Is it time to return to Castle Wolfenstein?
I will speak frankly out of respect. At the outset, I want to say that gaming is a very important part of my life and that my time gaming has been a source of renewal, delight, and fun. I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy playing games, including the games which present issues that I am about to critique.
There are two disturbing trends in gaming right now: a decline in video game sales and a move towards microtransaction based first person shooters.
What concerns me most is the possibility that players can pay for weapons (items) that provide them with a competitive in game advantage. I will make some personal observations about three games. I tried to pick games which are somewhat similar for focus, but obviously there are many games and models I haven’t explored. I want to look at Battlefield Heroes, Team Fortress 2, and RTCW:ET.
“Yeah, but the beauty of it is you’ll have the opportunity to play the game; if you don’t like it, you don’t play it; if you do like it, you continue to play it. So, for the consumer, you’ve got all this choice, and all you need to do is just spend a few moments trying each one out.”- Ben Cousins
I could focus on a lot of the problems I encounter in BF:H such as the occasionally imbalanced rounds created by having a dedicated faction or the highly questionable matchmaking function, but I want to focus on the sale of weapons for advantage. There is something about this idea which I have not been able to get over. I think its because it goes to the core of gaming itself. I’m also not going to re-hash the community input thread, but you can check it out here.
I also like to point out when DICE or EA goes out of there way to do something great, which they may not have to do.
Let’s begin with a little BF:H history.
Battlefield Heroes began as a free to play game. It made headlines because it was not going to sell weapons for advantage.
In an interview, Ben Cousin’s outlined the areas that players were supposed to make microtransactions: 1. character customization of looks and 2. convienence items which offer xp boost. According to the article, Ben Cousins said, “We think the community will define what they want to buy, and what they don’t want to buy. So we’re really open to selling things, and also them telling us, “Look, we don’t want to buy this.”
BF:H was supposed to provide no real “weapons” advantage to players playing with Battlefunds over those playing with VP. Weapons were not supposed to be sold. Apparently, many players were angered by the changes. I for one, use VP exclusively (although I recently got 700 free battllefunds from the Gun Club), and would be disheartened if that puts me at a competitive disadvantage.
Video games have always had an inherent time for money equation going back to the quarter operated arcade games. However, this new idea of paying extra for a potentially competitive advantage in PvP goes beyond a grinding adjustment and could potentially tip the outcomes of matches and games.
People have said the difference is only marginal.
HelloAndy noted, “Also keep in mind that there is not a big difference between the so called “Super” weapons and regular weapons (slightly bigger clip size, slightly higher crit chance, minor things).”
Okay, but there wasn’t supposed to be a difference at all.
I keep thinking about a poker game in which everyone sits at a table but one player slips the dealer a few dollars to get to play with ace up their sleeves. It’s only 1 card in 52 right? Small difference. Or a game of Monopoly in which the house rule is the person who bought the game can land on free parking and collect money, but no one else can. (1 space in 40, not a big difference right?)
How about Dungeon’s and Dragons? If the Dungeon Master sold for cash magic items to some players and the others had to actually go through the Dungeon to earn them, would the game have been popular or had any meaning?
I want to be clear, that as a personal matter, I hope DICE and its team can be financially successful in making games- but not in a way that might corrupt the idea of gaming itself.
Is it fair, however, to blame DICE alone? Not entirely. After all, the players themselves do not have to purchase these items if they want to protect their gaming experience. Some gamers have left the game and that is their personal choice. I feel it would be much simpler if players simply did not purchase or use items like the uber knife unless and until the inequalities in gaming are resolved. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that all players will do so given the competitive pressures that exist.
Finally, we know that times are tough for everyone, including the video game market. I hear your fears DICE. Do not go bankrupt, and do not bankrupt the game.
Here is a short video of me having FUN playing Battlefield Heroes!
DICE- do something to restore your promise to sell cosmetic and time saving items and not weapons that provide advantages.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is not free to play, but it is very affordable. It was recently on sale for about $9.99. Valve does not want to go completely free to play because they want to punish people who cheat by closing their accounts. (I could go on about the prison industrial complex of gaming here, but I’m going to try to stay focused.)
Team Fortress 2 launched its most recent update in which players can now buy, sell, and trade items.
Someone posted a rather detailed account of how they think the TF2 system operates- I’m not entirely sure.
What I do know is this:
First of all, artists receive a portion of the sale of goods they contribute. This is probably a good thing. In general, however, I am skeptical of sales which might provide players with advantages in seeing what happened with BF:H. Although the differences are small, these factors are not consistent with basic gaming notions.
Laughably, the TF2 pricing system probably needs more than a little work. I found a hat selling for over $17. Is this a microtransaction?
It is too early to tell what the overall impact will be.
It was not that long ago that Robin Walker said this:
“To us, the incremental money we can make off lots of things is worth way less than a bunch of people really, really liking being our customers, and that has way more long term value to us than anything else. I think as companies become bigger, that becomes harder. The problem of being a company that people like becomes harder and harder the bigger you get, and so it’s something we need to be vigilant about. And I think caring about our customers is really the thing that’s going to make or break us at the end of the day.”
Currently, Robin Walker is saying the new system is about allowing for greater community contributions.
“We view the Mann-conomy as the next, crucial step in the evolution of how communities interact with products. Now they’ll not only be able to contribute to the product, they will be directly compensated for their work.”
For me, the question will be how does this impact the gaming environment. If a bunch of people end up buying items that provide them with an advantage which unbalances the game, then more will be lost than gained.
One easy rule for gamers is that gamers should not purchase items which provide a gaming advantage. Given the fact that some gamers are too young to exercise such judgment, it may not be possible to hope for that. On the other hand, given the costs, it may be that only older rich players actually have the kind of cash to buy these things. I mean how many fourteen year olds can sustain $17 digital hat purchases? Are teens simply going to be priced out of these games?
Some gamers have opted to leave games which utilize systems which have pay for advantage systems. Many BF:H players moved to TF2. It may be that gamers will have to retreat to older games or smaller independent games which are less well known. There are plenty of gaming alternatives- even in free to play markets.
Anyway, I have had fun playing TF2. Here is a video of me playing TF2.
Steam: sell cosmetic and time saving items and not weapons or items that provide in game advantages. Keep gaming affordable.
Return To Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.
Like most people, I used to play this game a lot more in the past. The game is free! It has multiple classes. The game is a bit older so the graphics are not state of the art, but the game was good by my standards and is still good for several reasons. Like Battlefield Heroes, it is free. It can run on very old machines since most machines are way more powerful than machines from the era in which it served. It is a bit quirky at times to connect to servers and the game, like all games is not flawless.
The biggest single problem with the game are the presence of bots rather than live players. I hate bots. I have always hated bots. The AI is never that great. This could of course change if live players began playing the game again.
(Small detour: I am not a huge fan of the “reality” FPS genre mostly because I find that some players say things which are actually fascist, whereas in TF2 you get mostly annoying sex cross talk and BF:H it’s just predictable angry hackusations and noob-bating wars. I’m drifting here a bit, so let me focus.)
The more you play in the server, the more XP you accumulate and the better your character becomes. Some servers have xp save so your character keeps the ups more persistently.
There is obviously not the level of dress up you get in BF:H or the cartoony fun of TF2. However, the game also does not have microtransactions. It’s dated enough that if you can find a low ping server, a modern high speed connection will probably not have problems.
The game appears to suggest that a game can be sustained for years even without microtransactions. I found it had all the basic elements of gameplay which you would expect.
It’s certainly not my first choice of games to play, but in light of the wierd microtransaction disturbances, I feel it was worth downloading and installing again.
The gameplay may seem a bit simple, but as BF:H suggests, simple can be fun.
I played it mostly to examine the possibility of a online gaming without microtransactions, in-game ads, that had low hardware requirements and was free.
Here is a short video of me playing RTCW:ET.
Players: give RTCW a second look- if only to see that free to play games do not need to rely on microtransactions. (If you are running it under Vista, give yourself UAC priveleges BTW).
All the Punkbusters and VAC’s in the world will never make up for a basic lack of ethics.
Just thought I’d throw that in as another off-topic aside.
Getting back to it, I’ve spent a lot of great time playing games. I like the work that gaming companies do, even if I don’t always like what they do. I feel it is important to talk about these things in a respectful and responsible manner. Hopefully, game companies will not make such poor decisions that I can no longer play the games they make.
You may have noticed in all three videos, I attempted to use the “flamethrowing” style class. That was intentional to show that despite their differences, there are also a lot of similarities in opportunities for gamers. Gamers still have options and choices.
Now I should probably dust off some Roleplaying books, just, uh, in case a per pixel fee is imposed. After all, a good set of D20 dice are pretty cheap. I even got one D20 for free at Dave Arneson’s visitation in St. Paul in 2009. He wanted people to have fun playing games. A great idea then, and a great idea now. Let’s not forget that.