Monday, February 20, 2023

Retro Review - Hitman: Codename 47 [2000]

After sampling being a historical assassin in the Assassin's Creed franchise I thought it was high time to try out being a modern day one. Danish outfit IO Interactive created the Hitman franchise in 2000, well before Ubisoft made the first AC, but for various reasons I never got around to playing. That changed recently when I decided to start from the beginning and check out the game that made Agent 47 one of be better known characters in gaming.

In Hitman: Codename 47 you take on the role of a the mysterious "47" who apparently wakes up in a medical facility/prison and is for some reason trained to use weapons (in the story-driven tutorial). He escapes his imprisonment and is shortly contacted by "The Agency", an shadowy organization who offer him jobs as an assassin. Basically 47 gets contracts and he must use stealth, subterfuge and disguise to take out his mark.

Having been a Recon Marine and after playing Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell and favouring the stealth options in Metal Gear Solid V, I do like and appreciate the stealth approach as it's "not the norm" in the videogame world. From what little I knew of Hitman (ignoring the movies, especially the second one) I expected a rewarding experience on that front, and I got one, but only to an extent.

Hitman: Codename 47 is a 23 year old old game and has not aged well. As I hadn't played it before there was sadly no feeling of nostalgia to prop it up as there is with games I played and loved from that time such as Max Payne. The time for this game passed a long time ago. The graphics were as expected for a game of this era, a little batter than Quake II and perhaps more on par with games using the first Unreal engine. The interface and mechanics of the game however are atrocious and don't scale well to modern resolutions. On 4K it's near-impossible to read menus and the experience isn't that much better on 1440p.

The technical issues aside it's just basically not a great experience, the difficulty is too high, win conditions are too specific and the save system is unforgiving. The same things seem to not only annoy me, but apparently recent players and even did back in the day as well. People who have played later Hitman games can't play this again because this game doesn't have the quality of life fixes that the sequel and later games in the series implemented and so this is considered broken by many. Average game time suggests 12 hours, which is about an hour a level but after 3 levels in 5 hours I had to call it a day.

It's not all bad. It was one of the first games with rag-doll physics and created at a time when 3D engines were sill in their infancy. The concept and the atmosphere are sound and grew from the ideas observed in Hong Kong action movies which obviously developed from that simple premise into the mopre complex one shipped. Jespyr Kyd (who would later score Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Assassin's Creed for Ubisoft) produced a score was ahead of it's time and used urban soundscapes and ethnic instrumentation to deliver a score that I heard on the internet and actually imported a CD of back in 2005.

Final Verdict: Meh! I paid €1.59 last year to get this game so not going to complain it was a dud too loudly. This was the game that launched a franchise despite selling just 500,000 copies. I know from reviews and word of mouth that the sequel Hitman 2: Silent Assassin mostly corrected the gameplay elements, so nice to have a baseline now to compare. Additionally, as only 10% of Silent Assassin players actually played Codename 47, Codename 47 was largely remade into a third game Hitman: Contracts so all is not truly lost. Hitman: Codename 47's time is done but my adventure with the franchise has yet to truly begin.

Technicals: Played for 4.7 hours on Win 11 @ 4K, 1440p and 3440x1440 resolutions. Graphics options are minimal.

Bugs: No technical bugs but HUD doesn't scale well to modern resolutions.

Purchase Options: Available on Steam for €7.99 or GOG for €5.99. Review copy purchased for Steam from Humble Bundle for €1.59 in January 2022.

Franchise [PC only]

Hitman: Codename 47 [2000]
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin [2002]
Hitman: Contracts [2004]
Hitman: Blood Money [2006]
Hitman: Absolution [2012]
Hitman [2016]
Hitman 2 [2018]
Hitman 3 [2021]
- Hitman: World of Assassination [2023]

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 4 - Analysis

Continued from Part 3

Analysing a choice

Let us illustrate the available choices using this point-in-time look at the market on January 22nd 2022 for the standard edition of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla which has an MSRP of €59.99:

  • Ubisoft Store: €19.80 (in a "Lunar New Year sale)
  • Steam: €59.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €59.99
  • Microsoft Store: Unavailable
  • Fanatical: €17.99 (in a "Lunar New Year" sale)
  • Green Man Gaming: €17.42 (in a "Lunar" sale)
  • Humble Store: €19.79 (in a "Winter" sale)
  • GamersGate: €17.61 (in a timed sale)
  • CDKeys: €16.59
  • G2A: €18.49
  • G2Play: €17.69

While the cheapest price is clearly CDKeys remember that through this site, the publisher/developer only benefits from the original sale price of the game in the Third World country where it was purchased. We can presume this could be less than the equivalent of €16.59 as CDKeys obviously don't operate at a loss.

The same game price as of February 6th 2023:

  • Ubisoft Store: €59.99
  • Steam: €59.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €59.99
  • Microsoft Store: Unavailable
  • Fanatical: €59.99
  • Green Man Gaming: €52.79 (Standard sale)
  • Humble Store: €19.79 (Limited time sale)
  • GamersGate: €59.99
  • CDKeys: €16.59
  • G2A: €19.96
  • G2Play: €17.18

In either case, just by spending at most about €3 more purchasing from an authorised key vendor instead of the grey market means Ubisoft receive the the revenue they expect from your purchase.

Forspoken, the most ridiculously priced new game has a different story as its a recent release. Square Enix is not directly selling it on their site so it redirects purchasers to Steam, Microsoft or Epic.

  • Steam: €79.99
  • GOG: Unavailable
  • Epic Games Store: €79.99
  • Microsoft Store: €79.99
  • Fanatical: Unavailable
  • Green Man Gaming: €63.99 (Standard sale)
  • Humble Store: €79.99
  • GamersGate: Unavailable
  • CDKeys: €54.69
  • G2A: €56.18

Here the price advantage of CDKeys is more evident as the price difference is more than €25 which is a difficult offer to ignore for some. The moral choice however is getting a €16 discount from Green Man as Square Enix have authorised them to sell Steam keys for the game.

By using key vendors like Green Man Gaming and Humble Bundle, and not a key reseller, the key vendors prove themselves and can continue providing excellent customer value. Third World gaming price inflation will not increase due to the immoral practices of CDKeys and will allow Third World gamers to buy games at their regionally acceptable prices. Most importantly you have an authorised guaranteed legal Key that you can have much more confidence in actually working at the end of the day and you should be proud of yourself that you are continuing the sustainability of the games industry.

Monday, February 13, 2023

"It's always Weather Balloons" - SPEARHEAD

On the heels of a third UAP being downed by U.S. fighter aircraft in as many days, the commander of NORAD General Glen VanHerck, U.S. Air Force was asked yesterday if he had ruled out an extraterrestrial origin for them. "I'll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven't ruled out anything." which the world's media will now assume to be confirmation that the U.S. military believes aliens exist.

The Pentagon stated that China operates surveillance balloons on a global scale collecting data on military bases, including the balloon downed last week. However the last three objects shot down have not been confirmed to be linked to China - or anyone else for that matter.


A visibly irate Major General "Whopper" Creedon, SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Security was questioned by press in the UNHQ Monday and he responded with "It's not aliens and Glen never said it was," shaking his fist "It's always Weather Balloons! Nothing to see here! Go home!"

The Wall Street Journal reported the third UAP downed on Sunday was octagonal and hovered at 20,000 feet which the Pentagon said posed a "hazard to civilian aviation."

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 3 - Get Your Keys

Continued from Part 2

Digital keys have been used to authenticate software purchases for decades. They survived the end of physical disk media era and are used by software vendors to authenticate software download before being able to access your purchase. When you purchase a game using a digital platform it always comes with a key but often the process is hidden because the act of purchasing the software from the platform you're using to access the game simultaneously authenticates the product. However if you're not purchasing from that platform directly then you can purchase a key either from an authorised vendor or from the grey market.


Authorised Key Vendors

These are entities that have direct publishing deals with the game publishers. The publisher gets a cut from the sale. The publisher or developer gets the same cut from the full price as if you bought the game from the platform the key is for. While the vast majority of games are for Steam (and where Steam, GOG and Epic have the same games available keys are 99% likely to be Steam keys) other publishers like Ubisoft and EA use these services as well. Be aware that often keys for some titles will run out as publishers only authorise a finite numbers of keys for each vendor.

There are quite a few stores in this space such as, Voidu and Gamesplanet to name but a few but many cater to specific genres like indie games or are ones that do not support my geographical location. The four detailed below are my go-to vendors:

Humble Bundle: Since 2010 US-based Humble Bundle's business model was primarily offering bundles of games at a price determined by the user often with a charity sponsorship. While bundles "Humble Choice" are still offered, the Humble Store, robust digital store-front grew from their activity to become one of the most known key vendors in the marketspace.

GamersGate: Not to be confused with Gamergate, Swedish outfit GamersGate is a digital store-front that grew from Paradox Interactive's native digital distributions system. Since 2006 They've made news in conversations arguing against intrusive DRM and have been critical of Steam's acceptance of DRM in many of its titles.

Green Man Gaming: In 2010 UK company Green Man Gaming operated a business model that allowed the purchase of games through a client and later trade them in for credits to spend on other games while the original game key you owned was resold as a "pre-owned" game. This activity was later retired and Green Man now operates one of the best places to find bargains with aggressive sale prices.

Fanatical: This had beginnings as Bundle Stars, like a UK version of Humble Bundle. Since 2017 as Fanatical they still offer significant bundle content that can be selected to include some or all of a selection of games as desired by the consumer. They also offer a lot of digital graphic novels, books and IT manuals/online courses for subjects including networking and programming all through the same process to redeem video game keys.

I've been using these four stores, mostly the latter two, for many years without issue.  The revenue cut is the same as the actual store being used, e.g. Steam, the publisher/developer is guaranteed to get paid and I as a consumer get the best fully legal price available in most cases as discounts are near-perpetual.


Key Reselling Stores

These include HRK, Instant Gaming, MMOGA and Gamers Outlet among too many others but the main player in this space by far is CDKeys. These people are known for taking keys out of retail copies of games in countries (such as the third world where optical media is still used) and re-sell them to you (as you don't need the disc obviously) to redeem them on whatever store. The publisher will get however much they would have got from a boxed copy sale in the region it was for, which is almost always less than direct from the distribution platform where the key is eventually redeemed.

While it's amazingly not actually "illegal", it is morally dubious in my personal opinion. Basically you are paying the third world price of a game, set by the publisher to be deliberately low to be afforded by people in a region where the equivalent price in the West could be more than a week's wages!! This eventually causes the price of the games in that region to rise and prohibit its affordability my many. Additionally due to the regional nature of the purchase you can run into issues with the key not working. I predict publishers will take significant steps to prevent this practice before long.

Authorised key vendors are are both legally and morally sound but an unauthorised key reselling store like CDKeys may be legally sound it's more than a little morally dubious and is a practice I do not support as while I'm clearly motivated by a good deal or offer, this is only on the provision that it's not damaging to individuals who are far less well off than I am.


Key Reselling Platforms

Now if you find some of Epic or CDKeys business practices somewhat morally dubious you've not heard of the true "grey market" - Key Reselling Platforms. These entities include G2A, Kinguin and G2Play. These sites are not stores like all the others, the sites do not sell products themselves but facilitate transactions between customer and a third-party much like Ebay (without the auctioning). Here anyone can sell keys that they have obtained from anywhere, including obtained for free or even those that may have been stolen. Of course because anyone can sell anything, the opportunity for crime and scamming is rampant.

Key Reselling Platforms also sell a type of insurance service so that if you buy something obtained via fraud and the key gets revoked, the site will replace it for you. The process (for G2A at least) includes filing a police report before you get a refund! This is dodgy as sin as it's assumed that the majority of people won't do this for the sake of a <€20 transaction.

As the publisher/developer gain absolutely no revenue from sales on these platforms they are rightfully maligned in the industry. In fact some developers have gone on public record as preferring that people not intending to buy their game from authorised platforms instead actually pirate their games rather than use G2A so that G2A nor the sellers don't profit in any way.

Needless to say I will never engage with or support the use of key reselling platforms in any way.


In Part 4

Conclusion and Analysis

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 2 - Digital Games Platforms

 Continued from Part 1

Publisher Direct Sales Platforms

Basically first party sales where you're buying directly from the publisher. The most prominent game publishers have their own online store-front where they sell their own games directly. They also have downloadable game clients which are used to access the games for downloading, maintenance through patches, cloud saves and to track achievements. 

The platforms currently include include Ubisoft, EA Games, Rockstar and Activision Blizzard among others. It also includes Valve when selling their own games like Half-Life though Steam and CD Projekt Red when selling The Witcher or their other games through GOG. Additionally Microsoft and Epic are included in this category when selling their own IPs though the Microsoft Store and Epic Games Store respectively.

When buying directly from the publisher of the game then the Publisher/Developer get 100% of what you're paying and the 'saintly' moral choice is that publishers and especially developers get the maximum compensation for creating the product. However, the consumer cost is normally 100% of the MSRP, unless the publisher is having a sale on their games.


Third-Party Distribution Platforms

Publishers who don't have their own stores and/or software clients use one or more 3rd Party digital store-fronts and clients such as Steam. Some Publishers with their own direct sales platforms also put some of their games on 3rd Party digital store-fronts because they reach more users or it's economically viable for certain games. For example, Activision Blizzard sell Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II on their BattleNet but also on Steam.

For the most part, games sold on these platforms use the client from that distributor and the resources of that platform for sales, downloading, maintaining through patches and for cloud saves. Others such as with most games by Ubisoft for example use the platform for sales only but require an account with the publisher and the publisher's client such as Ubisoft Connect to use services such as downloading or cloud saves.
The following are the major players in the third-party digital distribution platform space

Steam: This is by far the largest platform for PC Gaming distribution with about 70-75% of the market share and over 62 millions users daily. Almost all major publishers and developers with the notable exception of Epic games, have a Steam presence for some if not all their titles. Steam is the most seasoned operator in the space and has the most fully developed store site and client application design in the market and includes the necessary community contributed content for forum/discussions, reviews and ratings. The consumer cost of a game on Steam is normally 100% of the MSRP. Steam has frequent sales by genre or publisher and has key sales usually once a season.

GOG: Formerly "Good Old Games" have built their reputation on bringing old games back to life on modern hardware without the burden of DRM. Soldier of Fortune, Diablo, Warcraft 2 and many Star Trek games are exclusive to the platform and playable in the 2020's due to GOG's curation efforts. Every game is DRM free, offline games can be played offline, every game can be backed up on your own system, archived and transferred etc. You paid for it it's yours! is the GOG way. Unfortunately GOG has limited game selection (only about a tenth of Steam) and as most publishers want to maintain their DRM and feeding data to them this is not likely to change much.

Epic Games Store: While many titles can be purchased through the Epic Games Store, there is really no need to ever do so as it splits your collection from the vastly superior Steam and better deals are usually available elsewhere particularly through key vendors. Its anaemic feature set barely qualifies it as a serious platform and it's legal but heavily anti-consumer business practices should never be rewarded with your money. Epic does give you free games every week, though that's really all they're good for. I have elucidated my thoughts on EGS in greater detail recently here.

The Microsoft Store: There are many PC gamers who don't realise you can buy games from the Microsoft Store. Do we really care though? Do we play Minecraft? The store is an app that comes with Windows and I'm only mentioning it here to be thorough. There is an "XBox Game Pass for PC" thing the people use but such subscriptions don't suit my habits. My adblockers are working great because Microsoft hasn't reached me with their marketing assuming they do any at all.

With all third-party distributors, they take a cut of the revenue made but the percentage differs per platform. Steam and GOG take 30% from digital sales while Microsoft and Epic charge a 12% cut. In all cases the publisher and developers do not benefit from the full revenue generated (unless the IP is owned by the distributor).

In Part 3

We discuss key vendors and resellers.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Economy and Ethics of Game Purchasing - Part 1 - Introduction


The 70-dollar game

The fall of 2022 saw Activision announced that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II's MSRP would be $70. It was like a flare being lit with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA announcing to commit their AAA MSRP also at $70. This may not be universally welcome (what consumer wants to pay more?) but it was expected and in a way is probably a little later than expected. Video games are consumer products and their industry has no immunity to inflation. While inflation itself has has eased now to 8.2 after a 38-year high of 9.2 in Oct 2022 and the US rate has eased more considerably from 9.06 in July to 6.45 now, game MSRPs don't come down, ever, and are here to stay. 

In this part of the world it means console game prices rise to €80. Activision have charged this for Modern Warfare II, EA will charge it for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Square Enix did most recently for Forspoken.

I don't and will unlikely play on a console however so why the interest in console game prices? Well whenever console game prices rise, so to their PC counterparts. PC Games are usually €10 cheaper than console games and this is a continuing trend to the current prices. Modern Warfare II released on Steam and Battle.Net for €70, EA will launch Jedi: Survivor at €70. Square Enix however brazenly charged €80 for Forspoken on PC as well as the PS5 in an unprecedented move as it's a brand new IP not another Final Fantasy. It was hoped before it was discovered that the game wasn't all that great that this brazen action would be rewarded with poor sales and act as a deterrent to similar activity in future and notions by other publishers.

Nonetheless in 2023 it will be important to know where and when to get the best PC gaming value and I feel it's necessary to share my thoughts on the matter with regards to direct sales, authorised vendors and the grey market of resellers. While the initial choice may be ease of use for a platform, for the price of just requiring multiple accounts for some authorised vendors one can make considerable savings and piece of mind without touching the nefarious grey market.

Why purchase individual titles?

In the era where subscription services can save you money, why do people make individual purchases at all? Well purchasing titles individually is what I do because it's the model that has most catered to the way I consume games, especially as I replay a lot of games and play games that are not available on subscriptions services.

In 2022 I purchased just two games that were released for the PC in 2022, God of War and Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered. I paid about €40 for each while on sale. Neither are available on any PC subscription service so I'm "forced" to purchase individually.

In March this year, with the release of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor I may sample the XBox PC Game Pass as EA Games now appear on it (although they also have their own subscription service EA Play available separately). 

That said, game subscription services are not the focus of this discussion and will be discussed at a later date.

In Part 2

We will discuss the digital platforms available to make individual game purchases.