Game Overdose 01: Expansions, DLC, Micro-transactions… and TF2. PART 1
Hi all, I’m Steve, a 20-something year old Computer Science student at Oxford Brookes, with aspirations of becoming a Game Designer. I’ll allow the irony that someone that lives, works and studies in Oxford is writing for a site called “The West Londoner” to sink in.
Hey, it’s only a half-fib anyway! I grew up in West-London, most of my family were born, raised, married and eventually repeated the cycle there. Besides, my chosen topic of interest involves sitting on your rear ignoring the existence of other life.
That’s right, we’re talking about Games! Only these aren’t game reviews.
I honestly don’t care whether you go on to buy the game or not based on the facts (mired within opinions) I pump out on this site. That’s not what this is about. This is more a one-man discussion, an in depth analysis of certain games, and maybe not even the whole game. Maybe just some mechanics, some characters, even trends across multiple games, in or out of context, depending on what occurs to me as I play them to death.
This is Game Overdose.
And just a disclaimer, I in no way endorse the taking of drugs or any form of psychoactive chemicals, especially not to excess. The name merely comes about from the fact that I’ve had more than a few 48 hour binges on certain games (World of Warcraft, Super Smash Bros – both brawl and Melee, Fallout 3…) and yes, expect an article on the addictive/obsessive aspect of games in the near future!
The plan is that Game Overdose will be a collection of articles focussing on different aspects of gaming, its culture and society.
There’ll be the main series, eponymously titled, “Daily Dosage” which will probably be a 100 word brief on stuff that’s happening in the gaming world, and finally “Recycle bin”. Reviews of old games, but with a GO flair of analysis and in depth reasoning.
Right, enough hyperbole, on with the topic!
As a light toe-dip into the world of gaming I feel we’d do well to look at the current state of games. And how better to look at the current state than by looking back about 10 years?
So it’s 2001…
You could actually go to E3 at this point as it was still open to the public. There you would see a new trailer was revealed for Duke Nukem Forever (already at 4 years development and one engine change).
On the PC Dark Age of Camelot crushed its competitor Anarchy online (released 4 months earlier). Additionally Runescape marked the release of one of the first Free to Play MMO’s, notable for being largely browser based, and having the dodgey graphics to go along with it.
Runescape did involve a “pay-to-play” system as well, a monthly subscription which unlocked new areas and skills, massively expanding on the core game, but segregating free-players from members.
These are but a few events I’ve decided to pick out as they’ll make sense in the next section. Also, I was in my first few years of secondary school at the time, you expect me to remember everything?!
The modern day:
Duke Nukem Forever is released and branded one of the worst games of all time. Hyper-real graphics and straight-faced schizophrenic writing don’t make good to create a parody, and it comes across as psychotic and offensive even to its most loyal fans.
World of Warcraft has been dominating the MMO scene for the past 7 years, with only a “New Hope” (Ha!) of a Starwars MMO coming out to dethrone it. It currently earns more per month than many small European countries do.
Along with these Digital Downloads and the low production costs that goes along with comes an insurgence of indie-games, created by few-man teams, often operating out of their bedrooms. Some good, many bad but all of them cheap.
And so onto Valve.
A short while ago the guys over at PC Gamer did a special on Valve, and all their endeavours and what it is they’re trying to do. In short, they’re Mad Scientists, throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks.This is why they’ll release a game like Alien Swarm for free, but produce a full-priced sequel for Left 4 Dead. It’s my widely supported opinion that if you want to see innovation, both as a company and in the games they produce, you need to look to Valve.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Teamfortress 2.
Step back with me another 4 years.
TF2 was originally released inside a pack, known as “The Orange Box” which included the ground-breaking Portal, and a continuation of the Half-life franchise.
Like Duke Nukem Forever, TF2 underwent a few technology and stylistic changes during its development time, eventually adopting a highly stylized 1950’s cell-shaded caricature approach. The difference being that its changes worked, and offered a much needed injection of uniqueness to the otherwise stagnant realm of online competitive first person shooters. Between the quirky cartoon-like graphics, the character-design focussing on the silhouette and the amazing voice work, with hilarious dialogue dripping with personality, TF2 is a real treat of a game.
For around 3 years I enjoyed several free content updates to TF2. New weapons, new maps, new game modes. No subscription required.
Some of this content was generated by the community, others by Valve themselves, but all went through Valves rigorous testing. The game stayed balanced and was expanded on, but all this original content was still free. This was incredibly refreshing when you’ve got companies like EA who tend to drop patching after the first few months of a games release.
This was until late last year… An optional in game store was added, but this change has been balanced with hundreds of community contributed weapons, vanity items, maps and other content. Paying money to the store gave both Valve and the contributors an incentive, as it helped line their pockets. An acquaintance of mine, one of the original contributors to the Polycount Packs, even now sees a nice healthy trickle of a few grand a month from their submissions.
And then a month ago the unthinkable happened. The game itself became free. Free players receive a few limitations on what they can do, mostly regarding crafting vanity items and the amount of backpack space they have, and it might take longer to receive items, but once they do they’ll be as balanced as everyone else’s.
Why is this so important? How does this tie into 2001? What does this have to do with anything I mentioned before?
Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next week, as this is a two-parter!
Sorry all, my editor read the original and suffice to say, there’s a lot of content here!
Ta-ta for now!