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Worth Reading: 01/17/2014

This week's links brought to you by the letters s, p, e, l, u, n, k, and y.

Slow but steady wins the race is a tired cliche that's best described my gaming the past two weeks.

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So many games these days want to make sure you see what they have to offer. It makes sense. These people have spent years crafting a game that's cost a publisher potentially millions, and you paid money to check it out! Don't you want to see everything?! And yet, some of the most satisfying game experience I've had in years come from two games that reject that.

I've already said much about Spelunky and Dark Souls elsewhere, and I suspect I won't shut up about them anytime soon, even if both games are considered "old" for many. Both of them are teaching me new things about myself, and what other approaches to game design have to offer. It's not about challenge or animation priority. That's too simple. Both games have an immense respect for the player, and will bend and break if poked properly. But such moments do not come easy, and the games punish those without patience. I'm not usually the most patient player.

Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

Both games are in my head. When I'm not playing them, I'm thinking about them. When I'm playing them, I'm checking the clock and sighing at how fast time is moving, thinking I should go to bed or work on something else or take the dog for a walk or consider the bathroom. So it goes. It's the sign of an excellent video game, and both of them have proven very rewarding. (And thank you everyone for the useful hints along the way.)

And you know what? The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can get back to Dark Souls. So!

Hey, You Should Play This

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Worth Playing: 01/17/2014

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And You Should Read These, Too

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Around Thanksgiving, I'd asked people on Twitter to recommend free-to-play games, both good and bad. I don't spend much time with these types of games, and was hoping to use the holidays to explore them. Instead, I spent that time sitting around with family, playing card games, and drinking too much light beer. But free-to-play still intrigues me, and I found myself fascinated by this essay about designing "ethical" free-to-play games. In essence, trying to make games that explore this now not-so-new business model in a way that doesn't sell your soul in the process, and tries to create players who are interested in engaging with the experience in the long run. It doesn't sound very easy--temptation is everywhere.

"And, of course, while our businesses contain many thoughtful and ethical people, it's also unquestionably true that they contain many cynical bastards who actually believe that deploying psychological trickery to gull people into paying more is good and appropriate business practice.

As a consequence, we see, in the F2P market, exactly what you'd expect to see: F2P games typically have a lifespan of a year or less. They grow, they pull in money, the audience starts to decline, and at some point the operator concludes that life-time value (LTV) is now less that cost of user acquisition (COA), pull the plug on marketing, and the game drops into a death spiral. Existing customers churn out and few new ones enter, with the game being shuttered shortly thereafter."

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Even though Digital Foundry fumbled a bit around the new consoles, there remain few places to read with their technical chops. Wii U is probably never going to achieve the mass market success Nintendo is hoping for, and Digital Foundry convinced a developer who worked on a third-party launch title for the system to explain what it was like to meet with Nintendo during the early days of the Wii U. It's just one developer's anonymous story, so we must treat it with that kind of weight, but it has some fascinating anecdotes. The one that stand out the most? The developer being told to actively avoid making comparisons to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.

"This was surprising to hear, as we would have thought that they had plenty of time to work on these features as it had been announced months before, so we probed a little deeper and asked how certain scenarios might work with the Mii friends and networking, all the time referencing how Xbox Live and PSN achieve the same thing. At some point in this conversation we were informed that it was no good referencing Live and PSN as nobody in their development teams used those systems (!) so could we provide more detailed explanations for them? My only thought after this call was that they were struggling--badly--with the networking side as it was far more complicated than they anticipated. They were trying to play catch-up with the rival systems, but without the years of experience to back it up."

If You Click It, It Will Play

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Patrick Klepek on Google+