Meet the Über Valve
Valve is the gift to the video gaming industry that just keeps on giving and giving and giving. It was announced on Monday that all this week would be the Über Update week for Team Fortress 2, culminating in the release of the long-awaited “Meet the…” video for the Medic. If you have not watched it yet, I have probably watched it at least twice for you, but here is the link anyway. The video finished by shocking us all with another impressive show of Valve’s commitment to taking risks for the enjoyment of its players, announcing that Team Fortress 2 will now be free to play forever. Robin Walker took to the internet to elaborate on this, saying that they have been toying with the idea of making TF2 free ever since September 2010’s Mann-conomy update.
“Over the years we’ve done a bunch of price experimentations with Team Fortress 2, going all the way down to $2.49 in our random one-hour Halloween sales. … The more we’ve experimented, the more we’ve learned there are fundamentally different kinds of customers, each with their own way of valuing the product. … We’ll know a heck of a lot more in a couple of months, and that’s the kind of thing that gets us excited around the office.”
In addition to creation of Team Fortress Addiction Syndrome (a possible side-effect of mega baboon heart), Valve has also given players another reason to never ever close Steam with the addition of four free-to-play MMOs. Champions Online, Global Agenda, Spiral Knights, and Forsaken World are all available now on Steam, and with Steam downloading updates in the background, never again will players be required to wait for hours to download the patches they missed if they stopped playing for a while.
“We’re always improving on the relationship we have with our customers, and we’re willing to run experiments if we think it will help us learn how to do that better,” said Robin Walker. You are doing it masterfully, sir.
Rift Gaining Steam Too?
This November will mark the seventh year since the release of World of Warcraft, but if developers at Trion Worlds have anything to say about it, it will be an anniversary marked by continuing drops in subscriptions. Numbers released in May showed that WoW lost over half a million of its twelve million players, and though the team that made Rift knows they are not solely responsible, they cannot help but take a bit of pride in their swelling population growth. Rift now boasts sales of nearly a million units and shows no signs of slowing down. Developer Will Cook talks frankly about the situation, saying “a lot of people said no game would kill WoW, WoW would sort of kill itself. It’s almost shameful that this giant launch window that we have, nobody is releasing anything.” In a perfect show of how to criticize competitors, Cook does not bash WoW but points out the flaws in a game that continued to hold his subscription.
“It seems like WoW is these days…not lacklustre…but it feels like everybody was worried Cataclysm was going to change too much. And the feeling I got was that it didn’t change enough. It is the samey kind of thing. … It’s phenomenal, the phasing is great, it’s essentially the same game it was six years ago in a lot of ways. But it’s not different enough and most people I know are sort of fading from it.”
He added that while their success may have been luck and the drop in WoW numbers a simple coincidence, Trion World had plenty of plans in mind for where they want to take Rift from here and they are working “really, really hard to keep the momentum, to keep people playing.”
Nintendo Ignores Competition
When Nintendo first came out, the internet was a feeble little thing that was still years away from taking off, so the Japanese video game giant could not be blamed for ignoring it. When they finally stopped ignoring it, they had already been left in the dust by the likes of Sony’s PlayStation Network and Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Now, despite the Wii U’s inclusion of the internet and more easily accessible network, Nintendo is still downplaying the use of the internet on their system, content to shrug it off as a missed opportunity and always inferior to Sony and Microsoft. In a run-on sentence of proportions only the Japanese could muster, Miyamoto told MTV:
“We’re not going to sit here and say that our goal is to become the number one online gaming company, because that’s not our goal, but, understanding that the types of experiences our consumers like to play do often contain elements to them that can be improved or may even require an online connection and also knowing that the system is going to have a browser I think suggests that obviously internet and internet connectivity is going to be very important for the system.”
One has to hand it to Miyamoto for his honesty in admitting that they are not placing too much importance on the internet, but rather focusing on their games and the experiences of their users. However, a sequel to one of Nintendo’s most popular games in recent years, the Super Smash Bros. series, has already been dismissed as being “several years” away by creator Masahiro Sakurai. He states that the studio is currently focusing on the upcoming Kid Icarus: Uprising and that the announcement of SMB was primarily not for the fans, but to attract new team members to begin work on it. However, he is not simply trying to put it off, but states that the game needs to be rethought for both the addition of HD graphics for the Wii U version and the constraints of the 3DS for the portable version. Criticize Nintendo all you like for lack of internet, but acknowledging that they need to focus on games rather than give us mass-produced crap is admirable.
Kojima on Something Other Than Kojima
The most agitating thing about JRPGs in recent years has been the continuing focus on what the West wants. The most poignant example of this was the two drastically different versions of SquareEnix’s Nier, with the Japanese version focusing on the archetype feminine young man and the American version main character a burly lump of muscle. To gamers playing older JRPGs and these current abominations, we are left asking why does Japan think this is what we want? Luckily, at least one Japanese game developer understands. Even though Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame has broken through the cultural barrier to make games that sell impressively worldwide, he questions why other Japanese developers continue to devote so much time to an unnecessary effort.
“When you’re making a game, it doesn’t matter what nationality the team is … It all comes down to the team you have. Even if I brought in the best developer in the world, it won’t result in anything if nobody around him understands. … I mean, Japanese people might say ‘Why space aliens?’, but Americans will counter with ‘What’s with these games featuring these feminine-looking boys fighting in Japan with these huge swords?’ It’s no wonder the target audience for a lot of games is getting so compartmentalized.”
Unfortunately, Kojima gives no indication of how to fix this growing problem within both the Japanese and American gaming markets, but it is still reassuring to know that not everyone in Japan assumes we need space marines.