Monday, January 16, 2012

EA - Deal with it

(logo courtesy of someone on the Bioboards.. I guess)

Chris Priestly says: 

Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions about Origin and Mass Effect 3. Thank you for your patience as we have worked to answer them.

1) Will Origin be a requirement to play all versions of Mass Effect 3? (Digital and/or from a retail brick and mortar store)
Yes, Origin is required for all PC editions of Mass Effect 3, physical or digital.

Wooohoo, another bloatware running alongside my games, preferably as a Windows service, and does absolutely nothing for me then being an inoperable cancer that eats ressources and is a constant annoyance.

2) Is constant Origin connection required or is it a single one off authentication when the game is first installed. Is there also a limit to the number of installations available?
Mass Effect 3 will require a one time, single authorization for the single player game. There is no limit to the number of installs. Playing Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer will require a constant connection.

Nothing a CD check couldn't do as well, and multiplayer is the best DRM even without having to run Origin. Don't come with anti-cheating, punkbuster functions etc. now, ME3's multiplayer is a Coop mode (which most people probably have zero interest in anyway).

3) Is Origin required for the retail versions of the game?
Origin is required for the PC versions of Mass Effect 3, both physical and digital.

While you say PC - Just for the record and as some sort of comparison to your competitor - EA is also the largest publisher for Mac games, yet Origin is not available for the Mac. Steam has that neat little feature called "SteamPlay", which allows you not only to start a game on computer 1 and continue on computer 2, but even allows that cross-plattform. Oh right, and when you buy a cross-plattform title, you automatically own the game for all supported plattforms.  EA does not even have any solution for Mac gamers, can't even download one.

4) Will ME3 be available on Steam?
During initial release Mass Effect 3 will be available on Origin and a number of other 3rd party digital retailers, but not on Steam at this time. Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to deliver patches and other downloadable content.  We are intent on providing Mass Effect to players with the best possible experience no matter where they purchase or play their game, and are happy to partner with any download service that does not restrict our ability to connect directly with our consumers.

Let me rephrase this: Steam wants to offer the DLCs and patches and everything the consumer needs to play all in one place - their store. That does NOT mean Steam restricts publishers to sell the DLCs only to their store, it just means that if they want to publish their game on Steam, they have to offer all the DLCs on Steam too instead of having the customer buy it in their own place only.
Steam of course wants a little share of the profit in return.
What EA would have to deal with is 1. that customers can pay for the DLCs with real money and not with abstract Bioware points, and 2. that Steam might offer the customer a better deal, while EA has never ever had a special deal for DLCs ever. Oh, and has anyone ever tried to buy only one single DLC like, say, Kasumi for ME2 for I think 540 Bioware points? Right, you can't buy 540 Bioware points, only 800 or 1600. So if you want to buy Kasumi, you pay for 800 Bioware points and then look for an option to spend the remaining 260 points somewhere... oh damn, there is no DLC for 260 points? Ah, too bad.
Oh, and have you ever compared prices between the Bioware point shop and the only other place where you can get Bioware points (the EA store?) Don't laugh if you do, it's just sad. 
End of the line: Stop feeding us EA's PR talk, it's ridiculous. For the player, Steam offers the better deal.

5) Is there an opt in or opt out clause for data collection? 
Users will be allowed to opt-out of Mass Effect 3 data collection from inside the game.

Great wording here. You can opt out of ME3's ingame feedback just like you could in Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2. This has nothing to do with Origin, you can't opt out on anything in Origin.
For the recoird, Steam asks before it does hardware surveys and you can opt out anytime, you even have to opt in in the first place. Origin just mines.

6) I’ve seen reports that Origin is spyware.  Is this true?
Origin is not spyware, and does not use or install spyware on user’s machines.  In order to allow Origin to install games and their patches for everyone to use, Origin implements a permission change that results in Windows, not Origin, reviewing the filenames in the ProgramData/Origin folder.   This is an ordinary Windows function, not an information-gathering process. 

Past versions looked very much like Spyware, current versions don't, but EA's EULA grants them every right to change that right in the next update. We'll see what happens once the current shitstorm is over and EA has forced a large enough user base together. It could happen anytime without further notice. Also, there might be a difference between "Windows just does stuff without us doing anything" and actively using these ordinary Windows functions to your advantage.

7) Has the Origin EULA been updated following recent questions in Germany?
The German Origin EULA has been updated.  For more information, please review the Origin EULA here:

Wrong link mister Priestly, the German EULA is here:
Here I must say I'm proud of the German community that actually seems to care a lot more than what I've seen elsewhere. It's the proof for what the naysayers don't want to see, that you don't have to be sheep and actually can do something as a consumer, instead of just swallowing everything a company feeds you. It just takes a little more than sitting around saying "can't change them anyway, gotta accept it, and I have nothing to hide anyway". If you have enough backbone, you can do something, in the end it's YOUR money that leads to any company's decisions.

8) Is there a double-opt in for Mass Effect 3 marketing emails for German residents?
Yes, we always adhere to the German requirement of a double opt-in standard for marketing emails.  Mass Effect 3 users must opt-in twice to receive these emails.

Another proof for the above. German residents get their own EULA and their own opt-out/opt in standards. Do you think EA did that on their own because they're nice? No, they were forced to because the German gaming community caused a shitstorm for them. Without that, the EULA in Germany would still be the same as the international version. Don't ever think you can't change anything.

I appreciate everyone's patience on this topic. Please continue to ask questions about Mass Effect 3 and Origin and I will continue to try to get the answers for you.

 ... said on Friday evening before he ran off to the weekend, while the Thread has been coming near the 200 pages by now full of unanswered questions. It was stickied and unstickied too multiple times, Mr. Priestly says it's not needed to sticky it because if it's really important for players, they'll keep bumping it up anyway.

A few things not covered in that FAQ:

1. EA's ridiculous Banhammer.
If you want to lose access to all of your games, just use the F-word on their boards. Hell, not even that, just quote someone who used it. There are other options too, this is just one example.
EA's PR talk already said it was an accident when it first happened a year ago, after it got media coverage. One year later it still happens, and only when the media picks it up it's another "error in the system". The result is always the same. Account ban, you can't play any of the games you bought on Origin, and the support is usually unavailable or unhelpful. So everytime that banhammer swings into your direction by accident, the fastest and easiest solution to fix the issue is simply getting the most media attention you can, other ways don't work. Which brings me to....

2. EA support.
Honestly, EA's support is about the worst thing I've ever experienced myself. Just took me a week to get my Mass Effect 1 DLC back which I lost access to due to Bioware pulling the old Bioboards down. Quick summary: Contacted US support because local support was unavailable. Chatted with EA guy. EA guy had no clue what I was talking about, assured me the current Bioware site and my account is accessable and threw me out of chat.
Phoned german support line. Waited 45 minutes in the line until I was fed up and hung up. This hotline is not free. Phoned them again two days later due to being unable to get into another chat. Waited 45 minutes again. Hung up. Finally got into US chat again after turning the "unsolved" ticket into a new issue. EA guy was more helpful but made me sign up for a new account on EA's kiddie/casual game website without any reason. Finally got my new DLC key.
This is just my personal experience with EA's support, but apparently this experience is quite average. Losing access to my Mass Effect 1 DLC btw doesn't really reassure me that all the other DLC I bought for DA or ME2 will still be accessible in 2 or three years.

I could continue, but if you compare Origin to Steam, like it has become a hobby of everyone who tries to prove what morons people are who complain about Origin, you have to take customer relation and support as much into account as possible datamining. Steam makes people sign up freely because they offer them an all-in-one solution comparable to Apple's iTunes: Sure, they have a monopoly, but they also have great deals, speak the right language and offer players some real advantages (SteamPlay, autopatches, daily deals on DLC too, etc. etc.). Many people like Steam, nobody likes Origin. That's not to say that Steam is the good guy, would never be interested in your data, and there are many games that force you to use Steam too Bethesda comes to mind. But honestly, Steam makes it much easier for customers to swallow, and there are enough who sign up without being forced.

Well, look for yourself, make your own opinion if you think I'm too biased, but I hope the shitstorm against the most useless bloatware forced on gamers recently won't cease. There's a Group on the Bioboards you can join, they have a nice little banner for your sig too. ;)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The state of my (our?) NWN2 depression

Time for another rant. As you can see from my last posts, this blog has more and more drifted away from it's original purpose - being a diary of my building efforts in Neverwinter Nights 2. By now, most of the posts are probably reviews of and rants about other games. So have I completely lost the connection to NWN2? No... I wouldn't say so. I actually think about building every day, and all the games I play on the side are a great source for inspiration. But taking this inspiration and making something out of it, that's the main problem.
I said it before and it still hasn't changed - it's become too much and I have so many ideas I just can't make real use of because I wouldn't know where to start - and the technical hurdles are often too frustrating and making me drop the whole thing before I even really started.

Another thing though that frustrates me is the state of NWN2 and it's community. I often get the impression it's not only me who's depressed and frustrated, it's the community and the game itself. NWN2 has been in a constant state of being half dead, comatose maybe, for the last two years or so. When I look at the multiplayer tabs in Gamespy, there are maybe 5 worlds that share all the remaining player population, and a lot of very promising PWs (often of much better quality) hang there with zero players, maybe 4 on a lucky weekend. Do I really want to add another one to those?

Then there's the custom content scene. The good old NWN Vault is dying slowly too, hardly anything new and exiting anymore, instead it's overrun by Spambots and only sours my mood everytime I browse for something. I often thought the Vault might need a relaunch like the TES/Fallout/DA Nexus sites, they really show how to keep these games alive and interesting. Not to mention the ease of use with their download manager. And I think it's fantastic what modders do with the games, I mean, Skyrim hasn't even it's Creation Kit yet and still you can already turn the game completely upside down.

So, why don't I just follow the crowd and hop over to the TES/Fallout modding crowd? Because yeah... Multiplayer for one. And second, I never saw much on the story side from any Beth games and their modding scene. A lot of eye candy, lots of weapons, locations, etc. etc. But I believe the real storytellers can't be found over there, they stick to games like NWN.
Also, the Beth games never allowed you to make real standalone modules, another thing I would sorely miss. As nice as it is to discover new, community-made locations in Skyrim or New Vegas, I prefer making my own world. Still, I think the most immersive roleplay you can have in a game is not with an AI, but with a real person who enjoys roleplay as much as I do. That's why I believe in multiplayer.

Now for those who never play Neverwinter Nights 2 in multiplayer mode - you might say "join a MMO and be happy", and I'd have to yet again explain why NWN2's multiplayer is so unique. I spare you, the few people who read this are aware of that anyway. But this winter I tried out pretty much every free or free to try MMO I could get my hands on. Lineage 2, Age of Conan, Rift, DDO, you name it. The only effect it has on me is that I appreciate NWN2's unique multiplayer more than ever, and it will probably be the last of this kind. It is, for me, the lone king of multiplayer games.

So, back to NWN2 and it's custom content. As I said above, it saddens me to see NWN2 in this state, because I still think it is a diamond in the rough and has extreme potential, even these days. Everyone goes on and on about how moddable Bethesda games are, and yet NWN2 is even more moddable than any Bethesda game. Where are the multiplayer capabilities of Beth games, where can you make your own PWs, where can you DM a campaign or make the whole world like you want? And all the rest, all the custom content you see popping up for Fallout, Skyrim etc: It just needs someone to do it, NWN2 can do.

Now comes my bitter view back to some really innovative things the community started for NWN2, which showed how capable this game is. If we starts with models and custom content, NWN2 saw great things and I wish people wouldn't have stopped making more of it so early.
Some of the greatest things that never really got used came quite early by the way. YATT is an example. Creating maps with it IS geekish, I admit, but if someone knows how to use it the results are amazing. With terran like that, NWN2 doesn't have to hide behind Oblivion. I don't know of any PW that uses YATT but one that is still in the making (good luck, Cipher!), but I recently decided that if I give Middleforest another chance, I must make more use of it.

RWS is probably the most shining example of making great community content, but yet Hellfire dropped the ball just when things got really exiting. The swimming hak was a masterpiece that's at least useable:

... but the horse riding, although looking as good as done, will remain unseen as it seems.

Or what the hell happened to Qk's Custom animations? He had so much in the pipeline...

I'm still having wet dreams of those commando crawl animations I added to the wishlist.
Animations have always been a huge point for me in NWN2, and when people actually started making new ones I got very excited because I was hoping for a similar thing like in NWN1 (combat animations, romantic suite etc.). Sadly, nothing came out of it. 

These are some of the most exciting projects, but there have been so much more. There are smaller things like... my small requests (coughs). Or outfits, hell, I'm such a junkie for nice armors! If I had any idea HOW, I'd start right away with wonderful community-made things like this or this. I know it's possible, I know people who know how to use Blender or 3DSMax would convert them within an hour. I tried to use Blender, I know I can import a .nif file from Bethesda and export a .mdb file for NWN2. The steps in between, i.e. translating the outfit to the NWN2 skeleton and making a lower resolution version, are totally beyond me. No biggie for someone who knows what he does, but nope, I'm clueless. And then we have some who do what I'm trying so hard, but have a problem with the community, which saddens me even more. If someone could at least provide a step-by-step... these are some things the Bethesda community did much, much better, I'm afraid.
To sum up, during the past two years NWN2 was a constant rollercoaster between high enthusiasm and, well, huge disappointments. A lot of great stuff never got release, some high hopes were shattered, and the community died out slowly.

At this point I think we have a catch 22 - the modders slowly give up because they think nobody's interested anymore, and the players/users of mods give up because they think the CC Creators have left the field.
If anyone's interested in hearing it, I could make a very long list of very specific requests - from changing the clouds over some models to armors. But I guess I'd have to switch to Skyrim for that. :)

Anyway, at this point I have no idea how the dying community could be revived again, but I wish it would happen because I still see no alternative to NWN2 on the horizon. If some skilled people would give it another whirl, I'm sure NWN2 could be modded upside down just like all the Beth games. I mean, there's no technical reason why the ENBSeries that are so overhyped in Skyrim and other games shouldn't work with NWN2 too, is there? Just needs somebody who knows that stuff to make the adjustments and we'd have an almost new game.
Ack, if I just had the skillz...

Rant over.