I’ll admit that I haven’t bought many games used since I’m usually in the store on release day hungering to be one of the first to get my hands on them. Still I realize there’s quite a market for second hand games since not everyone has the disposable income that I do to splurge on the latest and greatest titles. They’re also a significant source of revenue for brick and mortar games retailers as the margins on used titles are significantly higher than their brand new counter-parts and provide an additional sales hook for them to attract customers (I.E. trade-ins for newer games). There are one group of people who aren’t so pleased with the second hand games market however, the publishers.
Second hand titles, whilst generating significant revenue for the retailers, generate almost nothing for the publishers that first distributed the games. The advent of downloadable content mitigated this somewhat as it was usually tied to the console it was downloaded on and not the game itself but it is a pittance compared to what they generate from a new sale. More recently however games publishers have taken a more sinister approach to the second hand market, seeking to make a resold product less attractive than the new unless the consumer ponies up the extra cash to make up the difference.
Sadly this kind of chicanery affected one of my most favorite games, Mass Effect 2. New buyers of the game received a special code that gave them access to the Cerberus Network, a daily news service for the Mass Effect universe plus the gateway to all the DLC available for the game. The code was a one time use deal so anyone buying the game second hand would have to do without or pony up the US$15 for access to it. Whilst you could argue that you still got the vast majority of the game despite the lack of the additional DLC there was quite a bit of free stuff on there, some of it even on day 1. This meant that anyone buying it without the code was essentially getting an incomplete game, even if it was playable.
Whilst it’s still not the norm to cripple the second hand market like this it is becoming alarmingly common, with several recent titles making used purchases far less desirable through new-only-or-pay-up DLC. It’s still a step ahead of something like Steam which doesn’t allow the sale of second hand titles at all, not even for a trade in on other steam titles. But it’s still a dick move by the publishers who are just trying to squeeze money out of the consumers in any way they can. Realistically though its detrimental to both the publisher and consumer since many trade ins drive new games sales, to the tune of 20%. Cutting that market out completely would harm the new games market significantly, but none of the publishers will admit to that.
It’s also arguably a violation of the First Sale Doctrine although no one has yet tried to test out this particular violation of it in court.
All this does is reduce the perceived value of the product that the publishers are putting forward and will only help to encourage people to seek out alternative methods in lieu of forking out the extra dollars. Whilst I am happy to give up my freedom to sell my games for the convenience that Steam provides (I am a hoarder, though) I know many people who aren’t so willing to make that trade and have avoided purchasing games that remove their right to first sale doctrine. Instead of punishing people for buying second hand they should be encouraging people to buy in early with things like betas and in game items. Of course I find it hard to fault a company that tries to maximize its profits but when it comes at a cost of significant good will I have to wonder if the costs outweigh the potential benefits and the only ones that know the answer to that are the publishers.
And they’re not talking about it, unfortunately.
When I switched from being a salaried employee to a contractor I underwent a paradigm shift in regards to how I spend my time. You see when you charge by the hour you start to think about how much something costs you to do if you do it yourself vs getting someone else to do it. If there’s a solution to a problem and it’s available for less than my current hourly rate then it’s good value for me to get that rather than trying to develop a solution on my own. This also comes back to how I spend my leisure time as it becomes hard to turn off that part of my brain that tells me every hour used purely in the pursuit of leisure is an hour that could be spent generating some income, although I haven’t seemed to have any trouble with that for the past month or so. 😉
The majority of my spare time is spent playing games simply because they’re by far one of the most relaxing activities for me. Additionally the bit of blog fodder that I get from completing one and then writing a review of it (which are some of my most enjoyable posts to write) are yet another benefit of spending my down time immersed in these virtual worlds. Unfortunately though I’m no longer the young 20 something university student I used to be and the amount of time I can spend on games is quite limited when compared to days gone by. Thus, whilst I still find time to cram in an epic gaming session or two every so often, the vast majority of my games are either played out over the course of a month or in a few shorter sessions in a single weekend. I think this is where my love of cinematic games has sprouted from as they’re an intense experience that I could conceivably sit down and play through in one session.
However the gaming community always seems to lament games that have a length that’s shorter than about 20 hours. One great example of this was Heavenly Sword, arguably Sony’s flagship game on it’s only recently debuted PlayStation 3. The hype leading up to the release of the game was nothing short of fever pitch and the demo released about a month prior wowed everyone who played it, even with it’s foreboding that the game itself would be drastically shorter than everyone was used to. On release it became apparent that the game totaled at most about 6~8 hours of game play and the critics slammed it for that very reason. Granted the game had set itself up for this as the hype far outpaced the resulting game but really the length, at least for people like me, wasn’t such a let down as many of the critics would have had us believe.
When time is at a premium game length starts to become something of a concern. It’s for that exact reason why I’ve avoided games like Final Fantasy as whilst they are amongst some of the most highly praised games on Sony’s gaming platform they’re also an incredible time sink, with play times exceeding 40 hours not uncommon. Ah ha! I hear you saying, but you reviewed Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, games with lengths approaching that of the games you said you avoid! OK you got me, there are notable exceptions that I can and will make the effort to play through usually on the backs of raving reviews from friends and the gaming community at large. Still a game like Modern Warfare 2 which packed only 6 hours of game play which I managed to blast through in 2 sittings rates as highly as some of those longer games despite its short length. There is also Heavy Rain of course, but I think everyone knows how much I enjoyed that and I’ve gushed enough about it to last everyone a lifetime 🙂
I think the crux of the matter is that the opportunity cost for longer games is so high that I have a tendency to shy away from them, lest my hours be wasted. Thankfully in this day and age of instant on access to information I usually have a good feel if a game will be worth it before taking the plunge, but at heart I’m still a completionist and I can’t stand letting games go unfinished. I think that’s the reason why Bayonetta and Red Faction: Guerrilla bug the hell out of me as they’re just painful enough for me to not want to finish them but at the same time I’d love to get them off my list forever. Still slogging through something that just isn’t fun for completion’s sake doesn’t rate highly on a cost benefit analysis for my time, so I guess I’ll just have to live with that.
There is of course games that have significant amounts of replay value which kind of skew my whole game length argument. Something like Lumines for example probably only has about 6 hours of game play in it total however I still find myself picking up my copy of it from time to time for a 30 minute bash to try and beat my top score. That’s probably more thanks to the genre than anything else as casual games like that tend to have quite short single play throughs however the competition element with a healthy sprinkling of procedural generation makes them almost infinitely replayable, something that the casual gaming market craves.
My point is that for any game you might play the length is somewhat of a subjective metric to use when judging its quality. Certain genres of games will come with expectations of play times such as RPGs being traditionally quite long and cinematics being short, but overall a games length is no measure of its quality. There is of course the argument to be made that a game is too short and therefore omits details or similarly a game that is too long that drags the plot out longer than it really needs to be. Still for a game that’s worth its salt the length seems to barely matter as I’ll remember how I enjoyed my time playing it, not how long.
That probably explains my past addictions to various MMORPGs over the past 5 years….
Mass Effect will always have a very special place on my shelf of games. Way back in the day I remember reading a couple previews of it and being semi-interested but no more than I was in say Bayonetta (which is currently gathering dust, but more on that another day). Then I saw a video of the game play and was instantly captivated. I spent a good couple hours scrounging up every single shred of detail that I could find, becoming ever more entranced in the Mass Effect universe. It got to the point where I said that right before Mass Effect came out I would buy a Xb0x 360 just to play it. My friends told me I was silly for doing so as the game would eventually be out on PC. For me however the 70+ hours that I got out of the game many months before they got to play it was worth every dollar I had spent on purchasing an entire console for just one game. I still do not regret it to this day.
I knew from the start that Mass Effect was destined for a trilogy and immediately after finishing the first I was anxious for the second. Bioware was very tight lipped on the subject for quite a long time and the ravenous sci-fi RPG’er in me was quelled until rumours starting popping up again. For the most part I steered clear of them, not wanting to spoil the narrative that I would soak myself in. So when the day finally came for me to walk into my local EB Games and pre-order the collector’s edition you can imagine how excited I was, which was only matched by the day I picked it up.
Mass Effect, just like Dragon Age: Origins, let you alter your appearance in such detail that you could almost recreate any face in the game. My initial attempts to recreate myself were a bit of a failure, that was until my wife and ex-room mate took it upon themselves to do it for me. It was a decent representation and made for some fun moments when Shepard was doing the horizontal mambo with his various alien conquests. For most of Mass Effect 2 however he looked as he does above since this was the best armor available (part of a pre-order deal with EB). I would’ve liked the ability to turn the helmets off on any armour and not just the default, but it seems it was not to be. Still there were some amusing scenes with Shepard attempting to be comforting in a rather evil looking set of armour.
From the very first scenes of Mass Effect 2 you’re thrown into an increasingly tangled web of loss and sacrifice. The opening scene was heart wrenching to see as all you built up in Mass Effect was destroyed in front of your eyes, including your rendition of Shepard. His resurrection is far from a glorious rise from the ashes where upon he is thrust into the fray instantly upon awakening met with both suprise and cold disdain. This sets the scene for the rest of the game as you struggle with the fact that 2 years of Shepards life have disappeared and everyone you once knew has moved on.
To be honest I was angry with the opening scene for a good while as it felt like a cheap Modern Warfare 2-esque attempt to inspire feelings of shock and loss. However I came to realise that, apart from it setting the scene for your love-hate relationship with your new employer Cerberus, it gave the developers a good “in” to make some much needed upgrades to the layout of your base camp (The Normandy) and to make room for the expanded crew size. Additionally it allowed them to rework and evolve many of Shepard’s past companions without having to do it painfully throughout the game. It’s much easier than the usual attempt of having a screen saying “2 years later” and then everyone has a moustache or another time-has-past telltale sign.
The combat and inventory in Mass Effect 2 is a great evolution of the system that they had in the original Mass Effect. In the original it was very much closer to a traditional RPG with countless items, upgrades and stats to choose from. If you’d played any other Bioware RPGs before the interface would’ve been familiar enough to get around it without too much hassle. Still when playing on a console item management easily became quite a chore and gearing up your party before you left could take quite some time. Combat still retained a lot of RPG elements with the ability to pause the game to queue up abilities, Medi-Gel being the health potion and special abilities having separate cool downs.
Mass Effect 2 on the other hand has taken cues from other great console games on the Xbox 360 like Gears of War, replacing theold health bar with the typical unlimited health so long as you take cover when your damaged system. This then changed the focus of combat quite significantly as it put a much higher value on cover than it did in the previous version. That also had the effect of giving you a pretty good indication when a fight was coming up, since there would usually be boxes or crates strewn across the level for you to hide behind. One thing that I can’t remember if it was present in Mass Effect 1 or not was the mapping of abilities to buttons so they could be used in real time. After discovering that (through the in-game tips section) the game took on a much faster and thrilling pace.
My first play through with this character on the original was a soldier built to run up to people and smash them into the ground with his bare fists. Not being able to find the melee button for quite a while (it’s B on the Xbox) I had thought they took melee out. After rediscovering it my new Shepard, who was a Vanguard, became an iron fist of destruction, charging any enemy he could and punching them into submission. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to punch Harbinger into submission time and time again, as well as any minion who would dare get in melee range.
It wouldn’t be Mass Effect (or a Bioware RPG) if there wasn’t a chance to get intimate with your crew mates. From the start I had my heart set on Miranda as her cold disdain towards me only served to get me more interested. It seemed that over time she began to trust me with more and more information about her personal life. The scenes with her remembering stories of her childhood and father are heart wrenching, and her loyalty mission only served to cement the bond that I wished to share with her. Of course Shepard got what he wanted and whilst, in true Mass Effect style, there’s little opportunity to talk with your new found lover afterwards before sending yourself on a suicide mission it was still a romantic scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how this relationship develops in Mass Effect 3 (and really, how it will go down with Ashley who was my conquest in Mass Effect) but the effect of these relationships always seems a bit secondary and doesn’t really influence the rest of the game. It could be that they’re playing directly into the hands of the majority of gamers out there (I mean really, the majority of them are just going to go after them for the doink scene, nothing more) but the characters always seem more emotionally involved with each other up until the point where they consummate their relationship, where it usually takes the turn to back to normality. I can understand this level of depth is hard to achieve in a game like Mass Effect (I’m looking forward to Heavy Rain’s take on this issue) but I think the medium and the majority of consumers are mature enough to handle it.
I was hoping to give Mass Effect 2 the coveted perfect 10/10 as the original was one of my favourite games of all time. However I can’t let my inner fan boy override the reality that there are some points of this game that could do with a lot of improvement. The mineral scanning is one of the worst time sink aspects of the game and while I can understand that they have to make the upgrades mean something but wasting the player’s time really isn’t a good way to go about it. Adding in the ability to buy and sell minerals would’ve alleviated this somewhat, as would have say a scanner that would do a radar like sweep across the planet highlighting resource points.
In my 32 hours playing through as my the Vanguard Paragon Shepard I struggled to find times where I had had enough of the game and wanted a break from it. The story was infinitely captivating, the combat engaging and thrilling and the ultimate end was a climatic ending that has me begging for more and eyeing my second Renegade playthrough save with a keen eye. As with any Bioware RPG I can see myself discussing this game at length with all my friends for a while to come as we revel in the little differences that made our playthroughs unique. It is this which is what makes Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest games to grace us as gamers and I can’t recommend it enough to everyone out there.
Mass Effect 2 is available for Xbox360 and PC right now for $AU108 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the Xbox 360 on Hard difficulty with around 32 hours of playtime total. Majority of the decisions where along the Paragon lines with the occasional Renegade snap decision.
2009 was a bit of a dry spell for gamers. Sure we had a couple great hits with the likes of Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune but for the most part we were denied the games that were set to end the decade with a very memorable bang. We can partly blame the GFC for most of this since most consumer reports showed a decline in people’s willingness to part with their disposable income (and who could blame them really) and no one wants to release their game into a bear market. Still we managed to smash the previous record for biggest media release of all time so it wasn’t all bad and for the most part the games were delayed to ensure they’d have that extra layer of polish that would ensure they lived up to everyone’s expectations.
The reason I’m writing about this is that after completing Assassin’s Creed 2 I thought I’d check up on the pre-order status of some of my favourite titles that were scheduled for release last year but got the chop. To my surprise my list ended up looking like this:
That’s not mentioning that I’ve still got Uncharted 2, Bayonetta and Batman: Arkham Asylum to play through! I had promised myself a month off after finishing a recent project (not Geon, that still has a long way to go) and it seems I’ll be spending the majority of it either cemented to the couch or firmly planted in front of my PC. Not that I’m complaining though, but it would seem like I have well over 100 hours worth of gaming being released in the next month. Sometimes I wish I was unemployed 😉
To be honest though two of those titles there aren’t really what you’d consider AAA titles that are going to attract the majority of gamers. Heavy Rain is a highly specialized game for people like me who revel in the fledgling cinematic gaming genre. It’s target audience is squarely aimed at those people who enjoyed Fahrenheit and possibly those who enjoy a good murder mystery. White Knight Chronicles is at the other end of the spectrum as at its heart it’s a Final Fantasy clone. The only reason I carry such an obsession for it is because I saw it as one of the darlings of the PS3 when it was announced all those years ago. After having been taunted by it for almost 5 years I’m chomping at the bit to actually play it, even if it turns out to be completely crap.
Mass Effect 2 is another one of those games that drove me completely wild when I first saw it. I’m a sucker for good Sci-Fi and Bioware has never failed in delivering an epic RPG. In fact I bought into the hype so badly I ended up buying an Xbox 360 just so I could play it, much to the lament of my friends who said if I waited it would eventually come out on PC. I think the $500 investment was worth not having to wait 6 months for the release 🙂 Strangely enough I bought Bioshock with the console to, since it was either get the Xbox or a new video card and I knew I had to get a Xbox eventually. Still I think I’ll be getting Bioshock on the PC this time around since the experience was much better comparatively.
So if you find yourself alone in the coming months you can rest assured that the gamers in your life have probably locked themselves in a room to get through the massive backlog of tremendous titles that are being released. So whilst 2009 might have been the year of the delayed release it would seem that 2010 will make up for it in spades.
What a way to welcome in the new decade 😀