Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steam can learn from Netflix

I love Steam, but I hate misleading press releases. Valve, Steam's overlord, announced that they now have 25+ million users. Unfortunately the details are sparse. There is no indication of what "active account" means or how many are purchasing games on a regular basis. It's difficult to believe these numbers don't include accounts that have long gone dormant. The only vague number given is that ~10 million people have a profile, indicating some sort of buy-in into the Steam platform.

During the last calendar year the platform surpassed 25 million active accounts, up 25% from the prior year. Of the 25 million accounts, over 10 million of those have profiles in the Steam Community.

In addition to the millions of new accounts created during the year, the peak number of concurrent users eclipsed the 2.5 million mark during the month of December, pushing Steam's average monthly player minutes to more than 13 billion.
Contrast this information with the recent Netflix end of year report:
Subscribers. Netflix ended the fourth quarter of 2009 with approximately 12,268,000 total subscribers, representing 31 percent year-over-year growth from 9,390,000 total subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter of 2008 and 10 percent sequential growth from 11,109,000 subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2009.

Net subscriber change in the quarter was an increase of 1,159,000 compared to an increase of 718,000 for the same period of 2008 and an increase of 510,000 for the third quarter of 2009.

Gross subscriber additions for the quarter totaled 2,803,000, representing 34 percent year-over-year growth from 2,085,000 gross subscriber additions in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 29 percent quarter-over-quarter growth from 2,180,000 gross subscriber additions in the third quarter of 2009.

Of the 12,268,000 total subscribers at quarter end, 97 percent, or 11,892,000, were paid subscribers. The other 3 percent, or 376,000, were free subscribers. Paid subscribers represented 98 percent of total subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter of 2008 and at the end of the third quarter of 2009.
At a glance the reports look similar, but Netflix has two subtle differences.

First, Netflix breaks down year over year and quarterly growth in hard numbers, not percents. This is an important distinction as it gives a clear picture of where the platform is heading. Steam on the other hand only provides a current number and percent growth.

Secondly, Netflix identifies the number of accounts that are riding on their various free offerings and trials. The Steam report has no indication of how many accounts were brought on board through free game offers or "required by game" installs.

Other than labeling all 25 million Steam accounts as "active", there is no real sense of the power of the platform. With the Netflix report, we get a much better feel for how subscribers are using the platform and how Netflix is growing.

Valve is more than generous with data collected from Steam (hardware surveys, heat maps, etc.), but its starting to feel like marketing overdrive when they are talking about the status of the platform. Hopefully, Valve can take a queue from Netflix and realize that granular subscriber data is not the end of the world.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dancing with George RR Martin: Update on A Dance With Dragons

Its ironic that I found this post from George RR Martin this morning as I sit snowed in as well:
Snowing like hell in Santa Fe today. I feel like Jon Snow on the Wall. White everywhere I look, and still coming down.

Of course, I'm writing about Meereen, where the weather is hot and muggy, oppressive. If the snow keeps falling, I better take it as an omen, switch to a Jon chapter tomorrow.

The good news: finished a chapter today.

The bad news: it's one I've finished at least four times before.

This time, though, I think I finally got it right. We'll see. Still whacking at the Meereenese knot.

I took an especially vigorous hack two days ago, by switching to a new POV. It seems to have helped. Helps to have a pair of eyes on the inside rather than the outside here. And back story works better in recollections than in dialogue.

Let's hope that when next week comes, I still like what I did this week.

Writing, writing...
This is not an earth shattering update, but its an update none the less. And for George RR Martin to talk about finishing something, anything with A Dance With Dragons is good news.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Return to the Galaxy for FREE

Any player that has previously subscribed to Star Wars Galaxies will be able to play the game free of charge between February 1st and March 1st.

No, this is not out of the kindness of SOE's heart.  Its an offer to promote their upcoming Galactic Civil War expansion: Forces Under Siege.  This would be the expansion where SOE finally realizes that there is a galactic civil war occurring during the Star Wars classic time line.


Any old-school player (that means pre-NGE) will probably remember little to nothing about the galactic civil war from the original game, because there wasn't one.  Sure, Rebels and Imperial scum could chase each other around and spam knockdowns, but it was for no gain to either faction.  It was nothing more than a constant gankfest at each of the spaceports.  It sucked.  No, it really, really sucked. 

However, the new expansion approach to the GCW isn't going to tempt me back into the game.  I only mention it because its a free month of play for a MMOG, a Star Wars MMOG no less.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LCD vs Plasma: HDTV buying guide and other stuff I learned in the process of buying my first HDTV

What HDTV should I buy?  Its a question heard around the Internet every two seconds.  Quickly followed by LCD or Plasma?  Followed by more questions: screen size, refresh rate, resolution, etc.  Normally, a quick search on Google or Bing will quiet my concerns about any tech purchase.  In the case of buying an HDTV, Google was worthless, sending me repeatedly to adver-spam sites that do nothing more than duplicate Amazon.com's review listings.  Bing proved a little bit more fruitful, directing me to the helpful CNET Reviews.
Samsung PN50B550 50-Inch 1080p Plasma HDTV
What I learned was that I could not rely on a review or single source to direct me to the HDTV that was right for me.  The only way I was going to get a quality television was if I made the effort to research the options and understand from top to bottom everything there was to know before I walked into a store (and know that once I left that store, I was going home to order my HDTV online to save money).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'd Hate to be Brett Favre Right Now

Ouch, Brett Favre just ended another season after throwing a big-time interception. This has to hurt.

And of course everyone is going to blame Favre, not the six fumbles, poor pass protection, or poor officiating.



I don't see him smiling like this tomorrow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Left 4 Dead 2 Needs a Karma System

I was playing Left 4 Dead 2 last night and as I was getting settled back into some VS. gameplay, I was reminded of one of my few complaints against the L4D series: poor multiplayer matchmaking. 

The Left 4 Dead series has given rise to a new virus on the multiplayer scene: rage quitters.  All it takes is one rage quitter at the end of a bad match to trigger a nasty cycle.  Others will follow, usually leaving an empty team that is filled with random new players two minutes into the start of the next round which is often far too late for the team to recover.  The round goes badly, another rage quitter pops, and we're back at square one.

In a traditional FPS, a stronger skilled player can make up for a missing player.  Unfortunately, the problem for Left 4 Dead 2 is that the loss of a single player greatly reduces the effectiveness of the team.  The game is built for 4 vs 4, with the goal being 3 out of 4 players on the survivors team being disabled at any given time by the infected team.  That 4th player is everything!  Without a reliable 4th player, the survivors risk easily being caught and the infected have no one to harass the last survivor after a proper ambush.  When that 3rd or 4th player doesn't appear until halfway into the match, the game is all but lost (if the players even stuck it out that far).

Less bitching, more ideas on how to fix it

What L4D2 needs is a karma system that rates players.

Players would  be rewarded for finishing games, win or lose, and penalized for leaving games early.  However, only when voted on by the players that actually finish the round.  At the end of the match, a quick vote system pops up and players mark a + or - next to each name.  A negative would only be allowed on a player that left the match early and the earlier they left, the more that - hurts their karma.  A + would add karma obviously.  A blank vote is counted as a neutral, no change.  This serves as a self-policing mechanic for the community.

Those players maintaining a positive karma need to be rewarded with better match making tools that allow them to filter out low-karma bad apples. With dedicated servers hosting the L4D2 games and Steam tracking the players, this could be implemented.

Karma stats would also need to be public, without an option for hiding them. 

The beauty of this?  Anyone, at any time, could just set up a non-karma game or set the karma level to 0.  But those of us looking for a better experience, without the benefit of a steady play group, could filter to our hearts content for the caliber of player we want to play with.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another satisifed customer...

the: hey
heartlessgamer: no
the: ?
heartlessgamer: not to be rude, but I have plans for it at some point
the: really?
the: you haven't touched it for ages..
heartlessgamer: yes, I know. I get sidetracked.
the: did i remind you of it
heartlessgamer: actually no, I had posted on twitter before you contacted me about getting it up and running. I've been a games blogger since 05, and originally when steam communities launched I was going to connect my list of contacts together from the gaming blogosphere

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Allods Online Beta 4 Starts Today

Today marks the start of something very special for fans and players of Allods Online: Closed Beta Test 4. This stage of beta brings a raised level cap to 40, seven new contested zones, new instances, raids, Goblinball and Astral Ships. This all begins today (Jan 19th) at 11am PDT and runs until February 3, 2010. (Source)

Game Developers Should Play Games :The Lesson Learned From Reading George RR Martin

There's a great post over at Suvudu: The Lesson I Learned From George R. R. Martin. The author explains how they've taken lessons from exploring some of Martin's smaller works:
The lessons I learned from reading three straight George R. R. Martin novellas played into my own short story writing process, George a silent mentor whether he likes it or not.
continued...
The lesson to be learned from this: Most authors, when giving craft advice, tell hopeful writers to read almost as much as they write.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Being a newb in Civilization 4 is hard work

I'm hopelessly addicted to Civilization 4 (Civ4). The breadth of game play and possibilities is astounding. However, being a newb means I have a lot of hard work to become a better player.

For example, reading over the Civ4 "War Academy" at CivFanatics.com is not something done over a 15-minute break at work. It requires an entire day worth of note taking and a fundamental re-working of the idea of micro-management.

However, none of the knowledge from the War Academy is needed. A player can kick back on a lower difficulty setting and enjoy the game just as much as someone going for a Space Race victory on a hard mode. I've spent my entire first two games on the default difficulty mode, but it doesn't take long to realize that I'm dominating the field.

I've had fun in Easyville, but I want a challenge, so I'm kicking it up a notch. That means a lot of reading and learning. It feels good to have a game that makes me think again without needlessly throwing barriers at me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Allods Online Status

After a very busy beta 2, I have taken some time off from Allods Online during beta 3.  After beta 2 my mind was set: I am going to play Allods Online at launch.  Therefore I am taking a break during beta 3 to enjoy some of my other games and prepare for the launch.  I've logged in only a couple of times.  Also, I did not have any characters even close to the new level 20+ content that beta 3 was testing.

However, Keen over at Keen and Graev's has been rolling through beta 3 and has posted an amazing level 30 PvP video.
My character is very versatile and I enjoy the role that I play in PvP.
I've embedded the video below:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Now Playing: Civilization 4 and Mass Effect

My journey through the pile of games I picked up from the Steam Holiday Sale continues.

Civilization 4
Sid Meier's Civilization IVIt has been years since I played a proper strategy game.  For $13.60, I grabbed the complete Civilization 4 (Civ4) collection.  I also picked up Rome: Total War, another strategy game for $2.49.  I set zero expectations for either game, knowing that one of the two would win over my strategy sessions.

I was able to complete the tutorial and start the official campaign in Rome: Total War.  After starting the campaign I became confused and defeated.  I didn't know what I should be doing and every decision I made felt like the wrong one on the next turn.

It took me about an hour to complete the tutorial in Civ4.   That was around midnight. I didn't go to sleep until 2 AM.  Civ4 is one of those games that makes players lose track of time.  While Civ4 is not an easy game by any means, its a game that allows room for mistakes and misjudgments.  Instead of making my decisions seem worthless, Civ4 presents me with another one.  Before long, I was so far into my decision making tree that the mistakes I was making weren't anything more than learning experiences.  Its a tough thing to describe, but it feels right.

I am loving Civ4.

Mass Effect
Mass EffectI've ignored single-player RPGs for the past few years and Mass Effect is one of the highly-rated games I missed.  At $4.99 through the Steam sale, it was a must buy.

After an hour of play, I am on the fence about the game.  It doesn't feel like the great game that the reviews and general praise make it out to be.  The main feature, the dialogue system, feels monotone and lengthy. The bland main character, Shepard, isn't helping.

However, there were a few areas that caught my attention.  The character progression and combat is solid.  The backstory and expanded universe is intriguing.  There is enough to keep me going forward and hopefully the story will pull me in at some point.

If not, I have Bioware's other RPG: Jade Empire.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Given er all she's got captain!

One tweet says it all:
The STO server's can't take the load. They don't have the power!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Star Trek Online Open Beta Jan 12th

From Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
The big news is: Star Trek Online Open Beta opens today (12th Jan) at 10am PST (2am proper time), letting all sorts of riff-raff into the universe.
However, open beta keys are only available to those that have pre-ordered until the "partners" for Star Trek Online are announced tomorrow and start handing out massive piles of keys to everyone else.

So, if you want a guaranteed in, Amazon.com has STO for $46.99.  Live long and prosper.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Packers vs. Cardinals "wild"card

Green Bay Packers Cheesehead HatMy heart, if there is one, has been trampled once again.  As a Green Bay Packers fan, its been downhill since the 4th and 26 miracle of 2004. It doesn't matter who the coach or quarterback is, the Packers continue to fall apart in big games. 

The Packers just lost to the Arizona Cardinals in a wild game.  The final tally was 51-45, ending in overtime on an unfortunate fumblerception.  Aaron Rodgers, the Packers QB starts his postseason career 0-1.  He started with a first play turnover and ended on a last play turnover.  The guy can not catch a break and has yet to prove he can win big games.

The Arizona Cardinals played a good game, but I'm pulling the bullshit card on anyone that says they played better.  They were handed 20 points (+14 more if you consider the non-calls on Fitzgerald tackling defensive backs). 

The Packers roared back from the hole they dug and proved they were the better team 3/4 of the game.  Take away the odd first quarter and the Packers win hands down, but thats dishonest to what really happened.  The Packers have no one to blame but themselves.  Turnovers and giving up field position makes winning tough.

This is a tough one to swallow.  I don't blame any single player or coach for this loss.  The Packers did everything to win this game, but made the rookie mistakes that have plagued them all year.  They failed as a team, which is the best sign for next year that I can pull from this disastrous loss.

Borderlands Configuration Editor

I found the Borderlands Configuration Editor, which is a great tool that easily allows PC players to do everything from disabling the opening movies to adjusting the field of view (FOV). 

One of the "TO DO" additions to the tool is a "Check my ports" feature, which is dearly needed for the port forwarding mess that is multiplayer on the PC version of Borderlands.  So, if you have a moment drop into the forum and place a vote to get this feature added ASAP!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Blizzard taking account security seriously with mandatory authenticators?

WoW.com is reporting that Blizzard may ratchet up account security by requiring the use of authenticators on ALL accounts.
WoW.com has learned through trusted sources close to the situation that Blizzard is giving serious consideration to making authenticators mandatory on all accounts. According to our sources, while this policy has not been implemented yet and the details are not finalized, it is a virtually forgone conclusion that it will happen.
I think this is a great move for World of Warcraft.  The negatives are limited, while the positives gained are far reaching. After the initial implementation spike in support requests die down, this will dramatically reduce support costs in the long run as hacked account support stops clogging the support queues.  Players will gain peace of mind that their accounts are secure and that should something go wrong, Blizzard's support will be able to resolve it in a timely manner.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Avatar: I should hate this movie.

The Art of Avatar: James Cameron's Epic AdventureAvatar: I should hate this movie.  It depicts a resource-hungry, western-style civilization destroying the native inhabitants of a planet through technological and military might.

The story is predictable and the characters one-sided.  The marine kills, the natives are misunderstood savages.  Everything fits into the expected cliches of a cultural clash on a clandestine planet.

On top of the stereotypes, the hype should have killed this movie, but it didn't.  Avatar is a masterpiece.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Top Board Games of the Decade

The Thinking Gamer has a great post up covering the last ten years of board games with yearly favorites and his top 3 of the decade.
Here's my take on the best board games of the last decade, broken down year by year:

     2000 - Carcasonne
A really good game, and a truly innovative design space to explore as well. It's no longer in regular rotation for me, but Santa brought "The Kids of Carcasonne" for Kira this year and I highly recommend that variant for anyone with a budding gamer who's 4-7 years old. It's easy to learn and no reading is required, but it's got a surprising amount of depth of strategy — enough to keep things interesting for parents too.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Trine is fantastical eye-candy

TrineI picked up Trine last night for $4.99 on Steam as part of the Holiday Sale.  I watched the videos prior to my purchase, but I didn't realize how stunning the visuals were until I started playing. For a side-scrolling platformer, Trine delivers amazing 3D backgrounds.  Also, the character models and enemies are well done.

On top of this, the game features top-notch physics game play as all manner of items can be moved and tossed around.  So far, this has given some great variety to the levels.  I often found multiple ways to complete a challenge.  However, with such open gameplay, I found myself often wondering if what I just did was what I was supposed to do or did I get lucky? Or did I miss something?  The game has kept me guessing, but thats a good thing.

I've embedded a video below of the game.  Sit back and enjoy the visuals!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Mirror's Edge is like Portal

Mirror's Edge
Portal
Mirror's Edge is a racing puzzle game, not an action FPS.  The sooner that is understood, the sooner the game can be enjoyed.  Forget that there is gun-play, this game is all about getting from point A to B in the fastest time and most efficient manner.

The only game I can compare Mirror's Edge to is Portal. Both games are frustratingly hard and require copious amounts of trial and error.  The levels are NOT meant to be beaten the first time through.  At some points, both games almost demand the player goes to YouTube to find a walkthrough video.

Both games seem to make the complex simple and the simple complex. Many times while playing Mirror's Edge I would easily complete a complex running jump only to miss the next basic jump across a two foot gap. My guess is that so much trial and error goes into the tricky parts, that players unknowingly let up on the easy stuff. Still, sometimes I think the game just wanted to punish me for figuring something out.

After mastering a level, there is almost no challenge the second time through.  Re-playability is limited to those looking to beat their previous best.

Neither game features a UI. And with so many near misses and vertigo-inducing leaps in Mirror's Edge, a UI would have ruined the experience.

Like Portal, the story for Mirror's Edge serves little purpose other than giving a backdrop to the game and motivation for completing the levels. The story in Mirror's Edge isn't that bad and the world is fairly interesting (and beautifully rendered).

For characters, just as Portal features GLaDOS, Mirror's Edge features Merc (short for Mercury) as the overseeing director of activities. Fortunately, the leading lady, Faith, tends to speak up for herself in Mirror's Edge, where as Chell remained silent in Portal.

As a final nail in the comparison coffin, both games are far too short, ending promptly after a few hours of play. Mirror's Edge, well worth the $4.99 spent.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Dec 2009: What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying

Previous months: Nov 2009, Oct 2009, Sept 2009

I'm not embedding the spreadsheet this month because with the birth of a new year, I am planning a new approach to these posts. The "What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying" Google Spreadsheet is still there for the previous months.

Looking Back on 2009, Heartless' Predictions Reviewed

Its that magical time of year where I get to review my predictions for the previous year. Read my original predictions post here.  My commentary is after the jump:
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