Warframe: TennoCon 2019

Warframe constantly amazes me. Digital Extremes, the team behind it are a beacon of light in a business otherwise all too often rife with stories of corporate greed. Warframe could easily compete in the full-price AAA market, but instead runs as a completely free-to-play title. All content expansions, all potential gear, including the ‘Prime’ variants. The full works.

The new New Player Experience cinematic intro. Not sure if will be implemented ahead of the full NPE rework or whether it will wait for that. But either way — it’s here to enjoy now.

Yep–they sell stuff. Some of it is even quite expensive. But the premium currency of the game is player tradeable and more–there is a conscience to it we just don’t often see out there. Before EA started sweating under regulatory threat for loot boxes sorry, ‘surprise mechanics’? Digital Extremes was policing themselves. They voluntarily removed what by any financial metric would be a successful microtransaction item for fear of it being too similar to gambling.

Since last year’s TennoCon I’ve been super excited by the fact Warframe would be taking onboard the feedback that the elements of the game can feel quite disjointed from one another. And that they’d be tackling this in part through providing spaceships. Well–more spaceships. This time of the pilotable and combat ready type.

The theme of connectivity ran right through-out the Empyrean demo (aka Railjack from last year’s reveal. The ship captain can provide ground support to units infiltrating enemy capital ships. Or in return receive support from other nearby squads — all within their own game environment, seamlessly connecting together.

This we’re told will be in place by Christmas this year. *squee* Along with the New War story quest. *double squee*

We also saw a tease for the next major cinematic story quest after The New War: The Duviri Paradox. I would consider going into detail on either to be extremely significant spoilers for anyone not already current though.

Neither trailer included a musical number though, so in that respect — a definite disappointment. ;) If you missed it — the reveal of last year’s new open world set on Venus came along with a musical number. Look, it’s easier if I just show you.

I still love this thing, and the build of the voices throughout.

But I think the best thing to me was the New Player introduction cinematic (included above). This didn’t have a musical number either sadly, but it was suitably amazing. I think it’s meant to help new players make a choice of starting frame. But good luck on that because it makes all three of them pretty appealing. Luckily you can gain them all through play so it isn’t a permanent choice — but still.

It was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and I feel it does an incredible job of seeding a bit of foreshadowing, giving a wink to players already in the know. All the while without out and out spoiling it ahead of time if you don’t already know.

It will be one of those clips you can come back to and look at quite differently once you have played through some of the game’s cinematic quests and had the revelation in question… well, revealed.

I had thought I wouldn’t be going back to Warframe until Railjack/Empyrean was released — but the hype is pretty real right now. So… We’ll see. ;)

Anthem Early Access is Live — Experience So Far

The land of Bastion is ours to explore at last.

Actually it has been live for about 14 hours now. Of which I’ve been able to spend a good number playing. It has been glorious. Don’t ask me for a review or anything terribly coherent right now, as I have no doubt that the honeymoon effect is in full force.

What I can say though, is that asides from the first 40 minutes or so of the game being live where everyone was trying to flood in at the same time, it has been incredibly stable — both server and client.

You might also recall that in my VIP demo impressions, I became quite adjusted to the mouse controls and was worried at the changes coming for live. Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Yes — it feels quite different, but undeniably for the better. The automatic centering of the flight reticle in particular was a change I thought I’d be turning off immediately, but it feels great.

So if you didn’t get on with the M+KB controls during the demos and had resigned yourself to (at least flying with) a controller; give them a go again and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Microtransactions

Origin will sell the shards in your local currency if it is a currency they normally support, but in US Dollars1 the pricing of Shards are as follows:

  • 500 Shards – $4.99
  • 1050 Shards – $9.99
  • 2200 Shards – $19.99
  • 4600 Shards – $39.99

Note that if you have an Origin subscription, you will get 10% off those listed prices.

If you saw the earlier MTX leak, you’ll recognise the items for sale, if not the pricing.

Depending on the size of the pack you buy, the price of the Epic Armor Sets (incl. helm, chest, arms and legs) will cost between $7.39 to $8.48 each.

The Rare materials and Uncommon graphics cost between $2.61 to $2.99 each, and an Epic emote will cost between $3.48 to $3.99 each.

What is the Coin income like, if I’d like to not spend real money?

Early impressions are positive. In my time today I’ve made almost 12k 24k coin2 just by playing, on top of the 40k coin you start with. However, that is with the benefit of completing the daily challenges and the weekly challenge in amongst that which would have bolstered my early rates.

On the other hand, I believe that in the end game when you get Masterworks or Legendary drops (not positive on Epic) you also get a coin drop alongside.

It’s quite something being here ‘in person’ after seeing this mission in so many pre-release videos.

So be sure — I’ll come back to this later with a better view of how things stack up with the challenges completed and a view of what a typical coin income might look like.

As noted above though – early impressions are very positive. It appears to me that even starting from a 0 coin base, you could grind out the coins you needed to buy even an expensive armor set you wanted before the featured items cycled around to something else without throwing money into the game.

I believe this to be true with the 10+ day cycle we’re seeing, which would allow for 10 sets of dailies, 2 sets of weeklies, 2 sets of alliance coin incomes all on top of your normal play income. Depending on where you were with your monthlies, possibly a set of those as well.

Back into the Fray!

And with that, I’m back into it! My intent is to have a complete review out on or before the time the full-launch comes about on the 22nd Feb, so keep an eye out for that. :)

Over that time I should be able to complete the main story and get a fair taste for the end game, see what the final impressions of coin income is like, how much interest the loot and gear holds (already feels quite promising though, relative to the demos) and that sort of thing.

If there are any burning questions in your mind though, feel free to drop a comment or message me on Twitter. :)

We Lost the Battle on Microtransactions

We’ve lost the battle on MTX. Outrage for horse armor has been replaced with joy on the Carleton dance. Most people are OK with cosmetics in the store, it’s simply the price point that is debate point. 

Asmiroth (2019), Dark Clouds at Acti-Bliz (Leo’s Life)

Asmiroth’s post as you may have gathered by the title focused most on the rumoured impending lay-offs at Activision Blizzard. I replied with a comment before I left for work, but the above quote has stuck with me through the day.

Did we actually lose?

And was it ever even a battle?

Now, I’m not experienced in the games industry. I have no insider contacts. For all I know, they’re every bit as evil as we’d sometimes like to believe.

But I doubt it. I don’t have experience inside the games industry, but I do have strong parallel experience from working in product and propositions for a corporate in another industry that people love to hate. We sometimes have to make decisions that make media in less than positive ways.

We have people very focused on the business interests. The short term profitability, tactical decisions. But we also have people whose job it is to put the customer first and advocate for their needs. Long-term success requires a healthy tension between the two.

Decisions in favour of the business (e.g., microtransactions) are often the very things that allow for decisions in favour of the customer (e.g., Anthem giving story DLC to all players for free).

At the very least, consider this an alternate perspective.

First, Let’s Talk Money

In 2004, when Half-Life 2 launched the ‘Bronze’ edition (i.e., standard) cost US$49.95 ($US66.43 in 2019 money). It had a development budget of US$40m (US$53.2m 2019).

If the box-price of games followed in line with the growing costs of AAA development — we would be paying ~$US97.50 for a game’s standard edition.

Last year’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider cost $US59.99 to buy, and had a development budget of up to $US100m.1

In real dollar terms, that means we’ve had an almost 11% reduction in cost to purchase a day-1 title vs. an increase in cost to develop a modern AAA title by 46.8%.

If the box-price of games followed in line with the growing costs of AAA development — we would be paying ~$US97.50 for a game’s standard edition.

And Shadow of the Tomb Raider is not even a particularly exceptional example. Some titles have cost more, and the predictions indicate development costs for AAA titles will only continue to increase.

Of course it’s a little more complex than this. This doesn’t cover all the material factors. One could also consider the growing addressable base as more and more people accept gaming. The relative ease of cross-platform releases now compared to then. Or likely a dozen more factors I’m not presently thinking or even aware of being an outsider to the industry.

But the bottom line of it is, that MTX subsidise the increased costs of development where a box-price increase of the required magnitude could well price AAA games out of reach for many.

Test & Learn, Adapt

Sometimes, the money-people get a little too much power, or get to make one decision too many. This appears to be where Activision-Blizzard are at presently. It would have been the case in EA, when decisions on monetisation in Star Wars Battlefront II for launch were made.

To an extent it is their job, to push the envelope and find the edge of profitability, the edge of what consumers will bear.

But ideally the balance of power internally is not so far off that when it becomes exceedingly clear that edge has been found? Or even surpassed? That the customer-focused advocates in the business cannot pull things back.

There has been no indication as yet that Activision-Blizzard has found how to rebalance. EA by contrast does appear to be learning its lesson. Possibly out of fear, as I noted in an earlier post.

I think EA has been sufficiently frightened off being too obnoxious for a time by the fallout over lootboxes and the intense backlash they’ve received; not only by their customers but by legislators and as a result their shareholders.

Naithin (2019), Why Anthem? Why not The Division 2? (Time to Loot)

They appear to be in the ‘adapt’ phase, with full removal of paid loot boxes in current and upcoming titles such as Anthem, giving solemn promises not to introduce them after launch.

Anthem will have MTX for cosmetics, but real money will not be the only means of purchase. They will also be obtainable purely through ingame means. That neither the real world cost nor the time required to gain sufficient ingame currency has been revealed is certainly the cause of consternation in some quarters.

I might be crazy, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in this until proven wrong. I feel not screwing over their player base on this to be inline with where they’re at on the corporate swing at the moment. Time to adapt.

It’s Not All Roses Though…

As you may have gathered throughout this piece (or from the original comment I left) I wouldn’t exactly jump with joy for a Carleton dance, I am fairly accepting of cosmetic MTX. At least when handled in a fair and reasonable manner.

In the transition to MTX, there have certainly been losses though. I want my expansions back, dangit. No — not little pieces of DLC with a few tidbits of story and maybe one or two no areas. I want the good stuff. The expansions that essentially came with all new campaigns, like Neverwinter Nights!

Sure, they still exist in pockets here and there. WoW is a pretty easy example to point at. But there was a time when it was essentially a given that any truly successful title would gain at least one full expansion.

I would happily pay for them. But they’re also a much greater risk to a company than the more bite-sized content. Perhaps a topic for another day. :)