Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
One of my favorite games of the last several years is Facepalm Games’ The Swapper. I like it for a lot of reasons: it’s got this beautiful stop-motion clay art style, an immediately compelling hook in the titular Swapper, a gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness between those clones, and a disconcerting story.
But the primary reason The Swapper has long been a favorite is the Recreation area. In The Swapper, you’re mostly alone in an empty research lab and the desert planet it is built on after an unexplained disaster. . You spend the game trying to figure out what has gone wrong, and contemplating the existential dread that comes with using your weird gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness around. It’s an eerie, quiet game. And then you get to the Recreation area, and you hear this music:
It’s immediately arresting. You hear this elegiac, bittersweet piano piece when you’re not expecting it, in a space meant for people to enjoy themselves and be at ease, now abandoned. When I first reached the Recreation area, I stayed there, doing nothing, for 10 minutes, letting the music loop. I’ve never forgotten this game, and I think about it all the time. And a big part of that is thanks to composer Carlo Castellano’s beautiful, tender composition.
Stopping and listening to the music is one of gaming’s quieter pleasures. Sitting around and taking in the score was the unquestionable highlight of Destiny’s early days, and it has consistently been one of the best things about Final Fantasy XIV, a game that is just dripping with music that makes you want to stop and listen.
The bigness of many games is sometimes intimidating, but more often I’ve found it to be a source of delight. Delight at the sheer possibility of what may be waiting for you in the next village, in the next room, and what sounds may greet you when you get there. I love the way they linger, letting my mind stay in this world even after I leave it to do something else.
The batch of games will arrive on July 4, when Game Pass subscribers will get access to the open-world Lord of the Rings action game Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which will be available for both Windows PC and Xbox One. Also coming on July 4 for subscribers will be My Time at Portia for PC and console, as well Undertale on PC.
On July 11, subscribers will get the 2D side-scroller Blazing Chrome and the zombie survival game Dead Rising 4 for both PC and console. Also coming that day are Timespinnerand Unavowed, both for PC, while Lego City Undercover is headed exclusively to console.
In July, Game Pass subscribers will also be the first to play the new Gears 5 multiplayer mode during the game’s technical test. However, Microsoft hasn’t given any details yet on when to expect that.
While Microsoft is adding some pretty great titles to Game Pass in July, it’s also taking a few things off the service. Here are all the games leaving Game Pass this month:
God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs… and then this LEGO set. Welcome to Jurassic Park. It has been 26 years since the iconic film was released in theaters and now there is finally a LEGO set worthy of it.
LEGO released a massive 3,000+ piece set themed all around the original Jurassic Park. Hold onto your butts and get yourself a LEGO Jurassic Park: T. rex Rampage. Fans of the series will enjoy how nostalgia-packed the set is. It includes the adults from the film (sorry, Tim and Lex). And of all the versions of Jeff Goldblum they could have gone with from the Jurassic Park franchise, they obviously chose open-shirt Ian Malcolm. In Jurassic Park, we don’t need any women shedding their clothing, we need Jeff Goldblum shirtless. Along with the sexy Ian Malcolm, the set also includes minifigures for Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, Ray Arnold, Dennis Nedry, and John Hammond, with his mosquito-in-amber walking stick.
Enjoy an advanced building experience and relive classic movie moments with LEGO® Jurassic World 75936 Jurassic Park: T. rex Rampage. This collectible construction toy includes 3,120 building bricks and features the original Jurassic Park’s iconic gate and a large, fully posable, brick-built T. rex dinosaur toy which is ideal for display. The trigger-activated gate is framed by a wall incorporating 7 detailed, brick-built scenes inspired by the movie, such as John Hammond’s dining room, Ray Arnold’s control room and a bunker for Ian Malcolm. A must-have for Jurassic World fans, this toy construction set includes 6 minifigures and baby dinosaur figure, plus a minifigure display stand with T. rex facts plate.
In order to create what it calls “the world’s lightest gaming mouse,” the engineers at peripheral maker Glorious PC Gaming Race took a mouse and put holes all in it. The result is the Model O, a very good gaming mouse that weighs only 67 grams and may trigger trypophobia.
“You’ll barely feel the holes,” reads the copy on the Model O’s product page, answering the question I imagine most people have when looking at the honeycombed plastic shell. I’ve used the ultra-light accessory for a couple weeks now, and the product page is correct. It feels slightly bumpy under the palm.
Only when I look directly at the Model O do I feel mildly disturbed by the pattern of holes covering the top and its underside. The effect is less jarring when the RGB lighting is cycling. While I’m actively using the mouse, my giant hands cover it completely. Glorious PC Gaming Race says the holes allow for better airflow, keeping hands cool, but my massive paws negate that benefit. I worry about dirt getting in the holes, but that’s nothing I can’t avoid by not being a total slob. Perhaps it’s time.
The Model O slides over my mouse pad effortlessly thanks to its ridiculously low weight and the rounded plastic feet, which Glorious PC Gaming Race calls “G-Skates.” I particularly enjoy the mouse’s cable, a proprietary braided affair that feels like a normal thin wire wrapped in a shoelace. It doesn’t tangle, which is an issue with many mice and one of the main reasons I prefer a stationary trackball.
Beneath the unique design and proprietary bits, the Model O is a very nice six-button gaming mouse. It’s got a Pixart sensor that can be adjusted as sensitive as 12,000 DPI (dots per inch), with more sensible presets of 400, 800, 1,600, and 3,200 cyclable via a button on the bottom of the unit (software is required to go higher). It’s fast and responsive.
Glorious PC Gaming Race Model O Specs
Sensor: Pixart PMW-3360 Sensor
Switch Type (Main): Omron Mechanical Rated For 20 Million Clicks
Number of Buttons: 6
Max Tracking Speed: 250+ IPS
Weight: 67grams (Matte) and 68 grams (Glossy)
Max DPI: 12,000
Polling Rate: 1000hz (1ms)
Lift off Distance: ~0.7mm
Price: $50 Matte, $60 Glossy.
Note that the Model O comes in four styles: black or white matte finish and black or white glossy. The glossy versions cost $10 more than the $50 matte versions and weigh 68 grams instead of 67. In other words, the glossy versions are not the “world’s lightest gaming mouse” and should be exiled.
The Glorious PC Gaming Race Model O is the lightest gaming mouse I’ve used. I’m not sure I’m the type of hardcore mouse user that would benefit from the reduced weight. In fact, many of the gaming mice I’ve evaluated over the past several years have come packaged with weights to make them heavier. If you prefer a more lightweight pointing device and don’t mind all the holes, the Model O could be for you. And if not, you can probably fill it with clay or something to weigh it down.
Xbox has announced its next two batches of games included with its all-you-can-eat Game Pass subscription service. The announcement covers games coming over the next two weeks, and once again it lists the games as coming to console, PC, or both.
Xbox Game Pass is available separately on PC and console for $10 apiece, but you can also get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $15, which includes Xbox Live Gold. You can still get a good deal on the combined package if you happen to have some existing Gold or Game Pass time. Gold also includes its own rotating free games, which this month includes Inside and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
When Konami revealed PES 2020, many fans noticed the game had a new naming convention. Gone was the full Pro Evolution Soccer title, to be replaced by the new eFootball moniker. Now, Konami has discussed its reasons for changing the series’ name.
“The full product name moving forward will be “eFootball: PES,” the franchise’s European brand manager, Lennart Bobzien, told GameSpot. “For this year we’ve announced eFootball PES 2020. We want to put a bigger focus on esports moving forward. In the past we’ve already shown [this] by having competitions such as PES League and eFootball Pro, the professional club competition. Moving forward, there will be bigger esports competitions coming up. We simply thought that by including it in the product naming, we’re making a statement and showing our community of fans, but also the wider audience, that esports will play a very big part moving forward.
“Talking about Pro Evolution Soccer–in Europe, it was always a tricky one, and when we discussed this repositioning we thought, let’s call it football, it’s a European market [so] we want to have football. We still keep PES in the product name since we feel that’s still part of the heritage and we want to keep it in there. Therefore, the combination will be eFootball: PES.”
Konami announced just recently that Manchester United will be officially licensed in this year’s game, with Scott McTominay a cover star in some regions. The club’s Old Trafford stadium will be fully scanned into the game, along with the entire first team squad.
PES 2020 launches for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 10. A demo version, which includes online and offline match types as well as the game’s edit mode, will launch on July 30. Stay tuned to GameSpot for a full PES 2020 gameplay preview.
Another hacker behind attacks on Daybreak Game Company, then known as Sony Online Entertainment, is going to prison. Austin Thompson of Utah will be behind bars for the next 27 months, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced Tuesday.
Thompson, 23, pleaded guilty in November (official charge: “Damage to a Protected Computer”) in connection with attacks in late 2013 against SOE; his group, “DerpTrolling,” was allegedly behind several denial-of-service attacks on online service for several SOE games, plus Battle.net, League of Legends, and Dota 2 in late 2013.
Thompson’s attacks preceded by about six months those of a group calling itself Lizard Squad, which targeted SOE and even made a bomb threat that forced a flight carrying its then-president to land. Thompson was not involved in those crimes.
In early January 2014, whoever was running DerpTrolling’s Twitter account said that federal agents had shown up at their home, but they had escaped through the bathroom. Thompson’s plea agreement said he was in charge of that account.
“Thompson typically used the Twitter account @DerpTrolling to announce that an attack was imminent and then posted ‘scalps’ (screenshots or other photos showing that victims’ servers had been taken down) after the attack,” prosecutors said in a statement.
Thompson will begin serving his sentence Aug. 23. He was also ordered to pay $95,000 in restitution to Daybreak Game Company.
Although unrelated, prosecutors in the United States and Finland also secured convictions for two members of Lizard Squad for their roles in attacks on the same target over the 2014 holidays. Zachary Buchta, then 20, of Maryland, received three months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $350,000 in restitution after his guilty plea in late 2017. And Julius Kivimaki was convicted in Finland in July 2015, receiving a two-year suspended prison sentence for his actions.
Apex Legends has launched its Season 2 update, bringing with it a new character, a totally revamped Battle Pass, Ranked Leagues, and tons of other changes. All the big-ticket updates launching with Season 2 came alongside a number of smaller tweaks to factors like weapon balance, and Respawn has outlined all those in the patch notes. Read on for the full list and a look at some of the stand-out additions and changes.
Posted on the Apex Legends subreddit, the patch notes are extensive. It outlines a few of the major changes–namely, significant adjustments to the map and the addition of a new playable Legend named Wattson–but then goes into the nitty-gritty detail. There are several balance adjustments to Legends and weapons, some quality-of-life changes, and bug fixes. New hop-ups are also available, including disruptor rounds that deal additional damage to shielded targets, hammerpoint rounds for unshielded targets, and a change to the skullpiercer.
The patch notes also detail some free rewards you can get simply by playing Season 2–no need to purchase the Battle Pass. Those include a Hot Rod skin for Wattson, five Apex packs, and stat trackers for each Legend.
To get the Battle Pass, jump into Apex Legends and head to the Battle Pass tab in the store. Grab the Battle Pass for 950 Apex Coins or the Battle Pass Bundle for 2,800 Apex Coins (containing 4,700 Apex Coins’ worth of content!), and you’re all set.
Take on Daily and Weekly Challenges to score bonus Battle Pass XP and level up even faster. Read more here.
NEW CONTENT TYPES
Skydive emotes, music packs, and unique loading screens are now part of the rewards track.
MORE LEGENDARIES AND CRAFTING MATERIALS
Grab even more Legendary skins from the reward track and earn enough Crafting Materials to create a Legendary item of your choice.
Everyone who plays Apex Legends Season 2 can earn:
Season 2 stat trackers for each Legend.
Five Apex Packs.
The Wattson Hot Rod skin.
Many new things to discover on Kings Canyon!
KINGS CANYON CHANGES
The Leviathans have breached Kings Canyon and it’ll never be the same! Many areas have been affected by our new guests. Enjoy exploring the new changes!
NEW LEGEND: WATTSON
Wattson has entered the arena and is available for 750 Apex Coins or 12,000 Legend Tokens.
PASSIVE: Spark of Genius
Ultimate Accelerants fully charge Wattson’s ultimate. Standing near the Interception Pylon boosts Wattson’s tactical recharge rate.
TACTICAL: Perimeter Security
Create electrified fences by connecting nodes. Fences damage and slow enemies.
ULTIMATE: Interception Pylon
Place an electrified pylon that destroys incoming ordnance and repairs damaged shields [can place up to 3 Pylons at one time].
One thing we forgot to mention in the blog post: Players abandoning in Ranked will be penalized both with a matchmaking penalty, as well as have any potential RP gains zeroed out. On top of that, they will pay an additional penalty RP cost equal to their match entry cost. For example: if a Gold player gets 4 kills and would have finished top 5 but abandons his or her match on purpose, that player will get 0 RP for kills and placement, pay the 2 RP entry cost, and on top of that pay another 2 RP abandon penalty cost.
New Airdrop Weapon: L-STAR EMG
Fires large high-damage plasma projectiles
Will overheat if player fires for too long
Comes with its own limited ammo supply
Only available in Airdrops
New Hop-Up: Disruptor Rounds
Increased damage to shielded targets.
Compatibility: Alternator / RE-45
New Hop-Up: Hammerpoint Rounds
Increased damage to unshielded targets.
Compatibility: P2020, Mozambique.
New Attachments: Energy Mags
Increases magazine capacity.
Increases reload speed at rare and above.
Compatibility: Havoc, Triple Take, Devotion.
Reduced default mag sizes on compatible weapons.
Skullpiercer Hop-Up: Upgraded to gold tier & increased rarity.
damage 16 -> 19
damage 12 -> 13
Triple Take x Precision Choke:
choke time 1.5 -> 1.1
damage 13 -> 15
recoil mitigation increased for all barrel attachments.
damage 125 -> 145
headshot scale 2.0 -> 2.05
leg damage scale 0.76 -> 0.8
slightly increased rarity
Arc Star Tweaks
Increased ignition delay from 2.5 to 2.8 seconds.
Sticking a full health player with no armor will now down them.
Players at the edge of the explosion no longer get their shields completely shredded.
Ammo Stack Sizes
Shotgun max stack reduced from 64 to 16. Players now need multiple stacks of ammo to run a shotty.
Energy max stack increased from 60 to 80; now matches Light/ Heavy ammo.
Rotated Gold Weapons
Airdrop Weapon Spawn Rates
L-STAR added to airdrop weapon loot tables.
Airdrop weapon spawn rates now change based on early/ mid/ late game. For example, early game will spawn more Krabers, end game will spawn more Mastiffs.
Improved performance when firing weapons, especially for multi-projectile weapons like shotguns and Triple Take.
In our testing this has contributed to delivering a smoother overall experience on both server and client, particularly during early game combat situations.
Fixed exploit where players could use weapon inspect to cancel out other weapon behaviors.
EVA-8: ADS recoil now resettles back to starting point instead of a randomized offset of the starting point.
Thermite Grenades: fixed an issue where players downed with thermite could be invincible to thermite after being revived.
Fortified [ Gibraltar, Caustic ]
Damage reduction increased: 10% -> 15%
Fortified Legends are now immune to slow effects from weapon fire.
Low Profile [ Wraith, Lifeline, Pathfinder ]
Low Profile increases incoming damage by 5%.
Eye of the Allfather
Enemies scanned now are tracked in real time instead of leaving a ghost image behind. The tracking lasts for 1.5 seconds.
Increased the angle of the scan to 110 from 90.
Increased clue duration to 90 seconds from 60 seconds.
Fixed a bug where energy weapons wouldn’t leave behind weapon fired clues.
Fixed a bug where movement clues would sometimes not be generated.
Mirage can now cancel out of his ultimate cloak early.
Mirage now has a small delay when disabling cloak.
The magnitude of the slow is reduced by 50% when effecting teammates.
Dome of Protection
Increased the duration by 3 seconds.
Updated the hit box to better conform with the base model.
We are also planning to make adjustments so his hitbox better reflects Legendary Skins as well for cases where it’s not matching up.
D.O.C. heal drone now gets destroyed after 2 damage ticks by the circle.
Added a stats page. You can access it by hovering over your name while in the Lobby and clicking it to inspect. The page will show you your overall account stats as well as access to your stats for each season and Ranked Series.
We’re sure you all will have feedback on other stats you’d like to see here. What we’re shipping with Season 2 is just the start and we’re planning to build on it. We won’t promise anything but definitely let us know what other stats you want shown after you’ve played around with it.
KNOWN ISSUES: There will be some stats [like assists for example] that will start counting for Season 2 but won’t account for progress before that. This is because until we added the feature, this stuff wasn’t being counted. We’re looking at future improvements to retroactively update these areas that we hope to address down the road.
With Season 2, we’ll trying out new circle closing speed, size, and damage that now applies to both Ranked Leagues and the normal Apex Queue.
Ring Damage is now the following:
Round 1: 2% damage taken per tick.
Round 2: 5% damage taken per tick.
Round 3: 10% damage taken per tick.
Round 4: 20% damage taken per tick.
Round 5: 20% damage taken per tick.
Round 6 and beyond: 25% damage taken per tick.
Ring start and closing speed is now the following:
Starts closing after: 3 minutes.
Time to close: 2 minutes.
Starts closing after: 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Time to close: 2 minutes.
Starts closing after: 2 minutes 15 seconds.
Time to close: 2 minutes.
Starts closing after: 2 minutes.
Time to close: 2 minutes.
Starts closing after: 1 minute 30 seconds.
Time to close: 1 minutes 40 seconds.
Starts closing after: 1 minute 30 seconds.
Time to close: 1 minutes 40 seconds.
Starts closing after: 2 minutes.
Time to close: 1 minute 20 seconds.
Starts closing after: 20 seconds.
Time to close: 1 minute 20 seconds.
Ring radius for the first circle has been slightly reduced [it’s about 9% smaller than it was before].
QUALITY OF LIFE
When pinging a closed door, the player will now say “closed door here”.
When pinging an open door, the player will now say “someone’s been here”.
When a player requests a hop up, if the gun only accepts one kind of hop up, the player will callout that specific hop up they are looking for. If the gun accepts multiple hop ups, the player won’t vocalize it but all possible hop ups requested will show up in the obit feed.
Arc stars that are stuck to players should no longer fail to do damage when the part of the player it is stuck to is intersecting another object.
Made visual improvements to the Legends while in the Lobby and character select.
Added improvements and polish to the Legend’s animations while skydiving.
Improved melee hit detection on the hover tank while it’s moving.
Improved server and client performance when firing weapons, especially for multi-projectile weapons like shotguns and TripleTake.
Large doors and Supply Bins can now be used while viewing them from more extreme angles.
Slow Effects will now slow players equally regardless of their controller settings.
Wraith’s Heirloom will now more reliably show its lightning visualFX.
Heal items will now more reliably show the correct model when switching between different types.
General optimizations to improve framerate.
Fixed issue with geometry sometimes flickering when viewed from a long distance.
Death Box rarity colors are now more visible from a distance.
“Send Friend Request” tool-tip now shows up when hovering over teammates Banners while viewing the “Squad Eliminated” screen and “Squads” tab during a match.
Made it so that your weapon won’t play its priming animation when you pull it out after skydiving.
Fixed issue with skydive continuing to loop falling soundFX after landing.
Apex will no longer swap from full screen to windowed mode automatically if you shift to focus on other applications while Apex is booting up.
Fixed issue with players seeing their Origin friends listed as offline when they aren’t.
Made improvements to voice chat for PC.
Fixed issue where you could lose your Steam friends list after restarting Apex on PC.
Fixed issue where sometimes players would get a black screen during character select.
Added “Flash Hider” description to the Gold Barrel Stabilizer attachment. It always did this but the information wasn’t provided well so we added it to the description when inspecting the attachment.
Fixed a hit registration bug that could occur if you fired your weapon while being damaged by an enemy shotgun.
Fixed a bug where sometimes load screens would not appear properly and players would temporarily see the training map before loading into a match.
Fixed issue with players not always hearing selected quip dialogue when performing a finisher or being executed.
Fixed issue with Apex not working correctly when SLI or Crossfire is enabled.
Fixed bug with the consumables wheel sometimes appearing blank.
Fixed bug where players would sometimes get stuck on the Battle Pass Level screen.
Fixed bug where The Unlock button would be greyed out when it shouldn’t be when trying to view rewards.
Fixed bug where players would sometimes be unable to exit the Battle Pass tab after selecting it from the Lobby.
Fixed an exploit where players could jump while downed.
Fixed issue where sometimes the client would crash to the Dashboard when entering character select on Xbox One.
Fixed a bug where pinging a sniper stock in your inventory would show up as “looking for Grip”
Fixed a bug that caused players and loot to begin sliding permanently or launching inconsistently onto Supply Ship surfaces after doing melee attacks against the Supply Ship walls.
Fixed bug that could cause players to shift to a location under the map when switching between players while spectating.
Fixed bug for cases where performing a melee attack while inspecting an item would cause the attack to slow down and not deal damage.
[X1 only] Fixed bug where players were not being rewarded “The Player” achievement after hitting level 50. If you have reached level 50 and not received it in the past it should now be awarded retroactively.
Fixed the bug that sometimes caused Apex to crash when plugging a PS4 controller into your PC while the game is active.
Fixed bug that caused an “Out of Bounds” warning and timer while riding the Supply Ship over certain areas of Kings Canyon.
General improvements to game stability related to various script errors.
Fixed bug where players wouldn’t create movement evidence markers unless they were sprinting.
Fixed bug where sometimes energy weapons wouldn’t create ‘weapon fired’ evidence markers.
Fixed bug where Wraith’s jetpack boosters could still be seen while phasing.
Fixed issue where in some rare cases, performing a Finisher while down player is entering a Wraith Portal.
Fixed an exploit that allowed players to place extra Dimensional Portals.
Fixed a bug that caused throwable items to bounce off a jump pad without actually touching it.
In the lead-up to Hearthstone’s upcoming “Saviors of Uldum”expansion, Blizzard Entertainment released a patch yesterday that ran a couple housekeeping alterations to make way for the new content. The update removed some older cards from the game’s Standard mode, added some new cards to the game’s Classic set, and in a move that’s stirred up tons of controversy, changed the art of eight old cards.
At first glance, all of the card art changes seem to make the cards either less sexy or less violent. The card Eviscerate, which has always been one of the most popular spells in the game, was changed so that there’s no longer any blood in the art. The card Succubus, which used to depict a whip-wielding demon of lust, is now called the Felstalker, and it looks like a run-of-the-mill four-legged demon with massive jaws.
For the past 24 hours, Reddit has been flooded with posts mocking these art changes. One replaced the word “blood” in every card that uses it with the word “ketchup,” for instance. Up until now, there had been no official statement from Blizzard regarding the reasons for the updates, and so speculations as to why this happened were common. One guess was that Blizzard was trying to tone down its game for folks who might get offended by the sight of scantily clothed women. Another common hypothesis was that the company was catering to China’s censorship laws and changing its card art for that reason.
I reached out to the company for comment, and a spokesperson provided me with the following response:
The recent changes were applied to make those cards more visually cohesive and consistent with the art style of Hearthstone today. When Hearthstone first launched, we brought in a lot of artwork from the physical World of Warcraft trading card game. In the years since, Hearthstone has developed a look, feel, and personality of its own that distinguishes it from that of Warcraft—though we still love being a part of that universe. We’ll always be looking for ways to deliver on the game’s unique style, charm, and personality.
It’s not an uncommon reason for corporate rebranding, and this sort of art tweak in a digital card game aimed primarily at teens and youngsters isn’t terribly surprising. There are hundreds of creative variables involved in creating the look, feel, and tone of a product like Hearthstone, and as the game has now been around for five (!) years, it’s all but expected for these kinds of creative changes to occur at one point or another.
I’m definitely not saying that people shouldn’t criticize some of these art changes on the grounds that some of them feel a bit uninspired. But do I get why a multi-billion dollar corporation would want to scrap the art of a five year-old card that looks like something you’d see airbrushed on the side of glam-rock revival band’s tour bus? Absolutely.
Amazon was founded on July 5, 1994, and launched its online store in 1995, letting people buy books from the comfort of their homes. Twenty-five years after its inception, Amazon now sells everything from taco holders shaped like dinosaurs to tongue brushes that humans can use to lick their cats. And you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about Amazon.
But what did people think of Amazon in its early days—the days before the tongue brushes? Today we’ve got a sample from the mid-90s before founder Jeff Bezos was a billionaire.
In November of 1995, Knight-Ridder distributed an article that was published in newspapers around the country explaining that you can find almost any book at this “Internet store” called Amazon.
There’s a big, new bookstore in town, and there’s a catch—you won’t find it on any Seattle street map. So if you want to wander down its aisles and peruse the selection, you’ll have to hook up to the Internet.
Of course, hooking up to the internet was a much more novel experience in 1995. But if you had a connection, and millions of Americans were getting online in the mid-90s, you had access to over 1 million titles.
The Knight-Ridder article noted a few things that might be weird to people in the year 2019. First, you could pay by credit card or you could call a toll-free number and give your credit card number over the phone. You could even fax the credit card info if that was your thing. Secondly, shipping was $3 per order plus $0.95 per book. Today, Amazon has free shipping for all orders over $25 and for anyone who subscribes to the company’s Prime membership.
But what did people think of this new service on the so-called Information Superhighway? The first thing almost everyone mentioned was the impressively wide selection of books.
From the October 22, 1995 issue of the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:
In a test of the company’s abilities, a search was made for a little-known John Steinbeck book, “The Sea of Cortez.” Within seconds, the Amazon.com search capabilities popped up the title as available.
It may seem ridiculously mundane these days, but being able to find a rare book took quite a bit more effort in the era before Amazon’s arrival. The best you could do was ask your local bookstore to order it for you, but if it was out of print, you might be out of luck. One of the truly revolutionary things about Amazon, at least from this nerd’s perspective, was the ability to find used books on the site.
The Wall Street Journal published an article about Amazon on May 16, 1996, describing “Jeffrey Bezos” as a “whiz-kid programmer on Wall Street” before opening up the online retailer. The people quoted in the article described the convenience of being able to order from anywhere and customers were incredibly loyal.
From the WSJ:
Mr. Bezos says 60% of his orders come from repeat customers. “It’s not in my nature to be hip, but Amazon is the finest bookstore I’ve ever been to,” says Don K. Pierstorff, a 60-year-old college professor in Costa Mesa, Calif., who says he has placed 12 orders during the past several months.
In the early days of Amazon Bezos was also constantly noting that he wasn’t going to put traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business.
“We are not really competing with physical bookstores,” Bezos told the Christian Science Monitor in September of 1996. “The key is that people like to get out of their houses. I still go to physical bookstores, and I’m not going to stop. I even buy books there. I like the tactile experience.”
People like to get out of their homes? Speak for yourself, Jeff. Sorry, speak for yourself Jeffrey.
By 1997, there were plenty of skeptics who thought that Amazon wouldn’t be able to stick around. The company went public on May 15, 1997, and the naysayers were quick to point out any perceived weakness in the company. George Colony from Forrester Research referred to the company as “Amazon.toast.” The Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Amazon.bomb” in 1999 after the company’s stock tanked.
And Slate went with the headline “Amazon.Con” for an article on January 5, 1997 that was meant to ridicule how difficult Amazon was compared with your neighborhood bookstore. The byline for that Slate piece was shared by two writers, Jonathan Chait and Stephen Glass. Yes, the same Jonathan Chait who supported the “liberal case” for invading Iraq, and Stephen Glass, one of the most famous journalist hoaxers of all time—so famous, in fact, they even made a movie about him in 2003 called Shattered Glass.
What did these two great minds produce? Some zingers that would be considered lame by even elementary schoolyard standards:
In fact, Amazon’s “megawarehouse” in downtown Seattle contains just 200 or so titles. Any other book must be obtained from a wholesale distributor or the publisher. This is exactly what any traditional bookstore does when it doesn’t have a book in stock. The difference is that traditional bookstores start out with a lot more than 200 titles in stock. “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”? More like “Earth’s Smallest.”
Another complaint from Chait and Glass was that ordering a book from Amazon took way too many steps:
After clicking your purchases into a “shopping cart,” you are directed to a “secure Netscape server” that will encrypt your credit-card information. After this is done, you are told: “Finalizing Your Order Is Easy.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Lower down in the verbiage, Amazon concedes, “Though we have tried hard to make this form easy to use, we know that it can be quite confusing the first time.” Amazon users have to page through screen after screen of details about shipping charges, refund rules, and disclaimers about availability and pricing. Then you are told to allow between three and seven days for delivery after your book leaves Amazon’s warehouse. “Upgrading to Next Day Air does NOT [their emphasis] mean you’ll get your order the next day.”
Total online time from when we accessed Amazon’s home page to when we completed the book order: 37 minutes and 12 seconds. It would be shorter once you got the hang of it.
You can’t please everyone, I suppose.
But Bezos has had the last laugh, it would seem. Not only is Bezos the wealthiest person in the world at over $155 billion, Amazon currently controls 42 percent of the dead-tree book market, 88.9 percent of the ebook market, and half of all online sales in the U.S. Amazon controls 7.7 percent of all retail, online and off, in the U.S. according to the latest numbers. And with its purchase of Whole Foods in 2017, it’s now the fifth largest seller of groceries in the country. And, as of last year, Amazon Web Services controlled 40 percent of the cloud market.