News Original From
Game Management Systems
December 27th, 2008 by Malcom
Hello, everyone, and happy holidays! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, and most of you are probably thinking “thank god I haven’t had to read any hateful posts from this asshole,” but who couldn’t do with a little holiday negativity? No, no, I’m not here to bash the countless holiday events that game companies host in their virtual worlds. I’m not even here to post a subjective evaluation of a game I’ve played for only 10 minutes a la my Atlantica Online review. Today we’re going to take a look at Game Management Systems, and a couple in specific: PlayOnline, and Steam. If you’ve never heard of PlayOnline, all you need to know is that it currently stands as the best example of how to not build a game management system.
What the hell is a “Game Management System”?
Truth be told, it’s just a term I use to describe applications that handle digital content to make it easier for the users to obtain, play, and keep their virtual assets up-to-date; it’s a way to juggle many games at once. The most prominent example of such an utility is Steam. Like in the days of old, not every person had imaginary encounters with minotaurs, dragons, or angels but most people knew what they were; much in the same way everyone knows what Steam is supposed to do, even if they’ve never used it. These utilities promise a reliable, and most importantly, safe way to acquire games for yourself or others. Not only that, they’ll keep your games organized, so that all you really have to do is run that application, then pick whatever game you feel like playing. Wait, it gets even better. This tool will even keep track of your friends, what games they’re playing, and even allow you to join your friend’s game through the utility’s friend interface. The application even provides you with an in-game overlay you can use to talk to your friends, change the application settings, etc. It promises the ability to use all your favorite applications while in-game. That is, unless PLAYXPERT beats them to it(hurry up with those 64-bit versions, slackers!). Sounds great so far, right?
Well, hold on, I’m not done yet.
Everyone benefits from the existence and support of these applications. Developers can make their games available to an international audience without having to ship boxes there, thanks to digital distribution. Additionally, it promises the potential to reduce the price of games. How can it do this? Think of Wal-mart. They can sell goods at a much cheaper price because they sell a broader array of goods. Wal-mart also keeps low prices on goods by reducing the cost to make them; irrelevant when it comes to what we’re talking about, though, as there is virtually no cost in digital distribution(no box, CD, etc). By having so many games under one roof, and completely eliminating cost of shipping, cardboard, plastic, and media, games can be made available to the public much more cheaply. These companies can even bundle a bunch of games together, and sell them at a very affordable price. Hey, who wouldn’t want to buy over a dozen games for only 75USD?
There’s more. These management systems can prevent piracy. By making game activation possible only to those who have the application, and only allowing people who have legit serial keys to play on legit servers, you can successfully prevent piracy. Arguably, anyone determined enough to crack a game will eventually find a way to play it for free. If the effort and time comes out to be worth less than the 50 bucks , then great. You must be some sort of game-cracking prodigy. Unfortunately, you’ll still miss out on having the most up-to-date version of the game, and any mod developed by communities of people who paid for the game.
So that’s it. This form of content delivery:
- Is user-friendly.
- Saves a ton of time spent on organizing games with your friends, and gives you more time to actually play with them.
- Allows more people to purchase the games and encourages more companies to offer digital distribution to reach an international audience.
- Can ultimately make games cheaper, as the companies running these applications have more games to sell, and can often bundle them for an amazing price.
- Prevents piracy.
Good night, everyone!
More details on next page.
Wait. There’s more in this article?! Damn it.
I’m sorry. I can’t go an article without some negativity. If I skipped this next part, I might lose some “street cred” and then no one would like me anymore. Corporate executives know that if you need to point out an employee’s shortcomings when speaking to them, you start with something good, then point out where that person can improve. I’m taking a similar approach. You’ve seen the benefits of such a system, now let’s take a look at a system that may not be as popular or well-known. For damn good reasons. Square-Enix manages and distributes some of their games digitally through a system called PlayOnline. The most popular game obtainable through the system is perhaps Final Fantasy XI. Some of the game’s expansions are even available for purchase through PlayOnline itself!
If PlayOnline had been the only system ever made to manage digital content, then it would have also been the last. It shits all over the idea of game evolution and progress. It makes it more difficult for players to get to the game they want to play, can cost you more money than buying the games at the store, and can drive you to set yourself on fire and jump off a bridge. The only thing it can do in comparison to the previously-mentioned system is prevent piracy. Seriously, though, who owns a cracked copy of Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, or Lord of the Rings: Online? I don’t know why I even mentioned this point.
PlayOnline will assume from the moment you start your registration that you’re an idiot. It may be right, but it’s no reason to punish the rest of us. PlayOnline will assign you a username, consisting of four letters and four numbers. I guess it prevents people from exploiting the fact that some morons make their account name the same as their character name in-game. Of course, this safety measure can often prevent the same morons from accessing their own account, if they forgot to write down the random gibberish that is their user ID. You also get registered for a sweet e-mail address that you should give to all of your friends. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m not fucking kidding. There’s user-friendliness for you.
Note: Only e-mail me if you’re the chick with three boobs from Total Recall.
If you’re not a moron, but you move a lot like I do, and you lost the booklet where you kept your user ID, then good luck to you. Square-Enix’s customer service is the worst when it comes to account recovery. Well, actually, their customer service can’t even usually solve a simple problem. We’ll save that for another post, though.
The client offered potential. Five years ago.
I’m going to be fair here. I liked PlayOnline when I first started playing Final Fantasy XI, back in 2003. It seemed like a pretty cool way to organize your games, and keep all the people you play with on a separate friend list than the people you talk to on AIM, for example. So you could organize everything you wanted to do in-game with your friends without having to talk to them on AIM/MSN/TeamSpeak.
Its one downfall, perhaps, is that it is now limited by outdated technology. Because this system is used across two other platforms: the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 2, it is limited by the technology of the latter. That means if they invented a PCI card to serve the purpose of telepathic communication online, then PlayOnline would never support it. Consoles like the PS2 are not updated. Ever. At least not anymore. So PlayOnline is stuck in the past. Maybe forever.
More details on next page.
Let’s go back to hating it real quick.
We’ve talked about how these game management systems can help you keep your games up-to-date either through downloading patches or purchasing expansions. PlayOnline does that absolutely flawlessly. Wait, I think I used the wrong word. Yeah, I meant absolutely shittily. As far as keeping your game up-to-date through content patches, why even discuss that? Every MMO does it. It’s not complicated technology. Final Fantasy XI has four expansions, though. These are: Rise of the Zilart, Chains of Promathia, Treasures of Aht Urghan, and Wings of the Goddess. Rise of the Zilart came bundled with FFXI as far as I can remember. I think the only place it wasn’t bundled with FFXI at release was probably in Japan. Still, they offer registration keys for Rise of the Zilart through PlayOnline for … 9.99 USD? What the hell?! In fact, they offer every key except the one for their latest expansion.
Let’s pretend for a moment that some stores sell just Final Fantasy XI, no expansion. 9.99USD would be a reasonable price, but let’s put it down to 4.99USD. You go home, install it, and you want to buy the expansions through PlayOnline since you weren’t even told at the store they existed. Possible scenario, happens with some games.
- Theoretical cost of Final Fantasy XI alone: 4.99 USD
- Rise of the Zilart: 9.99 USD
- Chains of Promathia: 9.99 USD
- Treasures of Aht Urghan: 14.99 USD
- Total: 39.96 USD(no taxes)
So you get the game, and three expansions for about 40 bucks. You don’t get the last expansion, though. Sorry. Not available through PlayOnline. On the other hand, they offer the game with all expansions at every store and Direct2Drive for…20 bucks? Wait, so the company sells keys for expansions that no one will ever buy, because they come bundled with the original game for a lot less money. Isn’t the purpose of digital distribution to save the users valuable time and money? And let’s remember, it’s Square-Enix selling their own games, through their own system, for more money than retailers. What is going on here?!
You might be thinking “man, you’re a dick,” but you’re also wondering “Wouldn’t returning players who didn’t purchase the third expansion want to buy it through PlayOnline? They don’t need a whole new copy of the game.” Actually, they don’t benefit, either. The third expansion(Aht Urghan) is sold through PlayOnline for 14.99USD. If you spend just 5 bucks more, you get that expansion, and the latest one. As well as a few extra keys you can burn or keep for when you lose your user ID and have to make a new account.
So, if you’re keeping score:
- PlayOnline is not user-friendly. You’re forced to write down or remember gibberish user IDs. You don’t need to type it in every time you log in, of course, but if you need account support(god forbid) or anything else, you’ll be asked for this information. Oh, you’ll also be asked for your registration keys. I guess the fact that you need support for their game is not enough proof that you bought it…What?
- PlayOnline does not save the user money. Buying just two of their expansions through PlayOnline would turn out as expensive as buying the original game and all four expansions at the store.
- PlayOnline stops running when a game launches. So you don’t get a sweet overlay, or anything like that to help you mess with settings while in-game.
- PlayOnline helps prevent piracy.
More details on next page.
It’s okay. I’m full of shit, too.
Look, my arguments are not that great. It’s possible that Square-Enix had no intention of producing a system to manage their games effectively, like Valve did with Steam. Maybe Square-Enix just wanted to have a way to handle billing for Final Fantasy XI without having to do it via browser. Wait. Shit, it doesn’t even do that better than paying via browser. My street address has a “.” character. You know, like “Apt. 4.” Couple of weeks ago, I wanted to renew my subscription and so I hop on, and put in my credit card information. It gets declined about 3 times before I contact customer service. Since in PlayOnline you cannot type special characters, like “.” their brilliant staff suggested I call my bank to tell them to remove the damn period from my address so I could pay for the game. I digress. Like I said, let’s leave their customer service for another post. We’re going to have fun with that one, too. There’ll be public notaries and calls to the FDIC…I know, I know. I can’t wait, either.
Getting back on track.
I have high hopes for game management systems. Even PlayOnline. With a few updates it could become the bullet-train of digital content and distribution systems. I really think that in the right hands, utilities such as these can save users a ton of time and money. The video game industry rapidly advances. Some think it’s going down the wrong path, and that developers no longer care about gamers. According to these people, it’s all about the money. They may or may not be right, I mean, it is a business and they want to make money; game companies are not charities.
One thing I am sure of is that the future of video games, and MMOs lie within these systems. Much like retail has moved from tiny mom and pop stores to Wal-Mart, Target, and other big box retailers. Hell, no one can argue that you can’t find quality goods at any of those stores. I believe the same will happen with video games. How will it affect MMOs? Just look at the Station Pass SOE offers. You can play a ton of games for one monthly subscription fee. Sure, most of them suck, but you have to start somewhere. Eventually someone might bundle good games under one subscription fee. I don’t know why you’d want to, but maybe we’re not far off from paying one low monthly fee to play Lord of the Rings: Online, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XI all together.
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