Hate “Grindy” Games? Blame “Hard” Games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Etc.

Image of Bloodborne character in trenchcoat and bonesaw turned away from the viewer.
Image Source: https://www.gamedesigning.org/learn/game-difficulty/

So, a few minutes ago, I was watching a YouTube video for a gamer/commentator by the name of AngryJoe. Now, he is known for his “Angry Rants” and “Angry Reviews” for popular video games. While often fair, he does become quite “Angry” when a game is bad (esp. when it was hyped to be good by the game publishers ahead of time. Now, this is an older video in which he’s discussing prospective pricing for cosmetic skins for the sci-fi video game Anthem. However, he notes later in the video that the game is likely to be (along with other games), “grindy” (which is gamer-speak for having to multiple “quests” in order to get your character to the appropriate level to face new, harder challenges–i.e., one must “grind” those quests out to be able to grow their character). He notes, with sarcasm, that game companies claim they want gamers to fill a sense of accomplishment for their actions (rolling his eyes all the while).

Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IKs4d5oj04&t=677s
(Warning NSFW (aka “Salty”) Language

Filling Out Surveys

So the very language that AngryJoe mocks in the video about publishers wanting to be rewarded for their gameplay by feeling a sense of accomplishment is literally in the text of the surveys that game publishers send to gamers on a periodic basis. How do I know? I filled out three of these surveys just this past year alone. Some of the questions are, of course, demographic, as in what age range, what race, what games do you prefer (either a checkbox or pick your top 3), etc. However, when you get into the heart of the survey, the questions usually change to how do you play your games and what are you looking for in the game? Do play to win or to feel a sense of accomplishment, do you usually play with your friends or alone, do you go online to have fun or do you prefer well crafted stories, etc.? Gamers have told companies time and again, through surveys and their buying habits, that they prefer “accomplishment” over well crafted narratives.

The Rise of the “Hard” Game

Not to take anything from those who like “hard” games (like Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and the like), but one of the major tropes that people (pundits and gamers alike) keep saying is that gamers love “hard” games because when you finally beat the game, you feel such a (say it with me) a sense of accomplishment. By choosing hard games (in both social media — to talk about and gush over and by the success of those games), gamers have tacitly given the approval to other studios to introduce mechanics in their game that make the game “grindier” and “less rewarding” than it actually has to be. While cynically motivated to keep gamers playing their games longer, publishers can also justify their actions through the answers on surveys (answers to the “sense of accomplishment” question) and the success of other games.

I remember when Bloodborne came out, a clerk at Gamestop nearly had an apoplectic fit when I told him I was cancelling my preorder. I did so because I do not enjoy “super hard” games, so I would have just been wasting my money. However, he was so invested in the “idea” of “hard gaming” that he couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t want to pound my head up a brick wall of a game for five hours a day before making progress. Having played the ridicously hard games of the Atari 2600 era (River Raid, Pitfall) and the NES era (Ninja Gaiden, The Adventures of Bayou Billy), I’ve more than put in my time on hard games and I can tell you that the sense of accomplishment (for me) was more than off-set by the ever building sense of frustration I had when playing. So, gamers today, by through around this idea of “accomplishment” in gaming, all you’ve done is given license to game publisher to exploit this into “grindy” mechanics to lengthen (some say “pad”) out games and to push narrative further into background. So, the lesson is: think long and hard the next time a survey comes in about whether you play games for the “story” or for a “sense of accomplishment.”

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)
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It’s All About the Games, EA!

Image Source: https://www.dexerto.com/business/ea-shares-plummet-after-battlefield-v-delay-announcement-151830

Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.

The Customer is Always Right

“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.

The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.

Andrew, no. Just no.

I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.

Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).

The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment

While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.

Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?

In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!

Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.

In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Anthem: Wait and See

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’m interested in all varieties of games, from racing to action to shooters. However, I have a soft spot for science fiction action games, no matter the genre (about the only exception to this is “puzzle” games, but even then, if the game maker can really sell me on the concept, I’ll at least take a look). However, after being burned by Mass Effect Andromeda two summers ago, I’ve taken a more “wait and see” approach towards games published by EA (Electronic Arts) as they seem content to release games that are not quite finished in order to 1) not disrupt their “pipeline” with future releases that that have in the works for later in the year and 2) satisfy their investors over their game-playing audience.

Early Reviews

So, Anthem “partially” released to subscribers of EA’s early access “subscription” platform and the reviews have been, for the most part, mediocre. While most praise the graphics and the flying and the gorgeous world, many are also criticizing long load times and the multiplicity of loading screens, bugs/glitches, and a story that doesn’t necessarily delve as deeply as many fans of the developer’s (Bioware’s) stories. Early reviews are generally speaking a 7 out of 10–okay, but not great.

Yes, I know you have a whole slate of games planned for the fall–Jedi: Fallen Order is one that we know of, and rumors persist of a “new” Need for Speed game, but Anthem is an important game for EA, so why not give it the time it needs to finish “baking?”

Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

So, I’m waiting on the game, even if EA isn’t willing to do this. EA would prefer that I buy it and wait for them to fix it over the year and make it a good game, so that they already have my money to add to their numbers for their investors. I’m looking for a good product for my purchase price. So, unlike Mass Effect Andromeda, I’m not going to pick up my preorder based on both my perception of the game (in its current state) and the early reviews of the game. While I think that the graphics are top-notch, I’m not as sold on the flying/combat as even the reviewers are based on their reviews, and I’m certainly not impressed by the frequent loading screens. To be honest, the game reminds me of Knights of Legend, an Origin game that really wanted owners to own a hard-drive, but came out on the Commodore 64 (C64) with a disk drive. I was always switching out disks based on whatever activities that I needed/wanted to do–the same seemed true with Anthem. Everything that I was doing seemed to need a load screen (and that’s with the 2nd demo–for me, the first demo was plagued with the “infinite loading screen bug” where I couldn’t even load into a game for most of the afternoon). After buying Mass Effect Andromeda brand new (which also had major issues due to lack of development time), I’m choosing to (at best) wait quite a while before purchasing the game.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Weekly Round-Up for February, 18, 2019

Cat dressed up about to blow out birthday candles with the text "Ohh Hello there Birthday Weekend!"
Image Source: https://memegenerator.net/instance/57502522/birthday-cat-ohh-hello-there-birthday-weekend-

So, I’m going to be honest–last weekend was my birthday, so I did not do as much as I normally (probably) should have done, but what can you do? Here’s a round-up of my week last week and the weekend.

Writing

  • So, this is where I fell down the most, as I wasn’t able to get a lot of actual writing done. I’m actually off from my 2nd job tonight, so my goal (in addition to reading for school), is to catch up the writing that I didn’t get done over the weekend.
  • Worked on the character sketch for the protagonist of “Project Dog,” (about half way through).
  • I had a dream last night that might turn into a story at some point (probably a villain/antagonist as that was really what the dream focused on). Of course I didn’t write it down–though, so I’m saying this and by tomorrow, I will have probably forgotten what was so cool about it.

Gaming

  • This is where I actually spent most of my time this weekend (Big surprise, right?) I did way too much in terms of gaming this weekend.
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4: I bought a copy of this game as I’ve wanted it every since it was released in last year. It is a sequel (of sorts) to one of my favorite games on the Playstation 3, Valkyrie Chronicles. It is a tactical rpg in a re-imagined world of World War II. The game is almost an “Alternate History” that uses many points of history of the war to inform the narrative of the story, but many things are changed and given a bit of a “sci-fi” bent (although not too much that it becomes a pure sci-fi narrative).
  • Apex Legends: After earning two second places (or 2nd place twice), I decided my best move was to delete the game from my hard-drive! :0 I know this might seem like a drastic choice, but after starting it at 7:00 pm and looking up and seeing it was 9:17 pm on Sunday night when I’d just intended to play a couple matches to improve my ranking–(if you want to know what happened to my writing this weekend–blame Apex Legends). This game, while a blast, is no good for my PhD aspirations (or my writing goals either.)

Media

  • Finished Babylon 5 this weekend. There’s a write-up coming soon (I’ve actually got a partial draft written) for the blog, but I finally finished the last episode over the weekend and will share my impressions of it soon.
  • Watched a YouTube video that I’d like to turn into a blog post. I’ll have to find it again (I forgot to “Like” it), but still I thought that it would be awesome to use as blog post. Hopefully, I can find it easily and add it to easily to the blog.

Well, that’s all I have at this moment. Will be back with regular blog posts tomorrow.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Weekly Round-Up (February 3rd-9th)

potpourri

Writing

  • 2nd Draft–Starlight, Starbright: “Exposition” — I worked on the beginning of the story and reworked it to add in more characterization, more character backstory, and to revise the introduction of the story so that it matches the changes that I made in the middle of the story in the 1st draft (I didn’t go back and revise it as I figured I would get bogged down and not finish the 1st draft which is what I wanted to do.
  • The market that I’m aiming this for is a yearly one and it stops taking submissions on February 28th. I already missed a different market that stopped taking submissions on Jan. 31st (& will have to wait until June for their next period), so I don’t want to miss this one and have to wait an entire year (along with it having a different theme, to boot).

Gaming

  • So, I finished the campaign for Star Wars Battlefront II published by EA. I bought it on sale (9.99) and I bought a digital copy. I played the first one (only because it was Star Wars) “day one,” and while it was fun, I really did miss having a campaign (I rarely played the first game, so it was money wasted). I decided that this time I would wait until the game went on sale before purchasing it. I thought the campaign was good–although Iden goes through a character change quite quickly about a third of the way through–and while I liked it, I did find it abrupt. I didn’t even bother with the multiplayer which is this game’s bread and butter because I didn’t like the “loot box” controversy–just let us play games EA, stop looking at you gaming customers as stupid sheep to be fleeced for your shareholders. Not cool.
  • Speaking of multiplayer, this week saw the release of Apex Legends, a first person shooter which mixes the best of Battle Royale games (like Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBg), “character shooters” (Overwatch) and cartoony action/combat (Fortnite). This game was released on Tuesday or Wednesday and it has taken the gaming world by storm. 10 million players have played it in approx. 72 hours. Whether it has staying power remains to be seen. Oh, I also one my first match today. It is a three-person team, and my contribution was healing, revives, and calling enemies, but even though I wasn’t the “star” on the team, my help was both necessary and critical to the win! 🙂

Miscellaneous

  • So, not much going on outside of work–for school and for my second job.
  • Oh, I got new contact lenses, but I don’t think there going to work out. I’m extremely near-sighted so we added a “multifocus” lens so that I could do better at reading, but in doing so, the distance is now very blurry and limited and I’m not really “feeling” them. While I can’t go back to my old pair (too old), I may have to try to see if we can’t give up some “reading” clarity to get some clarity for my distant vision because of all the driving that I do.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Writing the Platinum Trophy Way — Going through ALL the Stages of Writing

I finished my first short story of 2019! YAY! Here’s hoping: 1) I finish many more and 2) the time I use to write creatively doesn’t come back and bite me in terms of my schoolwork. 🙂

One thing I noticed, however, is the sense of accomplishment that I felt when I finished my story, Starlight, Starbright. It was a mini-version of when I actually get something published and the feeling of being published is very much earning a Platinum Trophy in a video game–a sense of both accomplishment and mastery that I love to feel and is what keeps me both writing and playing games.

The Sony Playstation Blog team put together a 2018 Awards Post that really crystallized how I think of the writing process.

What is a Platinum Trophy?

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So, my goal when I play games is to “finish” them and see the credits roll. Sometimes that’s enough, and once the game is over, I’m done with it and will move on to another game. In the late 2000s, Microsoft introduced a series of points when one accomplishes certain goals in the game, you get points that accumulate and add to your “gamer” score. Sony took this idea and ran with it, creating a similar system based on “trophies.” Bronze trophies for fairly common/routine game achievements, Silver trophies for harder achievements, Gold trophies for some the hardest achievements (or for finishing a game), and Platinum trophies for earning all the trophies in the game.

Bronze Trophy = First Draft

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Finishing a first draft feels a lot like earning a Bronze trophy. It is fairly easy to accomplish, but still challenging enough at the same time that one might be lulled into a false sense of security. I don’t have to worry about continuity, or characters/characterization, or anything like that–I just need to get the draft finished (which can sometimes be a real accomplishment just by itself).

Silver Trophy = Second Draft

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This is where the real work begins because this is where (for me) the dramatization happens, the characterization, and making sure the work is internally accurate. I’m working on Starlight, Starbright and The Independent now in this area. It also (generally) isn’t as much fun as the first draft because all of the mystery/excitement has been expended getting it out onto paper. Now, its just work and (for me) this is where quite a few of my projects break down. What I’m finally realizing is that it is the character that really needs to drive this draft. Getting a character that I really enjoy working with and investing in will help me see the project through the hard times and hard work of the character.

Gold Trophy = Third Draft

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If I can get the project through the second draft, then I usually submit from there (or sometimes at the first draft stage). I sometimes add in a Gold Trophy stage–for polish and making sure that the story is consistent. I try to do this on my own, but I find that I miss a lot of simple things, even when I follow common “tricks” like reading my work aloud, or reading with a “reader’s eye” rather than “writer’s eye.” This, I think, is where a second pair of eyes might be helpful, but as I only have “one pair,” I think the Writing Center will have to suffice until I graduate and then we’ll see what happens.

Platinum Trophy = Publication

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So, this to me is the “holy grail” of writing. It is also the only step that is out of my hands. I can’t control whether or not I get published. The only thing I can do is make the story as interesting as possible and mimimize the grammatical mistakes so as to create a compelling story that isn’t bogged down by errors in grammar that hinder communication with the reader. Just like a Platinum trophy where I can’t control the list that the developers of the game create–if the list is too hard or onerous, I won’t do them because it would be a futile & frustrating waste of time (I have 16 Platinum Trophies with over 100 games). However, there are many, many gamers who have only 1 or 2 platinum trophies (or none at all). My 16 Platinum trophies puts me in rare company–as do my publications. I’m I as successful as Hakoom, the current PlayStation trophy leader, or Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, both undisputed leaders in terms of money and prestige as writers? No, but just being published is an accomplishment all by itself, and working towards publication is just as satisfying (to me) as working towards (accomplishable) Platinum Trophy.

Time + Effort = Success!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Using Games to Finish Stories

Four soldiers in a desert landscape with a mountain backdrop.
Image Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/24/ghost-recon-wildlands-hands-on-with-the-future-of-military-shooters

So, this is one of those video game posts that do from time to time. Some times I do them while playing the game, some times I do them to point out the glitches, some times I do them to point out broader practices in the video game industry, and some times I do them just because they are fun or rewarding or have some sort of meaningful accomplishment for me.

For me, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands falls into this latter category.

A Year of Wildlands

The game is one that I’ve been playing for about a year–I got it for Christmas 2017. I’ve played it pretty much every weekend for a year. I wanted it for a while and I asked for it. It was a good story, but I didn’t think that I would finish it, but it turns out that after assidously playing it for a year, I finished it in late Oct./early November. I’ll do a Mini-Review for it soon, but today I just wanted to talk about the power of making an accomplishment.

Today, I finally “got back on the horse” and wrote part 1 (of 3) of a Revision to an older project entitled, “Rocket-Man.” I’ve submitted that story several times, but it has never been sold. I went back and reworked the character and the situation.

The Key to Writing (for me) is the Key to Gaming

So, today I just tried to do what I did when I played Wildlands. I found a day to try to write. Today I have class, but I have time after the class where I can simply sit down and draft. That’s what I’m doing. I have 3 projects currently on the hopper (4 if you count the graphic novel), but my goal is to completely finish one project by writing them in 3 stages (beginning, middle, and end) and then moving on to the next one. However, I’m going to do this on a weekly basis. I know I should probably be using this time to read (& I hope using it in this way doesn’t come back to bite me in March), but I really feel useless if I don’t write. A writer writes and by putting 2-3 hours on a project (with music) and without distractions (such as video game systems, tv, and the like), I’m able to be as productive on my stories as I am when I game. Hopefully, in a year’s time, my diligence will pay off (as it did with Wildlands and I’ll be able to share successes with you in this blog.

One More Thing . . .

I was going to close the blog out, but happened to click on an email that I receive monthly from Playstation that tracks my gaming time and number of gaming “trophies” (accomplishments in games) for the month and for December, I logged 43 hours of online gameplay and earned 19 trophies. Now this is well above my average of 4-5 hours on a Saturday afternoon/evening for about 20 hours a month, but just think of all the projects that I could write if I devoted the time that I do for gaming, or more importantly, what I could accomplish in my school related endeavors with the same amount of time. I used to do that for reading–now I just need to get there for school work and writing.

The only problem I see is that somewhere in there, I’ve got to find time for sleeping. 😉

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)