Heather Alexandra on What It Means To Buy A Video Game

Highly recommended reading from Heather Alexandra :

…the intersection of work and labor at play when we buy games also means that there’s a lot more going on. Being a responsible game player requires understanding the dynamics at play.

Bethesda’s Excuse

Eurogamer’s Robert Purchase spoke with Pete Hines about their decision to pursue legal action against people reselling games. Go read Purchase’s article and come back.

While I agree that it’s difficult to tell if a “sealed” copy of anything actually contains what it says, or is something that just weighs the same, I found this part of Hines’ argument particularly telling:

“He, specifically, was trying to list it as a new product as if he was GameStop or Best Buy… He’s not a company, he’s not a distributor…”

To Pete Hines you’re not allowed to sell something as new unless you’re part of an incorporated legal entity.

Last week I bought some electronics from a person off of Craigslist, they were selling it as “new” because it was still sealed. When I met the seller I had them open it up before buying it because you do need to be able to tell that it isn’t a box with a brick in it.

That is a legitimate concern, and I’m not sure how you resolve that question over an online purchase, but it isn’t really up to a the original software developer or publisher to police that. If they are going to do that,  you would hope that they have a very strong argument against the individual seller.

Hines is quoted as saying:

“…we don’t want our customers buying stuff from a vendor like Amazon where they think they’re buying a new product and suddenly finding out they got a disc that’s been played, somebody kicked across the floor and scratched and ‘oh they took out the insert that had the special items I was supposed to get for buying this’.”

Hines never makes any statement that the original seller, Hupp, was actually selling a resealed product as new, but he sure does love to speculate that this is what is happening. This is an incredibly flimsy excuse to approve the legal threats against Hupp, and it absolutely isn’t the same argument that his lawyers are using. Their argument is all about a bogus missing warranty.

Even if they’re successful in their pursuit of shutting the practice down, you don’t need to be a lawyer to smell the stench from Maryland. This is about locking out individuals from doing what they want with the things they purchase, not protecting anyone from buying a resealed game.

The Plagiarizer

IGN recently fired an editor that covered Nintendo platforms and software, Filip Miucin, when it was discovered that he had plagiarized a review for Dead Cells from another video review.

This situation was awful enough, but IGN’s managers did a good job of resolving it quickly, and I thought it could be an opportunity for the journalist who plagiarized to grow and learn a valuable lesson. That isn’t at all what happened, he posted a video apology to YouTube and it is just completely insincere garbage that I won’t embed or link to. ResetEra has a transcript.
Portions are excerpted in this retort from another writer that Miucin plagiarized, Chris Scullion:

Fortnite Skipping Google Play to The Detriment of User Security

Epic is skipping Google’s Android app store (the advertising publisher calls it Google Play as if that meant anything) for their upcoming Android version of the free-to-play Fortnite (which is already on iOS and almost every gaming and computing platform.) There’s a beta signup here and the compatibility situation on Android is already a nightmare, check out the list of supported devices. It is extremely specific and the few Android devices I have aren’t supported.

Epic’s Tim Sweeney was pretty straightforward about why they’re avoiding Google’s app store in this interview with Dean Takahashi:

There’s typically a 30/70 split, and from the 70 percent, the developer pays all the costs of developing the game, operating it, marketing it, acquiring users and everything else. For most developers that eats up the majority of their revenue. We’re trying to make our software available to users in as economically efficient a way as possible. That means distributing the software directly to them, taking payment through Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, and other options, and not having a store take 30 percent.

I’m not sure how well this is going to work out for people playing Fortnite. Google’s app store security is awful and routinely distributes software that compromises user privacy and security already, but at least they can moderate that. To get started with Fortnite on Android users are going to have to disable built-in security functionality that disallows third-party apps. Sideloading applications is useful and should be possible on any computer we use, but there are going to be negative consequences for users who don’t fully understand the risks involved.

Parents and tech savvy folks helping their friends and family are going to be busy when they realize their devices are compromised by installing a phony version of Fortnite, or a version that works but steals their credit card data. Try searching your favorite web search engine for the premium currency in the game, “Fortnite Free V-Bucks”, those scammers are oiled up and ready for anyone who falls into their trap.

Julia Alexander investigated the versions of these “V-Buck” scams that run on YouTube:

Since Fortnite’s meteoric rise, there have been multiple YouTube videos running as ads that pitch Fortnite players easy ways to get free V-Bucks. (V-Bucks are Fortnite’s premium in-game currency, which lets them purchase limited-edition skins, gear and weapons.) Search “free V-Bucks” in YouTube’s search bar, and more than 4.3 million results will populate.

Bethesda’s Crack Legal Team Is at It Again

Apparently Bethesda is threatening to sue people who resell their games. Polygon’s Colin Campbell has the story:

Philadelphia-based Ryan Hupp recently contacted Polygon to explain how he’d been forced by Bethesda to stop selling his copy of The Evil Within 2. He bought the game but never unwrapped it, he told us. He’d been expecting to purchase a PlayStation 4, but instead spent his money upgrading a gaming PC. Hupp said he often sells used goods through Amazon Marketplace, which works in much the same way as other online trading sites, such as eBay.

Bethesda’s legal firm Vorys sent Hupp a letter, which he forwarded to Polygon, warning that the game must be taken down and threatening legal action for non-compliance. In its letter, Vorys made the argument that Hupp’s sale was not “by an authorized reseller,” and was therefore “unlawful.” Bethesda also took issue with Hupp’s use of the word “new” in selling the unwrapped game, claiming that this constituted “false advertising.”

The modern situation with game software that we can collect and play for a time, but not own in any real sense is extremely disturbing, Bethesda isn’t helping the situation.

Microsoft’s Surface Go Sounded Interesting

Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper, version of the Surface sounded pretty interesting if you ponied up for something better than the base model. Unfortunately the performance is extremely limited for a device running Windows 10. Mashable’s Raymond Wong titled his review “…Barely better than a netbook” and had this to say about the performance:

This Pentium chip is significantly slower than the Intel Core m3 chip inside of the entry-level Surface Pro. Microsoft touts 33 percent faster graphics than a Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 and 20 percent faster graphics performance than Core i7-powered Surface Pro 3, but honestly, none of these figures really matter because the Surface Go chokes up fast under even light usage.

[…]

…the slowness is noticeable all throughout Windows 10 on the Surface Go. There’s lag when opening photos. There’s lag when launching apps. There’s even lag when opening up the settings to change the desktop wallpaper. Even on my higher-spec’d Surface Go review unit with 8GB of RAM, the slowdown was too real.

I had briefly considered that the Surface Go might be a good replacement for the iPad Mini I sold recently. Even after reading some more charitable reviews, the Surface Go doesn’t seem like a good choice anymore.

It’s a good thing that Microsoft is still working on devices like this, they were ahead of the tablet game years before Apple’s iPad was released, and even as a failure these Microsoft tablets provide a valuable look at what the future of computing could be. Large touch devices are so damn close to being good laptop replacements.

Dead Cells Exits Early Access

Dead Cells is out of Early Access now if you’ve been waiting to check out a more finished version of it. Here’s what I said about it a year ago:

Rogue Legacy was a new style of metroidvania. It reset the castle when your character died, just like Rogue and Nethack, and randomly generated a new castle when you came back to life. Dead Cells has those generated dungeons and also changes out the progression system and combat to be somewhat Souls-like. I love the variety of weapons and effects that speak a little bit more to Symphony of the Night while the art reminds me of the Neo Geo classic, Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

I’ve played a little bit of it post-release and Dead Cells is still a very impressive game and one of my favorite post-SOTN metroidvanias. This game has that indescribably polished feel that makes it so much fun to play over and over again, learning new tricks every few runs.

Dead Cells is on Steam & gog for Windows, macOS, and Linux as well as the Switch, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4.

The End of Apple’s Affiliate Marketing is Destroying TouchArcade

TouchArcade’s Eli Hodapp talking about Apple shutting down the affiliate marketing scheme that has funded sites like his in a post titled “Apple Kills the App Store Affiliate Program, and I Have No Idea What We Are Going to Do.”:

Apple announced that they’re killing the affiliate program, citing the improved discovery offered by the new App Store. (Music, books, movies, and TV remain.) It’s hard to read this in any other way than “We went from seeing a microscopic amount of value in third party editorial to, we now see no value.” I genuinely have no idea what TouchArcade is going to do. Through thick and thin, and every curveball the industry threw at us, we always had App Store affiliate revenue- Which makes a lot of sense as we drive a ton of purchases for Apple. I don’t know how the takeaway from this move can be seen as anything other than Apple extending a massive middle finger to sites like TouchArcade, AppShopper, and many others who have spent the last decade evangelizing the App Store and iOS gaming- Particularly on the same day they announced record breaking earnings of $53.3 billion and a net quarterly profit of $11.5 billion.

Affiliate marketing is the financial driver behind sites like Wirecutter, TouchArcade, and most likely as important to all of the journalistic enterprises that you see with daily deal roundups like Kotaku and 9to5Mac. The largest sites are able to separate all advertising and affiliate marketing business away from their editorial staff so that they can remain independent and firewalled from the business as much as possible. Sites with single-digit numbers of writers and editors aren’t able to maintain a firewall, but I think their readers understand the situation.

Even when affiliate marketing works, the physical goods version of it fuels the most abysmal working conditions in the world. Amazon’s deals happen because they use the same techniques as Wal-Mart to make them, Jeff Bezos and Sam Walton’s deals are only possible when we are grinding the poor into dust. Even Apple has worked hard to exploit their retail employees and steal their wages.

Affiliate marketing would be better if Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other companies’ employees were unionized. Collective bargaining seems like a foreign idea to most of the younger retail workers I’ve talked to and Amazon these companies treat their employees as infinitely replaceable. If employees hear anything about collective bargaining, it’s from training videos that companies like Best Buy force their employees to watch. These videos lie about union behavior and repudiate the power employees could have if they were bargaining as a group. The videos say that employees are better off negotiating as individuals, one-on-one with management. As if managers weren’t trained to exploit their employees, and empowered by the entire corporate management apparatus to do so. One-on-one is more like a thousand managers versus the one employee.

Traditional display advertising isn’t valuable enough to pay bills. I run an ad blocker, we all get the prompts to stop doing it, and we choose not to. Ad payloads slow our reading by wasting bandwidth, and the advertising publishing industry doesn’t give a fuck about our privacy or do anything to stop malicious payloads from being delivered to us.

Ongoing subscription donations, or Patreon support, are nice if you can get them, but it is a difficult thing to maintain on the ground. Any time you publish an update (to any kind of subscription service) there is an opportunity that subscribers will retract ongoing pledges and unsubscribe. Every payment processor and middleman would love it for all of us to spend our entire lives begging for money, but it’s difficult to find time to write and work if you’re spending all of your time on maintaining a subscription pledge system like Patreon.

Apple has been absorbing writers for a few years in order to create curated articles on their App Store, but those articles lack any sort of attribution as to who wrote them. Maybe dozens of hands touch each one, who knows. That byline situation is a choice, but by business need there is almost certainly no editorial independence for those writers at Apple. Without editorial independence and a byline those writers may have a difficult time finding work once they tire of working there with nothing to show in their portfolio, or when Apple decides to stop curating their app store to this degree and there aren’t any sites left to write for.

There just isn’t a good solution for independent writers and sites like TouchArcade within capitalism today unless they have a massive wave of popularity supporting them on Patreon or incredibly small operating costs like Daring Fireball with exactly one writer. I’ve enjoyed reading TouchArcade and hope Hodapp finds a path forward without any kind of affiliate marketing.

Yakuza 0 on Windows Today

A PS4 screenshot of Yakuza 0

The only game I know of where you can brawl, race R.C. cars competitively with teenagers, help punk rockers with their imposter syndrome, and sing karaoke, all in 1980’s Tokyo, is out on Steam for Windows. That’s just a few months after I, and no doubt many others, bought it for the PlayStation 4 while thinking “Yakuza 0 will never come to Windows.”

Windows Gamer’s Phil Savage appreciated Yakuza 0:

“…Yakuza 0 is one of the most eccentric, idiosyncratic and downright charming games around. It deftly moves between drama and humour, between story and action, between arcade action and lengthy, well written pulp dialogue about a man who is incredibly good at punching. There’s simply nothing else quite like it, and it’s well worth your time.”

Yakuza 0 is at a bargain price, $20 on Steam for Windows, it’s already on the PS4 if you prefer to play there.

ST:BC Got TNG DLC on WIN

If you’ve ever wanted to blow up the Enterprise D, I’ve got good news.

Burn baby burn

Star Trek: Bridge Crew looked fun before, but when they finally patched the Windows version to let you play without a virtual reality helmet of shame I wasn’t able to get the game to work thanks to an error message popping up every few minutes and destroying all of my progress.

Finally, the latest patch fixed whatever was broken and now I can stay in the game as long as my family will let me, and they’ve also just added Star Trek: The Next Generation content to the Windows version. I am almost as happy as a targ in shit, except the DLC has been available on the PlayStation VR Goggle System for months.

The good news is that if any of our cross-platform friends on that PlayStation 4 are still looking to crossover some chairs as oddly as you can, ST:BC TNG DLC absolutely won’t let them. Ubisoft’s bridge game is all business, don’t get any ideas Commander Riker.

Fire

The bad news is that the game’s art still has a very strange weird and plastic style that makes it look a little bit like something from 2005, at least when you’re in the non-VR mode. I haven’t tried ST:BC with an HMD yet. I’d guess that this is because Ubisoft wants to maintain a solid framerate on console VR systems so that nobody pukes on the bridge.

Ubisoft’s “CrewBots” that substitute when you don’t have enough friends to fill the ship’s roles are as dumb as bricks, they’ll routinely fly directly into asteroids and mines and incorrectly prioritize your orders. Want your shields at full strength? I hope you don’t mind giving the same order again and again. The hilarious excuse Ubisoft came up for the mediocre AI is that anything smarter would somehow destroy the game’s framerate for VR players:

Keep in mind that with VR, performance is at an extreme premium to keep framerates high to avoid player discomfort so highly sophisticated AI that heavily affects that performance was not in the cards. The crewbots are a very effective solution that meets the goals of providing basic crew substitutes without any negative impact on framerates.

The ST:BC:TNG:DLC:ABC:BBD does add the Borg and Romulans as foes, as well as other features and major changes to the Enterprise D’s UI, and then it doesn’t explain any of it. Good luck.

ST:BC:TNG:DLC:TLA is on Steam as well as through Ubisoft’s UPlay store for $15. The base Bridge Crew game goes for $40 and you can’t play the DLC without it.