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Showing posts from February, 2010

Gaming - At this rate they will soon be paying us to play their games.

I acquired three new PC games in the last last week: Allods online - Total Cost  €0.00 Peggle Nights - Total Cost €0.00 (Free for signing up to a PopCap passport) Spellforce Platinum Edition €3.74  (This weeks Steam bargain) I haven't even mentioned several excellent free flash games I had a look at along the way. The quality of gaming entertainment that can be had on your PC for little or no money at all is bordering on the ridiculous. By the way I a making a new rule for myself in relation to Steam and other on-line game sales. My new impulse purchase threshold is hereby set at €5. From here on out I will not pay more than this for a game unless I definitely intend playing it within one week of purchase. 

Allods: A Summoner in XAES

XAES is a level 10 instance for Empire players of Allods online. It contains the final quest in a chain of 5 "pilgrimages" that all new players get. The pic shows my summoner Arzuthr standing at the entrance to the main building (after we had cleared the place out). The summoner is quite a complex character to play. At level 10 I have a powerful pet who can tank and does a fair amount of DPS.  I am also a healer who I can heal myself and others. On top of that I have spells that do direct damage and damage over time. That sounds like an overpowered combination but it is balanced by the fact that my spell casting is very slow - it takes several agonising seconds to cast anything. The net result is that my personal dps is very low (less than the pets) and my healing capability is similarly constrained. A second restraint on healing is that you need to store up "drops of blood" in order to cast heal and the only way I can generate drops of blood is using a slow cas

Free Trials now cost $1 - I think it is a Brilliant Idea

Darkfall has introduced a free trial apparently,only its not free . It costs $1 or €1 depending on which side of the pond you live. Needless to say this has provoked howls of derision. Typical quote from the announcement over on Massively : "So basically they want you to *PAY THEM* to convince you to pay them some more?!?!?! Who came up with this idea?" Personally I have no intention of trying out Darkfall, its not my kind of game but I am full of admiration for Aventurine. I think their $1 free trial is a brilliant idea. I doubt if it will generate any net revenue but it creates a barrier which will probably filter out a lot of spammers, scammers and general undesirables that regularly abuse free trials in other games. Aventurine is a small company. They just don't have the resources to deal with an influx of trouble makers. I have no doubt the $1 will probably also dissuade a number of genuinely interested players who might be tempted to continue in the game. By

Rethink: How Much Should You Expect to Spend in a F2P Cash Shop?

Heartless gamer   made a very good point in a comment to my earlier post about how much the average paying user spends in a free to play game. I had linked to a famous Gamasutra article which shows that the average spend per paying user in Puzzle Pirates is $50 per month and from that I concluded that that was what a serious end game player in any free to play should expect to spend. Heartless points out that we cannot be sure it is the same 5,000 paying users every month. Perhaps a much larger group of players are making sporadic payments of $50 or so every few months. This of course changes the economics for users. If a larger percentage of players are prepared to pay something the the average cost per paying player can be less. Perhaps the most interesting figure coming out of that article is the $3 per every user (paying and non paying)  that he feels would be a very good revenue target for a flash based free to play. Every single user whether they are hard core or softcore begi

A better Free to Play Model

Writing this is a hurry but the furore over Allods has further strengthened my believe that there are numerous flaws in the typical Free to Play model. One major flaw is that a small number of players must pay a lot in order to subsidise the majority who pay nothing. Another perhaps more serious flaw is that in order to force people into the cash shop developers have to design inconvenience into the game. Making your customers suffer is surely not a sustainable business model. Given all this I wonder if the pay for time model as used in China would not be a better approach. You could still incorporate a free to play component - think of it as a form of extended free trial. Try the following: Free players can play for up to 10 hours per week. Additional playing time can be purchased in lots of 10 additional hours at a cost of $5 for 10 hours. A lump sum payment of $45 buys 30 days (or perhaps a calendar month) of unlimited playing time. Perhaps further discounts may be available

Allods Cash shop Hysteria may be Naive

Staunchest supporter turned most ardent critic of Allods online Keane sums up his anger in a recent blog entry: None of us can afford to pay $50-$75 per month to PvE at level 40.  If that really is the amount that would be required to sustain a serious end game player then the whole apoplectic furore over the Allods cash shop is naive in the extreme. We have always known that serious players of a free to play game have to spend more than the $15 per month sub typical cost of subscription games. This has to be the case because most players don't pay a dime so serious end game players need to pay substantially more. In a much quoted Gamasutra feature Puzzle Pirates head man Daniel James revealed that the average revenue per paying user of the free to pay verion of Puzzle Pirates is just under $50 per month. How could people expect to pay less for a full featured free to play like Allods?

Red Faction Finished - Great Game if You Choose Correct Difficulty Setting

Bill Harris of Dubious Quality recommended I play Red Faction on "casual" difficulty setting but gamer pride convinced me I knew better. I started off on normal and got about half way through the game at that setting before it eventually dawned on me that I just wasn't enjoying myself . Eventually I gave in and lowered the difficulty (thankfully you can change difficulty at any time) and the game transformed into a complete hoot. Sure lowering the difficulty level removes the challenge but this game is not about challenge it is about glorious carnage and destruction. The game even has a pretty good story if you are into that sort of thing. I have previously grumbled about the infinitely respawning enemies but perhaps an even worse problem is the really crappy save game system. First problem is that you are always sent back to base whenever you reload meaning a tedious trek across the map to get back to your objective. Second problem is that there isn't even a dece

This is getting Allod more interesting

It looks like my confident prediction of a grovelling apology and price reduction from Gpotato were somewhat wide of the mark. Here is their first official response to Cash-shop-rip-offgate . Grovelling  apology it is not. Oh  they do apologise for not telling people that the item shop was going live. I haven't read a single complaint from anybody who was upset because "No one told me the cash shop was opening". All of the complaints were about the cash shop pricing and Gpotato's statement most pointedly does not apologise for that. They do acknowledge the concern and promise somewhat vaguely to "begin to evaluate the details of our item shop". That is not an apologyu or re-traction. If anything that is a confirmation of intent. The apoplexy of the community begins to make more sense to me now. They must have seen this coming even if I didn't. Even the normally impeccably spoken Saylah of Mystic Worlds has taken to using anatomical references . Temper

Allod of fuss over a bit of cash

The European office of Gpotato the distributors (if that is the word) of Allods online is in my home town of Dublin so I more or less felt obliged to give it a go. I have only played for about two hours so I won't dream to offer a review except to say that it seems very polished for a free to play. I personally am not at all ready for another mmorpg so I doubt I will be playing for much longer. In fact I probably wouldn't have posted about it except to note the kerfuffle among US players over the recently opened US cash shop who's prices appear to be somewhat inflated. $20 for a small bag expansion and some rune costing over $6000 apparently. I am pretty sure this is a mistake, cash shops are all about micro-transactions - little and often is the way to go to milk maximum revenue out of players. Players will make a bunch of $2 purchases on impulse but a single $20 purchase raises a mental barrier that has to be overcome. Anyway the thing that surprised me was the absolu

Thoughts about our Fractal Universe

My last post prompted some very thoughtful responses. Tesh was even kind enough to link to a terrific website called that has absolutely terrific zoom-able pictures of our own Milky Way galaxy. When confronted with such immensity it is hard not to get a tad philosophical. How can a mere human mind cope with all this immensity?  Even if you do somehow come to terms with the awesome vastness of the Milky Way just cast you eyes back to the deep field picture and realise that every dot in that picture which itself is but but a tiny speck of the sky represents an entire galaxy. If those concepts are not enough to completely overwhelm your mind then consider that there is a parallel immensity at lower scale. Every pebble on the Earth is itself an entire universe of atoms and the atoms are comprised of a plethora of sub atomic particles. Every time we probe deeper we seem to discover yet another layer of structure beneath that which was already known. My

Reflections on the Size of the Universe

I believe the Hubble deep field images are among the most awe inspiring photographs ever taken and I have recently set the Ultra Deep Field up as my desktop background. To take this image the Hubble telescope was pointed at an area of space devoid of  nearby stars and an image of deep space was constructed by accumulating data over a period of several months. The total area encompassed is equivalent to a speck about one millimetre squared held at arms length. Yet this tiny tiny window on the universe is crammed full of galaxies. Each of these galaxies likely has billions of stars. This image contains some of the farthest away objects ever observed - galaxies at a remove of billions of light years from our own. This number of worlds, these distances, these time-scales are completely mind boggling. They are in truth simply unimaginable and yet they exist. Here is the picture:   (Image in the public domain courtesy of NASA. A high resolution version can be got from Wikipedia ) One t

Red Faction Miracle Tweak

It looks like my pronouncement of the retirement of my ageing gaming PC may have been premature. A browse of the Steam forums turned up this unusual tweak . By setting the priority of the game process to lowest my stuttering goes away even in the fiercest fire fight? Bizarre but it works for me. I even upped the graphics settings again and it still works.

The Game is Up - time for a Hardware Upgrade

Still working through Red Faction Guerilla (now much more enjoyable since I swallowed my pride and lowered the difficulty setting)  when I hit an unexpected blockage. I was doing the final mission required to liberate a region called Oasis when my frame-rate dropped from it usual acceptable level to 1 frame per second freeze frame. My first thought was to turn down the graphics detail but even running in a small window at minimum detail level doesn't help. Next pop open Windows Task manager to check memory usage. The game never uses more than 1.5Gb of my 3Gb installed. Memory is not the issue. Look at CPU usage however - both cores of my 2.2GHz Athlon 64X2 are running around 90% usage in normal game play and the intensity of battle during this one mission with multiple explosions, vehicles and enemies just pushes the CPU usage up to the 100% mark. At 95% CPU the game is still playable. At 100% everything freezes. I'll probably be able to squeeze out enough extra clock cyc

Reflections on a Child's Homework Project,

My 11 year old daughter brought a scrapbook home from school entitled "My Favourite Holiday". All of her classmates had each contributed a page of text and pictures describing their favourite holiday experience. When I was 11 back in the mid 1970's cheap air travel was unthinkable and such holidays as were taken often relied on the generosity of rural dwelling relatives. Still we had plenty of fun. Ireland is blessed with beautiful scenery and a stunning coastline so the ever fickle weather and typical water temperatures of 15°C did little to dampen out enjoyment. Foreign travel was unheard of outside of church sponsored pilgrimages to selected religious shrines. It was more than a decade later that the advent of cheap student travel first allowed me to broaden my own horizons and by sleeping on trains and in dingy hostels I began to see the world. My daughters classmates live in a very different time. In many ways they live in a different world. Cheap air travel has

Red Faction Blues

You are tasked with levelling an EDF controlled watch tower. Initally the alert status is green and you can easily sneak around the few guards and get up to the base of the tower. Your trained eye assesses the tower and you can see that a couple of strategically placed demolition charges will do the job. You lay the first charge and suddenly the previously sleepy guards wake up. The alert status goes to yellow. In yellow status the guards are aware of your presence and will try to seek you out. It gets hard to concentrate on placing your demo charges with bullets whizzing past you so you turn and shoot  the nearest two guards. These guys re-spawn almost immediately so you shoot their replacements. This jacks up the alert status to orange. The number of guards spawning doubles and you now have a firefight on your hands and you need to duck behind cover to recover from your wounds. Dodging and weaving you kill 4, 5, 6 more guards but they keep coming and then .. the alert status ramps up

Steam Forums - a good spot for debugging info.

A couple of times recently I had crashing problems with games bought on Steam and I was able to quickly find a solution on the Steam forums. They have sub-forums for all their games and if there is a known bug someone will generally post there with, hopefully, a solution.  No particular credit to Valve's support - all the useful info comes from customers but it is still very useful to have a one stop shop for debugging info. My most recent issue concerned an annoying crash at the loading screen in Red Faction Guerilla. The game used to work for me but a recent patch did the damage. Thanks to this forum post   I am up and running again. I bought RFG during the recent Steam sale. It took a back seat while I was working my way through Dragon Age but now that I have time to appreciate it I have to admit it has absolutely the best "blowing shit up" I have ever seen in a game.