Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Uphill Battle

I've avoided this for long enough, I think. Normally I don't complain all that much here and just stick to personal writing and reviewing, but I cannot simply stand by anymore. As those who know me know, I am an avid and long-time gamer - I will happily admit that I like all sorts of computer, console and tabletop games. But it seems remaining a gamer in the new market is becoming more and more difficult, with certain gaming companies taking what can be seen as an anti-gamer stance, or more specifically, non-loyalty to their long-time gamers. I'm looking at you Blizzard/Activion...Bliztivision...Activizzard. Whatever.

My first and foremost complaint comes with the release of the long awaited and anticipated (for seriously over a decade) game of StarCraft 2. I, like most other gamers, loved and continue to love StarCraft 1 and still play it, enjoying it's more or less perfection of the RTS (real-time strategy) gaming model. Not only that, but you were guaranteed to be able to play with your friends whenever you wanted. After Blizzard merged with Activision, it seems to have turned its back on us ever-trusting fools and royally flipped us the bird.

One of the top priorities of an RTS (or what SHOULD be a top priority of an RTS) is multiplayability. That is, playing with more people other than yourself, whether in the same room, house or country. StarCraft 1 had LAN support which allowed computers, connected in the same house or room via wireless or direct-cable connection, to play in the same game with one another without having to be connected to the internet. One benefit of this is the epic fun that all gamers know, known as LAN Parties. You and your friends bring your computers and play a lot of games together, simple as that.

Blizzard (or, more accurately I believe, Activision) has made the direct and forceful choice to remove LAN capabilities from StarCraft 2 for good. That's it. Period. The reason given by Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, is that they want to give a gaming experience so good, that people "won't even want to have LAN parties". I'm sorry, what? Have you ever PLAYED games? That's one of the benefits of being a gamer! Here is H-to-the-usky-Husky talking about all these issues in a video accompanied by kittens. I know it's 25 minutes, but if you're interested in the issue, it's worthwhile.

But "Ah," I hear you cry, "surely without this, you can still play online?" Of course, but another thing being removed is the chat and unique game names from the new Battle.Net service - the online multiplayer system for Blizzard games. This makes not only chatting with your friends difficult, but organizing games with your friends a huge pain. With no unique game names, how are we to know which "4v4 [Map Name] Melee" are we supposed to join? There will be hundreds!

Ah but wait, maybe there won't be. In the old Battle.Net system, you could choose which region to play in (Asia, US East, US West and Europe) and could therefore meet a whole bunch of new people. No longer! Your StarCraft region will now be chosen for you depending on the address given in your Battle.Net account - say goodbye to all those friends you made in StarCraft 1, you won't be able t play with them anymore unless you falsify your address, or buy multiple copies of the game - something which I'm sure Activision's CEO would love.

Another rumour circulating the web is that the previously free service of Battle.Net will now become a 'pay by the month' service similar to Xbox Live. This will definitely make being a gamer even harder, and once more limiting the scope of the multiplayability of a multiplayer game!

What strikes me most, out of all of this, is that Blizzard have always been a gamer-loyal company, always releasing top-quality games that are loved by all - what gamer doesn't have fond memories of Diablo, StarCraft, Warcraft or WoW at SOME point? All these games are great and, despite the fact that they often took FOREVER to be released, they did so because it was to make the game better, to make sure it was perfect. It seems to me that now they are releasing an unfinished, sub-par sequel. Despite the decade-long wait for a game which looks in Beta to be possibly one of the most fun RTSs of all time, I could wait a little longer for them to get this baby right.

What is frustrating is that, through all of this, I know I will still buy it - hell, I preordered it. I WANT to play that game. Desperately. And Activizzard knows that. They know we gamers will fork out the necessary money to play the games we want to play, even in spite of all their glaring flaws. And that goes double - if not triple - for StarCraft 2. The only way we can get things to change is if we stand up and say, "Hell no, no more, we aren't buying your games unless they are done right and are made loyally for your fans". But, unfortunately, I cannot see that coming.

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