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Online Gaming Cash Shops are a Money Drain!

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Gaming Bullshit, Tips 'N Tricks

So I got into a discussion with one of my favorite YouTubers, The Quartering (also check him out on Twitter!) who often calls out a lot of bullshit in video games. His tweet got me thinking about my spending habit back when I was young and naive. Of course, I know much better now.

This conversation made me think of all of my favorite free to play MMORPGs back in the day and that they had cash shops to give players who wanted to get a tiny edge. However, in recent times I’ve noticed that they’re everywhere, even in single player titles that you had to pay full price for! That’s pretty anti-consumer! I’ve seen many players fall for this trap and we should instead use this money elsewhere. I’m also very guilty of this as well, so don’t worry and don’t feel bad. I am a firm believer of educating people so I hope you guys won’t fall into this trap like I did! 🙂

Types of Cash Shops

So there are different kinds of cash shops, they can affect your gameplay in any shape or form, but it is an additional unneeded expense. It works like this: you buy in-game currency (usually a premium kind) with real money, and then you buy virtual goods with it on a store. The difference is what these goods do.

Sometimes you can then exchange these goods for actual in-game currency that you earn while playing the game. For example, in Black Desert Online, I can buy costumes using pearls, which is the game’s premium currency. I can then sell these costumes on the auction house, which are bought using silver from other players, the game’s actual in-game currency. This can go into pay-to-win category because you can exchange these premium goods for services or goods that can help in your progression. Or another case, you can buy these goods in exchange for another player’s help for progression.

And even worse, there are bots or farming accounts made to flood a market with cheap commodities just for the purpose of selling in-game currency with real money. It is illegal in many games, and for good reason. If left rampant, this can destroy an economy of a multiplayer online game. Not only that, this is super sketchy; these third parties can steal your identity!

However, I am not here to discuss the last two paragraphs. This is all based on how a community/game masters work together to tackle the problem. At best, it is a mere annoyance, at its worst it will completely drive legitimate players away. I will be focusing on what is done in-game and officially done by the developers.

Buying Cosmetics

This is the easiest to find and also least damaging to the game’s community. This will stroke a player’s ego because many people love to customize their characters. It can be done in-game, or through an external store, like Square Enix has done for Final Fantasy XIV:

 

These are mostly harmless, it just makes your characters look cool. There are also services in there that you can buy to even change what your character looks fundamentally, like race, skin color, hair, ears, etc. Square Enix, for example, also has exclusives that you can only buy in their store only; it’s not a big deal unless you’re a huge collector of cosmetics.

FFXIV Cosmetic store

The worst this can be is when they lock cosmetics away in loot boxes, which you can buy (keys, or boxes for more chances) in the store themselves. Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch are great examples of this. It is a very frustrating experience, I must note.

Paying for Convenience

In exchange for your money, you can get goodies or services that can speed up or accelerate your progress in a game. Or in some other cases, just simply get what you want in exchange right away. Like in Warframe:

buying a bundle in Warframe

Normally in Warframe, you can obtain Warframes (the playable characters you play as) just by playing the game. The game does give enough hints to help you get your desired frame. However, the game also allows you to instantly buy the Warframe using the game’s premium currency, Platinum, which otherwise can take you at least 5 days to build.

Other games, like Black Desert Online allow you to buy convenient stuff like extra additional inventory slots, and even cost-saving items for your attempts at upgrade. People like to argue that this is pay to win, because you are progressing faster money-wise than other players who don’t have the means of dumping money into the game. It really isn’t because it doesn’t affect them or the economy directly. It would be akin to buying things that would heavily influence your ranking on a chart that doesn’t feature any rewards for being in the top 20 for example.

Now be Damned – Paying to Win

This is the kicker. The big one. The one thing that a lot of gamers hate. Here, you can purchase goods that no one will ever get outside of the store and you will get a big boost to your progression. Essentially, you will directly affect other players to get goods that will push that gap between you and another player who does not buy into the system. If you go against a player who doesn’t have these exclusive items, that few stat points can be life or death for someone in a player-vs-player situation.

For example, in Elsword you can buy a costume that can give you a massive boost to stats not normally obtainable in playing.

Not only that, if it is possible to sell those costumes, like in Black Desert Online, you can potentially destroy the economy by selling the costumes for in-game currency to players that can help your progression. Do this multiple times, and you can potentially earn silver much faster than a person normally farming for silver in-game (because you have multiple players buying your costumes at x rate).

But there is a more sinister way of enticing players to get their money. First, I must present exhibits A, B and C from Elsword.

awful elsword cash shop to upgrade
Exhibit A – Blessed Fluorite Ore prevents item enhancement from resetting
Why does Elsword have this?
Exhibit B – Blessed Restoration Scroll can fix broken items from enchanting
awful elsword cash shop why
Exhibit C – Blessed Fluorite Crystal also prevents item enhancement from resetting

In these types of games, the game creates an artificial problem in the game. Usually this happens with abysmal upgrade success rates. Getting to a certain point is fine; it’s just becoming competitive can be a problem, which a lot of people are trying to strive for when trying to clear content. Since the game needs you to upgrade to clear content and trying to upgrade to that point, the game is developed to frustrate people with diminishing chances and punishing them for failing. To monetize, they help players provide a way to save their progress.

Here’s how Elsword creates this problem. Your first few upgrade levels are somewhat guaranteed; the chances are very high and you’re not likely to fail. Once you get into +10 though, your chances have been drastically slashed to 30%, or even lower! While this is a problem in the community where some players can exclude other players for not having the right gear level, the power spike from the last 9 levels to +10 is statistically strong. There is no way around it; you need to have +10 gear to be competitive. What makes it worse is that once you start failing, you are being punished for failing. This is a common theme in Asian MMORPGs. If you fail, at best nothing happens. Sometimes you can lose your chance to upgrade, but in some games there are extreme chances of your weapon being destroyed or lose your upgrading progress. Considering the amount of time and in-game currency it takes to get the right weapon, with the right stats, and even the materials, this can be very daunting to attempt. This creates a demand to save your progress, only for players who spend money at the cash shop.

Here, the game has these items in the cash shop to prevent progress loss and even weapon destruction. Other games also feature items that will unlock further weapon potentials! Even still, this does not guarantee your success, this only preserves your progress! Your rate of success stays the same despite buying items to conserve your progress in the shop. This is how they encourage people who want to do really well at the game to buy these items and those who don’t are forever damned not to be competitive. It’s a vicious cycle.

Many gamers do not like this kind of progression as it inflates the worth of the currency in comparison to the actual value of the product you want to buy in-game. Weird that this can be analyzed even though it is a video game.

Cash shops are just a huge drain in your wallet

Cash shops give no value to the player (unless you really just want to deck out your character in cool). It also sucks when you find that you no longer play the game you bought those items from or if the game goes under, you get nothing out of it. It’s a wasted investment.

Unless you want to genuinely support the developer for making such an awesome game, there really is no need to buy anything from cash shops. Your money is better off working for you. Invest this money, watch it grow and the sooner you’ll play video games just because you can.

What do you think about cash shops? Are you fine with just supporting your favorite developer? Respond in the comments below!

Controversy at the Epic Games Store! Exclusivity Deals Are Just Bullshit

Posted 6 CommentsPosted in Gaming Bullshit

Recently the publisher for the long awaited Metro Exodus, Deep Silver has announced that its PC release will be exclusive for one year to the Epic Games Store, as part of an agreement between the publisher and the Fortnite developer, Epic Games.

I, like many other gamers out there, were not happy. Even for those of us who had pre-ordered the game long before its actual release on February 15, 2019, this was akin to a rug being pulled right under our feet. At least both Deep Silver and Steam are gracious enough to let us keep our purchases.

What is Epic Games doing for Developers?

So here is how Epic helps Developers out:

I actually like that developers get more of a cut and I completely agree that they should seek out those kinds of deals; this means that they get to put the extra revenue back into their games and make them better! Big win for everyone!

It’s actually really good, because this also means that they can charge us for a lower price if we went to Epic rather than Steam. When it was available on Steam, we were charged $60 just to pre-order the game! Now here’s Epic’s offering:

That’s $10 less than usual! If I’m a stickler for buying at launch, I’d do that. (Although I don’t anymore to save money.)

If someone told me this earlier, I’d be ok with this… But it’s still many levels of wrong.

Epic Can’t Compete with Steam

I downloaded the Epic Games Store a few weeks ago in order to download a few free games featured on it. I’m just a bit disappointed by the lack of features. Ok, that’s a lie. Epic currently doesn’t have features that I consider very vital. Being able to access my games and continue off where I was at from different platforms (from desktop to laptop, for example) is pretty important to me. Sharing games with my closest friends and family is really important to me as well. I was able to discover Slay the Spire from my fiance because he was willing to share his library with me; I shortly bought the game after. I think being able to share games is a great way for a game to reach a wider audience (after all, that’s what mostly a lot of indie developers want to do). But these are not what I think is vital for a game distribution platform, although they are still quite important.

I totally played way too many video games...
Maybe it’s a good thing that it doesn’t show us how many hours I played a game…

The fact that the Epic Games Store lack user reviews, content sharing, wish lists (a huge one for me!) and a place for users to congregate is a huge epic fail. User reviews allow gamers to share their opinion if a game is worth their money or not and it is a huge driving factor in how gamers spend on their games. (It’s always nice to rely on feedback, but it can be prone to abuse thanks to review bombing in both directions.) A wish list is very important to keep users informed of an opportunity to get their game at a discounted rate! I use this all the time, especially since I’m super frugal about my spending. Also, the lack of forums for sharing content or asking for help is rather disappointing because gamers want to share content, their feelings and even ask for help. There’s no real place to do that on the Epic Games store.

I’m already peeved about the lack of features and I absolutely don’t want to have another place to download my games from. I am, after all, inherently lazy. If Epic actually had some cool things and features, I might consider using it, but it really doesn’t, aside from the free offerings. What really makes me mad is how they steal developers away.

Exclusivity is a Problem

While I’m perfectly fine with Epic offering better deals for developers, depending on their contract, Epic may have forced them (developers or publishers) into a binding agreement which can affect distribution. By locking games into a certain platform, this is actually really bad for the developers, who want to reach a wider audience (and thus, more sales) and for us, the consumers.

A Brief History in Exclusives

Games were always limited by the platform. So it came as no surprise when gaming started to become more popular, so too were the number of platforms. Starting in the 90s, we were seeing fierce competition between Nintendo’s Super Nintendo and Sega’s Sega Genesis. There were games that were available to both consoles, like Mortal Kombat and Double Dragon, but each had their exclusives such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Sonic the Hedgehog. Entering the 3D gaming era, there was fierce competition between Nintendo’s Nintendo 64 and Sony’s PlayStation consoles, which means both companies now have to fight for software developers to publish on their console. Sony did not have the reputation that Nintendo had at the time, being that they exclusively made other electronics at the time and that Nintendo have their own brand published exclusively on their platform, so they really fought hard to secure deals with third party developers. For example, Final Fantasy developers Square (now Square Enix) used to publish on Nintendo consoles, but now they develop and publish for Sony. Due to these under the table deals, one can surmise that the amount of fanboyism between the consoles can be called the “Console Wars”.

Note that I did not even mention a peep about PC games. PC gaming is unique and thanks to the internet, it is very flexible. Because of that, PC gaming is very wide and can cover many things, ranging from typical CD programs to being played right from your browser! (This was one of the reasons why I went to from console gaming to PC gaming.)

Anyway, by locking a game into exclusivity, you have to run into the risk of seeing if your platform can reach the intended audience. There is a reason why that despite both EA and Ubisoft having their own original platforms to launch their games from, they also sell their games on Steam (while still linking their platform, of course!). Steam commands quite a monopoly over the PC gaming audience and for good reason too. If another game distribution platform (like GOG Galaxy, which features DRM-free downloads) offers really sweet things in return, Steam would be forced to improve their own platform as a result.

What does this mean for us?

As consumers, we have to be wary of this crap all the time. We’ve already seen it in the console market. If I see a game I want from a particular publisher (say, Super Mario Odyssey), I would be forced to pick up a Nintendo Switch if I don’t have one already. Consoles are bloody expensive, as you can see for the Nintendo Switch. (Affiliate link here. If you do buy something, I will get something in return. More at my Affiliate Disclosure. Also, I encourage you to search Amazon for the other consoles too!)

The fact that Epic Games chose to go down this path is rather disappointing but it raises a lot of eyebrows. This creates a false funnel that gives Epic Games nothing to go on once their Fortnite money runs out (not saying that it would, it is still a very popular game), which in turn does not create any value for us.

Consider this: because of its exclusivity deals, games like Metro Exodus can be charged at any amount Epic (or the developer/publisher) decides on! That’s because there are no competitors to force the pricing of the product! That’s not all either! We are also at the whim of the distributor because we may not be able to meet certain requirements for refund, if they offer any at all. After all, a good example of this is Bethesda’s Fallout 76, launched exclusively on their own platform where they refused to issue out a refund after their disastrous launch.

My take on the situation

This is just me, but I’m a peeved gamer. As I’ve said before, this is completely bullshit and I’m just calling them out on it. I don’t like being limited in my choices of buying games (especially if it allows me to shop around for awesome deals) and I think a bit of competition is a good thing. (Steam needs it anyway!) However, the way that Epic Games is going into creating that competition is the wrong way of creating that competition.

I won’t be buying from Epic Games anytime soon. (But because I’m a stickler for free games, I’ll pick up the free offerings that Epic posts anyway!) What’s your take? Reply in the comments below!

I Hate Loot Boxes and You Should Too. Here’s Why.

Posted 8 CommentsPosted in Gaming Bullshit

Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront 2 sparked a controversy that landed on the front page of Reddit and garnered the attention of at least 15 European countries and one American State. This got me thinking about recent events and how it has made me think about how this affected my enjoyment in gaming.

Remember that our goal is to reach financial independence and be happy. I remember falling in the loot box trap and how I almost spiraled into a non-stop gambling spree. I want to help you guys not do what I did.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are digital boxes that you open and you can randomly get cool prizes from it. The process of obtaining (or opening them) depends on the game, but it usually comes down to spending some actual real money to obtain one or a way to open one.

This wasn’t apparent before, but thanks to regulations in China and Japan, game developers now have to show gamers what their chances of getting their elusive prizes are. Let’s take a look at an example of these odds from a mobile game called Eternal Senia:

Loot box chances at Eternal Senia
These are ridiculous odds!

Unbelievable, eh? Not only that, these are just for types of cards alone! I can scroll even further and it will outline what the chances are for each card in the pool! So if I wanted to obtain a specific card, I only have a chance as low as 0.04% (after some rounding) of getting that card!

So let’s do some math. Let’s say you open 100 boxes. These boxes have the same rolls each time you open, which means that if you open another box after this current one, that box will have the same 0.04% chance of getting that card you want as this one.

Chances of you not getting your card when you open your box: 1 – (0.04/100) = 0.9996

Doing this 100 times: 0.9996^100 = 0.9608

Your chance of you getting that card in 100 tries: 1 – 0.9608 = 0.0392 → 0.000392%

Yep, these are really bad chances. Not only that these loot boxes have fancy celebratory animations that congratulate you for getting your nice loot! People love to be congratulated! They like to see the fancy things! We’re all prone to it, even though the screen just told you got crap! It’s frankly addictive!

Why is this a trap?

Bubble Hat.
I finally got a cool hat. But it’s BUBBLES. D:

When loot boxes first came out on Team Fortress 2, I was lured by the idea of having cool hats. And not just any cool hat either. It was a cool hat with cool effects. I’m a sucker for cosmetics and I’m not the only one. Lots of gamers love to customize everything about their game, which includes their characters. I spent almost $200 trying to get a hat with cool effects! I did get one eventually, but I was never happy, because I didn’t get that cool effect I wanted. This was made before the mandatory laws for developers to show all of their loot chances! I had no idea what I was going into! It wasn’t pure disappointment either though, I showed off my hats a lot while I was playing, but I could never get rid of that sour feeling. I will say this that this was a bad investment.

While cosmetics aren’t too bad on that scale, as it did not affect gameplay (unless your computer is garbage) there are many games with loot boxes that featured gameplay changing elements. These are very apparent in a lot of games developed in Asian countries, like Korea and Japan (whose marketed audience is in the mobile industry). Usually these features grant you a huge advantage if you get one of the rarest findings offered in the game. This really ticked off many players because it erased the value and concept of progression in the game. This encouraged a system where players with big wallets (affectionately called “whales”) would just throw money at the developers to eventually get that rare game-breaking drop. Star Wars Battlefront 2 has gotten this phenomena exposed to the whole world.

Also, loot boxes of today tend to have these nice flashy graphics with slot like mechanics that allowed you to watch how close your desired loot escapes your clutches. Here’s the shocking truth of this: your prize is already predetermined. Most likely you are already set to lose.

I absolutely hate them.

I hate, hate, hate loot boxes. People don’t understand why I hate them so I shall outline it here.

I hate that when I play against someone who has won something that I wanted, I go into a green fit of envy. I can’t get my prize otherwise either by earning it, or the not so bad option, buying it directly.

I get angry when I get wrecked in a game that has interesting and deep mechanics and I found out my opponent has a piece of gear that I cannot get elsewhere. My hard work in progression is ruined because someone has cheesed through certain spots that I still have trouble with because of a game-breaking piece of gear.

I abhor the idea of buying my way through progression because in a game that doesn’t feature player versus player has a turtle-like pace of manually grinding to the next stage. I am encouraged to buy and if I wanted to progress, I either have to rely on outrageous luck to win (if I refuse to buy) or buy for a significantly better chance of winning.

I don’t like how these flashy graphics get my hopes up for something that already tells me I lost. I don’t like losing. Or rather, I don’t like paying money for something to tell me that I lost. Every purchase you do should tell you that you’re a winner and a worthy prize at that.

What can you do to avoid this?

It’s actually much simpler than you think. Just don’t buy them. For some people it’s already harder than it sounds.

If you’re already stuck in the trap, I have to urge you to pull out. Think of it this way: loot boxes are very much like gambling at a slot machine. It is actually frightening that you can get trapped into a loop that you will never win and never get your investment back. The fact that there are mechanics like this in a hobby meant for children is absolutely terrifying. If you imagine yourself like pulling a slot machine, maybe that can help you. Remember this: if you try to win your money’s worth back, you’ll never get it back. You lost those dollars in the slot machine. It’s better to spend them to make them work for you.

Now that the government is getting involved, I also highly urge you to talk to your local representative and ask them what they are doing about this. Get active and involved. Implore that future generations are getting hooked into gambling and they don’t know it. (Ok, really, we’re looking out for ourselves here, but hey helping others not falling into this trap is rather convincing to get others to rally to our cause!)

Loot boxes are the bane of any financially savvy gamer.

It is hard to believe that we are being introduced to such a costly consumable, especially to young children who are coming to follow in our footsteps! For any concerned gamer parent out there, it’s best to keep these out of their hands. I wanted you guys to know my story as to why I hate loot boxes. I fell into the trap of gambling for nothing and it has cost me a lot. There are some people who spent over $10 000 on these!

Please share to your friends and family! I just wanted to get this out there!

But don’t worry, I hope you still stick around. The next few posts will be more informative and instructional. 😉