Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ArcheAge and Subscription Services

I think like a lot of people, I juggle various hobbies in my day to day life. What I have been noticing is that I tend to cycle through hobbies pretty consistently based on the year. The months of August-through October tend to be a pretty slow period for me when it comes to video games. I suspect the rise of college (American) football and enjoying the Fall weather tend to be the major culprits. Video game releases seem to be pretty slow usually as well, waiting to until the last week of October and November to release the big hitters.

The difference nowadays is that I have a video gaming blog so there is a new voice in the cacophony of my head telling me to pay more attention to the hobby so I have something to write about.

ArcheAge was an attempt at making that happen and it just didn't.

As I expected, the mandatory world PVP pretty much ended my time with the game. The main gameplay loop of very short battles followed by a whole lot of running wasn't endearing. Both the overarching storyline and the individual stories in each zone are so generic as to not exist. The housing and crafting weren't anything special either. Having overworld housing versus instanced housing doesn't really seem to change anything fundamentally in how I played. I just bought a real house in the past several months so all of my "nesting" efforts are going to that, not a digital equivalent.

The mandatory world PVP is honestly just bizarre. Like every other game with world PVP it comes down to numbers > ganking > gear to determine the outcome of every incident. It's been several decades now and it's still one of the most boring formulas we have in gaming today. ArcheAge brings nothing new to the table. It's clear the developers held no desire to make a good PVP game, they needed to distract from the anemic gameplay and give whales a since of purpose.

The positives of a game with an upfront cost and no subscription fee is that I can change my mind at anytime. I already emptied my bags and placed my character at the beginning of a new zone to ensure little to no friction when I start again. There's also effectively no storyline to care about, so there's no reason to worry about getting lost in the quest text. Compare this to Everquest II, a game possessing charm ArcheAge can only dream about, that I don't play because of the perquisite chores needed to get a character up to questing speed again. Clearing out full 55 slot bags, rereading through 6 hotbars of abilities, and skimming storyline summaries from the Wiki is a to do list, not a distraction.



Like many in my RSS feed, I took Microsoft up on its $1 Game Pass offer in order to get a hold of Outer Worlds. With only a couple of hours in the game I see no need to yet offer my thoughts, but I did want to talk about the concept of Subscription game services.

This weekend I bought yet another hard drive, an 8 TB external HDD that I will likely pull out of it's external enclosure and hook up internally inside my computer's case. I like to keep large portions of my game library installed so I can just jump in at any time. I'm also a bit of digital hoarder. I have about 100+ games on GOG and I keep them all backed up on a hard drive. I also run a Plex server and keep several terabytes of content ready to go at all times.

But I also have subscriptions to most major streaming services, Google Play Music, YouTube Red, Netflix, Amazon Video, PBS, HBO, etc. I usually rotate in an extra niche video streaming service when I can. The local library fills my need for books. And now add the explosion of gaming related subscription services to that list. I tend to use these subscription services as a content discovery system. Most stuff I watch/listen/play will just be consumed. But I will purchase a hard copy of anything I love.

Sometimes it's messier than that. I have zero problem paying for media, but not every industry and company presents their content in a consumer friendly way. I often use a site called MangaDex to read most Manga even though it's technically piracy. A subscription service for ten dollars a month that works on my Kindle would be a no-brainer for me. But that service doesn't exist. So instead, I read fan-translated copies and then hit Barnes and Noble for officially published work when they have their 2-for-1 sale. It's tough to feel bad for the Manga industry, if MangaDex and it's predecessors didn't exist than I would have simply ignored the whole industry and it would never have saw a dime from me, instead of the several hundred dollars I spend a year on it. Help me to help you and all that.

Video games were in a weird place when it came to subscription offerings before this year. The model had been tried before. I would subscribe to GameTap back in the day, even though it's shady business practices regularly got my credit card flagged as attempted fraud But the ability to try out a large number of games for a low monthly fee was an attractive proposition even in the mid-2000s. Brick and mortar rental stores (and GameFly) were also effectively the same thing, but those were in my childhood and college years, a low monthly fee wasn't for content discovery, that was just all the money I had.

Steam sales and Humble Bundles were effectively my subscription service. Purchasing decisions feel a bit less fraught when you could pay $2.50 for a 40-hour AAA title that was only 2 years old. Video game prices aren't quite as slim as they used to be, but you can get quite bit of quality hours/dollar ratio in the video gaming world.

But the equation has changed in a very decisive way now that video game subscription services are either the same price or less as a month of World of Warcraft. And I welcome it. I have nearly 2000 games spread across multiple digital frontends plus hard copy console games. I would own probably a tenth of that amount if subscription services had existed this past decade. Effectively, it's easier to know what I want when you make it easier to know what I want. No matter how cheap these games were, weeding out the "losers" for 15 a month would have been a valuable service.

Instead of spending $60+ on cable TV with ads, I can simply watch Netflix. Instead of driving to a Blockbuster that reeks of smoke to pay my late fees on a movie I can simply pull up Amazon Prime. Ten years ago I didn't even know what manga was, now I read it nearly every night as I fall to sleep. YouTube lets me watch highly polished videos about obscure topics that interest me. A service that flatout didn't exist when I was a boy. Today's entertainment landscape, at least for me, is in such a better place. This paradigm genuinely enriches how I spend my leisure hours.

I suppose this is just a long-winded way of saying that I'm genuinely very excited about the rise of subscription services in gaming. Granted, I reserve the right to withdraw my statement if this ends up killing traditional single-player games, but I suspect it will not. There are cracks in the armor. Nintendo killing off it's virtual console releases for the Nintendo Online subscription is worrisome. But those games were better off emulated anyways. But in general, I think this is the biggest change in the video game industry since the rise of Steam and digital storefronts. I think this will have a positive impact on how I play games on a day to day basis. And maybe I'll be less likely to fall into my yearly rut when it comes to excitement about video games.

3 comments:

  1. Now, I'm fully aware that this is your blog and you can say whatever it is you wanna say.

    But, you know...I really wish you'd use a phrase like "in my opinion" or something along those lines at least once when you bash a game you don't like with the proverbial hammer.

    I really don't think you do someone who might be interested in trying out ArcheAge Unchained a favor by basically stating that it's a big pile of garbage. Because - in my opinion - it sure as hell isn't.

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    1. These kind of comments I never understand, he is making a post on his blog about a game, of course it is his opinion. Why on earth would he then have to add "in my opinion".

      I can understand if someone posted a comment on your blog that you ask them to add this phrase, your blog, your rules.

      But this, I don't get it :)

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    2. I trust that my readership will know that everything posted on a blog named after me is "in my opinion". I also trust that they can formulate opinions different than mine.

      I noticed you had a post about a week ago explaining why you thought ArcheAge was special to you. I'm more than happy to add it here as a rebuttal for anyone who reads this article in the future:

      What So Special About ArcheAge Anyway

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