Sep 28, 2012
Valve did a sneaky, small-but-significant thing recently: it expanded its "Top Sellers" list on Steam to include one hundred games. The sales leaderboard doesn't tell us exactly how many copies a game sold, but it gives us a vague idea of how well certain games are doing on Steam in a given moment.
It's an inherently misleading metric—take that as a disclaimer. Still, as we sit in the shadow of some of 2012's biggest releases, I'd like to take a crack at gleaning what we can from this moment in time.
2K's having a great end of the year.
The $50 pre-sale of XCOM is outselling everything but Borderlands 2 on Steam. We might be able to chalk that up to fairly generous pre-purchase incentives (which could include a free copy of Civ 5 if enough people pre-buy it). It might be mild evidence that demos still work, too. Borderlands 2's high concurrent user count over the past few days (reaching 123,758 last weekend) is also evidence that 2K will win the weeks connecting September and October on Steam.
Digital pre-orders are a thing.
XCOM isn't the only thing-you-can-buy-but-can't-play-yet doing well. Joining the unreleased are Dishonored at #7, War of the Roses at #12, Football Manager 2013 at #17, Company of Heroes 2 at #29, and Hitman Absolution at #51. Even though there's no chance of a game going out of stock, Steam users don't seem to mind putting money down in advance, especially if they're rewarded with bonus content or a small discount for doing so.
Where are the MMOs? Oh, right.
Zero MMOs appear in today's top 100. I might consider that unsurprising—we wouldn't expect too many people to be picking up competitors while Guild Wars 2 and Pandaria are drawing the attention, and neither are available on Steam. Still, it's a little surprising not to see RIFT ($10) or EVE Online: Inferno ($20) popping up anywhere.
Call of Duty remains a PC fixture.
The sense that Call of Duty remains a fixture for PC gamers is supported by SteamGraph data. Some form of Call of Duty make up 10 whole entries of the Steam's top 100. Many of those are map packs, but the performance of Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition (#41) is interesting to me. It released yesterday, September 27, and it's outperforming stuff like Civ V: GOTY and Natural Selection 2. Modern Warfare 3 is 50% off until October 1, and it's sitting comfortably at #5.
DayZ continues to have a long tail.
I don't think Arma 2: Combined Operations (what you need to play DayZ) has left the top ten of Steam's Top Sellers since it caught on in May and June. It seems to be outperforming other games that released in May and June like Sins: Rebellion (#56), Max Payne 3 (#76), Civ 5: Gods & Kings (#20), and Spec Ops: The Line (unlisted).
Below: the data, captured at 6:05 PM PDT. Ctrl + Fing encouraged.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Total War Master Collection
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Arma 2: Combined Operations
Empire: Total War
War of the Roses
Borderlands 2 Season Pass
FTL: Faster Than Light
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Football Manager 2013
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard
Sid Meier's Civilization V - Gods 'n Kings
Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition
The Binding of Isaac
Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy
Left 4 Dead 2
Hell Year! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour
Rome: Total War - Gold
Company of Heroes 2
Total War Shogun 2 - Fall of the Samurai
Sid Meier's Civilization V
Borderlands: Game of the Year
Total War Mega Pack
The Walking Dead
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 3: Chaos Pack
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition
Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Game of the Year
Total War: SHOGUN 2
The Sims 3
Hearts of Iron 3 Collection
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Train Simulator 2013
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
Medieval II Gold
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Orcs Must Die! 2 - Family Ties Booster Pack
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
The Amazing Spider-Man
Orcs Must Die! 2
Saints Row: The Third
Dead Island: GOTY
Natural Selection 2
Orcs Must Die! 2 - Complete Pack
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Rome: Total War - Complete
The Orange Box
Borderlands 2 + Official Brady Guide
Batman: Arkham City GOTY
Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead
Grand Theft Auto IV
Call of Duty: World at War
Max Payne 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
I Am Alive
Fallout 3: GOTY
Valve Complete Pack
Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition
Mount & Blade: Warband
New Star Soccer 5
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 2
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Expansion
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare® 3 Collection 1
Might & Magic Heroes VI - Danse Macabre Adventure Pack
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD
STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Planets Under Attack
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Age of Empires III: Complete Collection
Reiterating: We don't know what formula or data drives Steam's Top Sellers rankings. It's probably safest to consider them a representation of what games are selling well in one moment of time on Steam.
The Dota 2 team have detailed of process of building the Aegis of Champions - the massive trophy and functioning shield* given out at the end of this year's International tournament - in conjunction with master propbuilders WETA.
The shield is made of bronze, leather and electroplated silver and features the Dota 2 symbol surrounded by a Radiant and Dire Yin and Yang style motif. An area on the back is reserved for the names of International champions, currently Chinese team Invictus Gaming.
WETA are also taking preorders for a range of premium Dota 2 props. Vanguard and the Demon Edge Sword are a whopping $299 each, and you can pick up a Butterfly or a statue of Axe for only $249 a piece.
It's notable (ish) that Butterfly is the cheapest real-life weapon, as it costs a hefty 6000 gold in the game itself. Vanguard is only 2225, for heaven's sake - and who doesn't already have a stout shield and a ring of health lying around? Demon Edge will cost you 2400 gold all in one go, but really it's just a stepping stone on the way to a Daedalus.
Basically, I'm saying that if you're in the market for a massive urethane sword, then Butterfly is the best value proposition. Also, that 35% evasion chance could come in handy when crossing the road.**
* I am perfectly happy to take Gabe Newell at his word in this regard.
** Please under no circumstances attempt this.
Sep 24, 2012
Gorgeous Greenlight projects. A planned Left 4 Dead 2 map on meta-horror. Dildo bats, crazy cats, and space hats. What does it all mean? It probably all makes sense on a metaphysical level, but we're pretty sure they're just more news we're rounding up and sending your way like a caring grandmother. A caring zombie grandmother.
The Light brands itself as "an interactive philosophical story." Sweet, sweet urban decay.
Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard almost worked with Valve on a potential Left 4 Dead 2 map pack tie-in.
The Secret World gets a new director, former lead content designer Joel Bylos, and reveals the name of its next Issue update as "The Cat God." Let's hope Bylos didn't have to endure through an elaborate initiation ceremony involving complicated hand gestures.
The entirety of Saints Row: The Third's DLC is included in the upcoming Full Package version releasing on November 9 for $50.
Super-long Assassin's Creed 3 gameplay video reveals Connor actually talking. Oh, and chopping people's faces in.
Wow. Like any sport, the scores of grizzled and battle-trained gaming teams competing in tournaments and championships offer chances to observe spectacular upset victories and displays of superhuman prowess. Here's a tip: If you ever see a player named "Noppo" during your Counter-Strike 1.6 sessions, flee. Confused? Check out this video of the deciding match for the Asia eSports Cup featuring Noppo's team myRevenge and a hilarious disregard for vision-obscuring walls. More details inside.
After losing two team members early on in the classic de_nuke map, Noppo hunkered down beside one of the bomb sites and pulled off a spectacular five-kill ace sealing the win for myRevenge. This is the crazy part: three of those kills were through walls. See, Noppo capitalized on Counter-Strike's "wallbang" feature: bullet penetration through certain surfaces. An edited X-ray video -- complete with appropriately freaking out Japanese casters -- reveals Noppo's unreal accuracy in finer detail.
Sep 22, 2012
Huskar get CANCER.” I was Huskar. A small incarnation of Zeus was shouting at me in text chat. “HUSKAR NOOB UNINSTALL GAME GET CANCER DIE IN A FIRE.”
Why he was shouting these things takes some explaining. Dota 2 itself takes some explaining.
Dota 2 is a so-called MOBA. MOBA stands for ‘multiplayer online battle arena’, a terrible catch-all term that describes all games ever. A better term would be ‘DotA-like’ – referencing the originator of the genre: Warcraft III’s Defence of the Ancients mod. In a world filling up with DotA-likes – League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, SMITE, Bloodline Champions– Dota 2 is the most dotingly DotA-like.
Like DotA, Dota 2 pits two teams of five players against each other. Like DotA, Dota 2is a mix of strategy and RPG, demanding skill management and tactical positioning. Like DotA, Dota 2casts you as one of a pool of more than 80 heroes – soon to be 108, once Valve have finished tweaking – each with their own distinct visual style and combat abilities. And I was Huskar.
Huskar is a muscular blue hunter. He wears a headdress made of bones, and carries a spear that he can hurl at Dota 2’s two main types of enemy: AI ‘creeps’ that charge merrily down the game’s three lanes, and the human-controlled heroes on the opposite team. I was playing Huskar, and I was making Zeus angry by doing it badly.
“NOT SPEAR HUSKAR dont use burn spear idoit.”
All of Dota 2’s playable heroes have a range of core skills that can be increased in power by levelling up – in turn achieved by killing enemies. Most heroes have four skills – a few more complex types have more – and they’re either passive bonuses, or ‘actives’, enabled with a button press of Q, W, E, or R.
Huskar’s second skill is ‘Burning Spear’. Press W and select a target, and he’ll set one of his spears alight and throw it at a foe for extra damage and a short-lasting burn effect. Doing so doesn’t drain any of Huskar’s mana – an arbitrary pool that heroes use to power most of their active abilities – but there is a downside: each spear set alight burns away some of Huskar’s own health.
During one fight, I fell foul of this fact. I was fighting in the bottom-most of Dota 2’s three lanes – ‘bot’, alongside ‘top’ and ‘mid’ in Dotese. I was chasing a wounded Lion past the no-man’s land where the game’s two tribes of AI creeps meet to fight. Not actually a lion, but a triple-chinned mage in a pointy helmet, obviously.
I lobbed spears in a desperate attempt to chew off the final portion of his life. Realising I wasn’t going to score the kill, I stopped my charge short and stood for a second, before taking a large, white fireball square in the face.
I’d strayed into tower range Dota 2’s towers are static defences that protect the three routes to the ‘ancient’, deep in your base – the pointless obelisk thing that you’re doing the defending of. Early in Dota 2’s 40-minute matches, towers are lethal to low-level heroes.
My health was already depleted from my scuffle with Lion and I’d gouged further chunks out through self-inflicted Burning Spear damage. The tower killed me in one shot, before I was able to react and scurry out of range. It was that mistake that set Zeus off.
DotA has spawned a lexicon of mad words. Of these, ‘feeding’ is its cardinal sin. I was, in Zeus’s eyes, feeding the opposition team: dying needlessly. Die early and often at the hands of an opponent and you’ll give them a distinct advantage over your entire team. In the later stages of a game, that advantage can easily become insurmountable: a new player, a player having a bad day, or even a seasoned vet making a tactical blunder, can ruin a game for four other people.
Death is punished in a range of cruel and unusual ways. First, the wait to respawn. Early on, it’s a manageable 15 seconds; later, it’s a full minute before you can get back into the game, enabling the opposition to gang together and run roughshod over your depleted team as you sit in the sin bin.
Second, and more painful in the long term, is the punishment of witnessing the gold and experience advantages conferred on your killer. Killing an enemy hero not only awards the victorious player with a chunk of experience, it also keeps the victim out of their chosen lane for a while, further limiting the XP they receive. By the time I was back in lane as Huskar, Lion was a full level above me. Were Lion to play cautiously, stay within friendly tower range and avoid over-committing when a kill was uncertain, he’d carry his advantage to the end of the game.
It’s this that is Dota 2’s main problem: a mistake or a misclick from any one of the five players on a team can confer a monstrous advantage on the opposition, turning matches into almost an hour of death by slow asphyxiation. For a competitive game, it can be incredibly demoralising to lose through no direct fault of your own, and the crushing sadness of a creeping, inexorable loss isn’t always balanced out by the high of a win.
It’s less a high, more a relief. In Dota 2, the best you can ever hope to be is fully competent. When a Dota hero does his or her job right, you can’t be sure they’re doing anything at all. Get it wrong and to their teammates they’re the worst humans to have ever lived, deserving of terminal illness or a fiery death.
“Huskar dont bay vlad get MASK fukcing NOOB.”
‘vlad’ was Vladimir’s Offering, an item I’d bought with the gold I’d earned so far in the match. Gold trickles in at a steady rate to your personal stash, but big bucks are made by either killing human opponents, or by ‘last-hitting’ creeps: applying the finishing blow to get an extra cash bonus.
Vladimir’s Offering is one of Dota 2’s mid-game items: it costs 2,050 gold to put all the disparate parts of it together – four smaller, cheaper items with their own buffs and characteristics – and I’d been churning my way through wave after wave of AI enemies in order to afford it. Once bought, it sat in my inventory. I moused over it quickly between scraps and skimmed the pop-up text. ‘Applies a lifesteal bonus.’ I’d bought Vladimir’s Offering in ten or more previous games, I knew how useful it was: a portion of any damage dealt on an enemy was shunted back into my health bar. It was great for high-damage, fast-attacking heroes such as Huskar seemed to be.
And now I had it, Zeus was calling me a noob. Why?
“fuck noob vlad is MELEE NOT SPEARS.”
I looked down the screen, from where Huskar was bashing through a wave of creeps, back to my six-slot inventory space. I re-moused over Vladimir’s Offering. ‘Lifesteal bonuses only affect melee units.’ Huskar’s spears are hurled, making him technically a ranged hero.
Despite the fact that his ‘ultimate’ ability – the one situated on the R key that tends to be a hero’s most potent power – launched him into kissing range of an enemy, despite the fact that his weapon was a goddamn spear, Huskar was singularly unable to benefit from my two grand purchase. A flush of embarrassment crept up my face as I played on.
“Ah,” I typed.
It was ridiculous. Dota 2 had already forced me to learn the basic abilities of more than 80 distinct characters, to be able to recognise their attack patterns and plan successful counters. I was expected to be able to play every type of role, from pure damage ‘carries’ who only reach their attacking potential at the end of the game, to ‘lane supports’ who exist to manage the flow of AI creeps down the maps, via ‘initiators’ and ‘pushers’, who respectively can start multi-man brawls with abandon and excel in knocking down static towers. I had memorised ‘lane assignments’: items to be bought for specific heroes with the game’s starting 600 gold. I even spent one afternoon thoroughly perplexed by a donkey, trying to work out how Dota 2’s arcane courier system works. (Eventually, I discovered the ‘call donkey to bring your new stuff’ button, and didn’t fiddle any further with the furry bugger.)
But somehow, in this swirl of information – information utterly unintuitive and nearly useless outside of Dota 2, let alone outside the genre itself – I’d managed to mentally bypass one particular speck of knowledge about one of the two hundred items.
The sensible option would be to give up. Dota 2 is already populated by people weaned on DotA, people who can call up Vladimir’s Offering stats while half-cut. The game is such an imposing fortress, so densely packed with information that has to be acknowledged and digested before it’s possible to play, let alone have fun, that the cold, logical part of my brain should’ve packed-in the enterprise right there and then.
Many will. Dota 2 is a game for people who relish the chance to learn new – and often entirely arbitrary – systems. It can feel like you’re beating your head against those fortress walls, and – thanks to the already staggeringly huge Dota 2 playerbase – that wall will occasionally beat right back.
Quietly, I sold Vladimir’s Offering. I got half of my gold back. I used it to buy a Morbid Mask: an item I’d already bought and turned into the Offering earlier in the game. I hoped Zeus wouldn’t notice.
“Husk noob shit”
He did. My psychotic Zeus was an extreme example, but he’s by no means the angriest man I’ve played with. Personal failure in Dota 2 is writ large for all to see, and writ in the form of a slow and painful public mauling where your peers berate you for your existence. That genre peculiarity, coupled with a hyper-dedicated community and the deep trench of knowledge that must be dredged, has bred spectacularly aggressive players. The default mode for most seems to be apoplectic, sometimes dialed back to needlessly snarky if you’re playing acceptably. I clung to cheerful or friendly players like a child to his mother’s leg. One Russian man started singing a Rihanna song down the microphone In any other game I’d have sighed and muted him; here, I decided on the spot that he was my best friend, kindred spirits some 3,000 miles apart. I’d had a rough few games.
The angriest players I’d studiously report. Abusive players can be reported to Valve, whereupon their profile is given secret black marks that ensures they play with other ne’er-do-wells. A similar punishment is meted out to early disconnecters. A friend of mine left after one frustrating game coincided with a pizza delivery. Since then, he’s been placed in games with other people with disconnects marked on their profile: a purgatorial prison where no one can successfully finish a game. It’s a neat punishment, but one that encourages negative behavioural reinforcement, not rehabilitation: if everyone is disconnecting, why not carry on doing it?
Getting a solid game is hard enough as it is. Having to match five versus five means Valve’s matchmaking isn’t close to the quality of StarCraft II. I’ve been on both sides of a face-rolling thanks to amazing or poor opponents, but can remember fewer balanced fights: for a madly competitive game, that’s something of a problem. Better is the e-sports support: players can spectate other matches in-game, and Valve even sell tickets for pro tournaments through the item shop – a level of support for pro-gaming beyond most developers’ ambitions.
I was watching one of these tournaments when I found myself taking notes. Alongside ‘Vlad – NOT RANGED!’, I was scribbling an item purchasing order for Luna, a hero I’d played a few times. The first time, I’d damned her as too weak and unable to escape trouble. In full flight, at the hands of another, she was dominating, calling down rays of moonlight to shred enemies in team fights. I should have given up with her, but instead I chose her the next game I played. I finished that game with more kills than deaths, and my team won. I’ve now played as her more than almost any other hero.
That’s Dota 2 at its greatest. It offers tangible, satisfying rewards for hard graft. Spend time learning, absorbing, and mastering a hero, and you will feel the results during your next game. It’s not an easy process, poring through build guides online – especially as Valve have yet to add most of their proposed learning tools for new players – but any effort plugged in pays out doublefold.
Those promised learning tools will come soon: there’s a space in the game’s UI with greyed out options for ‘quests’, ‘tutorials’ and ‘play with a mentor’ options that could smooth out the first few steps in Dota 2’s gradiated learning curve. When those tools do arrive, we’ll be taking another look at Dota 2 and re-scoring it as the additions demand. But you can already spend cash in its real money shop, and have to pay for an invitation, hence this review: this is a slick, rich game, not a beta.
There’s more to master here than in other action-RTS games. Just by paddling around in League of Legends, I can see how deep that game goes. After 100 hours of Dota 2, I can’t even see the bottom. I’m not even sure there is one.
I won my game with Huskar, in the end. Myself and Zeus collaborated on a few kills, before he tapped out ‘gg’ and disappeared back into the internet. Despite his aggression, he’d taught me something. Sometimes you want to play, not learn. But when you want to study, to master something, there are few finer, slicker classrooms than Dota 2.
Nothing rumbles like the metal mosh pit of a medieval scrap in full swing. After a successful Kickstarter run, Torn Banner's Chivalry: Medieval Warfare expanded upon its origins as a Half-Life 2 mod into a standalone first-person multiplayer slasher with blood-soaked jerkins and jerks soaking in blood. Chivalry's latest trailer, comprised entirely of in-game footage, blasts the mayhem of battle into your eyeballs before revealing an October 16 release date. Have a look above, but we heartily recommend augmenting your viewing experience with the thrash-metal riff of your choice.
Sep 21, 2012
The Steam Workshop is coming to Left 4 Dead 2. That'll make it even easier for players to sample user created campaigns, but Valve are planning to take things a bit further and release an "expanded scripting tool" that will let modders create "deeper and more varied experiences inside of Left 4 Dead 2." That includes new rule sets that can be integrated into new campaigns, or traded as custom mutations through the workshop.
"To compliment the new access to maps, weapons, and items, we are also creating an expanded scripting tool to allow deeper and more varied experiences inside of Left 4 Dead 2," say the Left 4 Dead team on the Left 4 Dead 2 blog, though no further details are provided. Perhaps this'll take the form of an auto-update with a community spotlighted mutation of the week, but who knows. It might integrate a Spitter into your lounge for all I can guess. I really hope it doesn't do that.
The news heralds a change in this week's official mutation to a fresh one called Follow the Liter, which will only let survivors salvage a single can at any one time. This ought to focus the action a bit on those scattershot Scavenge mode maps.
Update: Oh yes, these bonus features are planned "also for Linux users as well starting in the middle of next month and rolling out from there." Woot!
Sep 20, 2012
Company of Heroes 2 has rolled out its tiered pre-order goals on Steam, each of which will unlock a new level of free stuff for everyone who shells out for the Eastern Front rumble. Just for pre-ordering, you're guaranteed beta access and two medium vehicle skins (one for the Russkies, and one for the Germans). Three more unlockable tiers will be added if enough people pre-order the game.
At the first reward tier (specific numbers for how many pre-orders are needed to unlock each one aren't given), everyone gets a German and a Soviet hat for Team Fortress 2. The second tier adds a free copy of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 2's stand-alone Retribution expansion. The third and final tier unlocks an "In-Game currency gift to be used towards purchasing future content," an XP boost, a unit boost, and a new commander archetype.
This is the first we've heard of CoH2 having any sort of in-game currency system, and xp/unit boosts sound similar to the kinds of things you can buy in free-to-play multiplayer RTS games like Age of Empires Online. They're also reminiscent of the canceled Company of Heroes Online, and it would be unsurprising to find that some ideas from that project have been rolled into this sequel. It seems like a persistent commander leveling system in multiplayer has been all but confirmed.
Sep 20, 2012
NSW has joined the ACT in passing the legislation necessary to implement the R18+ rating for games in Australia. Having passed at a federal level, the legislation must now be passed by every state and territory before it can be implemented. NSW passed the legislation overnight, following the ACT's move last month.
The new law will enable adults to access content deemed inappropriate for younger gamers, although when the finalised guidelines were announced last week some were left concerned that many games would still be refused classification, effectively banning them in Australia.
With NSW and the ACT passing the R18+ legislation it's left to the remaining six states and territories to complete the process. The R18+ rating is expected to be in place by January.
Team Fortress 2 established itself as some of the best team-based shooting ever, but according to Lead Designer Robin Walker, PC Gaming's premier hat sim was also a test case for Valve's long-term survival. In an interview with Gamasutra, Walker revealed how the game's successful item economy doubled as an exploratory probe into MMO mechanics which Valve felt would factor into its livelihood going forward.
"Our secondary goal was to see if we could explore specific game and business design spaces that we felt were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of our company," Walker said.
", MMOs were the dominant story in the industry, and one concern we had was that we might not be able to survive if we didn’t build one. We didn’t think we were ready to undertake that, but we did think that we might be able to build some pieces of one, learning enough so that if or when we did need to build one, we had less risk on the table. We decided that persistent item design and storage seemed like a reasonable amount of risk for us to bite off, and could be made to fit into TF2’s gameplay."
Valve's decision to turn Team Fortress 2 free-to-play last year also stemmed from monitoring ongoing MMO trends of shifting from subscriptions to microtransactional and pay-once models. "A couple of years later ... we were starting to feel the same way about microtransactions as we did initially about MMOs: that our company was at risk if we didn’t have internal experience and hard data on them," said Walker.
That most players I encounter during my rocket-spamming binges seem festooned head-to-toe with user-made badges, hats, facial hair, clothing, deodorant, and even spectral high-fives speaks volumes of Valve's favorable foray into MMO economics, a financial result Walker also acknowledged.
Read the full interview at Gamasutra.