PC Gamer

It won't surprise anybody to learn that, between Steam and a trio of popular online games, Valve is making a lot of money. But how much? Is the Washington-based company, for instance, Scrooge-McDuck-swimming-pool-full-of-cash rich?

Market data firm SuperData claims that Valve made $730 million in 2014. The firm gave their estimates to The Know, and later reiterated them to Develop.

Their projections covered Steam and Valve's top three games: Dota 2, Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The three games were estimated to have brought in $400 million. Further, it was said that Steam took $1.5 billion in sales across 2014—with Valve's royalties from third-party sales calculated at around $330 million.

Valve, of course, have not released their own figures, and SuperData admit that their estimates are "conservative".

As for The Know's video—titled "Half-Life 3 Will Never Release, Here's Why"—many of its other claims have been called into question. Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw even refuted The Know's suggestion that Valve were afraid to make Half-Life 3. "Fear is the last thing that would ever drive a decision about what to work on," he wrote in an email to a concerned fan.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

This weekend, check out the  Rektreational! It's a games industry Dota 2 tournament. Chris is playing in Uptown Dunk, casting, writing this in the third person, and not even done plugging this yet.

Aside from last week's journey into low prio, my recent experience of Dota has been divided between two extremes. I've been playing solo ranked every day, eking out MMR points in a land where actual cooperation is a precious commodity, warred over by very angry young men who will scream, betray and trample one another if it means not being the last person to call somebody else a dickhead. It's solo Dota. You know what you're getting into.

Over the last two weekends I've also being playing in The Rektreational 2. It's a games industry Dota tournament run by a bunch of guys on the west coast of the USA. My team, Uptown Dunk, comprises people from various UK games media outlets. Others represent specific developers, websites, and so on. It's friendly and a lot of fun, like a golf invitational. It's an excuse to talk about Dota with colleagues. If you'd like to watch the main bracket this weekend, the first game is at midnight PDT Friday/8am GMT Saturday.

The Rektreational is also, for the people who organise it, a huge amount of work. Making a tournament happen means weaving together Google docs, email threads, Challonge brackets, and so on. It means finding times when seventy-plus people can play. The first Rektreational ended in February after almost six months of working around this stuff. The second has been run over two weeks—with a much more unforgiving bracket—in order to simply remain practical.

This needn't be the case. As good as the external tools for arranging tournaments are, making them work together is a job that requires a lot of commitment from a team of human administrators. This is true of any tournament in almost any game, amateur or otherwise. Yet much of this effort goes into solving problems that computers are, by their nature, very good at handling. Much of the effort required to run an amateur bracket could be negated—or at the very least, simplified—if the functionality for running brackets was incorporated into the game itself. Hell, Dota even has a 'manage tournaments' button on the community page—greyed out, for the majority of players, since time immemorial.

Structured team play is a really rewarding way to experience Dota, and it's unfortunately downplayed by a game itself. Team matchmaking has been a mess for a while, buggy and detached—fine if all you want is a five-stack to practise against, but that's about it. It doesn't give you access to any of the really rewarding stuff.

Namely: getting to know a manageably small circle of opponents. Getting to prepare. Getting to tailor specific strategies, rather than the catch-all generalism that traditional matchmaking encourages. Getting to experience winning when it matters, even if it only matters to the sixteen teams in contention. All of this stuff scales with skill level: you don't need to be a pro to get something out of taking Dota a little more seriously than you otherwise might. There is such a thing as 3K MMR tournament meta—you just don't see it because very few people can be bothered to go through the hassle of organising something at that level.

Valve haven't expressed much interest in running Dota 'seasons' at an amateur level—they leave that to the community, to groups like JoinDota—but they have expressed an interest in providing the community with tools. There's even precedent for players organising their own structured competition with their friends within the game—it just takes the form of a fantasy leagues, rather than actual Dota.

Imagine this, then: a toolset whereby players could configure ladders, brackets, and so on, and invite premade teams to participate. The game client would handle results, progression, and so on. You could even open tournaments up to the public and apply entry criteria—a nationality, an MMR range, and so on. Add some kind of system for voting on match times and handling forfeits and you've got a framework for amateur tournaments that would make running them vastly more appealing to admins, and therefore more widespread, and therefore more accessible.

Streaming or spectating games makes things more complicated, and that's something to enter into at the organiser's discretion. As is prizes, sponsorship and so on—but they're not the point. The point is giving more of Dota 2's playerbase access to one of the most satisfying ways to play, and providing alternate progression paths that sit comfortably alongside the MMR system.

As Dota grows, being able to compete like this gets harder—and, arguably, more necessary. Amateur tournaments make the game feel smaller, and, in turn, more meaningful. Tournaments for the top 1% are, by their nature, exclusive. I want the tools to run brackets for the rest of us: trench thunderdomes that encourage lasting rivalries and, dare I suggest, a sense of community.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Valve continues to hammer Dota 2 Reborn into shape, in preparation for the day when it will consume Dota 2 whole. It's an exciting release—Valve could probably have called it Dota 3 if they didn't have such a crippling fear of that number—but is also missing some key features. Y'know, features like it actually working properly yet.

A beta update introduces some more chunks of the base game. Most important is ranked matchmaking, which has now been enabled. Also, you can now complete Compendium Challenges. As Valve notes, "doing so in the Reborn beta gives you 50% more coins."

More items are now available in Reborn—including all the Immortal Treasure III contents. "Plus," boasts Valve, "we ve made a number of other improvements and fixed long list of bugs." You can see the full list of fixes on the Dota 2 Reborn update page.

PC Gamer

The prize pool for The International 2015 is big to the tune of $17,087,016. It's now bigger than all previous International tournaments combined.

Valve has now revealed just how that prize pool will be divvied up between the tournament's winners. Of course, with Compendiums still on sale, that prize pool is still rising—and so, the amount due to each winner is rising too.

Here's how it stands at the time of writing:

  • 1st place: $6,151,326
  • 2nd: $2,648,487
  • 3rd: $2,050,442
  • 4th: $1,452,396
  • 5th: $1,110,656
  • 6th: $1,110,656
  • 7th: $768,916
  • 8th: $768,916
  • 9th: $205,044
  • 10th: $205,044
  • 11th: $205,044
  • 12th: $205,044
  • 13th: $51,261
  • 14th: $51,261
  • 15th: $51,261
  • 16th: $51,261

As yet, only 14 of the 16 teams have been confirmed. The four runner-up teams of the regional qualifiers—CDEC Gaming, Team Archon, MVP Phoenix and Vega Squadron—will fight it out for the two remaining "wildcard" spots. They'll join the regional winners EHOME, compLexity Gaming, MVP HOT6ix and Natus Vincere; and the invited teams Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses, Team Secret, Invictus Gaming, LGD Gaming, Cloud9, Team Empire, Virtus.pro, Newbee and Fnatic.

The International group stage runs from July 27-30, with the tournament itself taking place from August 3--8. You'll be able to watch on Twitch, YouTube, or Dota 2's broadcast page. This year, those unfamiliar with Dota 2 can look forward to a daily "Newcomer Show"—a once-a-day event that will seemingly replace last year's newcomer stream.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

Prior to this week, I'd played only a single game in Dota 2's low priority queue. It was about a year and a half ago, and EU server weirdness resulted in a friend and I getting booted from a game-in-progress with an instant abandon. We were condemned to low prio for a single match, and I don't remember it being particularly eventful. Perhaps a lot of people were unexpectedly finding themselves there that week. It felt much like any other game of pub Dota, which is to say that it was a bit of a shitshow.

A friend recently got themselves stuck with a longer sentence—five or possibly ten games, I'm not sure. Said friend is a member of my regular team, and the rules of low prio means that she can't play with the rest of us until those games are played. And that, reader, is how I ended up spending a couple of hours in the trench at the bottom of Dota 2's trench. Double Trench, ostensibly a punishment mechanic designed to improve the community, actually a bizarre parallel Dota where nothing matters and almost nobody who actually should be there understands why they are there.

Have you ever heard the allegory of the long spoons? I first heard it in school during my teens, and for some reason, unlike the majority of things I heard in school during my teens, I've remembered it. It feels pertinent here: the allegory goes that when you die you find yourself in a long banquet hall with a heaped table of food in front of you. A problem: the cutlery is incredibly long, and for the purposes of this analogy you're not allowed to use your hands. Maybe they're tied to the spoons, or they are the spoons, or something.

In hell, where people are selfish assholes, everybody attempts to feed themselves and as a result nobody gets to eat. In heaven, however, everybody figures out that if they feed each other then the length of the spoon doesn't matter. The point, or one of them, is that the circumstances by which people are sent to these places makes them a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Send assholes to hell and it becomes a terrible place to be; stick all of the nice people in the same room and, guess what, it's nice.

The low prio system is intended, I think, to confront people with something similar. Flame, grief and abandon games and you'll be forced to play with people who flame, grief, and abandon games. The flaw in this line of thinking is that it assumes that badly-behaved players will, upon encountering other badly-behaved players, see themselves reflected and experience a Scrooge-type personal revelation. Guess what: this doesn't seem to actually happen. Here is a brief history of the last three games I played.

Game one: entire Radiant team feeds mid constantly in order to end the match faster. Our mid Warlock gets most of the kills, has an Aghanim's Scepter and Refresher Orb within ten minutes. One enemy player, Tinker, becomes outraged that myself and another member of our team are not pushing mid as fast as he would like. I suggest that he might be missing a valuable life lesson of some kind, and he threatens to report me.

Game two: I random Visage (all low prio games are All Random) and have a reasonably good time. We lose terribly, and at the end the enemy Wraith King types 'ez' over and over again until I disconnect. It is not entirely unlike regular Dota.

Game three: myself and my friend attempt a Clockwerk/Morphling dual offlane. For some reason, it works. Our mid Necrophos handily outlanes Pudge. On our safelane, however, Disruptor/Sniper loses to Pugna/Ogre Magi. As the long game goes on, Disruptor becomes angrier and angrier at Sniper, calls Pudge a 'fat fuck', and so on. I ask him if he knows why he's in low prio. 'BECAUSE I AM ALWAYS PLAY WITH FUCKS LIKE SNIPER', he replies.

Here's the thing: these games were actually kind of fun. They came after a weekend of going full tryhard in the Rektreational. Playing All Random made for a relaxing break. The terrible behaviour and worse strategies compounded the sense that nothing had any consequence whatsoever; it was a bit like playing Team Fortress 2. I went bottle-first on a support Lina because nobody gave a shit. None of it threatened my MMR. I had quite a nice time.

That's the first reason why I don't think low prio works as a punishment. The second is that by surrounding ragers and quitters with ragers and quitters, the act of raging and quitting is normalised. There's nothing in the low prio environment that suggests that these things are wrong. In fact, raging and quitting (expressed by feeding constantly) is the fastest way to dodge the punishment. This is a bit like telling a convicted thief that if they can successfully steal the keys to their jail cell then they can go home early.

Rather than being a corrective punishment where players learn that they must consider others and be willing to share if they want to thrive—as in the long spoon allegory—low prio is simply an alternative form of Dota where the rules are taken less seriously. At its most punitive it's an inconvenience, an annoyance that restricts you to playing All Random for a set amount of time. Beyond that the punishment is so light that I suspect many of the players who belong in low prio don't see the difference at all.

While it makes sense to preserve the experience of well-behaved players by exiling the worst element to their own dimension, I suspect that this is the worst way to actually resolve the problem. The lessons that need to be learned by these players are best learned by example, and that example can only be provided by players who don't act the same way. The solution to the trench isn't more trench, it's more exposure to the community.

God help us.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

This weekend, check out the Rektreational! It's a games industry Dota 2 tournament! Chris is playing in Uptown Dunk, casting, and writing this in the third person for some reason.

Every time I load into a game of Dota 2, I worry. That feeling has nothing to do with the match itself—I've become a little less wary of people who random, for what it's worth—and everything to do with the way your Compendium level pops up at the start to indicate the amount of money you've pumped into the International prize pool.

I get it. It's a way of advertising the Compendium. A way of showing off, even, at a certain level. Here's the thing, though, reader: I have an absurd Compendium. In a world where the average player is somewhere between level zero and level fifty, mine is level 744. Seven hundred and forty four.

I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I wanted to get an ultra-rare Faceless Rex courier as a gift for my girlfriend. These items weren't available on the Steam Marketplace until a week after they came out. I didn't want to wait that long. I figured they'd sell for a chunk of change anyway, so it made sense to gamble on opening Collector's Cache chests until one dropped. There's a 1-in-250 chance of that happening, but it'd happen, I thought. I'd get one soon enough. I've always been pretty lucky.

I opened over 250 Collector's Caches without receiving a Faceless Rex. I did some very unhealthy things to my credit card in pursuit of a gift that I thought was always just around the corner. It was a very strange afternoon. I still feel a bit weird about the whole thing. I've never been much into gambling.

A week later, I bought a Faceless Rex on the Steam Marketplace. My girlfriend got her present in the end.

And I, somewhere along the way, ended up with a very impressively high-level magical internet wizard sport book. Every time I load into a match, I watch the number '744' ping into place and wait for somebody to say something. Normally, they don't. Sometimes, they do. I may as well be wearing a sign saying 'gigantic tryhard' (previously, it was my Phantom Assassin arcana that confirmed this). I've considered changing my Steam username to 'please don't ask about my Compendium level'. I even told all of my friends privately to preempt their collective giggling.

This experience has got me thinking about the staggering amount of money that I and other people have spent on this videogame over the years. I've poured more money into Dota 2, a completely free game that puts almost none of its content behind a paywall, than I have with any other game series I have ever loved. I adored Mass Effect and bought every collector's edition—there's a model Normandy on my desk right now—but it doesn't come close to a fraction of the value of my collection of wizard hats. I've even  written about why hats don't matter. Yet here I am with my big dumb Compendium, my collection of hats—and curiously few regrets.

Nothing about my career or lifestyle suggests that I'm to be taken seriously as a human adult, but if I were I'd struggle to justify this aspect of my hobby. Yet I don't feel I need to. As the games industry—and the commentary community attached to it—has adapted to the various consequences of free to play, 'people just like to spend sometimes' has always been a downplayed aspect of the discussion.

We talk about exploitative business models, pay to win, and so on, but rarely about the simple satisfaction transmitted by paid participation. It's nice to gather things. It's nice to buy gifts for other people. It's nice to earn the gold borders and the badges and the levels, because all of it basically translates to 'I care about this thing and I'd like to show that'. My trepidation about my Compendium stems partly from the knowledge that it's uncool to care, particularly in the Dota community, but that is the least of my concerns.

Valve profit enormously from this acquisitive reflex, and they're far from the only company that does. Whatever vestigial synaptic tick it is that makes it satisfying to consume, collect, and display is arguably unnecessary for us personally—a behavioural appendix, waiting to be cut out—but vital to the particular economy we wallow around in.

I regard my Compendium level with mild horror because I suspect secretly that one day it is going to spur a great and righteous takedown by one of my matchmade allies or opponents. It is the most absurd testament to the comfortable position I find myself in, the historic ludicrousness of my resources and desires, signifying a world so out of balance that a not particularly well-remunerated Western man can afford to tip money into an internet computer game prize pool in pursuit of a purple dinosaur that doesn't even have a face. I am horrified by the possibility, however vastly unlikely it is, that I will one day be matched into a Dota 2 game with Slavoj i ek. Perhaps he'd be into it; I have no idea, really. I just never imagined that if we met it'd be me making the case for the absurd inevitability of capitalism.

On the other hand, that number signifies a deep individual investment in something shared with others; an engagement with a sport, a part of culture, albeit a silly one; a mad and misdirected generous streak. It's a bit romantic, even. All of these things are natural, very human, and I suspect that this is why we are probably, completely, collectively, globally, fucked.

The point is: even fair free to play systems spur people to strange excess. Developers, the traditional target of these types of discussion, bear only part of the responsibility; people, both individually and in the abstract, play a key role in allowing this way of things to be. The best response I can give to anybody who points and laughs at my Compendium level is 'I don't fucking know either'. In a world (or at least a country) where the public teeters ever further over the edge into the private, where ownership is taken to be the sacred right of people who own things, there is something appealing about owning a shitload of expensive pretend digital things that I don't even really own. The notion that this might amount to some form of dirty protest is as close as any of this gets to valour. A frivolous little personal rebellion against what is, like believing in auras. Just as unconvincing, but the particle effects are better.

Last night, Valve announced that anybody with a Compendium level over 1000 would receive a replica of the Aegis of Champions trophy. A physical replica! A piece of metal I don't need. An additional expense.

"In for a penny" I thought, staring at the gap between 744 and 1000.

"Maybe I'll get my own Faceless Rex this time."

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer


Samuel Roberts: Feed me more Star Wars

This week, brilliant voice actor Nolan North managed to hint at The Last of Us 2, revealed that Naughty Dog got rid of eight months of work to make PS4 exclusive Uncharted 4 and even discussed Visceral s as-yet unannounced Star Wars game (which speculation suggests will feature Han Solo). Naturally only the last part is relevant to us, but North singlehandedly made a slow news week for the games media into a busy one.

If you're a big fan of Amy Hennig and her style of story, she's gone to EA and is going to reboot a brand new Star Wars franchise in the style of Uncharted," North said at Metrocon last weekend, before saying it s along the same lines as Star Wars 1313 but different . It s pretty exciting. The Uncharted games were excellent, and while 1313 looked like a kind of boring cover shooter, it tapped into the idea of exploring Star Wars seedy side, as the once-mooted live-action TV show was going to. I know Battlefront is imminent, but I don t want to wait years for the next Star Wars game—months will be just fine, thank you. I can t wait to see what Hennig is working on.

Wes Fenlon: A knight to remember

The new King's Quest, from Winterbottom developer The Odd Gentlemen, begins its episodic rollout at the end of July. And I'm ready to love King's Quest again. I got to see a demo back in March that showed the silliness of old King's Quest humor was still intact. My big question was how much of the adventure game DNA would remain. The demo I saw was promising, mixing in some light puzzle solving with exploration and funny dialogue. I'm hoping for some more involved puzzles later; designer Matt Korba was adamant that Daventry will open up and be explorable, with different ways to progress that allow puzzles to be fairly challenging. It all sounds great, and I'm actually excited about King's Quest being episodic. The structure hopefully gives The Odd Gentlemen time to take feedback into account, and it gives us an alternative to the Telltale episodic formula that's growing a bit stale.

After Telltale all but ditched adventure game mechanics for episodic storytelling, wouldn't it be perfect for King's Quest to show that the genre can still work in 2015?

Chris Thursten: Back in the trenches

This marks the second week (ish) of my return to daily solo ranked Dota 2, but I m really enjoying it. Given my preference for playing with a team, this is a side of the game that I ve always had an on-again, off-again relationship with. Coming back has been a mixed bag, and the community hasn t gotten any less toxic, but I feel able to deal with it. I m practicing a bunch of new support heroes for a forthcoming games industry tournament (details soon!) and that places me in a decent position in solo ranked. When the thing you want to do is the exact thing nobody else wants to do, games tend to work out pretty well.

I am learning, I think, to accept the community s prevalent attitudes with a certain calm. Genuinely nice, talkative players are incredibly rare: humble players moreso. The most common is somebody who will work with their team but smacktalk; players who are fine when things are going well and flame you when they re not, only to turn on a dime again. This seems inevitable, an intractable part of the game, and I m getting used to almost commending somebody at the end of a match only for them to fire of an ez or commend me pls - as close to shorthand for I am a child and this is for children as you can get.

That almost sounds like a low but it s not, really. It s Dota. Players are fiercely protective of their status, equally dismissive of the status of others, but there s nothing else like it. The game is not responsible for human nature, but learning to coexist with those humans is certainly part of the game - and I m getting better at it.

Tim Clark: stoned again

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Just kidding, I was never even close to being out. In fact I haven t even stopped buying Hearthstone packs since pretty much completing my collection. Instead I ve been accumulating magical dust to complete my first all-golden deck, because I am both a man of a certain age with no children and thus a certain amount of disposable income, and also, I guess, an idiot. But a happy idiot. I m honestly not even fussed about what the new content is. At this point new is new, and the thrill of opening packs to get box fresh spells and creatures is its own reward. You don t have to thank me, but it s my sort of madness that keeps a game like Hearthstone free for most folk.

James Davenport: A familiar haunt

P.T. was the brilliantly creepy PS4 teaser for Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro s now cancelled Silent Hills game. Sadly, Konami has now erased all trace of both teaser and game from the world, but its unique spirit may have a new home to haunt thanks to British studio Lilith Ltd. Their take on P.T. s domestic first-person horror in Allison Road is on display in a new thirteen minute gameplay video. The footage is from a pre-alpha prototype, and the devs claim that what goes on here won t be in the final game, so don t be scared—or do, but take a peek. There s walking and high-res textures and boo! I m a ghost! Got you.

I don t mourn the death of Silent Hills, which likely would have had little resemblance to the digestible, detailed design of P.T. I expect Silent Hills would have been forced into homage and (sorry, not sorry) ended up feeling too Kojima for its own good. Allison Road, meanwhile, looks promising, and I hope it inspires more developers to throw out their own takes on P.T. s beautifully constrained nightmare. I m also particularly keen to watch folks try it out in VR. *Evil laughter, a light brush on your neck, a crow doing crow stuff*

Tom Senior: Team Fortress forever

I can forget Team Fortress 2 exists for years at a time, which is a shame, because it's still terrific. The Gun Mettle Campaign update is just the excuse I need to stop prodding Arkham Knight .ini files and return to the shooter that's given me more entertainment than any other. The timeless colourful visuals still hold up and it feels good to rocket jump again, but the addition of lurid new weapons provides a fresh sense of purpose that makes the game even better. I want the leopard-print rocket launcher that I can press a button to look at, I really do, and I'm prepared to kill hundreds of Heavies to get it. Unlock trees, item drops and other progression systems can sometimes feel manipulative, but without that trail of breadcrumbs you get Titanfall, an excellent shooter with no interesting long-term goals. I may never play Titanfall again, but I might end up playing TF2 forever.


Tim Clark: Hello, Sailor

Confession time: I don t understand the frothing enthusiasm for Shenmue 3. That s not to say I wish the game wasn t happening. I m not an entirely obsidian-hearted grinch, so I m happy that people are excited they re finally getting it. But… Why? The original game was remarkable for being—at the time—a crazily detailed attempt to recreate a young Japanese chap s life, complete with banal forklift job at the docks, set against the backdrop of a pretty melodramatic revenge plot. I also recall the conversational stuff being so stilted that I wondered if it was actually designed to be intentionally wooden, as some kind of Lynchian nod. (It wasn t.)

Was the story so good that you need to see it finished? Because even if the Kickstarter budget gets sailed past, and with Sony s funding support, Shenmue 3 will surely only be an exercise in nostalgia. The idea that the game becomes open world if the $10m stretch goal gets hit seems bizarre. Surely that s the sort of design decision that has to be factored in from the start. What would have been exciting to me is a new megabudget Shenmue that, like the original, tried to create a super detailed version of the Ryo s life. But hey, there was a reason Shenmue was an expensive bomb the first time, and beyond superfans, it s hard to imagine a wider audience in 2015 being any more receptive.

Wes Fenlon: Not furious enough

I really wanted AMD's Fury X graphics card to be revolutionary. Well, okay, I didn't expect revolutionary—but I hoped that, after two years of rehashed tech, AMD was really going to knock our socks off with high bandwidth memory and a graphics card that surpassed everything Nvidia's released over the past year. Instead, the Fury X is a powerful card that doesn't really exceed Nvidia's 980 Ti, and is short 2GB of VRAM by comparison. It also seems like the Fury X is held back by AMD's drivers. AMD is in a tough spot, because it doesn't have Nvidia's insane resources to put behind driver development, but the company needs to up its driver game for its cards to stay competitive.

James Davenport: Personal computing

This week I was reminded that our hobby doesn t come without drawbacks. Having just moved to San Francisco from Montana, the first order of business on arriving at my new lodgings was booting up the PC. After assembling what might be the fourth particle wood desk in four years—a ubiquitous rite for those in their twenties—I slammed some wires into their respective sockets until the power button made a noise, only to have the bugger crash after landing on the desktop.

I ran through the entire gamut of troubleshooting steps without relief. With a steady, inferior California beer sweat coming on, I was close to giving up. I ll spare the remaining diagnostic details for reasons of brevity and entertainment, but it turned out the CPU was overheating and the BIOS settings were entirely out of whack, probably from a frustrated keyboard slam. It wasn t until 2AM or so that everything was working normally, but I celebrated in the only proper way: botching a fresh install of Fallout: New Vegas thanks to lazy, terrible modding experiments. PC gaming! Happy to be here, folks.

Samuel Roberts: Finish Batman, please

Batman: Arkham Knight is still sat on my harddrive, but I m not touching it. I ve downloaded the first of what is likely to be a series of patches for the game in the journey to Arkham Knight being finished on PC (because right now it s totally not—and according to a report this week, publisher Warner apparently knew that was the case), but I want to wait until it s a version I m happy with. It s an ongoing disappointment, but I think one of the worst parts about the wait is that it s going to get harder for PC players to avoid spoilers from console players. The secrets of its main quest and side stories are so worth experiencing first hand. With a universe like Batman s, story is everything—the longer it takes for Rocksteady, Iron Galaxy and Warner to finish Arkham Knight on PC, the more likely it is that some idiot on the internet is just going to spoil it for you.

Tom Senior: Seriously though, finish Batman

My low of the week is also Batman, and because it's such a severe low and I was on holiday last week and didn t have a chance to complain, I'm going to double down on Sam's point. It's not just the game's poor performance—Arkham Knight actually runs okay streaming off my SSD with a GTX 970—but this week I was sad to discover that the PC version actually looks worse than the Playstation 4 version. Arkham Knight PC lacks the console version's gorgeous thick rain and mud effects, and doesn't have the sheen that gives Gotham its sodden, glistening texture on PS4. It's somehow worse knowing that the game behind the port is good—magnificent in places—but when a company outsources a job, they don't also outsource responsibility for that job. It's going to take a long time for WB & co. to earn trust back from customers on PC.

Chris Thursten: 2 HOT 2 DOTA

I didn t really have any major gaming issues this week, so I m going to do the British thing and moan about the frankly incredible weather we ve had this week. I spent some time outside appreciating it, and then slightly more time inside rueing the fact that my PC is a heat-emitting monster that sounds like a dying Transformer when the temperature pushes summerwards. This meant that I had to drink more beer in order to stay cool, and then I wanted an ice cream, and long story short an hour later I looked at myself and saw a man in his pants playing Dota half-drunk in the dark and realised that I had nobody to blame but myself.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general. The art above comes from the Garb of the Cunning Augur set for Rubick by Es'Kophan.

The most significant difference between the majority of Dota 2's traditional game modes lies in the way you pick your character. Drafting is an essential part of the game, and opting in to different methods of drafting is a way of determining what kind of experience you want to have. I've written before about there being different Dotas for different players, and this is the most obvious way this manifests. If you play a lot of Single or Random Draft then your experience is fundamentally different to somebody who plays a lot of Captain's Mode—and so on.

Over time, Valve and Icefrog have made multiple tweaks to the way that All Pick works. They've adjusted the amount of time for picks and the amount of gold you lose if you fail to choose. When 6.82 launched last September, Valve acknowledged that ranked All Pick should work differently to unranked: they added a 'strategy period' to the beginning, enforced an alternating pick system, and increased the punishment for idling. Since then, the two variants of All Pick have amounted to (very subtly) different game modes.

I'd argue that these changes didn't go quite far enough. I've been playing a bunch of solo ranked again recently, and I'm struggling to come up with a reason why players should have the option to random their hero.

It's a fine idea in principle, and it works in regular All Pick (and in team ranked, for that matter—what I have to say really applies to solo games.) Randoming is a form of gambling that adds a degree of luck and chance to the drafting process—it can go well or disastrously and responding to your fortunes one way or another is an interesting strategic challenge.

This is fine if everybody involved agrees to it, but I don't think I've ever seen somebody say 'do you guys mind if I random' in solo ranked. Ever. It doesn't happen—what does happen is that someone loads in, immediately randoms, and then the five strangers they're matched with try to work around it. Or they don't try to work around it, and you end up with double mids or no support or no carries and the next forty minutes becomes an exercise in defying the mathematical likelihood that the game was lost before you started.

There's a lot of ways that solo players can make selfish decisions in the draft that screw their teammates—locking mid without any discussion, and so on. That stuff's unavoidable. In those cases, however, it usually stems from a player wanting to do something that will ultimately favour them in the match. Maybe they're insta-picking Queen of Pain because they're great with her. Even if they're wrong, the decision comes from a position of 'I want to win this game' and that's ultimately positive.

Randoming exposes players to huge risk—that they'll get a terrible hero, or a hero that they're terrible with, or a hero that requires somebody else to pick something to accompany it that they might not be happy to play (random Io being a good example of this.) Randoming doesn't express the desire to win the game—it expresses the desire to leave it substantially up to chance.

This is really bad for a competitive team game. The last thing Dota 2 needs is a 'screw everybody else on my team' button, and often that's what the random option amounts to. It's different in a one vs. one game—StarCraft comes to mind—because the time and energy that the player is gambling with is there own. Being able to random in solo ranked amounts to gambling with four other people's time too. I'd argue that Valve should do everything they can to reduce the amount that individual players can ruin games for other people. With this in mind, I don't think the random option has a place in solo ranked games.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Last year's International Dota 2 Championship tournament, better known simply as The International, had a prize pool well in excess of $10 million. That's a lot of money. It's also a lot less than what's already on the table for this year's event.

Valve ponied up the initial $1.6 million for the International prize pool, which it then bolstered through sales of The Compendium, a kind of interactive, multi-level virtual book with unlockable in-game items. The base Compendium is $10 while the Level 50 edition goes for $27, and you can also spring for individual levels to gain access to specific items. Higher levels mean more stuff, and also more money for prize pool, which is the point of the whole exercise: 25 percent of all Compendium sales go into the pot for the competing teams to fight over.

The $15 million prize pool, minus Valve's $1.6 million slice, means Dota 2 fans have contributed $13.4 million to the big show. Borrowing Phil's trick, that means $53.6 million, give or take a few hundred grand, has been spent on The Compendium this year.

Can that possibly be right? It sounds utterly ridiculous, and I'm not great at the whole "math" thing, but I keep checking and that's the number that keeps coming up. And it's not over yet: The Compendium will remain on sale until The International is over, according to Polygon, and this year's event doesnt even begin until August 3.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

A few days ago, in an  article about ESL One Frankfurt, I made a point of praising Team Secret's decision making. This comes up a lot in my thinking about Dota. Something that applies to this game and many other things besides is the way that professionals 'make it look easy'. This is particularly apparent in esports, where the game the pros are playing is exactly the same as the one you play at home. Watching them pull off perfect rotation after perfect rotation, perfect counter-initiation after perfect counter-initiation, it's easy to sit back and think: I could do that.

I can't, though, because while I can imitate the visible aspect of their performance I can't replicate the thought processes that make it happen. The best players make (and don't make) decisions very quickly, drawing on a massive amount of prior experience to do so. I've written before about how, ultimately, there's no substitute for raw time investment when it comes to getting good. There are, however, a few approaches that I've found helpful while trying to become a better player—particularly with regards to decision making.

Always be running through scenarios in your head

This started, for me, with trying to get an intuitive grasp of blink dagger's maximum range. Rather than wait for a teamfight to discover that I didn't quite have it down, I'd think about it as I was running around and practice when things were quiet. If I was playing support and had blink, for example, I'd practice while warding. This isn't advisable in serious competitive games but in pubs I think it's a good way of getting your eye in.

The same applies to skill rotations and other items. If you're always thinking about what your next move might look like then it's far less likely that you'll panic, rush, or screw it up. That might mean something like 'I'm going to blink, hex, stun somebody else, force staff myself out and look for a finger of death opportunity'. Once you've figured that out, check which inventory slots your blink dagger and force staff are in. This is about as basic as advice gets, but the speed at which you make a decision doesn't matter at all if you haven't done the basic groundwork that makes sure you don't fat-finger your dust and force staff yourself in the wrong direction.

Say what you're about to do, but don't let that stop you

I've spent a lot of time over the last year writing about communication—particularly about the importance of being clear and vocal with your ideas. The flipside to this is that in an idea world you shouldn't need to wait for a reply once you've explained what you're going to do.

There's another word for this, and it's 'trust'. If you trust that the people you're playing with have your back, then saying 'I'm going to blink-echo slam with the next wave' and then doing it is fine. If it's what you need to do to break their base then it's what you need to do, and it's on them to follow you up. I've seen a lot of teams fall apart due to hesitancy resulting from a committee-ish need to make sure that everybody agrees with the plan before anybody pushes the button.

If you don't trust the people that you're playing with, arguably you should go for it anyway. They might surprise you: you're just another pub random to them too, after all.


I mentioned hesitancy above. It is, I find, something that intermediate teams really struggle with. This indicates lag in the decision making process—it's everything to do with thought and communication and very little to do with reactions. Although there are certainly times when rushing in ruins it for everybody, I increasingly believe that you learn more about the game if you're willing to make a move without hesitation.

Don't get me wrong: this is how many, many matches get thrown away. Ultimately, however, you only learn to make better decisions by making decisions. If you wait for the perfect play, you probably won't make one. If you make no plays, you won't learn—all that time running through scenarios doesn't mean much if you don't take that knowledge into the wild. This taps into a broader truth—if you're going to learn, be willing to lose—but it is specifically relevant here. If you need to blow a long cooldown ult to make sure a kill happens, do it. If you think you can outplay an isolated enemy, try it.

This might sound a little dumb, but acting more confidently when making a play is the wrong idea helped make me more confident when it was the right idea. It also helped me learn the myriad ways in which an idea can be a bad one. There's no substitute for time, after all, and you cannot learn to make better choices by not choosing.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


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