News Roundup: Steam Awards / Pokemon Go Travel / VR in 2016

Winners, losers, and predictions gone wild!

The Steam Awards reveal weird playerbase

The Steam Awards just wrapped up, and the results tell us much more about the demographics of Steam users than the games themselves. The categories were lighthearted and clearly designed to avoid controversy, since there is no “Game of the Year” award even included in the bunch, so at least there should be no bitterness over the results. Instead, things like “Test of Time” award and “Game Within a Game” force gamers to think about the value of games by different metrics they might not usually care about. People voted by going to the game’s store page and selecting a special button for nominating it; then in the end, Steam presented the finalists and allowed everybody to vote. Clearly, the hivemind is on some other wavelength than I expected.

Would you have guessed that Euro Truck Simulator 2 would not only be a finalist for two categories, but win them both? It happened.

So now what? Is this game propelled by memes and irony to this extent, or do this many people truly enjoy simulating truck driving? I can’t tell anymore. But it beat some pretty stiff competition, so it must have gotten a lot of votes. It also won the “Sit Back and Relax” award, which is more reasonable to me. But there are other instances of weirdness. Four out of the five finalists for the “Test of Time” award were released 2007 or later, for example, including Terraria, Civilization V, and the winner, Skyrim. I assume there are two factors at play here: (1) the Steam audience includes millions of people who are old and relatively new to gaming, or very young, and (2) the need for consensus across millions of different people means that bad decisions float to the top. The catalog of great old games is so vast and rich that veteran players will have a hard time coming together to pick one; if I vote for the original Deus Ex (which I did) and you vote for the original X-COM our votes are both going to lose out to the horde of kids who only know of ten great games in their lifetime on PC. Most annual awards are limited to games released that year, so these awards are already guaranteed to have wonky results when you allow people to literally pick anything released in the last 30 years.

Oh and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was a finalist for “Whoaaaaaa, dude!” Award, so that’s something to be proud of.

 

Pokemon Go might start incorporating public transit and commercial travel

According to PatentYogi there are plans to use real-world transportation system such as airports, bus stations, and train stations to facilitate in-game trading between players somehow. The game was social phenomenon everywhere when it was new, but the excitement has died down in the months since release and people are waiting for the next big feature — with trading being at the top of the wishlist. The logic of the patent made by Niantic is apparently based around the idea that Pokemon actually use transportation systems to get from place to place, and the system will actively monitor online details about flights, bus routes, and train stops in order to create their own parallel-dimension equivalent.

The visualization video made by PatentYogi does not revolve around real-life transport hubs, but instead shows Pokemon climbing aboard (or getting out of) imaginary futuristic craft that show up out of nowhere. I think a more realistic implementation would be that Pokemon Go will take note of the fact that you’re using public/commercial transportation while playing, and therefore allow you to catch things while moving faster than the usual walking pace restriction. It only makes sense to add a feature for those who spend hours on a vehicle using their phone. Will this be enough to boost the hype around the game, especially if trading is released around the same time? Maybe. I don’t play the game myself, but I do find it very interesting as a social experiment, since Pokemon Go is what I consider the first truly “massive multiplayer game” to ever exist.

 

2016 wasn’t the year of VR after all

You should already know that I think Virtual Reality is a gigantic pile of crap that will never become worth investing in, but c’mon… even a skeptic like me expected a bit better than what we’ve gotten so far. Everywhere you look, VR is dying fast. Oops, I mean it’s “on the precipice of evolving into a new dimension of possibilities”, and “something everyone needs to invest in”; at least according to people wasting millions of dollars trying to create content for it. Here’s an article on TIME’s website pointing out how boring and inconvenient VR headsets are once you get used to them, and how the flaws are just beginning to become common knowledge. The whole article is amusing as a dose of reality, but I laughed out loud when these two experts point out what I said a long time ago: Pokemon Go is the true darling of 2016, using existing tech and Augmented Reality, serving as the strongest proof yet for why VR will never be a thing.

Notice that “glorious future” is even placed in quotation marks? Everybody who has tried VR knows that the hype is manufactured and hollow, if not sinister. Everybody who claimed 2016 was “the year of VR” was either lying, or embarrassingly wrong. However, just like every other progressive utopian fantasy, nobody involved is willing to admit failure, they just postpone their declaration of success to the next year and beg for more money in the meanwhile…

Then there’s the side-splitting interview with Tim Sweeney of Epic Games, where he tries to do damage control from beginning to end. Asked about whether he’s happy with the performance and success of VR in 2016, he had this to say:

Yeah, you know, I think it’s been a big success among early adopters. I’d compare this to the first year of the personal computer industry, in which a grand total of 23,000 personal computers were sold. Virtual reality is a completely new market with no precedent. And so we’ve always expected it to grow slowly, especially in this early stage, as developers are learning the ropes of it.

I think what’s happening this year is, we’re building a foundation of almost a million really hardcore, dedicated VR gamers and tens of thousands of VR developers, which will grow by a factor of three or four every year for the next five to seven years, until we eventually reach a billion users with VR and augmented reality. So I think it’s a good start. [emphasis mine]

Is this satire? Let me run down the absurdities and sleights-of-hand:

  1. VR is anything but unprecedented. The concepts date back generations in terms of science fiction visionaries; the hardware and software have been in experimental stages for decades in the military and high-end tech fetishist fields; and in terms of software design it’s so old-fashioned that developers have already done everything there is to do with it in the first few weeks. Has there ever been a more hyped piece of tech before release? This is nothing like the dawn of Personal Computers. The userbase that was eagerly waiting to play with this tech was gigantic — and it is only through sheer, bitter disappointment that it hasn’t earned a following.
  2. The predictions for VR were not expected to “grow slowly”. Rather, they were supposed to take the world by storm and dominate all spheres of entertainment by the end of 2016. Even the most lukewarm predictions included some fantasy of “killer app” or “must-play game” that would sell the concept of the hardware to the mainstream, while the enthusiasts bore the brunt of the costs. Once the price got lower, we were told everybody would be itching to get it.
  3. There’s no hardcore, dedicated base of VR gamers; because that would require there to be games for these people to be playing in a hardcore manner. No such software exists. PC Gamer at least had the decency to come out and admit they were wrong about there even being one good game for any of the VR platforms…
  4. Lumping “Augmented Reality” into “Virtual Reality” is the great big punchline I’ve been waiting to hear from these scam artists. Those two are completely different technologies in direct competition with each other. VR is about isolating your senses, converting a private space into a — wait for it — VIRTUAL REALITY that can be explored and interacted with through peripherals, while AR is all about incorporating the real world around you into interactive spaces and forcing you to pay attention to your actual surroundings instead. VR demands an extremely expensive computer to generate a high frame rate, extremely realistic, completely fabricated computer worlds, driving the cost up sky high and forcing your big ugly headset to be tethered to the processing unit trying to calculate your movements in realtime. Saying that there will be a “billion users” of VR (and augmented reality) is like saying that there will be a hundreds of millions people riding unicycles (and every other form of transport) so invest in unicycles now!

Then there’s this jewel. When asked about how “very critical” the “core base” of the VR audience is, Tim’s classic response is some next level bullshit. He doesn’t acknowledge their complaints as valid, but instead handwaves it by saying they’ll wait for the audience to completely change… to people who don’t give a shit about quality and actually playing games. Gamers are the early adopters, but they won’t be the core audience. They’re the ones who should spend the money now, but we won’t cater to them. They must give us cash, and we will give them disappointment. This dysfunctional relationship must continue until the audience becomes big enough that we can just forget about the bitchy gamers. He doesn’t have to spell it out for you, does he? Gamers are just retarded guinea pigs to us developers. They’re stupid. We hate them and don’t care about their satisfaction, even though they are our most loyal consumers. They’re gullible, forgiving, and obsessed with enough to “sort through” the trash we shit out. In the meantime we will pay ourselves billions of dollars, collecting grant money from other stupid investors while fiddling with piss-poor ideas and living in big mansions in California. It’s the future! That means everybody has to invest and put up with our dumb shit or you’ll never get it!

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