Gone are the days when we could play games at whim, for what duration pleased us. How, as gamers, do we deal with changes in the gaming industry?
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Freemium - When Did This Become a Thing? Freemium is everywhere, especially in mobile games. Indeed, we could probably have a separate discussion on the whole freemium/mobile connection...we could have a whole discussion (or gripe session) about how the freemium aspects of Ultima Forever probably contributed to its downfall, and robbed us of not only an Ultima game, but a darn good mobile RPG as well. And then there's the fact that some of these supposedly free games are raking in millions of dollars per day...which is just baffling.
Interesting tangent: a lot of freemium games ultimately use time as the way they limit how those who play for free experience or progress in the game. This is true even in MMORPGs like Star Wars: The Old Republic; free players don't get access to some gear, yes, but more importantly are held back in terms of how quickly they accrue experience and thus level up. Which, in turn, limits the rate at which they can experience the stories in the game.
Now, happily, in SWTOR, it isn't terribly egregious, whereas in some mobile games it's almost agonizing...deliberately so. One of the biggest criticisms of the mobile Dungeon Keeper title was that building almost anything in the game takes a long time...an hour, in some cases, if not more. Other games, like various match-3 titles, give you so many lives/crystals/energy points as a free player, and these get burned up if you lose at a level.
It says something interesting about our culture, then, that these games are able to make millions of dollars per day selling people what are essentially a means of shortcutting these (admittedly artificial) time delays. What's ultimately being monetized — to the tune, again, of millions of dollars per day in $0.99 transactions — is the impatience of people.
Hey...Where's The Rest of This Game? One trend that hasn't been terribly welcome in gaming these days is the advent of DLC. Not that expansions for games are anything new; Forge of Virtue and The Silver Seed are notable examples from within the Ultima series, and those came out over twenty years ago.
But modern DLC is a bit different, isn't it? Sometimes, DLC makes for a genuinely enjoyable expansion to a game; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning's two expansions — The Legend of Dead Kel and The Teeth of Naros — added some neat new story content to the game, as well as some gorgeous artwork. But sometimes, DLC is either trivial — horse armour, anyone? — or feels as though it should have been included in the base game to begin with.
More recently, we've also seen Early Access become a thing, in part due to how crowdfunding has helped shaped the development of games. Now, this is a bit different than DLC; at least with Early Access, you're kind of expecting to step into a game that is somewhat broken and incomplete. Indeed, as was recently observed by Starr Long, the whole Early Access concept has kind of undermined the classical categories of alpha and beta as ways of describing the development state of a game, and Shroud of the Avatar has largely abandoned this terminology in its development updates. And it kind of makes sense: given the way that game evolves between each monthly release, it's difficult to really point to a point at which it moves from being in pre-alpha to being in alpha, and then again in beta. Even the version 1.0 release will be a bit nebulously defined, since it's not like work will stop on the game; the monthly release cycle may not even be interrupted.
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