Power’s out

Gamers are st­ingy. Pic­ture the scene: ev­ery year out­side an Ap­ple store around about Septem­ber time, there are huge queues for the lat­est phone that will change peo­ple’s lives and im­prove their stan­dard of liv­ing (as the mar­ket­ing ef­fort would have you be­lieve). All this for the bar­gain price of £600. What amazes me is that 12 months ear­lier, peo­ple were lin­ing up for the phone they cur­rently have in their pock­ets. They are pay­ing a pre­mium price for a me­nial up­grade ev­ery sin­gle year.

Now look at the new con­soles re­leased last Novem­ber. The PS4 is a ru­n­away suc­cess, with close to dou­ble the sales of the more ex­pen­sive (at the time) Xbox One. Scrub for a sec­ond that the Xbox came with Kinect. Scrub the fact that the con­sole is slightly weaker hard­ware wise. And fo­cus on the one rea­son why it hasn’t been sell­ing as well as the PS4: price. The Xbox One was a good £80 more ex­pen­sive in the UK, putting a lot of peo­ple off pur­chas­ing one, and in­stead go­ing for the cheaper PS4. My main is­sue with this – and we also saw it in the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion with PS3 – is that gamers don’t seem will­ing to spend more than £400 on a new games con­sole.

In my opin­ion this is hurt­ing the games in­dus­try as whole. With a lot of coun­tries now re­cov­er­ing from a re­ces­sion, it’s clear that both Mi­crosoft and Sony were not will­ing to make a loss on their next gen­er­a­tion con­soles. But what this has cre­ated is con­soles that barely run games in 1080p and at 60fps. This is caus­ing heated de­bates on a lot of game fo­rums and web­sites over which con­sole is the more pow­er­ful. But this is over­look­ing a big­ger prob­lem: this gen­er­a­tion of con­soles is un­der­pow­ered. Even the PS4 is un­able to run cer­tain games at high fram­er­ates ( The Or­der: 1886), or at high res­o­lu­tions ( Bat­tle­field 4). This should be a stan­dard that ‘next-gen’ con­soles should be achiev­ing, but we can’t keep ex­pect­ing to pay 300-odd quid for th­ese ma­chines and then ex­pect them to out­per­form or match high-spec PCs. If we can spend £600 a year on a new phone, why can’t we spend £600 ev­ery five to eight years on a new con­sole that is truly wor­thy of the la­bel ‘next gen’? David King

The dif­fer­ence be­ing that you don’t buy con­soles on monthly con­tracts, of course. And when you up­grade your phone, your old games come with you. Ul­ti­mately, though, the in­ner work­ings of the day-one £600 iPhone pur­chaser prob­a­bly isn’t some­thing the world will ever un­der­stand com­pletely.

“We can’t keep ex­pect­ing to pay £300 for th­ese ma­chines and ex­pect them to out­per­form PCs”

V0.99 prob­lems

With the re­cent in­flux of early ac­cess games I’ve been think­ing about how there’s a cer­tain ‘sweet spot’ with get­ting in­volved in them. The risks of jump­ing in too early are ob­vi­ous – you risk burn­ing your­self out on a ti­tle be­fore it be­comes fea­ture com­plete – but equally I find my­self be­com­ing anx­ious about buy­ing a prod­uct too late and find­ing my­self join­ing a com­mu­nity that’s ei­ther past its peak, or else has been so in­volved with the devel­op­ment process for a game that they un­der­stand it on a deeper level than I could ever hope to achieve. With DayZ, for ex­am­ple, there is not only a large com­mu­nity that has de­vel­oped a deep un­der­stand­ing of the fun­da­men­tal logic of the game, but there is also a risk that its slow devel­op­ment means that when it fi­nally reaches ver­sion 1.0 that there might not be any in­ter­est left.

Will the fan­fare of a 1.0 re­lease be enough to res­ur­rect the hype of a game that showed prom­ise in its al­pha stages, or are many of th­ese early-ac­cess games peak­ing in

pop­u­lar­ity months or years be­fore their fi­nal re­lease? Per­son­ally, I’m op­ti­mistic that there are enough play­ers out there like me who want to wait for the com­plete ex­pe­ri­ence, but equally I’m still wor­ried that with many of th­ese games I’m go­ing to find my­self jump­ing onto an empty band­wagon.

Jon Porter It’s still early days for early ac­cess, but put it this way: it didn’t do Minecraft too much harm, did it? At least your new At­las head­set is al­ready fea­ture com­plete.

High street lowlifes

So Ac­tivi­sion’s Eric Hir­sh­berg says pre­orders are down across the in­dus­try. I’m not sur­prised in the slight­est, but I don’t think he sees the whole pic­ture. He says it’s be­cause we are in­creas­ingly buy­ing games dig­i­tally and that boxed prod­ucts are so widely avail­able that there’s no need to guar­an­tee your­self a copy. He’s miss­ing a trick, I think.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of buy­ing a game from a shop is hor­rid. If you’re not having your pur­chase mocked, you’re be­ing up­sold some own-brand tat or pestered to sign up for some loy­alty scheme or other by some (un­der­stand­ably) des­per­ate mem­ber of staff. Videogame re­tail has always been bad, ad­mit­tedly, but now I have other op­tions – not just from dig­i­tal down­loads, but on­line stores like Ama­zon too – I find my­self only go­ing to a high street shop when I’ve got some­thing to trade in.

Re­tail­ers and pub­lish­ers need each other, and in their rush to help each other out in th­ese dif­fi­cult times they’ve lost sight of the fact that their first pri­or­ity should be the cus­tomer. The cur­rent trend seems to be for re­tailer-exclusive con­tent that’s tied to pre­orders. I as­sume you saw that JPG of all the Watch Dogs spe­cial edi­tions that were avail­able from re­tail­ers around the world. I get what’s go­ing on: it en­ables the pub­lisher to make the re­tailer feel spe­cial for get­ting stuff no one else is get­ting, then lets the re­tailer of­fer the cus­tomer some­thing they can’t get any­where else.

The thing is, by its very de­sign, this stuff can’t be spe­cial at all. Some­thing that’s be­ing made for only a frac­tion of a de­vel­oper’s en­tire au­di­ence is bound to be su­per­fi­cial. An al­ter­nate cos­tume, a weapon skin, maybe an XP boost – it’s all non­sense, re­ally, and get­ting it doesn’t make me feel spe­cial, it makes me feel like a mug for fall­ing for it. Hir­sh­berg can blame mar­ket forces all he likes, but per­haps he should get his own house in or­der be­fore pass­ing the buck to the world at large.

Justin Lin­ham Was there ever re­ally an in­cen­tive to put your name down early? The last game we re­mem­ber be­ing in short sup­ply on day one was Res­i­dent Evil 4. Still, if it means we can one day look for­ward to having to en­dure one fewer up­sell at the till, we’re all for it.

Fear of a wack planet

I was de­lighted to see No Man’s Sky on the cover of E270, but I no­ticed that some oth­ers weren’t. Look­ing on­line I saw a host of com­plaints about Hello Games’ lat­est be­ing a load of in­die rub­bish that couldn’t pos­si­bly live up to the enor­mous amount of hype that it has gen­er­ated. The lat­ter could, with re­spect, be said about any in-devel­op­ment game that has ever fea­tured in the mag­a­zine. It’s the for­mer state­ment that re­ally makes my blood boil, though.

Why are peo­ple so in­tim­i­dated by in­die games? They seem to think their pre­cious hobby is some­how un­der threat, that the ex­is­tence and suc­cess of games like Fez and Gone Home means that the likes of

Bat­tle­field and GTA will no longer ex­ist, that EA and Rock­star will start mak­ing walk­ing sim­u­la­tors and pixel-art puzzle-plat­form­ers. I just don’t get it. Ubisoft is mak­ing smaller games like Child Of Light and Valiant Hearts, but it’s still mak­ing an As­sas­sin’s Creed ev­ery year like clock­work and in­vest­ing in new things like Watch Dogs.

I love a lav­ish blockbuster just as much as the next man, but I’ve also fallen head over heels in love with a lot of games made by small stu­dios, in the past cou­ple of years es­pe­cially. Surely all that mat­ters is a game’s qual­ity, and not how much it cost to make?

Jonathan Baker Well, you’d think so. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine most tra­di­tional game com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in some­thing as am­bi­tious and risky as No

Man’s Sky, but for as long as the lit­tle guys keep push­ing at the lim­its of games, we’ll keep cel­e­brat­ing them in th­ese pages.

Price clim­bers

I’m se­ri­ously be­gin­ning to won­der why we in the UK have to pay the price so that US gamers can get a bet­ter deal, though I know that this prob­lem is not limited to gam­ing and ex­tends to var­i­ous prod­ucts. I do be­lieve that we are be­ing let down as con­sumers in the pric­ing depart­ment. I un­der­stand costs re­gard­ing ship­ping have to be fac­tored in, but as I have some knowl­edge of the cost of im­port/ex­port I do not be­lieve that the price dif­fer­ence is war­ranted. A UK game can cost £50 to £55, which is $85 to $90, but US gamers pay a mere $60, which is equiv­a­lent to £35. This is an as­tro­nom­i­cal dif­fer­ence. I do not be­lieve that our US cousins would ever ac­cept this, but as usual we here in the UK al­low it to go on. I love the medium, but I feel that peo­ple are miss­ing out on wor­thy ti­tles be­cause of their ex­pense, and pub­lish­ers are miss­ing out on in­come by not mak­ing games more af­ford­able. I be­lieve some­thing will have to give even­tu­ally.

Ad­nan El It al­ready has, with the death of the mid­dle tier. It’s an age-old prob­lem, and there’s always VAT to con­sider, but that doesn’t ac­count for, let alone jus­tify, such a large dif­fer­ence. Ap­par­ently US store ac­counts are easy to cre­ate and of­fer games at cheaper rates, al­though clearly we could never con­done pur­su­ing such av­enues.

Tur­tle Beach’s At­las head­set (RRP £119.99) is com­pat­i­ble with 360, Xbox One and PC set­ups

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