature of the games and how they function as parts of an overarching narrative that has itself drastically shifted in direction in non-sensible ways over the course of the franchise. The big problem with the storytelling is that the modern day content has little to do with the Animus content while also acting as the bridge between multiple games that you’re only really playing for the Animus content. But it’s very apparent that the modern day content has always been an afterthought in the creation of these games. Rather than try to clean it up, Ubisoft decided the best way to deal with the modern day storyline was to significantly reduce its presence within the games. You see this a lot in the games that take place after ACIII. The amount of modern day content has been reduced more and more until you finally get to Syndicate where you don’t even play in the modern day. It’s reduced to four or five short cinematics all with the intention of justifying a single end game cut scene that doesn’t feature anyone of significance other than the weird first civilization MCP (yes that’s a Tron reference) that keeps showing up in games since ACIII but never really does anything. Supposedly it saved the world from a solar flare though.
I see the direction that AC has taken by almost completely diluting away the out of Animus content to non-playable cut scenes and a bare minimum of time on screen as a good thing, but that’s not actually the part about the storytelling in Syndicate that I like the most. The key factor that I think makes the storytelling superior in Syndicate to just about every other AC game to date is the fact that you have multiple never before seen playable characters experiencing directly related stories and spaces. In past games you never had this, save for a short sequence in ACIII as Haythem Kenway. You had two loosely related characters acting independently of each other in the form of an ancestor and an Animus user/viewer. This never worked well for me because the games always slacked on the setting, gameplay, and writing for the Animus user. I genuinely didn’t care about Desmond and his whiny, depressing parent issues. I cared even less when you were some anonymous drone sneaking around the Abstergo offices. Those aspects of the story (and gameplay) have always been trash by comparison to the ancestor. That’s also why you never saw Desmond on the cover of the games. What I cared about has always been the story inside the Animus. Syndicate fleshes this story out more.
In Syndicate, you have two main playable characters and a third one if you play the Jack the Ripper expansion, during Industrial Revolution London. Plus there’s a fourth playable character in the base game that takes place during WWI for a short disconnected sequence. I thought this entire presentation of interconnected stories was brilliant. It added context, emotion, and background to all the characters involved. It strengthened the overall storytelling in a number of ways. It also led to variations in my gameplay style from character to character because I felt compelled to play each character the way I thought they would play rather than how I preferred to play. In many ways it was like playing multiple games in one while still maintaining a focused narrative. And even though the WWI sequence wasn’t directly connected to the main story, it was still excellent because it followed the progeny of one of the main characters. It was like taking a break from the game without taking a break from the game while providing additional information for the overarching narrative. I thought it was brilliantly executed.
Syndicate doesn’t have the best plot of any AC game. It’s set in a time where capitalism is already ruining people’s lives in a country that’s not that interesting in the grand scheme of the AC universe. But it tells its story better than most of the other AC games I’ve played so far. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering the large number of negative comments I heard about it. I genuinely don’t understand where the negativity came from because it’s way better than Unity and is a nice change from Rogue, which is just a smaller scale copy of Black Flag. Many people even told me to skip Syndicate altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Syndicate even handles the age old main character gender problem in games well. The game doesn’t center on either a male or female character. It stars both. And adds one of each additional character in the special sequences. It’s a perfectly balanced form of gender neutral storytelling that lets the player decide what/who to play as while making them both plot relevant without being plot neutral. There are also sequences that are character specific because the two play off of each other in a very effective way. And they have a few differing abilities to offer you a reason to swap between them depending on the mission you’re in.
It’s a perfectly democratic way to make and play a game that in no way lowered the quality of the storytelling. Really it enhanced it. And, in this case they made me want to play as the female character in the right way. They made her interesting. Evie Frye is a better character than Jacob Frye. Or at least a better assassin. She thinks things through. She acknowledges the consequences or her and her brother’s actions. She has better stealth abilities. I wanted to play as her more. I still made myself rotate between the two often, even when I didn’t have to, but she’s the better character, in my opinion. That’s how you get male gamers to play games with female protagonists. You make the characters interesting and the games good. It’s really that simple. Tomb Raider does well because Lara Croft is a good character and the games are well made. There’s no magic formula. It’s not a political issue. Real gamers play good games. You could do The Witcher with a female protagonist. But it has to be at the quality level of The Witcher. Otherwise it’s just a “shitty feminism game that wishes it was The Witcher.” But by giving the player the choice in Syndicate, Ubisoft managed to make a game with a female protagonist without having to market it as such. This made it way more appealing and accessible for everyone. Which begs the question: Why have we been playing these shitty out of Animus sequences for all these years to begin with?
The only reason the Animus is part of the franchise is that Ubisoft needed a link between all the games. For some reason they felt that it wasn’t good enough just to have the same name and general Assassin Templar war. They wanted to directly link each game via an overarching story, which in my opinion they’ve done, but failed to do well. Even as they’ve changed it over time and tried to salvage it, the modern day stuff is still trash. And with the death of Desmond, a character I absolutely hated, I all but stopped caring about who’s involved or what’s happening. I just want it to end so I can have a real conclusion. But why didn’t they just connect the games the way they connect the WWI and Jack the Ripper stories in Syndicate from the start? They could have just used the ancestry concept but directly linked the games via historical meetings. You have Altair get married and have kids. Then you have one of those kids become an assassin and travel to another country. Then that person meets another assassin named Ezio Auditore. Then the game follows Ezio.
You get the same effect you have now of following a story through time and changing between multiple characters. You can even keep the piece of Eden thing they have going. But you don’t need all that superfluous modern day crap that no one even cares about anymore. You link the characters directly to each other through history as the war continues. That would also allow you to return to older characters later in different points in their lives. Like Ezio in Revelations. It takes place years after Brotherhood. Rather than doing the whole memory sequence mumbo jump they could have just done a game about another assassin he met along the way and then at the end of that game, years later in the timeline, that assassin reconnects with Ezio. Then in the next game a now older Ezio goes to Constantinople. No weird annoying bullshit needed. And it’s not like people can’t deal with time hops. The current games do them and it’s not an issue. You just do a sequence like Connor went to England and then wipe forward years later and show him returning from England, or whatever. The audience isn’t stupid. We can follow a shifting narrative. How else have we been playing AC games for all these years? You could go back in time as well. Just do an Edward found this old journal of a past assassin and started reading it opening sequence as a transition backwards. It’s not that hard.
My point is that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does a great job with the storytelling because for 99% of the game it doesn’t pull you out of the Animus. And that 1% isn’t gameplay. It’s only cut scenes. This created a much stronger and more coherent narrative experience. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven’t played Origins or Odyssey yet so maybe they’ve finally cleaned it all up. But I doubt it. There’s no real reason we needed this modern day storyline to make this franchise work. And I think it could still be done away with now. By implementing multiple playable characters in the same directly connected time periods, they can tell a much stronger story and solve their diversity problems at the same time. Adewale didn’t really need his own expansion in Black Flag. He should have just been playable in Black Flag with his own special sequences as well as in the open world. Haytham could have been playable for a much larger part of ACIII. These games are already connected in many ways. They simply needed to go the extra mile and not make up some weird trapped in the machine AI story filled with solar flares and faceless walking simulator sequences.
Syndicate was the best AC since played Black Flag. It has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I’m very much looking forward to both Origins and Odyssey, both of which I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that includes great storytelling.
If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.
So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.
Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2,Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.
The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.
Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.
Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.
I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.
As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.
Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.
I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.
“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”
This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.
Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.
I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.
Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I am no fan of E3. But really that’s a half truth. I’m actually a huge fan of E3 as an idea. I just genuinely hate the modern E3 model. I grew up in the 90s. The first E3 was in 1995. America Online, which I would consider the start of the commonly used internet we have today, started in 1991. I remember a time before the internet. I remember a life before we had it and then after. I remember the shitty dial up connection and the scratchy noises. This is important to this discussion because there was a time when E3 existed, but it wasn’t the over hyped, social media/YouTube driven fanboy party it is today. For me E3 is outdated, but sadly it’s only outdated because of the way E3 is now handled. It’s much different from the way it was in what I consider the golden age of E3.
When I was a kid there were no gamers like me today who genuinely don’t care for E3. That was unheard of. The reason was because it truly was a necessary thing. It was a time when all gaming news was distributed to normal gamers who didn’t work in the industry, via either print media or word of mouth. There were no Reddit leaks. There were no YouTube trailers. Twitch streamers weren’t getting their asses kissed by publishers for a mention. There were no developers tweeting out tidbits about their games. IGN wasn’t a big thing yet that you just automatically went to. I don’t even know what actually happened at E3 back in those days. All I ever knew about E3 was what I read about in the magazines like Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I wasn’t a special case. That was everybody.
E3 was a moment during the year where you literally got gaming news for the year. And when I say news I mean “new”. You didn’t know about it before E3 unless you had some unheard of connections or worked in the industry. There was never a time where someone would say “I knew about that way before E3”. Because you couldn’t. It wasn’t really possible for normal people. Especially for minors. That’s the E3 I grew up with and that’s why I don’t like E3 today.
My three biggest issues with modern E3 are it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money, and the bulk of the content shown is no longer news. If anything it should be called “olds”.
E3 is a waste of time in a world where the internet is as big, powerful, and widely used as it is today. In a time where people couldn’t quickly pull up live streams, videos, and articles on their phones while riding the bus to work/school, it made perfect sense to put on a huge event once a year to distribute a year’s worth of gaming news. That was the most affordable and efficient way to get the word out to the largest number of people. But today that’s not at all the case. EA can tweet out a video of a trailer with gameplay footage, a release date, and the name of the development studio and there’s a good chance more people will see it or a reference to it than actually watched the EA presentation live. That’s just the nature of social media. And if they had that tweet sent out by the right account the reach could be way more effective than any official E3 account.
The official E3 Twitter account has 1.87M followers. The official EA Twitter account has 4.91M followers. The official Justin Bieber Twitter account has 96.4M followers. He has publicly stated that he’s a Call of Duty: Black Ops fan among other games. If the name of the game is hype, reach, and ultimately sales, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense just to get someone like Justin Bieber to help promote or even just tweet about a game than take the time to set up a huge, inefficient press conference that most people won’t even get to see live because of time zone differences and region locked content? I’m not personally saying I’ll be following Justin Bieber anytime soon, but clearly E3 isn’t the sensible way to try to promote games in 2017. There’s just no need for it when you have the internets.
E3 is a huge waste of money. Most trade shows not open to the public are. I may not have been to E3 but I have been to and worked at a number of trade shows such as just recently Computex 2017 in Taipei. These events are sinks for companies. They waste time, money, labor, energy, and basically every other resource a company has for a very limited number of overall sales because of it. Really the same amount of attention for any company could be obtained by sending out some PR samples to the right members of the press and/or fake press like YouTubers for a fraction of the cost. These shows really only benefit the press because they get extra traffic and excuses to travel and party while other people are doing actual work hosting those tradeshows. The consumers and the companies get very little out of it in the grand scheme of things. They’re done more for tradition than anything else. They’re also admittedly fun at certain times. But that’s not enough of a reason to spend millions of dollars collectively to have them.
One of the biggest problems right now in game development is inflated budgets. The cost to actually make a game is often a drop in the bucket compared to what publishers are now spending to promote them. E3 is a part of that. Extravagant stage shows with paid influencers and preposterous props all cost lots of money. Don’t think for a second that those costs don’t ultimately come out of your wallet as a consumer. The increasing use of and increased pricing of paid DLC and season passes is all done as a way to pay for this useless marketing that isn’t even necessary most of the time. Especially when we’re talking about games that don’t even really need any serious marketing.
When it comes to marketing there are only four types of games: new IPs, long standing guaranteed successful IPs, indies, and bad games. New IPs require a lot of marketing because there are so many games coming out all the time now that the only way for a new IP to make a profit is to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In that situation, ballooned marketing budgets may ultimately suck for everyone but they’re necessary.
Long standing guaranteed successful IPs don’t need any serious marketing. There are very few new customers when it comes to old IPs. 10+ year old franchises do not rely on new markets to turn a profit. They rely on repeat business and everyone knows that. The people who bought Madden, COD, and FIFA last year will buy Madden, COD, and FIFA this year. The people who bought God of War I, II, III, Ascension, Ghost of Sparta, and Chains of Olympus will buy Dad of War IV. That’s just the way things work. I am not at all excited about this new GOW and I was genuinely unhappy about the announcement when they made it last year. But you can be damn sure that I’ll end up buying it because I’ve been playing them since 2005. No one just tosses away a plot they’ve been actively following for 12 years. People just aren’t like that. I’d be willing to bet a larger percentage of married couples will get divorced this year than people who bought COD last year won’t buy it this year. That may be dark, but tell me it’s not true. These sorts of franchises have guaranteed profits. That’s why Ubisoft keeps making Assassin’s Creed games. Because we’re stupid and keep buying them. Because we’ve been buying them since 2007. We can’t help ourselves. And we always say we’re gonna quit every year. Yet when the next title roles around we’ll ultimately end up buying it. Maybe not on release day, but come Black Friday we all end up running back to bad habits. Thus is the nature of gamers. So there’s no reason for Sony Santa Monica Studios to pay to put up a giant God of War IV sign in the middle of LA. That’s a waste of money.
Indies need marketing. I’ve reviewed tons of indie games and I’ve spoken to countless indie developers. The number one problem most of them face is attention. Getting people to learn about their game is the hardest part of the process for most of them. It’s the reason they’re much more willing to give out review copies. It’s the reason they sell their games for cents on the dollar compared to AAA titles. They would charge $60 if they could. Just look at No Man’s Sky. They had that Sony marketing so they charged full price. And people paid it. Marketing is everything when nobody’s heard of you. That’s why it makes perfect sense for XBOX to get behind titles like Cuphead and push them heavily. Otherwise even if people would probably want to try it, they most likely wouldn’t ever hear about to make the decision to try it. Indies and new IPs are the only games that genuinely should be shown at E3 for sensible business reasons.
Finally we have bad games. The funny thing about bad games is that they can still make tons of money. I won’t cite any specific ones so as not to offend, but I’m sure we can all think of at least one game in the last five years that we’ve purchased that was objectively bad and a complete waste of our hard earned money. Some of them have already been mentioned in this post. These are an example of why companies throw so much into marketing. With the right packaging and hype, even a pile of crap can look like gold. But that’s the worst way to make and sell games. Publishers and developers should just work on making high quality games with less releases than throwing away millions into selling turds. The reality is that if marketing was done more realistically, the cost of releasing games overall would shrink considerably without profits, of deserving games, dipping by a noticeable amount.
My biggest peeve about E3 is rightfully the lack of actual news. As I said before, when I was a kid everything shown at E3 was news to me. There were no moments where they were talking about stuff I’d already known about. There weren’t lists of remakes, DLC, and games that had already been shown multiple years past. Everything at E3 really was gaming news. Today many people joke about the fact that E3 is mostly not news. And that’s sad. Only further proving that E3 has become a redundant and obsolete tradition.
I did not watch the conferences this year, nor did I last year. But I always check the highlights later. Just looking at the Kotaku round-up is pretty depressing for me. Without taking the time to do any research about what has already been shown before this E3, let me just list off the games I didn’t already know about or absolutely expect that were shown during this year’s farce of an expo. I’ll only do home consoles and PC because I don’t really track handhelds so it’s mostly news to me at any time. I’ll only be considering titles shown during the presentations that actually got more than just sizzle reel time because there are lots of indies that most of us won’t remember or know about even after they finally get released that will be on the floor at E3. No, I won’t be including remasters or rereleases because why would I? I will not even dignify DLC announcements by as being a legitimate part of E3 reveals.
Another Pokemon Game but for Switch (You can’t truly be surprised when you’ve been demanding something for literally a decade)
Metroid Prime 4
Yoshi Switch (Yay!)
Sorry I didn’t include Devolver Digital’s list, but I can’t seem to find a single semi-reputable source that actually lists off what they showed this year. Instead every gaming journalism firm is just talking about how crazy their presentation was. The honest truth is that I’m still personally trying to find out exactly what they showed without having to actually sit through their presentation or read through a dramatic piece about the art of making E3 presentations. I just want to know about the games, because that’s what E3 is actually supposed to be about.
Of the about 60 notable titles that were shown at E3, give or take what does and doesn’t technically count (Didn’t count Horizon this year as an example), I was only unaware of or not fully expecting announcements for 28 of them. That’s less than 50% of the total games presented. Of those 28, only 15 are new IPs and could actually justify the marketing need for being presented during E3 stage shows. Of those 15 new IPs only 10 aren’t VR trash and should actually be taken seriously. That literally means that this entire farce of an event was done to show me, and I am not nearly as up on my gaming news as many other people, a measly 10 games. That’s not news and it’s certainly not worth throwing an entire trade show over. That could have easily been announced at many of the various other events throughout the year that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft already host on their own. This entire expo is laughable when you look at the numbers realistically. The gamers don’t win. This is all just a pointless hype train which isn’t even that effective by Twitter standards.
I commend Nintendo for doing Nintendo Directs for E3 now. It’s smart, more cost effective, and is another example of Nintendo actively choosing not to play by the status quo of the gaming industry. And I think it’s hilarious that E3 doesn’t even complain about it. They very well could have told Nintendo to screw off when they said they weren’t doing a real stage show the first time a few years back. They could have stood their ground and held another presentation during the same time frame. Instead they play the video on the big screen for Nintendo and probably don’t even charge them to do it.
I like the idea of E3. I believe that it’s important for there to be a special time of year where gamers can come together and celebrate gaming by looking forward to the next year of great adventures to be had. But modern E3 is not that. This tradeshow is a big waste of time and money. It gives very little actual news and has gotten bogged down with titles that were announced years prior, DLC announcements, and remakes. Or games that won’t even be out before the next E3. As long as this trend continues, I will continue to not waste my time watching E3.