Too Much Stereo (and Spiral Knights)

For Father’s Day I cooked my family the best pork tenderloins I’ve ever had. Unsurprisingly, I’ve actually owned Weber’s Big Book of Grilling for years. I enjoyed the book, read through it once, enjoyed especially the stories about Weber’s history, and then tucked it in between all my other barbecue bibles. It wasn’t until a week ago that I saw the light when my Aunt made the disappearing tenderloin, which true to it’s name quickly disappeared. Without my Aunt pulling this recipe out of the book, which I owned, I would still be gunning for pork chops at the supermarket.

In the Information Age, we live in a world of noise. With Netflix and other cloud services becoming prevalent, we will be sitting on a treasure trove of great content without knowing about it. Not much different than a library in the concept of content accessibility, except for that instantaneous bit. Even partitioning out most media, games are released too quickly for even professional games journalists to delve in to each one. We are getting more First Impressions pieces and less thorough reviews on every game because, simply, who has time?

This touches upon our great and child-like hypocrisy of want and time. So many games now are dinged for being completed in around 5 hours (especially FPS), and then the ding is compounded because of the game’s price. Then with unchecked logic, some reviewers I’ve even seen pull out the “99 cents Angry Birds” card to compare value to time played. For myself, this is becoming possibly the least important factor in choosing a game. I do want to know how long the game lasts and its replayability, but I believe that data is better kept in an insular function of how fun the game actually is. I felt Portal 2 was an hour or so too long, but I don’t believe they should have lopped off an hour and have had to lop off part of the price tag too.

One of the biggest truisms of my age-advanced gaming generation is that time vastly outweighs price for entertainment. As much as any working bloke, I hate wasting money, but I hate wasting my minimal entertainment time even more. We’ve had this problem with books for a long time. The difference is that people took in to account the ancillary time to reading. All the additional activities required to actually sit down and hold the physical object held the noise in check. In contrast, I feel the instantaneous access to current content actually allows a lot more noise to get through. Noise wastes time.

I rely on my friends, the blogosphere, and journalists I trust to pare off the noise. It’s become necessary. Steam showing me what my friends have bought might seem like a shady feature, but I truly appreciate it. Even Amazon reviews can have substantial weight if I start seeing some patterns in the separate reviews. This MMO blogosphere has kept me away from some games like Age of Conan, and sold me on others, like Rift (and unfortunately Warhammer Online).

Spiral Knights is one of the newest free-2-play titles on Steam. The game has been around for awhile, but it just tapped a huge audience. My friends list has shown much activity in the game, so I decided to check it out. (I would also get another Team Fortress 2 hat, the amount of which shows the worth of a man.) It’s a fun, light-hearted, Zelda-esque dungeon romp. The other night, I saw two of my friends playing so I loaded up Spiral Knights. Opened the friends list, and hit join. In an instant, I was playing with my friends. The time to play was magniflorous.

I haven’t even spent enough time in Spiral Knights to warrant a First Impressions bit, but the game tore through two ever-increasing hurdles: noise and time. I don’t envy the game designer’s challenge to get me interested and get me playing, but games like Spiral Knights still give me hope for the MMO genre.

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5 thoughts on “Too Much Stereo (and Spiral Knights)”

  1. “(and unfortunately Warhammer Online)’

    Did you play at launch? I ask because although ultimately WAR ‘failed’, I still had a blast with the game the first 4-5 months (or whenever it became very clear that Mythic had zero clue about how to actually improve the game). In that regard, WAR was certainly worth the box price + sub costs.

    On Spiral Knights, a few Inq guys are playing it now as well, although it looks far too ‘cute’ for me, and I’m not a huge action/rpg guy.

  2. I agree with much of that, but I’d never put recommendations, be they from friends, professional reviewers or the blogosphere, ahead of serendipity or my own self-knowledge.

    The very great majority of all the the things I’ve encountered over the last two decades have come to me by sheer chance. From a chance flip of the T.V. dial introducing me to My Life Story, to spotting a discarded, damaged copy of Flora Segunda in a bin at work to jumping onto a link to Peggy Sue and the Pirates during a YouTube binge, a combination of good luck and a good eye for what I like has been the secret to keeping the good stuff flowing in.

    But of course it’s much, much easier to sort the good from the bad in music or books. In terms of time, what have you lost if you give a new band or a new writer a chance? Three or four minutes for a song, three or four hours for a novel. Most MMOs don’t begin to show their worth or lack of it for three or four days. Three or four weeks, or even three or four months, might pass before you finally decide you’ve been wasting your time, and that’s a lot of time to waste.

    I don’t really see how that can be changed other than by changing the form itself. That’s probably happening, but as we see, making things faster (or more “accessible” if you prefer) isn’t working for everyone either. Some human activities just take a long time and don’t leave all that much room for competing activities. MMOs come out at the high end of that scale.

  3. I always look for replayability and how much I actually getting from my money spent. But with this also I look for enjoyment. I don’t want to be bored no matter how much replayablity and content there is.

    For me my time seems to be getting shorter also. I feel almost planning what time to slot to which game and other important stuff. Heading into grade 12 I understand that my time will be very limited working and doing heavy schoolwork so my game time will be limited. With the limited time I don’t want to waste time by playing something I don’t enjoy. For that I think I have become more cautious over the years with where I invest my time. I feel like too many games have let me down and my time could have been better spent elsewhere.

    I just hope the release of Guild Wars 2 won’t conflict with my heavier course load. That, would suck :P

  4. In the space of three days, I’ve gotten hopelessly addicted to Spiral Knights. And it was the game that I thought I’d like the least because of its cartoony, cutesy graphics. Three Rings is pretty good at designing games that appear simple on the surface and are laden with more complexity beneath.

    I’m even more drawn to Spiral Knights than Puzzle Pirates, mostly because both solo and group (PUG or with friends/guild) gameplay styles provide different gameplay experiences. One can go slower solo and act more tactically, PUGs are a crazy romp, and known groups presumably have potential for more coordinated strategies.

    The game’s payment model has made me analyze the value of cost and time far more than any other model. The immediacy of spending crystal energy makes it very concrete that 25-30 cents are being spent every 100 energy used, leading me to calculate the costs of my gameplay. (if I spend 60 energy diving to Moorcroft Manor, how many crowns do I stand to earn? How long did that take me? Did I enjoy myself while playing through that sequence?)

    Ditto crafting in Spiral Knights. A 2 star item costs 50 energy to craft. That’s a 16 cent weapon or piece of armor. If I make myself a variety of weapons to try, then I might have spent a dollar for those options. 4 and 5 star items are 400 and 800 energy, that’s a dollar twenty and two forty respectively. Even if I wasn’t the one paying real life cash for the crystal energy, someone, somewhere, did.

    I also ended up calculating the number of hours I was likely to spend in an MMO and the cost per hour. (Include box price, total monthly sub, divide by total number of hours.) For a casual player who spends an average of two hours a day on an MMO, the cost per hour is almost surprisingly similar to the cost per hour in Spiral Knights, and I’ve having more distilled essence of fun in Spiral Knights as opposed to an MMO where a good amount of that time may be spent riding around, FedExing, waiting for progress bars.

    Amusingly, in a microtransaction game like Spiral Knights, the more hardcore players end up spending more money. In a monthly subscription game, the more hardcore and longer your play hours, the more bang for your flat rate buck.

    1. That’s one of the best parts of the microtransaction model, I think. Those that actually play the most pay the most. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially since it tracks upstream, too; if you don’t play a lot, you don’t have to keep paying the baseline sub flat rate that you’re not getting good value out of.

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