GWJ Conference Call Episode 216

Conference Call

Poker Night at The Inventory, Gran Turismo 5, Pre-Launch Cataclysm, Red Dead Redemption Counterpoint, How Sales Impact Our Game Habits, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Rob Zacny talk a whole lot of games and the effect of Steam sales on their delicate minds.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Triggernometry (Bill Elm & Woody Jackson) - Red Dead Redemption - http://www.rockstargames.com/reddead... - 41:37

Current of the Times (Yudai Satou) - Gran Turismo 5 - http://us.gran-turismo.com/us/ - 1:07:25

Comments

rabbit wrote:
gunjin wrote:

As a regular new PC games buyer, Steam has not enriched my PC gaming an iota and made many aspects of it considerably worse. GWJ, please provide some perspective before you inundate us with your SteamLove.

So, I'm curious what more perspective we can give. We've talked about brick and mortar tons. We've talked about Impulse. We've talked about GFW and EA Direct and Direct2Drive. We've lamented the hell that was GameSpy matchmaking.

Did we go into how bad digital distribution is in the Europe? No, but we talk about the difficulties with Canada when we have, you know, Canadians on the show. Further, the main point I was making about steam was not the prices, but the fact I never had to worry about reinstalling a game, etc. I can just go turn Bioshock back on and play it in an hour on a new computer.

All that said, I recognize we give Valve a free pass where we kick other vendors in the nuts on some things. Valve has shown themselves to be generally on the side of their customers, which gets a lot of goodwill over time.

I agree with rabbit. I don't really know how much more perspective there is to give. Steam has a huge selection of games with just about infinity copies of each in stock, and often sells them for less than $10 a pop. Often for less than $5, even. You can also buy them in your pyjamas (or totally naked if you so desire) without hassle. B&M doesn't offer any of that. I'll show you the lawsuit to prove it.

cube wrote:
trueheart78 wrote:

You RDR haters are no longer on my Christmas card list. Good day!

I said good day!

/leaves thread

I second this!!!!

On a serious note, for the RDR haters out there, how much do you like Westerns in general? Like GTA and Mob movies, RDR is absolutely filled with Western tropes. A few of my friends have asked about RDR, and I've found that most people's enjoyment of the game is directly proportional to how much they like Westerns.

I love Westerns. Grew up on 'em. And yet, RDR bored me.

I have been tempted to give it another spin recently, but Rob's thoughts have quelled that urge.

I wasn't the biggest RDR enthusiast either, but I'm not a huge open-world game fan in the first place, so that didn't come as much of a surprise. I agree with Mr. Zacny's comments about the general gameplay. The shooting was bland, the horseback riding was fun for a short while, and the rest was boring. I did enjoy just running around the world for a couple of hours. It sho' is perty.

rabbit wrote:

So, I'm curious what more perspective we can give.

The perspective of those for whom Steam and more specifically Steamworks is a massive and unwelcome inconvenience. Hard-core Steam users like you guys ascribe a value to Steam that many others simple do not share (a quick google of Steam hate terms reveals a shocking amount of results and those are just the ones that have bothered to vent their frustration). Not everyone is interested in Steam achievements or seeing what their friends are playing. Those that don't have Steam or any desire to buy products through Steam have to jump through multiple hurdles just to play a Steamworks game, have to endure spammy advertising at the end of every game session and an underlying application that has to be manually closed every time not to mention the attrocious customer service that assumes guilt before innocence.

This is in stark contrast to the halcyon days before Steamworks when your installation was approved by local serial code checking and worked, as long as you had the disc, with whatever computer you wanted, you then played unimpeded by extraneous applications and support was provided locally and via both phone and email so you could get problems resolved instantly.

I don't have any vested interest in other digital distributors or retail but do share the view of Dave Perry and other industry figures that Steam represents a major threat to the PC games industry by depriving us PC gamers of choice. It would be a tragedy if Steamworks-only versions were to become standard practice.

gunjin wrote:
rabbit wrote:

So, I'm curious what more perspective we can give.

The perspective of those for whom Steam and more specifically Steamworks is a massive and unwelcome inconvenience. Hard-core Steam users like you guys ascribe a value to Steam that many others simple do not share (a quick google of Steam hate terms reveals a shocking amount of results and those are just the ones that have bothered to vent their frustration).

Like has already been said, their perspectives have been given, and you've given yours too. There are often two sides to a coin, but one does not invalidate the other, both perspectives on the same thing can exist. With regard to steam I think you need to apply some scale to your perspective, there are at least 30m active accounts, and while for you personally the problems are a big deal, I don't believe you can get a userbase of that size if those problems were common.

I don't see GWJ as a journalistic site so much as their opinion and their perspectives on things, similar to RPS's "Wot I think". GWJ does occasionally do a call for writers, and many of the community have written for the site, perhaps you could write an article to put across your point of view and concerns about what has become a part of PC gaming life. (Don't ban me...)

gunjin wrote:

Not everyone is interested in Steam achievements or seeing what their friends are playing. Those that don't have Steam or any desire to buy products through Steam have to jump through multiple hurdles just to play a Steamworks game, have to endure spammy advertising at the end of every game session and an underlying application that has to be manually closed every time.

FYI:
Settings > Friends, untick all the boxes you don't want to see.
Settings > Interface > Notify me.... (down the bottom of the page), untick it.
Settings > In-game, disable the overlay.
Should get you closer to a vanilla unblemished gaming experience.

gunjin wrote:

This is in stark contrast to the halcyon days before Steamworks when your installation was approved by local serial code checking and worked, as long as you had the disc, with whatever computer you wanted, you then played unimpeded by extraneous applications and support was provided locally and via both phone and email so you could get problems resolved instantly.

You're going to have to rail against a lot more companies than Valve. Lets see, StarCraft2 has an online check before install can proceed and has to be validated against an online account. Many EA games have to be validated against an EA account, or use it to validate extra features. Many retail disc games use securom which has to be validated online. To be blunt, the only way out of this is to research what you're getting for zero-DRM, or get a console like the 360 which has a requirement to not rely on being online.

gunjin wrote:

I don't have any vested interest in other digital distributors or retail but do share the view of Dave Perry and other industry figures that Steam represents a major threat to the PC games industry by depriving us PC gamers of choice. It would be a tragedy if Steamworks-only versions were to become standard practice.

The thing with this is that currently Valve are offering what a lot of companies and gamers want in their games. Similar to the 30m users, I'd like to think that people gravitate to good things, so if another company offered another service that was competitive they would gravitate towards that too. The best indication of a big competitor so far is rumours and speculation of what will happen to battle.net, which is currently for Blizzard games, but could be used more widely for Activision and other 3rd parties, similar to how Valve gradually developed steam into what it is today. I'm not quite sure that's what you want for the future, but it's the way a lot of things are going.

Not all European Steam users are created equal, so here's a different opinion from gunjin's. Yes, I'm sad that I can't spend dollars on Steam anymore and have to pay higher prices in euros. However, in my country the PC game market is very rigid. Older games take a lot of time to drop in price (and by that I mean years - in one of the shops you can e.g. still buy an original boxed copy of Icewind Dale for 30 EUR, the same as launch price), some less mainstream titles are hard to come by. If there are cheaper editions, they are usually localized and given the fact that the translations range from terrible to bearable I usually want English editions. Which are either more expensive or not available at all. To sum it up, Steam saved me a boatload of money and allowed me to play titles which I would never buy -- either due to too high a price or unavailability. Before Steam, my weapon of choice used to be eBay, but Steam is both cheaper and more convenient.

gunjin wrote:

Yes they do, in part because the retail marketplace here (the UK especially) is so open and competitive that nobody with any sense pays full price for a game, even for console games. New PC games are typically £34.99 RRP but £24.99 delivered and further discounting tends to begin within weeks. Steam prices are never below RRP at launch and retain that price for ages. By the time the Steam sales come, the boxed product price has dropped to a fraction of the launch price and usually a fraction of the Steam sales price.

I'd say that's more about the UK retail marketplace (apparently) being awesome than Steam sucking. You're just lucky to live in a part of the world where games come out below RRP and lose their value quickly.

Here in Canada that's not the case, with even used copies of AAA titles retaining nearly full price for months, and sometimes YEARS. I still can't pick up a copy of the Metroid DS game for cheap, and that's been out how long?

If Steam is not responding to local realities in their pricing then that's too bad for them, however it doesn't make them a terrible service - it does, however, make them poor value for money to some customers like yourself.

gunjin wrote:

No, but then I haven't spent any money on Gmail.

Gmail's cost is not monetary; it's in giving up quite a bit of privacy & personal data, as well as agreeing to be a set of eyes for advertisements. You pay for GMail, just not with your wallet.

gunjin wrote:

I don't have any vested interest in other digital distributors or retail but do share the view of Dave Perry and other industry figures that Steam represents a major threat to the PC games industry by depriving us PC gamers of choice. It would be a tragedy if Steamworks-only versions were to become standard practice.

That line of argument is similar to the one that the big music labels make when confronted by a shifting marketplace that is out of their control..... retailers don't want to accept the new reality and so rail against it instead.

You can already see the digital games marketplace starting to adapt and compete with Steam - they've just had to come to terms with the fact that they can't expect to charge full price for games for months after their release dates.

There is plenty of choice out there.

AndrewA wrote:

There is plenty of choice out there.

Just not for Steamworks games...

On pricing, I can't say I've done a survey, but I'd guess digital download games only going for RRP applies to most stores rather than just steam, that's because Valve don't set the prices, the publishers do. Retailers will get their stock from a distributor and sell it at whatever price they want, trading volume of sales against margin.

Honestly, I'm sort of out of arguments on this topic. Steam has flat out kept me in PC gaming, where I might otherwise have bailed. I play multiplayer games as much as possible, especially on PC, so for my personal type of gaming, having a good community/friends list system and reliable matchmaking is vastly more important than either saving a dollar here or there or this mystical "choice" you somehow think I've given up.

I feel like I have MORE choice than I did before digital distribution. Now I can get games from steam, amazon, best buy, gamestop, impulse, EA direct, and a dozen other places, and a ton of indy games direct from the publisher. How have I been robbed of choice? It's a bit like saying Microsoft has robbed me of choice by making XBLA awesome.

rabbit wrote:

Honestly, I'm sort of out of arguments on this topic. Steam has flat out kept me in PC gaming, where I might otherwise have bailed. I play multiplayer games as much as possible, especially on PC, so for my personal type of gaming, having a good community/friends list system and reliable matchmaking is vastly more important than either saving a dollar here or there or this mystical "choice" you somehow think I've given up.

I fully accept that is true for many types of hard-core PC gamer. The choice argument is directed at the growing number of Steamworks titles such as SupCom2, Mafia 2, New Vegas etc. In order to play such a Steamworks game I have to install and run what for me is an intrusive and unwelcome service the majority of whose functions I have no interest in. Imagine if the only way you could listen to your favourite band was via RealPlayer and at the end of every session they forced you to listen to an advert. I want the choice to play a non-Valve game without having to endure Steam.

gunjin wrote:

Imagine if the only way you could listen to your favourite band was via RealPlayer and at the end of every session they forced you to listen to an advert. I want the choice to play a non-Valve game without having to endure Steam.

We all choose our limits. For many it was Ubisoft's recent nasty DRM, for you it's Steam. So it goes; vote with your wallet since you're obviously passionate about this, and by all means, email Valve with feedback - I'm sure they'd appreciate to hear it.

I do find it really odd that the advert window drives you so insane. I just close it when it appears. It takes approximately one second of my life, sometimes less if my reflexes are on.

AndrewA wrote:

I do find it really odd that the advert window drives you so insane. I just close it when it appears. It takes approximately one second of my life, sometimes less if my reflexes are on.

That, alone, does not - it is the sum of the parts - although I can see why retailers and digital distributors are incensed by this feature alone.

If only Steamworks could be implemented in a light single DRM check form without the need to install the full Steam client... I guess it is just not in Valve's interest to do that.

gunjin wrote:

If only Steamworks could be implemented in a light single DRM check form without the need to install the full Steam client... I guess it is just not in Valve's interest to do that.

And not in the interests of some publishers like 2K, that use steam to sell expansion DLC directly. I guess it's at the stage where it's impossible to not step on anyone's toes, and if they tried they would end up making a half-assed product (see: Microsoft GFWL).

AndrewA wrote:

I do find it really odd that the advert window drives you so insane. I just close it when it appears. It takes approximately one second of my life, sometimes less if my reflexes are on.

And you can turn that off, anyway -- go to Preferences, Interface, and uncheck "Notify me...".

misplacedbravado wrote:

And you can turn that off, anyway -- go to Preferences, Interface, and uncheck "Notify me...".

Thanks, misplacedbravado. That's 1 headache cured!

gunjin wrote:

The perspective of those for whom Steam and more specifically Steamworks is a massive and unwelcome inconvenience. Hard-core Steam users like you guys ascribe a value to Steam that many others simple do not share (a quick google of Steam hate terms reveals a shocking amount of results and those are just the ones that have bothered to vent their frustration).

So you're saying that before talking about anything they like and have had a generally positive experience with on a Conference Call, they should Google "I hate [thing]" and read off some complaints about it for balance?

I'm sure they'll get right on that.

gunjin wrote:
AndrewA wrote:

There is plenty of choice out there.

Just not for Steamworks games...

You have the choice to not play Steamworks games. Only a handful of non-Valve titles have it as the only option.

gunjin wrote:
AndrewA wrote:

I do find it really odd that the advert window drives you so insane. I just close it when it appears. It takes approximately one second of my life, sometimes less if my reflexes are on.

That, alone, does not - it is the sum of the parts - although I can see why retailers and digital distributors are incensed by this feature alone.

If only Steamworks could be implemented in a light single DRM check form without the need to install the full Steam client... I guess it is just not in Valve's interest to do that.

Is downloading this program that soul crushing? The ads can be annoying, but it's mere seconds to close a window. It's no worse than pop-up ads that have plagued the internet since it became publicly accessable. You don't have to upkeep a friends list or even log into it. I'm not sure how having to download Steam, then run it in the background as you play a game, would inspire such disdain either. DRM has been just as invasive, if not moreso depending on the publisher. And unless there is another great solution to piracy out there, publishers are going to continue to create personal account systems similar to Steam to protect their products(see GFW Live, EA Direct, BioWare, etc.).

If you don't like Steam for personal reasons, that's fine. No one is going to force you to love it and always use it. However, Steam has kept PC gaming viable to a lot of people. It's allowed developers to stay profitable and indie gaming to keep growing. Getting others to complain/hate about something that has encouraged their hobby to grow -- both publicly and financially -- is asking a bit much.

This digital distribution debate has run out of... gas

/doinitwrong

On another note, I'd just like to say that I really like having Rob Zacny on the show for his console devotion and acerbic wit.

Yeah, let's not pile on gunjin. While I totally disagree with him, I don't want the forums to seem hostile to dissenting opinions. After all, it's nice to see someone's perspective outside of the echo chamber, and while it'll be a long time before you hear us give a different opinion on Steam, it's nice that we can have it here.

On another note, I'd just like to say that I really like having Rob Zacny on the show for his console devotion and acerbic wit.

We're lucky to have him on. You think he's great on the podcast, try talking to him in person some time.

A little downtime in the gaming world would be nice to catch up on the stuff waiting to be played and/or finished. Mind you, I am going as far back as Dragon Quest 8.

Tweaking break noodles. Do they still make those for cars?

Ephemeral! That is a great word. I first heard it on Craig Ferguson's talk show. Good pull. By the way, "Joe's Pornographic Blood Shooter 3" sounds like a great idea.

I think sometimes I buy Steam games just so my friends can look at their Community section and see "Robert has bought This Game He Will Only Play for Twenty Minutes."

Defense Grid: The Awakening was the best 5 dollars I ever spent on Steam. Steam does affect how I buy games. Instead of rushing out and grabbing a PC game when it first comes out, often I can just wait a few months for a sale, like I did with AvP, C&C4 and Mass Effect 2. Sure, I end up as the guy talking about the game everyone else was playing six months ago, but I am less broke.

Plus, I love not dealing with discs. This will come in especially helpful when it comes time for the wife and I to move cross country in a couple years. I like being able to just toss the PC in the car, instead of the PC plus a box of games.

Enterprise vs Star Destroyer? Nerds! =)

Steam is great for consumers looking to save money, but I worry about its affect on the market for smaller titles. It's like the apps market on iTunes: the $0.99 price point for titles makes it more difficult for quality independent titles to charge more. Mr. Zacny mentioned Vic Davis on the podcast, and I think his work is a good starting place. When Solium Infernum was released, there were comments here and elsewhere that it'd be a good game to pick up in a Steam sale but not for the modest release price (I believe it was $30, but I could be wrong). Perhaps it's because I'm primarily a console gamer, but $30 seems like a perfectly reasonable price point for a fully-featured strategy game. However, Steam's annual practice of dumping even brand new indie games on the market for $5 a bundle has created the expectation that that's the price customers should expect to pay for indie efforts. The counter argument to this is that some sales at $5 a bundle are better than no sales at $30 apiece, but I worry about the long-term affect this will have on the market and the quality of the product produced.

And again, it might just be because I'm primarily a console gamer, but when someone posts in the deals thread that they won't buy a AAA game that's been discounted to $7.50 because they were hoping it would be $5, I think Steam sales just make people look spoiled.

hbi2k wrote:

I agree with just about every criticism of Red Dead Redemption mentioned in this episode. I played a couple of hours and had a ton of fun oohing and ahhing over the gorgeous landscapes, helping out random passersby, getting into duels, playing poker, and even playing the occasional story mission. Eventually I got to the point that all open-world games reach, where I was done messing around in the world and ready to hunker down and start making real progress in the story, and I found that nothing about the plot or characters or core game mechanics gripped me enough to make me stick with the game. Riding my horse from place to place was boring once the novelty of the (again: GORGEOUS) landscapes wore off, but fast-traveling everywhere was boring too because it accentuated all the weakest parts of the game.

This is where I am with the game. I truly want to play it, finish it, and love it. When I usually hit that spot in open world games that you're talking about, though, I put it aside. Then later I come back for more skating around town, blowing up stuff or parachute-hookshotting my way across the world. That stuff is always fun to come back to for me. There is nothing like that in RDR once I realize I hate the story.

cube wrote:
trueheart78 wrote:

You RDR haters are no longer on my Christmas card list. Good day!

I said good day!

/leaves thread

I second this!!!!

On a serious note, for the RDR haters out there, how much do you like Westerns in general? Like GTA and Mob movies, RDR is absolutely filled with Western tropes. A few of my friends have asked about RDR, and I've found that most people's enjoyment of the game is directly proportional to how much they like Westerns.

Wow, that's definitely not me. I had a core group of close friends in college who would watch "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More" literally 2 or 3 times a semester. This was before we had our own TVs. Back in like 1993. We'd commandeer the dorm lounge and hunker down for those movies as well as many others. I still consider "High Noon" one of my favorite movies of all time. I actually was drawn to RDR because I assumed I'd love it based on my love of the movies. In the end, though, a tight narrative in an engaging 2 hour movie easily trumps a trudge through a 30 hour game (however long it is) where I don't like the story.

Most poignant for me recently was when my best friend, whom I met during college, introduced me to Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch". I literally had just come off my high of discovering this movie when RDR came out. It seemed perfect. Going from a movie about outlaws awkwardly trying to transition in the Industrial Age west to a game about outlaws trying to transition in the Industrial Age west.

The story wasn't up to par, though, and the world wasn't interesting enough.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

but I worry about the long-term affect this will have on the market and the quality of the product produced.

It really depends. I'm sure there's some stuff that is sold below it's potential, but there's also stuff being sold above what it's worth. That word 'worth' holds quite a bit of meaning though, and as long as you're selling to the maximum of what people think your game is worth then can you really ask more. Different people will have different opinions of what a game is worth, so you're going to have the price high to start with and move down over time picking up more customers later. The only group you're losing revenue from is the patient, who didn't see enough value to buy at the higher prices.

If anything, it shows that you need a good marketer and someone savvy to the pricing trends to get the most out of a system like steam. I'm not going to shed a tear for any game that's overpriced and doesn't have a large market to sell to, and if you remake Pong for $20 million and don't make it back, then it was probably a bad plan.

I loved RDR. It's honestly one of the best, if not the best, open world games I've played. The western theme worked for me (where GTAs gangsters often don't.) I just wanted the game to go on forever. I never got bored.

I even enjoyed the 'aim free' shooting. I usually hate that kind of extreme auto lock but it was well tuned and satisfying in RDR. Riding along 'hell for leather' with a outlaw tied up on the back of your horse and turning to shooting three dudes off their horses as they closed in on you was just a perfect gaming/western movie moment.

I knew RDR had worked it's charm on me when I found myself slowing to a trot as a came into a town and revelling in the atmosphere as I rode my horse slowly to the nearest hitching post.

The multiplayer was a hoot (especially the co-op) and I thought the grave digging guy was fun... disgusting but fun.

I've gone to painful lengths once or twice for games that I was excited for. I think the best was playing through Half Life 2 with 1 stick of RAM because I had some rare RAM timing issue with my ASUS mobo and dual channel RAM. Painful to play on reduced settings, but so worth living with a slow PC for other tasks for the duration of HL2.

For nostalgia's sake, I also hacked up an old serial port so I could play through Crimson Skies again with my windows 98 era Sidewinder joystick

Fun times...

I have to agree that Red Dead Redemption is very over rated. And the characters are so terrible that I felt compelled to write an article about it.
Red Dead Rebuttal
http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=...