Posts Tagged ‘Steam’

I sometimes feel I’m a man(child) of two worlds – born in ’88, I did most of my growing up in the 90’s before the internet and the digital space *really* took off. Because my Mum didn’t really see the point in the World Wide Web at the time (all I did was look up Porn), we didn’t get Broadband until the Phone companies had decided it was the future and aggressively priced separate broadband deals to be very attractive. Also, I begged a lot. Anyway, the point is I like to think I grew up with an appreciation of both ‘traditional’ media – books, CD’s DVD’s etc., as well as the emergence of digital/cloud/whatever content. Watching various industries deal with ‘teh interwebs’, even tech-grounded ones like videogames, is quite fascinating as a result.

I got distracted again today by a couple of tweets from John Scalzi – a sci-fi author whose work I really enjoy – and it got me looking at articles and posts about Author Salaries, Publishing vs. Self-Publishing and all that jazz. I’m trying not to do too much, as the more I read the more uncertain I become and I really need to get a first draft of Project Author finished before I even think about looking into how and where I’m going to sell it. Still, this one particular article interested me, mainly because of the parallels I can draw with the videogames industry.

In his ‘7K report‘, Hugh Howey tries to use what little data he has to draw some conclusions about Ebooks, their impact on the book industry, and what authors may or may not be earning through self-publishing as opposed to ‘traditional’ publishing houses. Obviously, the data he has access to is limited, and so he can only deduce so much. It’s not so much that bit of article that had me interested (even though it IS useful information to read), but it’s the fact that the Book Industry is also struggling with trying to fathom just how impactful the digital space really is. I’d like to think we’re over that particular hump now on the videogames side of things – everyone has realised that no, PC Gaming isn’t dying and Steam really is a force to be reckoned with, and even outlets like MCV have tried to provide concrete data on digital sales, to give a more accurate picture on how well our industry is doing.

Book publishing still seems to be struggling with this still, with no-one seeming to know what’s really going on. Obviously, the two industries are completely different, so there are certain things you could look too – there’s no equivalent of ‘Steam’, for example (as much as Amazon like to think they are, I guess), there’s been no break-out success like Minecraft or anything to point to how good self-publishing/digital can be, and then of course there’s the whole ‘DLC’ thing which has allowed traditional publishers to have the best of both worlds.

I can’t help but wonder why there seems to be resistance to digital ebooks – it’s well documented how much money is spent on publishing even a single book, an eliminating the physical book part of that would help a lot – it would also help authors get better deals.

As I mentioned last time, this is what is making me hesitate from going into traditional publishing. I know why the rates are what they are, I can respect it, but it doesn’t mean I like it. I’d rather go back to them later down the line with some stats and some gravitas behind me, so that I’ve earned a better deal.

I’m also going to make a vow (Again) to blog more, as if this author malarkey stuff is going to work, I need to develop a bigger audience and voice. We’ll see how well it goes this time.

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I was extremely excited when Valve teased their plans for the future. A controller that could prove a credible alternative to a Keyboard+Mouse set-up, a Linux based OS based around their Big Picture Mode and Steam itself, and the news that they’d be working with hardware manufacturers to create ‘Steam Machines’ – essentially small form-factor PC’s that would run SteamOS and ship with a controller. Why was I excited?

Ok, it wasn’t so much about the SteamOS. I’m not a ‘hardcore’ PC guru by any means, and I probably wouldn’t touch Linux with a barge-pole for fear of breaking the world, or something, but I’ve been enjoying the slow emergence of ‘couch gaming’ on my PC. The Steam Controller could open up more options to more genres of games. Obviously, there are some games that you just NEED a keyboard and mouse for, especially playing competitively online. That’s fine, that was always going to happen, but I still think once people get used to it the Steam Controller will still be a useful and widely-used device. If gamers can get used to motion control, they can get used to this.

I spend A LOT of time on my PC. I work here, I play many games here now (especially strategy games), I write my novel here… When I leave my computer, it’s usually to go eat, to go to sleep, to go out, or to spend time with my girlfriend. None of these things involve me hooking up my 360 or my PS3 (sometimes we game together, but not often). As the years have passed since I first acquired my 360 and PS3 (I think 2008/9 and then 2010, respectively), I’ve been using them less and less. And now the ‘next’ generation is here and I can’t get excited about it. I like console gaming, I have a bit of console gaming in me from my Nintendo days, but more and more I’ve become entrenched in PC Gaming. But I don’t like that I spend so much time in my office.

Imagine then a device that lets me take my Steam Library to my couch, instantly accessible, and thanks to the Steam Controller and SteamOS, almost as user-friendly as the current home console. I know, I know – you can do that already. Many dedicated PC Gamers do but I don’t think I’d be able to build my own machine for cheaper than a home console and the size of a home console, which is the point here. Plus, I’m not hooking up my current PC downstairs because my office is my office, and my living room is my living room. The Steam Machines, as I envisioned them, represented an affordable small-form factor PC which could play most, if not all of my games, and would complement my gaming habits and allow me game on the couch once more. Steam gets so many games you’d never see on a home-console, and even the ones you do are generally cheaper (especially compared to current XB1 and PS4 games). Plus there’s the steam sales, so long term you can buy and acquire more games for your money. Before Valve started making noises, I was actually considering buying a PlayStation 4. If I could spend £500 on that, I could spend £500 on a Steam Machine instead.

Perhaps I was expecting too much.

At CES this year, thirteen Steam Machines were announced and given details. Out of those 13, only four were competitively priced against the home consoles, and the specs vary (although thankfully the cheaper machines still seem competitive). IBuyPower’s (which was actually talked about in December 2013) seems similar, if not a tad better, as does CyberPower’s. Valve have also come out and stated that AlienWare’s offering, which hasn’t been giving any official details or prices yet, is supposed to be ’embodiment’ of what a Steam Machine is, so unless I’m utterly wrong about what Valve were expecting, then that’ll be similar to iBuy and Cyber’s machines, I imagine.

Apart from three that are still ‘Price TBD’, the rest were all over $1000, including one ridiculous behemoth from Falcon Northwest that could cost up to $6000.

This is not helpful.

It’s now that I say “You’re doing it wrong”. I know this is just one guy’s opinion, on his own blog no less, but there’s been a lot of confusion and scepticism coming from different markets over the Steam Machines. Hardcore PC guys don’t see the point in a separate machine, as they all already have decent rigs that they’ll be happy with. Maybe they’ll try out the OS and the controller separately, but they probably won’t buy a new machine until upgrade time, and even THEN, there are already plenty of decent, respectable high-end pre-built PC’s on the market. A lot from the same manufacturers who’ve offered up some Steam Machines as well. They seem to be marketing these things as just another bespoke high-end PC, which is not really helpful to anyone. It’s nice, but not what we need. I can’t remember who it was, but one of the companies making the pricier machines, when asked about their high pricing, replied “We’re not trying to compete with console pricing”.

To you sir I say, “Then what’s the point in you?”

You see, I have a suspicion that I might be the perfect target market for this product. I’m a PC Gamer at heart, but I have a healthy respect for the console gaming experience. I just lack the dedication, funds and know-how to go down the DIY route. Given my job and the current economic climate, money is the most important factor for me. I don’t have a problem with the next-gen consoles per say, but given some of the measures they’ve taken and the cost of games, the Steam Machine could become a credible alternative to the console experience – the fourth console. But that means next-gen prices and specs. Zotac’s offering, which I included in the ‘good’ list, is actually $599, but I’d happily pay a bit extra against the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy any games with it straight away, and even if did, they would be way cheaper. I also think that curious or dissatisfied console gamers would also be a perfect market to target, for many of the same reasons although again, it’d require a competitive price-point.

It doesn’t help that Valve are being incredibly passive about all this. They’ve not put out any direct messaging about who they really want to target with these machines. They’re trying to open and flexible and “hey man, chillax”, and that’s fine, but its lead to what we’ve got now. Considering Gabe Newell himself made a quip about Valve’s 65 million accounts versus Xbox One’s 3 million sold units, they could go a little further to position these machines as console alternatives. I don’t mind the existence of the high-end specs; I just would prefer they’re not the majority, as I worry how that will affect the future of this idea.

I want to take my Steam Library/PC Gaming in general to my couch, and I should be able to do it for the same price as the console boys and girls (not counting game prices etc…) . Am I being unrealistic? Maybe, but a man can dream.

Civ V Cards

I’ve been experimenting with the Steam Trading Card system recently. Ever since it came out of beta on June 26th, I’ve always been aware of it’s existence, but I’ve more or less ignored it. Every now and then I’d get notified that I’d earn’t some cards through playing a game, but it was never something I interacted with. Then Steam announced their plans for the Living Room. In order to become a candidate for receiving a prototype machine, you had to earn a special badge they created. And so it began.

Getting the ‘Hardware Beta Candidate’ badge was relatively simple for me – I’d already ticked a lot of the boxes naturally during my four years’ service (of which I had a badge that said ‘4 Years’ Service). I even already had more than 10 friends, and I was amused to see how many people didn’t. From there, I noticed there was a ‘Pillar of the Community’ badge, so as an exercise in task completion I set out to get that badge as well. Meanwhile, earning these badges had notched me up a level or two, which had given me some stuff. Considering I had some cards anyway, I thought I’d take things further and start crafting some badges proper like.

It’s a weird system. As it stands, each game that has been integrated with Trading Cards has a number of free drops that you can earn just by playing the game. These ‘drops’ net you one card in that game’s set, and it’s randomised so you could get repeat cards. For Europa Universalis 4, for example, I got the same card three times. There are never as many free drops as there are the number of individual cards you need to complete a set. So, just looking through the sets I could potentially get right now, free drops range from 3 – 5, but the number of cards in a set can range from 5-8.

To get the remaining cards in a set then, you essentially have three options. The first two are relatively straight forward – if you have any spares, trade them with friends who have spares of the ones you need. If that isn’t an option, you can buy the cards you need on the community marketplace. Cards go for anything from five pence, to twenty pence, and you can sell your own spares too to raise funds for new ones. This is, deliberately I imagine, the simplest option. Steam and the maker of the game both get a cut of the sale (although we’re usually talking 0.01p here), and considering there is infinitely more people selling cards on the market then friends you may or may not have on Steam, it’s the easiest place to get the cards you need.

Of course, justifying to your girlfriend why you put the £4 minimum in your Steam wallet to devote towards acquiring digital cards to create digital badges whose only purpose is to rank up a level on a digital platform is another matter entirely.

Steam_Trading_Cards_55711The final option is just to wait to get a booster pack. Once you’ve used up all of your free drops, you become ‘eligible’ to receive a free booster back for that game. These booster packs are created whenever someone crafts a badge for that game, at a ratio of 1:1 (apparently). That booster pack is then randomly assigned to one eligible booster candidate, with everyone having a (theorised) small chance of winning, which gets marginally better when you hit Level 10 (And then that chance increases every ten ranks). No one knows what the base probability is, so it’s impossible to tell what the modified probability becomes. Since reaching level 10 last week, however, I’ve received one booster pack. Prior to that, I’d received zero booster packs for any of the games I was eligible for, and I was eligible for about four I think before I made an effort to play other games for cards. Booster packs contain three cards for that set, and you can open the booster and take the cards (which are of course randomised) or you can sell the booster as is.

This is the weirdest part of the system for me… I was talking to Ananda Gupta, Creative Lead for XCOM: Enemy Within (going to be epic by the way, y’all should get it), and he said he didn’t think the system would replace traditional achievements, but he liked it as an alternative, and he generally liked anything that got people playing games more. The only thing is, the Trading Card system only inspires people to play games more until the drops run out, and to get a drop I’m pretty sure all you have to do is be in the game for a few minutes (not tested that). Once you’ve earned all the drops, the amount you play that game means nothing. The chances of getting the booster packs remain the same, which I feel is a shame.

Steam-600x300Trading Cards, at the moment, is rather obviously geared towards Valve trying to make money off gamer’s weird compulsion to collect things, to earn things, to better each other. I’ve got no problem with that – no one is going to have enough friends who all play the same game in order to do the badge thing by trading alone. I just wish earning badges, especially level two and up where you essentially have to collect the same set of cards again, only this time without the advantage of having had some free drops, was tied to something other than a randomised engine based on collective use of the badge system.

As it is, I don’t think Trading Cards will replace traditional achievements, but with Steam now gearing up to add a real home console competitor into the mix, creating their own unique brand of achievements would go together wonderfully with that. You could combine traditional feats of awesome in-game with the cards, so that playing a game still mattered. I mean, I’ve got the Level 1 XCOM badge because I love XCOM enough to buy the other cards to get the badge, and seeing as in I still play is a lot, I’d love to get the level two and above badges as well, but just up and paying for the cards AGAIN feels…weird. A waste of money, for one thing, but it also feels a little bit like cheating, and against the ‘spirit’ of a collectible card system. If I could earn cards or boosters through completely the already implemented in-game achievement list, then I think this whole trading card things could become something special.

Still, the concept has only been out of Beta since June, so we’re talking just less than four months here. Valve are probably still collating and analysing their data, so perhaps we’ll see an evolution or something sometime next year. Depends if they do want to make it integral to the Steam Machines or not I guess. One thing I will say though, you do get some interesting stuff whenever you create a badge – backgrounds for your profile are pretty cool, and you get randomised money-off vouchers for games. I’ve got a %66 off Portal 2 voucher, which I intend to use. The emoticons I could care less about, though.

So, whilst pretty much everyone else in GAME was queuing up to get Grand Theft Auto V, I had a copy of ArmA III Deluxe Edition in my hand. It’s not that I didn’t want to get GTA V… I think tech wise it seems like a fantastic game, although from what I’ve heard about the characters and world you live in, I feel there could be a few things that put me off. Anyway – it’s £44.99 in GAME on the 360 and I can’t be bothered to bargain hunt, so I’m going to leave it a bit. If a PC version ever does surface, might go for that instead. I don’t really game on my console much at the moment.

Funny thing was – I already owned ArmA III. I was given an Alpha Key ages ago for coverage purposes and it’s been updating to the latest version as time has passed, so it’s full review code now. I don’t really have much history with the ArmA series in general. Even professionally, I think ArmA II was released before my time (or it was early days and so passed me by), and I never played them in my own time. I’ve reviewed the past two Operation Flashpoint games that Codemasters have put out, but we all know they don’t really count, given the direction Codies took that franchise. Still, I’d always been interested in the idea of ArmA, of an ultra-realistic military shooter, and the dynamics of online play associated with it. Like a lot of my gaming habits though, they’re driven by whether or not I’ve got friends to play them with, and I never did with this. It wasn’t until DayZ came along that I bought ArmA II and Operation Arrowhead to try it out. Because it was the ‘flavour of the month’ at the time, a lot of people I knew were playing it as well, so it was easy to get people to play with. Still never played ArmA ‘proper’ though.

So why buy ArmA III, then? Well, on some level I respect what Bohemia have been doing over the past couple of years, especially with the DayZ project, and so I guess I want to show them they’ve earned my money. Mainly though, I wanted it for the manual and the controls scheme layout that comes with it. ArmA III is such intense game as it is, trying to remember all the controls is a hassle I don’t really need. The engine improvements over the last game means that there’s no better time to jump into this series, especially with DayZ Standalone (Which uses a combination of the ArmA III engine + others) coming sometime next year.

Side Note: There is actually a project that’s ported the original DayZ mod into ArmA III, called ‘Zoombies’. I haven’t check it out yet, but you should. You still need ArmA II + OA installed for it to work, for some reason.

Haven’t played much of ArmA III to date so far… my last playthrough was a weird one… it was basically like the film Jarhead, except I did manage to kill one person, right at the beginning. Highlight was definitely the muppet who crashed the helicopter full of people.

I’ve been spending most of the day fiddling with Photoshop in order to make my ArmA III experience better. With the ‘Deluxe Edition’, you get a paper fold-out map of Atlis & Stratis. I’ve spent the morning scanning it into my computer and tweaking it a bit in Photoshop. Even thought I could always just get the paper version out, having a digital copy is also going to come in handy, as I have an app that’s a great mapping tool for stuff like his. I’m making it available to anyone who’s interested, as from what I can tell there’s no other decent maps of Atlis/Stratis available online at the moment. You can grab it from my personal DropBox here.

ArmA3AtlisArmA3Stratis

It’s also available on GamePlan, if you want to download either the free trial or the premium version of the app (iOS & Android). As you may remember, I dabbled in PR for a while representing this neat gaming app called GamePlan. For a quick refresh, it’s an app that lets you download high quality maps onto the device for planning and orientation, either pre, post or mid-game. It’s an amazing tool for games like DayZ, where you don’t start off with a map, and even when you do find one it can be easier sometimes to glance at a tablet or phone then it is to load up the map. Works quite well for RTS’s as well, if you want to plan how a game is going to go before hand or whatever. Sadly the app never took off (probably my fault), and the designer has moved on to more profitable things now, but it’s still available to purchase and it still works. Premium allows you to host a session that your friends can join, and you can make edits on the maps in real-time. Really cool stuff – it’s what I’m using as my ‘second screen’ experience while I play.

In the mean-time, I’ve discovered this quirky little title called Towns. It was £3.39 on Steam today and seems to be curious mix of Minecraft and Kairosoft’s Dungeon Village. Haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, but then the game isn’t quite finished yet either, I don’t think. Happy Sunday!

 

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In DayZ, the guy with the gun is close to God and last night, I was the guy with the gun. Not that I liked using it mind… ammo is a premium and hard to find, and you’re just as likely to find ammo for a gun you don’t own then anything useful. So when I came across a small group of zombies I, feeling immortal, decided to put down my gun, take out my hatchet, and go chop me zombies.

It worked quite well, until the last one knocked me unconscious with a blow and slowly depleted my health until I was dead. And so DayZ imparted another lesson onto a man who would be king.

So, as you can probably tell, I’ve finally jumped on the DayZ bandwagon. I would have done it sooner but Steam took, like, forever, to do their discount on ArmA 2: Combined Operations. It was 20% off anyway, but you just knew they were going to do a further drop during one of their daily deals, and whilst DayZ was a quietly burning curiosity I didn’t care enough about the main game to drop £2o on it (sorry, Bohemia). But then it dropped to 40%, so I bought it, installed it, and then began my own adventure.

I could have blogged about my ‘first’ time in DayZ, but it was fairly unremarkable. I walked around a bit, I got eaten by the first zombie I came across, I learned and I moved on. If you’re going to jump into DayZ, make sure you do so with friends. It’s a punishing experience even at the best of times, but having friends with you to laugh and talk about things as you explore the confines of this particular ‘game’ (and whether or not it is really a game is a matter of some debate) just makes it that much easier. Who cares if you’ve died for the nth time in a row? Your mates are there to laugh with you (and at you) about it, and you always learn and move on.

Luck is a bit of a thing this game as well, at the end of my first day of playing DayZ, as my friends were all logging off the night; I decided to take refuge in a building on the outskirts of ‘Elektro’. I found two dead guys in there who looked like they’d only recently been killed (I’d heard a lot of gunfire just minutes before). They had a wealth of stuff on them, which I naturally took, and that basically set me up until my unfortunate encounter with the uber-zombie. Make no mistake, DayZ is infinitely easier with ‘stuff’, and it’s infinitely easier to take it off someone else than it is to scrounge it all yourself. There’s something oddly compelling about this game though, even when you die, and even when you die with a load of stuff.

Case and point: having been slayed by the zombie, I felt compelled to run back to that spot and get all my stuff back. And why not? I’d spend just as much time trying to scrounge just one piece of food or water, so might as well spend the time getting MY stuff back. I was only a little bit inland as well, and spawned relatively near as far as spawn points go, so I spent the next half hour following power lines, skirting around zombie infested settlements, and retracing my steps until I came across my prone and bloody (well, not really bloody) body on the ground. There was no sign of the zombie that felled me, so I simply took my stuff back, and into the trees, and decided to log off for the night and start anew the next day.

Then of course I remembered my water gauge was getting dangerously low, so I decided to log back in on a random server to take a drink, only to find that due to either a glitch or some kind of server incompatibility, I’d lost most of my stuff-

Wait, WHAT!?

So, many a week ago, I unveiled Operation: Get Behind The Darkies**. In short, it was my plan to try and better myself as a games writer by playing through some of the older, more iconic games that everyone’s expected to have played. The only unifying trait that lumped games into this auspicious category was the unilateral cry of “What. The Fuck.” I got from pretty much everyone when it was revealed I hadn’t played game X or Y.

So, several weeks down the line – how am I doing? Not great… well, I’m on the right track I’d argue, but yeah… progress is slow. Basically, whilst I’ve managed to acquire several classics, I’ve yet to actually get around to playing them. Bioshock, is a classic example – despite picking it up dirt cheap on Steam around the same time I launched Operation: GBTD, I’ve yet to actually start it up. I’ll get around to it, swears.

Other games I’ve picked up recently: Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 were going cheap on Good Old Games, and I also picked up the first Fallout game as well. I’m sure you’ve all noticed the mega Steam sales on-going at the moment too, and I’ve picked up a few other games to help expand my repertoire:

Just Cause 2 – Hearing about it, this game reminded me of Mercenaries 2, which I actually liked despite it’s obvious unfinished-ness. Apparently the story in JC2 is bollocks, but it’s worth playing for the sheer open-world scale alone.

The Witcher – Well, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about Witcher 2, and this was going cheap so I thought why not. It’ll be good to try other RPG’s.

The Polynomial – This looked like a really funky and interesting little indie title, like Geometry Wars but with sound instead of maths.

Day of the Defeat: Source -You can never have enough World War 2 shooters. I didn’t really want to get into Counter Strike: Source, so the thinking was that it’s WW2 cousin would be just as good.

The Orange BoxTF2, Half-Life 2… I’m surprised I haven’t been hunted down and killed for not playing these yet. Although I have played and completed the XBLA version of Portal, so hah.

Patrician IV -This got mixed reviews, but it’s yet another type of game I haven’t really delved into much, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – Yeah, I bought it. Picked up Vietnam as well… I know I have it on 360 but I wanted to see what PC FPSing was like. I suck at it.

Apart from the last one however, I haven’t actually played any of these… I should probably get on that. I have been playing some games though… Civilization V, The Sims 3, Men of War: Assault Squad Beta, Assassin’s Creed 2… had Tron: Evolution for review… Played a little bit of Diablo II as well.

What can I say, they’re all on my ‘to do’ list. Well, not that list (Look left)… I should probably update that.

Until next time.

** It occurs to me that I may be indulging too much into the casual racism that South Park is so very fond of – Not everyone likes their brand of humour. If you’re offended by my use of that particular line from the film, I apologise.