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Jordan Webb

Jordan Webb

Jordan is an avid gamer, and spent most of his years playing on a multitude of different platforms. Starting out with the NES, he branched off into PC gaming in his teenage years, which is where he spends most of his gaming time today.  Favourite Genres - RTS, Western RPG's, MMO's & Third Person Action Currently Playing Too Much Of - The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (He isn't sorry) and World of Warcraft (Almost sorry).

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What in the world is the World of Warcraft? stars

A guide to help you choose whether to be, or not to be in World of Warcraft

While not the only title in it's category, and certainly not being the first of it's kind; World of Warcraft has managed to cement it's status as one of, if not the most well-known MMO to ever be released. Combining a simple, yet easily recognizable aesthetic, the game has spawned countless references within TV shows, Movies, and even other Video Games, and to this day still manages to strongly clasp to a subscription model, in what is vastly becoming a "free-to-play" genre. 

You've heard of the game, but you've never found an excuse or the time to try it, so we can only assume that you don't know your Murky from your Hogger, and terms such as "LFM EN HC 5/7 Down, Link Curve" mean approximately the square root of nothing to you. If so, then worry not! We've put together this small guide to help you figure out whether or not this world is for you, and, if you're willing to try it, what to expect as you carve your character's legacy into the ever growing World of Warcraft.

Sorry, wait, what? What is an MMO?

If we're going to start with the basics, then there's really no point in skipping over this fundamental - An MMO is an abbreviation for 'Massively Multiplayer Online', and refers to a game that is solely playable online within a persistent world alongside a multitude of other players, often spanning countries from across the globe. While there are some varying genres that fall into this category, the most popular and well known of these are MMORPG's (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), which allows players to create a character, and 'level' their online persona through a multitude of quests and group experiences. While there are multiple sub-genres that can be named within this category, the mostly popular type that tends to grab the attention of large crowds is fantasy, which has given rise to other popular games such as Guild Wars, Runescape, Everquest and most recently, The Elder Scrolls Online. This particular setting of game offers the vast opportunity for developers to be as outrageous and creative as possible when it comes to creating a home for their titles, and allows for a vast multitude of varying landscapes, Tolkienesque level of story telling and different playable races to choose from.

This brings us full circle to World of Warcraft; a game which found it's humble roots in the well known (and arguably genre defining) real-time strategy series, Warcraft. Combining role-playing and leveling elements from the last game in the series, Warcraft 3, a massive online world seemed like the natural progression for the developers, Blizzard, and is currently enjoying it's thirteenth year in existence.  

I've never played an MMO before, is World of Warcraft a good place to start?

That vastly depends on what you're looking for, the game has evolved heavily over the years, and is currently a very different beast from the one that launched in 2004. In order to keep as high a subscription base as possible, Blizzard have attempted to branch out to as many different types of players as they can think of, ranging from those that like to log in for a couple of hours a week right over to the other end of the spectrum, that sees more dedicated players spending dozens of hours a week inside the digital world. Most of the content within the game is accessible with little commitment, and does little to punish those who are looking for a casual experience in game. 

World of Warcraft does offer a basic and newbie-friendly experience, which has become increasingly better over the years. The game slowly introduces the fundamentals of questing and learning your character specific class over the course of a dozen or so levels, which helps to get to grips with the basic mechanics of the game. The game features an 'Adventure Guide', which constantly updates itself based on your level, offering tips on what to do next, which quick-launch buttons that will point you in the right direction should you get lost. However, once you reach the maximum character level within the game (currently 110), the experience then branches off into different directions, offering a different level of commitment based content, dependent on what kind of player you end up growing to be. The gameplay is also supplemented with 'Dungeon' experiences, which will team you up with 4 other players, and sees you all undertake a group experience where numerous enemies need to be killed, and tactic-based but often easy boss encounters will need to be overcome. Dungeons are an optional experience, however, they do offer one of the quickest ways to level through the game, as well as offering plenty of opportunities to acquire new gear and equipment for your character.

What are Realms? How do I choose one?

Realms are the servers for World of Warcraft, and offer different types to cater for a range of players. Some realms offer a PvE (Player Vs Environment) experience, where PvP (Player Vs Player) will be disabled by default. This means that while travelling around the world of Azeroth, players from the opposing faction won't be able to fight and kill you, unless you both decide to enable your PvP flag. Other server varieties include: PvP, which offers players no ability to disable their PvP flag, meaning they are a vulnerable target throughout most of the world and RP (role-playing servers) which offer an incredibly unique and albeit different experience altogether; these realms are normally bound by a universally accepted ethic, that sees other players interact with one-another in-character, often leading to interesting encounters in what would normally be ordinary situations on other Realms.

Make sure that you invest time in choosing a Realm that is right for you. While it is possible to complete content with friends and players on other Realms, your overall experience can be defined by the players that naturally populate yours. Don't enjoy your questing experience interrupted by higher level players killing you? Then perhaps a PvP server isn't for you. Do you prefer immersion over fighting, and enjoy creating your own stories? Then an RP Realm might be the way forward. For some players, moving Realms is the only way to continue enjoying their character, and while this is a possible feature in-game, it does have a real world price tag attached to the service of doing so.

If World of Warcraft has been around for years, will I be left behind compared to older players?

Yes and no. This is probably the most difficult question to ask, as the answer is relative to what you want to get out of the game. While the process of leveling your character to the maximum limit of 110 is a fairly simple and often methodical one, the question of catching up becomes slightly ambiguous once you reach this limit. At 110, new ventures and gameplay content open up to you, most commonly in the form of 'Raids', which are encounters not too dissimilar in practice to 'Dungeons', but can range from 10 to 30 players collectively working together to complete a series of obstacles and boss fights. This is quite possibly where the majority of player divide occurs, and can cause huge levels of frustration for new players seeking to enter a higher tier of raiding.

More veteran players will have an obvious advantage when it comes to experience, and while the mechanics differ from raid to raid, the fundamentals of learning tactics and overcoming challenges remain more or less unchanged. By itself, this doesn't pose any obvious difficulties, but when coupled with in game raiding Guilds, it becomes a whole new issue altogether. Guilds are player created groups, that can end up becoming a hub of social and gaming activity, and allows Guild leaders to organise a host of events for their members, including raiding. It's worth mentioning at this point, that the newer raids in the game come in a variety of difficulties, with the tactical and entry requirements differing from each. The easiest of which to enter is the LFR tier (Looking-For-Raid), which allows players to join an automated queue, that will match them up with other players in order to complete the instance. As with being the easiest of Raid tiers, the in-game 'loot' and rewards are variably set to match this. While this experience is satisfactory to most players, a large portion will begin to find the LFR tier too easy, and will quickly find that their gear begins to outrank the quality of any possible loot drop from within that instance. Now, this is where the major disparity happens - The other Raid tiers are split into 3 types: Normal, Heroic and Mythic, with the latter being the hardest of the 3, and therefore offering the best rewards. Unlike LFR, these tiers require players to manually form a group with one another, and enter the instance by foot in order to attempt the encounter. Because of the difficulties of these Raids, and the time investment that goes with it in order to beat them, Guilds are the natural and obvious way to form a group to do so. Guilds will often only seek players of a certain skill, and will usually ask potential new recruits to provide examples of their previous raiding feats, often by linking achievements obtained from them, or even viewing a players 'Armory' profile on the WoW site. For newer players that have the determination, but lack the experience, this can often lead into a frustrating cycle of needing to complete raids in order to gain experience, but only being offered the opportunity to gain that experience, if they have only completed the raid first. While there are groups that offer up the chance for new players to Raid with them, they are few and far between, and this can often lead newer players feeling alienated from the higher tiers available.

If you wish to stay away from the 'hardcore' experience, then the game offers many catch-up mechanics, that can bring you up to speed with the majority of the player-base. The first of which is a maximum level character boost, which is offered as a free benefit when purchasing the latest expansion, Legion, for the first time. This allows players to create a 110 character from a class of their choice, so you can begin playing the latest content straight away, however, it's much more advisable for newer players to try and level a character first, as this method offers the best newbie experience. Additional boosts can be obtained, but a cost of real currency. Other mechanics in-game include a system only recently added (as of Patch 7.1.5), which allows players to increase the power obtaining mechanics on their 'Artifact Weapon', which decreases the time taken increase the damage output of your gear. 

Raiding doesn't really appeal to me, what else can I do?

While raiding is one of the more popular activities to do at maximum level, there are still vast amounts of content and game-types for you to work around, should you prefer to try something else. Currently, the game offers a series of 'World Quests', which change on a regular basis and offer players an ongoing, large amount of quests to complete, and rewards that go with them. There is also pet leveling and capturing, a system that was introduced with the expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and offers an experience very similar to that of Pokèmon; players are able to capture and train hundreds of different critters, in what has arguably become a separate game within itself. If you consider yourself a collector, then there is a vast range of legacy content that you can work through - Instead of being retired to the archives, all previous content, including raids and dungeons are kept from all of the expansions, and players are able to complete most of them with ease, normally by themselves. While this doesn't pose any real challenge, it affords players the chance to try their hand at obtaining rare gear, pets or mounts (ride-able creatures that you can use as transport in the game). Previous content aside, the game currently offers a a whole range of story driven questing content, in a leveling zone that is only available to max level players. The story is expanded upon with each new content patch, and offers various tasks and challenges for players who are determined to reap the rewards at the end of them.

You mentioned PvP before, is there any more to it?

There is, and it comes in different flavors! Similar to PvE Guilds, there are PvP Guilds dotted throughout most common servers, and often recruit in new members to join in their activities. Unfortunately, these Guilds can fall victim to the similar shortcoming of PvE Raiding Guilds, although there are plenty of ways to enjoy PvP if you're interested. You can queue either by yourself or with a group in order to take part in a Battleground, which pits the Horde and Alliance against one another in a variety of maps and game modes, ranging from Capture the Flag to a battle of attrition. There are also the smaller and more personal Arena Skirmishes, which will face off teams of 2 or 3 against one another, in a gladiatorial type setting. This game type tends to be much shorter than Battlegrounds, but the skill level involved in them can be a lot higher, which may leave newer players frustrated as they try to adjust to the learning curve. It's worth noting, that the in-game rewards for PvP are incredibly limited when compared to that of PvE Raiding, as previous PvP specific gear sets were removed by Blizzard in order to shorten the advantage between PvP heavy players, and those that dabbled. While the move seems to have worked slightly, it has left little to no sense of reward for PvP focused players, beyond the sense of achievement when winning matches.

Sounds okay and all, but I'm still not so sure...

Choosing how to invest your time is important, and MMORPG's such as World of Warcraft can become a huge time investment if you let it, so it's vital that you're as informed as possible for deciding whether or not to part with your hard earned cash and time. Luckily, the game is available to try for free up until level 20, so you can get a small taste for whether or not the game is for you. 

On a final note

If you decide to take the plunge into World of Warcraft, then it's important to keep a few things in mind

1) There is no race to maximum level - Enjoy the quests and the leveling experience. The world won't leave you behind if you take your time, and it's common for most seasoned players to often relish for the opportunity to experience the game for the first time again.

2) No matter how good someone claims to be, everyone was new to the game once - In the later stages of the game, some players can become frustrated with the learning appetites of newer players, and can unfortunately become venomous while doing so. Don't let it put you off, everyone started off as a level one character, and took their time to learn the game. I myself as a player spent a very long time wearing Intellect gear on my Death Knight character; if you ever get the chance to play through the game, you'll understand what an atrocious idea that was.

3) Never be afraid to ask for help - While some pleas for help may be met with some sarcasm, there are plenty of players who are more than happy to help you. New to a dungeon? Just let people know, it instantly negates the opportunity for people to be aggressive towards you, and if they do, you'll find the others will quickly come to your defence.

4) Read up on fan sites for tips on how to play - Sites such as Noxxic, Icy-Veins and WoWpedia are excellent resources when it comes to learning your class. As well as offering ideas and guides on how to complete some of the world's content.

5) Have fun! While getting tips from sites and other players can be helpful, make sure to play the game in whatever way you find to be the most fulfilling. While it's tempting to pick a class based on it's damage output, it may not end up being one you enjoy. Each class is unique, and has it's own strengths and weaknesses, but regardless, you should always play the one that gives you the most amount of enjoyment.

If you made it this far, then thanks a lot for reading our short guide! We'd love to write more things like this, so if you've an interest in reading further about this game (or any other MMO!) then let us know in the comments below.

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This Week In Gaming

We've created a brand new Gaming News Feature, which will release every Saturday.

We'll be covering the latest in gaming news across all platforms, so make sure you head over to our YouTube and Subscribe if you'd like to get all the latest as of when it's released.

You can also follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/TheCultGeek - Feel free to say hello!

 

Mass Effect 2 Currently Free On Origin

The standard edition of Mass Effect 2 is free for a limited time on Origin. The game, which normally retails at $19.99, can be obtained by players, assuming that they have a free Origin account.

In what is undoubtedly a move to fuel the marketing machine for Mass Effect: Andromeda, there has never been a better time for newcomers to the series to enter the critically acclaimed 'Mass Effect' universe before the new title launches on March 21st.

New gameplay footage emerged for ME: Andromeda from the Nvidia stage at CES last night, check out the the video below for a more detailed look.

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda To Launch This March

Mass Effect: Andromeda will be available in North America on March 21 on Windows, Xbox One and Playstation 4, according to Bioware's Mass Effect Blog. The game will release on the aforementioned platforms 2 days later, on the 23rd.

Fans of the game have suspected that the game would launch on March 21, due in part leaked promotional material, but the date has only been confirmed today ahead of Nvidia's CES Keynote, where additional gameplay footage is scheduled to be shown.

Mass Effect: Andromeda will be a brand new chapter in the hugely popular 'Mass Effect' series, and will see players stepping into the shoes of a fresh protagonist, set hundreds of years after the events of Mass Effect 3. While the ending of the third installment was the centre of controversy, due to many fans blaming the writers of introducing a 'deus ex machina' style wrap-up to the series, the fourth installment is still heavily anticipated by many members of the gaming community.

We will provide more information once it becomes available, but you can watch the below trailer from last Novemeber for Mass Effect: Andromeda until then.

Overwatch Adds A New Map, Available To Play Now

Blizzard have added a new map, Oasis, to the game after a new update released today.

The map has been part of the public test server for over a month, and is now available as part of a free update on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Windows. Oasis is set in the Arabian Desert, and focuses on 3 control points which players must fight over in order to win the map.

Blizzard officially stated:


Researchers and academics from around the region came together to found a city dedicated to scientific progress without restraints — a monument to human ingenuity and invention. The city and its inhabitants are governed by the Ministries, a collection of brilliant minds who possess many secrets that have attracted the interest of powerful organizations from around the world.


You can also see the official map preview in the video below.

GTA V Could Feature Entire Of Liberty City Thanks To Modders

The modding team behind the popular OpenIV have announced that they will soon be releasing a mod that adds GTA IV's Liberty City to GTA V.  Instead of overwriting the content already available, the Russian team are seeking to add to city as a separate island instead, allowing players to freely migrate between the two.

In order for the tool to work, players will need to own a copy of both GTA IV and GTA V, as the mod uses a process which requires converting and then pasting the old assets into the latest one. Liberty City is one of the series most densely and largest maps, so the conversion will be no simple task, however, the team behind the tool have stated that the mode should be available "as soon as possible.” As there are no current screenshots of the new content available at the time of writing, then the time implications behind this statement are yet to be seen. 

It is also worth mentioning that the mod will only work in single player only and that attempts to use the tool online could very well likely result in a ban.

Steam Awards Announces Its First Time Winners

Back during the Steam Fall Sale in November, Valve announced that it would running it's first-ever end of year awards. Originally only 8 categories were announced, and the community were given complete control over who would make the final nominations list. Valve also set no restriction as to when the games nominated were originally released, which gave way to an interesting and almost unpredictable set or nominee lists for each category.

Skip forward to the end of December, and the community was asked to vote on each category during the Winter Sale, with 4 additional fan-categories being added to the roster. The results were tallied, and the winners were announced; we've compiled this into a list for you below.


Villain Most In Need Of A Hug: Portal 2

I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won An Award: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Test of Time: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim

Just 5 More Minutes: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Whoooaaaaaaa, dude!: Grand Theft Auto 5

Game Within A Game: Grand Theft Auto 5

I'm Not Crying, There's Something In My Eye: The Walking Dead

Best Use Of A Farm Animal: Goat Simulator

Boom Boom: Doom

Love/Hate Relationship: Dark Souls 3

Sit Back and Relax: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Better With Friends: Left 4 Dead 2


So there you have it, the virtual awards have been allocated, and bragging rights have been granted for the rest of eternity (maybe). Do you agree with the results? Who could have better won the categories? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Lessons The Gaming Industry Could Learn For 2017 stars

As 2016 comes to a close, it's time to look back at the shortcomings, triumphs and controversies of the industry.

As far as releases go, it's been a busy one for gaming; new IP's have entered the arena, and have caused waves for both good and bad reasons. Franchise giants have also reappeared, and have managed to collapse in spectacular fashion, or shone brightly when expected to fail. We've compiled a round up of this years biggest lessons, and set them out in the guide below.

Lesson 1: Accepting when and where change is needed.

The Call of Duty franchise is one that spans 13 years, and coincidentally 13 titles. From 2005 onward, Activision has published a game per year as part of this series giant, with the reception between some being drastically critical and high in praise alike. However, with each new title, comes an overabundance of familiarity, which has been both embraced and mocked by fans and general gamers, leading the franchise to head toward McCall of Duty sense of status that prides quantity over quality.  

Enter: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. The games announcement was hit with a mixed reception from the industry, when it was announced that purchases of the game would come bundled with a remastered edition of the fan favorite Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The main controversy was sparked when it was revealed that the only way of gaining access to the remaster was to purchase the newest title, with no option to buy it separately. To some, this indicated a wavering front on Activision's faith in the franchise's ability to pull the crowds in amidst an influx of well designed and highly popular competitive FPS games on the market. The move mirrored Activision's tactics of trying to sway consumers with dangling nostalgia carrots; similar to Blizzard's World of Warcraft series, which has also focused on bringing back fan favourite foes and allies in an attempt to reel the players back in. 

At the games release, it received a generous score from critics, but was rebuked sharply by fans, especially on PC (which was largely in part to technical shortcomings and performance issues). While the game went on to sell just under 2 million copies in it's first week, the overall sales were down 50% on the previous years Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. While Activision tried to downplay the drop in sales due to Black Ops carrying more brand weight in the name (Despite both series featuring the more prominently known Call of Duty title), the writing was clear on the wall for all to see; the series was turning stagnant, and consumers were reacting to this with their wallets. 

The multiplayer was also criticized heavily for it's lack of innovation, which was reflected in dwindling player numbers, whilst other multiplayer heavy titles like Overwatch and Battlefield 1 only continued to thrive, proving that Activision need to drastically alter the CoD Formula in it's upcoming titles. With internet access being more readily available than ever, the competitive online market is booming. While FPS games can still hold incredibly well when tied together with reactive gameplay or well designed stories, the multiplayer elements now have more of a hold on a products shelf life than ever before. 

But what about when changes are implemented and ultimately work? Well, this is what leads us to perhaps one of the biggest surprise successes of the year, Watch_Dogs 2. While the first installment of the series introduced some interesting elements to the open world genre, it lacked any real depth and polish to seal it as an overall success. Tied together with a weak story, unlikable lead character, and a whole clusterfuck of controversy surrounding hidden 'E3' graphics and downgrades, the game fell short of making a strong stand as a brand new IP. 

Watch_Dogs 2 was received by a cautious market, which was reflected in sales that reportedly mirrored only 80% of that of the original. While the damage had already been done, the game received a much more positive reception from the general consumer, with PC gamers also praising the graphical fidelity and performance of the title. Ubisoft Montreal had learned some harsh lessons from the first installment, and had removed the previously focused  sense of doom and gloom from the sequel, and instead replaced it with a narrative that managed to not take itself too seriously. The characters were also replaced with more likable personas, a far cry from the originals Aiden Pearce, who's apathetic attitude and constant regretting over the past did too much to quell player enthusiasm. While the story still didn't manage to break boundaries, the narrative felt like an enjoyable parody of itself at times, which was heavily complemented by a more fluid and driven gameplay experience. While the game sales projections were lowered by Ubisoft, the change also demonstrates that they are willing to listen to their audience, and communicate ideas on both a design and development level in order to create a more enjoyable experience for their consumer base. Hopefully, this change will help drive sales for the game as content is developed for it, and will also demonstrate a return of faith in consumers, which can only lead to better sales for future installments, a lesson that Activision should explore should they want to avoid driving Call of Duty into the ground.

 

Lesson 2: Ambiguous Marketing Doesn't Always Have A Happy Ending

No Man's Sky. By simply throwing the name of this title into any popular forum, you will find yourself ducking under a torrent of alternating opinions and emotions, ranging from blind hatred to senseless fanboy-ism.  

While the title was originally announced by the independent studio Hello Games in 2014, details of the core gameplay mechanics were kept under much tighter wraps until very recently. The details were kept so far from the public, in fact, that numerous "What actually is No Man's Sky?" articles surfaced across the internet, with gamers arguing over fundamentals which are normally made a lot clearer earlier on in the marketing process. Vague interviews with the company founder, Sean Murray, only served to further the conspiracy flames, as his limited answers and boyish grins did very little to fill in the gameplay blanks. While this lack of certainty filled a number of people with doubt over the upcoming title, it also became the main fuel for the self-propelled hype train that was inevitably born from the independent title. Due to the ambiguous gameplay details, people ended up filling in the blanks themselves; pulling in sparse details from limited gameplay videos and interviews in order to surmise the finer details and ultimate direction of the narrative.

It is impossible to deny that Hello Games didn't become aware of the mass hype that had amassed for their title, but what remains unclear is whether or not they deliberately played on peoples hopeful expectations in order to further drive the marketing for their game. Later interviews were just as vague, and un-edited footage from the 'live' build of the game wasn't actually displayed until a few hours before the title's launch, which was hosted by the studio themselves. While this set of events rang very loud alarm bells among some consumers, the game still went on to enjoy commercial success in it's first week, accumulating huge sales across PS4 and PC. However, once the gameplay elements, or thereby lack of, became abundantly clear, the sales engine came to a drastic slow down over the following weeks. Many gamers took to Reddit and official forums in order to vent their anger over the title, some citing previous interviews and quotes in order to back up the bulk of their claims of lies told about the game. 

This was made worse by a lack of any real form of communication from Hello Games, with their previously active Twitter account staying silent for months, leading the Sub-Reddit r/nomansskythegame to create a running thread that announced the number of days the studio had stayed silent for. Just before day 100, the Studio finally made an official statement, along with information surrounding a new 'Founders Update', which added base-building elements to the game, as well as seeking to address some issues raised by players. While the patch was received well by some fans, it became quickly clear that long term damage to the title has been done, with daily concurrent players quickly dropping back down the their regular lows, and forums becoming sparsely filled areas of "Look at what I found" screenshots.

While Hello Games' intentions may have never been insidious, their poor handling of the games marketing and post release process ultimately sealed their short term fate as a developer, with many likening Sean Murray's ability to over promise with that of Lionhead Studios founder, Peter Molyneux. The process of staying quiet post release may have been as a result of Murray's antics, in an attempt to avoid any further damage to the games reputation.

The incident serves as a warning to both consumers and independent developers; to keep open a healthy dialogue during the development and post release stages. Arguably, if Hello Games had been more honest with their audience about what the game would and wouldn't feature before release, then it could have received a better reception, and could still be enjoying a healthier, albeit slower climb of sales, with a steady flow of content still in the works.

 

Lesson 3: DLC Doesn't Have To Be Anti-Consumer

Skip back to 2015, and DLC had almost cemented itself as a dirty word. Used by many publishers to slice off chunks of main games in order to segregate and further product sales, DLC was seen as a lazy attempt to gain extra consumer cash. What used to be unlockable items, skins and weapons through coveted sense of achievement, were now locked behind pre-order or post release paywalls. While DLC caused a divide of opinion between gamers, one thing became apparently clear; DLC was here to stay. 

2016, however, would go on to prove that DLC didn't have to be the spawn of the devil that some claimed it to be, with titles such as The Witcher 3 and Overwatch proving that content could be free or made to a high standard (or both!). This year saw the release of the final expansion for the critically acclaimed Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine. This expansion added an entirely new area to the already vast in-game world, along with at least 20 hours of main story and side quest content. The world was built from the ground up, with the atmosphere, environment and aesthetics feeling familiar yet completely different from the narrative of the main story. The new content was so expansive, that some fans argued the DLC featured more content than other major release titles that year, and the DLC itself went on to win awards later in the year. To top it off, the content was put on the market for just under $15, boasting more value than any other major title DLC released in recent memory.

Overwatch developers, Blizzard, had previously promised that all future game modes, maps and playable characters introduced to the game post release would be made available for free. So far, they've kept true to their word, with 2 new characters being added, as well as 1 new map, and a large host of seasonal themed game modes and environments. While the content is effectively 'free', Blizzard have not lowered their ability to create high quality content, with each new addition feeling fresh and unique to the title. Some of the seasonal game modes, which have disappeared after their respective event has ended, have been praised for being incredibly fun, with some players petitioning for the game modes to be added as permanent features. The game does provide players with in-game loot boxes, which contain cosmetic content only, and can be obtained through in-game methods, or with real money. The events, modes and new characters that Blizzard has introduced so far has benefited both the players and the developers immensely, with the game earning Blizzard a staggering $585.6 million in less than 7 months. This ethic proves that a game can enjoy huge commercial success, without pinning customers down to shell out more money to play new content.  

 

Lesson 4: Early Access Needs To Be Regulated Responsibly

It's only been several years since 'Early Access' titles became a prominent feature on Steam, although crowdfunded projects have been around since long before then. While some Early Access games have been the focal point for debate, the method of kickstarting independent game development has undeniably paved the way for some incredible titles. Some of the most famous of which are arguably Minecraft, Kerbal Space Program, Terraria and Don't Starve, so on that basis, the method is tried and tested, so it can work. Unfortunately, that doesn't always mean that it does, and can lead to small development teams underestimating the work and money involved in lifting their ideas into creation, and that's where it all starts to go horribly wrong.

The Early Access platform that Steam offers is an evolving beast, and an interesting one at that. While Steam's recent refund policy has helped alleviate some of the issues caused by developers mis-selling their products to consumers, it ultimately has no bearing on products that end up failing during the development cycle. In a supposed 'Guidelines Document' to developers obtained by PC Gamer earlier this year, Valve states "Do not make specific promises about future events.For example, there is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen. Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game. Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not on promises of a future that may or may not be realized." The statement is fairly open ended, but its message is simple: Cover your ass. The document also lacks any reference to penalties that would be incurred on developers should they not follow any of mentioned rules, and suggests a fairly laid back approach to has the system is regulated. In simplistic terms, as long as your project doesn't promise to have x features (including release) released by y date, then it's pretty much fair game on how you handle your own store front. Consumers are entitled to a refund, but as long as it conforms to Steam's current refund policy, of two hours or less play time and fourteen days or less since the purchase was made.

The problem with the above is glaringly obvious; the system is just begging to be abused, and according to some fans, it already has been and it's likely that it will continue to do so. As a merchant and store front, Steam needs to take more of a hands on approach when it comes to ensuring the ethnicity and practice of the developers and publishers that use their platform to sell games. Time-frames should be identified with developers as part of the process of applying to release a title into Early Access, with the promise of reviews should development cycles not match those targets. 

As we see more games released into Early Access, we also see developers constantly testing the waters in regards to what they can get away with. Most notably of these is Wildcard Studios, the developers and publishers behind ARK: Survival Evolved. They released their Scorched Earth expansion, which caused surprise and anger among fans and gamers, bemused as to why the added content wasn't put into the development of the unfinished game instead. The answer, obviously, is money, and the studio got away with it. This can only pave the way for other studios to start doing the same, and in next to no time, it'll be common practice for 'Early Access' titles to provide such a feature.

 

Lesson 5: Paid Mods Can Work, But Must Benefit All Parties

Valve and Bethesda created a small uprising in 2015 when they announced that paid for mods would be introduced to Skyrim through Steam. Shortly after the announcement, paywall variations of previously popular mods began to surface through the client, and an internet battle or words quickly ensued. After an influx or negative reviews, and quickly growing petitions were formed online, Valve removed the paid feature only a few days after the original announcement, and issued a statement saying that "We've done this because it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing,". While this seemed to appease most of the angry fans, Valve also made it clear that they would be reviewing the process, and had every intention of introducing it via alternative means in the future.

Because of the rapidly changing face of the industry, and constant demand for increased profits; paid mods will inevitably hit the digital store fronts again, and this time it'll be for good. It has almost been two years since the original idea was canned by Valve, so there's every possibility that the feature could return again in 2017. 

So what needs to happen if it does? Valve (or any other storefront, for that matter), needs to better communicate their intentions with their customers before launching these new schemes. Customer feedback as well as support is vital for a new paid for feature to thrive, and it opens up a healthy relationship between the merchant and consumer. The system of 'modders' selling content also needs to be regulated, as the previous endeavor saw weapon packs and small re-skins being added to Skyrim for questionably high prices, which could only encourage others to do the same, leading to a stagnant and anti-consumer market.

But it works both ways. When clicking the 'Subscribe' button on a mod, it becomes quite easy to quickly forget about the time, effort and in some cases financial resources that some modders pour into their work. For some, it is a hobby, while for others it is a means to an end, with their work providing substance to their development and coding portfolio. While some modding websites, such as Nexus Mods, allows content creators to supply a PayPal link for donations, these are not compulsory, and are sparsely used in relation to how many downloads their work receives. By creating an environment that is both fair for modders and consumers, it offers up an exciting opportunity for potentially better quality mods to be provided for some of our favourite games. 

 

Thank you for making it this far! 2016 has been an interesting year for gaming, and it has left the door open for what could be an incredibly interesting for gamers and developers alike. 

What lessons do you think the industry could take into the New Year? Let us know in the comments below.

Mass Effect: Andromeda 'Environments Gameplay' To Be Shown Next Week

 

As part of Nvidia's CES 2017 Keynote

With what could be one of the most hyped and longest drawn out titles set to release next year, Bioware have confirmed that their latest title in the Mass Effect Universe is set to release in Spring 2017. 

While the game has been pushed back before, the newly stated launch window looks ever more likely, as the developers have also announced that there will be an 'environments and gamplay' focus at Nvidia's CES Keynote on 04/01. With the circulating rumors that the company's flagship GPU the GTX 1080Ti also set to be unveiled, it is likely that would could see the title showcased in 4K while using the new card.

We will keep you updated as more information comes through, including from the event itself, so make sure to follow us between 5th-8th of Jan for more details.

Developers for ARK: Survival Evolved Cause Internet Controversy (Again)

While it has only been months since the developers behind Ark: Survival Evolved caused somewhat of a shitstorm on the net by announcing a paid for DLC for their Early Access title (yes, that actually happened), it seems that they are not content with the controversial limelight etching too far away from their stage, so have managed to pull out another trick from their tricky sacks.

The trick in this instance is what could arguably be considered a 'bribe' in the form of new content for their base game, in exchange for votes in Steam's new and wildly talked about Steam Awards. The game was nominated by players for the 'prestigious' "Best Use Of A Farm Animal" Category, and shares the nomination stage with Stardew Valley, Goat Simulator, Farming Simulator 17 and Blood Bacon. A heavy counter argument has been put forward that while ARK does boast a wide range of animals, it doesn't actually feature any prominent or traditionally recognized farm animals.

Enter: The ploy for greatness.

ARK: Survival Evolved / Studio Wildcard

This would be perpetrator is the promised gift to players, should the game win the title in it's nominated category. In a post released on 26/12 by the developers, it was stated "Head over to http://store.steampowered.com/SteamAwards/ on Thursday the 29th of December, as you’ll have the opportunity to come show your support for ARK by voting for us! If ARK wins the award, we will ensure that our fluffy friend quickly makes its debut on the ARK in the next major version update!". To the surprise of absolute no-one, it didn't take long before the post did a monumental lap of forums, leading angry fans and gamers alike to flood the post with comments, pleas for change and inevitably text effigies of dicks. After receiving this unsurprising, yet still seemingly unexpected flow of negative feedback, the developers updated their statement to omit the previous entry, and instead include "We want to make it clear that regardless of whether ARK wins a Steam Award or not, Ovis will be making its debut in the next major ARK version update!" 

While this seems to have sated the taste for blood that some fans were so eagerly keen for, it does beg the question of why the developers couldn't have possibly foreseen the backlash in the first place. Offering incentives as a bribe for votes to win a category is certainly nothing new by any standards, even outside of the industry, but asking fans to vote for something that isn't in the game yet does seem like a stretch, and a weird one at that. Perhaps they had better faith in the reception of their proposition, or it could well be that the developers perceived mild controversy as an inexpensive way to market their game, and have it trend again on social media, forums and entertainment news sites.

 

Shit.

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