The Effects of Cosmetic Sales, Free Updates and Paid DLC

As players grind levels for loot boxes in Overwatch, I assume Blizzard works hard on their promise of free DLC. They fund free updates with revenue from selling randomized loot boxes of items already in the base game. Even after the retail sale, Blizzard wants players to spend even more by locking dozens of skins and emblems.

Some people may not qualify skins as content, but it does affect the value of a game. Item rarity takes from Overwatch's already thin launch package, and questions the effects of free DLC plans. Cosmetic marketplaces keep the community at the same version of game, yet it adds an item grind not found with paid DLC plans.

In Battlefield 4, players must pay for more content, but in Overwatch players can also invest time. The maps, weapons and vehicles in each Battlefield DLC also bundle camouflage variants, weapons skins and new emblems. The skins and emblems DICE considers as "extras" in each DLC, Blizzard positions as the main source for paid content. If players don't buy loot boxes, then they must invest time to level up, all the while performing at a high level. There are no experience boosts or quests rewards, it comes down to performance, time and luck.

Multiplayer User Retention and Skill Ceilings

For the first time in almost a decade, a new Halo sustains a healthy, active player base. Josh Holmes, 343 Industries studio head, says Halo 5: Guardians' player retention is the best since Halo 3. While each Halo iteration sells millions, both Halo: Reach and Halo 4 saw its player population nose dive a few months after launch. Halo 5 lives post launch because of the one characteristic many multiplayer games lack: skill gaps.

Developers roll out regular, sometimes free, content updates for their games, but content alone won't satisfy your player base. Halo 4 released regular map packs with free Spartan Ops missions every week. Raptr, a once console gameplay tracker, conducted a case study on Halo 4 and the hours logged during Spartan Ops releases. Despite the free missions each week, they failed to stop the plummeting playtime. In December, a month after launch, Halo 4's weekly playtime dropped from 400,000 hours to just below 168,000 by the end of January. While a drop-off makes sense post holidays, a month later it plummeted again to just above 110,000 hours. Regardless of the combination of free content and paid DLC, the total hours played dropped faster than in Halo: Reach.

Competitive games like DOTA 2, League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, sees stability and even growth in their population because of competitive skill gaps. High skill ceiling games separate average players from the best players, but it also encourages practice. No one wants to get worse at a game, and so they return to - at the very least - perform to their ability. There's an addictive quality in competing, and an even greater feeling when competing at a high level.

Competition breeds player investment, yet it won't matter if the game lacks in quality. I don't attribute much to review scores or aggregate score websites like Metacritic, but they do mean something. Positive reviews for Halo 4 and Halo: Reach at least indicates a positive reception at launch. I can't quantify the quality of either game or even Halo 4's post launch content. All I can say is: I played most of Halo 4's DLC and I enjoyed it, but I didn't play between content releases. To keep players invested, games require both a combination of exciting content and challenging mechanics.

Video Games Journalism Isn't Worth It, Especially for Canadians

The video games press operates in a doomed state. As the video game industry grows, the rate for writers shrinks. On average, a writer earns $150 per article. A feature length article with interviews takes days or weeks to complete. Interview transcription alone takes hours to sift through. If a writer somehow manages to publish one feature article every other business day, the rate means an annual salary of $19,500. You can compare the near poverty rates of many press outlets with this crowdsourced Google Doc spreadsheet.

One well edited spreadsheet later, I've decided to abandon a career in games press. It's a scary, uncomfortable decision I never wanted to make. I worked for years to become a permanent member of the press, yet industry circumstance forces me to adapt. Writers accept the criminal rates for the experience and hope for a better opportunity. But as the spreadsheet shows, a better opportunity doesn't mean a sustainable career choice. 

Review: Halo 5: Guardians - Playing to Strengths (campaign only)

You can't blame one game as the catalyst for turning the Halo story into a convoluted mess. Halo 4 introduces the Didact as the new antagonist, yet his inconsequential actions create a circular story. In Halo 3, the Flood army changes sides more times than the Italians during World War 2. Regardless of what happens, somewhere in the galaxy, Covenant and Prometheans forces await the Master Chief's arrival. They wait for you to shoot them.

Halo 5: Guardians re-threatens the entire galaxy because we need a reason to shoot aliens. Not much motivates a faceless, robot-like character to risk his life to save everyone, again. To push Master Chief aside, 343 Industries brought in new characters - Spartan Locke and the rest of Fireteam Osiris. But even four new major characters can't define urgency in Halo 5's story. It doesn't matter why Master Chief and Spartan Locke shoot the Prometheans and Covenant - it stopped mattering. Halo 5: Guardians adds long overdue adjustments to movement and weapons to renovate what matters most: gunplay. And the evolution of Halo's core gameplay will last longer than any convoluted space opera about saving the galaxy.  

Review: Until Dawn - A Sort of Butterfly Effect

My mom loves watching stupid teenagers die. I'm not talking about real teenagers, just the ones in slasher films. She loves watching the deranged murderer observe the isolated forest cabin from afar. If a cell phone battery dies or car won't start, then she's watching the right film. She guided me through the first scene of Until Dawn, making the decisions as I controlled the characters. Instead of investigating the strange noise on the branching path, she directed me to the path of footprints. Until Dawn's deliberate use of horror tropes means it doesn't demand logic, it encourages idiocy.

Each character's fate depends on whether or not you want them to fulfill their horror film destiny. The meathead jock doesn't need to die in a bout of pointless heroics - unless you want him to. Each decision affects the characters, yet the decisions don't affect the story. Regardless of who lives or dies in Until Dawn, the murderer's identity and the storyline remains the same. Until Dawn's thrill in controlling the fate of endangered teenagers excites curiosity to see alternate outcomes. But it's the second playthrough that exposes the meager impact of the supposed pivotal story points.

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