Tag Archives: microtransactions

The Video Game Industry Can’t Go On Like This

At about this time next year, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the next generation of video games will look like. New consoles will likely be shown off, bold new streaming initiatives will begin to launch, and we’ll see all the wonderful kinds of games they will bring us. All these new things will come, and we’ll close the book on a generation that saw the industry that makes games come under greater scrutiny than ever before, as studios shuttered, developers burned out, and toxic work culture fostered environments hostile to marginalized people.

These are not problems that have been resolved, but the wheels of the games industry keep turning, in spite of the strain. So how much bigger can video games get? Video games are only getting more costly, in more ways than one. And it doesn’t seem like they’re sustainable.

There’s the human cost, which Kotaku has chronicled extensively. Contract workers are continually undervalued and taken advantage of, as Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch is reported to do. Artists who work on gory cinematics integral to games like Mortal Kombat suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unrealistic demands and lofty investor expectations lead to disastrous development cycles for video games like Anthem, which in turn leads to developer crunch. Every week, news breaks about the toll video game development takes on the people who make them, and we carry on as if it’s all going to be fine.

Mortal Kombat 11
Image: NetherRealm Studios (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)

That’s only the start of it. When you adjust for inflation, the retail cost of video games has never been cheaper, and it’s been this way for some time. The $60 price point for a standard big-budget release has held steady for nearly 15 years, unadjusted for inflation even as the cost to make big-budget video games has risen astronomically with player expectations. (Here’s some math that gives you an idea of just how absurdly expensive games are to make.)

Since changing the price point seems to be anathema, we’ve seen the industry attempt to compensate with all manner of alternatives: higher-priced collector’s editions, live service games that offer annual passes or regular expansions a la Destiny, microtransactions, and free-to-play games. Then you have loot boxes, which in many cases boil down to slot machine-style gambling inserted into retail and free-to-play games alike—something that is coming under increased legal scrutiny that might potentially cut off what has quickly become a major source of revenue in the industry.

These aren’t all necessarily responses to thinning profit margins in the face of rising inflation. Game publishers are often publicly-held companies, with investors that need to be shown endlessly increasing profits that are then used to justify ridiculously large executive paychecks. Perhaps that’s a problem that needs solving, too.

Because of all this, $60 is often just the minimum buy-in, the ante in the pot, for some of the biggest releases. If you want every character in a game’s roster, or every map in its playlists, you’ll have to pay more, and increasingly, you have to. Big-budget single-player games that deliver a single-serving experience with minimal strings attached have largely disappeared from the lineups of major third-party publishers.

Sea of Solitude.
Image: Jo-Mei Games (Electronic Arts)

Let’s run down the Big Three. We’re more than halfway through 2019, and Electronic Arts has only published one single-player game, the indie Sea of Solitude. Last year was much the same, with two indies as its only single-player releases: Fe and Unraveled 2. Activision’s portfolio of single-player games looks even thinner: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the only exclusively single-player, non-remake game that the publisher has released since 2015’s Transformers: Devastation—which itself is no longer available, thanks to an expired licensing agreement.

Ubisoft is an exception, regularly releasing entries in single-player game franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. But it buttresses them aggressive microtransactions and extensive season pass plans. (And the occasional diversion like Trials Rising and South Park: The Fractured But Whole.) The big-budget single-player experience is now almost entirely the domain of first-party studios making marquee games for console manufacturers, which bankroll games like Spider-Man and God of War. The economics of first-party exclusives are totally different—they’re less about making money by themselves and more about drawing players into the console’s ecosystem.

This is worth considering, because as big publishers prioritize live, service-oriented games, the number of games on their schedules has dropped. If you look at the Wikipedia listings for EA, Ubisoft, and Activision games released by year, you’ll get a stark—if unscientific—picture of how each big publisher’s release slate has thinned out in the last five years, relying on recurring cash cows like sports games and annualized franchises and little else. In 2008, those three publishers released 98 games; in 2018 they released just 28, not including expansions.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Image: FromSoftware (Activision)

In short, the single-player game was not sustainable. So why should we think the current model is?

The smaller release slates make for a precipitous state of affairs where too much is riding on too little, a shaky foundation for big-budget game development to rest on. Granted, there are other publishers, like those in Japan, that are still very interested in single-player games. Independent games have also filled the single-player void and achieved greater visibility than ever before. But each of these alternatives face their own challenges in a volatile market, one where just five years ago conventional wisdom held the Japanese games industry was dead. Independent developers, meanwhile, continue to fight for the smallest slice of an impossibly crowded market. No matter where you sit on the games industry ladder, stability remains elusive.

That’s the present of video games. Let’s talk about the future. The intersecting trends of games-as-a-service and the increased emphasis on streaming mean an increased reliance on off-site computing with data centers and server farms distributed across the globe.

Microsoft’s Project xCloud wants to use the company’s data centers to provide high-end console and PC gaming to anyone with a good enough internet connection. Google Stadia is a service that pitches something similar if not even more wide-reaching, angling for the big-budget video game experience in a web browser. And Sony already offers a streaming service, PlayStation Now, which is likely to expand in the next generation.

A 2016 study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory gives us an idea of the sort of things to consider in this arena. The outlook gives reasons to both be alarmed and also be hopeful.

The foremost takeaway is that while data centers are growing in number, their energy consumption is starting to plateau out of necessity, as the dramatic increase in cloud computing has actually forced tech companies to become more efficient. The biggest companies, according to the Berkeley Lab report, are actually remarkably efficient.

Data center efficiency is measured by power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating. PUE is found by measuring a facility’s total power delivered divided by the power used by its IT equipment. Under this rating, the platonic ideal is a PUE of 1.0: power input and output perfectly balanced. Google, then, is in pretty good shape as far as this standard goes, with the average PUE of all its data centers currently at 1.11.

Efficiency, however, can remain good as power consumption increases, and consumption is going to remain a problem.

Data center energy consumption has been a concern for some time now, particularly in the United States, where data center energy consumption dwarfs that of the rest of the world at 1.8 percent of all energy used in the countrySmaller data centers, which estimates say make up 60 percent of data center energy-use, are inefficient compared to the biggest players, and with no legal standard or universal benchmark, there’s no way to ensure that efficiency gap is closed.

A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Photo: Google

Making this problem even more dire is our current political climate, where developing sources of clean, renewable energy is an idea met with hostility by countries like the United States throwing their weight behind fossil fuels, even outside of its own borders. That doesn’t even account for the ways games contribute to the world’s electronic waste problem. E-waste is toxic, and only 40 percent of it is properly recycled.

And all that is before you even start to think about climate change, and the urgent action needed to avert a major crisis in our lifetime.

Video games cannot do this forever. If any of these things were to collapse—the people who make them, the economy they’re sold in, the ecosystem we’re all a part of—it would be catastrophic. All of them at once? That’s a disaster we need to talk about, openly. Because there are solutions to these problems.

Some of them are small, like making sure you know how to properly dispose of e-waste, should you need to throw out a busted console or peripheral, and doing what you can to live sustainably, even though climate change certainly requires the sort of large-scale action that only governments can enact To that end, you can take more involved action, like calling your local congressperson or government representative and asking if climate change and environmental concerns are on their agenda, and keeping apprised of any legislation up for voting in local elections.

Other solutions are harder to parse. How do we account for the data center sprawl of tech companies and their energy consumption? Is it ethically sound to use a service like Project xCloud or Google Stadia or Playstation Now, knowing all this? Should we push for a global green tech agreement of some kind, so companies that contribute to server sprawl and energy consumption do so in a sustainable way? A carbon tax seems like a good start, but this is a problem in need of many answers, not one.

Some solutions are thankfully, underway. Labor practices have come under scrutiny and developers are beginning to discuss organizing in earnest. Unionization is not going to solve every problem, but it can lead to meaningful progress in a lot of ways that trickle outward into other arenas. More equitable practices can mean the relentless pace of development is slowed down, which could make for fewer, better games and a course correction in supply and demand. Or it might only make things marginally better.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all have stated sustainability initiatives and reports, but these programs are all buried in corporate sites and paperwork—a better approach would be to make sustainability as big a talking point as load times or ray-tracing. Something we could look at and compare to the previous year, and make note of how better off we are.

These are big, insurmountable seeming problems, but like all incredibly big projects—like, say, game development—they’re things that can be done, slowly, a little bit at a time. We just have to start.

It’s unlikely that video games will ever truly go extinct. We’ll probably always have something called “video games,” but what those games will look like is still very much in flux. There’s no guarantee that the way games are currently made will remain viable for another 10 years—games aren’t even made today the same way they were 10 years ago. They will look different. They will change because they can, and because they must. Hopefully, all the ways games change will be on our terms—otherwise disaster will change them for us.

Source: Kotaku.com

You Can Now Read The Proposed Senate Bill That Would Ban Loot Boxes In Games Aimed At Kids

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO)
Photo: Alex Wong / Staff (Getty Images)

As expected, Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri has introduced a bill that would ban the inclusion of “pay-to-win microtransactions and sales of loot boxes in minor-oriented games.” It would not affect cosmetic items and also has a long way to go before it could become law.

Hawley outlined the bill in an interview published earlier this week on Kotaku, telling our Jason Schreier that game publisher executives who promote lootboxes and pay-to-win microtransactions are “basically adding casinos to children’s games.”

The text of Hawley’s bill was released today. It defines a pay-to-win microtransaction as one that:

… with respect to an interactive digital entertainment product that, from the perspective of a reasonable user of the product, is a game offering a scoring system, a set of goals to achieve, a set of rewards, or a sense of interactive progression through the product’s content including but not limited to narrative progression—

(I) eases a user’s progression through content otherwise available within the game without the purchase of such transaction;

(II) assists a user in accomplishing an achievement within the game that can otherwise be accomplished without the purchase of such transaction;

(III) assists a user in receiving an award associated with the game that is otherwise available in association with the game without the purchase of such transaction; or

(IV) permits a user to continue to access content of the game that had previously been accessible to the user but has been made inaccessible after the expiration of a timer or a number of gameplay attempts; or

(ii) with respect to an interactive digital entertainment product that, from the perspective of a reasonable user of the product, is a game featuring competition with other users, provides a user with a competitive advantage with respect to the game’s competitive aspects over users who do not make such a transaction.

The prohibited microtransactions would not include higher difficulty modes, cosmetic items or add-on content.

The affected microtransactions, along with lootboxes, would be barred from “minor-oriented games.” Which games would those be? The bill does not refer to game ratings such as E or T and instead defines the targeted games as those “for which the target audience is individuals under the age of 18.” Games that are played by adults could be viewed as highly appealing to minors and could be impacted.

The bills co-sponsors include two Democrats, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the latter of whom in 2010 supported the California-led effort to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. That state law was ruled un-Constitutional by the Supreme Court for violating the artistic expressions protected by the freedom of speech.

Hawley’s bill will go to committee and will then involve a long process of hearings and multiple votes before it has a chance of becoming law.

You can read the full bill here.

Source: Kotaku.com

Dota 2’s New Battle Pass Has Some Unwelcome Changes

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

I’m playing Dota 2 again following the release of the game’s 2019 battle pass. There are new treasures to collect. Big tournaments are just around the corner. And I’ve spent another $10 on that battle pass. I can’t tell if this game is actually exciting again or if I just feel compelled to play because there’s a fresh batch of brass rings to grind for.

In my first match after coming back, I played as Zeus. He’s been a favorite hero of mine since the game’s beta, mostly because of how straightforward and instantly gratifying he can be. Zeus is a nuker, which is the genre’s parlance for someone with a few attacks that deal lots of damage. His ultimate, God’s Wrath, doesn’t even require you to be near your opponents; it automatically hits everyone on the map, no matter where they are, dealing a hefty amount of damage in the process.

Whether you’re a newcomer to the game, an experienced verteran, or somewhere in between (like I am), killing some unsuspecting player with a move like God’s Wrath is incredibly satisfying. I keep coming back to Dota 2 because it’s a deep and complex competitive multiplayer game, but these simple pleasures are what really make it fun.

This year, it’s less clear to me how the battle pass factors into that. I still want to collect all the goodies, and I don’t mind throwing some extra bucks Valve’s way after spending over 1,000 hours with its game, but the grind has become more of a time suck than ever. Also, some of the new ways that statistical analysis have begun creeping into the game have made it feel like a chore.

The battle pass was once little more than a glorified guide to Dota 2’s annual world championship tournament, The International. In recent years, the battle pass has become much, much more. It allows players to bet special in-game currency on their matches, which can then be spent on increasing their battle pass level. It also opens up entire new modes. The pass itself can be leveled up, and as players hit certain tiers on the path to ranking up their battle pass, they can unlock things like new special sound effects, map skins, and character cosmetics. It’s sort of like a giant, communal scavenger hunt, and some of the proceeds from that go to help fund the prize pool for the tournament while the rest flow into Valve’s coffers.

This year’s version has included some strange and unwelcome choices. You used to be able to earn extra levels by trading in Immortal Treasures, the loot boxes that gift you anywhere from one to several unique and intricate skins. Now you can only recycle the contents inside of the Immortal Treasures to get new unopened ones. And even to do that, you need to collect four or more. It’s always been hard to level up the battle pass beyond 100 just by playing, but now it’s that much harder.

But a lot of the best rewards require you to do just that. Custom lane creeps that change the game’s main computer-controlled enemies into lizards require reaching level 182 in the battle pass. Axe Unleashed, a special skin completely changes the look of one of the game’s most iconic characters (and one of my personal favorites), requires reaching level 425. A custom visual overhaul of the game’s map that makes it into a series of ancient, jungle-engulfed ruins, requires reaching level 160. I could pay for additional levels at $10 per 25, but that feels like it would defeat the purpose of earning cool new Dota 2 stuff by doing cool stuff within the game.

Then there are the ways that the battle pass is optimizing play in conjunction with the Dota Plus AI coaching service. The tool now shows you win rates in-game depending on which hero you pick at the start of the match and also depending on who else has already been chosen. A special meter in the top left corner lets you know exactly how much of the damage you’re taking is physical as opposed to magical, which can guide you in your decisions about gear to purchase during a match. There’s even a timer now to help automate the stacking of creep camps, one of Dota 2’s more esoteric skills that can help teams gain material advantages over one another by farming the enemies on their side of the map in the most effective way possible. All of that is very helpful. But it’s not available to anybody who didn’t bother to buy the battle pass, creating an uneven playing field that encourages everyone else to join the arms race.

Even if I chose to opt out of these tools, they’re now embedded in the rest of the Dota 2 landscape. It’s not quite a pay-to-win situation, and not quite pay-to-grind either, but for all of the delightful things attached to this year’s battle pass, so few of them feel geared toward helping refresh my relationship to a game whose fundamentals I already love. 

Source: Kotaku.com

Both Democrats And Republicans Agree: Loot Boxes Bad

Image: Star Wars Battlefront II

Earlier this week, Republican senator Josh Hawley announced a bill that would regulate the use of loot boxes and microtransactions in “games played by minors.” But aren’t Republicans typically against any type of regulation on the free market? On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, we talk about the idea of politicians seeking out the gamer vote, as well as the rest of the news from this week, including the Riot Games walkout and Sonic the Hedgehog’s silver screen redesign.

First, we talk about Joshua Rivera’s article about the mental health impact on developers who design ultra-violent games, and then talk about the games we’re playing: I beat Danganronpa, Jason’s playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and Kirk’s played every other game. At 35:05, we discuss the news of the week, and at 1:01:28, we get into off-topic discussion of TV, books, movies, and Kirk’s Sex Education-inspired music pick of the week.

Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.

Jason: U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, who is a Republican senator out of Missouri, announced that he is going to be introducing a bill called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act” that is designed to ban pay-to-win microtransactions and loot boxes in “games played by minors,” which will include games designed for kids and games whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions. This is wild stuff.

A little bit of context here. Since 2017, which was the year of loot boxes—and since the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War debacle and then the Star Wars: Battlefront II debacle, which was really what set everything off—some politicians have tried to get involved in loot boxes and talking about them. There was a state senator in Hawaii who tried to introduce legislation banning loot boxes; it didn’t go anywhere. Then U.S. senator Maggie Hassan, who is a Democrat in New Hampshire, wrote a letter to the FTC saying: Investigate loot boxes. The FTC said they would.

Now, this is the first time we’re getting real federal legislation introduced to the Senate that could potentially have some regulation effects. Who knows if people in the Senate will actually care about it, if it’ll actually pass a vote—there’s lots of things that remain to be seen. But the fact that the video game industry could not control itself and let this greed get so out of hand that the Senate is now potentially going to regulate it is really, really wild …

To people like us, who play a lot of games and follow a lot of gaming news, it seems like loot boxes have gone on the downswing, that they’ve been reduced a lot. Like the new Star Wars game was announced with no microtransactions, no loot boxes. But if you look at the financials behind companies like EA, a large chunk of their revenue is coming through games like FIFA, which is all based on loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions. For Take-Two, it’s NBA 2K—again, all loot boxes, microtransactions. You look at Activision, they have Candy Crush. They have Overwatch, which has plenty of loot boxes, even if they’re cosmetic. So this will have a very huge impact on these companies, if it were to be passed.

The ESA, which is the video game industry lobbyist group—the Entertainment Software Association—

Kirk: Let me guess. They’re not fans of this legislation.

Jason: They are not fans. They said, “Numerous countries determined that loot boxes don’t constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases.” Kirk, what do you make of all this?

Kirk: I don’t know. He’s introduced legislation. A lot of people introduce legislation that has no chance of passing. This is, I think, a very far cry from becoming a law, but it does escalate the conversation.

Jason: I don’t think Far Cry has loot boxes.

Kirk: You know what, you can buy stuff in the new one.

Maddy: It has other ways of frustrating you besides that.

Kirk: I don’t really know what to make of the bill. Sometimes it tickles my “this person is just trying to jump into an unclaimed spotlight” thing, partly the bipartisan nature of it. It’s interesting that this is not yet a partisan issue. Josh Hawley is the guy who beat McCaskill just recently. He’s the youngest senator in the Senate (Jason: He’s 39). He is anti-abortion, liked by the NRA, he signed onto the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. So he’s the kind of guy who maybe progressive people who listen to Kotaku Splitscreen would not like. And yet he’s also out there advocating for this…

I think a lot of people are feeling good about the legislation that he put forward—or at least, people who are concerned about this aren’t necessarily viewing it [as a partisan issue]. Or maybe they are, but there are Democrats and Republicans.

Maddy: It surprised me that he was a Republican, too, because Josh wrote a story for us recently about how the CEO of Take-Two can get some kickbacks from microtransactions. It’s a very convoluted setup as to how CEOs can get that kickback, but it is possible, so there’s some motivation to include microtransactions and loot boxes and similar types of things in a game for people that are at a very high level, at least at that particular company. So if you look at it from that vantage point, typically—not always, because politics are silly—but typically, Republicans are on the side of capitalism and the free market.

Jason: Anti-regulation, yeah.

Maddy: They’re against regulations like this. So it definitely surprised me to be seeing a Republican proposing a bill like this, but he is proposing it under the auspices of “protecting children,” which is always a very popular Republican buzz phrase.

Jason: A couple things on that note. One is that Josh Hawley is this guy who has positioning himself as anti-tech companies. He has come out a lot against Facebook and Google. He actually was probing them in a hearing the other week, and he’s been hammering on the whole anti-conservative bias from Facebook and Twitter a lot, which has been a big right-wing buzzword. Conservative folks think they’re being censored by these companies.

The other interesting thing to think about here is how many gamers are reactionary and right-wing, and associated with the alt-right —

Maddy: I don’t actually know how many of them are. We really don’t know the answer to that question. I feel like that’s the stereotype.

Jason: Sure, but if you think about how Kotaku In Action has a hundred thousand subscribers, and think about the alt-right’s intersection with gaming. If you think about that group, and how they are almost certainly all against loot boxes, this is a very blatant appeal to that crowd.

Maddy: Right. Gamer rights, consumer rights.

Jason: Right, gamers rise up. It also is a very easy way to get younger, impressionable folks to say, “Hey look, this Republican senator, he’s on our side. Why am I not a Republican? The Democrats aren’t doing anything about this.” So I think there’s a lot of appeal for him in his office to do something like this.

Kirk: Sure. Especially a 39-year-old first-term Senator who’s doubtless thinking about possible future things that he might do, and appealing to younger voters.

Jason: Oh, yeah. Super ambitious dude.

For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at splitscreen@kotaku.com with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

Source: Kotaku.com

U.S. Senator Introduces Bill To Ban Loot Boxes And Pay-To-Win Microtransactions

EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II became a focal point for the loot box controversy when it was released in 2017.
Screenshot: EA

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors,” a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”

Hawley will introduce the bill, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” to the U.S. Senate soon. In press materials announcing the bill, Hawley’s team brought up the Activision game Candy Crush as an egregious example of pay-to-win microtransactions thanks to its $150 “Luscious Bundle” that comes with a whole bunch of goodies. This bill will also likely apply to a host of online games that feature loot boxes and other ways in which players can spend money for real benefits.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said in a press release. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission promised to investigate loot boxes following a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) that she wrote in the wake of 2017’s string of games featuring the heavy usage of predatory microtransactions, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II. Although some companies have pulled back on the practice, popular games like Overwatch, FIFA, and Apex Legends continue to make big money off randomized microtransactions. Many of those games are played by both adults and children.

Hawley, 39, has become known in Washington for criticizing major tech companies Facebook and Google, often accusing them of anti-conservative bias.

UPDATE (12:18pm): The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, sent over a statement shortly after this bill was introduced: “Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.” 

Source: Kotaku.com

Valve Is Finally Replacing Its Ugly Dota 2 Statue With A Better One

Photo: Valve

Back in 2017, some of the most dedicated Dota 2 players spent hundreds of dollars on microtransactions to win a special collectible statue. The versions that Valve shipped out were so ugly, and so poorly received, that Valve said it would make replacements. Yesterday, it said that it was finally ready to ship them out.

“Today, we are pleased to announce that the Collector’s Baby Roshan statue redesign is complete and the shipping phase has begun,” read an email Valve sent to recipients on Thursday. “Baby Roshan is now physically larger, heavier, and has improved detail.” Everyone who’s owed one should receive it within the next three months, Valve said.

The 2017 Baby Roshan statue Valve promoted.
Photo: Valve

The Collector’s Baby Roshan was first announced in a blog post during the leadup to the 2017 Dota 2 world championship. It would be nickel-silver finished, approximately three inches tall, and be available to any player who managed to hit level 2,000 on their battle pass that season.

The battle pass itself cost $10, with players able to level it up slowly by playing matches or by spending more money. For every additional $10 spent, they could raise their rank 25 more levels. Buying your way to level 2,000 would cost just north of $800. It’s also possible to grind for levels, but only if you decide to treat it like a full-time job, and even then it wouldn’t have been enough to get all the way to 2,000. The Collector’s Baby Roshan was, in effect, meant to be a special bonus to the most dedicated (and deep pocketed) Dota 2 fans.

What fans received.
Photo: AggressiveDuck (Reddit)

But the statues that eventually arrived in early 2018 ended up being nothing of the sort. Players began posting pictures of them on Reddit. Far from the antiqued metallic look in the original blog post, the statues lacked detail and had lots of visible seams and imperfections. In May 2018 Valve announced that the quality of the statues was indeed “poor,” and that it would be working on producing a new run more in line with the original prototype.

Before it could produce replacement statues, Valve announced a new version of the Baby Roshan statue for that year’s battle pass. Months went by, and neither version ever shipped. “$1,689.00 deep for 2 statues and I have neither,” wrote reddit user dkstrider in a post from November.

“We deeply apologize for the significant delays on these statues, as we had to overcome substantial production challenges to get a reliable process in place,” Valve said in this week’s update, though it did not go into detail about the cause of the problems. Valve declined to comment.

The original 2017 Baby Roshan statue (left) compared to the new 2017 version (right).
Photo: Valve
The original 2017 Baby Roshan statue (left) compared to the new 2018 version (right).
Photo: Valve

The email also contains several photos comparing the new versions of the statues to the original, to prove to any fans who might have lost faith that the long wait hasn’t completely been in vain. Valve is also giving each person a special custom in-game Baby Roshan cosmetic as well, to try and make amends.

Valve said it will ship out the replacements for the 2017 statues first, and then send the 2018 statues.

Source: Kotaku.com

You Can’t Actually Buy Your Way Out Of Mortal Kombat 11’s Grind

Mortal Kombat 11 is getting slammed over its supposed equipment grind and the perceived greed of its microtransactions; user-submitted reviews on Steam and Metacritic have been poor. In these reviews, as well as in comments and on social media, fans have complained about the slow pace of earning rewards through gameplay and the randomness of rewards in the chest-strewn Krypt. Some say the unforgiving grind for coins and hearts and souls, the materials needed to unlock reward chests, seems like it is tailored to push players towards real money transactions as an alternative.

According to a popular post on the PlayStation 4 Reddit, it would cost $6,440 to purchase every skin in Mortal Kombat 11 with premium currency instead of winning them as challenge rewards or unlocking them in the game’s Krypt. This math adds up, in theory, but the facts don’t. You can’t use real money to unlock everything in Mortal Kombat 11. There is no convenient way to buy your way out of the grind.

As the game stands right now, yes, the grind is oppressive. This is a game in which every character has at least 60 different skins, including color variations. Every character has three different gear slots to fill. There are 30 different pieces of gear for each of those three slots. The slots themselves have to be unlocked; each separate piece of gear must be leveled up through gameplay in order to unlock said slots, which can be filled with collectible augments that enhance skills, offer resistance to certain damage types, or offer other unique benefits. If a player finds a new piece of equipment and swaps it with an existing one, they need to level it up all over again. It’s exhausting.

It doesn’t help that rewards are randomized in the game’s Krypt, Mortal Kombat’s third-person adventure side-game in which players can spend in-game currency to unlock treasure chests. Past games’ versions of the Krypt have all featured set treasure locations. A chest located at coordinates X and Y on the map would contain the same item for all players. In Mortal Kombat 11, the contents of basic chests—those opened using the game’s coin currency—are randomized for every player.

For example, in the PC version of the game, I opened a chest that cost 13,550 coins. I received an augment for a piece of gear, a Cassie Cage skin, and a “Kobat Kard” background.

The same chest in the same location in my PlayStation 4 copy of the game cost only 2,550 coins and only contained a variation icon, which is a decal used to personalize a custom-created variation of the character Cetrion, whom I hardly play.

It bears noting that heart chests, which are special chests that require some of Mortal Kombat 11’s rarest in-game currency to open, are in fixed locations and have the same contents for everyone. Fans over at the Mortal Kombat Reddit page have already got them all mapped out. Most other items are random, though. Could be a skin, or a piece of equipment. Could be a brutality or fatality unlock. Could be random crap like crafting materials or consumable items used to make battles in the game’s Towers of Time mode. The chances of getting exactly the skin or gear I want feels so slim, that if I saw the item pop up in the game’s Premium Store, I’d probably jump at the chance to pay for it.

Back to the calculation from AccomplishedPoet8 on Reddit—that steep $6,440 figure. First, it’s actually a bit too low. It’s calculating 56 skins for 23 characters at $5 worth of premium currency, a.k.a. Time Krystals, apiece. But a 24th character, Frost, unlocks for everyone as they play through the story mode, so if you include that character, the number should be more like $6,720. It goes up to $7,000 for players who pre-ordered and received Shao Kahn as well.

More importantly, these large figures assume that every skin in the game can be purchased. That’s not how Mortal Kombat 11’s Premium Shop works. Every 24 hours (not the 6-8 hours suggested in the Reddit post), the store cycles through offering a series of five items: three skins, a piece of equipment, and a brutality. There are only three skins available in the store every 24 hours. If there are 56 skins for 24 characters (let’s just say you don’t have Shao Kahn), that’s a total of 1,344 skins. Assuming the store cycled through every available skin, three at a time per day, it would take 448 days to cycle through everything.

And that’s a big assumption. Responding to the $6,440 story circulating yesterday, game director and Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon tweeted the following:

So yes, purchasing every skin in the game with premium currency would cost thousands of dollars. But it’s not something that can be done. Time Krystals, the only of Mortal Kombat 11’s currencies that can be purchased with real money, can only be used towards the five rotating items in the Premium Shop or to purchase “easy fatality” tokens, the world’s most unnecessary shortcut. Time Krystals cannot unlock chests. They cannot level up a piece of equipment. They cannot unlock items directly from the character customization menu. They are incredibly limited.

So why all the fuss? Because due to the way the Krypt is randomized and the slow pace at which in-game rewards are doled out, Mortal Kombat 11 feels like a game that wants more money. The hurdles in the way of getting any specific skin or piece of equipment leave a very cash grabby mobile game type of taste in players’ mouths. Why else would shit be so complicated to get, if not for the publisher or developer to be planning to offer an easy (but more wallet-straining) alternative?

There is no easy alternative at the moment, but Netherrealm is working to make progression less painful. While the developer has yet to respond to our inquiries on the matter, in a Kombat Kast on Twitch yesterday, the developer announced an upcoming patch will adjust the rate at which in-game rewards get doled out in players’ favor. Along with the tweaks, each player will receive 500,000 coins, 1,000 souls, 500 hearts and 1,000 Time Krystals, giving each of them plenty of currency to help hunt for those must-have items.

Hopefully the extra currency and balance tweaks helps make Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt and progression feel more like fun and less like shady chores.

Source: Kotaku.com

Take-Two Boss Gets Big Bonuses If The Company Sells Enough Microtransactions and DLC

Image: NBA 2K19

On Monday, April 15—tax day in America—Take-Two Interactive Software shared with its investors a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to register 315,315 new shares of company stock. The filing (Form S-3) is a pretty run-of-the-mill document, used whenever companies go public or, through various circumstances, may have more shares available to put on the market. But in corporate finance, oversight committees require context, so filings refer to several other filings. If you read all the paperwork, you can learn a little bit more about the business of video games. Or, specifically, how one CEO might benefit from a contentious aspect of the industry: microtransactions.

As part of the filing’s prospectus—the part of the document included to give the involved parties a complete picture of what’s being registered, how, and why—the form breaks down the reason for the filing. Namely, that Take-Two is issuing its management company, ZelnickMedia, 315,315 units of Restricted Stock. In corporate finance, Restricted Stock is stock in a company that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t really count—at least, not until certain conditions are met. Think of it as a sort of IOU for actual stock, cash, or some combination of the two, payable upon the fulfillment of previously agreed-to terms.

According to the filing, those terms are laid out in a 2014 Management Agreement between Take-Two and ZelnickMedia. Part of that agreement details stock incentives, and those incentives are where microtransactions begin to factor into executive bonuses.

Per the Incentive Plan, some Restricted Units are designated to vest (become actual stock, or awarded as cash) as a “Time-Based Award” after several years, as long as certain requirements are met. Others, however, are designated to vest under a “Performance-Based Award.” There are several categories of Performance-Based award. One is determined by sales of games and merchandise, another by the company’s share price. A third is something called Recurrent Consumer Spending.

Recurrent Consumer Spending is the filing’s preferred term for all in-game spending: microtransactions, virtual currency, and add-on content. It designates a range of restricted units that will vest based on how much customers spend on them. There are between 13,986 and 27,972 of these units, by the way, with the lower number being the target amount and the higher one being the maximum number of units that can vest. If spending is stagnant or fallow, these units do not vest and are worthless. If it’s an okay-to-good year for in-game spending, the units will vest at 50%, or even 100%. And if in-game spending exceeds expectations, the units vest at 200%.

Here’s an example of what that looks like. First, keep in mind that all of these restricted units don’t vest for two years and hinge on the company’s stock price, so there’s no telling what they’d be worth exactly, if anything at all. But let’s say these units allocated to Recurrent Consumer Spending vested today, and that Take-Two’s games sold enough microtransactions and add-on content to earn ZelnickMedia shares for every restricted unit it was issued. Since Take-Two is trading at $90.41/share at the time that this is written, that means that selling more microtransactions to customers could net ZelnickMedia anywhere from $1,264,614.12 to as much as $2,529,228.24.

Once again, this is not the only kind of performance-based incentive—even at the maximum number of units potentially allocated to Recurrent Consumer Spending (which is 27,972), we’re only talking about roughly 9% of the total restricted units issued. Many more restricted units are marked for other kinds of performance-based incentives, like games and merch sales, share growth, and also just plain-old adherence to the management agreement for the next two years. (Another thing to keep in mind: While the firm bears his name, CEO Strauss Zelnick is only entitled to 60% of what Take-Two pays it.)

None of this is new—a 2017 Motley Fool article cited this management agreement between Take-Two and ZelnickMedia as a key reason for the company’s consistently good performance on the stock market, and it makes sense. From top to bottom, the entire machine is aligned with the same financial goals, and the execs at the very top get a big payday if they make sure everyone is working towards them.

As the company behind long-running, regularly-supported cash cows like Grand Theft Auto V and the NBA 2K series—both titles that are notorious for raking in real-world dollars in exchange for virtual ones—it makes sense that Take-Two would have an incentive structure that taps right into what’s proven to be a very rich vein. It also suggests a reason for the overreach of some games, like NBA 2K19’s Virtual Currency nightmare. When asked for more details about its incentive plan and microtransaction strategy, Take-Two declined to comment.

Corporations exist to make money, and microtransactions—a way to make more money off a game after it is sold—make cold, capitalist sense. Why make money off a game once, when you can do it indefinitely? And if that system works, then why not add in incentives for CEOs to make sure that they keep the money train rolling? Maybe companies now have more reasons than ever to try and include microtransactions—because they gave themselves a million or two.

Source: Kotaku.com

Bethesda Plans To Sell Fallout 76 Repair Kits For Real Money

Late last week Bethesda announced a new item would be coming to the game soon: repair kits. Rather than waste resources repairing weapons and armor, players will be able to use these kits instead. There’s a hitch. Players will only be able to buy them through Fallout 76’s microtransaction store.

“Repair Kits are new utility items that will help you spend more time looting and shooting, and less time toiling away at a workbench fixing your gear,” Bethesda announced in its latest Inside the Vault post updating players on the state of the game. “We’ve received lots of requests for Repair Kits, and we’re excited to add them in the weeks following Patch 8.”

Gear deteriorates over time in Fallout 76, and the new repair kits will act as consumables that take busted equipment and restore it to 100 percent of its operating capacity. They’ll also only be available to purchase through the Atom Shop, an area separate from the main game where players can spend real money to buy Atoms to buy stuff like clothing and furniture to customize their characters and campsites. Players can also earn a small amount of Atoms by completing daily and weekly challenges.

Since Fallout 76 came out in November, the items added to the shop have always been purely cosmetic with no effect on gameplay outside of the delight of occasionally discovering someone else’s lavishly decorated home out in the wasteland. Repair kits would change that.

Bethesda’s announcement says that the repair kits will let players fix their get “anytime, anywhere” without using crafting materials. If so, a purchased repair kit would make paying players’ lives easier by cutting down the amount of time players spend scavenging for the materials needed to repair their favorite weapons and Power Armor. It would also possibly give those players a competitive edge against others. Players who could instantly repair their armor and guns while engaging in PVP would be able to carry on a fight longer than their peers who have to go find a workbench to do so. It’s not the same as being able to spend $10 to buy one of the most powerful guns in the game, but it augments the overall balance of power.

Bethesda hasn’t yet revealed how much the repair kits will cost but it appeared to suggest they might only be the first in a long line of other utility items to come to the Atom Shop.

The studio wrote:

“We read tons of feedback and suggestions from the Fallout 76 community, and Repair Kits were a popular request that we wanted to get into players’ hands. We also felt we could try out something new with these, both in-game and in the Atomic Shop. As we look to the future, we’re exploring ways we can bring other community-driven ideas to the game as well, such as refrigerators for C.A.M.P.s, ammo and food converters, and even the ability to send scrap to your stash without having to head home.”

Bethesda called for players to offer their feedback, and they did not hesitate. “DANGER SIGN: Repair kits (Non-cosmetic item) will be purchasable with Atoms only,” read the title of a thread posted by Reddit user ScientistRickSanchez that blew up over the weekend with thousands of upvotes. “This game was built on our trust. Bethesda promised us cosmetics only. We trusted them, and stuck through all the bad press and bullshit bugs. And then they decide to betray us,” the person wrote.

Prior to Fallout 76’s release, Bethesda told NoClip documentarian Danny O’Dwyer that the game’s microtransactions would “only come in the form of cosmetics.” This was reiterated in an August tweet by Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of communications who responded to a fan asking if guns could be purchased in the Atom Shop with “No. Only cosmetic.”. Hines also said the same during an October 2018 interview with Microsoft’s Lawrence “Larry” Hryb. Bethesda did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the apparent reversal.

There’s already been so much discussion about the topic on the game’s subreddit that the mods there announced they will be archiving posts about the new repair kits that are over 48 hours old to stop them from crowding out other conversations.

Source: Kotaku.com

How Battlefield V’s New Microtransactions Work

Battlefield V received microtransactions this week, almost five months after the first-person shooter was originally released. Players can now use Battlefield Currency, which can only be bought with real money, to customize the look of their characters, guns, and vehicles.

Prior to the update, players could buy common, uncommon, and rare cosmetics using an in-game currency called Company Coin, earned by ranking up and completing various daily missions and special assignments. The new premium currency offers players the option to shortcut that grind by paying for it. A new tier of epic cosmetics has also been added to the game. Some of these can only be purchased with actual cash, while others can be unlocked by completing various challenges and activities in the game. According to a tweet by Battlefield V’s community manager, Jeff Braddock, all epic items will at different times be unlockable by doing stuff in the game and not just by spending money.

The Jackal is one of these epic skins. It consists of three pieces of gear and costs 750 Battle Currency, or as the community lovingly calls it, 750 Boin. Boin can be purchased in packs of anywhere from 500 for $5 to 6,000 for $45, but not 750. Players save a little bit per Boin the bigger the pack but the most popular one currently is the 1,050 pack which costs $10. In other words, to buy those epic skins, people are overpaying. Rare cosmetics, like the MP28’s chromed finish, can be purchased for either 400 Boin or the same 13,200 Company Coin as before.

While this is cheaper than what epic skins cost in games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, where each one can cost closer to $20, it still feels like a lot for some drab WWII clothes. Some Battlefield V players on the game’s subreddit have also been making fun of the Jackal costume in particular for including not one but two gas masks and subsequent sets of goggles, as well as a third pair of goggles wrapped around the helmet. The bigger issue for some remains that players don’t have the option of buying it with the in-game currency they’ve already collected.

A post explaining how Battlefield V’s economy works on EA’s website contains a chart with a line going from both Battlefield Currency and Company Coin to cosmetics. Players previously took this to mean that no cosmetics in the game would be locked solely behind a premium currency. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for EA directed Kotaku to Braddock’s tweet.

Meanwhile, Star Wars: Battlefront II, whose microtransactions were temporarily removed after the game was released in November 2017 following the backlash to its loot box mechanics, allows players the option of buying even its rarest costumes with credits earned strictly through playing the game. As a result, players have an incentive to stockpile their credits for when new costumes are released.

In Battlefield V, some players were doing the same, and are now wondering where to spend their existing Company Coin since it can’t buy any of the new stuff. Time savers like temporary XP boosts and new elite-tier skins will be added to the game in the future and be purchasable with Battlefield Currency, but it’s not clear how much the inventory for Company Coin goods will grow. Braddock has confirmed that when elite skins are added, unlike the new epic skins, the only way to get them will be to spend money.

The game’s new microtransactions are far from being a disaster, and it’s possible EA will still refine how they work going forward. In the context of Battlefield V where players have been eagerly awaiting other content like additional maps, they’re a bit disappointing. EA had always made clear that the game would be getting a premium currency at some point, which is arguably preferable to some sort of loot box mechanic. The game’s content updates are also all free. At least for now, the new items players can purchase just don’t feel worth it.

Source: Kotaku.com