Session #3
April, 2015
Better Late Than Never

Welcome back to Level Grinding, RPGamer's news industry editorial column. I'm happy to be returning this month after a short work-related hiatus. You know how it is; real life complications get in the way of everything you'd actually enjoy doing. Thankfully, I'm in the clear now and am jazzed to be forcing my opinions down your beautiful throats once again. I've missed you, RPGamer.

Once again, we'll be starting with some interesting videos I've been keen share with you this month. As always, any feedback is appreciated, so hit up our forums.

I'm a big fan of Continue? The premise of the show is pretty straightforward: a group of guys try a game they haven't played before (or at least not recently) and eventually decides whether they would continue playing that game in the future or "game over."

The dudes that used to run Machinima's Inside Gaming have departed to start a new YouTube channel in partnership with Rooster Teeth called Funhaus. Funhaus has a number of hilarious gameplay videos and I'm a big fan of the gang, but my favorite thing about the channel is probably its video podcast "Dude Soup." Check it out.

Are you a fan of Koei's Toukiden? You might be if you're already a fan of the Monster Hunter or God Eater franchises. One of the key differences in this MH clone is the influence of Shintoism. This video by The Game Theorists' Gaijin Goombah examines those influences in great detail. It's a very cool watch if you're a fan of Japanese culture.

As RPGamer's resident survival horror fanboy, I'm awash in disappointment by the news that the most promising new entry in my favorite horror franchise, Silent Hills, has bit the dust in its embryonic stage. I am not, however, surprised. Konami, much to my dismay, has never known what to do with the franchise. This should obvious to anyone who might have seen the two wretched movies, read the so-so comic books, or played any of the games from Silent Hill: Homecoming onwards. It would be even more apparent to the people who have been watching Konami over the past decade though, as the publisher has been hard to interpret for some time.

The company's publishing decisions of late have been erratic, to be sure. There have been so many questionable actions on Konami's part that it might be better to list them:

  • Dissolution of successful internal studios and farming games to Western studios

  • Allowing and possibly facilitating the departure of Koji Igarashi

  • Allowing and possibly facilitating the departure of Tak Fujii

  • Allowing and possibly facilitating the eventual departure of Hideo Kojima

  • Publicly removing all acknowledgements of Kojima's contributions

  • Dissolving Kojima Productions, reforming into "Unit 8"

  • Refusing to pay residuals to voice actors while reusing their work

  • Choosing to not market recent titles such as Blades of Time and Never Dead

  • Releasing a broken version of The Silent Hill HD Collection

  • Failing to provide a stable patch for The Silent Hill HD Collection

  • Refusing to even release a patch for The Silent Hill HD Collection Xbox 360 version

  • Blacklisting media outlets for negative coverage of Konami games

  • Abandoning the Contra, Frogger, Gradius, Rocket Night Adventures, Suikoden, Goemon, Bomberman, and Bloody Roar franchises

  • Cancelling Silent Hills and P.T.'s immediate PSN removal

  • Rock Revolution and Harmonix lawsuit

  • Making players pay for MGS V: Ground Zeros, a glorified demo

  • The Konami E3 2010 Press Conference (all of it)

So, no — we shouldn't be surprised that Silent Hills is dead. At this point, I have a hard time believing that Konami is going to do anything it sets out to do. What we should be doing is asking "why?" Why exactly have Konami's video game publishing decisions been all over the place?

Konami isn't the profitable publisher it once was. In the company's financial report for the third quarter of 2015, digital entertainment saw a year-over-year loss of roughly 5% while the slot machine division saw moderate gains. Likewise, the pachinko and pachinko slot machines division saw gains of 99.6%. From the outside looking in, it would appear as though the publisher is limiting its digital entertainment portfolio and shifting its focus towards gambling, which may ultimately be the most profitable route for the company.

Games like Metal Gear Solid V and Silent Hills are time and cost intensive, even if they are profitable. Games of chance, smartphone games, and lifestyle software are much less costly to develop and as such would be relatively profitable. From a business perspective, a lot of the odd decisions Konami have made make sense — even if they haven't made any friends. With that being said, I mourn the loss of what Konami once was. The cancellation of Silent Hills may not have been a surprise, but I must say that I'm getting tired of publishers making cut throat decisions for the benefit of their investors.

Source: Konami

Recently Square Enix hosted a Final Fantasy XV presentation, featuring director Hajime Tabata and marketing manager Akio Ofuji, geared at responding to some of the most common criticisms players have voiced about Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae. Packaged with Final Fantasy Type-0, Episode Duscae was a small taste of what is to come with the high-profile JRPG. It was well received by most players, but fifteen of the most common complaints were addressed by Tabata during this presentation — and surprisingly, he addressed all of them and pledged to fix a number of them in a patch to be released for Episode Duscae this May. You read that correctly — Final Fantasy XV's free demo is getting a title update with major changes as a direct result of your feedback.

Thanks to the Episode Duscae survey response, Square Enix has a number of major and minor fixes to make. Tabata acknowledged that the lock-on system needed to be better explained in the demo, and that changes will be made to make the camera's focus on enemies more effective. Players also noted that the camera controlled too heavily and usually was too close to Noctis and his party. Tabata said that the team was now considering multiple camera settings to optimize the player's experience. In terms of framerate and resolution, it was stressed that the goal for the game was a glorious 1080p and 30FPS, though framerate was more important to the action-based pace of the game than resolution. There were also a number of other promised tweaks to party AI actions, combat speed, on-screen UI, dodge mechanics, in-game stability, battle movement, and difficulty. It would take a while to chronicle every single complaint Square Enix addressed, and really that's not the point of this article. What we should be focusing on is that we, the players, are actually shaping the final product and that the demo was a real tool used by the developers instead of a vertical slice of gameplay to whet our whistles.

Episode Duscae's release and subsequent use in development is probably the most inspired business strategy Square Enix has implemented in some time. Not necessarily because its existence prompted sales of Type-0 HD, and not just because it works as a great promotional tool for their next major Final Fantasy installment. Episode Duscae was brilliant because it was an exercise in shifting ownership of an infamous title (that spent almost seven years in limbo) from the company to the players. Having the opinions and ideas of the consumer factor into the makeup of Final Fantasy XV will allow those same players who might have once doubted the potential of Final Fantasy XV to feel a sense of ownership over the game. Maybe, just maybe, the company's efforts to improve things for their players will have changed the minds of long-standing naysayers.

I can't get over the practical application of what essentially boils down to a demo. How many publishers release slices of gameplay with no intention whatsoever of listening to how they were received? Episode Duscae isn't like that; it's not just a demo. Acting somewhat like a playable beta, Episode Duscae isn't a lazy last-minute marketing ploy before release — it is an evolution. This is what I believe demos should be: a chance for a symbiotic relationship to form between the people playing the game and the people making the game. I can only hope we start to see this more often in the future.

Source: Square Enix

Ouya is up for sale after failing to restructure its debt according to a leaked memo sent out by its CEO Julie Uhrman. The memo, which was reported by Fortune, indicates that the entire company is in jeopardy after tripping a debt covenant. Debt restructuring negotiations have been unsuccessful, and the process of finding a new buyer has to happen quick to meet their debtholder's timelines. So quick, in fact, that the micro console company had been looking for expressions of interest by the end of last month. This news likely wouldn't come as a surprise to most that have been paying attention to the set-top box market.

Ouya was once renowned as a Kickstarter success story. Launched in July 2012, the Kickstarter broke records with 63,416 backers pledging a total of $8,596,474. A year later, $15 million was raised from Kleiner Perkins, Mayfield Fund, Occam Partners, Shansta Ventures and NVIDIA. Alibaba then invested $10 million in Ouya with plans to incorporate Ouya's platform into the Alibaba set-top box. Finally, the company secured an undisclosed amount of venture capital from TriplePoint Capital. No one knows how much TriplePoint gave Ouya, but Fortune asserts that it must have been more than Alibaba's assistance. So, given that the company started with an $8.5 million dollar cushion and has since raised an upwards of $35 million — what the hell happened? How has it fallen on such hard financial times?

The Android gaming revolution Ouya once promised never actually came to fruition. The micro console launched to lukewarm reviews and a number of issues. The micro console had a poor hardware design, UI issues, a limited software library, and ho-hum modding capability, but that isn't what really held the Ouya back from commercial success. We know this as other companies (Amazon, Mad Catz, Razer, NVIDIA, and Sony) soon followed with similar set-top consoles, only to meet similarly limited success. It appears as though most people don't want to play smartphone games on their televisions. Or at least see no reason to pay for such a feature.

Even if you were a supporter of Ouya's original Kickstarter campaign, I doubt you've spent a tremendous amount of time with the set-top box. I say this mostly because a number of its initial selling points have since been done better by competition. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have come to embrace indie gaming and each of their respective marketplaces offer a greater variety of original games than Ouya's currently does. They also have better controllers, a more comprehensive UI, and better TV streaming services. The only thing Ouya has against its video game console competition is the price tag. Sadly, the same cannot be said against its micro console competition, as there are cheaper and more powerful Android-based systems out there that do the same thing. In short, Ouya has no competitive edge and the market the company assumed it could capture doesn't really exist in 2015.

Right now, I would wager that Ouya's executive team is trying desperately to unload water, bucket-by-bucket, from a clearly sinking ship. Uhrman's has suggested as much. "Our focus now is trying to recover as much investor capital as possible," she wrote in the leaked memo. The micro console that couldn't might not be long for this world. In today's environment, however, that might not be such a horrible thing.

Source: Fortune

There has been a lot of conversation lately wrapped around PC mods and compensation — too much conversation, actually. Last week, Valve expanded the Steam Workshop to allow mod creators to sell their mods directly to PC players. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim was used as testing grounds for this new concept. Most modders, developers, and journalists seemed to come out in support of creators getting a small slice of the pie for their efforts. Some creators, however, saw the 25% cut of mod sales revenues as a slap in the face or were perturbed that their free work was being used by other creators in mods for sale. Finally, many PC gamers were annoyed because mods have always been free and charging for them alters the nature of the modding community. In response, Valve unceremoniously pulled the plug on the program and promised refunds on any purchase.

Now that the dust has settled, I would assert that no one is really happy. Creators aren't being paid for their creations, Valve has spent an insane amount of money covering the costs of support emails alone, and PC gamers still fear that a day when all mods require payment is still on the horizon. For better or worse, the PC gaming landscape has also changed around the discussion. The can of worms that is "paid mods" has been opened, and in spite of Valve's recent efforts it cannot be closed.

Valve might have a lot of power over the PC gaming trends, due solely to the grand success of Steam, but if this event has demonstrated anything it is that the company's policies can also be twisted to meet the demands of the marketplace. Demands, however, never remain static. There's a very good chance that the paid vs. unpaid mod conflict will persist and even expand into 2016. After all, the importance of the modding community to the PC gaming landscape is undeniable. Modders and their creations are absolutely vital to the vitality of the PC gaming ecosystem. The suggestion that modders should pool hours of work into something that should be given away for free is about as naïve and greedy as it is wholly unsustainable.

The current setup of the modding community is subject to change, by necessity. Modders are not "kind of like" developers. They are developers, and they cannot continue spending hours developing mods for games when their only reward for doing so is mild accolade among PC gamers. Accolade doesn't pay the bills, and I'm sure a lot of modders realize this. As such, it is inevitable that those modders eventually push for fair compensation for their work. Alternatively, those creators may stop making anything at all in favor of doing something that is actually profitable — a decision that would lead to fewer mods in and a weaker PC gaming ecosystem.

For better or worse, an experiment between Valve and Bethesda just fundamentally changed the nature of the PC gaming ecosystem. A few days of paid mods have officially opened a crack in the door for the sweeping changes yet to come. It can't be stopped, and I'm honestly not sure it should be.

Source: Valve

With that, the first entry in what will hopefully be many level grinding sessions has come to a close. At this point, I'd like to thank my Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cunningham, for his continual support, our beloved readers for taking the time to indulge my abrasive opinions, and of course all of the commenters in RPGamer's forums for engaging in the conversation. I'll now ask that you do the same.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • What do you think is going on at Konami right now?

  • Will you play Episode Duscae after it's been patched?

  • Are you an Ouya owner? If so, do you still use it?

  • Do you see paid mods returning in the future?

I'll see you next month. In the meantime, stay tuned to RPGamer for all of the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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