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Don’t Cross the Systems

Like Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 before it (and Portal 2, but let’s forget about that) Counter-Strike: Global Offensive now has items, both dropping in game and buyable from a store. I usually think of myself as objecting less to these things than the average player and as I found out about this update I had two conditions for being alright with it:  First, that the skins were visually down to earth. This is not Team Fortress 2. Secondly, that they were purely cosmetic.

Of my criteria, the first is fulfilled in my opinion, but what about the second? Looking at the Steam community page there seem to be two sides of this argument: “The items are only cosmetic!” vs “The items have an in game effect, the game will turn into TF2/CoD (???) and inevitably go F2P!” As always when it comes to forum posts about online games, there’s a lot of angry nonsense, but central to it seems to be a disagreement about what this update actually does. Are the new items purely cosmetic or do they come with in-game differences? Here comes the problem: Yes and no.

Looking at the FAQ released with the update there seems to be a clear answer:

Q: Can I buy items that will affect gameplay and give me an advantage?

A: No. All of the items are purely cosmetic.

Yet with the update everyone has had two other items added to their inventory. These are variant weapons players can equip with different stats in game and with silencers. While all items in the store (and hopefully in the drops system) are cosmetic, not all items in the system are. But everyone gets them and no one has to pay, so there’s no problem, right? Maybe.

This update is really doing two separate things: it’s adding a store for cosmetic items and it’s adding variant weapons to the game. My issue with this is that by doing both of these through the same loadout system the update ties two very different systems with different purposes together. Of course that will have people worried! I’m not saying the game will have non-cosmetic items in the shop, I’m saying Valve is easing nobody’s mind by tying these systems together.

We tend to think of game design as the design of gameplay, but these meta game-systems are just as important. Their presentation says things about how the systems work in game, how they relate to other systems and what is important. The two systems are superficially similar, they both let you replace a default item with something else, only in one case the player can replace visuals and in the other the player can replace mechanics. It’s not hard to see why Valve would use the same system for both. But by complecting those systems , they signal that cosmetic items and variant weapons are related.

Even if Valve has no intention of selling weapons with mechanical changes, their system says they are the same thing. If they want to add variant weapons it should not be done through system for cosmetic items.

Five hundred and ninety nine US dollars

So, the internet is in full speculation mode about Sony revealing the Playstation 4 on the 20th of February. Also, Ni No Kuni was just released in Europe. What do these two have to do with each other?

As I hope you all are aware, it is now 2013 and thus, living in the future I decided that buying a “disc” (??) with a game on it was far too luddite for me. Pre-ordering the game from Sony’s online store got me two DLC creatures to use in battle, of course I had to download those too. I might be spoiled, but most of my game purchases are through Steam, a service that downloads the game I’ve bought in one single process without making me download the individual parts, and the install them to piece my game together manually.

After downloading and installing the game and trying to run it, my machine tells me the game didn’t install properly. I download and install it again and get the same thing. After searching the internet I find I’m not the only one with this problem. Eventually I find Sony’s Twitter account mentioning there’s a second download. I check the store, and sure enough, there’s a 16 GB install in addition to the five or so already on my drive. How they ended up with this configuration of files I do not know. The problems here are multiple, but the most important one is having to check Twitter to install a game I bought. Why couldn’t my machine tell me this? Couldn’t this information be sent out to all accounts that bought the game?

Of course, I can’t download the larger file, I don’t have enough space. Except I do. I do have enough space (not that finding out is easy, you have to enter the System Settings menu) and a bit more, but on the PS3 you don’t just need space for the game, you need twice of that, you need space for the game and  for the installer. Why? Why not overwrite the installer as the game installs? Why not let me download games that do not need an installer at all? That might be the way the system was written when the machine was released but it’s 2013 now, we’ve had good digital distribution for years and it’s time to catch up. After deleting a few games I get my download going, but it eventually encounters an error of some kind and stops. Apparently my connection to their servers failed. In the real world I would the machine would just automatically resume downloading, but this is The Land of Sony and the download is gone and I need to be started over, except it’s not gone from the hard drive. My old and failed download is taking up space, leaving me without the space for a new download. How do I delete it? It doesn’t show up anywhere. The only solution I found was rebooting the machine.

I don’t know how much money straight from my pockets I’ve spent on games on Steam. If buying a game is easy, I’m more willing to do it. With Steam I don’t need to download a game in multiple pieces, I don’t need twice the space of the game. I can just buy something, then download it.

So, back to the PS4. Someone might argue that Sony is unwilling to fix these problems because the PS3 is on its way out, and that might be true. Of course, unless the PS4 is backwards compatible (of course it won’t be, how could I even dare to consider that) we’ll need to keep the machine around, and PS2 games are still being sold so it’s entirely possible for a console to last. Regardless of that, Sony just remade their store. Sure, they made it slower and harder to use instead of making improvements, but at least they’re showing that they’re willing to try to rework things. Or maybe it means they think flashy animations and a nice look is more important than a usable system.

The Vita has the same kind of problems. Starting the machine with a card in it makes it take lock down for 10 seconds for some kind of verification I guess. You can only buy and download single individual games from the store, if you want to buy more than one you can’t put them all in the cart and do it, you’ll have to to each transaction separately. The most bizarre thing is probably that Metal Gear Solid HD Collection costs more than Metal Gear Solid 2 HD and Metal Gear Solid 3 HD combined. How does that even make any sense?

At least the Vita store is certainly better than the new one on the PS3, but it’s not great, some games do not even show up unless you search for them, and after a download has finished it will take control of the machine and install it right now, regardless of what your plans might be. Then there is the issue of memory cards, the needlessly complex method of transferring files to and from the machine.

This is why I can’t seem to care in any way at all about Sony announcing the Playstation 4. Sony makes machines with games I want to play, but the monkeys that design their services seem completely oblivious to the idea that people are going to use them.