The Dollar Debate: Cost Per Hour In Video Games

Green Man Gaming inflamed the video game review world with its cost per hour metric, but it’s not really a bad idea.

Green Man Gaming Logo
(Image Credit to Green Man Gaming, retrieved from their official Brand Assets page)

A little-used online gaming store called Green Man Gaming released a hotly debated metric for its consumers last week: Average Cost Per Hour. According to Matt Kim from US Gamer, the metric is determined by the price of the game at the time someone views it divided by the average number of hours Steam connected users of Green Man Gaming have played the game. It goes without saying that, as a statistical measure, this metric is highly flawed. For one thing, this a volunteer sample and is not at all representative of all players of the game. It’s not even representative of Green Man Gaming players of the game which might be a more helpful metric considering that consumers using Green Man Gaming may share goals and perspectives. For another, Steam hardly, if ever, accurately tracks the amount of time a player spends in game and using current price as opposed to the price when purchased ignores the impact of investment on motivation to play. I can’t be the only person who’s spent more time in a game simply because it was more expensive for me. The list of qualms with this particular metric could run through this entire article, but instead of talking about how bad this particular version of the metric is for games, as was done in practically every major article covering it, I’d rather discuss how an average cost per hour metric could be useful.

I know what you’re thinking, “Useful? How could something that practically every major article believes distorts our understanding of a game’s value be useful? Doesn’t it harm developers and encourage the inclusion of time padding in otherwise succint and engaging experiences?” and yes, it does do all those things… in its current form on Green Man Gaming and in our current gaming culture. But have some imagination, this metric serves an obvious purpose! Not every gamer has a limitless pool of financial resources, and gaming is already far more expensive and specialized than practically every other entertainment medium out there! Finding ways to make gaming more accessible, like the explosion of the mobile market did, is critical for games to continue to develop as an artform. Yes, that’s right, more consumers and producers will make games a more mature artform, so giving an accurate average cost per hour metric could bolster our communities and platforms. There are many ways you could alter a flat average cost per hour into something more helpful.

Green Man Gaming - Stats and Facts
(Image credit to Green Man Gaming, retrieved from their official Moonlighter product page)

Why not, for instance, create a value based rating system as opposed to a nebulous review score structure? The calculation for this rating system would be Appraised Game Value = Hours Enjoyed × Personal Cost Per Hour and Value Per Hour = Appraised Game Value ÷ Hours Played. For example, let’s say you bought a $60 game that you’ve played for 20 hours but every hour you played was abysmal and you regret the time and money you spent. That game’s really worth $0 after your appraisal, so the value per hour (what the game should cost) comes out to $0 an hour. If you enjoyed all 20 hours of the game, that’s a $3 value per hour, and if you enjoyed 15 hours of the game that’s a $2.25 value per hour.  A value per hour rating system could then be compared with a cost per hour metric to aid in purchasing decisions. This eliminates the issue of cost per hour being used as a value system, and the meaningless “out of ten” reviews we’re all familiar with. This rating system also leaves room for higher order recommendations in the form of impressions, ordered lists, full scale analyses, etc. by separating the consumptive value of a game from its artistic merit.

Now on to fixing that pesky cost per hour metric. First off, self reporting is wildly inaccurate and Steam counts hours spent downloading and updating software in proprietary launchers, adjusting settings in menu, and many other superfluous moments into its record. What a cost per hour metric requires is an in-game timer like the one in Pokémon games and an “Are you still playing?” stop screen like the one used on Netflix. This wouldn’t eliminate every problem and is obviously a far way off (good luck trying to standardize all that) but it would drastically improve our data quality. Once we had that improved data collected in a publicly accessable forum, all sorts of demographic information could stratify the data according to the users needs. Imagine a Spotify style Discovery playlist that suggests games to you based on the playing habits of those with a similar library or similar favorite games! Imagine a specialized, social media style feed that performs a similar function. That, however, is beyond the point. Users could select which consumers to include in a cost per hour analysis or defer to an algorithmically generated analyis that matchs the user to those with similar tastes or view the full analysis that includes every player in the system. Each of these choices would give valuable information, but the order in which they’re arranged is important. I believe the default cost per hour metric should be blank and request you add users to track and only give the full player base or algorithmic analysis upon request. This would disuade the use of such a subjective measure of the game as objective and improve the metric itself as users develop it to reflect their own desires. Certainly a metric like that would be integral to purchasing decisions and celebrated/critiqued into fitness!

Despite all this, it is important to remember that even a value per hour score doesn’t relate every bit of critical information on a game. For a player, playing a game is like eating food. Appraised value and value per hour are to games almost what calorie content is to a meal. In both cases, that metric is terribly important for those with little to spend and degrades as a measure of utility as financial resources swell. Other methods of games criticism tell us more nuanced information like which ingredients were used, where those ingredients came from, how their flavors interact, and more, but no food critic has ever bemoaned a calorie count for degrading the value of their assessments. We shouldn’t let our critics either.

Besides, they must be a little impressed… Why else would they give a little-recognized retailer such great publicity coverage?

Steam Sale Snatches!

It’s hard to escape the rush of the Steam Summer Sale. Every year thousands of gamers spend their hard earned cash on digital downloads in the hopes that they’ll find some diamonds in Steam’s mountains of rough. With only $8.00 in my hands, I may have found some hidden gems, but these games are only what you make of them. Enjoy!

Best of Show – FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Sale Price: $2.49
  • Current Price: $9.99

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not just borderline criminal that I’ve slept on this game for five years, it’s an intergalactically recorded hate crime that warrants an entire rebel fleet on my tail in the most faithfully science fiction and brilliantly realized Rogue-ish game on the market. In Faster Than Light, you’re the captain and crew of the Kestrel, or the Torus, or whatever spacecraft you desire as you flee the Rebel fleet with valuable information for the Federation. It’s like playing as the Tantive IV, if Darth Vader was a series of drones, invaders, and hull fires, and Leia Organa was a Starfleet captain. Filled with classic sci-fi set pieces like derelict spaceships brimming with fungus, distress signals from failing space stations, many other lifeforms including mantis and robotic peoples, and more, FTL is a science fiction experience unrivaled even by the likes of No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous. Although minimal on the graphics side of the things, Faster Than Light delivers on great space adventures in a way no other game I’ve played has. If you haven’t heard of this game already, you must be living in the Outer Rim, and at $2.49 it was well worth the purchase price.

Underexposed Nostalgia Trip – Powernaut VANGARDT

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  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $1.99

I managed to find Alex Hall’s little ode to the Gameboy era of punishing platformers while scrolling through the lowest priced games in the Steam Summer Sale. Powernaut VANGARDT takes design, narrative, and visual elements from games as successful as Metroid, Mega Man, and Dark Souls and repackages them into an inconspicuous bundle of raw nostalgia. Spiky enemies, doors to each room, and spaceship bases should immediately remind players of Metroid, but the “lemon” and charged attacks coupled with the difficulty scream Mega Man to me. That’s not to mention the Dark Souls cloned DNA system (with DNA instead of Souls and home ships instead of bonfires) that allows the player to customize their abilities a bit for the road ahead and also helps them make sense of the open world the game is set in. From inputting game save passwords without the help of the keyboard, to nail biting but entirely fair platforming segments that made me die time and again, Powernaut VANGARDT took me many years back to playing Gameboy in my grandmother’s basement. The excited drive that leads to thumbing through cheat booklets for password codes and failing despite their aid rushed back, and I played Powernaut VANGARDT for hours until I beat it’s first boss: a big ol’ spider. P. S. Bring a can of Raid to Skaridurk Woods; you’ll need it.

Arcade Diversion – Handsome Mr. Frog
(Image credit to Cowboy Color, retrieved by Birb Friends via nVidia GeForce Experience capture)


  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $0.99

Handsome Mr. Frog was another bargain bin catch. It’s a Mario Bros. style arcade platformer with a Yoshi/Kirby gulp and spit mechanic that plays quite well with the jumping. To defeat the enemies you can pick up crates or other enemies and spit them towards each other, but the level design is underwhelming and at some points seems downright lazy. Regardless, there’s something undeniably charming about that handsome frog. You can collect hats along the way and there are little items that boost your score (there is a competitive leaderboard) but that’s about all. Handsome Mr. Frog was a cute and enjoyable diversion worth the $0.49 I paid for it, but I don’t think its revolutionary. In fact, most of the games on this list are derivative instead of inventive…

Platforming Meets Lateral Thinking – Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers
  • Sale Price: $0.99
  • Current Price: $9.99

Now this is inventive! Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has a ridiculous Adventure Time-esque premise with a post-apocalyptic setting and a young inventor searching for his grandfather’s pants. The fun cartoon style doesn’t help the resemblance to Adventure Time and even the handheld gaming simulations felt a little too Beemo to me. Beyond that, the addition of a laser cutting tool to help you make platforms, a rope to pull them, and a rocket to push them means incredible physics/platforming challenges can await! I haven’t played much of the game just yet, but from what I’ve seen it’s at least worth the money I paid and maybe even the standard price! If you love 3D platformers, Adventure Time humor, and you’re looking for a new IP, this might be your game.

Walking Simulators, Now In 2D! – Beeswing
  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $4.99

Beeswing is a walking simulator set in the game designer’s rural home town in Scotland. The whole game is drawn on paper with what appears to be marker that, set against an often foreboding soundtrack, gives the game an uneasy atmosphere. I’ve played about 30 minutes of Beeswing and I still don’t know what to make of it. The conversations that take place in game are more revealing and psychologically angled than most other games which gives them a sort of depth uncommon, or perhaps more often unnoticed, in everyday talk. Walk around the place, read some flavor text, and solve some of the townspeople’s problems. There doesn’t seem to be much else to do! It’s a coming home story not too unlike Night in the Woods, and there’s definitely something to enjoy here for the right people.

What did you think of my finds? What did you buy this Steam Summer Sale? Let me know in the comments below! See you next time, Birbies!

Birb Friends Review: Attack the Light (iOS)

Attack the Light is a light RPG for iOS and Android that’s set in the Steven Universe… universe… and has gameplay similar to the Paper Mario series. In the game, you’ll move around 5 different color themed worlds as you literally “attack the light” monsters that exist there. The game was released in 2015 by Grumpyface Studios to critical acclaim and will be followed up shortly by Save the Light, a console RPG for modern systems with similar gameplay, a wider world, and 8 characters to choose from for your party of 4. Attack the Light is available for the measly sum of $2.99.

To detail my experiences with Attack the Light, I’ve prepared a scoring system in which certain aspects of the game are weighted more than others. I’ve separated the system into two primary scores: Technical Proficiency and Artistic Proficiency. Each score will be explained below and numerous subscores from which they are derived will be supported with qualitative evidence. Please note that all scores are out of 100 and 50 is the benchmark for the average title on the market. A 50 is NOT a bad score, it’s an average score.

Available Now - Attack the Light
(Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Grumpyface Studios official blog)
Technical Proficiency: 69/100

Technical Proficiency is a combined score composed of three main scores: Visuals, Sound, and Controls. This score is meant to detail the spectacle of the experience and how well the sensory artists and programmers crafted the game.

Overall Visuals Score: 69.5/100

Garnet's Gauntlets - Attack the Light
Garnet squishes a bug with a mighty punch. (Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Attack the Light’s official iTunes page)
  • Style Score: 40/100
  • Animation Score: 74/100
  • Purpose Score: 82/100

Steven Universe has a very particularly style. It’s hyper shaded backgrounds with their sparing diversity in color, chalked outlines, and ornate geometric texturing could only come from Steven Sugar himself… or perhaps a 90’s magical girl anime. Attack the Light takes these pieces of art, and the simpler art of Steven Universe’s character design, and throws them in the frying pan, rendering them down until all the fat is off and only the essentials remain. While we are reunited with certain locales from the early episodes of the show, it’s not enough to bolster what the art lost. In the end, while Attack the Light’s style feels remarkably true to the show design, it’s visuals are bland and fails to catch the eye or remain in the memory very long. Enemy design suffers from the same lack of detail, and falls prey to the same fate. For this reason, Attack the Light receives a 40/100 as its style score.

Attack the Light’s animations fair considerably better. Each of the Crystal Gems express themselves in a direct match with their television counterparts, giving needed character to the experience. The many attacks that the Gems can use against the light enemies are varied and interesting as well. Their timing feels just right as you tap the screen to secure bonuses for each ability. Enemies have similarly pleasing animations. Ramming beetles, stinging scorpions, puffing fish, and burrowing moles are just a few of the light creatures that make an animated appearance. While Attack the Light could always have better animations, they’re good enough to earn a 74/100 in the animation category.

With Attack the Light’s Paper Mario styled, turn based, reflex action combat it’s very important that the player can see what’s happening at all times. If they can’t see, they won’t be able to react properly to the game! Luckily, the simple style of Attack the Light means that every interaction is plain to see. What’s more, a large star that surrounds the character an attack targets appears right before the player has to reactivate their ability to clearly communicate that to the player. When characters are injured, poisoned, burning, or otherwise, they take on varied stances and colors to let the player know as well. My only misgiving in terms of visual purpose is the reused room layouts. Some room designs that previously lead to another area from certain directions may not in a different context. This can be frustrating with out a map function. That being said, the small, helpful additions (as well as the proper animations) give Attack the Light an 82/100 in the visual purpose category.

Overall Sound Score: 48.89/100

  • Music Score: 50/100
  • Sound Effects Score: 45/100
  • Variety Score: 60/100

I’ve often described Steven Universe as what Dragonball Z would have been if it was also a musical about life. You wouldn’t know that from this score, which is quite the disappointment (or reason for rejoice, depending on your viewpoint). Attack the Light has a synth heavy, standard soundtrack with no particularly outstanding tracks. Light and sweet, the music captures what made Steven Universe tick in its earlier seasons but it fails to open up towards the emotional and developmental heights the show has now reached. Aivi and Surasshu are talented composers who’s work, along with show creator Rebecca Sugar’s, has made Steven Universe one of the shows to watch for all ages. Grumpyface composer Dustin Bozovich didn’t quite pull that off for Attack the Light, but it’s a fine soundtrack all the same. For that reason, it receives a 50/100 as its music score.

While most of the sound effects in Attack the Light are not only functional but whimsically representative of Steven Universe and allusive to its mythos, many begin to grate on my nerves after playing for awhile. I can only stand to hear the words “Cheeseburger Backpack!” enthusiastically proclaimed so many times in a row before I turn the sound effects off. Quips of the same nature find there way out of each character’s mouth until, before you know it, you’re swimming in Steven Universe fan-pleasing soup and you can only eat so much. The sound effects are functional and some, such as Garnet’s punch, are even reminiscent of older, crunchier sound times when computers couldn’t handle the power characters were dishing out. For this, Attack the Light receives a 45/100 in the sound effect category. Excessively harsh? On my ears, maybe.

As for variety, most of the sound effects are fairly similar which caused a repetition issue. The music, on the other hand, has enough diversity to lift the sinking ship. Some tracks have low bass components, others have distant guitar riffs. I would have like even more variety however, but with a length of only 6 hours the game can only pack in so much. For these reasons, Attack the Light receives a 60/100 in the aural variety category.

Overall Controls Score: 87.22/100

Purple Puma Pound - Attack the Light
The Purple Puma drops a bow on an angler fish as Garnet stands shocked at his prowess. (Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Attack the Light’s official iTunes page)
  • Controller Score: 85/100
  • Responsiveness Score: 100/100
  • Functionality Score: 80/100

Attack the Light is a mobile game and, like most mobile games, can only be controlled by touch. From my experience with Attack the Light, the touch screen of a sixth generation iPod Touch worked well enough for the experience. On other devices, the touch screen may not be as receptive and functional a controller. I couldn’t help but think that a controller with a d-pad would have given me a cleaner experience with less input mistakes. Despite that, Attack the Light can be played to completion with the touch controls without much hassle. For this it receives an 85/100 as its controller score.

In an action oriented game like Attack the Light, its important that there’s as little lag between the player’s input and the game’s action as possible. From my experiences, any lag time between the player input and the game action is negligible and has no impact on gameplay. This may vary on less powerful devices or if you are running the Android version of the game. For these reasons, Attack the Light receives a 100/100 for its responsiveness score.

There were some issues in terms of functionality with Attack the Light’s control scheme. At some moments, I found it hard to select Pearl, in particular, because of her slender figure. The touch I meant to activate an ability on Pearl would then cancel that ability and force me to begin the procedure of choosing the ability and Pearl again. With repetition, this was frustrating but it did not impair playability as selection happens within an untimed turn selection period. Selecting the small ability buttons, especially those close to other characters or the corner of the screen, also proved more difficult that I would have liked. These issues didn’t ruin the functionality of the game for me, but they were frustrating and for that Attack the Light receives an 80/100 as its control functionality score.

Soundtrack Artwork - Attack the Light
(Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Grumpyface’s Attack the Light soundtrack Soundcloud album)
Artistic Proficiency: 67/100

Artistic Proficiency is a combined score composed of two main scores: Gameplay and Story. This score is meant to detail the meaning of the experience and how well the writers, directors, and designers crafted that meaning into the game.

Overall Gameplay Score: 70/100

Praise the Gem - Attack the Light
Steven fits a red gem into a door to open a secret path. (Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Attack the Light’s official iTunes page)
  • Agency Score: 80/100
  • Core Gameplay Loop Score: 68/100
  • Variety Score: 50/100

Attack the Light doesn’t allow for player agency to impact the story direction, but it does have a lot of options to choose from in terms of customizing and fitting the Crystal Gems into specific combat roles. At each level up, the player can choose what to upgrade for the Gems, whether it be their base stats (attack, defense, luck, and Harmony which is the health stat), one of their existing abilities, or a new ability. Players can also give Gems badges they’ve collected on the way. Badges give Gems special perks to augment their stats, give them immunity to certain conditions, increase their damage against certain enemies, and more. Beyond this, players can also find level up items that can level up a Gem without having to battle. This, along with the dialogue choice system, lets players choose which Gem they think needs to be the strongest for the task at hand. In dialogue, you make decisions on how to approach scenarios, and based on your response, certain Gems will receive experience. This a fun way to let you customize the Gems efficiently, but also to let you role play as Steven. What would he say? Overall, Attack the Light earns an 80/100 in the agency category.

The core gameplay loop of Attack the Light is: warp to a world, explore the world for chests, keys, gems, and memory puzzles, run into an enemy (through ambush or attack), defend and heal with Steven while damaging with the Gems, defeat the enemy, continue exploring the world to find another warp. The smaller battle loop has you using abilities, which cost stars (Steven supplies 5 stars at the beginning of each round, and unused stars roll over), using items that either heal the Gems, give them battle buffs, or give bonus stars, and defending against enemy abilities. While attacking and defending, tapping the screen when stars appear gives extra damage or prevents more damage. It’s all fairly intuitive once you get into a rhythm, and the discovery involved in how you can chain abilities and make the most out of your stars is rewarding. Exploring the world, however, grows very stale. Despite the addition of collectables meant to reward the player for slowing down and taking the world in, their isn’t much to see in the world. Eventually, you’ll be rushing by; you’ll flick screen after screen of Attack the Light’s grid based navigation system (it reminds me of an old first person dungeon crawler or newer games like Legend of Grimrock) without actually seeing anything. Attack the Light is still engaging and fun, but it doesn’t change the Paper Mario formula much at all. For that it receives a 68/100 in the core gameplay loop category.

Variety is utterly lacking in Attack the Light, but nobody would expect a mobile game to be expansive. Regardless, I would have like to do more in the Steven Universe… universe, while I was in the game. Where’s Steven’s dad? Could he have given Steven something to help him along the way? Connie would love to help the Gems, so where is she? Helping out at the car wash, book shopping with Connie, and grabbing a doughnut from Sadie and Lars, are just a few of the activities I would have loved to undertake in game. Steven Universe is a show about life, so why shouldn’t Attack the Light be an RPG about life, too? For a standard level of variety and an engaging level of depth, Attack the Light receives a 50/100 in the gameplay variety category.

Overall Story Score: 64/100

Locked Out Beat Up - Attack the Light
Stephen makes a tough decision about how locked doors should be tackled. (Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Attack the Light’s official iTunes page)
  • Characters Score: 60/100
  • Plot Score: 32/100
  • Coherency Score: 100/100

Judging by Attack the Light’s presentation of Steven Universe’s nuanced, growing characters you’d think they’re nothing but the archetypes they originate from. In fact, it’s hard for me to judge how Attack the Light characterizes Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl because, as a fan of the show, I know these characters very closely. There certainly isn’t too much character development happening over Attack the Light’s six hour run time, though, and for that I fault it. It seems material that would normal inhabit a 10 minute long episode of the show has been stretched so thin that the characters, no matter how many quirky references they make and perhaps because of those references, are cardboard cutouts of themselves because of it. For this I give Attack the Light a characters score of 60/100. Why higher than 50? Perhaps playing Attack the Light will leave you wanted more and lead you straight to the show. Then, the characters would be much better for you.

Attack the Light begins with the Gems returning from another unknown mission with a special prism that, in the hands of a powerful Gem, could spawn an entire light army! With some prodding from Amethyst, the other Gems let Steven get ahold of the prism, and, sure enough, a light army, split in different colors, flies forth and now you have to put them back. It’s a simple premise that doesn’t evolve much over the course of the game. There are no subplots, no new threads to a grand puzzle, just some punching generic baddies until Steven saves the day in the end. It’s almost non-existent and for that, Attack the Light receives a 38/100 in the plot category.

Despite the fact that the characters are underdeveloped and the plot is non-existent, Attack the Light knows that it’s just a mechanical RPG and it’s okay with that. After all, Steven wanted to play an RPG, so he got to play an RPG. It didn’t need to be complex or interesting. Nothing in the experience seemed out of place or like it shouldn’t have been included. Attack the Light is a coherent experience that seems finished, albeit empty. For this, it receives a 100/100 for its coherency score.


Logo - Attack the Light
(Image credit to Grumpyface Studios and Cartoon Network Games, retrieved from Attack the Light’s official Google Play page)

Grumpyface’s Steven Universe RPG isn’t the best RPG of its kind, turn to the Paper Mario games (The Thousand-Year Door would be my suggestion) for that. It isn’t the best representation of the characters or the world either, but it is a great way for fans of the show and Paper Mario-style RPGs alike to get their fix. Hopefully Save the Light, a new console game made by Grumpyface and set after Attack the Light, can rectify some of the issues and bring us the game Steven Universe deserves. With more playable characters and the setting of Beach City, Save the Light looks like it’s on the right path. Until then, get your fix with Attack the Light for $2.99 and help Steven keep the Harmony. It shouldn’t be too hard; he already keeps Beach City weird.

68/100 – Good.

Save When You Trade: Money in Gaming

Save When You Trade - GameStop
A short infographic displaying GameStop’s used games sales model. (Image credit to GameStop, retrieved from their official trade page)

Paying for games has always been a dilemma for developers, publishers, and consumers alike. How can developers be properly reimbursed for their hard work and investment while also moving  to bigger and better works? Can they accomplish this without hurting the consumers they depend on? Where do publishers fit into this equation? The answers have changed over the years, and with the advent of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, we may be in the midst of a new era right now.

Developers make the games and, as consumers, we need as much of our hard spent gaming money as possible to go towards making new and improved content we love in a way that we can find and consume it. That’s where publishers would normally step in to make sure that developers create consumable, profitable, and visible video games. In a less connected age, such as when Electronic Arts began its work as a publishing company, this was not only necessary but a great way for new developers to get out there. Now that the internet is taking front stage in transforming our business world, the game industry is starting to look more and more like the music industry. In the information age, video games are adopting a service model.

Premium Plans - Star Wars: The Old Republic
Subscription services are popular for many ongoing experiences such as MMOs, for access to a library of games such as with GameFly, and for game streaming services like Playstation Now. (Image credit to EA, BioWare, Lucasfilm, and all other holders, retrieved from Star Wars: The Old Republic’s buy page)

In the past, the music industry’s record labels served to help artists record, publish, and market their work but today many successful artists handle each of those aspects themselves, collaborating with others when needed. The indie scene is flush with creators like Chance the Rapper who have found their market without any sort of affiliation with a label. Music was once a product market in which the consumer purchased an album and kept it as their own, but has since transformed into a service market with streaming competitors like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music. Piracy was a huge factor in forcing the shift towards streaming services. While gaming isn’t exactly the same, the pressures impacting creators decisions in gaming are very similar.

I’m curious how this shift will impact lower income gamers specifically. GameStop is the largest source of working used games in the United States and home to a plethora of forgotten and niche games just waiting to be discovered. For lower income gamers, it presents a selection of products within their price range that no other gaming company will, or perhaps can. Sadly though, GameStop is dying as digital downloads dominate game sales and physical copies become less desirable. It’s my belief that the gaming community should want to keep physical copies and GameStop alive due to their bolstering of diversity among game consumers, aid in cataloging and providing access to games from the past, and support of the cost effective console market.

GameStop Logo and Tagline
(Image credit to GameStop, retrieved from their official Logo Site)

For gaming, consoles have an undeniable advantage over computers: they cost a fraction of a gaming computer’s cost and last about as long if not longer. This is especially true if the console you buy is a refurbished unit from GameStop, so support GameStop with trade-ins (another way GameStop can reduce costs even for high income gamers), console purchases, and by rejecting the digital download future. Where GameStop fails is supplying developers with a direct profit line from their consumers. Some publishers and developers have even called GameStop and the entirety of the used game market piracy with extra steps (which it can be, but it’s not without its benefits… which I’ve listed above). If GameStop is the game industry solution to consumer friendliness, Kickstarter is the game industry solution to developer friendliness.

Kickstarter allows higher income consumers of video games to invest their money personally into projects of their choice without having to bother with a publisher. On the flip side, it also allows established industry minds to take on projects that would never be funded by a publisher through the financial support of their fan base. While this can lead to some terrible disappointments and wasted cash (I’m looking at you, Keiji Inafune and Mighty No. 9), it can also be a huge benefit to developers and consumers alike. With a much larger portion of profits heading to developers and a guaranteed install base, losing money would require a catastrophic or intentional failure on the developers part. This means that when games succeed, everyone wins big! Projects like Shovel Knight, Yooka-Laylee, Hyper Light Drifter, Shantae: Half Genie Hero, and the innumerable and high quality CRPGs from Kickstarter prove just what a great tool it can be for the industry. Patreon is similar, but instead provides a path for service based monetization.

So the next time you buy a game, think about where your money’s going and how you can make the most out of it, not just for yourself but for the rest of us, too. Let your wallet do the talking!

What Doesn’t Make A Gamer

"Youngest gamer at Igromir 2011" by Sergey Galyonkin
The youngest gamer at Igromir 2011. (Image credit to Sergey Galyonkin, retrieved from Flickr)

I can see the gamer in your head. He’s overweight or undeniably lanky. He hasn’t showered for awhile and his breath smells like the carcinogenic additives they spray on food nowadays. His pits are stained with sweat, and his heavy $100+ headset leaves depressed indentions in his hair when he removes it to call out in response to the mother he hardly notices yet still depends on for financial stability. He shouts every time he fails, throwing his controller on the ground or pounds the bed/couch he sits on… maybe he also muffles his shouts with a pillow if he’s the repressed type. And he is a HE. You can tell by the content of his games that he is a he. There is an abundance of objectified and powerless women, muted sexual fanfare, and “masculine” repugnancy drenching the media he consumes. And how prolific his consumption is! As if Pavlov rang a bell, he preorders the next game, the next console, the old game for the next console, the expansion that exists on the new game’s disc but which he’s been told is extra content that will markedly improve the experience for such a low low price. I can see him, too. He disgusts me, but games don’t… or at least good games don’t.

I am a gamer… or at least I was until I came of age and discovered the terrific impression of gamers in this modern day. My games had existed in the numbers on the math board, how they could be manipulated and teased apart into whatever beautiful little systems I desired. I lived on the lined sheets of the college ruled spiral notebooks we bought in bulk for 10 cents a piece during school preparation. Inside them, I designed boards and named pieces and created rulesets, playing each out against myself and against other rulesets. In Windows 2000’s MS Paint, I carefully selected the moveable bits of fully playable games contained in simple image files. I found joy in the algorithms of games and in the way they could produce more solid and absorbable forms of information. I fell in love with the science of zeroes and ones and the outputs for inputs of computer function. When I learned cell biology in fifth grade, I set to work on a game of cell evolution and warfare in which players would attempt to optimize their cell and spread its population to conquer the whole system. I was enamored with the results. I was having fun, but I did it alone. Later, I mapped out fantastic, traversable worlds in measured scale complete with multiple biomes, many friends and enemies, histories all their own, and markets in which goods could move. I’d show them to my brothers and my father, but never my mother for she despised role-playing games, but they never played them with me and my games were soon forgotten.

Perhaps that why I play video games, to be part of a group, but they contained their own systems, too. The cacophonous laughter of queueing every major city in the late game of Sid Meier’s Civilization II to produce multiple copies of the virtually costless Fanatics units under the Fundamentalist government and the subsequent mad march that allowed me to conquer the whole of Civ II’s world entranced me. The way cleverly assigning attribute points in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords allowed me to create a hyper intelligent, sharpshooting Jedi with a silver tongue and supportive Force powers half-cocked my smile and brightened my spirit. It seemed however, that as I began to grow, the games grew out of me. First person shooters required reflexes I didn’t have and memorization skills I couldn’t recall. The text-based adventure games I had laughed at by testing the limits, snarky responses, and idiosyncrasies of their parsing programs bloomed into visual trials of patience and repetition, dragging and dropping each item and systematically testing each pixel of the screen. Despite this, video games still gave me the intrigue of yesteryear in some small ways. Battlefront I and II allowed a strategic dance of command posts and rock/paper/scissors-esque unit selection, not to mention the lateral solutions required to best Battlefront I’s heroes. The shift of games, however, was troubling to me.

More and more I watched as video games stopped being breakable, playful systems of decision-making and transformed into Skinner boxes or movies with interactive psychological hooks. They served a different purpose now, I would think to myself, but they served the same audience. So I changed, socially, with that audience. I couldn’t collect coins as a gamer any longer or aspire to be an accountant/economist in the future. I’d instead consume and critique media en masse, learn how to tell and craft a story, play with basic animation techniques, and abandon the playful systems I fell in love with for the different, but entirely similar, systems of storytelling. In those systems I learned the joys of manipulating the English word. I purposefully crafted the longest, most cumbersome, hardest to parse, and yet grammatically correct, sentences I could imagine. I never led my stories back to tonic, their pitches ringing in the ears of those who read, baffled at the decisive jazz of a story mistold for literary reasons. It never felt like enough though. There was always something missing.

“Tell the story through gameplay,” I would say, “avoid ludonarrative dissonance at all costs.” In truth, I wanted my systems back and I wanted them to say something powerful like they had so many times before. I wanted to be the farmer on the Oregon Trail who bought more bullets than pounds of flour because of my small income and the abundance of game along the way to Willamette Valley. I wanted to be that same farmer who lost a child to disease because he was forced to push his family at a grueling pace to reach the destination before the winter turned harsh. Deep in my heart, I knew, and still know, that games were important for more than the mind numbing escapism they now provide. Their design could speak volumes, in an experiential way, about the systems we live in and the people we live in them with. I knew we could empathize through games, I only wished that gamer guy that hides in the dominant marketing demographics of the industry could see it, too.

Just like games without play fall down into a pit of commercialized media monstrosities, gamers that don’t play devour the wealth of good within gaming. The next time you think of a gamer, I want the person in your head to be any gender you want, any sexuality you want, any race you want, any weight you want, et cetera, but I want them to be a player above all. If you give them a Rubik’s cube, they should spin its every bit, smile with amusement, take notes of each algorithm they discover, and pull the bits of plastic apart to see how the puzzle works. If you give them a stick, they should note the rings within the wood in remembrance, test its buoyancy, and, with great zeal, attempt to snap it over their knee. Once gamers become more akin to scientists that learn for their own pleasure and less akin to addicts flying towards the next fix, I’ll be pleased. Until then, let’s ask more from our games than we ever have and, seeing the strength of the industry, relinquish the fear that constructive criticism might kill the thing we love. As a multibillion dollar industry, games aren’t in their fragile infancy anymore, they’ve reached their “terrible twos” and we need to give them the guidance they deserve.

First Look: The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Switch)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been in development since 2013 and was, for many, the deciding factor in purchasing a Wii U. Its release on March 3, 2017, will mark the end of Nintendo game releases for the Wii U and the beginning of the Switch’s lifespan as Nintendo’s flagship console. Marketed as a return to the design sensibilities of the original Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild is a new, enormous, and voice acted adventure in the Legend of Zelda universe. Ganon returns as the looming and spiritual darkness known as Calamity Ganon, and Zelda appears to reprise the powerful and central role she’s taken in the series along with characters of many familiar races such as the Zora and the Gorons.

Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time catapulted the series into the third dimension, Zelda games have taken the same basic form. The player progresses through a mostly linear story with cleverly designed dungeons full of puzzles and enemies of every sort. Through this progression, side quests make themselves apparent, occasionally but rarely venturing beyond simple fetching mechanics or time consuming minigames. Some 3D Zelda games, such as The Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask, offered a different approach to this basic formula but did little to truly revolutionize it, falling back to old design strategies when the bulk of the game reared its head. Breath of the Wild is clearly different than the 3D Zelda games of the past in terms of philosophy and design.

Even in name, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild breaks tradition and forges a new path for the series. Instead of being named for an item or character like every other 3D Zelda game, Breath of the Wild lets you know it’s something different before you even open the box. For years Nintendo has commercially cultivated simple yet careful reconstructions of their classic designs, but now they’re ready to give us a taste of something new, a breath of fresh air. The many innovations we’ve seen so far in Breath of the Wild’s press releases include intelligent horses, a wide open world design, upgradable and exchangeable equipment, environmental hazards, a fully realized physics engine, crafting/cooking elements, and the Sheikah slate.

“Real horses don’t run into trees very often” was the phrase Eiji Aonuma, the producer of many Zelda titles including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, used to help those present at the 2014 Game Awards understand how horse riding would work in the upcoming Zelda title. In Breath of the Wild, horses serve as a much faster way to traverse the enormous landscape, and the intelligently automated animals should make going from place to place and participating in horseback combat far less cumbersome than in previous titles. Another difference between Breath of the Wild and other Zelda games is that you can tame and ride a variety of horse of varying strengths, not just Link’s trusty Epona. From recent footage, it appears that five horses at a time can be assigned and called to Link through stables that double as inns and are spread throughout Hyrule. There has been no word as to whether the true Epona is available in the game, but all the horses we’ve seen so far can be named and Epona is more than a worthy title for your equestrian comrade.

The world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is said to be twelve times larger than than the map of Twilight Princess. This isn’t an incredible feat, Twilight Princess has a corridor-like map that it would be criminal to call expansive, but it does bode well for an open world experience. Climbing mountains, exploring caves, crossing bodies of water on rafts, riding through open fields, and hunting in dense forests are all possible in Breath of the Wild. According to Eiji Aonuma, this exploratory design isn’t simply smoke and mirrors; players are free to attempt the final boss of the game right from the beginning! The ability to play however you want to is definitely a fine addition to this Zelda title and a freeing addition at that.

Link is normally constrained to a few choice weapons, spells, and tunics, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows Link to pick up the weapons of fallen enemies, similar to the mechanic present in the Wind Waker, and keep them for his own. This also means that weapons deteriorate, or at least ordinary weapons do because the most recent Breath of the Wild trailer revealed the resting place of the Master Sword. As for armors, we’ve seen a variety of different ensembles for Link to wear such as a full suit of armor, his blue tunic, and a chill resistant tunic.

The Sheikah Slate is set to replace Link’s traditional spells with runes that bestow different powers. The runes that have been revealed to us so far are magnesis, which allows Link to move metal objects with a magnetic power, remote bombs, which do exactly what they sound like they do, stasis, which freezes an object in time, and cryonis, which creates ice pilars. All of these runes are significantly less restricted than the magic in previous Zelda titles. This should allow the player to customize Link to their personal preferences as they explore Hyrule.

The environment of Hyrule is full of nourishing ingredients that Link can combine into helpful foods at certain campfires. These foods replenish just about anything when used through the inventory menu. Some can even help you withstand the cold and hot regions of the map Link has trouble surviving in without a certain set of clothes for protection. Other crafting and upgrading elements haven’t been confirmed although they might be in the game. One thing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does include is a bonafide physics engine that lets baddies and Link alike flip, flop, and fall. Environmental puzzles involving pushable boulders, flaming grass, the classic exploding barrels, and rolling bombs are all also present in the game.

With all of the new additions to the Zelda franchise it’s important for fans to voice their opinions on the changes and what they want to see in the future. What do you think? Is there something you want to see in this Zelda that hasn’t been revealed yet? Will you attempt the final boss available for battle right at the beginning? Is voice acting the right decision for a Zelda game? Will you miss the linear designs of the past or are you eager to jump into Nintendo’s new Western gaming inspired masterpiece? Let us know in the comments below!

Welcome to Birb Friends!

I’m incredibly excited to announce the launch of Birb Friends! We’re a blog all about video games and the huge variety of experiences they encompass. All sorts of articles live here from all sorts of authors whose personal profiles you can view from the sidebar to the right. We’ll be putting out a new article every Tuesday with rotating authorship as much as possible so that content you enjoy is always on the way. If you like what we have to say, feel free to like, comment, follow, etc. to spread the word! If you don’t like what we have to say, leave us a comment or use our contact form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Fly high and always remember, birds of a feather PLAY together.