What’s the Deal with Microtransactions?

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Much like every other time I write about video games, I feel like I should offer a disclaimer that I’m about to put on my gaming nerd hat, and if you don’t play video games or couldn’t care less, I won’t be too offended if you skip this one.

As someone who’s pretty plugged into the gaming world, the main talking point I’ve seen for the last couple months is the rise of microtransactions. In-game purchases that  expedite the improvement of a character, give the player a competitive advantage, or just give the player some cool new gear. In games with an emphasis on online play and competitive matches, it can seem almost necessary to buy all the perks you can lest you get left behind by all the other people who did. The complaints are pretty simple- if I already paid for the full game, why should I be forced to pay even more after? Why does every game need them? In the case of DLC expansion missions, why not just release the entire game at once? Personally, I had never really gotten overly worked up about it. I usually avoid shooters (I’m very bad at them), and I thought the biggest culprits for microtransactions were phone games and shooters, particularly ones like Overwatch, whose loot box system is pretty much just another form of gambling. Then NBA 2K18 came out, whipping up a storm of controversy with the pretty clear encouragement to spend a lot of actual money in the game. And, again, I wasn’t all that upset. NBA 2K has been an important thing in my life for about a decade now, and there’s been microtransactions for at least six years. I figured the people who were upset had just never really played before. Then once I started playing, I found the presence of microtransactions to be pretty overwhelming. Within an hour of playtime,  my MyPlayer was already way behind everyone else. Then I realized that part of the reason I was unfazed by the reports of microtransactions in one of my games was that I had grown accustomed to them without even realizing it. Madden and Fifa have made buying points a necessity for completing in their various Ultimate Team modes for years. Star Wars Battlefront was one of the most heinous examples of sapping consumers dry of all time, and it doesn’t look like Battlefront 2 will be any different. Pretty much every game I buy has a special edition for $20 more that comes with special perks that you just have to have if you want the full experience. Even Shadow of War has them, and once the cold arm of capitalism comes for Middle Earth, I’m invested. But beyond just being kind of annoyed, I can’t really get too mad about it. For one, they kind of prop up the gaming industry as a whole. When companies have more money, they can hire better people and make more, better games. That’s no the worst thing. Secondly, I’m kind of just really lazy and have no willpower, so I’m usually inclined to take the easy way out.

Final Fantasy XV is a prime example for me. There are still a lot of things I haven’t accomplished, including the hardest dungeon, the secret post-game dungeon, and the secret hard mode of every dungeon. That’s an awful lot left for a game I loved playing and invested a lot of time into. So why the cold feet? Because even after a meticulous play through of the main story and like 95% of the side quests I’m still extremely underleveled. And I realized I’m just too old to level grind. I just can’t do it anymore. Unless it’s a transcendent game I literally can’t stop playing (any PokemonWitcher 3Persona 5, the Arkham games, etc.), I can’t sit there and fight the same enemies for days on end. There’s just too many other things I could be doing. What’s the payoff? Sure there’s bragging rights. But these days, you can find any part of any game ever on YouTube. It’s already how I solve any puzzle that befuddles me, anyway (if I’m stuck on a puzzle for more than 45 minutes, I’m looking up the answer). At the moment where I knew I was probably out, if the game gave me the option of paying however much to get a bunch of high level weapons and training boosts and all that, I probably would have paid (actually, I think there was the option to purchase various exp boosters, so score one for me for resisting!). As a Millennial, I’m used to being cast as the pantomime villain for the various problems with today’s society (yes, a lot of people my age are terrible people. A lot of old people are terrible people, too), but one thing I won’t really fight is the idea that we all have tiny attention spans and need to be doing a million things at once. Now, I have no problem devoting a long time to doing, watching, or playing one thing, but it takes something special to keep me from using two or three screens at once. And the more repetitive and monotonous the thing is, the more my attention is wont to wane. So if a game tells me if you want this sweet looking outfit you can either pay $5 or play for hours and hours and hours, I’ll start off trying to earn it organically, but I usually have a good sense of whether a game is good enough to keep playing forever, and, if it isn’t, I’m going to start justifying spending the money real fast. It’s just a fact. I don’t like it and I wish there wasn’t the option to spend even more money than I already do on video games, but it’s a fact.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can get as upset as we want over microtransactions, but they’re not going anywhere. There’s just too much money involved, and, using myself as representation for the entirety of the gaming population, people are always going to wind up completing a microtransaction at least once. Maybe it’s only $1, but if a game sells 10 million copies and everyone spends $1 extra, now there’s $10 million more in profit than there would have been without the in game purchases. You can complain about it online to your heart’s content, but I highly doubt all these companies are suddenly going to develop a conscience overnight. The only thing that will stop microtransactions is a lack of profit, which won’t happen. Believe me, I’ve tried to hold off. I got one of the special editions of NBA 2K18 (Best Buy Gamers Club 20% off all games, boiiiiiiiii) and told myself that was enough. By my second week of play, I had no choice but to spend more money if I wanted to compete online, which is one of the reasons I get the games in the first place. It’s annoying and depressing and unfair, but it’s just the way games are these days. Every game will have their own marketplace soon if they don’t already. Every game will have some kind of loot system that you can pay to get around. Every game will EXCLUSIVE dlc that you can ONLY get by preordering the Gold Edition from Gamestop. It’s easy to say just don’t buy anything in-game, but it gets hard when the people you’re playing with or against are miles ahead of you because they took the shortcut. It’s pretty much become pay to win or don’t play at all. That’s a bummer for a lot of people, and the only real solution is for companies to eliminate microtransactions, and, barring some unexpected government interference, I doubt that’ll ever happen. So maybe go back and play some old games, maybe just wait until they release the edition that has the dlc built in (I got the Witcher 3 edition that included both major dlc expansions for $30, biggest steal of all time), maybe resist the transactions and embrace the grind again. Build up your character the old fashioned way and feel like you accomplished something. Fight the man with elbow grease, just like your grandpa did! And if you don’t feel like doing any of that, you’d better get ready to pony up.

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The Official Pokemon Game Power Ranking

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(This might be a little niche for some, so I’ll forgive you for skipping this)

Unless you’re a diehard like me, you probably missed the fact that, over the weekend, Nintendo released Pokemon Gold and Silver for 3DS. There was nothing new, it wasn’t updated or anything. It was just the original Game Boy Color version available for download on the Nintendo eShop. Heck, I’m as plugged in to the Pokemon world as anyone, and I didn’t know about it until Friday night, when I immediately bought it. For only $10, it seemed like a no-brainer. After all, this was one of my favorite games of all time, and, if you count Game Boy as a true video game console (which I usually don’t), the first video game I ever owned. Might as well download it for a rainy day. Unsurprisingly, from the second I purchased Gold (I originally had Silver and later Soul Silver, so I figured I’d see how the other half lived), it began calling my name. I started playing the next day. And, more than anything else, it made me want to write about Pokemon, because, besides sports and myself, it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. I know, I know. It’s stupid and I should grow up. Well, I don’t really care. I’ve lost out on countless opportunities to spread my social wings so I could stay in and play Pokemon. I once played White for thirteen hours in one day. In the post-Generation II worlds, I’m willing to spend entire days catching the same Pokemon over and over again until I get one with the nature I’m looking for. I live to EV train and super train and, at one point or another, have pretty much known every single Pokemon’s strengths and weaknesses. Point is, I care way too much about Pokemon, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d rather be passionate about something juvenile and make-believe than not care about anything at all. So yes, I am still single.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, I can focus on the issue at hand. My previous Pokemon posts have been exclusively about my Pokemon football league (round 3 possibly coming soon?), but now that I’m back in to Gold and with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon looming, it’s time to unveil the Official Brian’s Den Pokemon Rankings. This only takes main series hand-held games into account, so no Pokemon Stadium or 2, no Colosseum, no Snap, no nothing. Only the true games. Also, Crystal is excluded because, somehow, it’s the only main series game I’ve never played. It may seem impossible once I get to the actual rankings that I would have skipped the third entry to the Johto games, but it’s true. Literally every other generation I’ve played at least one of the initial games and the third game, but Crystal remains unplayed. Maybe one day. As always, if you disagree with these rankings, you’re wrong.

  1. Gold/Silver/Heart Gold/Soul Silver– I’ve decided to include any remakes in with their original counterparts because it’s less work for me, but even if they were two separate entities, it wouldn’t change much. It’s my personal opinion that Gold and Silver are easily the greatest Game Boy games of all time. They may also be the greatest games of all time, period. The way the world looks is perfect. The colors are so bold and work perfectly every step of the way. It has the greatest 8-bit soundtrack of all time. It has the luxury of using the first two Pokemon generations, two of the strongest generations. It has much more plot than Red and Blue, but doesn’t overdo it like the later games tend to do. I think the first erection I ever got was when I discovered you could face all the Kanto gym leaders after you beat the Elite Four. It’s literally two full Pokemon games in one. Its a perfect Pokemon experience. The fact that the DS updates could take all that and make it better still blows my mind.
  2. X/Y– The first Pokemon game to come to 3DS (and the only reason I bought a 3DS)(Diamond and Pearl were also the only reason I bought a DS)(The only reason I’ll get a switch is when they release a Pokemon game for it, honestly), X and Y might be the most heavily anticipated Pokemon game I can remember (keep in mind I had just turned 4 when Red and Green first came out in Japan, so the whole “awareness of what other people are excited for” and “looking forward to something for a long time” didn’t develop for a while). To say that it didn’t disappoint would be an insult to the game. It surpassed all my wildest expectations instantly. The world is a beautiful, diverse wonderland unlike anything ever seen on hand-held game devices, and features a charming (I think) batch of new Pokemon to go with it. The new features such as Super Training and Pokemon-Amie added a brilliant new layer of gameplay that somehow brought me even closer to my fictional companions. Adding the Fairy type was another A-plus move by a game series that is no stranger to them. Sure, the plot is very over-the-top and many of the new features make raising Pokemon ridiculously easy, but that didn’t stop me from spending 150+ glorious hours in Kalos.
  3. Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire– The only instance where I prefer the original to the remake, I came reaaaalllllly close to putting this number 2, if only for the simple fact that the finally, finally, introduced the ability to run. Words can’t express how important that was. Hoenn is a top three region: it has my second favorite soundtrack, my personal favorite generation of Pokemon, and, for the first time, weather. The plot was a little overwrought, but I think I’ll probably stop criticizing the actual plots of these games because the nature of media made ostensibly for children is to have extreme, binary plot points where it’s easy to differentiate between right and wrong. But I never emotionally matured after 6th grade, so that’s fine with me. Also, it’s easy to look back and say “yeah, no duh it worked,” but it was a pretty big risk at the time to stage a Pokemon game in a region totally disconnected from the Kanto/Johto continent. RubySapphire, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Emerald, are near perfect gaming experiences that suffer only because their contemporaries are divine gifts given unto us by a higher power.
  4. Black/White/Black 2/White 2– As I literally just said, Pokemon games typically don’t lend themselves to too much nuance and character complexity, but Black and White really change that. There were story elements and plot beats that, frankly, we had never come close to seeing before in a Pokemon game, and haven’t really seen since. It’s not saying a whole lot, but the character N is far and away the most complex, most developed, and most well-written character in Pokemon history. For large portions of Black and White (and parts of Black and White 2) the villain team isn’t necessarily cut-and-dry pure evil. They actually have genuine motives that aren’t “let’s just destroy the world and see what happens.” Both games had more mature storylines than every other Pokemon game, and, while I certainly appreciate and mostly love the levity the other games provide (when they aren’t veering into melodrama in the third act), it’s nice to have at least one game that sort of challenges you in an emotional way. Being based on New York City, Unova offers an urban feel that comes as a welcome departure from the typical fantasy-RPG maps of the other games. Yes, it’s a goofy generation of Pokemon, but for the most part they embrace it (maybe my favorite touch ever put in a Pokemon game is the fact that Vanillite, the ice cream cone Pokemon, can be found outside what’s essentially a giant meat freezer). Probably the most underrated games in the Pokemon saga. (Side note that doesn’t really factor in to the ranking: while playing White for the first time, my final battle against the villain leader was easily the most epic battle in the history of Pokemon. I have no idea how long it lasted. It could have been thirty minutes, it could have been an hour, it could have been ten hours. I used so many revives and full restores and swapped out party members so many times it’d make your head spin. It was the most intense few minutes of my entire life. The world could have ended around me and I wouldn’t have noticed, I was so locked in. I wish there was a recording or literally any evidence whatsoever, but, alas, you have to take my word for it.
  5. Red/Blue/Fire Red/Leaf Green– I know, I know. “What are you doing? How are they not number one? What about my childhood?” Look, I hear you. I respect everything Red and Blue represent. They were the first, they have classic, classic Pokemon that still rank as the number one generation for pretty much everyone but me (and I have it second), Gary is easily the best rival, the best starting Pokemon, it’s the most challenging by a mile. Hell, Dragonite is still my favorite Pokemon ever. I’m not putting them this low for attention or to throw out a hot take. This is what I actually believe. Think about Red and Blue: there’s virtually no plot whatsoever, Kanto, while the first region, is pretty nondescript in all honestly, and there’s so many goddamn bugs. And I don’t mean Weedle and Caterpie. Psychic types are totally overpowered. With only a weakness to bug type (and only three bug type attacking moves, none of which were powerful) and without the division of special attack and special defense, most psychic types were virtually unstoppable. Look, I get it, I take Pokemon too seriously, but these things matter to me. And without the amazing Game Boy Advance remakes (which rectified everything that was wrong with the games, updated the graphics, and added some interesting subplots), they might rank even lower. That’s not to say don’t play these games. They’re important pieces of the culture at large, but if you somehow haven’t played the original Pokemon games, Fire Red and Leaf Green and much more enjoyable experiences.
  6. Sun/Moon– I know it was met with universal acclaim by critics, but the people I talked to who actually play Pokemon games were kind of divided on Sun and Moon. “Where are the gym leaders?” “It’s too easy.” “Feels too much like a series of mini-games not a real Pokemon game.” Every single one is a valid complaint. But, personally, I loved Sun and Moon. I thought it was fresh, I thought it was original, I thought every new thing they added worked. The plot is actually pretty crazy, in a good way, and complements the world around it in a way that only Ruby and Sapphire can really match. I loved the four islands and how each one had a different personality, and thought the island trials were clever and a good way to switch things up from the tried and true “8 gym leaders” formula. No generation of Pokemon fit their region better, and it gets bonus points for Alolan Exeggutor. These were great, great games, and I know Ultra Sun and Moon will be great too.
  7. Diamond/Pearl/Platinum– I feel really bad for this generation of Pokemon games. Much like Godfather 3Diamond and Pearl suffer greatly under the weight of the larger franchise. If they were called literally anything else, Diamond and Pearl would be considered classics. And they’re still great games! I actually think the plot and region are some of the more interesting ones because of the emphasis it places on history and mythology, and it introduces a lot of cool and important Pokemon. It also brought Pokemon into the (relatively) current gen. Being the first to arrive on DS, it laid the groundwork for most of the side features and display elements you see in the newest games. But there’s just something about it that kind of makes it forgettable. I think it’s only fault is that it’s not the other games in the series.
  8. Yellow– I just wanted to separate this as a protest against Pikachu. Pikachu sucks and isn’t worthy of its own game, regardless of how popular the show is.

There you have it. As I said before, if you disagree, you’re probably wrong. Don’t forget who the expert is, here. Who else do you know who’s willing to devote countless hours of his life just so he can have enough experience and data to compile a power ranking for a stupid website? The answer is no one, that’s who. Now go catch ’em all.

Madden Needs to Come Out Earlier

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I play a lot of video games. Like, a lot. The majority of my free time is spent playing video games. Surprising, I know. And, considering my devotion in all things sports-related, it should go without saying that I play a ton of sports games. They’re what I spend most of my gaming energy on. Whenever a new non-sport game I want comes out, I just marathon it until I’m come as close to 100% completion as I deem realistically possible, then go right back to whatever sport is in season at the time. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. So when I start to criticize the Madden franchise, one of the longtime pillars of my life and an important part of my personal development from child to older, larger child, I come to you from a place not just of experience and expertise, but also a place of deep passion and commitment.

Madden needs to come out way earlier. That’s just a fact. August 22nd is too late in the year for the only football game on the market to be released. It’s only been out for three weeks now, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that NBA 2K18 is coming out next week. NBA 2K is an objectively better game franchise than Madden. How am I supposed to pour hours upon hours of my life into Madden when I could be playing MyCareer? It’s an impossible thing to ask of someone, and, frankly, I’m sick of being put in that position.

It didn’t used to be this way. Long ago in the Age of Heroes, NCAA Football would come out at the beginning of July, then Madden in August. It was the perfect setup: give me a taste of football at the start of training camp then give me another bite right before the season. It felt like a natural progression, and it kept me more invested in the college game, which only fueled my love for the NFL. Now, you have to go cold turkey all throughout training camp and the start of the college season, unless you feel like playing last year’s game, which, so close to the release of a shiny new version, only makes the cravings worse (once a game becomes 5+ years old, though, then it gains new life as an entertaining look into the past). I don’t want to be blasted in the face with a full load of football in late August, I want to ease my way in at my own pace.

Another problem is, of course, the demise of the NCAA franchise. I’m not the first and won’t be the last one to say that the NCAA games were more fun than Madden. The play was faster paced, there were distinct differences in play styles, not just slight variations of the same playbook like in Madden, and the career and dynasty modes were both better than any game mode Madden has ever had. I was legitimately addicted to recruiting computer generated high-school football players. Although I would never trust the computer to execute my gameplan the right way, I would always at least think about simming every game just so I could do more recruiting. Starting off as a random MAC or WAC (RIP) school and building them up to an improbable national powerhouse was awesome, and getting that first five star recruit was a unique joy that I’ve yet to replicate (if you started a dynasty as a blue blood school you’re a coward). That pursuit of developing fictional young players is probably what drove me to Fifa in the years since the last NCAA. Creating the most stacked youth academy in the world in my manager careers is pretty much my new favorite pastime. Sure, Madden still has the draft, and I do love scouting and angling to get better picks and young stars, but it’s not the same. At some point, I’ll lose interest in my franchise, mostly because they refuse to add any new features to it. Once that happens, I’m pretty much out. I mean, NBA has MyCareer, MyGM, even MyTeam (which, to me, is much better than Madden Ultimate Team since it’s possible to build a decent team way easier), then I can go online when I’m feeling myself. Fifa’s career mode is way better and more in-depth, has a better Ultimate Team, and is far more enjoyable to play online. Have you ever played Madden online? It stinks! The games are too long, there’s too many glitches, and I’m just not as good as I used to be. Not fun!

Lastly, and this really isn’t Madden’s fault, but the real-life product on the field is just so bad now. Listen, I’m a football junkie. I’ll watch any game at any time if you put it in front of me. But I’m convinced that the Patriots are the only NFL team capable of playing entertaining games at this point. They got completely dominated on Thursday night, but if they gave that same performance against the other 30 teams in the league on Sunday, they’d still win at least 24 games. Every team stinks, there’s only ten quarterbacks worth anything, and 95% of coaches and front offices don’t have the first clue what they’re doing. It’s comical how bad the NFL is right now. Compare that to the NBA, which tips off next month, and it’s night and day. The NBA has never been better or more interesting. Almost every team is run by smart people who understand the direction the league is going. Sure, there’s super teams, but there’s also more great players currently in the league than there has been in a long time. Almost everyone plays a visually appealing style. Bengals-Texans on Thursday night isn’t going to leave me dying to run to my PS4 and recreate the scintillating action. Bucks-Suns on a random Wednesday might. In addition to having the better video game, the NBA just has a better product than the NFL has. When 2K comes out, all I’m going to want to do is play MyCareer, start up a franchise mode to earn VC and explore different play styles, play MyTeam for a week before losing interest, and play the odd online game. Then Fifa comes out the week after. Before you know it, I’ve gone three weeks without playing Madden. What about the NFL as it currently is would make me want to run back to it, other than a base need to play fictional football games? EA needs to take a look in the mirror and realize that it’s time for a change. NCAA may be dead and gone, and I know they can’t really do anything about it until the NCAA itself changes (fat chance), but at least borrow it’s release date. If you offered Madden to me at the beginning of July, I would pay whatever amount you asked for. The start of training camp is when my football fever is at its highest point, not late August when I’ve actually seen how bad most teams are in the preseason. You might have to work a little harder, but putting Madden out in July would make everything better. My football fix is satisfied in a slower, more fulfilling way. I get more out of a game I paid good money for. It feels like a natural progression from one game to the next, rather that a huge cluster of release after release. And maybe, just maybe, you can help the NFL gain some momentum back from the NBA. I just fixed the NFL and EA Sports. I don’t always give out advice for free, so next time your company needs help, I’ll expect some sort of payment.

E3 Roundup

Just because I’m currently fighting against the Illuminati stronghold in Denver doesn’t mean I’ve been ignoring everything else. E3, otherwise known as the Video Game Trailer and Announcements Expo, just wrapped up, and, as usual, I’ve got the inside scoop about what you need to know/what you should be excited about/what you should ignore. Granted, if you aren’t a video game guy like myself, all this may not mean anything to you, but you already clicked on this, sooooooo, I don’t really care if you stop reading now. I’ve already got my pageviews.

The Good

Shadow of War- Covered here.

Assassin’s Creed Origins- Listen, I understand these games have gotten far fetched and, in the eyes of the less history-obsessed public, haven’t had a particularly strong showing the last two games, but I still love them. Maybe it’s just because I think it’s cool to explore some of my favorite time periods. Well, this looks amazing. Ancient Egypt is an awesome backdrop, and hopefully they hit this out of the park. Now, let’s just not talk about the movie.

Skull and Bones- So take the sea combat from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and make it online and customizable? I’m in.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole- Stick of Truth was amazing. This looks better.

Wolfenstein II- I’m not a big FPS guy, but this looks sweet. Mostly just because you’re killing Nazis.

Call of Duty: WWII- See above.

God of War- Well, that was arousing. God of War shaped my youth. I’ve always been a bit of a Greek mythology expert, so that probably helped further my devotion. Norse mythology was always kind of my second favorite, so brutally murdering every major figure should be a blast.

Spider-Man- It’s literally the Batman Arkham Series with a Spider-Man skin, but I’m fine with that. Spider-Man games are always sweet.

Super Mario Odyssey- I’d hate to be the guy that tries playing this high.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy- I still don’t understand if this is just DLC or a full fledged game, but either way it looks sick.

Madden 18- I’ve got a serious hankering for football right about now.

Cuphead- I honestly thought this game came out years ago, but I guess it didn’t.

Vampyr- If I ever get arrested, this sentence may look bad, but the best part about the original Assassin’s Creed was that you could literally kill everyone you saw on the street with little to no consequence. This game says you can kill anyone you meet. So, yeah, I’m in.

Star Wars Battlefront II- I’m still pretty jaded by how much Battlefront sucked and how big of a rip off it was, but I’d be lying if I said I had no interest in slicing up hapless enemies with Darth Maul.

Kingdom Hearts 3- Finally, a new trailer! Wait, this was a trailer for the trailer? Seriously? This game is never coming out, is it? *sobs eternally*

The Bad/The Ugly

This was a trailer convention. Trailers are literally never bad. I bet a good percentage of these games will suck, but their trailers were great. If something has a bad trailer, odds are it’s never even going to make it to something like this.