Tag Archives: Scott Butterworth

To emphasize ‘flawed’

There are all kinds of issues playing. Murdoch who admits that they benefitted from hacked emails (so what else is new), the call for the leadership of the Tories or even more annoying the battering ram of North Korean rants and counter rants and the nauseating gossip train of the Las Vegas shooter. All of that is worth a few dozen words, yet in my mind, in light of yesterday’s view of IP and gaming IP, I think it is clear that a few more words need to be spend on the category, but now on a different field.

IP is at the heart of the matter, but now we will look at another side. For those who have had a view of games and gaming, many will remember the awesome trilogy called Mass Effect. Those who went through the growth of the Xbox 360 brand will have been aware of the Mass effect trilogy, there is no way escaping it. The first one gave us something new and exciting. When we consider the Elder Scrolls and the Fallout games, we were clearly introduced to a competitor in this field and Mass Effect delivered something new, 2007 became an almost magical year. Then something new happened, in 2010 we saw the sequel, a sequel that is still regarded as one of the best RPG games that the Xbox 360 ever received. I will skip the final part in all this. So in this history, you might understand that the expectations were so high (perhaps too high) for Mass Effect Andromeda. The people at Bioware had 5 years to get it right and they failed. The game was flawed on several levels and even as we need to accept that it is not a bad game, the utter quality of Mass Effect 2 was not equalled, not by a long shot. I am not alone, many reviewers saw the game as one that does not equal the initial trilogy and even now, the interest of a remastered original trilogy is desired a lot more than Andromeda is. I finally played the game, I was unwilling to pay the full amount after being shown the most basic of glitches and issues, but when offered as a new (not pre-owned) game for $25, I gave it a go. So as I have finished the game in a week, I concur, the game is flawed on several levels. I am not going into the animation and graphic glitches, too many did this. The game from the beginning shows a flawed approach to several sides. Now, it is shown in the initial level, a level which I usually ignore as it tends to be an intro level as to train the gamer how to play the game. So after the intro movie (which is actually quite brilliant) we get to go to the first place. Here we see the impact of flaws. So after 650 years in travel we get to a planet and whatever they have we can use to reload our own weapons. We see a new opposing player and that is fine, yet the battle strategy, the weapons, the resources show us a flaw from the very core onwards. Ammunition is the clearest part, but it goes beyond that. The Nexus, the entire evolution that we play through, we can go two ways here. Either the game should have been a lot bigger with a lot more to do to grow us into the nexus and locations, or live with the assumption jumps that were made, jumps that were wrong on a few levels (as I personally see it). Now, we need to accept that things like this happen in action games and shooters, because the focus of such a game is different. Yet in RPG you can’t get away with it. The plot does not thicken, but the elements get to be a lot more questionable. The Salarian ark and the Turian ark are just on the surface of that. When we get confronted with those elements in the story we see the flaws grow. Patched stories for the sake of whatever they thought it was going to be. So when we see (from Wiki) “Mass Effect: Andromeda required a team of over 200 developers and, according to Aaryn Flynn, was given a total budget of C$100 million, which included marketing and research costs.” we get the first realisation on the bungled level of a game. My initial personal design (concept) of the sequel to Skyrim took less than an hour to construct in my mind and an additional 4-5 hours to type. So I got to be in a much better place from the get go. Now, do not take my word for it, because you never should. So instead I am going to introduce you to a group of 20 people, not having anywhere near such a budget. The team is Unknown Worlds Entertainment and their take on RPG with Subnautica is one of the best, one of the most refreshing (all that water helps) and amazing trips I have had in my lifetime of gaming. I hope that this game makes it to the PS4 and if it is still available on Xbox live in early release do it because it will be the best $30 you are likely to spend this year. The comparison is important because even in its non-final stage Mass Effect does not get close to what Subnautica has already delivered. OK, granted that if shooting is your need in Mass Effect, Subnautica might not be for you, but overall Subnautica kicks Mass Effects ass on several fronts. Three programmers outshine the dozens that Mass Effect had and that is just embarrassing. If you want to learn more take a look at IGP (the Indie Game Promoter) who (at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheIndieGamePromoter) has all kinds of videos. So take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgyCiWXPZzE&index=76&list=PLVxH6E2fftrfbnmjYAXXiCJJwleb-HZvB for a first view of the game which gives a view almost two years before the final release. You want to skip to 1:45 and skip to the start of the game. The game is very much the truest view of RPG as they can get. So the intro is not as flash as Andromeda is, but that is the only time Mass Effect wins. Now, as stated, this is not a shooter, so be aware of that. The part that should amaze you is that this game is more about survival and the basic survivalist edge is often ignored by many RPG’s.

So as I am giving you a parallel on the skips of Mass Effect and also ‘story lining‘ of Mass Effect, we need to dig a little further. Now in their defence at times we cannot prevent that in the case of Mass Effect, but consider that after a trip for over 600 years, we get to aid certain players (Salarians) ‘just’ in the nick of time. This is an issue on a few levels.

Also even as we accept that many bought it soon and the game had sales close to three quarter of a billion, which is a financial success, it comes at the realisation that the game scores 72% which at the budget given is a massive flaw, yet here I will admit that the shooting side of the game is as some stated it: “The core shooting mechanics feel stronger here than anywhere else in the series“, which was made by Scott Butterworth of Gamespot and he is right, this part they did do very well and it is likely the one reason why the game remained the financial success it has turned out to be.

Yet the QA was far below par, the delivery was wrong and in the end I personally profited by getting a decent game for $25, a mere 6 months after release. So consider how this game could have gotten closer to the $1 billion mark by getting things right? An additional twice the investment by thinking things through and properly testing it from the start, and not even requiring to think too intelligent; the basic story line debated on the flaws that they needed to avoid from after the intro level onwards. Consider that the ‘Salarian Ark’ event became a basic shooting mission, whilst it optionally represented dozens of hours of additional gameplay on several levels. So apart from the timing as a ‘just in the nick of times‘ mission that is underused and oversold, we see that the other Arks become mere wasted moments in the game. In a place that has so many shortages, leaving behind an ark that has thousands of tonnes of resources seems weird, even if it does not have any lives left. It is not as the Nexus had an abundance of resources, did it? So there we see more, just after a setting that had a revolt, shortages and deviant issues, we see every time the Tempest comes and go’s (too often because of other flaws) we see that the docking level shows an environment that equals the embassy level of the citadel itself, all missed options and opportunities. There we see the option of an additional 10% score if it was done and properly tested. So now we get from 72% to 82%. Then there is the premise that this is a game with only 5 worlds to fix?

There could have been a few more, and more important, changing the way the vaults were accessed on at least one world might have made the game a little less obvious (to some extent). So here we have another 5% in the making, making the game approaching a 90% game, which is a given need when you waste 5 years and a hundred million. Subnautica, when you like that part of RPG gaming is giving you at 25% of the full price of the Mass Effect game. A game that was already awesome when I decided to get it and whilst playing the early release, the game added at least 4 more expansions to the main game and they are now part of the main game. In one part Mass Effect wins. The graphics, there is no denying that the graphics of Mass Effect were really good, but we might see that an additional 80 staff members (and 90 million more) should guarantee that part. All this and as we know that RPG’s are set over time, so we can accept that growing the impact over time as we play might have given a few more options and a few more changes to the way that the game was played, giving the gamer a better game (and optionally a much larger game).

So as I have enlightened you on some of the flawed parts, there is now the link to the previous article to set. The longevity of a game as well as the IP is the sellable part of any developed game and in that part Subnautica is all about original IP and they got the IP to grow value, loads of value. Even as we see that Mass Effect is to some extent more of the same, they did grow their IP range, but only to a fraction of Subnautica. This now gets us to the setting that is the link. In the digital age the value of the service purchased is the money we invest in the product we thought we bought. You see, as gaming progresses, we see a dependency and as such we no longer buy the property, but we lease it in some ways and rent it in other ways. The gaming industry has no choice but to set the multiplayer sides into a renting foundation (buying with an open point or termination), whilst the single playing part (the missions) will be leased for the term of the console. Now consider the satisfaction you get from leasing a game that is rated at 72%. Are you willing to go on paying the amounts we see? At this point I have now shown you the essential need to properly test a game before release. You see, it is shown in the quote that several sources gave. With: “Following Mass Effect: Andromeda’s poor critical reception and lacklustre sales, BioWare put the Mass Effect series “on ice”“. So even as we saw some sources state a sales numbers surpassing $500 million whilst there was $100 million invested, so either the numbers given were wrong, or we see the impact of greed as others walk away from a $400 million milk cow. In that part, what were the true costs and why would any company walk away from a possible $100-$250 million in season pass revenue. This part and the issues had shown from several sources that the detrimental financial health of IP and IP value is shown to be at least to a larger part to be due to the flawed quality of proper testing. Ubisoft has been though it (Assassins Creed Unity) and as we see Bioware and Electronic Arts walking away from half a billion dollars, we need to consider beyond games and the value of a gamer, we need to see that the impact of IP is not set in stone and the quality of the product (or service) is at the foundation of what we think we purchase and what we expect to receive. In this there is the clear evidence of the flawed product that is Mass Effect Andromeda and the weird part is that I saw the flaw in the first hour of the game. This now sets the premise of the wrong players (read: business parties) that were in charge within Bioware and Electronic Arts. It is my personal believe that their marketing division has either too large a vote and they looked at the wrong sides of the game. This in a setting of a 100 million invested, how weird is that?

So now we get the treasure that the Cullens, Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys give us on their web site. With “Whether buying or selling a business one of the most overlooked aspects of the transaction is the intellectual property of the business. Proper identification, scrutiny and valuation of intellectual property will have benefits for both the purchaser and vendor“. It is the issue that is really the bread and butter of growing game developers. In this the word business can mean either that or it can be set to ‘product’ or ‘service’ and the realisation of this quote which is not new, shows just how flawed (or sloppy) Mass Effect Andromeda turned out to be. Now, we look at the bad sides here, but the game has loads of good sides too. Yet it missed the boat by at least 20% (72%, instead of 92%) and I lighted up 15% in the easiest of ways. The last part we see when we dig into the world of the game testers. Now I can relate here, because I reviewed and tested games for the better part of a decade. My knowledge and skills showed me the parts I illuminated and I truly believe that there are better testers than me, so that implies that none of them work for either Electronic Arts or Bioware which is statistically near impossible, so that means that the large investment was made on a flawed infrastructure, or at least that is as I personally see it. You see, the old joke (from when I was young) has been that it takes 90% of the time to fix the last 10% of a project. At some point highly educated graduates were hired in places where the foundation of art is the core of the business and they introduced the setting of ‘linearity’ of art based projects. So that a project is done at 10% a month and the last two months of the year were for testing, which is not how it works and not how it will ever work. Now, I simplified the idea for illustration, so it is not an exact given, but the clarity of flaws that Mass Effect Andromeda shows on day one of release gives the validity of my view and shows just how breached the concept of design linearity is (perhaps you remember the Ubisoft statement of ‘every year a new Assassins Creed game’). As such, I believe that the game lost out on massive revenues.

Now consider the two headlines:

Bringing Mass Effect to a new galaxy isn’t quite the shot in the arm the series needed” or “Blown away in another universe 640 years later“. The first is IGN and the second one is one I came up with, if they had done a proper job. So would you buy the game if you read ‘isn’t quite the shot‘? Gamespot had “After the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was discouraged“, whilst Forbes gave us “I don’t think anyone will claim it outclasses the original trilogy, outside of maybe the very first game“, so a new game merely on par with a game released a decade ago. This is the setting of a flawed product and the fact that this was not seen in the beta stage of the game is questionable. So in an age of digital rights that are moving more and more from the permanent availability into a stage of temporary usage, where we no longer get to own the product, yet merely lease (read: rent) a product also requires others to realise that the game of gaming is shifting, and these players can only continue if they ‘up the quality’ of the product or service they make available. This shows in one way just how amazing a game like Skyrim is proving to be, the fact that the game still embraces gamers 6 years later whilst Electronic Arts loses the bulk of value of a product within 26 weeks. That is the evidence that shows that flaws are becoming a much larger issue for all in these fields and it shows that the players like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and others as well, need to take a harsh look at what they offer and not merely listen to their own marketeers as the value of what they bring forth is now shifting whilst a product is in development, which is the third nail in the coffin for Electronic Arts as it took 5 years to get to a very much less than perfect place they ended up. I believe that the flawed setting can be improved upon, yet the people at Bioware better realise that the stakes are raised and they are raised by a lot, in that we need to ask whether they can match the needs of a shifted market.

I cannot answer for them, and like Nintendo Electronic Arts and Bioware are not out of the game. You see, even as Nintendo bungled the WiiU, they hit back with the Nintendo Switch, which is becoming a game changer in gaming. I believe that both Electronic Arts and Bioware can do the same, the question is whether they will, time (read: the next release) will tell. Should that fail, they could always move forward by charging their fans an additional $10 for a steel box of a game. Oh wait, they are already doing that with FIFA18, ahhh how the world turns!

 

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