achtungexplosiv: (Default)
It's been a while since I last posted: life has been busy and my gaming has been predominantly Rift and Alchemy Genetics based, with a bit of Borderlands and Champions Online here and there, which gets boring to read about after a while. I failed to get interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic in any way despite the behemoth PR engine and the obsessiveness of many of my friends (some of whom were barely gamers before it hit). I failed to get Skyrim too, though I plan on checking it out eventually once the price is down and I'm over my Rift phase.

Mobile apps for games and gaming networks aren't new by any means, however it's only in the last year or so that official apps from the producers of various games have started to surface. From Authenticator programs to add an extra layer of account security, to linked chat systems and replication of some in-game playable features; the companies behind the move to integrate the mobile market have been playing catchup to the enterprising third party app developers who've been offering addon support for years now.

Android Market iPhone Store

As an example of such a third party app: those who've played Eve Online with any degree of seriousness will know of Aura, an API-using app that monitors skills, manufacturing, market orders and so on. When I was playing Eve, it was invaluable as it'd let me see at a glance exactly what order on which character had been filled by whom, if I was about to superceede my current clone and also when my next skill was due to pop. It's been around for a good long while (in mobile app terms) and is quite the success story. It's not the only one of course, there's a ton of apps for Eve and the same goes for pretty much every game out there with a following. People like the functionality; they like to be able to stay connected. Games companies have taken heed and have started to produce their own versions.


Playing catchup

The earliest 'Official' apps were the account Authenticators for games such as World of Warcraft. In games with a high profile, and thus sporting a large target for unscrupulous account-breaching activities, keyloggers grabbing passwords are commonplace, as is account sharing and plenty of other means to gain access to an account from the user's end. Authenticators add another layer of security by requiring a code generated by the app to be entered when you login. It's a unique key attached to your account and changes frequently (usually a 30 second window) when synched up with the server. The idea there is that unless someone has your mobile phone as well as your username and password, it's no use trying to keylog the code as it'll be invalid shortly after use.

Now, gaming companies have introduced apps that do more, often linking into game servers' API to allow for communications such as reading in-game mail or chatting in channels, or more. An example of this is the official Rift mobile app, currently in Beta, for the iPhone and Android platforms. It allows you to log in as many of your own characters as you like in order to chat to friends and guildmates, keep track of world events and play minigames to earn small in-game rewards. Whilst the latter is opening a can of worms regarding paying subscribers not have equal access to content and loot unless they own smartphones, the functions offered have proved to be extremely popular (even if it is buggy as all ungodly hell in it's current Beta incarnation). It's not alone: World of Warcraft has had a similar app for some time, as have other games. Some of them are even paid apps that require an initial purchase fee, or else cost a little extra on top of the game's subscription fee in those games that have them, such as WoW's Remote Services app that allows the use of the auction house from a phone, among other things.


Social Networking?

It's not just online games that could benefit greatly from associated apps. Gaming networks, notably Steam, have been bugged for years about releasing apps, or at the very least allowing the API to become available for third parties to develop apps in their stead. It took a while but Valve finally pulled their collective finger out and the Steam Mobile App is now available on iPhone and Android markets. It's a beta test at the moment, and once you've logged in it'll take that as registering interest in beta participation. If you do that, keep an eye out on your Beta notifications (Setting menu in the main Steam client) for an invite and once you've got that accepted and sorted out you can get stuck in. They're being a little slow to send out beta invites but as I understand it everyone who registers interest (i.e. downloads it and logs in) will eventually get one.

Steam Mobile App

I've been using it for the last few days. So far, so good. You can't access your game library sadly, but you can do most other things such as chat to friends and see the friends list, view the store, make purchases and so on. It's also pretty stable so far, which is a plus in my book.


The haves and the have-nots

Clearly there is a future in mobile apps associated with online gaming. There will always be third party apps, some paid and some free, and any online game company that sees itself as a major player will want to have its own suite of official apps. But there are lines being drawn over what constitutes convenience, and what becomes an unfair in-game advantage. Checking a mail message versus winning rewards. Favoring owners of some devices and not others.

My personal line in the sand is at direct manipulation of in game content. Chatting to a friend is one thing, acquiring free loot and manipulating auctions is quite different. Particularly because not every player of a game will own a supported smart device. Computer-aimed software with the same functionality would be an equiliser, because one would presume that if your machine is capable of running the game in question, it's capable of running a small associated applet too. However, I have yet to see such a thing implemented and I do wonder why that might be. It can't be a question of losing money because many of these smart device apps are free, and even if they're not you can charge for applets like any other piece of software.

Finally, let's not forget security issues, and what might happen if your phone goes walkabout. Saved login information and account details could be a problem. Authenticators might end up locking you out of your own account unless you spend hours on expensive support phonecalls and post ID halfway accross the world to prove you're the real account owner, as happened to a friend of mine when her phone was stolen.

All in all, if you have a smart device then there's much on offer by way of expanding your online game experience through apps with varying degrees of integration. I'm riding this wave with interest and looking to see where it might go.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
Over recent years, the dissemination of game content has shifted from a single complete and finished product in a cartridge or on a disk, to a first release version that then has updates added at various later points. This is even becoming true of consoles, such as XBox Live and PSN games. Whilst there are debates about whether it means paying players are the new beta testers, rushing releases and suchlike, one thing that has caught on this year especially is the idea of seasonal updates.

In short: christmas has come to a video game near you.

MMOs

MMOs have had this sort of content for years, with plenty of titles adding in bits and pieces ranging from encounters to phat lootz to social costumes. Halloween and Christmas seem to be the most popular and this year is no exception with just about everything on the market going for it. Even EVE Online gets in on the act, though these days they have restricted it to gifting each account with some sort of present item such as a ship or an implant.

Trion Worlds Holiday Greeting

The MMOs I have dealings with all have Christmas festivities in some form or another. Anarchy Online has present-dropping leets in tower fields, big christmas trees in the main cities and a series of minigame encounters around a tongue-in-cheek storyline about aliens (lead by the commander Grin'Cha) infiltrating Santaleet's workshop to spread throughout the planet... Rift has had a three phase Fae Yule event going on for the last month or so and and the final phase is due to being any day now, revolving around the newly-freed Fae going overboard in celebrating the rites of Grandfather Frost with gifts, special footholds and costumes. Champions Online has costumes and perks associated with defeating armies of misfit toys, and the final part of an adventure pack series with a wintry theme.


Elsewhere

But it's not just MMOs. Game all across Steam have popped up free DLCs with christmas content ranging from decorations for the Tavern in Dungeon Defenders to a new map with its own achivement and music in Sanctum*. Killing Floor has christmas-skinned zombies, to follow up their Halloween themed DLC. Bunch of Heroes also has a holiday pack... You get the idea.

It's even becoming present in mobile gaming: Alchemy Classic just updated with a christmas addition set, chaging the backgrounds to be festive and adding some 50 new combinations for christmas and yule related items, like Coniferous trees.


But...

Of course with a fixed theme such as Christmas/Yule, there's only so much you can do based on the same hashed-out old tropes (trees, presents, candy canes, snow etc) and it is all a bit jarring with the setting of each game unless it's based in the real world and the here and now. Ultimately it's why Eve Online moved it's christmas celebrations out of game, so to speak (although it was fun pelting the devs with snowballs in my destroyer). It's all just some silly fun, though, and it can make a change in the scenery from the rest of the year.


*For the record, Sanctum devs can't sing. It is funny though.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
(What is it with LJ eating half my posts, giving me a blank page when I try to restore from an alleged saved draft when I use Firefox, and Firefox conspiring against me by not retaining the post in it's clipboard after I've copied it? That's twice now. I am not amused.)

As a social networking tool centered around PC gaming and communities, Steam offers ease of integration, simple management of game purchasing, hassle-free multiplayer, forums, in-game achievements and even basic voice comms. I use it more than IMs, email, Facebook and text messaging combined for keeping in touch with friends (that have Steam at least) and not just for gaming. It makes buying games for myself or gifts for others an absolute doddle, the in-game overlay even for non-Steam games is extremely handy and there's always deals on offer so with a bit of patience I can usually source something I've had my eye on for a cheap price. Steam even handles games with activation codes automatically wherever possible, with a popup giving you your code to copy to clipboard just in case it can't.

I was initially slow on the uptake because I hated the idea of needing a Steam server connection to play even solo single player games. I viewed it as an alternative DRM that would prevent me from being able to play my games at all if something happened to my Steam account or the servers hiccuped. It does have an Offline gaming mode but as I found out at MMLAN13, most Steam-managed games still try to validate IDs on the server if you try to host a local LAN-only game, and thus it falls over if you have no reliable connection to the outside world without some fairly ludicrous fiddling around with your machine's own settings to fool the Steam client into not even bothering.

But overall I do very much like what VALVe has done with Steam. I'm on there as Zendadaist, incidentally.


Why isn't Games for Windows Live anywhere near as good as Steam when it claims to do the same sort of thing?

GFWL is the PC side of the XBox Live network that ties in gaming communities and even multiplayer gaming between those with the XBox version of a game and those running the PC version. It too has achivements, messaging and multiplayer invites and with the weight of MS behind it there's a lot of influence and money to attract games companies over. XBox Live isn't a new phenomenon either, so it's not as if MS is inexperienced with gamers.

So why is it rubbish for PC users?

It's immensely clunky to use and seems to me to be an interface developed for consoles and ported to use keyboard and mouse rather than a separate PC-optimised one. Very untidy, I found, and it won't even deal with CD keys and other authentication processes, even for GFWL games.

If you make an error during registration (such as typo your birthyear without realising) you are, not to put too fine a point on it, f*cked as you are permanently barred from running games that have ratings above whatever year you entered, as happened to me. I tried to find a way of being able to change that but I guess MS expects kids to go 'oh pants, I need to lie about my age to play this awesome new game!' and need to stop them from changing it. In the end I had to abandon that account and create a new one. When I tried to update my password some time later, it wouldn't accept the update at first. After eventually allowing me to change the password, it then didn't update internally so after a few failed login attempts it locked me out of the account I wasn't able to log in at all for quite a while.

Joining in a multiplayer game should be a case of a few clicks, as with Steam, but my experience with the Resident Evil games and Dead Rising 2 is that it's anything but. Connections fail for no reason, half the time there isn't even an error message and when there is one, it doesn't give any information about who is doing what wrong.

If at all possible I avoid using GFWL . The only time I ever log in is if I'm booting up a game that requires it to play even the single player. Honestly, I can't believe GFWL is actually this useless so I'm wondering if there's something else with it I haven't seen.

What am I missing with GFWL?

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achtungexplosiv

May 2012

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