Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Consumer Experience (47)


Star Ocean: First Departure ARRR!

Yesterday, PlayStation LifeStyle ran an article looking back at Star Ocean 2. I’ve always loved this game and been frustrated that I don’t have a great way to revisit it. Outside of Japan, Star Ocean 1 and 2 haven’t been made available since their physical PSP release - they didn’t even get put up on PSN digitally so they can’t be played on a Vita or PSTV. I do have them for PSP, but my PSP died several years ago. Japan got a digital release of Star Ocean 2 for PS3, Vita, and PS4, but despite persistent fan interest and the game already being translated this version did not get localized or released elsewhere.

I haven’t messed with emulators since I was a poor college student, but yesterday I officially gave up on being able to pay for these games (short of buying a replacement PSP, which… no). Within an hour of this decision, I was set up with PPSSPP and playable ISO backups of my PSP games. On a larger screen with visual improvements, remappable controls, screenshot capability (plus easy video capture via OBS), save states, fast forward capability, and cheat support. I even copied over my existing save files from my PSP.

I would happily have bought official ports of Star Ocean 1 and 2, but since that wasn’t an option, I went this route instead - and it was so fast, so easy, and provided a better experience than what Sony does sell. I didn’t pirate any games, but I easily could have and it was a good reminder that (as I’ve discussed before) piracy is symptomatic of market failure, not legal failure, and is often required for any reasonable degree of games preservation.

And then today it was announced that the PSP remake of the first Star Ocean is getting ported to PS4 and Switch - worldwide, according to Nintendo Life. I had to laugh. I’ll definitely be buying this, and Star Ocean 2 if that comes next (which seems likely; it’s the same engine and more popular). But I can’t help but reflect on the fact that these versions are probably not going to have the convenience features like save states, and if they have cheats they might be paid DLC.

(I’m also trying not to think too hard about the fact that this is probably only happening due to interest generated by the success of Star Ocean Anamnesis - a freemium gacha bullshit mobile spin-off.)


Why I Don’t Want a Playdate

So, you might have heard about Playdate, since the internet is buzzing about it right now. It’s an upcoming gaming handheld, but unusual in several ways.

It’s got a 2.7 inch monochrome screen with a 400x240 resolution. It’s got a speaker and is wifi capable. And its inputs are a d-pad, two buttons, and a crank. Like, the kind you turn.

It’s priced at $149, which includes twelve games that will be released one per week and delivered over wifi. The games are intended to be surprises, and only one has been teased so far: Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure which apparently has you using the crank to control time and move a robot through his day. This game is by Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi; a few other developers are confirmed including Bennett Foddy, Zach Gage, and Shaun Inman. These twelve games are being referred to as “Season One”, so if the Playdate sells well perhaps there will be another batch of games later on.

A lot of people are excited about the Playdate, and I’m sure they’ll have a good time with it and that’s great. I’m very much a proponent of letting people enjoy things. But here’s why I, personally, am not excited about the Playdate:

Its value isn’t as a games console. It’s as membership in an exclusive club.

A lot about the Playdate makes it clear that it’s not for a mainstream audience. Its tiny black-and-white screen and few-button idiosyncratic controls make it very limited in today’s gaming landscape - you can’t exactly put Fortnite on this thing. You could barely put Tetris on it. And while the $149 price tag is lower than most game systems, most game systems will have more than twelve games available and will tell you what games will be on it. The Playdate is for people who want and can afford to pay $149 for a series of surprises based only on the street cred of a few attached names. If you don’t know who Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage are, the Playdate is not for you.

The Playdate is for people who want to be part of the exclusive group of Playdate owners and have the shared exclusive experience over the few months of “Season One” of game releases. And that’s okay, but to me it feels like a waste of potential.

There’s definitely room for both mass market games and more experimental fare, but there’s no reason the experiments have to have such a high barrier to entry. Compare Playdate to Meditations, a compilation of short games for every day of the year made by over 350 developers. There’s exactly one game available each day, again creating an experience for people to be a part of over time - but this one is actually designed to be shared. It’s a free download for Mac or Windows, not a $150 piece of proprietary and likely otherwise useless hardware.

Playdate creates a shared experience in an inherently exclusionary way, and that bothers me. I feel like it discards the great strength and potential for inclusiveness that modern games and the internet enable and for which so many people are fighting. It doesn’t hurt me that this thing exists, and ultimately I’m glad that the people who will enjoy it will enjoy it. But I can’t help but wish that the folks involved wanted to create shared experiences in a more inclusive way.


Permanence, Patches, and Physical Media

The excellent Saints Row: The Third just came to Switch. Unfortunately, it’s reportedly plagued by performance issues and glitches - and the day one patch has been delayed.

I hate to see a game I love have a troubled launch, but the delayed patch also calls attention to the general practice of day one patches, which is common enough now that it wouldn’t have even registered to me if it weren’t delayed. It’s normal to pop in a new game - even one purchased on launch day - and have it immediately download a patch. Enough so that at least for me, it’s been easy to forget that this means the shipped game - the one you just bought - is unfinished.

And, I get it. I get that it takes time to press/burn/whatever and distribute the physical games, and from a financial perspective it makes sense to use the time between then and launch to continue to polish and improve the game rather than delay the launch (though that does also create the risk of poor early reviews due to delayed patches, as Saints Row: The Third on Switch sadly illustrates).

But one of the supposed advantages of buying games physically is that you aren’t reliant on the internet to play them. Someday, the Switch eshop servers will get shut down. If I lose the data on my Switch’s memory card after that, I won’t be able to redownload and play any of the games I bought digitally. I will still be able to play the games I bought physically. But only the unpatched versions. And looking at my shelf, for almost all of my Switch games that means a noticeably worse version of the game.

Live-service games, patches, and updates mean there’s less and less reason to buy games physically now. The preservation value of the physical media is significantly lessened. These days, I only buy physical because on consoles it often somehow costs less. (Which is its own rant for another time.)

It’s tempting to think of things we buy as permanent, but in many cases we’re really just paying for the experience of having something for some amount of time.


Early Thoughts on Google Stadia

Google has announced that they are creating a streaming games platform called Stadia. The idea is you won’t need a console or even necessarily a controller if you already have a compatible one (and most modern console controllers appear to be compatible). You’ll be able to play games right in a browser on your TV/phone/tablet/PC via streaming. No extra download/installation required. Basically, it’s Netflix, except instead of streaming movies or TV, you’re streaming a video game and streaming back your controller inputs.

It’s worth noting that very little consumer-useful information is available yet. Nothing about how pricing will work (all-you-can-eat subscription like Netflix? rent games like the original PlayStation Now model? ad-based like YouTube? some combo?) or how expensive it’ll be. They’re also advertising it as capable of doing 4k video at 60fps - which would require an amount of bandwidth that’s implausibly high for most people’s internet connections.

But they have some big names on board - Doom Eternal and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are confirmed for the service, and they’ve got Jade Raymond (creator of Assassin’s Creed) heading their in-house development studio where they will be developing first-party (probably exclusive?) titles.

With that background, here are my thoughts.


The Designer is Dead: Five Reasons to Go Beyond Intended Experiences

Games are designed to create particular mental and emotional states in their players. The Dark Souls games use difficulty to “give players a sense of accomplishment by overcoming tremendous odds”, Dead Rising’s replay-enforcing time limit and oddball weapon options encourage humorous experimentation, Far Cry 2’s unreliable weapons force players to improvise in chaotic battles, and so on. We call this the game’s “intended experience.”

Good games are those which successfully guide their players to worthwhile experiences, so the designer’s intent is key to a game’s quality. This leads some of us to conclude that designer intent should be elevated above player freedom - that players should be prevented from altering a game’s experience lest they ruin it for themselves.

“Decisions like [Dark Souls’s difficulty level, Dead Rising’s time limit, and Far Cry 2’s jamming weapons] might be controversial, but if they’re an integral part of the experience that the developer is trying to create, then the player shouldn’t feel like they’re entitled to be able to mess with this stuff through options, modes, and toggles. Because that would screw with the developer’s intentions and could end up ruining the game in the long run.”
—Mark Brown, What Makes Celeste’s Assist Mode Special | Game Maker’s Toolkit (at 22 seconds) (to be fair, the rest of the video adds a lot of nuance to this position)

I strongly disagree with this. To me, the designer’s intent is the starting point and not the finish line. If we cling to it and discourage players from exploring any further, we rob it of most of its value. Here’s why.


FOMO and Giving Games a Chance

I can’t find it now, but some years ago I read an article suggesting that players can generally suss out the shape of a game within ten minutes. That’s enough time to get an idea of the game’s core loop and how appealing it is.

Obviously this will vary from game to game - some openings are more representative than others - but I can easily believe that on average ten minutes is where diminishing returns start hitting hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like one in twenty games that you don’t enjoy in the first ten minutes is one that you would end up liking if you kept going. In which case, you’ll have less good gaming time overall if you give every game a couple of hours to prove itself instead of cutting off earlier.

This makes sense to me, especially as we are long past the point at which there are more good games out there than anyone can possibly play and they still keep coming. But every time I put down a game because I didn’t enjoy the first ten minutes, I get this pang of fear. I think back to some of my all-time favorite games that I didn’t enjoy at first. Star Ocean: The Second Story. inFAMOUS. Mass Effect. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. If I tried those for the first time today, would I get frustrated or bored and abandoned them and miss out on some of the best gaming experiences I could ever have? In truth, any game I put down like that now could be another one of those games - and I would never know.

I have to remind myself that the math still checks out. Most games are not ones I’d love and my time is limited. Thanks to PlayStation Plus and Steam sales and Humble Bundles and so on, I literally own hundreds of games I’ve never played. Even my list of high-priority titles I expect to particularly enjoy has several dozen games in it including some serious heavy hitters that have been there for years. Batman: Arkham Asylum! Her Story! SteamWorld Heist! The list goes on. How can I justify spending more than ten minutes on a game that isn’t grabbing me when Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn are waiting on the shelf?

If I’m not careful, though, this way of thinking replaces the fear of overlooking gems with guilt for ignoring important games. When I play a game that I like but don’t love, I end up feeling bad that I’m continuing with it instead of finally checking out the Yakuza games or something, and it’s just a little bit harder to enjoy my time with it.

It’s easy to say “just relax and play what you want.” It’s harder to do it.


Sequels Dilute Economic Votes

It’s not clear to me the extent to which various game developers/publishers understand that sales within a franchise can be a lagging indicator.

For example, I used to love the Senran Kagura series of games and I was happy to support it by buying the first several installments - especially the ones that were clearly experiments to see if the games would sell in the west. But the series has clearly lost steam, and the last few games have each been noticeably worse than the one before.

Now here comes Senran Kagura: Burst Re:Newal, a remake of the 3DS original for PC/PS4, and it sounds much better. The original story’s emotional and moral depth is what hooked me on the series in the first place, and this title not only returns to the brawler-style gameplay but apparently improves on it.

This is probably going to be the first Senran Kagura game that I rent instead of buying. My willingness to throw money at this series is dulled considerably after playing the fine-I-guess Estival Versus, the disappointing Peach Beach Splash, and the terrible Reflexions - all of which I did buy. So now I’ve supported bad games and won’t be supporting the presumably-improved one.

I just hope that either most players aren’t like me or the decision makers here understand how this works. But I guess if Burst Re:Newal is totally amazing, I’ll probably go buy it just in case.


How Engagement Rewards Backfire: The Overjustification Effect and the Peak-End Rule

Imagine you’re a kid at a new school deciding where to sit for lunch. Another kid sees you and offers you some candy, saying they have some extra they don’t want. You eagerly accept the candy and sit with the kid. The next day, you run into the same kid and they offer you candy again, explaining that their parents keep packing their lunch with this candy they don’t like. This keeps happening every day - when you sit with this kid at lunch, they give you candy.

Then one day you go to the candy store and see that same kid buying lots of the candy they supposedly don’t like. You realize they are deliberately getting this candy to give to other kids to try to make friends.

What might you say to this kid if you confronted them? Would you explain that their actions are not only clearly manipulative but also counterproductive in the long run - that they may have an easier time making new friends right now, but these people are likely to be put off when they realize what’s going on, even if they had actually enjoyed spending time together? Might you suggest that the kid should focus instead on being genuinely enjoyable to spend time with and seek out people with compatible personalities and shared interests who actually like spending time with them?

This is basically how I feel about games with log-in bonuses.