Saturday, June 23, 2018

Can I Tempt You To A Little Something?

There was an unusual flurry of interest in accountancy this week as Steam added the ability to tally purchase history by value. Or something. No-one seemed entirely clear about the details.

Isey had a nice post up in which a few people outed themselves as overspenders. I revealed my own Steam Spend in a moment of self-satisfied smugness which, with a singular lack of taste or decorum, I am about to repeat here:

TotalSpend 2018-03-30 20:59:13.053 $57.06

OldSpend 2018-03-30 20:59:13.053 $0.00

PWSpend 2018-03-30 20:59:13.053 $0.00

Time was, I could have demurred entirely, saying even more smugly "I don't do Steam" but those days are long gone. We all fall in the end. Nonetheless, I was a very late adopter, coming to Valve's warehouse of shame long after it ceased to be fashionable, let alone faddish.

By the time I joined even the (in)famous Steam Sales were slipping into self-parody, with blog posts tending towards the jaded or nostalgic as people vied to compete over how little they'd seen to tempt them rather than how full their imaginary bags had been as they exited the store. These days, if anyone even mentions Steam, it's only to bemoan its failings. It's a background hum at best.

Indeed, it's only as I log into Steam to check some things for this post that I find the Steam Summer Sale started two days ago. A few years ago the blogosphere would have been sparking like a summer storm with posts about who'd bought what. This time I haven't seen a single mention.

With no history of wild sale frenzy behind me, I don't have one of those long tail "unplayed games" lists that seem to invoke the weird inverted work ethic that dogs so many bloggers. How it's possible to generate puritanical guilt by not playing video games beats me but for a while it very much seemed to be a thing around here. Even that has faded.

It may be an isotope of Buyer's Remorse, something I don't generally suffer from over anything much, least of all games. Buyer's Irritation, occasionally, when what I get turns out to be not what I wanted, but I think for remorse you need to feel a large degree of responsibility for your actions. I would always rather lay that off on whoever sold the crappy thing to me than take it on myself. I do my research before I buy so I expect to be satisfied.

Still, I have learned rather quickly that money spent on Steam is generally money wasted. Not because of the quality of the product - there may be a vast underbelly of slush but the stuff floating to the top seems quality enough. It's more that it's very hard not to notice that there are a lot of free video games around these days. Why pay for something you can have for nothing?

I do still subscribe somewhat to the old saw that says "you get what you pay for" but I think it's important to factor in a clear consideration of what it is that you wanted in the first place. If it's something substantial, something that's going to look good, play well and keep you fully engaged and entertained for several weeks then yes, you probably do need to pay up front. 

If you're already over-extended on existing games - and anyone still emotionally and intellectually invested in more than one MMORPG is inevitably going to have that problem - then  any yearning for a brief burst of novelty dopamine should be easily satisfied without recourse to a credit card.

Similarly, if you just need to fill a session here and there but you prefer to travel first-class then many full-price games have teasers or intros that can be played for free. In the same way that I find I only need to read the opening paragraphs of most magazine articles or that a couple of pages in the Sunday Supplement of a quality newspaper tells me as much as I want to know about a subject that someone's just written a 300 page book about, I often find those free tasters enough to sate my appetite for a particular game.

Then there's the issue of MMORPG habituation. As many MMO players have found, once you go big you can't go back. Single player games just feel odd. They don't seem real, somehow, which, given the innate irreality of video-gaming, is a disconnect too far for me. I find I can invest much more easily and settle more deeply into a bad MMO than a good single-player these days. I think MMOs have re-wired my neural pathways - and that may not even be as fanciful as it sounds.

Best success for me these days certainly doesn't stem from trying to find offline (or, more likely, online-alone) games that replicate MMO gameplay. I thought that would be a path to self-sufficiency but it's not as the virtual dust and cobwebs obscuring the icons on my desktop leading to Tanzia and Yonder confirm.

I'm coming around to the theory that if I'm to play any non-MMOs I need to focus on games that are short, have a definitive end-point and a clear, linear narrative. I finished and enjoyed Dr Langeskov, The Tiger and the Terribly Cursed Emerald which took about an hour. I finished and wasn't especially impressed by A Raven Monologue, which took half that time.

Doki Doki Literature Club I enjoyed most of all and that took several sessions of an hour or two. It's theoretically quite replayable and plenty of people have replayed it many times to tease out all the narrative possibilities. I'm not so keen on doing that, although I understand the theoretical appeal.

My problem with gaming as a delivery platform for narrative comes down to one of efficiency. I'm not convinced that the pay-off from interactivity is commensurate with the extra time and inconvenience. Having to replay games to see different outcomes strikes me as the equivalent of watching a movie or re-reading a novel a dozen times. Few adults are interested in doing that although it's a common practice in childhood (and academia).

It seems to me that both plain text and the moving image do a better job of creating immersion and involvement with character and story than having to manipulate avatars through activities. It's no co-incidence that the most successful narrative experiences in gaming have earned the pejorative generic of  "walking simulators". The less the player has to do, the more the narrative can shine.

Maybe this will change when virtual reality sheds its gadgetry and goes mainstream. I still tend to doubt it. There's a big difference between the Secret Cinema experience or Puzzle Rooms and just watching a movie or reading a thriller. Most people are lazy. I know I am.

All the same, when it comes to playing non-MMOs I am thinking of focusing my attention in that direction. I still have £10 credit on Steam from the IntPiPoMo prize last year and I might spend £3.99 of it on Life Is Strange 1-5, currently on sale at 75% off. Or I might just buy another MMO - The Division is 80% off at £8.39.

Neither of those games is new, of course. The big advantage of falling behind is that there's a lot to fall on. Despite all this talk of Steam, however, it was my Amazon Prime membership that got me out of the MMO groove this last week.

Just after I got back from holiday, someone in my Feedly (shamefully I can't recall who it was and can't now find the post) alerted me to the addition of a monthly gaming offer on Amazon Prime. It actually began a month or two back and the games change from month to month.

This month there were two that interested me - The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2. These are both titles I knew about and have occasionally pondered playing. The combination of "free but only for a month" was sufficient to trigger me and I downloaded them both.

I've played the first for several hours and its...okay. It certainly looks good, the plot is moderately involving and I like some of the characters. The combat seems both intrusive and awkward. Mechanically it keeps reminding me of Pirate 101, which works in a very similar way but is far more exciting. Structurally, the fights just get in the way of the narrative.

I was going at it quite hard, playing an hour or two each evening after I'd finished my GW2 dailies, but I missed one night and since then I haven't logged in again. The story isn't that interesting, the much-vaunted writing isn't always as fluid or convincing as it could be and the voice acting is a little off-putting on the sporadic occasions it occurs. I think accents are best avoided, by and large, unless it's comedy value you're after.

I probably will finish it eventually, if only because I've read that the sequel is an improvement in most respects so I'd like to try that. If not, well, it was free and there'll be something else on Prime in a couple of weeks.

Spoilt for choice I guess. Or just spoiled. That's the real problem here and Steam has a lot to answer for or so it's often said.

Still, we wouldn't want to be without it, eh? Would we?


  1. I personally came within inches of picking up Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset on Steam this sale. Only the fact that it wasn't, in fact, on any kind of discount led to me dunking into my infinite wishlist and spending that money on ten single-player games instead.

    Thus the cycle continues, really. I'm lost in "triple-A" gaming for the moment but will dart back into indie games and MMOs and such as I see fit. (I'm already playing ESO again, and I picked up Star Trek Online again, and in more hyperkinetic things Quake Champions has my attention.) I can't universally declare that either MMOs or single-player games satisfy me more and I certainly wander back and forth between them in a confused honeybee scramble... but I would be deeply sad to lose the option of wandering in either direction.

    1. I'm drifting a little more towards single-player games than I have been for a long time because I like a little novelty once in a while and there's precious little of that around in MMOs right now. I looked at Bless and Dark and Light on Steam today but if that's the best on offer I think I can manage without.

      I have a mental list of single-player titles I might get to one day culled from various blogs, not least your own. Whether I'll ever find the time and inclination to follow them up is another matter.

  2. Hah, I've got even you beat!

    TotalSpend 2018-06-12 22:01:44.353 $39.81


    Now, if we were to check money spent on MMO subscriptions or something like that, I'd be in trouble...

    1. That's impressive restraint! We all have our weak spots though. If Amazon did a "List of gadgets you bought and never used" I'd be keeping that very much to myself...

  3. I think I mentioned the Amazon Prime free game thing in a Friday bullet points post, which naturally makes it tough to find in feebly since it isn’t in the headline.

    I’m sitting at the airport in LA, so I will have to wait until I get home to see what I have spent on Steam.

    1. Aha! That was it. I thought it was you from the start because I remembered a screenshot saved for posterity of "6 games" when what was on offer was actually 5, which is something I've seen you do often! Then I scanned your recent post titles and couldn't see it so i thought it must have been someone else. I didn't think to check that Friday compilation post.

      Anyway, thanks for the tip - got me two free games! I'd have missed them otherwise. Amazon send me regular "What's new on Prime" emails which I always read but they never mentioned anything about games.

  4. The trouble with MMOs (and not a lot of trouble, as i have LOTRO, EQ, EQ2, and DDO all on semi / soft rotation right now) is the negligible impact decisions and events have.

    Sure, if you are playing MMOs for the repetition and comfort they can't be beat, but I do love making a decision in a game, and having it stick, and seeing the outcome of that decision. Better yet over multiple titles (which is why games like MAss Effect - the original triology - were so popular).

    The single player persistant world sounds neat of someone does it right. I'd love for once to exterminate all the rats on a continent and see what the quest giver for kill 10 of them does with their newfound freedom.

    1. The decision-making thing is absolutely what I hate about all games. It creates a (spurious) feeling of responsibility and I have entirely enough genuine responsibility in my regular life - the last thing I need is to for entertainment to try an make me feel responsible too.

      I think this may be why decision-path mechanics became so successful in media intended primarily for rising teens and adolescents. From around 10 to 20 many young people feel they deserve and can cope with more responsibility than they are afforded and resent having decisions, especially important ones, made for them by adults. Decision-tree entertainment like RPGs and especially the old "Choose Your Adventure" novels let the young person feel they are in charge, making the choices.

      Well, I am in charge, making the choices and I have been for about forty years now and some days I positively look forward to the day my only choice is which window to ask the nurse to park my bathchair in front of. So games that have "meaningful" decisions really don't do anything for me.

      The Banner Saga is interesting in that respect. It's apparent early on that although your decisions have significant consequences there's probably nothing you can do that will improve the situation. All you're doing is switching the caravan to go over a clif instead of over a waterfall. The end is going to be disaster no matter what. On that basis I can just pick something without angsting about it.

  5. If you have an Amazon Aldine account then you should make full use of the Twitch Prime account (free with AP). I think it required installing the Twitch app but rewards with free game downloads and in game currency (games vary). I still have Superhot sitting on my desktop waiting to be played thanks to Twitch Prime.

    1. I had to link my Twitch account with Prime to get the free games - they all come via Twitch. I haven't investigated what other delights Twitch has to offer yet.


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