Something Cool Coming to E3

We're only a few weeks away from the hype-filled shenanigans that is the Electronics Entertainment Expo. Lots of the big publishers are doing weird stuff this year, mostly seeming to embrace the fact that the expo is open to the public (if you were one of the lucky 15,000 people to snag a ticket before they sold out). Lots of shenanigans going on "across the street" that are free and open to the public.

But.

I want to talk about something going on *AT* E3. Recently, Devolver Digital announced that they were going to do a big press conference along side the big boys. And let me tell you, I'm looking forward to this one MORE than all the others, probably combined.

We currently plan to cover these press conferences again like we did last year. And I look forward to some of the surprises we have ahead of us. I'm curious what repeat stuff we will get (more Sea of Thieves, please!) But Devolver Digital holding a conference as a publisher is super awesome, because unlike the "big boys," Devolver Digital publishes Indie Games. 

We here at Loaded Cart love us some indie games. And several years ago, E3 made an effort to showcase the best and brightest of the indie world with the Indie MegaBooth. So, of course, this press conference is just an evolution of this. But seeing a bunch of indie games showcased on stage in front of the eyes of the world sounds REALLY amazing. 

I can't wait to see what they bring to the table.

What are you looking forward to most from E3? Is there a particular game you want to see? Are you burned out from E3? Let us know in the comments below.

Don't forget, you can weigh in on what kind of merch we offer for the podcast over here!

** Sales Alert! **

So a couple sale-related things to let you guys know about. Currently, the game Paul picked out for our next "Favorite Games" episode is on sale for $6. Seriously, go pick it up and play along with us for the next episode. It's an amazing deal for Wolfenstein: The New Order, but you have to snap it up by Monday.

Also, coincidently, there is a massive weekend sale on Steam for all the games published by Devolver Digital. So if you want to get a feel for the kinds of games they publish, and maybe even pick one up. Click here to take a look

** CHOP'S eSPORTS GAME OF THE WEEK **

Watch SK Telecom Team 1 smash their way to victory at the Mid-Season Invitational. They have the best player in the world Faker at the helm. My favorite top-laner (HUNI! HUNI! HUNI!) has been playing super strong all tournament so far. But the Quarterfinals start today at 2pm eastern, with the clear favorites and top seeded SKT T1 taking on the Flash Wolves... this should actually be a little competitive, since the Flash Wolves basically have a 50% win rate over SKT at tournaments... but they've only ever played each other in group stages, where they play a single game and are done. This is their first Best of 5 meeting, and Best of 5 is where SKT looks the strongest.

Saturday we see Europe's G2 eSports try to avoid heartbreak and failure as they try to conquer Team WE. Tune in at 2pm Eastern to catch that one.

The winners of both games play again on Sunday at 2pm, the losers go home.

You can find all the streaming options for the games over at LoLesports.com.

Merch Survey!

Help us out by taking a few minutes to fill out this quick survey!

We want to offer some merch, but we want to know the kinds of things you guys, our audience actually want to see.

Should take less than 5 minutes of your time and really would mean a lot to us.

Click Here to Fill It Out. <- Now with 100% more link!

Piracy vs PC Mods

In case you haven't heard, there's something interesting going on in the world of game modding right now. And it all stems from a little game called Nier: Automata and a fan-made mod called "Fix Automata Resolution" or FAR (see what he did there?). In a nutshell, what the mod does is fix a bunch of problems and graphical glitches the game had at launch, making it so you can actually play the game on Steam. Basically, the PC audience of the game considers this Mod to be 100% essential and required to even play the game.

At the time of writing, it is my understanding that the mod's creator (Kaldaien) is so far ahead of the actual devs of the game in fixing these bugs, that they almost seem to have stopped trying to fix them because there is already a solution out there.

But where I think there's a conversation to be had, is over something included in the most recent update to the mod. In it, Kaldaien invokes the Steam API validity check, which basically pings the Steam server to see if you legitimately own the game. If it returns yes, everything is hunky dory. If it returns fakes, however, you get a little splash screen saying, "Use of this software is granted on the condition that any products being modified have been licensed to you under the terms and conditions set forth by their respective copyright holders" and it will just hang there and be completely unplayable until you uninstall the mod (making the game completely unplayable since for a lot of people it won't render properly without the mod).

Or as Kaldaien puts it, "Nothing malicious happens if you fail this check, you're just presented with an infinite license screen that you can click Accept on but since you don't respect licenses the license doesn't respect your click."

This has caused a good number of people to be COMPLETELY up in arms against Kaldaien. The flame wars have been so bad on Steam that Kaldaien has been banned from the forum FOR HIS OWN MOD. 

Kaldaien says that he's just trying to protect his own ass as a developer. That if his mod is used to inject code into software illegally, it's not the player that they will go after, it's the guy writing the software that lets them do it in the first place.

Which, I'll admit, is probably not a bad idea on his part.

But what do you think? Should modders care if the person using their mods legally own the game? Are pirates not entitled to modded content since they never paid for the game to begin with? Should someone add copy protection to their mod and have the game turn all the sound files into Macho Man Randy Savage sound bytes if they've pirated the game (regardless of what the mod actually is supposed to do)? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

**CHOP'S eSPORTS GAMES OF THE WEEK**

I got two things for you this week. First, for the LCS, Mid-Season Invitational is in full swing this weekend. Starting each day around 2pm Eastern. Best team from each of the major regions duking it in group play to prove who's the best (SPOILERS: It's SK Telecom Team 1, seriously they're on pace to win the world championships for the third year in a row this year. They are the team to beat. Watch it over on LoLesports.

But wait, there's more!

This weekend is a pretty big Super Smash Brothers tournament called Royal Flush. Coverage is being held on a few channels over on Twitch beginning around 1pm Friday.

  • VGBootcamp: Melee 1v1 - Friday @ 1pm EST, Saturday @ Noon, Sunday @ 11am
  • MeleeEveryday: Melee 2v2 - Friday @ 1pm EST, Melee 1v1 Losers Bracket - Saturday @ Noon
  • SmashStudios: Wii U 2v2 - Friday @ 5pm, Wii U 1v1 - Saturday @ Noon
  • MasterHandGaming: Wii U Exhibition - Friday @ 5pm, Wii U 1v1 - Saturday @ Noon

Where have all the demos gone?

Once upon a time, you used to be able to get your hands on game demos to try a game out (sometimes prior to release) before you decide whether or not to chunk down some money on it. One of my earliest gaming memories of this was a weird service that Sony used to have for the original PlayStation called "PlayStation Underground." It was a weird PlayStation-focused "magazine" that included a cd-rom full of nothing but demos for upcoming/new games.

I vividly remember playing through the Master Onion Rap in Parappa the Rappa hundreds of times on one of those discs. They were amazing for a young gamer.

Back before this, we had the whole shareware craze that cemented iD Software as one of the most important game companies in the world. I don't think I know anyone alive at the time who hadn't downloaded Doom or Doom 2 and played through the game. Most probably never beat it (I know I certainly didn't when I was younger - not until I learned about cheat codes), and even more crazily, most probably never knew that they were playing only a fraction of the game.

The way shareware works, they give you the whole game, but perhaps 2/3 of the game was locked away behind a paywall.

This structure still has some legacy today, because most big developers, when they actually do decide to make a demo for their game, tend to give people the full game, but somehow lock a bunch of it behind a wall. For example, back at E3, when people got to play and try out Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game basically shut off after 15 minutes. 

But the problems for developers come in when they release a "full game" into the wild, is that there are people who will hack the demo and both try to unlock the full game, and if they can't, mine the demo for as much information as possible about the full release. 

Some examples of this are when people Datamined the demo of Pokemon Sun and Moon for the 3DS and leaked information on new pokemon that hadn't been released yet (spoilers). Capcom released a Demo for Resident Evil 7... and poof it gets datamined and all kind of spoilers are found (spoilers). While not a demo, people datamined the full release of No Man's Sky and found out that the Developers faked the E3 demo, and that it wasn't procedurally generated

So it's understandable that some companies are hesitant to release demos. They want to protect their secrets and the hard work they put into the game (in some cases, over multiple years). To have it all ruined by someone outside of the company can be heartbreaking.

It's interesting that it seems to be something that's quasi taking off lately on Consoles. XBox and PS4 seem to be offering more and more demos lately.

What do you think? Do you wish more games offered demos for you to check out before you buy a game? Have Twitch and Youtube basically replaced the need for these with Let's Plays? Let us know in the comments below.

** CHOP'S LCS GAME OF THE WEEK! **

Only one to talk about this weekend. On Saturday, the last spot at the Mid-Season Invitational is up for grabs as Vietnam's GIGABYTE Marines take on Turkey's Supermassive eSports. It's a best of 5 for that coveted last spot at MSI. This one should be a huge battle. The Marines pushed North America's Team SoloMid to the brink a few days ago and look really strong going into this matchup. Supermassive has a lot of experience on the world stage. And both teams went 5-1 in group play last weekend. I look forward to this one. And personally, I will be cheering for Supermassive.

It looks like it's going to start at 2pm Eastern on Saturday the 6th. You can find it live on YouTube here, or links to all the coverage will be available on the LoLesports site.

The Problem with LCS Playoffs.

So today I wanted to talk about something that really bothers me (and a lot of other people) about the way that Riot Games handles coverage of its Professional League of Legends eSports organizations.

First things first we should talk about how they are organized. Riot directly oversees the running of two major markets of their eSports juggernaut: North America and Europe. Each League features 10 teams (up from the 8 teams they used to have just a couple years ago), and for a long time, Riot has treated them both relatively the same.

But then last year, something weird happened. They decided to expand from each match consisting of a single game, to each match being a Best of 3 (or in Europe's case initially, Best of 2) contest. The number of games being played each week skyrocketed. This was great for teams, as the lack of games being played live on stage in competition was seen as one of the primary reasons NA and EU teams performed horribly at International Tournaments. Which makes sense, when teams in China and Korea are playing 40+ competitive games in the same span of time your best playoff teams are playing 20, there is going to be a disparity between them.

Along with this shift came an even stronger shift in schedule, with EU being played on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings; and NA playing in Prime Time on Friday, then Saturday and Sunday.

And then there is playoffs.

This is where I think Riot fails.

Back when they were playing Best of 1's and people were sometimes more serious about watching both NA and EU games, it made at least a little sense that fans might want to watch both sets of playoff games. So they had the EU play in the morning, and NA play in the evening. The coverage was even spaced out so as not to overlap, unless a series of games in EU runs long...

But in this day in age, in North America alone, there were 221 games played this split, and coverage of those games are at least 45 minutes each for even the shortest games of the split. Following those games every week is a HUGE commitment of time. Most fans adopt a stance more similar to real sports, where you pick a favorite team or two and watch those games. What fans don't tend to do is watch all 20-30 games a week played in the NA LCS, and then turn around and ALSO watch all 20-30 games a week played in the EU LCS. Again, they might pick a team or two to follow, but generally fans invest in either NA or EU and rarely both.

So the problem comes in with the way Riot schedules their playoff coverage. Instead of staggering the days and having Europe play on say Thursday and Friday, and North America play on Saturday and Sunday, both groups play on the same two days (Saturday and Sunday). Europe plays at 11am Eastern (3pm GMT). North America plays at 3pm Eastern. 

That feels pretty fair, right? They both get to play starting at 3pm in the "standard" time for their respective continents. But where this all goes wrong is when Riot delays the start of the North American games *AND* coverage until the European games conclude. 

4 hours seems pretty safe, right? Well, that's where the problems start. These playoff matchups are Best of 5 series. They get played consecutively with a short break between games (which ends up being about 30 minutes). So we start with maybe 15-20 minutes of pre-game analysis. And then an average game takes 30-35 minutes to play out. Followed by 25-30 of post-game analysis, a quick break, and pre-game analysis for the next game. 

If we're optimistic, Game 1 will end right around noon... Game 2 around 1pm. Game 3 around 2pm, and Game 4 around 3pm... and here we get around to where the problems really start... close series goes to 5 games? Game 5 is going to end around 4pm. And that's if all of the games hover around a 30 minute duration. What happens when both games *AND* series run long?

In this split's Quarterfinals, the Misfits and Splyce played a full five games in a *6 HOUR* series. Seriously. Here's the video. This meant the Team Dignitas vs Phoenix1 coverage didn't even start until *AFTER* 5pm

Imagine if you were a Team Dignitas fan, and were hosting a viewing party with friends? "Hey guys come on over at 3 so we can watch our favorite team in the playoffs!" Only you're stuck twiddling your thumbs until the game comes on. And can you imagine if the DIG/P1 game had gone a full 5 games? 

Yeah, it's nitpicky. But it's also completely disrespectful to your fans. No other sport does this. If you want to be taken seriously as a sport, you shouldn't be doing it either.

I was there at 3pm to watch the North American playoffs. At 5pm, I was off doing something else. I made other plans at that point. And I know I wasn't the only one.

Riot needs to fix this. They handle it so well for the entire regular season, only to completely botch things in the playoffs. 

** CHOP'S eSPORTS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

All that ranting aside, one of the coolest things Riot does for their eSports brand begins this weekend. Over the next week, the play-in Tournament for the Mid-Season Invitational takes place. Starting today, underdog teams from all over the world play for a shot at the big dogs. These teams won their respective leagues in Brazil, Japan, and a handful of other new and growing territories. 

The format is weird. The 8 teams from these emerging regions are split into 2 groups and they play a big double round-robin (play each team twice) in Best-of-1 Matches starting today.

Then next Wednesday, the top team in Group A will face off in a Best of 5 series against North America's Team Solomid. Winner is into the Mid-Season Invitational.

On Thursday, the top team in Group B will face off against the winner of China's Legends Masters Series (LMS) the Flash Wolves. Again, the winner of the Best of 5 is into MSI.

Then on Saturday May 6th, the losers of the above two games play in a Best of 5 series for the last chance to get into the MSI Tournament.

International Tournaments are interesting. In addition to team pride, region pride is on the line. 

But the real questions come in a couple weeks when the Korean superpower teams enter the mix. Can SK Telecom Team1 capture yet another giant Trophy to put on Faker's shelf?

This weekend though, we cheer for the underdogs. Two teams to keep an eye on are Supermassive out of Turkey, and Team Rampage out of Japan. Supermassive had a good showing at World's last year. And Team Rampage has a huge chip on their shoulder to prove that they're just as good as the Chinese and Korean teams. 

To Smurf or not to Smurf, that is a question.

There's a thing in competitive eSports game called smurfing. If you're not familiar with this practice, it's when people who are REALLY good at the game get to the top of the leaderboards, and then turn around and make a new character and play through the ranks again. It really only works in games that have "seasons" of Ranked play. And primarily it is a tool that the best ranked players (who are also generally the professional players of the game) a chance to experiment with different characters and roles in the game in a way that it won't hurt the record/standings of their main account (which they're sometimes required by contract to keep really high on the leaderboards).

But then there's the other side of the coin. Players who hit a ceiling in their attempt to climb up the ranks, and then decide to make a smurf account to troll the lower ranks. They tend to do things like only play a single champion/role and just try to screw with people and generally have a negative impact on the overall play experience for a game. Whether they intend to or not.

Interestingly, in their most recent update for DOTA2, Valve has decided to do something to curb this practice in their MOBA megahit. If you want to play ranked games in DOTA2, you now have to register a unique phone number to your account

So this basically forces a player to only be able to play a single account in ranked (or have multiple phones and phone numbers). I'm working from the assumption here that you'll have to verify the number in some capacity by either receiving a pin number via text or call, or something of that sort. In theory, this likely won't effect professional players all that much. If it really does benefit the pro players to have a smurf account, I'm sure their teams will fork out like $20 to get them a second cellphone that is basically only used for the game.

But why would Valve do this? What benefit do they see to limiting people to a "single" ranked account? According to their announcement: "Players using multiple accounts create a negative matchmaking experience at all skill brackets, so our goal is to add just enough friction to this process that the number of players doing this will be noticeably reduced. Having more players using their primary accounts will have a positive effect on both Ranked and Unranked Matchmaking." 

So they feel like any and all smurfing is hurting the game for other players and making it a terrible experience. They want to remove that toxicity from their ranked experience. It's a pretty noble goal. Will it work? Who knows. Will people still find a way to abuse it? Who knows. Will other developers follow suit? Again, who knows. I'm curious if other people will try to add this to their game and try and disguise it as a "security feature." You know, the old, "Add a phone number to your account to improve security and keep other people from stealing access!" trick.

So what do you think? Do you think it's a good move? Do you think it will work? Is there a better way? Is it even necessary? Let us know in the comments below.

** CHOP'S LCS GAME OF THE WEEK **

This one is super easy. It's the North American LCS Finals this Sunday. The two biggest and best teams of the North American Professional scene over the past like 3 years facing off against one another. Winner takes the title for the first half of the competitive year, goes to the Mid-Season Invitational Tournament, and is almost guaranteed to stamp their ticket to the World Championships this fall. There's a lot at stake. Who will take home the trophy in Vancouver?

Tune in at "3pm Eastern"* on Sunday the 23rd to see #2 Cloud9 take on #1 Team Solomid

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

* - Next week's blog is going to be about this. Foreshadowing!

** CHOP'S BONUS ESPORTS CORNER! **

Yesterday, Twitch posted a little guide to the eSports being played this weekend live on Twitch. So if you're interested in checking something out, this seems to be a pretty good weekend to do so. 

CS:GO - coverage starts at 12:30pm Eastern Thursday-Sunday, all weekend long!

Smite - coverage starts at 11am Eastern Friday-Sunday, all weekend long!

Heroes of the Storm - coverage starts at Noon Eastern for European Games, and 5pm Eastern for North American Games, Friday-Sunday!

eLeague (they do a variety of games, including Street Fighter V) - coverage starts at 6pm Eastern on Friday.

Rocket League - coverage begins at 3pm on Saturday and Noon Eastern on Sunday.

Check something out, you never know, you might actually enjoy it. Let me know if you do and what you think.

The Changing Face of Television

So there's a weird thing happening in the world of media consumption. Multiple companies have started offering ways for you to Stream television stations *WITHOUT* a Cable TV service. For the longest time now, streaming most stations online has required paying a Cable company for the channel first. No subscription? No watchy.

YouTube recently announced YouTube TV, which will let you pay around $35/month to get access to 40 Television channels. It includes all the major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, Fox, etc), and a handful of other channels (ESPN, regional sports networks, SciFi, USA, Disney, NatGeo, and YouTube Red). But to make the service more interesting, it offers "Unlimited Cloud DVR" service... so you can record any show on these channels and watch it anywhere, whenever you want.

Not to be outdone, Hulu has also recently announced getting into the game (which shouldn't be surprising, since Hulu is owned by a number of big Cable companies). Though I can't find a lot on the proposed channel lineup.

They're obviously aiming for the cord cutting generations that want nothing to do with overly expensive Cable packages. Trying to get some of that money back.

But something I think is really interesting is how the studios making shows are doing interesting experiments of how to many money outside of deals with networks.

To paraphrase the words of Morpheus, "What if I told you Disney was creating an animated Star Wars series that is going to air exclusively on YouTube?" Now that has my attention. It's going to dig into character backgrounds and tell origin stories. They're going to be short pieces, but it's an interesting experiment.

Hopefully more companies will experiment with this. Imagine if they film a bunch of random extra stuff on set during movies to make little mini-series to get fans super excited for the weeks coming up to release? Or post release? You come home from the movie wanting more... and you go to YouTube and get little teaser stories that happen after the movie's story ends for weeks after the movie is over. You can even plug them in those little post-credits stingers.

There is a lot of opportunity for studios to do interesting things other than just trailers and commercials. What would you love to see them do and try? What's the coolest thing you've seen them do so far? Let us know in the comments below.

** CHOP'S LCS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

This week is easy. Semi-Finals for the Spring Split. 3PM Eastern both Saturday and Sunday. The best 4 teams in North America. Watch it.

Saturday April 15th - Cloud9 vs Phoenix1 - An interesting sub-plot here is that Cloud9 lent their substitute jungler Meteos to Phoenix1, and they've been doing amazingly since he started playing with them. Now best friends face off.

Sunday April 16th - Team SoloMid vs FlyQuest - This matchup *SHOULD* be simple. TSM should stomp FlyQuest on paper. But then there's Hai... if last week has taught us anything it's that Hai still has some kind of crazy magic when it comes to the playoffs. Never rule them out... but seriously, TSM should win, they've been on fire lately. (Here's a video interview with two of the biggest names in this matchup. Hai and Bjergsen.)

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Diversity in Games

Diversity has been something of a hot topic in the media lately. It's been brewing pretty heavily over the past few years in the gaming world too. And there are basically two sides of the coin here. The first is that people from minority groups (or basically, not caucasian males) rarely get to play a game, read a book, or see a movie where the hero is the same as them. How many action movies star a female lead? Or a hispanic lead? Or even a homosexual love interest? The other side of the coin is that the hero should be whatever it needs to be to best tell the story being told. 

Both of these are important things to consider. But it's becoming more and more evident that there are better stories to be told if you stray away from the classic tropes. We saw some big stink in the media back before Star Wars: The Force Awakens released because of Finn being a black stormtrooper (and got an amazing response from one Patton Oswalt). Not to mention the outcry from the complete and utter lack of Rey toys for young girls following the movie's release. We also saw Ubisoft break from this mold when they released Watchdogs 2 - straying from the Tom Cruise-look-alike to an African American lead in Marcus Holloway. (People also bitched about Marcus because apparently it was "unbelievable" to them that an African American male could be an uber hacker.)

But for a long time, a champion of diversity in the gaming community has been Bioware. First with Mass Effect, and then following it up with Dragon Age. Not only can you play male or female characters of a number of different ethnic and racial backgrounds in most of their games, but they also feature an incredibly diverse selection of love interests. And importantly, those love interests were there for BOTH heterosexual and homosexual players.

Recently though, Bioware made a diversity inclusion in Mass Effect: Andromeda that completely fell flat with players, and more important, the segment of society the character was intended to appeal to and represent. With their character Hainly Abrams, Bioware has what is quite possibly the first main stream representation of a transgendered character in a Triple A video game. Needless to say, for some players, this is a BIG deal. It may only be an NPC, but it's still a huge step forward for the representation of the transgender population in a mass market game.

Unfortunately, Hainly Abrams fell completely flat: it came across as incredibly stereotypical, out-of-touch, and borderline insulting to transgendered players. To the point that Bioware has apologized for the way the character is currently written and presented, and has promised to do better.

It feels like this is yet another symptom the game carries from being rushed to launch instead of being held for testing and polishing. Something that could have been easily fixed if you'd just brought in a half dozen or so transgendered gamers and asked their opinion on the character and the dialog. This is a much different fix than weird animation issues. 

Kuddos to Bioware for owning the problem and working to fix it. We will see how the game progresses from here.

So what do you think about the importance of diversity in games? Should every game use furry mascots to avoid the problem altogether? Are there any big game protagonists that you feel represent you? Is there a demographic you'd love to see a game focus on that's something other than your own? Let us know in the comments below.

** CHOP'S LCS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

This week is super easy for me. It's the Spring Playoffs for LCS. There are two great matchups coming our way this weekend.

Saturday April 8th @3pm EST - Phoenix1 vs Team Dignitas - This should be a super close game. Phoenix1 finished the split in 3rd, but Dignitas finished the split on the biggest streak and look really strong. Phoenix1 got hammered by both Cloud9 and Team SoloMid the last week of the season, but they still look like a really strong team.

Sunday April 9th @3pm EST - Counter Logic Gaming vs FlyQuest - This series is really up in the air. Both teams have been really inconsistent for the second half of the split (FlyQuest has been on a straight nose-dive since mid-split). CLG has a tendency to flip a switch when it comes to playoffs. On the other side of the stage: Hai, Balls, and Lemonnation are infamous for having ridiculous strong playoff games. Will the trick champions come out, or will we see a more traditional slugfest? We'll have to wait until Sunday to find out.

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

 

No Honor?

So first off, I want to apologize for the lack of blog last week. I was writing the post while waiting for my car to finish up at the dealership using a blogging app designed by our hosting company. And when I went to look up the LCS schedule at the end to make my game recommendations, poof. My blog post disappeared from the face of the planet. Oh well. Enough crying about it, let's get down to business.

Ubisoft has a little problem on their hands.

If you remember back to E3 last year, one of the many games Ubisoft announced was a competitive PVP game called For Honor. It was a neat concept in that it had 3 different potential factions: Knights vs Samurai vs Vikings. It's a weird mashup of Team Deathmatch and something like Dynasty Warriors... human players run around and cut down a shit ton of weaker computer controlled enemies... and occasionally run into stronger player-controlled heroes. It's an interesting idea, and the trailers looked really promising.

The game released back on Valentine's Day and had a really great following. A bunch of people started streaming it and doing reviews. The press was really positive. Mechanics were solid. Champions were different and well balanced. And most importantly, the game seemed to be fun. If you're curious, here's a "First Impressions video" from a YouTuber who does a lot of great MMO-style game videos.

But by the beginning of March, the game had lost over 50% of its player base (according to the number of concurrent players on Steam). So what the fuck happened? Well, some of it was the normal things that can plague games. Connection issues. Cheaters abusing all kinds of bugs. And an oddly large number of people AFK farming in matches. But a much larger monster was lurking below the surface, and it has reared its very ugly head.

Microtransactions.

That word alone can be enough to make a lot of gamers cringe. Depending on how they're handled by a developer/publisher can totally ruin a game experience if mishandled. After all, the abuse of microtransactions are pretty much single handedly what puts off a lot of gamers from checking out and trying Free-2-Play games. For every game like League of Legends that does microtransactions well, there are dozens and dozens of "Pay-2-Win" games that erode gamer trust in the platform.

So what did For Honor do? 

First of all, I need to begin with the fact that For Honor is a $60 retail game. No Free-2-Play here. You buy in for a full retail experience. It also has a $30 season pass available. And for their approach to Microtransactions, For Honor opts for the "Team Fortress 2" approach: Cosmetic stuff. Costume upgrades, skins, character taunts/emotes, etc. But it also includes gear. And in 2 of the 3 game modes released so far for the game, this gear is purely cosmetic. But in the "Dominion" game type, the one shown off in all the trailers with the big impressive looking invading armies trying to take over castles, the gear will actually impact how your character performs. Which sounds a lot like Pay-2-Win...

So let's take a step back and look at how they work, because this is where the problems really begin. Everything in For Honor's in-game store can be purchased with a currency called Steel. You earn Steel by playing matches. So you can grind up all the stuff for the characters you want to play. Which sounds pretty awesome. So where do the microtransactions come in? Well, the thing is, in addition to being able to earn Steel, you can just outright buy it.

The problems began when players sat down and started doing the math. Not accounting for any DLC, it costs around 91,000 Steel to "unlock each character and all of their customizations in the base game." Right now there are 12 champions, so it would cost more than a MILLION steel to unlock everything in the game. That's cool enough, it gives players something to work toward, right? This is where things start getting ugly. 

The average player, spending 1-2 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, can dependably make around 1000-1200 Steel a day. So to unlock everything currently available in the game for all champions, it would take a casual player more than 900 days of playing to unlock everything. Or a whopping 2.5 years. Ouch.

Ooooooooooooor... you could buy eight of the $100 Steel packs (you need 7.3 of these packs to be able to afford everything currently in the game)... So that means, for the game you paid $60 for (and potentially another $30 for the Season Pass), you would have to pay more than $700 to unlock all of the "cosmetic" items in the game.

A couple days after the community outrage began, Ubisoft responded in a method that just ended up pouring gas on the fire.  Here's the quote from the game's director Damien Kieken:

“We never had an intention for you to unlock everything in the game,” Kieken said, before comparing the store items to what you would have in an RPG.

“In World of Warcraft, you would never try to unlock everything for all the characters of the whole game. Same for any MOBA, you’re not trying to unlock all the content for all the characters in the game.”

Kieken went on to say that before launch, the developer expected most players to only play one to three characters. This also proved to be the case in the real world. “The design is based around that. The cosmetic items are really for us the end-game content: the things we want you to unlock after playing for several weeks,” added Kieken.

Now, there are a few things I want to say here. There are absolutely a huge number of people who try to collect everything in games like World of Warcraft, and even moreso in MOBAs like DOTA2 and League of Legends. I have tons of friends who spend all of their free time in WoW when not raiding hunting down rare mounts and pets. Achievement Hunting in WoW is an incredibly popular thing too, which also requires visit every little nook and cranny of the game. 

But I think one of the big take-aways here is that last comment. If this is what players can expect in the way of end-game content in For Honor, this game is in trouble already. And it sounds like the troubles are just beginning. The playerbase is practically in revolt. The game's reddit is full of people angry at Ubisoft for ruining the game.

On April 3rd, there is a planned boycott on the game, as players plan to not play the game for 24 hours to protest the way Ubisoft has been handling the game's microtransactions. They're looking to get more direct communications from Ubisoft about the problems and the future development of the game. There's actually a full list of demands from the playerbase. And this has already had an effect.

Ubisoft has already begun to respond, including making a patch that specific adjust some of the Steel rewards in the games, generally improving the rate at which the currency is earned in game. Ubisoft has scheduled a community live stream in order to address player concerns. They've also promised a weekly blog to keep players informed via "updates from our development team, go more in depth about our designs, address some of your concerns and explain what the team is working on at the moment."

It's a huge step in the right direction for Ubisoft to salvage some of the damage to their reputation. Some bridges have been burned, but players are giving Ubisoft a chance to respond. So what happens from here all depends on what Ubisoft says in their live stream. Players are on standby to go through with their April 3rd boycott. But say they might change their mind depending on how things look after they hear from Ubisoft.

This whole thing is an interesting look at how big companies handle PR and Community management. And is a good example of how players are getting fed up with the microtransaction shenanigans as developers and publishers try to explore ways to generate more income from games in an industry where prices haven't increased since the early 90's with the Super NES (while the cost of making games has skyrocketed).

So how do you feel about microtransactions? Free-2-Play games? How do you think Ubisoft is handling things? Are players over-reacting? Let us know in the comments below. (BTW, we plan to talk about DLC and Microtransactions on a show next month!)

** Chop's esports corner **

LCS is off this week as teams get ready for the playoffs. Missed some crazy games this past weekend. Like a surprisingly epic battle between First Place Team SoloMid and Last Place Team Liquid.

But I still want to encourage you to check out some esports. So here's the closest thing I can find to a big list of events potentially going on this weekend to check out. Looks like you have a lot of options. Heroes of the Storm. Overwatch. CS:GO. DOTA2. Hearthstone. 

The end of an Era?

There's a weird transition period at the end of every console cycle where there are technically two different platforms being supported at the same time. And a lot of people see the term "supported" as something in air quotes. The writing is one the wall. Your current favorite platform is on the path to becoming a retro console. It's only a matter of time. 

Heimdal has officially sounded the Gjallarhorn for Sony's Playstation 3. Sony is going to be ceasing production of the PS3 in Japan in the near future. It will still be in production in other parts of the world, but in the home of Sony, it is about to become extinct.

It had a ten year run. That's pretty damn good. Way better than the three year run of the Dreamcast. Over 86 million units. Tons of games came out for it. A lot of iconic stuff. Thankfully the legacy lives on. 

One of the most interesting ways it lives on is via a service from Sony called "PlayStation Now." It's a subscription service offered by Sony that lets you stream a selection of more than 450 PS3 games on your PlayStation 4 or (very importantly) your PC. Yeah, all you need is a PS4 controller and a subscription to get access to some of the best games the PS3 has to offer on your PC. It's pretty nuts. I know I'm super tempted to check it out.

How about you? What are your best memories of the PS3? Would you consider picking up PlayStation Now? 

** Chop's LCS Games of the Week **

We have 2 weeks left in this split, and the playoff picture is absolutely crazy.

Each team has 4 matchups left. Only 2-3 teams have a playoff spot on lockdown. But everything starting around 4th place is WIDE OPEN. The bottom playoff spot is currently sitting at a tie at 6-8. The last place team is currently sitting at 3-11. It would take a LOT of crazy stuff happening for that last place team to catch up and make it. But it's possible. 

To make it even more crazy. HALF OF THE TEAMS IN THE LEAGUE sit between 6-8 and 3-11. Fourth place right now has two teams tied at 7-7. So things are going crazy. So again I'm going to pick a couple games this weekend that are BIG matchups for that last playoff spot as things sort themselves out.

Friday, March 17th @ 6pm EST - Team Dignitas vs Team Liquid - We talked last week about the drastic steps Liquid is trying to take to try and keep themselves from being relegated. They sit 2 matches out of the last playoff spot. Currently leading the way for that last playoff spot is Team Dignitas. Dignitas has something to prove and has to win every game they have left to stay in the picture. Liquid is desperate though, so there should be plenty of fireworks.

Friday, March 17th @ 9pm EST - Echo Fox vs Counter Logic Gaming - What? Two games on the same day? Yeah. Right now CLG sits tied for 4th at 7-7. Echo Fox sits just outside of the playoffs in the dreaded 8th place. Facing relegation, can Echo Fox pick up a win against a potential playoff team and climb their way up the ladder? CLG desperately needs to hold on to that tie for 4th place. With both Team Dignitas and Immortals right on their heels at 6-8, they can't afford to lose a single matchup. Should lead to some great games.

Sunday, March 19th @ 6pm EST - Counter Logic Gaming vs FlyQuest - Speaking of that tie for 4th place, the two teams tied for 4th going into the weekend go head to head Sunday night. FlyQuest has been on a terrible losing streak, and need to snap out of it if they want to stay in playoff contention. Paired with the earlier game, CLG has the chance to put a stamp on 4th place and distance themselves from the pack... or if everything goes horribly wrong, they could drop out of the playoffs altogether. The drama is real!

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

The Winds of Change

Sorry this is so late today. I've had a pretty crazy week. But I saw something today that made me think about how the world we interact with is constantly shifting in weird ways that we sometimes take for granted.

For the first time in history, there are more people who subscribe to Netflix than there are people who own a DVR. This is a big deal. As the infrastructure around the internet improves, people are using it for more and more things in their lives.

When I was a kid, it was a big deal to have Cable. As I grew up, you were kind of expected to have it. The people I knew, almost everyone had it in some capacity. But in college things started shifting. People started watching stuff online. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube; there are probably hundreds of streaming services these days.

But this isn't anything new. The internet has been incredibly disruptive to a number of major entertainment and media industries over the past 20 years. 

The first and probably the most famous was the music industry. Beginning with Napster and Limewire and other services of the sort, people started sharing music with each other digitally where they used to just trade mixed-tapes and CDs. Then stuff like MP3.com and iTunes came onto the scene and the sale of digital music took off. Recently, we've entered the age of streaming music. YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music; there are tons of options out there. Why buy music, when you can pay $10/month to listen to all the music you could ever want without a single commercial?

Then it was the publishing industry. When the Kindle came on the scene, it was seen as something of a joke from the major publishing houses... and then Amazon kicked them all in the nuts. Now ebooks consume more than 30% of sales from the 5 major publishers. (Note: The ebook sales from the major publishers have been hurting lately, and it mostly seems to be due to their high prices an inability to adapt to the culture of digital publishing.) And the major publishers are hurting for new talent as authors are getting smarter and realizing they can make more money doing it all themselves and selling through stores like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes than they ever would signing with a publisher.

The two big industries dealing with these pains right now are Hollywood and Television. People would rather stream a movie in the comfort of their own home than pay $15+ per person to see it in a theater (not counting snacks). And people are getting sick of paying $50 for 200 channels they don't watch for the 3 channels they do want to watch. 

So far every industry who has had to go through this process has failed to learn from any of the ones who have gone through it before them. In a perfect world, all of these changes would lead to a better world for consumers. In reality, the growing pains generally lead to the people in charge of these try to cling even tighter to the old ways.

So who is next? Streaming Games? Steam has a pretty huge strangle-hold on the Digital games world (which is crushing companies like Gamestop). But even they have begun to try and tackle streaming games. PlayStation is getting in on the action too. PlayStation Now lets you play PlayStation 4 games on your PC without owning a PS4. Which is kind of awesome. No downloading, just fully streamed games.

I can't wait to see what the future holds. How about you? What are your thoughts on the future of Streaming? What are your favorite streaming services?

** CHOP'S LCS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

I'm going to go with something a little different this week. With only 3 weeks left in the split, people are fighting for playoff spots, and struggling to avoid relegation. So we're going to avoid the top of the totem pole and start looking at the middle and bottom of the packs.

Saturday March 11 @ 6pm - Phoenix1 vs Echo Fox - Going into the weekend, Phoenix1 is sitting in 4th place, Echo Fox is in a tie for 6th. Meaning if the split ended right now, Echo Fox and Immortals would be playing to see who gets the last playoff spot. Phoenix1 needs the win to try and fight for one of the two top seeds (currently being held pretty strongly by Team SoloMid and Cloud9). Echo Fox need to win this one to try and claw their way into the last playoff spot and stay as far away from relegation as they can.

Sunday March 12 @ 6pm - Team Liquid vs Team Envy - This is a game of desperation. Going into this weekend, these two teams are tied for last place. No one wants to be relegated. Liquid has gone full-on panic mode over the last two weeks. Last weekend, World Champion AD Carry Piglet swapped roles and is now their Midlaner. Goldenglue has been benched. This week, they pay what is probably a ridiculous amount of money to Team SoloMid for their semi-retired AD Carry DoubleLift. Liquid's quest to avoid relegation is an insane one from here. Cloud9, Envy, Dignitas, Phoenix1, Team SoloMid, and FlyQuest. They have to go through the top 4 teams to try and catch up with the 7th place team. It's not a huge gap for either of these teams. They're sitting at 3-9. The tie up in 6th place for that last playoff spot is at 5-7. There are 6 matchups left for each team, so anything can happen.

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Amazon Shows Their Big Plans for Twitch

Back in 2014 Amazon spent almost $1 billion to swoop in out of nowhere and buy Twitch (at a time when everyone thought Google/YouTube was about to close the deal). We knew this could lead to some really good things, it just depended on what Amazon decided to do to make the platform better.

They've been slowing building up something called Twitch Prime. It is part of Amazon Prime and gives some interesting perks. Special free in-game items for featured games every month. Some free games. Commercial-Free viewing on Twitch. The ability to subscribe to one channel a month on Twitch to help support your favorite streamers. But Amazon and Twitch just made a big announcement that just might impact the way a lot of people buy games.

Coming later this year, you are going to be able to buy the game you are watching directly from Twitch (which will be handled by Amazon's distribution chain). This may not seem like a bit deal at first glance, but the goal of any business is to eliminate as much friction as possible between the consumer and the purchase. Right now, if you're watching Twitch and decide you like a game and want to buy the game to play it for yourself, you have a number of steps ahead of you:

  1. Leave Twitch (something Twitch doesn't want you to do)
  2. Open up/log in to your game sale platform of choice (Steam, GoG, Humble, XBox Marketplace, PSN, etc)
  3. Search for the game you were watching.
  4. Complete multi-step purchase process. (Which sometimes involves signing into yet ANOTHER service like Paypal.)

So what if you could just click a button in Twitch, type in a password to confirm, and boom you own the game? That could definitely impact how some people buy games. 

But what if Twitch sweetens the pot a little too? If the person you're watching is a Partner with Twitch, they will get 5% of the purchase price. It may not seem like a lot ($3 for a $60 game / $1 for a $20 game), but it will definitely add up. People have proven that they love being able to help support their favorite streamers, so they might jump on this opportunity to support them through purchasing games as well. Though it does make me wonder if that will impact how some streamers approach their channels. Will they only play full-price games to maximize their income from sales?

They also announced a perk program called Twitch Crates. If you buy a game that's more than $4.99, you will receive a Twitch Crate with the purchase. So what the hell is a Twitch Crate? According to Twitch, "a digital loot box with a special reward like a game-specific emote, a chat badge, or some Bits. The contents of each Crate are randomly generated so you never know what surprise will be inside." So it sounds like Twitch-specific rewards that may or may not be related to the game you purchase.

Games will be downloadable and playable through a "Twitch Launcher" which doesn't seem to have been released yet... but it will be interesting to see what it has to offer. Amazon is in the process of branding all of their gaming stuff with the Twitch name, so if it's anything close to the Amazon Cloud Player for their music purchases it should be a great piece of software. I guess we will have to wait and see.

The only gripe I have with this thusfar is this statement:

Q. If I’m a non partnered streamer, can viewers buy games from my channel page?

A. An offer to buy a game or in game content will appear on all streamer channel pages when a game is being played that is offered for sale by Twitch. Only partnered streamers will be eligible to earn revenue through this program.

Twitch is going to put the sale buttons on every page on their server (which makes sense), but the streamer only gets a cut if they're a partner. And the only way to become a partner is to have hundreds of people watching you concurrently multiple times a week. So if you're a small channel with an audience of 20-30 people every stream, you will not see a penny if one of your fans buys a game through Twitch. Which screws people with smaller audiences, who would probably benefit the most from the income.

What do you think? Would you be inclined to purchase a game through Twitch if it's easier? Or are you too locked in Steam or another digital distribution company?

**Chop's LCS Games of the Week**

After a break for IEM Katowice, the LCS comes roaring back this weekend with two HUGE rivalry games:

Saturday March 4th, 2017 @ 6pm - Team SoloMid vs Counter Logic Gaming - El Classico! Still the biggest rivalry in eSports. TSM sits on the top of the mountain going into the weekend. CLG is clawing their way back to the top after a rocky start. Expect fireworks.

Sunday March 5th, 2017 @ 6pm - Cloud9 vs FlyQuest - El Noobico! If the last time these two teams met is any indication, this should be an incredibly close series and sport some really, really good games. I'm super looking forward to this one too. More fireworks.

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Take Care of Yourself

We're going to take a step back this week and talk about something a little more somber than I normally would. Some of you may know that a rather popular Twitch streamer passed away on the 19th of February during a 24-hour charity marathon stream. He was raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation by streaming multiple-20-hour days streaming his game of choice (World of Tanks). 22 hours into his 24 hour marathon, he stepped out to go smoke a cigarette and never came back to the stream.

Here's the thing. He was 35. And in seemingly good health (aside from the smoking). Which is tragic. It's also not the first time we've heard of people passing away from giant gaming marathons:

So I just want to ask you guys to take care of yourselves. I know there a members of our audience that also do charity streams and marathons.

So go for a walk every now and then. Make sure you stand up from time to time during long game sessions (blood clots are a seriously huge deal). Try to pick some healthier stuff to snack on. Little things add up. We want you guys to be around with us for a long time to come. And I'm sure your friends and family do too. 

Here's the thing, I know I could do a much better job at this stuff too. You've heard the jokes on the podcast about me eating gummy bears and stuff. So yeah, I'm guilty too. Let's all try to do a little better.

Sorry for being such a downer this week. But I think it's good from time to time to stop and take a look at things and see where you can improve things. Our health is key in all of this. So take care, and we will talk to you guys soon.

PS) If you want to donate to the three children of the streamer who passed away, a GoFundMe campaign has been launched

PPS) LCS has an off-week this week due to IEM Katowice. A big international tournament. It features League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and StarCraft 2 tournaments. If you're interested in any of those games, go check it out over here.

 

Why the Death of Steam Greenlight is a Step in the Right Direction

So something big happened in the world of video games (especially PC games) this week. Steam has announced that it will be ending the Steam Greenlight program and be replacing it with a flat fee that a developer can pay to submit their game to Steam. 

So why is this a big deal?

The current process of getting your game(s) onto Steam is... terrible. It requires a studio to game the system. They literally get people to like and comment on their submission page on Steam in an attempt to generate enough traffic and momentum on Steam that the game will be selected into the Greenlight program. So you see lots of harmful stuff that studios have to do in order to get over those hurdles. For example, it became a fairly common practice for developers to give away copies of their games in exchange for people voting for their Greenlight projects. Which is a practice Valve has been fighting for at least a two years according to this 2015 Kotaku Article.

So what is this community/vote based system being replaced with? A new method called Steam Direct, which was announced by Valve on the official Steam blog on the 10th of February. Under the new system, studios would be able to submit their games directly to Valve to be placed on Steam. So how do they intend for this process to work?

First a studio would create an account with Steam and verify their identity. Valve says it would be "similar to the process of applying for a bank account." So a studio would:

  • "Complete a set of digital paperwork"
  • submit "personal or company verification"
  • submit "tax documents"

Once this process has been completed and their identity has been established by Valve, the company can pay a recoupable fee* for each new title they want to place on Steam. (* - Recoupable is important language here. It means that whatever the fee ends up being, you will earn that money back via sales. Since these contracts don't exist yet, we don't know the nature of this repayment. It could mean that you get a higher cut of profits from the game, and Valve takes a lower cut (or even no cut) until that fee is paid back to you.)

But what about that fee? This is the thing that is going to make or break Steam Direct. So far there's been no announcement of what the fee will actually be. Valve has stated that they talked to a number of studios about what they felt would be an appropriate fee for the service. Those responses ranged from as low as $100 a game to as high as $5,000 a game. Valve says, "there are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum," and as a result, they are going to gather more information before making a decision about the amount of the fee.

So what are those pros and cons? $100 is barely a hurdle. Especially if you will earn it back fairly quickly through recoupment. It would do little to deter the "flood of crap games" you sometimes see people complain about on Steam. Really the only studios this would hurt are the people who make little games in RPG Maker who likely wouldn't be willing to pay any fees to list their games on Steam.

At the high end, $5,000 a game would likely be prohibitively exclusive. Most Indie studios wouldn't be able to afford the fee. Not without running some sort of crowdfunding campaign to pay the fee. And that would seem to defeat the purpose of eliminating the whole system-gaming Greenlight system, wouldn't it? Plus $5,000 is larger than the budgets a lot of Indie games have to work with, and it would keep these gems from coming to play in the biggest pond around for computer/video games. Which would also be a shame.

I personally think the fee would likely settle between $500-1,000. It's a large enough sum of money that it will make people think twice about pulling the trigger. They will want to have the best possible game they can before launching it. At the same time, it's not so large that people flat won't be able to afford it. It's a fee that can be easily budgeted for that won't come at the expense to the rest of the game's development.

We will definitely keep an eye on Steam Direct and let you know when there's more news to talk about. What do you think about the changes? Do you think they're a step in the right direction? Or completely ignoring a larger problem?

PS) After writing this, I found a new announcement from the crowdfunding site Fig about establishing a fund to help developers pay for fees to get their games to market. Check it out here.

** CHOP'S LCS GAMES OF THE WEEK **

So this week marks the halfway point of the split and we start seeing some mid-season rematches between top tier teams. So instead of 1 match-up, I have 2 to recommend as the top 3 teams battle it out this weekend, some for the first time, some in rematches.

Saturday February 18th @ 6pm EST - Cloud9 vs Team SoloMid - The week 1 rematch between the #1 and #2 teams in the LCS. Cloud9 is sitting on the top of the mountain undefeated right now. Can they survive their rematch with the always dominant TSM?

Sunday February 19th @ 3pm EST - FlyQuest vs Team SoloMid - The battle for #2. These teams are tied for second coming into the weekend. They both look dominant and along with Cloud9 look like top contenders in the playoffs for the first half of the season. There are big questions still in a lot of people's minds of whether FlyQuest will be able to keep up with TSM, and we will have answers to those questions at the end of the weekend.

You can tune in on Twitch (They have 2 channels: NALCS1 & NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) 2017

So some buzz has been going around the past few days about this year's E3. For the first time ever, E3 is going to be selling a select number of tickets to the general public. This is great for fans who will have a chance for the first time to attend all the big announcements and press conferences. They will also have access to workshops and other talks, which is pretty awesome. That's one of the biggest things that goes on at E3. They will also be able to walk the floor and play all the demos and other fun things to be had at E3. There will be 15,000 public tickets offered. The first 1,000 tickets will go for $149/each, after that people are going to have to fork out $249 for a ticket. 

For fans this is awesome. But is this a sign of the health of the E3 and a last ditch effort to try and save the convention? 

Attendance has always been an issue for E3. Somewhat fittingly, there have been 3 different versions of the Electronics Entertainment Expo. The original 1995 event was huge and 50,000 industry and media people walk through the doors. It eventually hit a ceiling of around 70,000 attendees (in both 1998 and 2005). Then for some reason they decided to streamline and refocus the Expo. 

The rebranded "E3 Media and Business Summit" launched with a maxed out (based on the new format) 10,000 attendees. Exhibitors wanted a smaller crowd and a more focused Expo. It switched to an "Invitation Only" format, in a theoretical attempt to curtail people who weren't involved in the industry from attending. The next year saw attendance drop to 5,000 people. This lead the Expo to return to its original format again.

The re-launched E3 had 41,000 people attend, and number grew steadily year to year until it finally broke 50,000 attendees in 2015 for the first time in nearly a decade.

So let's look at the last 3 years and see how this injection of the public might help/effect numbers?

  • 2014 - 48,900 Attendees
  • 2015 - 52,200 Attendees 
  • 2016 - 50,300 Attendees

So *IF* the same number of business and media personnel attend E3 in 2017, and we get an influx of "civilians" attendance numbers could hit as high as 65,000 or more. A level that hasn't been seen at E3 since 2005.

But is this a good thing? Are there signs other than attendance numbers we should be looking at to see how things are really going at E3?

Last year, Electronic Arts made waves by saying they weren't going to be at E3. Instead they were literally going to set up shop across the street and open it up to the public for FREE to come check out their stuff.

A couple months later, Activision announced they also wouldn't be having a booth on the E3 floor, opting instead to show off Call of Duty at the event via their friends at the Sony Playstation booth.

Then Disney and Wargamming (the people who make World of Tanks) both pulled out of having a booth on the E3 Floor.

As this editorial from Wired points out: "One can be dismissed as a fluke, and two as a coincidence, but three is a trend and four is a hemorrhage."

Time will tell how this will all effect this year's E3. It will be interesting to see if/how fast the public tickets sell. It will be interesting to see how the industry and business attendees react to the public inclusion. It will be interesting to see if the major players in the industry continue to forego the event. After all, EA Play has already been scheduled again for 2017, so don't expect to see them on the floor of E3 again this year...

It's a long time until June, so there's still plenty of time for things to take shape. 

If you're interested in going, you can sign up to get more information about ticket sales over here at the E3 Website.

What do you think about the future of E3? Would you like to go one day?

**CHOP'S LCS MATCHUP OF THE WEEK**

This week I'm going to recommend a weird matchup. Sunday two teams are going to come head to head that have a weird history. Last year, a number of the founding players from Cloud9 stepped down from the main roster to build a Challenger (minor league) team. That team won Challenger, beat an LCS team in the Promotion Tournament and won a spot on the LCS stage. Thing is, Riot Games has a rule where you can't own more than one LCS team, so Cloud9 was forced to sell their challenger team. 

Enter one of the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. Looking to get into the eSports business, he purchased "Cloud9 Challenger" for a whopping $2 million. Included in that price was the contracts of all the major players from the team. And just like that, one of the fan favorites Hai Lam was no longer a member of Cloud9 (this is a big deal because basically without Hai, Cloud9 has always struggled on the big stage). With him went An "Balls" Lee, and Daerek "Lemonnation" Hart, two other founding members of Cloud9. And eventually their team would settle on the name "FlyQuest."

So going into this week, Cloud9 sits alone on top of the standing in first place with a perfect record of 6-0. FlyQuest (mostly thanks to Hai's strategic shot calling) is sitting tied in second place with Team SoloMid at 5-1. This is the first time Hai, Balls, and Lemonnation have played against their former team, and it's a battle for the top spot in the league. So it should be pretty exciting! Seriously, watch this teaser trailer from Riot Games.

They play on Sunday evening around 6pm Eastern. And you can tune in on Twitch (It will probably be on NALCS1, but it might be on NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Gamestop

I've had a problem with Gamestop for a while now.

Mostly this stems from a couple of issues. The biggest issue I have with them in how horribly they treat their employees (which is a topic to talk about at a later date). Coming in just behind that is how their primary business practice is to sell games in a fashion that screws over the developer.

The big issue with this for me is the same with the old USED CD business, when a company sells a used game/movie/CD, the company selling it gets to keep all the money from the sale. When you sell a new copy of a game, a large chunk of the sale goes to the publisher/developer. Really the way this works is that companies like Gamestop pay the publisher like $40 for the game, and then sell it for $60. These are just example numbers, but the principle is there. When a company like Gamestop sells a used game, they paid a customer $7 for it, and sell it for $55. None of that money goes to the Publisher/Developer, so the store stands to make a lot more money off of a used game than a new one.

This wouldn't be such a huge issue if it was just an occasional part of their business model, but as probably the largest Game retailer in North America, they go out of their way to focus on these kinds of sales. And it's getting worse.

It started off innocently enough for the customer: Hey, why not save a couple bucks and buy this new game for $55 instead of $60? Or better yet, a month or so later, why not $40-45 instead of $60? That sounds like a great deal for the gamer looking to save some money. And here at Loaded Cart, we're all about saving money. But what happens when the business gets in the way with the customer experience? What happens when the employees are literally being told to talk you out of buying a new game because they need to get their used sales numbers up?

That's crazy-talk, right?

Not according to this recent article from Kotaku.

Gamestop corporate incentivizes their employees and stores to lie to their customers to meet sales quotas on Used Games. They hide stock in the back and tell customers they are out of stock so that customers will pre-order the game/system to get their pre-order numbers up. They will even lie about having new copies of games in stock when they're on sale and the "new" copy is cheaper than the used copy they do have in stock. Just take a look at this quote from a Gamestop employee:

We are telling people we don’t have new systems in stock so we won’t take a $300 or $400 dollar hit on our pre-owned numbers ... This is company wide and in discussions with my peers it is a common practice. We also tell customers we don’t have copies of new games in stock when they are on sale—for example, Watch Dogs 2 is currently $29.99 new and $54.99 pre-owned. We just tell them we don’t have the new one in stock and shuffle them out the door.

That is nuts. But it gets worse. Have you ever gone into a Gamestop the day a game came out and they told you they didn't have a new game? Or that they only had enough games to cover the pre-orders for the store (usually blaming the publisher for only sending them a few copies)? I know I have, several times... well there just might be a reason for that:

The other day working the RE7/Kingdom Hearts launch we were telling walk-in (non-reserve) customers that we didn’t have the games in stock or that they were only for pre-orders in order to not sell new copies of games,” said a GameStop employee. “It’s that bad.”

A second employee also said they found themselves in trouble after selling a bunch of new games last Tuesday, during the launch of Resident Evil 7, Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and Tales of Berseria. “Now I’m fucked for the week,” that employee said. “Now I have to sell way more pre-owned this week.

Ugh. Yeah. When you're basically forced by your bosses to lie to customers because of the unrealistic quotas and other crazy stuff your company is trying to push, there's a problem. It makes me even more glad that I don't shop at Gamestop unless absolutely necessary. 

The People who work at Gamestop are the greatest asset the company has. It's literally the only reason to go there now that you can get the games magically on your doorstep on launch day at a discount from Amazon. Midnight launches are literally the only thing setting them apart any more, which is a massive pain in the ass for their employees. I feel for them, I know they just want to work in an industry they love, and being around games every day sounds really awesome. I just wish Corporate would wake up and stop treating them like shit like this, because it's starting to show how badly their treatment and policies effect the customer.

**CHOP'S LCS MATCHUP OF THE WEEK**

A new segment I want to do here, because I love the LCS. I'm going to point out just one matchup you might want to check out this weekend.

This week I'm going to recommend EL CLASSICO. When it comes to North American eSports I'm not sure there is a bigger rivalry than Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) versus Team SoloMid (TSM). Both teams got off to a rocky start so far. TSM has done a better job turning it around, but both of these teams are going to be top contenders at the end of the split. 

They play on Saturday afternoon around 3pm. And you can tune in on Twitch (It will probably be on NALCS1, but it might be on NALCS2) or Riot's eSports YouTube Channel.

Crowdfunding as Preorder?

So today I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. A couple of games that I really enjoy by companies I really like are headed into an initial round of crowd funding. They tick all the boxes of the things I look for in a project I would consider backing. The two bigs ones being 1) Being made by a company I trust who 2) have successfully completed a crowd funding project in the past. But I think they fall short in one very key thing, but I'm getting ahead of myself a little. What games are these?

The Banner Saga 3 - We did a game corner on the first game in this series. And this is the LAST game of the trilogy. I can't wait to see how the story wraps up. This is a small indie studio in Austin, Texas. And their games are beautiful.

Pillars of Eternity 2 - This is a quasi-retro-game. It's a throwback to the Baldur's Gate games and the other D&D games of that same era. Isometric, party-based, quasi-RTS. It's made by Obsidian, a decent sized studio. It's a labor of love for them, but they are a much larger studio. They have a history of great games. Even the ones that get super rushed by publishers and end up being a little buggy...

So the things that make me hesitant to back them are relatively simple, but leave me with something to ponder about the state of gaming right now. 

First thing is, both of these games are going to get funded. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion. Right now Banner Saga 3 (at the time of writing) is 79% funded of its $200,000 with 39 days to go. Pillars of Eternity 2 is 89% funded of its $1,100,000 goal. They're both going to hit goal. Probably by the end of the weekend. Definitely by next week.

This brings a cost analysis into play. If I supper love the game and want to pay full price for it and play it day one? Totally worth funding. $30 will net you a copy of Pillars of Eternity 2 in Q1 of 2018, $20 will net you a copy of Banner Saga 3 at the end of 2018. Of note: if you add $20 to your pledge for Banner Saga, you will get copies of their first two games to complete the trilogy. Something to consider if you're interested in the series. But if your plate is full, and you just want to play it at some point, and maybe you want to wait for it to go on sale... maybe it's better to wait? I mean, the game isn't coming out until next year at the soonest.

Second is the choice of crowdfunding platform. Banner Saga is on Kickstarter (where their first campaign was run), Pillars of Eternity 2 is on Fig. As I've mentioned on the podcast a couple times, I'm not a fan of Fig. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way. It's the fact that some of the people involved behind the scenes of Fig ran big famous kickstarter campaigns, and now they don't want to give KS a cut, so they started their own site. And some of the site policies are sketchy at best. So I'm super hesitant to donate anything to any project on Fig. 

Third is taking a step back and thinking about whether either of these companies actually NEED my money to finish the game. That's the whole point of crowd funding, right? "We have this dream, and we've put our all into it, and now we just need some help from you to make this all become reality!" Pillars of Eternity 2 does not. I can pretty safely say that. Mid Tier studio making a sequel to a successful game. It has a huge budget and they're going to hit it and several major stretch goals. Whether I throw in my $30 or not.

The Banner Saga 3? That's something to seriously consider for me. Their budget is small, just like the first game. Their studio is small. I know my contribution will matter more. I know that pushing that funding total higher will result in them being able to make a much better game. More polish and a better wrap to the series. It's also a somewhat successful series, but it's still a small studio. The first game did so well that they didn't have to crowd fund Banner Saga 2. Which is awesome. The fact that they're asking for help for the 3rd game shows me that I can actually make a difference. In the end, that is one of the appeals of crowd funding. Helping an indie studio live the dream. So maybe I'll go take a look at their pledge tiers and see if there's something that really appeals to me.

How about you, what do you look for in a crowd funding campaign? What makes you jump on the band wagon? What makes you hesitate? Are there any games out there you're looking forward to that are being funded right now? Spread the love, let us know.

Give eSports a Chance?

Today is a big day for me. Tonight the "Spring Split" of the North American League Championship Series begins. Which means, for the next several months, I'll be watching professionals play a game I thoroughly enjoy. I've always been a fan of sports, so this transition was super easy for me. But should you give professional eSports a try?

Is there a competitive game you enjoy playing? Do you think you'd enjoy watching people at the highest skill level play really intense games? Do you think you might be able to learn some little tips and tricks from the top tier of players? Maybe you want to see if you might like a game or not? What better "Let's Play" than literally the best players in the world?

Pretty much every game out there has professional eSports out there now. From Smash Brothers, to League of Legends, to World of Warcraft (Arenas), Hearthstone, Call of Duty, you'd be surprised. There are professional games of "Clash Royale" (a quasi-sequel to Clash of Clans... yeah THAT Clash of Clans). Let that sink in.

So what's your favorite game to play online? Have you checked out the eSports scene? Watch a few games. Find a team you like. You might surprise yourself how much you enjoy it. Some of them (DOTA2 being the big example here) actually have "New Player" broadcasts going on alongside their normal ones, that take the time to actually explain things a little more in depth for people new to the games... It's worth checking out.

So what am I watching?

Personally, I watch League of Legends. Riot Games has a pretty massive eSports infrastructure. There are multiple big leagues around the world, two in Korea, two in China, and then importantly one in Europe and one in North America. The reason these last two are important is because Riot is VERY hands on with these two. The one I focus on (as mentioned in the second sentence of this post) is the North American LCS.

To further break it down, there are two different tables for the LCS. First there's the Challenger Series (confusingly called the NA CS), which are the top teams in North America that *AREN'T* in the Championship Series (the NA LCS). They play a full season online with all of the games available to stream live on Twitch and Riot's YouTube page. At the end of the "Spring Split" (they call them splits, because they are half of the full season) there is a little playoff. Then they have a "Relegation Tournament" where the top teams from the Challenger Series have a chance to play a best-of series against the bottom teams from the Championship Series and the winner plays the next split in the LCS, the loser drops to play the next split in the Challenger Series. Whew.

I don't watch Challenger Series. I do watch the Relegation games though. But the real meat and potatoes is the Championship Series... and that's what starts tonight. It's different from the Challenger Series because *EVERY* game is played live on stage in person. All games are streamed live on Twitch and YouTube. And (importantly for me) all games are archived on YouTube in case you aren't able to watch them live.

These are the best teams North America have to offer. There's a lot of money invested here. For example, one of the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team dropped $2 million a month or two ago to buy one of the NEW teams in the league... not a big, established team. A team that just won their way into the LCS by winning their relegation games. They got 3 big veteran players in the deal, but that's pretty huge. 

Between now and the end of March, each LCS team will play 2 Best-of-Three series every weekend. So there are tons of games. So many match ups I'm looking forward to.

If you're interested, there are a couple really good games potentially on the table this weekend.

  • Friday January 20, 6pm EST: Team SoloMid (TSM) vs Cloud9 (C9) - Cloud9 is my favorite team. TSM is probably objectively the best team in North America right now. The two guys playing in the mid lane here are two of the best in the world. C9 has a new Jungler (Contractz). TSM has a new AD Carry (Wildturtle). They both went to the World Championships last year. This should kick the season off right.
  • Saturday January 21, 3pm EST: Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) vs Team Liquid (TL) - This is a great match to start the day on Saturday. CLG is the third team who went to Worlds last year. They are generally one of the top teams in North America every season. Liquid on the other hand has a problem... a Curse as it were. They literally almost always finish in 4th place (the top 3 go to worlds). Even changing the team name didn't break the Curse. CLG hasn't had to change anything about their roster between last year and this year, which could mean bigger and better things from them this year. Liquid has an enormous roster (5 people play each game, most teams have a roster of maybe 6-7 people, Liquid had 10 last year, they have 8 this year), but the two big pick ups for them are Reignover in the Jungle and Piglet as AD Carry. Reignover has been pretty consistently one of the best Junglers everywhere he's played in the past couple years. Piglet is one of the best AD Carries in the world. He's won a world championship. Can he gel better with his team this year than he did last year?
  • Sunday January 22, 3pm EST: Team SoloMid (TSM) vs Immortals (IMT) - Last year, this was a dream match. Two absolute juggernaut teams battling for the top spot in the league. Immortals are a gutted shadow of the team they were last year. They have some promising players, but their mid laner Pobelter is the ONLY player still on the team from last year. Can his new team mates live up to the standard set for them by last season? Or will the TSM war machine just roll over them and give them a massive wakeup call?

So that's my weekend. What games do you play and what do you think would be fun to watch tournaments of? Let me know in the comments below, and I'll talk to you again next Friday.

 - Chop.

PS) I will go back and add links to these games once they've been played if you want to go watch them after the fact.

PPS) Links added!

Nintendo, Switching it up?

So it's Friday, and here's my first Friday thing. Fortunately, last night in Tokyo, Nintendo had a big thing where they formally for realsy announced the Switch and gave out a release date and prices and most importantly its starting lineup of launch titles. So let's take a look.

Right now it's going to be released on Friday March 3rd, for $299 in the US. What this will get you is the little console screen, the dock for your TV, and one controller (called a Joy-Con, apparently). For around $450 some vendors like Gamestop have bundles available that have this base system plus 3 games. For just north of $500, you can get a bundle with 5 games. And for a whopping nearly $650, Gamestop has a bundle listed with a base system and 7 games. They all seem to come with Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so Nintendo is banking hardcore on people wanting to experience that game. And of note, it is interesting to see Nintendo lead with a Zelda game, NOT Mario.

One thing that is painfully obvious about these bundles though is that none of them include a second "Joy-Con." Which is perfectly fine if you don't have friends. But considering they run $80 EACH for a complete controller, it would have been nice to see one included in a bundle somewhere. Controller colors are... interesting. You have the standard grey that matches the system colors, and then they have a handful of other color options... what I see available for preorder are: Neon Blue (a light almost robin's egg blue), Neon Red (close to the classic "Nintendo red" that you see in the Switch logo itself), and a weird option of one red and one blue. Even more weird is that you can apparently JUST buy a left or right side of the Joy-Con controllers for $50 each... which I guess is awesome if you break or lose one of the pair? But to me just seems fucking bizarre. 

Now here I'm going to be a little cynical. I can totally foresee the following happening... Nintendo is kind of notorious for not being able to meet hardware demands. Just look at how that NES Classic Edition is doing, basically the only way you can find it is on Ebay for more than double the price. Same with the Pokemon Go Plus. Same thing happened with the Wii when it launched... and the N64... So it seems fairly safe to expect that the same will happen with the Switch. Now, imagine a world where all the Joy-Cons sell out as well, because hardware. Now imagine a world where people have to buy the individual sides of the Joy-Con to make a complete controller for $20 more than the cost of an actual Joy-Con... oh yeah, and the thing you need to put both of the little controllers together to make a large console controller that we're all used to? Those are $15 each. And I would almost be willing to put money on whatever odds are out there that the "Joy-Con Comfort Grip" (seriously, that's what the thing is called that you slot the controllers in to make a real controller) will sell out.

So it will be interesting to see if a half-Joy-Con will be able to play all the games perfectly fine (I'm expecting them to feel cramped), or if you basically NEED the full controller and comfort grip for the sake of your hands. $50 for a controller for a console these days seems about the norm. $80 for a standard controller seems pushing it just a bit. If that $80 controller doesn't come with a "comfort grip," that's where I would start getting annoyed at controller prices. 

But enough about hardware. We all know that what makes or breaks a console system is the game lineup. And one of the most difficult things for any manufacturer to nail is their launch lineup. Let's see how Nintendo did.

  • 1-2 Switch - Party game that will probably show off the Switch hardware much like Wii Sports did for the Wii
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Just Dance 2017

Wait... that's it? Oooooh, so that's what will be available Day 1 in stores... but apparently Nintendo has a "Launch Window" and let's see what other games are available during this window.

"March 2017"

  • Has Been Heroes
  • I am Setsuna
  • Super Bomberman R
  • Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together!

"Spring 2017"

  • Mario Cart 8 Deluxe (April 28)
  • Sonic Mania
  • Lego City Undercover
  • Arms

After "Spring 2017"

  • Splatoon 2 (Summer 2017)
  • NBA 2k18 (September 2017)
  • The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (Fall 2017) (I wonder if Bethesda is still denying this one?)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Holiday 2017)

Again... this makes me say, "That's it?" I know there will be all the virtual console stuff that is likely to carry over from the Wii/3DS/Wii U... but still. I don't even think I make it to "underwhelmed" when I look at this list... what's below underwhelmed? Subwhelmed? I don't know, but I'm there.

"But wait a minute, Chop! You said earlier that Gamestop has a launch bundle with 7 games! How can it have 7 games if there are only 4 available day 1?!" You might say. And I would probably respond with, "I don't know, Gamestop is stupid and you should stop shopping there." This is what Gamestop has in their sales listing as of today:

"The Nintendo Switch Gray Joy-Con Ultimate Bundle includes: Nintendo Switch with Gray Joy-Con Console, Clean and Protect Kit, Legend of Zelda Breath Wild, Has Been Heroes, Redout, Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, 1-2 Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Just Dance 2017."

So the answer is "I don't know." I'm going to assume that "Redout" and "Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth" are Virtual Console games. And I guess Has Been Heroes and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are preorders? We all know how Gamestop loooooooooooves their preorders. But other than that, it's 3 of the 4 Day One titles. *ALL* of the Gamestop bundles include Has Been Heroes though, so maybe that tells us how early in March that game is expected to actually come out.

I guess we will see by the end of the year how well the Switch turns things around and impresses. I expect big sales, just because it's Nintendo. I expect it to sell out pretty much everywhere, again just because it's Nintendo. Am I personally going to get one? Probably not. Right now there's nothing for it that makes me go, "Man I have to play that!" If I had friends nearby who played Smash Brothers, maybe the planned Switch version of the franchise would be that game, but as for right now, it isn't.

If you want, you can watch the whole Nintendo press conference on the Switch right over here

That's it for today. What do you think about the Switch hardware and game lineup? Do you have faith in Nintendo to have a game library better than this looks so far? Do you expect the Switch to sell out and have a base price on EBay of $800? Let me know what you think.

 - Chop

New Year, New Us?

Man. I've been horrible about keeping this page up to date. So might as well start the new year off the right way by trying to fix that. It's as good of an excuse as any, right? Let's do it. I'm going to post something once a week here, give you guys an excuse to drop by. Let's say... every Friday? Sounds good to me. See you Friday.