Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Online Gaming and Your Accounts

Posted in best practices, video game, xbox by commorancy on March 24, 2019

As gaming companies grow larger and offer more game selections, game libraries, digital stores other merchandise, online gaming can become a problem for you if you choose to play games in certain unacceptable ways. Let’s explore the dangers.

Online Gaming and Stores

Since the advent of stores like Steam, the Xbox store and even the independent stores, like Bethesda’s and Electronic Arts store and since the addition of multiple games that these stores sell, dangers to your account are present when you play any game.

What are those dangers? As more and more games become multiplayer online capable, along with those online features comes “Terms of Service” agreements. These are agreements to which you must agree before you can play the game. These agreements have legal clauses that let game companies do pretty much anything to your account if you “break the rules”.

Breaking The Rules

What exactly is breaking the rules? Sometimes the rules are not clearly defined. Sometime they are not defined at all. The difficulty with rules is that they don’t have to be defined for a company to call foul against you, to block you, to ban you, to delete your content, etc.

How do you know when you’re breaking the rules? This is a matter of common sense. Unfortunately, because many gamers are of age 9-14, common sense hasn’t yet kicked in. You don’t really begin to get an understanding of “common sense” until you reach your mid to late 20s. With kids aged 9-14, you get all sorts of behaviors, many of these behaviors are entirely unwanted and unacceptable.

Game developers need to be cognizant of this fact when they build their game platforms. Ignoring the 9-14 demographic when building your game is ripe for problems… which is exactly what Fallout 76 experiences regularly. Clearly, Bethesda developed a game and just “threw it out there” without thought to the demographics of those actually playing the game.

Demographics and Gaming

Know your audience. If you’re writing a novel, know the audience you are intending to gear your content towards. If it’s geared towards adults, write the novel with that audience demographic in mind. Don’t cater to children in your words when you’re writing to adults. That not only will insult your target demographic, it will turn them off of your writing. The same goes for video games. If you’re creating a video game, keep in mind your audience members who will be playing the game.

If you’re hoping to get audience from 9-50, then you might want to rethink your content, particularly online gaming content. The 50-something gamers are not likely to want to run around with a bunch of 10 year olds where common sense doesn’t prevail. Think through the demographic strategy carefully when designing an online world.

Duping, Glitches and Out of Bounds

Kids try out anything. In video games, this means they’ll actually try and break your game. They simply don’t care. They’re not in it for the rules, they’re in it for whatever fun they can have doing whatever they feel. If that means glitching their way through walls to get into off-limits areas, expect it. That’s what kids do. It’s in their nature. This even follows through to teens. If your game caters to teens, expect them to do similar things.

In fact, for online multiplayer games, I might even go so far as to only allow children on servers intended for children only. Place adults onto servers with adults only. This way, there’s no mixing of adults and children. Many reasons exist for this segregation, but the interactions between adults and children do not always go over well.

By ‘children’, I mean under 18 years of age, but preferably under 21. By allowing mixing of ages in online worlds, a game dev’s property can become liable for predatory tactics between unsuspecting children and not-so-well-meaning adults. Keeping children separate from adults keeps that unsavory door firmly closed. You don’t want your platform to facilitate this kind of interaction… AT ALL.

Accounts, Companies, Rules and Danger

As a result of digital goods stores now selling multiple games in their own store and because of stringent (and undefined) rules, if you run afoul of the “rules” even just once, you can lose your entire account at that store… including all purchases made through that store. That means that you could have had 10 (or more) different games you’ve purchased over the years. One infraction that bans your account from a single game means the loss of access to all of those other purchased games. This is the danger of running afoul of the rules.

For example in Fallout 76, the duping glitch wasn’t something that was built into the game intentionally. People (mostly kids) took advantage of this duping glitch to dupe and begin selling “rare” items. Expecting Bethesda not to do something about this is entirely naive. That the players thought that Bethesda couldn’t find “them” was even more naive. I spoke with many dupers who were so nonchalant about the whole duping thing, they never thought that Bethesda would ban their accounts. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Not only did Bethesda ban the accounts, they also heavily reduced the damage output of the duped weapons. They also heavily reduced other parts of the game to get it “inline” with those other reduced parts. In reality, they ultimately damaged their game simply to “teach a lesson” to the dupers. This “punishment” actually hurt the Fallout 76 game property and lost a bunch of players in the process. If you’re trying to chase away paying customers, this is an awesome way to do it.

While I’m not trying condemn Bethesda for their choices, they did make questionable choices in handling the dupers and in dealing with Fallout 76.

What does this mean for you?

If you subscribe to Steam or PlayStation Network or Xbox Live or any type of similar digital game seller, you’re at the mercy of that seller’s rules. In the case of Steam, they are a third party seller not specifically selling their own created games (usually). This means that it is much less likely to run afoul of a game’s rule and see your Steam account banned. Unfortunately, if you’re buying from EA, Bethesda or similar direct digital stores, you won’t be so lucky. If you do something considered ban-worthy in an online game sold by the developer, it’s likely your account will disappear as a result.

In the case of Bethesda’s Fallout 76, it’s clear that duping wasn’t going to lead to anything wonderful. Bethesda was very disenchanted over the whole situation… enough to basically destroy the entire Fallout 76 game (as if it wasn’t already destroyed from the start). Anyway, Bethesda not only removed the ability to find Two Shot Explosive weapons, those that still exist saw their damage output heavily reduced (by at least 75%). That’s a major reduction in damage. Not only this, they increased the hit points needed to kill certain “hard” enemies in the game (Scorchbeasts and the Scorchbeast Queen). So not only were the weapons heavily reduced, the creatures are now even harder to kill.

These are the kinds of changes that Bethesda introduced in Fallout 76 in retaliation for the dupers. Not only did the nonchalant attitude break the game, it basically destroyed it. On top of that, the dupers who were the source of the problem were also summarily banned from the game. Bethesda has said these “bans” are temporary. However, a 2 month suspension is well longer than “temporary”. Temporary is a 1-4 day period. Permanent is anything longer than a week. A 2 month ban might as well be permanent.

In the online game world, a lot happens in two months. You also lose touch with the game and will eventually stop playing it. Yet, these players who were banned also paid $60 (or more) just like everyone else. If Bethesda bans accounts without explanation, Bethesda should be required to refund the banned player at least part of the cost of their game. If Bethesda wants to ban players, they need to do it with a reason and explanation that fits within the terms of service.

What this all means is that when you’re playing an online game, you need to be on your best behavior just like anywhere else. Stick to the confines of the world’s limits. Don’t egregiously go over the limits simply because the game lets you… even if you don’t like the way the game is designed. Trying to intentionally break the game is the quickest way to get your account banned. This is especially true in online games where what you do can affect everyone else on the server.

If you’re playing a single player campaign game on your own console or computer, go ahead and break it. That’s fine. If you’re in a shared online world where there are other players who paid to be there and you intentionally cause the server to crash, then you deserve what’s coming to you. If that’s a ban, so be it. You should never go out of your way to crash or otherwise disrupt online worlds with other players. That’s the quickest way to a ban.

Complaints from Banned Gamers

I’ve heard all sorts of complaints from gamers who have been banned. The primary complaint is that now all of the rest of their games are inaccessible because of the ban. Consider that a lesson learned. Now you know the ramifications of causing unnecessary havoc in online game worlds. This should teach you that all actions have consequences. Games are designed with game mechanisms in mind. So long as you work within the constraints of those designed mechanisms, you’ll be fine. When you decide to go out of those bounds and find holes to exploit, that’s when your account becomes flagged.

For example, players who entered the Bethesda dev room in Fallout 76. Anyone with common sense would know not to go into that room in an online game. It’s an online game and Bethesda has eyes in the online world. They will see that you entered and they will find you. Your activities that you do in an online world are not anonymous, they’re not private and the game developer will most certainly see what you are doing. Thinking you can “get away” with entering a dev room is most certainly naive and definitely stupid. It might be fun to see the room, but that fun will make way to no fun when the developer bans you from their game.

Basically, if you do something in an online world that is out of bounds, expect it to be found and expect your account to be penalized. You can’t just run willy nilly through an online game world and expect no consequences. As I said, in single player offline campaign games, break it as you see fit. Even the game devs don’t care. It’s only when it’s an online world where multiple paying players can be disrupted by what you are doing. Most terms of service have disruption clauses. For example, if you read your terms of service for your ISP, there’s likely a clause that says something similar to “If your account is found to disrupt the internet services of others, your account may be suspended or terminated”. They’re not kidding. If you start DDoSing other folks on the Internet, your Internet account could be closed. Then where are you?

Why mess around with these sort of shenanigans when you can much more easily play by the rules established? A game is meant to be enjoyed by what it was designed to do, not what it wasn’t designed to do.

Overall

Stick to the rules of the game world and you’ll be fine. Venture into unknown territory and expect consequences. In the case of Bethesda, they run the game service, they have every right to eject anyone from that service. However, because you also paid for the game, I believe Bethesda should be required to refund any players they choose to eject. That’s the least that any game dev should be required to do when considering bans on players.

Unfortunately, Bethesda may not be willing to refund you after they banned you, but you may have recourse by disputing the game’s cost with your credit card company. However, there are also two sides to a chargeback. If you dispute the charge of an Xbox Store digital purchase, Xbox Live’s terms of service may kick in and this may result in a ban from Xbox Live. You should be careful. The same problem exists for the PlayStation Store. Even the Steam store likely handles chargebacks seriously.

If you purchased a physical copy of the game, you can also dispute the credit card charge against the seller. If that’s Amazon, Target, Walmart or Gamestop and your dispute is successful, you may find you can no longer use that credit card at those retailers. Chargebacks, while appropriate in some cases, are treated very seriously by merchants. Many merchants see chargebacks as a bad faith transaction from that credit card. As a result, many merchants will blacklist cards from their establishment after even one chargeback. If you’re thinking of using a credit card dispute with your bank, you also need to consider the ramifications if the dispute is successful.

Before considering a chargeback, you should contact the seller and ask if they will refund the purchase price. Only if a seller refuses to refund should you consider raising a dispute with your credit card company. Even then, consider this action carefully as it can also get your online accounts banned.

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For whom does the bell toll? Microsoft’s Xbox.

Posted in botch, business, gaming, microsoft, xbox by commorancy on March 27, 2016

xbox-1-logoIn case you haven’t been reading recent news, here’s an article that might wake you up… especially if you happen to be an Xbox platform fanboy. What is this alleged article? Microsoft has stated it will merge the PC and Xbox platforms into a single unified platform, ending the sale of dedicated console hardware. Let’s explore.

Xbox and Xbox 360

When the original Xbox arrived in 2001, it received lots of fanfare. The console market now had a competitor against the PlayStation 2. The PS2 had released only one year earlier in 2000. Though, the Sega Dreamcast had promise, Sega pulled the plug in 2000 citing lots of reasons including bad sales, competition and poor platform reception. The Xbox’s controller, architecture and speed quickly ended up competing with the PlayStation 2.

A few years later, we went through the second iteration of this console war when both Sony and Microsoft released the PS3 and the Xbox 360, respectively and near simultaneously. Once again, we had our next generation console in our hands and we gamers were happily playing with better graphics and sound quality.

The Xbox 360 took the lead in the console market over Sony’s PS3, but only by slim margins. Though, the XBox 360 managed to stay one step ahead through out the lifespan of both consoles.

Xbox One and Ps4

Unfortunately, Microsoft would not be able to maintain its fleeting lead it had won with the Xbox 360 with its blundering Xbox One E3 announcement in 2013. Here’s what they had wanted to do:

This announcement in 2013 would set the tone for all things to come including the next iteration of the Xbox platform. Within a week of their E3 announcement, after facing Sony’s harsh rebuttal at E3, Microsoft reversed all of its DRM and privacy invasion strategies after the gamers clearly spoke with their wallet, PS4 orders surged and people cancelled their Xbox One orders in droves. It’s clear, this blunder was Xbox’s first death knell and set in motion many future problems to come for the Xbox. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor the Xbox has been able to recover from this blunder.

Elite Console and Controller

XboxOneEliteController-smImmediately prior to this Windows platform integration announcement, Microsoft had just released the Elite Console and Elite Controller. This controller being a much more costly update to its existing hardware ($15o vs $60). This console and especially the controller is Microsoft’s nod to a more professional gamer. That is, a nod to those gamers who want to play games using higher quality contollers, button remapping, changeable controller features, more inputs and faster consoles. I’ll tell you what, though. The Elite Controller is actually quite nice, but very very pricey. Yes, some of us do want these advanced features from our systems. However, it’s entirely disingenuous for Xbox to release the Elite controller and system only to see Microsoft announce the death of future hardware systems just a few months later. Really, what does this say to would-be gamers about Microsoft’s commitment to the gaming market?

To me, this says that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in Redmond. On the one hand, you have the Xbox engineering team trying to drum up new gaming interest by releasing high quality experiences for the gamer. On the other, Microsoft itself is trying to reduce costs by getting rid of costly hardware projects it deems a loss. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean good things for Microsoft as a whole. This ultimately means that the whole company is fractured internally and doesn’t have a proper focus on its products or its markets. Instead, it is making rash decisions without thinking through the long term ramifications of those decisions. A death knell.

Microsoft’s confusion

With this announcement of the integration of Xbox with Windows, Microsoft has likewise announced that it also intends (see article) to stop making future hardware and will instead focus on the Xbox platform as a subcomponent of Windows. Just like Windows Media Center, it will become an add-on to Windows. You might think that this is a great idea, but it isn’t. Let’s understand why.

Windows itself already offers developers a solid gaming development environment to produce native games on Windows. Most AAA game titles are made not only for consoles, but also for Windows and sometimes even Mac. The question is, would that spell the death of the Xbox platform? Yes. The reason the Xbox platform exists is as a gaming hardware platform independent of Windows. It does not exist for Netflix, Amazon or for any other non-gaming entertainment. Sure, you can play movies and music on the Xbox, but that’s not the platform’s intended purpose. Microsoft is seriously confused over the reason the Xbox platform exists and why it continues to exist. This confusion spells yet another death knell. Basically, if Microsoft thinks that the non-gaming aspects of the Xbox will survive once in Windows, it won’t. You can already use native Windows apps to get access to all of the services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon… and the native apps are usually better.

The Death of the Xbox

Because Windows is already a solid gaming platform in its own right (in addition to being an entertainment platform), integrating a second gaming environment into Windows means that only one of these gaming platforms will survive the transition. Game developers will also only choose one platform to develop. Assuming status quo for the Xbox platform, the Xbox will be the clear loser. It’s simple to understand why: high priced licensing fees. It costs developers substantial amounts of cash to license and sell games branded with the Xbox moniker. It costs far far less to develop games under Windows directly. Unless Microsoft substantially changes their Xbox licensing model, this platform is entirely dead for gaming. Game developers won’t be willing to pay the excessive licensing fees on top of producing the game twice (Xbox and Windows) for the same hardware platform. Why would any game developer produce the same game twice that is destined for the same platform? They wouldn’t. A death knell.

So, what does this mean for gaming? PC gamers win a feather in their cap. Xbox gamers lose a platform entirely. Once games stop being produced for the Xbox platform, and they will stop, the only thing left to use the Xbox platform for is Netflix, other media activities and already purchased digital content. As I said above, you can already crack open Chrome or Firefox and do video streaming and music playing better. So, the answer, there will be nothing left to use the Xbox platform for except for legacy digital content that you may have purchased on an Xbox One/360… assuming that content even remains compatible after the Windows PC migration. Another death knell.

Digital Content

So, what does this mean for already purchased digital content? It means that you better hold onto your working Xbox One and Xbox 360 if you want to continue to use this content. Though, Microsoft may eventually force users to move to the Windows integrated platform and sunset the use of Xbox hardware entirely (and cut it off from the Xbox Live service).

This means that, at some point, you may no longer be able to download your digital content to your Xbox One and you may be forced to buy a PC. Depending on how Xbox One’s content activation system works, it may even prevent you from using the digital content you’ve already downloaded depending entirely upon how far and deep that Microsoft takes it.

Of course, this is still years off yet. But, once that time arrives, your Xbox One and 360 may become paperweights. A death knell.

Why this change?

From Microsoft’s perspective, I can understand the value and cost savings that integration (and lack of hardware) brings. No longer does Microsoft have to design, build and sell hardware platforms, no longer do they have to compete with Sony, no longer do they have to support this finicky hardware (a highly expensive ongoing investment). This means they can reduce their costs for all of the above. Instead, they can push the hardware costs back onto PC manufacturers to support their new Xbox platform.

Unfortunately, expecting PC manufacturers to support the Xbox is a pipe dream fantasy. There are far too many PC manufacturers who don’t follow the rules 100%. Instead, they get about 90% there and call the system done. This means that instead of having a fully 100% reliable Xbox platform, you’ll end up with a crashing behemoth of a system that, once again, barely works. The clear benefit to designing exclusive hardware is to achieve reliability by design. Leaving it to third parties to provide that hardware support means that some PC manufacturers will flat out not support the Xbox platform and those that do will charge a hefty premium. This ultimately means that buying a PC that properly supports the Xbox platform will likely mean a significantly higher cost than older far less expensive dedicated gaming console hardware. Not to mention, the clunky and ugly tower and desktop shapes of PC manufacturers which can no longer be used as a set top box.

This means that not only will the PC-based Xbox experience falter badly, you’re likely looking at 2x, 3x or more the price of today’s Xbox One to invest in a compatible PC-based Xbox platform. This puts this platform so far out of the price range of console gamers, this is yet another death knell for the Xbox. I won’t even get into the peripheral issues. Okay, I will a little. If Microsoft stops the hardware entirely, they’re likely to stop the controllers and leave that also up to third parties.

We all know how well PC controllers work with many games. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They are usually not wireless and when they are, they are chock full of wireless issues. The whole reason the Xbox One works well is because of the wireless controller and its close integration with the hardware.

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

Ultimately, Microsoft is throwing away all of their hard earned gamer loyalty. They are effectively closing the Xbox and throwing away the key. What this ultimately says is that Microsoft has no long term commitment to the gaming market, the console market or the gamers. What was formerly the green glory will fade into Microsoft’s Windows obscurity.

Overall, this is the worst of all possible fates that could befall the Xbox. A console is not a console without hardware. We all know how well gaming platforms work when they offer dedicated hardware. We also know how well they don’t work when relying on third parties. Think Steam. Perhaps Microsoft is deluded enough to think that Steam is the model of the future? I can tell you that Steam isn’t it. Steam works, but for limited purposes. Effectively, Steam is the app store for gaming. Since most app stores don’t focus on gaming, it was inevitable that someone would put one together. Hence, Steam. But, the Xbox platform, regardless of its current strength in gaming will die a quick death once there is no more console hardware to be had. Gamers aren’t likely to spend their efforts chasing down third party hardware platforms that might or might not work. The whole point of a console is that it “just works”. The Steam model simply won’t work for the Xbox unless you’re talking about $2-5 pricepoint games which could run on Facebook. That’s not the class of gaming that Xbox One is today.

We all need hardware to make our lives better, yes even in gaming. You can’t game without hardware. Relying on PC manufacturers to get you what you need isn’t the answer. Worse, Windows native games and developers will kick the Xbox platform to the curb. No developer in their right mind would consider spending extra money to develop on the Xbox platform when they already have Windows development efforts underway. Why would game developers choose to redundantly build their game twice for the same platform? That’s just stupid.

Sony, Nintendo and, yes, Apple

All of the above is actually very good news for the remaining console developers. Once the Xbox platform dies quietly inside of Windows (and it will), Sony only need worry about Nintendo for the foreseeable future. However, with Apple’s recent foray into gaming with the latest Apple TV, this could mean Apple now has an opening into the console market. What I will say about the current Apple TV for 3D gaming is that it’s still very rudimentary. The textures are low res, the environments look like something out of the Nintendo 64 and there’s not a speck of realism to be found… yet. However, Apple can up the ante a lot in the next Apple TV console iteration. Assuming they wedge in a much higher end GPU and a lot more RAM into the Apple TV, they could easily match the specs of the Nintendo Wii U, but perhaps not yet approach the PS4… it will take quite a bit more effort by Apple to match Sony. For Apple, the door for the console market is quite clearly open. For Microsoft, the door is quickly closing.

Yes folks, the Xbox is officially a dead platform. With this integration announcement, this is the Xbox’s final death knell.

If you are considering the purchase of a new gaming console, you should steer clear of the Xbox One unless you really enjoy buying into dead gaming platforms.

 

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