This Week’s Topics:
- Remix Heart Gaiden: The Better Version
- An utterly unhinged school body swap comic
- A gluey acquisition
- Sony buying an audio company
- The worst PlayStation handheld.
- A Mario for a new generation!
- Denuvo is trying to ruin everything!
- Epic Games’ ‘big’ profit share
- The eradication of platform identity
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Trust The Rippers, Not The Crackers
Against my better judgment, I have continued building up my ROM collection, which, at some point, billowed over into being a full-blown digital game collection. A thing whose true rules I am still figuring out. It is primarily a means of collecting games I personally care about, think look cool, or have a significance that I recognize or respect. Secondarily, I don’t fuckin’ know. I mean, I have The New Tetris, Starcraft 64, and DOA 2: Hardcore in here as ‘research purposes’ for Psycho Shatter 2000: Black Vice Mania. A story that I prepared a basic plan for back in 2018, but basically all of that will need to be rewritten when that project consumes my 2025. In fact, screw it, here’s the original schedule circa 5 years ago with a list of extra potential games I added at the bottom.
However, while I have zero qualm about gathering hundreds of ROMs of ‘not reasonably available’ games to form this collection, things get more complicated when it comes to more modern stuff.
With Nintendo first party stuff… I don’t care. They’re a great developer, but I hate their practices for reasons I explained before. I supported them plenty, and I don’t want to give them any money… unless it is to buy a present for a friend.
With PlayStation console exclusives… I mean, I could buy the games even though I don’t own the hardware— which is most often sold at a loss. But they are only selling about… 16 out of over 200 games I even remotely care about.
With re-releases of older games, if they are good, I will just use the latest release. And if they are bad… I have plans to support them, but if I can get a better experience just by playing the ROMs, then I will just do that. Now, I won’t play them beyond confirming they function, and I would not install or play the official releases. But when the price goes down to that of a sandwich, then yeah, I’ll throw some cash at stuff like Persona 3 Portable and the Mega Man Battle Network collections.
However, now that I have procured most of the ROMs I would care about, I have been looking into adding more PC games to this collection. …Which introduced some issues with two games in particular. DRM is a bane of many PC game enjoyer’s experience, and while people don’t mind Steam’s DRM because it is so unintrusive, I don’t want to deal with Origin and UPlay. I just want to buy the games, and get access to it, without fussing with any account crap or launcher.
This is not a huge deal, as I don’t care about 95% of EA and Ubisoft’s output, but I do care about Rayman Legends and Mass Effect Legendary Edition. I mean, those two games are part of my (to be verified) top 25 favorites, so they kind of need to be part of this list. So, what’s the solution? Why, to buy these games, download them, and use a DRM crack from some place reputable!
…Okay, but here’s the thing about that. While the PC gaming community has a long-standing history of providing quality fixes and cracks to games, antivirus companies don’t see it that way. They consistently flag this stuff, warn you not to run it, and sometimes isolate and delete things because they view them as dangerous. Now, I have run into false positives before— it’s why I’m still using a version of waifu2x Snowshell from 2018. Because it’s not worth the hassle of fighting with BitDefender. (Side note, only ever buy BitDefender if it is $20/year or less, and disable auto-renewal.)
Now, I have never had a serious virus issue before, and I like to think I can exterminate one pretty alright. However, I deal with a lot of sensitive client information as part of my day job. Now, I do not store work documents locally, as that would be a major security risk, but I do use my PC as an intermediary between OneDrive, Google Drive, and a remote environment. And while I delete things when I’m done with them, I don’t clear out my recycle bin every night.
But that— that right there— is enough security risk that I don’t even want to attempt to run a cracked PC game. Especially if the instructions say to run the .exe file in administrative mode. So what do I do? Eh… how about nothing? I mean, it’s not like I am going to play these games anyway. This is just my latest collection I made for the sake of collecting things!
So, yes, I will trust most sites that rips ROM files, because it’s a ROM. But anything that presents itself as a cracked PC game, or PC program in general? Nu-uh, sugar. I trust the rippers, but not the crackers. Never the crackers. Never in your life should you trust a Cracker. Including me!
(For the record, I pre-ordered Rayman Legends back in 2013, via UPlay. So I have zero issue showing a clearly pirated copy in the header image here. I bought the game already, and also own a freebie license on Epic. Leave me alone.)
TSF Showcase #2023-21.1
BlazBlue Remix Heart Gaiden by Arc System Works
After last week’s showcase of BlazBlue’s Remix Heart, I got together with my buddy Cassie to discuss the manga in detail, going back and forth as she tried to show me the light. We ultimately agreed to disagree, but she convinced me to check out a supplemental part of Remix Heart, Remix Heart Gaiden. A bonus story included in BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend.
She found all four parts of the story (1, 2, 3, 4) on YouTube, but I thought the video quality was kinda low. So I spent $5 on the game on Steam (the wheel of fate turned just so that the game would be on sale), downloaded a 100% save file, and I watched (most of it) with Cassie. My thoughts? Well, it was about 90 minutes, so let’s give it a little review-like segment.
Despite being part of a fighting game, Remix Heart Gaiden is a… visual novel side story to the manga side story. I’d call that confusing, but that’s just how Japanese multimedia franchises work. It follows Mai as she attends her magical school for special warriors, and is split between two episodes. Both of which… honestly feel like a better version of everything the manga attempted.
The character writing is stronger, giving every member of Remix Heart a more immediately identifiable personality and manner of speaking. The addition of English voice acting does a lot to add a new layer of personality to these characters, making it far easier to become invested in them. And the presentation, while not as robust or expressive as a fully illustrated manga, manages to shine in its own way. Despite just being one pose entities, the character expressions do a lot to sell them and make them endearing. The mouth flaps are a cheap but incredibly effective way of making the characters feel more realized. And I have a lot of respect for how it handles its asset use.
Characters only have a few expressions. Backgrounds are limited and look to be recycled from other storylines. There are only three CGs in the entire story. And you have a lot of budget conscious decisions. Like having characters pantomime objects that aren’t there, using simple visual effects in lieu of a new art piece, and lingering on a background when something else is described. It sounds cheap… but that’s before recognizing what this game does with its camerawork. Zoom-ins, tilting sprites and the background, and moving the sprites around to illustrate motion. It’s all stuff I’ve gushed about in visual novel reviews in the past, but Remix Heart Gaiden managed to do all that for a piece of side content, and back in 2015.
As for the actual story itself? Both parts are honestly pretty tropey and don’t push the envelope. The first one involves Mai and her roommate Kajun going out to gather ingredients so they can make dinner for their classmates. While the second one involves the Remix Heart posse going through the school to investigate one of the seven mysteries. Both of which… would fit in with the manga nicely, for whatever that’s worth.
However, I need to spotlight the first part, as Mai’s characterization is far different than it is in the main manga, as she’s undeniably a TSF protagonist. She flops onto her bed with her bra on without washing up. She exerts herself because she forgets her body is different. She gets hurt and brushes it off even when she needs help. She lacks the gatherer and cooking skills typically associated with women. She’s still super timid around female nudity. And she thinks herself to be a burden, even when she is surrounded by people who love her for who she is. Which isn’t technically a gendered thing… but I view it as a trait learned by most AMABs.
It touches on a lot of familiar, if not predictable, talking points for a TSF protagonist, while ultimately being a very TSF flavored story. It is ultimately about Mai coming to terms with the differences of her new body, confronting the femininity thrust on her, and learning skills she was never asked to develop before now. All of which makes for a more than welcomed chapter in the story of Mai’s transformation, and helped me see her character in a new light. So, yeah, full points from me. Good TSF theming, good characters, and spiffy presentation.
…Then we get to the second episode, which… just feels like a chapter of Remix Heart extended into a 45 minute visual novel. It follows the main group of five as they stay at school during a three day weekend, investigate a spooky building on campus to solve a mystery. It has some lovely interactions between the quintet of cuties, but also feels a bit… aimless by comparison. It does not have much of a goal or real purpose, and all that I could gather is that this may be related to the main storyline, somehow.
It also fails to really capitalize on Mai’s status as a TSF protagonist. There is some reference to her past, but at this point in this story, she has more or less accepted this body as her own. She has gained enough confidence and comfort with this body that she does not really think about it as much other than her body. Heck, she kisses something, and the fact that she kissed it is not seen as a big deal. Rather than capitalizing on her growth, she is just the final form of 90% of MTF TSF protagonists: Just some girl.
However, just viewing it as a filler episode of an anime episode— which is basically what the second episode is— it’s pretty good. Good characters, good bits, and it’s comfortably unambitious. Not really my thing, but just seeing these characters do their thang can sometimes be enough.
TSF Showcase #2023-22
Doutei Ikki [Brotherhood of Virgins] by DOM
…Okay, now it’s time for the fucked shit! So, in my routine TSF sniffin’ sessions, I sometimes find these utterly deranged and beautifully ugly works of art. I’ve already talked about Inucreamice before, whose works are almost a guaranteed mindfuck on some level. but I would be spinning in my grave if I didn’t mention the indelible Jpg whose ‘uggo-fucko-baller-ass-shit’ has the power of drilling into my dark mind. But today, we’re talking about an artist who gave up the hood life, and a work from a decade ago that just got a translation! (Danke desudesu, ya degenerate dastard.)
So… the basic premise of Doutei Ikki is that a class of Japanese high schoolers undergo a spontaneous class-wide body swap. Every boy becomes a girl, every girl becomes a boy, and immediately the boys go hog wild. Flashing their panties, manhandling their boobs, stripping down, acting like ornery fools in heat, and making most of the girls in boys faint from embarrassment. It’s something that I have seen before, but the level of energy on display here is just amazing. So much so that I’m doing a disservice by only posting snippets.
Things just move, just keep happening, and all spiral toward an ending that honestly needs to be seen to be believed. Reality itself is a fickle concept, as the story keeps drifting into flashbacks and internal monologues as the characters attempt to comprehend this chaos. The visual depiction of events drifts between both the world of the living and the spirit world, where characters’ true selves are given a banana yellow soul aura. …And the sheer expressiveness and liveliness on display here has to be seen to be believed.
This is deliberately disgusting smut, and every panel has something that is in some way hideous… but it is also so insane that, ten pages in, I realized I needed to showcase it here. Just from the way things are drawn, I can tell that DOM has the skills necessary to draw something more in line with the general modern anime aesthetic. They could draw like any other professional mangaka. …But they deliberately choose to go against these rules, mutating these standards into something that veers into the big book of don’ts.
The faces are wrong. The perspective is wrong. The world morphs and mutates in accordance with whatever the artist felt like. But the paneling… is freaking amazing. Every page is gushing with personality and passion for whatever is going on at this exact moment. And it is brimming with pride and confidence! It knows what it is and… whatever-the-fuck that is, it’s a damn good one!
…Okay, but what is it doing with this premise? Is it pretty much just rampant sexual acts? Kind of! It is easy to get lost in the frenetic energy and imagery, but there is a narrative through line. That of… tainting an idol? There’s probably a more succinct term for that, but that one is good enough for me!
The protagonists of this story are the school’s idol, Takane Riho, and some rotund otaku caricature referred to as Three Heads, but named Shin Sato. Riho is a prideful girl, and not only does she have her everything stolen from her as she is planted into the least desirable person in her class. Recognizing this, and being a bit of a misnathrope, Sato uses this as an opportunity to bring Riho down to his level. Stripping, dancing like a horny monkey, and threatening to shatter the image she so delicately cultivated for herself. Her mind enters panic mode, she tries to justify that what he is doing isn’t that bad, but reaches the conclusion that she can only save her pride and cull this chaos by… fucking herself. Which leads to a 36 page sex scene.
How do you even do that? By digging deep into the mind of the protagonist as she is forced to do something she finds revolting, asserts that she is better than this, and just completely loses herself in the experience. Becoming a slave to her new body’s male lust, being led astray by her onlooking classmates, and just when she has the opportunity to stop… it stops being a TSF comic. And as that happens, all hope dies, and only despair remains. Riho’s mind goes into a freefall as she is powerless against the inevitable, forced to engage with the vile reality before her, and seeing her harebrained scheme backfire. Then, as her flower is cast down to the earth below, there is a glimmer of hope… that explodes into just the worst shit imaginable.
Even beyond the already gross concept, Doutei Ikki is putrid, sickening, and absolutely deserving of the yellow screen of danger. It is something I cannot recommend to anyone who isn’t 100% down for every breed of fucked up shit. …But it is also something that I consider downright beautiful in its utter lack of shit-giving and the skill that went into its composition. Even after reading it twice and skimming through it three times for this write-up… I am still in utter awe of it.
The Behavior of a Juggernaut
(Behavior Acquires Rotterdam-Based Developer Codeglue)
Behavior Interactive (good old A2M) has been steadily plucking up smaller studios over the past few years. They bought Seattle’s Midwinter Entertainment back in May 2022, the UK-based SockMonkey Studios in February 2023, and now they bought the Netherlands-based Codeglue. A small independent studio who has developed its own games in-house, done support work for smaller titles, but is probably best known for their work on ports.
Just to name a few, they did the 3DS and mobile ports of Terraria, the Switch and PC ports of NIS America’s Prinny Presents NIS Classics titles, and the console ports of Shadowrun Trilogy. They worked on some major titles, and clearly have some skilled staff behind them, so they would be a big get for any company wanting to add a skilled multi-talented team to their roster.
With this in mind, I think this is more of a whatever acquisition. For the folks at Codeglue— to be renamed Behavior Rotterdam— the biggest change will probably just be what projects and types of projects they’re working on. For Behavior, this is just another step to become a true AAA developer instead of the Naughty Bear and Dead by Daylight dudes. Tiny acquisitions like this are how a ‘medium-sized’ multi-team studio like Behavior grows, and so long as things work well for the Rotterdam team, I think this is fine. Plus, the former executives/owners of Codeglue are probably glad they don’t have to worry about getting stiffed by a rotten client.
Sony Gobbles Up An Audio Company
(Sony Interactive Entertainment Acquires Audeze)
So, this is a slightly odd one. Sony is one of the first companies whose name comes to mind when I think about quality headphones, and they have held that position for… decades at this point. As such, hearing that Sony will acquire Audeze, who make headphones that run from $300 to $4,500, is not surprising. They naturally want to bring in skilled and qualified people and integrate a different company culture so they can remain a market leader.
Except it is Sony Interactive Entertainment who is buying them. The subsidiary in charge of PlayStation and gaming related activities. Why would they want to buy a headphone brand who releases products that start at $250? Um… I guess to do audio related stuff for PlayStation games, and help certain titles sound even better? Even though I’m not entirely sure how that works…
Sure, Sony Interactive Entertainment bought Audiokinetic back in 2019, but they are an audio software developer, who are best known for Wwise. An audio middleware that is used in… basically every other major big budget game released over the past decade. But that’s still firmly within the realm of gaming. …So I give this acquisition a Y for… why?
PlayStation Portal Is a Bad PlayStation Vita
(PlayStation Project Q Re-Announced As PlayStation Portal)
Back in May, I dismissively discussed Sony’s PlayStation 5 streaming device, Project Q. I dubbed it a vanity project, and said that a $200 price point would be reasonable for such a device. Mostly due to the cost of materials— the large OLED screen and controller— along with the basic components needed for the thing to run. However, when saying that, I thought that this device would also have some sort of mobile data, similar to the PlayStation Vita 3G model. Because, to me, it seemed too ludicrous to entertain the idea that such a device would be a Wi-Fi only device that only streamed to a PlayStation 5. Well… it turns out I was being too optimistic, as the newly renamed PlayStation Portal sounds like a ripe little dookie nugget.
- The device will come with an 8-inch LCD screen, despite OLED steadily becoming the standard for high quality electronics.
- The device will only be able to stream games from a PlayStation 5 within one’s home over local Wi-Fi. Meaning you cannot connect to a different Wi-Fi network to play games, or use a cellular network to steam games.
- The device will not be able to stream PlayStation Plus Premium games. Meaning you cannot play PS1, PS3, or PSP games on this thing, at all.
- The device will only be capable of displaying games at 1080p and 60fps.
…As a reminder, you can remotely play PlayStation 5 games on your phone with a controller harness. You can stream them onto a PC. You can play them with a gosh darn Steam Deck! You can remotely play PS5 games in so many ways. This just is another way you can stream them, and it costs $200. You could buy a budget phone for that much money! You could buy two retro handhelds for that much money!
Do you remember how a PlayStation Vita could be used to play PS4 games within one’s house via Wi-Fi, came with a crisp 5-inch OLED screen, and could also play its own robust library of games? Remember how it launched for $250 in 2012? (Which, in all fairness, is $335 in 2023 money.) I remember, and that just makes the PlayStation Portal seem all the— Wait, that’s the freaking name for this thing?
PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, and now… PlayStation Portal. Portable. Portable. Portal. People will get those names confused, Sony knows this, and they just don’t care.
This is a device that should not exist. It is a waste of materials, production costs, and the time of everybody who is involved in this device’s production.
If this was a $400 portable PS4 with the same streaming features? This thing would be amazing! They could have made a portable version of the 5th best selling console of all time… but they didn’t! They had the chance, they lost it, and now they’ll never get it back again!
New Auditory Era of Mario
(Mario Voice Actor, Charles Martinet, Steps Down From Role)
Welp, this is another inevitability that happened sooner than most people were expecting. Shortly after the release of the Super Mario Bros. Wonder debut trailer, when people were scraping it for content, there was some discourse about it featuring a new voice actor for Mario. Certain phrases the character said had a different inflection than those performed by Mario’s voice actor for the past 29 years, Charles Martinet. I brushed it off as a ‘wait and see’ sort of affair and now, with the game a mere two months away (even though it doesn’t feel like it), Nintendo addressed this matter.
Charles Martinet is stepping down as the voice of characters in the Mario series, but will continue to work with Nintendo as a brand ambassador. Now, this is almost certainly an amicable decision between two parties, and while I like to look for nefarious reasoning behind corporate decisions, I don’t think that’s the case here.
Martinet is 67, he’s getting old, and it’s going to get harder and harder for him to capture the same voice he has been doing since 1994. He’s more prone to illnesses, accidents, and all sorts of bad stuff. And rather than keep maintaining this role as his performance quality changes, he is stepping down and is giving the roles to someone new. Someone younger, able to offer something similar but new, and— actually, it’s probably going to be four people. One for Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi. Because why should they all share a voice actor?
Anyway, more details will be shared during a video presentation with Shigeru Miyamoto and Marinet sometime soon, possibly as part of a September Nintendo Direct. …No, they have not announced one, but it’s something they do basically every year.
Nintendo is Bringing DRM to Consoles
(Nintendo Partners With Denuvo to Fight Switch Emulation)
Okay, that was a neutral Nintendo story, so let’s throw this company into the pyre— where it belongs. Nintendo has partnered with the greatest bane of PC game-likers of the past decade, Denuvo. A DRM and anti-tamper toolset with a history of making games run worse, and a piracy deterrent that has not worked since its inception. Denuvo has been cracked time and time again, and at this point in gaming history, it has been well documented how DRM tools like this do not help anyone. They just piss people off, and make people want to pirate your shit out of principle. If you treat people like criminals, they are gonna go through alternative channels.
So, what did Nintendo decide to do? Partner with one of the most universally disliked companies in gaming in order to fight against Switch emulation. Which has really been hurting sales of games on Switch. Especially high profile games like Tears of the Kingdom and Pokémon Scarred and Violated.
…If this isn’t 100% clear, I was being sarcastic with that last comment.
I want to say I’m surprised by this, but I’m not. Despite offering minimalistic emulators for a small scattering of their back catalog, Nintendo has always hated emulation. Always hated all forms of piracy. And deliberately made their hardware worse to prevent hardware. Every Nintendo console starting with the NES has its own history with piracy (except the Virtual Boy), and Nintendo has constantly been trying to work around it. Emphasis on trying, as people still found ways to hack everything they put out.
So, of course they want to roll out a severe anti-user practice. One that Denuvo pitches as a way to boost revenue by preventing people from pirating copies of these games without buying them… which completely misses a very real factor with Switch emulation. A lot of people who emulate Switch games… still buy Switch games. They own the hardware, buy a copy of the game, and then download an identical copy on their computer.
Now, some might highlight that downloading ROMS is a bad practice, but… piss off. These people could dump the ROM using the well-documented methods, but that’s a needle in the anus, and the end result is the same from both a technical and logical perspective. That’s like saying a purchase is only legal if it is from a registered reseller…
I am angry at Nintendo for this… but I’m honestly more pissed at Denuvo. I get that Denuvo is just trying to make money… but I don’t think Denuvo, as a company or a subsidiary, should exist in the first place. Their only purpose is to make things worse for the common folk, make software harder to use, and screw over anybody who cares about the preservation or playing of video games. They are not even a net negative, they are just a negative, and any claims they have about protecting games or helping developers secure more revenue at launch… are bullshit. People who want to pirate games are broke, do not buy digital goods in general, or do not want to support a company on principle. If they cannot pirate a game… they won’t just go out and buy it.
People have said this time and time again, but the way to fight piracy is by offering a better service. If Nintendo put out a Switch more powerful than a 2015 gaming tablet, then a lot of people who emulate Switch games… would not be emulating them. Also, I’m sure this will either be a mild inconvenience for emulation, or will be so obtrusive that it makes games perform worse on Switch or its successor.
Denuvo Is Trying to Prevent Mods on Unreal Engine Games
(Denuvo Announces Unreal Engine Protection Software)
Oh my gosh Denuvo! I wish someone would just wipe your servers, erase your backups, and force you to declare bankruptcy. Because them going under would be EXACTLY the kind of wakeup call the games industry needs. As it would have a 15% chance of penetrating the iron-thick skulls of executives who think piracy represents a lost sale… when that has never been the case in the history of software.
Not content with fighting against emulation, Denuvo decided to rear their butt-like face in another objective good in the games industry. By going after modding with their Unreal Engine Protection program. A middleware feature that… let me just pull two quotes.
“With the Unreal Engine Protection, we are creating new weapons for the gaming industry’s fight against hackers trying to do things with games that are not supposed to be done.”
Yes, because that is the problem with gaming. People trying to add features to games or change them to suit their preferences. If the publisher does not sanction it, I guess it should not exist. That’s not a dystopian sentiment or anything…
“Like all Denuvo products, this first-of-its-kind solution is easy to integrate into the game on a binary level, effectively thwarting data mining attempts and creating formidable barriers against cheat creators, pirates and fraudsters.”
Piracy is a fundamental good for the industry, as it gives people control over the art and creations of companies who have a proven track record of erasing art from storefronts. Cheat codes have been a beneficial part of single player gaming for over 30 years. And data mining… People freaking love datamines, will always find a way, and get the most dedicated members of a game’s community incredibly excited for what might be. These are good things, and any barriers threatening them should be demolished.
Now, I will say there is one area where this type of protection can indeed be beneficial. Multiplayer gaming. When playing online with people, hackers, cheaters, or people using mods that give them advantages, suck. It’s a foreign problem for me, as I have never liked competing against others in… anything. (I know I suck, why bother proving it?) But I know publishers will try to shove this into single player packaged games, and not just live services.
Mods make games better, give games longer lives, make them more accessible, and it makes the publisher more money. Mods, cheat codes, piracy, emulation, these are all good things, and that would be obvious if these people actually thought about them on a more intimate, nuanced, level. Generally speaking, modders and hackers are not being malicious. They are people who love something deeply and want to make it better. Want to do things that the owners of this software are either unable or unwilling to do.
I like to think that Denuvo knows this— they would be as dumb as a sack of puppies if they didn’t— and this whole thing is just a way to grift publishers. Software publishers have been told to treat these things with fear, uncertainty, and doubt for so long— since the 1980s— and that’s part of why… things are like this now. Why so many things are web-based, subscription-based, and why major companies don’t like to put out software that people own. Because if people can own it… they can pirate it, and you don’t make money if things are stolen, right?
It is all so deeply frustrating to me, and makes me want technology to just stop evolving, so that we don’t reach a disgusting reality where software ownership becomes a thing of the past. Where every app is an online portal, everything depends on a server, and the concept of digital preservation has been scrubbed from the minds of an entire generation. I hate what this represents. Hate how corporations keep trying to usurp humans as the true rulers of everything. And hate how I feel as if I cannot trust anything on the internet anymore.
I seriously am thinking that I should stop writing in Google Docs— even though Microsoft Word looks and controls like a buttery sponge— and install WordPress locally to make sure I have a backup of Natalie.TF.
Sacrifice Profits For Market Share For The Glory of Tencent
(Epic Games Launches New Revenue Share Model for Timed Exclusives)
Tencent’s Epic Games Store has been a contentious little thing for quite some time. It was a bare bones storefront at launch that people only really checked out due to curiosity and a steady stream of timed exclusive titles. And now… it’s an okay storefront. One with far worse UI and UX than Steam, and is generally seen as a distant
second third in the hierarchy of PC games storefronts. Honestly, the only reason people use it is because of the exclusives, and the free games they give away each week. I know I have a library of ~300 titles from this service, but I only ever bought one title. The PC port of Journey.
Now, there is an argument that it is the best storefront for developers, as they only take an 88/12 split on profits, as opposed to the digital commerce standard of 70/30. …Which is still a far cry from Itch.io, which does a 95/5 split. Despite this, the platform still has not taken off, as the experience on Steam is just better, and… Epic Games is still just an alias for Tencent in my eyes. Yes, Tencent does not control Epic, but 40% ownership means that they have an obligation to be profitable and work with Tencent. As such, I have a significant level of concern over what the Epic Games Store will become in a few years
Over the past few years, Epic has been pouring their Fortnite V-Bucks into paying for exclusives, and they paid for quite a lot. But with interest rates going up, and the era of ‘free money for corporations’ coming to an end, that approach is not sustainable, and facilitating these deals also costs money. So, Epic decided to launch a new revenue sharing program known as the Epic First Run program, which is pretty simple. If a developer has the PC version of their game launch exclusively on Epic Games Store for six months, then they will get 100% of the revenue, rather than settling for the already favorable 88/12 split.
Every registered Epic developer is eligible to apply for this program, so long as the game launches on or after October 16, 2023. The 100% split only lasts for the 6 month exclusivity period. And while it’s a no-no to release on other storefronts, developers can directly sell the game on your own website during this exclusivity period. So the Red Candle Games E-Shop should be okay, but not Ubisoft Connect.
Now, that actually sounds like a pretty good deal for developers, especially major ones. 12% is a million dollars when you are selling 150,000 copies of a $60 game. And for smaller developers, this, combined with launching on a less crowded storefront, could help them make some extra money before re-launching on Steam. …Except for the fact that small developers simply do not make money on sales from EGS, and basically never have.
Ignoring that, and looking at it from the user’s perspective? It’s kind of annoying to wait 6 months before a game launches on Steam, but not a big deal. Major games are usually significantly better six months after release, after extra content has been added, and after bugs have been addressed. Plus, a re-release like this typically comes with a sale or slight price drop. Like $60 to $50, or a 20% discount during the first week of release.
It sounds good conceptually… but here’s the thing. Epic previously paid publishers to make their games exclusives. Even if they sold poorly, it did not really matter, ‘cos they got paid. Under this plan, sure, anybody can join, but rather than being guaranteed cash, they are just given a better revenue share. So if a game fails to sell, then too bad.
One of the biggest allures amongst smaller independent developers is receiving a big payout in exchange for giving their game away to hundreds of thousands or millions of people. Small developers want to be on PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, and be a free EGS title. Because they are given a payout amount and, depending on the game, it can be a LOT of money.
I would give numbers regarding exclusive titles, but those tend to run the gamut, and most of them are not known to anyone outside of Epic and their partners. So let’s instead look at the payouts Epic paid to certain developers during 2019. Because, thanks to the Apple and Epic legal case, those numbers were made public!
For example, Celeste released as a free game on the platform on 8/29/2019, 2.7 million people redeemed a copy, and the developers got $750,000. This was 1.5 years after its launch and after the game became a rampant success. So it did not make them a ton of money. But for the developer, Extremely OK Games, that’s probably enough to cover a year’s worth of expenses. (Payroll’s a bitch.) Plus, this meant more people were playing about Celeste, and talking about Celeste, which helped boost future sales of Celeste.
These payouts/buyouts are highly important to smaller developers, and I think that Epic might be ending this trend as they instead push this revenue split. Because while they could wind up paying more… they probably won’t. Going with the Celeste example, which launched for $20, means they would get an extra $2.40 per unit sold. So, the game would have needed to sell 312,500 copies on Epic in order to surpass its $750,000 buyout. Now, that is 2.4 million fewer entitlements to the game than from the EGS buyout… but the number of entitlements does not pay the bills.
…So, what is my point? Is this good or not? Realistically, no. I think Epic is going to stop paying for exclusivity. They are trying to save money and get more timed exclusives with this bold 100% revenue sharing plan. Now, do I think this is a bad thing? …Yeah. This could trick certain developers into partnering with Epic, thinking this would help them make an extra 43% of revenue per unit sold. (30%/70%). Also, this plan would give Tencent’s platform more mindshare and users! That’s no good!
Now, if Epic’s audience was… 20 times bigger, would I chagrin developers for taking this deal? Hell no! In the capitalist’s world, you take whatever you can get. Getting paid is more important than principles. Because unless you can pay for rent and groceries, you die.
The Plan to Eradicate Platform Identity
(Natalie Rambles About Platform Identity and Media Formats)
So, something I have been thinking about while fiddling with my digital game collection has been the idea of games being intrinsically linked with the platforms they were ‘initially’ released on. The idea that games are not just games, but need to be prefaced and viewed based on not the era they were released for, but rather the format.
With music, it does not matter if something was first released on a record, cassette, CD, or only came out digitally. Music is just music and albums are just albums. With movies, it does not matter if they were released on a film reel, VHS, BetaMax, LaserDisc, DVD, or Blu-Ray. Because, ultimately, movies are just movies. And with books… nobody cares if something was digital only, came out initially as a hardcover book, or launched as a paperback. Books are just books.
With games though, they are constantly and consistently divided and viewed based on what platforms they are available for. They have been since the 1980s, and they are still, to an extent, today. Initially, there was some logic to this, as games could only run on specific hardware, and if they were to be ‘ported’ to another platform, they were effectively remade from the ground up. There was no widely available way for more powerful systems to play games designed for less powerful systems. (Yes, I know about the Power Base converter and the Super 8, but basically nobody knew about them until they were ass-old.)
There were few standards in place, things were moving so fast that nobody was really looking back, and even the evergreen platform that is the PC… was notorious for NOT being backwards compatible. Seriously, there were oodles of Windows 95 games that did not work with Windows 98, and plenty of DOS games that didn’t work with either.
However, things started to change around the turn of the millennium, when several things happened simultaneously. Game emulation started to really take off, expanding past NES emulation and into the world of PSOne emulation, making it readily possible to play games from multiple systems on one device. DOSBox came out, which did a LOT of help preserve and inspire more interest in an era of gaming that might otherwise just be lost. And gaming hardware went from this wild west of competing technologies to fairly comparable devices.
Now, I won’t say that the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube were all basically the same system, as they all had their own quirks and strengths, along with unique effects. …But there’s a reason why so many games were multiplatform in that generation, compared to any other beforehand. Because a loose standard had been established, and it started mattering less and less what console a game was made for. Hell, this was also when direct PC ports of console games started becoming a commonplace thing. …I mean, lots of them were buggy and kind of sucked, but they were fundamentally the same game a lot of the time.
It became easy to view games as just being games, to ask why new consoles were necessary, when they shared so many games, and were so similar. …But then the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii generation made everything different again. You had different architectures and what was dismissively ‘last generation technology,’ so it was easier to see everything as being different. Especially with the DS and PSP doing their own things.
However, looking at the past… five years or so, I have to ask a question. Aside from button prompts, frame rate, resolution, how can one tell the difference between a game running on a PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, or PC? Because I’m pretty sure even gaming enthusiasts can’t. Gaming hardware has been standardized. At this point, I find the prospect of a game being an extension of a platform of a game being a ‘Switch,’ ‘PlayStation,’ or ‘Xbox’ game to be an arbitrary distinction based on who’s publishing the game. Hell, I would argue that there has not been a meaningful difference between an ‘Xbox’ and ‘PlayStation’ game since 2013, when the systems became basically the same thing. The specs are different, but they are just PCs that are optimized around playing games.
So, what am I getting at with this? Well, I guess it is more of a recognition that gaming hardware, emulation, and the standardization of hardware has made gaming platforms feel like an arbitrary barrier. And I think that one of the most beneficial steps that could be made for gaming is to just… get rid of the hardware specific titles. Make every gaming machine a computer that can run a wide variety of games and at a level of fidelity in accordance with the power of the hardware.
Now, you might think that sounds insane, and it is. The console manufacturers want to keep their walled garden, want games to only be playable on their hardware, and it would take government regulation to change something like this. I would love a future where Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox are merely subscription services and storefronts you can buy games from on dedicated game consoles, phones, or computers. But that is unrealistic for thousands of reasons.
Also, it’s bizarre to me how older games for older systems are still so highly viewed as parts of their respective systems. …But a lot of that is just nostalgia and a perpetuated console war narrative. I have so heavily indoctrinated myself in gaming history that I view the PS2 with a level of familiarity and reverence, but I have never so much as touched the original hardware. However, other people lack that specific brand of overindulgent brain tampering.
Progress Report 2023-08-27
You gotta get prepped for a dead internet! Hee-ho~!
Verde’s Doohickey 2.0: Sensational Summer Romp Progress Report:
Current Word Count: 107,231
Estimated Word Count: ~600,000
Total Chapters: 75
Chapters Outlined: 41
Chapters Drafted: 14
Chapters Edited: 0
Header Images Made: 0
Days Until Deadline: 276
Production on VD2.0 is still on hiatus, as I am working on the ELPS review. At this rate, I might just start TSF Series #017, bang that out early, go back to VD2.0, wrap up Act I: Switch & Swap, then go back to Dragalia Lost V3 Re:Works.
Eman Looc’s Possession Scroll Review Progress Report:
I stayed true to my word and binged my way through this scenario. I’ve finished all the Zoey routes, written up the related segments for the review, and as of Friday afternoon, I just started the Abby route, specifically the Memories branch. Honestly, the scenario started kind of meh with the Sandra and Connie routes, but once I got to the new Maid routes, things picked up significantly. And now I am dealing with a character who eats the narrator and becomes the new narrator! The scenario’s pretty dope… once you ignore the mediocre elements anyway.
As of Saturday evening, I have 13 endings left in the Abby route, and my boss is traveling, so I will TRY to have the review out on August 31.
Edit 8/27/2023 22:10: In saying that, I forgot about the two spin-off scenarios… and I realized that I MISSED an entire branch that billows out of the Rita route, including 5 endings. Ugh… I knew I shouldn’t have relied on the official flowcharts. Review is coming out September 6.