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[News] [Analysis] The F2P Storm: Blizzard, Valve and the sudden rise of microtransaction games June 29, 2011

Posted by Colin in News.
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Says everything you need to know right?

Blizzard seems to be doing its best to enable former (and soon-to-be) World of Warcraft addicts. Starting today, WoW is free to play up to level twenty. The new “World of Warcraft Starter Edition” lets anyone with an internet connection and a Battle.net account log onto the 7-year-old MMORPG, but with a few restrictions. Starter accounts are limited to ten gold, cannot trade in auction houses or join guilds, and take lower priority in login queues than full accounts (full FAQ here).

But Blizzard has not been alone in announcing free-to-play updates for their games. Valve announced last Thursday that their class-based slaughterfest Team Fortress 2 would now be completely free to play. Obviously this move puts more emphasis on Valve’s Steam Wallet, a handy little feature that shipped with last September’s Mann-conomy update that allows players to create a steam-exclusive paypal account. Players can use these funds to purchase games through Steam or, more importantly, for microtransactions.

A trend has developed in which companies are trying the free-to-play and microtransaction business models. Many gamers remember the period following WoW’s initial release, when the MMORPG market opened up and imitators flooded in, trying to cash in on Blizzard’s now-billion dollar model which includes the monthly subscription pay structure. City of Heroes did it, and as of June 20 announced they would be implementing the City of Heroes: Freedom subscription model sometime in 2011. Dungeons and Dragons Online originally charged a monthly subscription, but switched to its unlimited “freemium” version in 2009.

Seven years after WoW’s release and Blizzard is still on top of the market, while the imitators have had to switch. But the funny thing about microtransaction in video games, especially MMOs, is that it’s profitable. No, it’s not as profitable as Blizzard’s addictive cash cow, but it’s enough for studios to stay afloat and offer WoW alternatives. And it’s clear that over the past seven years, companies have learned that as long as WoW still holds millions of subscribers (and growing,) a “WoW alternative” is all they can offer. There are no “WoW Killers” – not even Warhammer Online, which has allowed unlimited free play (until level ten) since 2009.

At the moment, World of Warcraft boasts twelve million subscribers, each paying $11-$15 per month. For that kind of money, Blizzard has been smart enough to deliver the complete MMORPG experience – the type that people lose their free time and spare change to enjoy. Simply put, WoW is an investment in both time and money, an investment that millions of people enjoy on a regular basis. Of course sometimes players burn out and get sick of the grind.

Sometimes they even switch to another game, but most of them end up coming back – if not for the game, then for the community the game has created. And while this community may be laden with spammers and jerks, the guild and party loyalty within the game is so strong that players who leave end up feeling guilty about the people they’re letting down. Check out this old Joystiq article (and the links therein) for examples of players feeling bad for not helping their guilds.

A gaming experience as pervasive as WoW does not leave room for seconds, especially not when a monthly fee is involved. Thus, microtransacions have become more popular and it is here that Valve has really stepped up its game. The week before Team Fortress 2 went free, Valve offered up a hardy selection of five Free-to-Play games on their Steam client. Here is a brief rundown of each:

Spiral Knights – an adorable top-down dungeon crawler from Three Rings and Sega that takes art cues from Ian McConville, whose artwork you might recognize from the webcomic Three Panel Soul.

Forsaken World – A World of Warcraft clone with generic fantasy characters in a generic fantasy setting. However, publisher Perfect World demonstrates some considerable influence from Eastern MMOs in character designs:

This is a Dwarf. Could you tell?

Champions Online: Free for All – The revamped, microtransaction based version of Cryptic Studios’ Champions Online. Cryptic is the same studio that brought us City of Heroes and City of Villains, which was dropped by Atari and more recently acquired by Perfect World. The game itself has added a lot of content since its release in 2009, and offers a large number of options for character and nemesis creation.

Global Agenda: Free Agent – the free-to-play version of the class-based sci-fi third-person shooter that quietly debuted in February of 2010. Like all these titles (except Spiral Knights) it wasn’t free to play at release. The class system in the game pulls heavily from the Team Fortress model of class balance, minus five classes. A full breakdown is available here.

Alliance of Valliant Arms – Another class-based shooter but set in more modern times. A.V.A uses the Unreal Engine 3 and rekindles the East vs. West tensions of the cold war, but with the European Union v. the Neo-Russian Federation. Unlike other class-based shooters, A.V.A. sports only three playable classes, forcing players to think more strategically about class choice in the heat of the moment.

Altogether, these games represent a wide spectrum of play styles (okay, maybe only RPG and Shooter) that have embraced the F2P model for online gaming. Valve has opened the door for its 30 million steam subscribers to browse cheap, free-to-play games and Blizzad has responded in kind. It seems that a bidding war has begun, and as companies continue to lower the pay wall, more people will get online – Just look at Team Fortress 2, which just supplanted Counterstrike as the most played game on Steam.

Of course none of these are “WoW Killers,” although the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Old Republic may loosen Blizzard’s grasp on MMORPGs. But as time goes on it seems more likely the great WoW behemoth will simply die of old age.

Not A Lie: Portal is Free! May 12, 2010

Posted by baconsamurai in News.
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Several years ago I abandoned my PC gaming ways and went over to Mac. I’ve been happy. I find myself bewildered by the start button and the weird placement of the Ctrl key when I go back to a PC. However, every once and a while, usually when I see something like Spelunky, I miss playing games on my computer… sigh…

Nevermore, for Steam has finally come to the Mac. Right now, there’s about 6o games available for us Apple users, like Torchlight, Braid, Machinarium (which has one of the best game soundtracks I’ve ever heard), Monkey Island, and more casual games than you can shake a stick at.

Best of all, to celebrate the release of Steam for Mac, Valve is giving out Portal for free to both PC and Mac users until May 24th, when it goes back to being $29.99. Even if you’ve already beaten Portal about half a dozen times, there is no better price than free.

Beat Hazard Update April 29, 2010

Posted by eboku in News.
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So It’s like they read my review or something, because just today Beat Hazard got patched on steam tonight!

This is so not an excuse to use the new blog application I just got –

Beat Hazard Update Released

Product Update – Valve

10:48

Updates to Beat Hazard have been released. The updates will be applied automatically when your Steam client is restarted. The major changes include:

  • Added Low Visual Intensity Option to Difficulty Select Screen
  • Added Windowed and Screen Rez Options to Options Screen
  • Added File Browser Nav keys: Page Up/Down, Home/End, and Backspace to go back a folder
  • Added File Browser Nav buttons for game pad: Bumper buttons to page up and down, X to go back a folder
  • Fixed File Browser Freeze
  • Tags are now not loaded automatically for folders with more than 50 files

I can now ret-con my review to “I had no problems with it”

First Review! Beat Hazard April 28, 2010

Posted by eboku in Review.
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Beat Hazard – PC Game

I decided to kick off my first review for the site with something that may be a little unknown, perhaps… a little indie?! Not a bad flavor to start off with!

“Beat Hazard” is a game developed by a group called Cold Beam Games Now, the hook of the game is that the entire game engine is powered by reading whatever MP3, FLAC, OGM and other music files you have on your hard drive. By now you are either thinking “But I already played Audio Surf!” or “What?”. Fear not, anyone that has ever played a game of Geometry Wars or even Asteroids should feel at home with this game, and for new comers it is very intuitive to get into!

The premise of the game is to shoot everything on-screen while moving your ship around evading gunfire and debris from enemy ships for the duration of the song you selected while maintaining a high score. The game itself acts like an audio player visualizer, the game’s engine analyzes the song file that is playing in real-time judging th Beats per Minute, volume and overall intensity of the song. For example – if you are playing a song that has very soft vocals or light instruments, less enemies appear on-screen and in addition your actual weapon power is decreased. However if your song increases in intensity you can count on waves of enemies appearing in addition to increased weapon power with the graphical visualizer pumping more colors at you creating a chaotic environment. The game has a tendency to throw “boss” ships at you when a song hits a certain climax that always seems appropriate. Everything in the game is linked to music, making each song a unique experience! I had a ton of fun experimenting with different songs. My personal favorites are “A Brand New Day” from Dr. Horrible, “I Feel Fantastic” from Jonathan Coulton, “Blue” from the Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack and surviving the 7 minutes of a One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII was pretty epic in itself.

The game has a dozen features that makes you want to come back. It features a multitude of achievements and an “Album Mode” where it throws you in a game where it tests to see if you can survive the duration of an entire album. The game also has ranks you can build up – for every few ranks you earn, you receive power up bonuses before each song. Players that play the game long enough can unlock the final “elite” ranking and unlock the “Insane” difficulty mode. To earn these ranks, as stated the game is very score based. To earn the highest score possible you need to collect score multipliers that appear every so often after destroying a ship or earning the “Dare Devil” which is to not fire a round for 5 seconds and the “Survivor” where you not explode for a certain amount of time.

At the end of the day I say that this is a very enjoyable game. As for control schemes, I played this with a wired Xbox 360 controller so it played exactly like Bizarre Creation’s Geometry Wars. Move with the left stick, shoot in the direction with the right stick. However those without controllers can easily play with a Keyboard/Mouse setup. The only issue I really had with the game is if you have a gigantic MP3 collection, navigation through the folders can be cumbersome as it does not let you sort music files by date and there is no quick scroll making large albums or expansive folders almost a chore to navigate. However those issues can easily be fixed by a quick patch if they see fit to do it. The game is available on Steam for $9.99. Worth it? Yes. Buy it. Now I have to see if I can beat Final Fantasy VI’s “Dancing Mad”. Black Mages Version.