Steam Trading Cards: Win-Win

Steam trading cards are the best thing to happen to the gaming industry in a while.

Why? Game developers are constantly looking at avenues to make more money - large games are getting more expensive, indie titles are expected to have more polish, the markets are getting larger so more money is wanted to invest into new IP and gamers expect to pay less for games.

Some game developers use this all as something to whine about - they complain and try things like stopping resale of their games, cutting game content and making it into day one DLC, or price increases. This, I believe is a bad route that shows no respect for the customer and pushes them away.

With something very simple, Valve have managed to create a system that rewards themselves, gamers, developers and doesn’t hurt anyone.

The trading card system will be familiar to TF2 players - just as one gets item drops playing TF2, steam users get card drops playing any games that have support enabled. These can be used to craft ‘badges’ increasing your steam experience (a largely meaningless score) and getting you a few aesthetic improvements for your profile.

There is a market where you can buy and sell these cards - and most of them seem to trade at around 10-15p, with rare ‘foil’ cards trading at 80p-£1.

So why is it a good thing? Well, firstly it gets gamers used to micro-transactions. It has long been acknowledged that micro-transactions would be great for the internet in general - content that reaches a wide range of people, can cost virtually nothing to each person, and still net a nice profit for the content creator.

It provides an additional meta-game that some people enjoy, and people that don’t care for it can completely ignore it - better than that, they can just sell the cards they get on the market and get a pound or two off their next game. For free.

Valve get a 5% cut and the developer gets a 10% cut. The developer is earning money for providing a few pieces of artwork. It’s a no-brainer that is placing money into developer’s hands, and the people paying for it are the ones who have the money to spare and are happy to spend a few quid here or there for stuff that isn’t game changing.

It’s long been accepted that the hardcore with disposable income can be the centre of a content producers income. Music fans buying merchandise have propped up artists as they start up, and we know some gamers are willing to spend. This is a win for everyone, and shows you don’t have to be bad to your customers to make money.

Get over yourself, games industry.

The Xbox One will require pre-owned games to be ‘re-activated’, that is, you will have to pay a fee (split between a retailer, Microsoft and the developer) in order to play games previously owned by someone else.

This is crazy. The games industry has spent some time going on about how piracy is killing them and the used games market is killing them, and it’s rubbish. Firstly, the games industry is thriving. More people are gaming, games are more mainstream than ever and it looks to continue working that way. The idea that the games industry is dying is a clear lie invented by greedy developers and publishers that just want to keep inflating their profit margins - not by producing better products, but by increasing the price for the customer.

That’s the real crux of this - this is a hidden price increase for the game owner. When you buy anything, the resale value is a part of what you pay for. If you can’t resell something, it is worth less in the first place. At the moment, that £50 game is worth the enjoyment you’ll get from it, plus £25 down the line, or £10 way down the line. With this kind of system, it’s only worth the enjoyment of the game. If they want to take away part of the value they are giving us, the game should be cheaper, but it won’t be.

This is an obvious attempt by the industry to try and mislead consumers into paying more for the same product.

The games industry needs to stop thinking it’s special. When you buy any other product you have a right to resale. Just because it’s a licence to use a piece of software does not mean the rules should change. So long as a given person ceases to use the software once they sell it on, they should be able to do so.

Companies like EA, Activision and Microsoft are showing that they are the type of company that would rather increase their profit margin at the expense of the consumer, than try and create good products and treat the customer well. That is partly the fault of gamers who are willing to buy things regardless of the mistreatment they get, but it’s also massively stupid on the part of these companies.

Producing media is all about the customer in the end - they have to enjoy what they pay for. These companies are trying to set a new precedent for how much value customers should expect for their money, and set a much lower bar than before. This might well have worked in a world where they still held monopolies on gaming, but they don’t. In today’s world, Steam exists. Indie developers exists. The Humble Bundle folks exist. GOG exists. The internet exists. These people will continue to set the bar higher, and there will come a point at which the consumer turns around and refuses to pay for the rubbish they are being shovelled, because they can get better.

The upcoming game developers who want to make great games and have real ideas and innovation won’t go to the companies that they loathe and who mistreated them as customers, they’ll go to the devs that treated them well, that inspired them. They’ll form their own studios that care. Hell, that’s how EA was founded.

In time, these companies will change their tune, or they will have no franchises left to milk, and nothing new of value, and they will die the slow death they deserve.

Generating words at random - what I learnt from Ludum Dare 22.

I posted this up on the Ludum Dare blog as well, but thought it’d go well here too.

So, I didn’t manage to finish Ludum Dare 22 as I had to travel home from Uni halfway through and ran out of time.

My aim was to create a procedurally generated universe and allow the player to travel around finding out if they are alone as sentient life in the given universe. Given the time issues I really didn’t get much done, but I did focus on a particular problem, I wanted to name planets so players could remember where they had been. How do you create words that are pronounceable without just having planets called ‘Fork’ and ‘Television’. Words like these:

  • fanglas
  • jubbensetrier
  • amenet
  • moquiets
  • mystilaxation
  • consutey
  • untive
  • curchers
  • anchottollon
  • symborse
  • prasting
  • weeloats
  • dupliquding
  • autobency
  • proscolicends

Well, the answer came in the form of Markov chains, a cool little trick that allows you to do this quite simply. Afterwards this still intrigued me, and I finally had some time to finish up my script,  wordgenerator.

It’s a Python library and command line application, so it’s usable by pretty much anyone. If you have trouble thinking up names for things in general, it can be a great help, and as a library it goes hand-in-hand with any procedurally generated content. It’s GPLv3ed, so feel free to use it in any way that fits the license. The above is actual output from my script. You can change the output via a variety of options (explained in the above link) and by changing the input dictionary of words to generate from, for example, using an Italian one:

  • impiate
  • aliersi
  • inaudartererai
  • ottardiscrerei
  • addoluccio
  • deredicassella
  • coibinarei
  • impresto
  • accreste
  • storano

While nothing revolutionary (Markov chains are pretty well known), the script performs pretty well and saves a bit of work. I think it’s pretty cool, and surprisingly funny to see the output you get, so if you find yourself needing names in your next Ludum Dare game, feel free to use it.

Ludum Dare #22

So, I’ve officially declared I’m going to go in for Ludum Dare again, so I’ll have to make a game in 48 hours.

It’s a really fun thing to do, so I’m definitely looking forward to giving it another go, and hopefully do a bit better this time. I really liked my last entry ‘Unrest' - which got top 25 for both innovation and theme, but this time I want to try and make something with more gameplay, and hopefully a little more polish and flair - I’m no artist, but I want to try and get better graphics and some sound done this time.

If you want to follow my progress, I’ll be updating on the big Ludum Dare blog. My plan is to do a timelapse this time too, so you can watch me work afterwards.

Here is to hoping it’s an interesting theme and I can think of something good!