Words about games
I wrestled with the question of exactly how I felt about Valve’s decision to implement paid mods on Steam for a while. Before I had even reached anything approaching a fully formed opinion on the matter, Valve flip flopped, and scrapped the whole thing. At least for now. I think there’s the seed of a good idea there, and no doubt Valve will revisit this idea at a later stage, but there were some serious problems with implementation. Here’s my take on the big problems in the model, and how these problems could be mitigated.
I’m a passionate advocate for individuals being able to turn their hobby into a career. I also recognise that there are a whole host of mod developers who have been producing interesting, high quality work for a long time, without any prospect of financial reward. It’s also essential to state that the collective work of modding communities is of great value, and not simply economic value.
Regardless of intent, it feels to an extent that Valve and Bethesda have seen the huge value generated by the long standing Elder Scrolls modding community, plus the big piles of money Valve have been collecting from selling hats and other such digital tat in DOTA2 and TF2, and attempted to figure a way to carve up the modding community, and squeeze it into a capitalistic framework, with themselves getting something approaching free money for other people’s work.
Mods are typically developed outside of a commercial software setting, and whilst many mods are of a very high quality, no user could reasonably expect them to have similar quality assurance standards. It’s not my intention to draw a line in the sand between “professional” and “unprofessional” developers, but if I buy a game and it does not function as advertised, I’d be entitled to a refund. If I download a mod and it does not function at advertised, I’d have no such entitlement. There was no attempt from Valve or Bethesda to reconcile these differences in the proposed plans for paid mods on Steam. There was no threshhold whatsoever for testing mods prior to release, no threshold for how stable these mods would need to be before charging, and many of the mods which were charging were simply updated versions of stuff that had been available without any charge prior to paid mods being a thing on Steam.
Had Valve and/or Bethesda taken it upon themselves to get involved with the mod community, and make some effort to curate interesting and worthwhile mods, mods which Bethesda offer some kind of assurances they function as advertised, and won’t be broken by potential updates to the base game down the line, it would have been far more palatable to see them taking the lions share of revenue from mod sales. Steam does not provide any method for opting out of game updates, so under the proposed system, it would have been entirely feasible for a game update to break mods that users had spent money on. Certainly some modders might update their work to be compatible with newer versions, but if they have moved on to entirely new projects, or if there are insurmountable technical issues, would users be able to get a refund?
Earmarking a selection of mods that have been approved as being basically technically sound, not introducing adware or malware into your game, not being broken by game updates (or otherwise being refunded), would have certainly made the prospect of paid mods being available on Steam more appealing to me. The difficulty here is that this would require significant work from Valve and Bethesda, since they would have to perform some basic testing, and get hands on with community outreach. In my mind, this would simply represent them actually doing work to earn their share of the revenue. Perhaps they see it differently. Obviously judging by how Valve want to manage their catalogue of content on Steam, they’re far more inclined to put their trust into algorithms, data, and metrics from their userbase, than hiring professional staff to do the job. I think this is misguided, especially considering how much money Valve make. In my view they should hire a team to do exactly this type of curation. Not blocking anything from being sold, but elevating stuff that they have looked at in some detail, and decided that it is worth customer’s time and money. I’d still want mods that hadn’t received this earmark to be available, but having a middle ground for developers who are willing to jump through some technical and business hoops to provide customers with reasonable reasurances, and for customers who don’t want to pay for potentially broken or mis-sold software, would be preferable. Closer to outsourced DLC than simply a free for all of anyone being able to sell anything, and trusting the market to sort itself out.
This is arguably the biggest difference between Valve’s existing systems for selling user generated content for DOTA2 or Team Fortress 2. The item stores for these games are manually curated by Valve employees. None of these items will ever break your game, be incompatible with each other, or fail to function as advertised. The creators are selling items for existing games which will work exactly as expected. This is not true for the umbrella term of “mods”, which can be incompatible with each other, can impact performance/use of system resources, and break following updates to the base game.
I’d also suggest that being asked to pay for new toys, new things to do, and new experiences within a game is one thing. Being asked to pay to fix flaws within the initial product is entirely another. Bethesda should not be asking users to buy SkyUI, with themselves getting the lions share of the revenue. Bethesda should have hired the SkyUI team, and integrated their mod into the core game. I wholeheartedly believe that those developers deserve compensation for their work, they do a fantastic job, and no doubt helped shift copies of Skyrim. Bethesda should take some of the big pile of money they have made from selling Skyrim, and use it to fund modders working on fixes for their game.
Where exactly is Bethesda’s incentive to improve the UI in the next Elder Scrolls installment if they can make a bunch of money from shipping it with an awful UI, and selling people a better one?
This article was funded by the generosity of Patreon backers. If you’d like to chip in towards more similar articles in the future, you can do so here.1
In my role of bargain hunter for gamers across the UK, I encounter a whole host of deals where pricing is tied to what region the customer is based in. Customers in one country may be charged one price, and customers in another country are charged another entirely different price. This is a textbook example of price discrimination (that’s discrimination in the economic sense, rather than in any other), and there are arguments both for and against these pricing structures. Most retailers selling digital goods engage in some form of regional pricing discrimination: Steam has different prices for different regions, and Valve encourage (but do not force) developers and publishers to follow pricing structures that will help to maximise revenue. The iTunes app store has region specific pricing tiers for apps and in app purchases. Amazon also operate globally, but each national storefront is locally managed, with entirely different product ranges and pricing. However, one of the few retailers who opted to make an ideological stance against regional pricing has been GOG. They have aggressively marketed themselves as fully supporting the idea that you should be charged the same price regardless of which country you happen to reside in. However it seems that they have recently had a change of heart regarding these policies.32
In my mind, of all the unique strengths of PC gaming, the greatest is that it is an open platform. The super high end graphical fidelity of bleeding edge hardware is nice, as is compatibility with a range of input devices, and being able to tinker around with mods and tweaks and hacks. But first and foremost for me, it’s being able to buy games from basically wherever you want that sets PC gaming apart from the alternatives.20
Here’s Why Ubisoft Are Dummies And Hypocrites For Revoking uPlay Keys Bought From Unauthorised Distributors
Update: Ubisoft have subsequently restored access to these games. So they got a PR black eye, and not much else out of this. In more positive news, they have published a fairly comprehensive list of authorised retailers.
It would appear that users of the Ubisoft official forums have found certain games revoked from their uPlay accounts, without warning or explanation, resulting in them no longer being able to play them. The best theory suggests that these keys were purchased from unauthorised retailers, since this is something all users claim to have in common, but without any statement from Ubisoft to confirm or deny this, this is only speculation. I’ve ascended the control tower to try to get some perspective on what’s going on, and see if I can get a reading of the lay of the land.36
You may remember that a few weeks back I wrote a largely speculative article about what to expect from some upcoming changes to Steam. It seems that I was pretty much spot on about what to expect from “Steam Curators”, although I was wrong on one crucial detail: Valve aren’t offering curators any commission in return for their work.
Bit of a shame for me, since I was quite keen on the idea of getting affiliate commission from Steam like I do most other major digital distribution outlets, but perhaps Valve realised that many people would be happy to curate their storefront for free. Or maybe some kind of commission structure is still in the pipeline.
What does this mean for you? Well that depends. Essentially Valve have replaced the old Steam front page with a new one. The new one will be tailored to you specifically, rather than being one front page for all customers. The new storefront picks which games to display based on games you have already bought and played, and recommendations pulled in from “Curators”, Steam users that collate lists of recommended games.
To improve the recommendations you receive, you can opt to follow a curator, and then the recommendation engine will pull titles from their recommended lists.
There’s a couple of issues I have with this system. There’s seemingly no mechanism in place whatsoever to prevent under the table payola arrangements between publishers and curators. I suppose this has been the case prior to Steam Curators, but there’s pretty big scope for abuse here. I also worry whether this system will be good for getting unappreciated games exposure, or will it just end up favouring games from established developers with a marketing budget?
Overall though, I think it’s a step in the right direction. Like many Steam features, it’s launched in an imperfect state, but I’m sure it will improve over time.
If you’d like to receive recommendations from SavyGamer on your Steam front page you can follow us here.
I’m planning to meticulously curate the store, I’ve already completed my first pass of going through the entire Steam catalogue and picking out my favourites, but I’ve probably missed out some obvious games. I’ll be sure to keep it updated as interesting new releases get added to Steam.6
It was supposed to be so easy.15
Steam’s Greenlight submission process has always been an imperfect solution to a hard problem: How can Valve present users with a reasonably curated storefront, resulting in a good experience, but still avoid placing unnecessary barriers to market for creators hoping to sell their games on Steam. It’s somewhat achieved that goal, but there’s huge scope for improvement.8
So then, as you may have seen, I recently featured a bunch of deals on SavyGamer involving procuring a stack of discounted gift vouchers from website mightydeals.co.uk.
These deals relied on exploiting a loophole which I fully tested myself prior to posting, and had been able to confirm as working.
Sadly, subsequent to my posting it, mightydeals appear to have closed the loophole, leaving a bunch of people in a somewhat inconvenient limbo.
It seems that they have been cancelling some of the gift voucher purchases deemed to have been made by the same person. I’ve not received an email yet, but some people have received an email detailing the following:
Thank you for your recent purchase of the Curry’s High Street e-Giftcard.
So everyone can enjoy this fantastic deal we have limited the purchase to one per customer as per the deal terms we will be cancelling any duplicated purchases. It is one per customer, not one per email / Mighty Deals account created.
Only one ‘50% Off the high street gift voucher’ purchase is allowed per individual.
Any person buying multiple ‘50% off the high street gift voucher’ will have the transaction cancelled without further notice and the money refunded.
To see more please review the deal terms.
Mighty Deals and our partners will not be honoring your duplicated vouchers purchased. Your refund has been sent back to the original card you used to pay with and should be with you in the next 7 working days.
I knew that the worst case scenario according to the Mighty Deals terms and conditions would be that you’d be able to get a full refund, as such I figured that the potential savings more than offset the convoluted nature of the loophole.
I’ve looked into it a bit, and if you are affected by this, here’s my advice:
If you have no urgent need to get your refund processed quickly, my best advice is to sit tight and just wait to see how it plays out. It’s possible that some but not all of your gift voucher purchases will be fulfilled, and these might still be of use to you, even if it’s not enough to buy what you had planned to spend them on.
If anyone has any more trouble, or anything else that they’d like me to try and clear up, please post in the comments here.
I’m always on the look out for a good loophole or trick to push things in SavyGamer users favour, but I never knowingly risk people wasting their money, and I always scrutinise a deal for the possibility of people losing out before posting it. I perhaps lean a bit more towards reckless rather than overcautious, since that’s where most of the best deals are to be found, but I hope no one feels too let down by this not panning out as we’d all hoped.11
The latest in a rather long chain of 180 degree turns from Microsoft regarding policies and business decisions relating to the Xbox One came into effect last month. With Microsoft deciding that actually no, Kinect is not “an essential and integrated part of the platform” as originally stated, they made the console available to buy without their costly and unwanted camera, and in the process hit price parity with their closest competitor, Sony’s PS4.27
Update: My new laptop has been ordered, and is on the way. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. I’m blown away by your generosity, helping me out in my hour of need. The donations I received amounted to 40% of the cost of the new one, and I can cover the rest myself. I’ll unsticky this post now, although if anyone is just seeing it for the first time, you can still contribute if you like. I’ll be sure to update this post if the total donated reaches 100% of the cost of the new laptop down the line. Thanks so much, I promise to continue to do everything I can to keep you informed about all the best gaming deals. <3
Not too long ago through my own clumsiness I managed to break my laptop. Sadly it wasn't covered by the warranty or by my house insurance.
A laptop is a tool I need to run SavyGamer effectively, and without one I'm tied to only being able to post stuff when at my desktop.
As such, I've just incurred the unexpected expense of buying a replacement. Luckily I have enough savings that this isn't going to negatively impact me too much, but I had earmarked that money for more important and more fun things.
I figured that there might be a few SavyGamer users who, upon hearing about this situation, would want to contribute some money towards the replacement, hence this post.
If you'd like to send a little bit of money my way, you can do so via this paypal button:
Please only contribute if you have plenty of disposable income. As I said, I’m asking for donations to make my life easier, not because I can’t get by otherwise.
If you’d like to help out, but are unable to contribute financially, I always appreciate it whenever you lot help spread the word, and recommend SavyGamer to anyone else who might find it a useful service.29
Hello everyone! You might have noticed a drop in deals over the last few days. Sorry about that.
Lewie is off gallivanting around the world right now, with a trusty laptop for company to make sure he can keep all his plates spinning while he’s doing so. Unfortunately, said laptop has turned out not to be so trusty and is currently in need of repair. While he’s done a great job of keeping the deals coming on his break until now, as you might imagine, this is a bit of a roadblock.
Lewie will be back in the UK next month, at which point normal service should begin to pick up due to having access to computers and such. In the mean time, the B Team will be filling in the gaps as best as we can. We might not be able to grab you a deal quite as quick as Lew but what we lack in alacrity we make up for in spirit of heart, or something.
If you want a deal for something specific, please ask us on Twitter and we’ll do our best – I’m @Willeth and Tony is @standardman. You can follow Lewie on Twitter at @LewieP for updates on his status too.
The thing that twitter users got angry about last night is a thing that anyone who has engaged with games media from any angle, whether it’s consuming it or producing it, is all too familiar with. Maia dev and opinionated rascal Simon Roth vented about a youtube channel asking for a cut of sales of his game in exchange for producing a video of his game. This echoes much of the worst conspiracy theories about paid off reviews and games journalists just being PRs in cheaper suits, but is this inherently problematic? I’m going to throw my hat into the ring on the side of “No it is not inherently problematic”, but there’s a big stack of caveats, and equal parts apprehension and confusion for what the future of the video games industry looks like. But I think we’re all going to have to get used to it.9
After publishing this article on Square-Enix’s crowd-funding programme, Phil Elliott, who is heading up the programme reached out to me to see if we could discuss it further. I had a few key questions to put to him, which he has kindly replied to.7
In October last year, Square-Enix was the first of the old giants of video game publishing to dip their toe into the murky waters of crowd-funding. Their programme titled “The Collective” is, in their words, intended to give consumers a chance “to shape games development and champion ideas that you’d like to become reality”. Developers can participate in the programme either with an original IP which they retain ownership of, or with a pitch for a game using an existing S-E IP. Full details of the programme can be read here, but it seems to me that there’s some pretty significant scope for things to go wrong.3
Recently there has been much discussion of the business model of serial key resellers, and I figured it might be best for me to chime in with my position on this process. How these business operate is that they acquire serial keys for games from somewhere, and then sell those serial keys without explicit permission to do so from the developer/publisher. It is my strongly held belief that this serves to benefit consumers, and it is a pretty fundamental aspect of how markets function. I’ve linked to serial resellers regularly on SavyGamer in the past, I do so whenever I see a serial reseller offering a game at a price that constitutes a good deal, and I fully plan to continue to do so.44
The information presented on a store listing for any item available to buy is critical to purchasers. People base their purchasing decisions on a range of information, and “The things that the shop I am buying them from tell me” is a key source that informs purchasing decisions. It seems that Valve are aware of this, and as such have taken steps to present games for sale in the best light possible, in a way that I would argue is concealing important information from their users.13
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’s Post Release Microtransactions Are Asking For Customer Disappointment
Do you remember when games were just games? It seems so long ago now. These days games are constantly updated services, with chunks of the components making up the constituent parts of the “game” split between local devices and storage media, and rows and rows of servers off in a warehouse somewhere. This somewhat undermines the concept of a traditional video game review, where there is no single complete thing that can be reviewed, and distilling an ongoing service into a buyer’s guide or critique isn’t really possible when it represents a moving target. But this does not absolve reviewers of responsibility to provide accurate information on how they can expect services to work. Enter Garden Warfare, EA’s attempt at turning Plants vs Zombies into a third person shooter of all things. EA haven’t clearly outlined their plans for the business model of Garden Warfare. Whilst they’ve confirmed that they want people to fork over £24.99 to £34.99 for the game, they are being cagey about the future implementation of any microtransactions. Not that you’d be aware of this if you read most reviews.12
Two business models which have been increasing in popularity in recent times have now collided together on Steam, and in my mind there is a problematic aspect of how they’ve been implemented. Free To Play and Early Access have the potential to radically alter how games and made, sold and played, but currently there is a lack of transparency in how Valve have implemented them, that is potentially misleading customers, and the onus is on Valve to fix this.8
Update: Common sense has prevailed, and Double Fine have decided to drop the embargo. Full email update at the bottom of the article.
Double Fine’s Kickstarter rippled throughout the industry when in February 2012 they managed to raise a big boatload of money in order to develop a traditional 2D point & click adventure (At the time only known as “Double Fine Adventure”), and to finance a documentary of the development process. They asked for $400,000, but ended up receiving more than eight times that.16
As a quick update to this report on the region availability of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on Steam, it seems Konami have now made it so that Irish gamers will be able to buy the PC version of Revengeance.
Previously, when attempting to buy Revengeance from Steam, if you were accessing Steam from an Irish ip address, you would have been greeted with this message:
But as of today, the store page should be working properly.
This decision does not extend to other regions, with Japan and many other Asian countries still unable to buy it from Steam. Also of note, the region locking of serials from other distributors is still in place, and as is the cross-region gifting block, but this is great news for customers residing in The Republic.11
Update: The ban in Ireland has now been lifted. Details here.
In recent years, a number of the old giants of Japanese Video Game publishing have been increasingly turning their attention to the PC gaming. It seems to me that this is part of a general trend of seeking to become less insular, diversifying their output to be less dependent on the handful of console platforms available to them, and a recognition that there is a strong business case for catering to PC gamers. Whether it’s Sega’s transition to a PC publishing powerhouse, Namco Bandai’s eventual capitulation to the hoards of petitioners and bringing Dark Souls to PC (making a boatload of money in the process), or Capcom’s shift towards cross platform development with their in house tech and their outsourced projects, it’s clear that there’s gold in them thar hills.23
It’s all just been a bit much recently.
In the interest of looking after my mental well being, and just to recharge a bit, I’ve decided to go for a short holiday, and spend next week chilling the fuck out on a beach somewhere warm.
I’ve not actually taken any proper time off from running SavyGamer for over six years, and I think I probably need it now more than ever.
I’ll be back at the helm at some point when I return next weekend, but until then, my henchman Tony has said that he’ll do what he can to keep things ticking over. He has a proper job though, so anything he does get posted he’ll be fitting in around that. Huge thanks to him for stepping up at such short notice.
In the meantime, take care, and don’t do anything drastic like buying a game for full price.
I’m going to pack my bag.26
All buckets eventually run dry.
Sadly, earlier this week the editors of Rock Paper Shotgun informed me that they no longer require me to write my weekly discount column, or any other freelance work. I have written the Bargain Bucket for RPS almost every single weekend since March 2009, and sporadic other freelance pieces at various times, but not any more.
As for what happened, the RPS editors and I had a disagreement over a policy decision. I feel that I was acting in the best interests of the readers, but it could be that there’s aspects of the disagreement that I don’t fully understand. I believe that the proposed changes would have impacted my ability to do the job properly, so I couldn’t agree to them. Given that, they have decided that they no longer want me writing for their site in any capacity.
I’ll certainly miss it. I took a great deal of pride in my work for RPS, and I put a lot into those columns. It’s a shame that it had to end like this, but I’ll never forget how much I owe RPS for taking a chance on me all those years ago. Writing for RPS has had an incalculable impact on my personal and professional life. Thank you to all the former and current RPS editors and writers for everything you did for me, I wish you all the best in future.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to all of the readers of RPS. You’re the most enjoyable audience that I have had the pleasure of writing for. You’ve always been polite, friendly, and fair to me. It’s been a real privilege to serve you.
Finally, I’d like to thank the developers of any games that I ever featured in the Bargain Bucket. You all gave me something to actually write about.
I’m not sure exactly what my future plans are. I currently have no ongoing obligations except for running SavyGamer, which I am absolutely committed to. I’m not too worried about money, although things might be a little tight now. I have a few ideas for other projects that I might engage in, and if anybody reading this would like to employ me to do something interesting in the games industry, please get in touch. If it’s something genuinely interesting, my rates will probably be pretty reasonable.
You can keep up with whatever I’m doing by following me on twitter.48