By: Martin Stadtner
Gather round and listen up, you young punks. I’m going to tell you a story about the way-before time when loot wasn’t a thing, and games were quality. Let me tell you about Rockstar Games.
My introduction to Rockstar was their hit title Grand Theft Auto. Released originally in 1997, GTA had everything a young gamer without parental supervision could want. You could steal cars, run people over, cause mischief and mayhem the likes of which had hitherto been the product of actual criminals and terrorists rather than me sitting at my computer screen. Running With Scissors’ title, Postal was also released that year, but that’s another story for another time, sonny.
GTA 2, released in 1999, improved some of the shortfalls in GTA without compromising any of the fun stuff. In 2001, GTA 3 broke ground entirely and transformed the series into a twenty-first century franchise. Before GTA 3, the series had a top-down view that restricted vision and had some clunky controls; this setup made for some difficult car chases because you couldn’t see more than a hundred feet or so in front of you. GTA 3 changed that, and more.
Aside from having 3d gameplay, 3 revolutionized the story of GTA and made it feel far more real. In the original titles, the protagonist is an unnamed and faceless criminal who occasionally works for the gangs in the games to commit whacky or bizarre crimes and other dastardly deeds. These gangs were silly; in GTA 2 this included a struggle between the high tech “Scientists” gang, whose front-man was some sort of Einstein parody, and the “Rednecks”, who gave you the colorful nickname of “Rooster” when they gave you missions and all drove pickup trucks with rebel flags on them. Somehow the Hare-Krishnas were also a gang in the game, and so were a group of mental patients who had taken over their hospital. Aside from being stereotypical and insensitive, these organizations were unrealistic and extreme.
In GTA 3, you worked for actual gangs in a pseudo-New York environment in a story mode that had you interacting with interesting characters: various criminal organizations, corrupt businessmen, or local dog-food magnates, who were all using you to accomplish their ends. Some, of course, were still rather silly, but it’s GTA so who cares?
GTA Vice City, which is my personal favorite of the series, closely follows but improves upon the innovations of GTA 3, again, without compromising any of the quality. Scarface met
Miami Vice, and on a coke filled night of fun with streaming lights and pastel colors gave us Vice City. In VC we got to run around as an overly angry and aggressive Italian mobster in 1980’s Miami trying to avenge some betrayal and become the boss of a criminal empire.
Then came GTA San Andreas, a look at what was going on in this fictional version of California and Vegas from the eyes of a street gang member; then GTA 4 brought us back to New York and put us in the shoes of a Yugoslavian immigrant with a dark and violent past. Each title successively improving gameplay, adding to the shared story, and making being a crook and a madman fun as hell.
Rockstar has never been afraid of making these controversial games. With other titles like Max Payne, Bully, Red Dead, and Manhunt, the studio has always pushed the envelope in video games and embraced the mantra of “no press is bad press.” Also with games like L.A. Noire, they have consistently been innovative in bringing diverse topics to video games.
Notice so far I have said not one word about loot or unfair gaming practices?
This all is beginning to change as Rockstar seems to be caving to the demands of their parent publishing company Take-Two Interactive.
The inclusion of micro-transactions in GTA 5, and the announcement that all future games will include them, is really just a stepping stone, a gateway drug, into the loot system.
How long until we will be gambling with real money in these games for fast cars and other goodies?
Troubling more so (since it is one of my favorite game series) is the recent fear that Red Dead Redemption 2 will include some sort of loot mechanic…
Don’t fix what ain’t broke, Rockstar. You’re better than this, and you know it.
By: Martin Stadtner
Back in my day of video gaming, in the late 1990’s through the late 2000’s, I never once encountered a loot mechanic in a game. Most material was accessible through standard gameplay within a reasonable amount of time. Game studios like Westwood, Blizzard, Rare, and Nintendo came out with games like Command and Conquer, Starcraft, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64. While some of these titles, more likely to be the PC releases, had additional content in the form of expansion packs to purchase, most were standalone, fully functional, games.
This is odd because there were definitely unlockables in these games. In GoldenEye, characters for multiplayer and a few arenas could only be accessed by either completing the game or entering in a cheat code, and the only noticeable gameplay difference was that one of the multiplayer characters was shorter than the others... it was almost entirely unnoticed by any gaming crew that house-ruled that no one could play as Oddjob.
These additional features could have been sold by the companies, and those companies probably could have made a nice profit on that practice. But they were not. I also never had to worry about skins for my space marines in Starcraft, different outfits for my racers in Mario Kart 64, or any other superficial nonsense because I was so busy enjoying the game itself for its gameplay.
Then things began to change…
I started noticing close to the end of my early 20’s gaming career that more and more small, superficial features were being sold as one-shot purchases to add to games. The first title I noticed this on was Napoleon: Total War. The core game of Napoleon: Total War had everything I wanted and expected from the title, but then I start seeing that I could pay $4.99 for a series of special cavalry units that I could use in the game. Why would I do this?!?! The game already includes cavalry units! Oh, but if I wanted to be uber-historical, I would have to buy another DLC so that I could use these period accurate Scottish brigades or some other such unnecessary chrome that doesn’t seriously contribute to the game in any way.
Now I’m used to buying expansions. I have no problems with those. The first expansion I bought was for the original Starcraft, Brood War. Now there are some new units in Brood War for each of the three factions, but what justified that purchase was the three additional, full-length campaigns that moved the story forward and further developed the characters and gameplay into the franchise that we all now know and love.
I should note, Napoleon: Total War was the first game that I purchased on Steam, entirely digital. Once technology, ie the internet, got to the point that these game companies could reliably turn a profit on these much smaller transactions, we began to see them in games.
But whatever, if someone wants to pay $4.99 to enlist the Polish House Guard cavalry in their NTW game, more power to them.
Loot Boxes are different.
When I spend my money, I want to know that what I am paying for is something that I want. When I wanted to play Starcraft: Brood War, I bought it. If I wanted the elite units of the Napoleonic Wars, I would have bought them. With loot boxes, I am paying for a mere chance at getting these things of value, i.e gambling. And that really gets my goat.
Released in 2013 by Lucas Pope, Papers, Please at first glance may not appear appealing to the average gamer, but initial impressions may be deceiving. In Papers, Please, your character lives in a fictional post-Soviet Eastern European nation who has the privilege of staffing a border checkpoint in a contested border town that your nation has recently come to peace with. Gameplay consists of you staffing your checkpoint and assessing the paperwork of people crossing the border and deciding who may or may not cross. Players must scan documents for errors and are penalized financially for errors in their assessments, affecting income that goes towards supporting the player’s family and their living costs. As the game progresses, more restrictions and checks on documents are introduced, and the player is introduced to various characters passing through the checkpoint that can involve the player in various plots, such as joining the resistance or fleeing the country.
While simple mechanically, the Papers, Please manages to turn what is generally a monotonous activity into a fun and compact gaming experience. The game’s greatest success though comes in making the player emphasize with and better the hardships of life in a unstable, wartorn, poor country. For example, one scenario the game presents you with is a character attempting to seek asylum in your country while under threat of death in his homeland, but he lacks the proper paperwork. Do you do the morally right thing to let him into your country and cut into how much money you will have to feed your family and keep your home warm? Or do you turn him away, dooming him but fulfilling the parameters of your job and not putting your own family at risk? Further dilemmas mount as terrorist attacks mount on the checkpoint, sometimes even committed by people who have no problems within their documentation, making you doubt every person who comes into your checkpoint booth. Such moral dilemmas and many others are presented and handled tactfully despite the game’s simple interface, allowing the player to not only be challenged skill-wise via the game’s mechanics, but to also be challenged in their decision-making skills. Such a unique set of challenges within the game, combined with its striking pixel art style and iconic soundtrack, help the game to set itself out from the rest of the crowd as a diamond in the rough when it comes to well-made indie games.
At the time of writing, Papers, Please has earned a very rare "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam and us available for $9.99. A fantastic game with great replay value that was always sold at below the traditional $59.99 opening price for new products, we are proud to highlight Lucas Pope's Papers, Please as a great example of digital fairness and a quality experience.
Released in April of 2014 by Focus Home Interactive and developed by Eugen Systems, Wargame Red Dragon is the third RTS entry in the Wargame series that allows players to control mid-to-late Cold War military forces in alternate history campaigns. With the first two titles working to develop an refine the gameplay system in the European landmass, Red Dragon takes its game play to Asia inspired maps with campaigns set around the region. While a fantastic pinnacle of the series in terms of quality and gameplay, Red Dragon stands out for its digitally fair and consumer focused development of DLC and additional content. Originally released with 4 campaigns (South Korea, Sino-Russian border, Hong Kong, and Japan) which served out a fair level of content and enjoyment for players. However, additional and completely free additional content continued to roll out for the game.
After launch, Eugen Systems sent out 3 sets of DLC offering additional multi-player maps, additional units, and a surprise for players, an entirely expanded campaign that covers the entire Korean peninsula. Additionally, fair monetization was utilized with additional nation packs being available for players to buy for set prices that included Dutch, Israeli, Finnish, and Yugoslav army groups that were all balanced to provide genuine diversity to players and not competitive advantages over those that declined to monetize further. To date Wargame Red Dragon continues to enjoy a “Very Positive” review score on Steam with the digitally fair Eugen Systems creating new RTS products, like Steel Division: Normandy 1944. Consumers for Digital Fairness is excited to feature Eugen Systems and Wargame: Red Dragon as our first Fair Play Highlight!