Game Junk Podcast Episode #34: Super Mario Odyssey and Cuphead


0:00 – Intro
7:00 – Hot Button: Loot Boxes and Microtransactions
47:25 – Review: Super Mario Odyssey
1:11:50 – Review: Cuphead
1:24:40 – Other Stuff We Played: Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Metroid: Samus Returns, Ark: Survival Evolved, Goat Simulator, Prey, Blade Runner (1997), Nioh, Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Hellblade, Everybody’s Golf, Disney Afternoon Collection, The Mummy Demastered, Sonic Mania, Nier: Automata, Owlboy, Steam Link, Lost Odyssey, Octopath Traveler, South Park: Fractured But Whole, Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander, Pyre, Call of Duty: WWII, NHL 18, Assassin’s Creed Origins, SNES Classic
2:19:05 – Junk Mail: Organizing Game Time + Quantum Leaps in Gaming Tech, Qualifying for Game Awards, Under the Radar PS4 Games, Motion Controls, Universally Praised Games We Can’t Stand, Rapid-Fire Questions, Choice Overload
2:53:05 – Outro

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  • John


  • Blake in Boston

    First off, Frank: In regards to OLED. Buy. Buy. Buy. I can only provide anecdotal evidence, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of burn-in, especially in comparison to my old Panasonic Plasma. Unless you’re planning on playing one game with a bright intrusive HUD for over 200 hours without mixing in any other content (i.e. Blu’s, Netflix, other games, etc.)… you have nothing to worry about. Trust me, if true black levels, picture uniformity, ghosting, or LED panel lines mean anything to you… go OLED and never look back. It’s honestly the best TV I’ve ever purchased, and I’ve gone through a lot. The LG B7A virtually has the same picture quality as the C7 and is super cheap this week due to Black Friday sales. You’ll love it, bud.

    Secondly, the whole Star Wars Battlefront II “controversy” is super annoying. It comes down to margins… games have cost 60 buckaroos for a long time, and with inflation and games costing more and more to make, publishers have to take these half-steps of offsetting those costs. They also have to discourage players from trading their games in two weeks later and letting stores like GameStop leach off their potential sales. Like Frank said, no one wants to be the first to charge 80-100 (US) retail for their games (the COPO will be in an uproar if that ever happens), so they’re forced into either charging for micro-transactions or offering a “Season Pass.” Personally, I think the former is less offensive than the latter. Like Huck said, you can grind your way to unlock content, versus having to enter your credit card info to buy something that further compartmentalizes its audience, and never allowing players to “play to play.”

    That said… loot boxes can be done a lot better. Look at Dota 2 or Overwatch and how they’re only offering cosmetic bonuses (costumes, emotes, etc.)–EA can learn better from these examples. If I was planning EA’s next move, I’d roll out SKATE 4 for 60 bucks and offer loot boxes/microtransactions for clothing/board designs/wheel colors/etc., never touching any actual “RPG leveling” in the game. If done right, people who are truly invested in their in-game avatar, they’ll shell out cash and the cosmetic-only approach might turn some favor for EA. At this point, though, the schadenfruede with EA is so potent–I’m not sure they can do anything right.

  • benvernel

    I think a huge reason behind the growing discontent with microtransactions is the suspicion that they’re altering the way games are designed and therefore the way games are played. In a bad way, obviously.

    Game content is being put behind artificial barriers (more hours required to unlock, or simply removed from the game and placed behind a paywall) that is messing with game balance or is just straight up hiding stuff to make you pay for it.

    I also think loot boxes are straight up gambling and it’s an awful thing to expose kids to – sure Franky boy might have 48 amiibo he regrets buying and cops to that just being a personal mistake, but kids’ brains are very malleable and exposure to the kind of advertising associated with gambling is bad news.

    You guys seemed to really side with Big Business on this one, bit weird to be honest!

  • benvernel

    This is a long read, but very interesting:

    “All the confusion created by multiple in-game currencies, endlessly adjusted pay scales for items, manufactured fluctuations in a game’s self-contained market, and so on, is an endless loop meant to divide your spending from the game’s true value proposition: time, or, your actual life away from the game. As both the only governing body with a responsibility to the people partaking in these digital markets, and the only salesman within those markets, game publishers are the definition of compromised. In such a dynamic, the first thing that goes is quality. A game no longer has to be good to get your attention. It only needs to offer you more of your own time back to you.”

  • Tommy

    Frankie, if you want achievements in Super Mario Odyssey, go talk to Toadette in Peach’s Castle :)

  • pcch7

    Yall need to join me in watching Huck’s streams =D

  • Sean

    We do tend to look at things from the side of the developers, partially because of our background and partially because we want to offer a slightly different take. I will admit that I generally don’t like microtransactions and I think EA got things way wrong here. But they are a necessary evil in some cases.

    Obviously mobile games need this model to survive. And for triple A games, if people want extra levels and additional content to continue after a game is released, that has to be paid for somehow. I think instead of selling that stuff individually they tried to make it up another way and failed.

  • HuckCity

    I think we were all of the mindset that you need to vote with your wallet. If you don’t like microtransactions, don’t buy the game.

    That being said, I feel that microtransactions aren’t going away anytime soon for the reason that people ARE voting with their wallents (and it’s not the way you want)…Publishers are making tons and tons of money from them.

    You brought up two points:
    1) Games being shitty because content is locked behind artificial barriers – I think this is, like you said, a game balancing issue, not a microtransaction issue. If the game was balanced appropriately, it wouldn’t feel like such a money grab and mobile games spend a lot of money by doing A/B testing before a world wide release (i.e. test in one small region first like Austrailia or Canada) to make sure that this balance will maximize player engagement and sales. So when the game gets it’s full release, it is ideally balanced for the player and business. The player then chooses to pay with their time or their money to play.
    2) Loot boxes shouldn’t be exposed to kids – While the Teen rating for Battlefront 2 could imply to parents that it’s a perfectly harmless game, as a parent, parents shouldn’t be giving their kids free reign with their credit cards. This is a parenting issue for me. If the kid comes to their parent and wants to buy something in this game, then the parents should be talking with the kid about what and why it’s happening (and that should involve the parent taking the time to learn what is going on once the kid comes with a request like that). Kids have been exposed to loot box type systems like this since paper was invented (e.g. Baseball cards, more contemporary, and even kids toys (Kinder surprise, L.O.L. Surprise dolls). I don’t see parents complaining that buying packs of Pokemon cards is gambling.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    I’m sorry, but that’s a completely illegitimate argument. You’re going off the assumption that these companies are barely surviving and finding difficulties to make the ends meet. EA had a net income of $1 billion the last year. That’s after all taxes, marketing costs, wages and other spending. These companies are thriving.

    The first SW:BF had an income of $660 million USD after only a few months. Let’s for the sake of the argument suppose half of that was from premium deals and DLCs (which we know isn’t true). The development of the game itself was about $50 million (a generous guess). Add marketing costs and all that into the mix, and you’re still way off here. They still made a ton of money from the game alone.

    This argumentation also falls apart when comparing against various other games. Take for example Witcher 3, which had 3.5 years of development behind it, $60 million development costs, over 100 hours gameplay and way more content than any EA game in recent years. The company behind that game, CDPR, still made a revenue of $250 million, of which they med tens of millions in total net income. And that as considered a success!

    This idea that somehow developers need money to continue producing content for the game just doesn’t make sense. You are ignoring how much they actually make from the sales early one, and also ignoring the fact that the game sells copies all the time. EA’s still making revenue from the first SW:BF.

    You’re also looking ignoring how games with DLCs from most these companies aren’t extra content decided upon after the release of the game. They are pre-planned content decided upon by the distributor (in this case EA) to make money – the DLCs are essentially cash cows.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    I’m sickened by Filmjunk’s lack of understanding of what’s wrong with microtransactions. It’s a coercive monetization model depended on the ability to “trick” a person (not just children) into making a purchase with incomplete information, and putting them in an uncomfortable or undesirable position in the game, where goals are almost impossible to achieve (4200 hours to unlock all the in-game content of BF2, which is already pretty little), or at least very hard, if not purchasing certain good. You are put in an uncomfortable position, and then offered TO remove this difficulty in return for spending money. This money is always layered in coercive monetization models, because if confronted with a real currencies and real purchases, the consumer would be less likely to fall for the trick.

    There’s people who are experts on this very topic and who have made clear statements about it. Kimberly Young a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, said “If you put it in fundamental terms, it’s really the same thing…It’s called gambling”. Emil Hodzic, psychologist at the Video Game Addiction Treatment Clinic, compared loot mechanics in microtransactions to poker machines. “[Loot is] basically a slot machine built into a game mechanic”. The mechanic “proves to be one of the most powerful in terms of reinforcing and persisting in a particular behaviour, [because] it involves the combination of a person having tension and anticipation and the hope that there’s going to be something great dropped this time. More often than not, it doesn’t get fulfilled.” [Luke Clark], doctor and director at the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, says “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably…We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards.” [Tyler Black] medical director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Emergency Unit at British Columbia Children’s Hospital, talks about the same thing.

    Also, various governmental bodies have finally taken steps to do something about it. The Chinese government have already put in early regulations against microtransactions (which are bound to be extended). A French senator sent a letter to gambling regulators in his own country a few days back. The Gambling Comission in the UK just recently made a statement that they’re working on a way to tackle the recent problems of in-game currencies, after many people took it up with them following the problem with SW:BF2 (their Paragraph 3.17 already describe loot boxes quite explicitly and compare them to playing a slot machine, in case you didn’t know).
    The Belgian Gaming Comission, a governmental body, outright called the microtransactions in BF2 for “gambling”, and are attempting to illegalize it in all of EU.

  • Sean

    I agree that EA seems to be doing well. Would they be doing fine without all the various ways they have found to make additional money on their games? I don’t know.

    The industry is at a point where a handful of giant games make most of the money and everything else gets the leftover scraps. The success of something like Battlefront supports the smaller games.

    My main point is that online games require constant upkeep and maintenance and come with the expectation of more content over time. The development of these games is also more complex than it has ever been. I seriously doubt that is covered by the initial cost of the game, especially since the price of games drop very quickly after the first few months of release.

    Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. I do know that microtransactions are the only way anyone makes money in mobile games because no one pays for mobile games upfront. I just think people are experimenting with different models right now and if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, as stated above.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    >”My main point is that online games require constant upkeep and maintenance and come with the expectation of more content over time. “

    That’s nothing new, though. Bug fixes and content updates are now being used as justification for rising costs of various services and products in games, when this was never the case before.

    You are also making a error by mistaking EA to a “game developer”. A game developer is the person(s) responsible for the creative art of the game. The distributors, like EA, as well as the stockholders (those who have shares put in the game), are often those who making these financial decisions. Game developers of games of large budgets has about as much autonomy as a director of a blockbuster.
    A very good input into this is the developer of Plants vs. Zombies, George Fan. His game was hugely successful, and was then bought by EA for a sizeable sum of money. He then collaborated with EA about making various sequels and contents to the game. EA also wanted to introduce microtransactions into his future Plant vs. Zombie products, which Fan belligerently opposed. This caused a split in the cooperation that both parties weren’t able to resolve, and Fan was in the end fired from the job and the PvZ IP was handed over to developers would agree to the financial demands of EA and its stockholders.

    If you want to be on the side of the developer, there you have it.

    >” he development of these games is also more complex than it has ever been. I seriously doubt that is covered by the initial cost of the game, especially since the price of games drop very quickly after the first few months of release.”

    I agree that games cost more to make and maintain. But again, look at the Ycharts source I showed you. Look at R&D (research and development) costs in compared to revenue in 2005. Match that R&D and revenue today. There’s literally no justification for introducing microtransactions, from the viewpoint of economic necessity.
    You’re creating an image of these companies doing these things to keep themselves afloat, when that’s simply not the case. As I said, EA posted a record net income of $1 billion the last year (that’s not including microtransaction, which in their scale as you see in AAA video games is a recent phenomenon). That’s an all-time high. The same is the case for the other gaming companies as well. Because while games cost more to develop, there’s far game purchases as well.
    There’s no record as to how much income these companies make after the first initial months of a game (though it needs to be argued that the income margin is far larger, as the enormous marketing costs have all but disappeared at this point), and it’s stupid to speculate. Either way, if you look at the gross income of all sales of the game, the income far exceeds any supposed challenges to support games in the long run. DICE could be supporting the original Star Wars: Battlefront with bug fixes and content 5-6 years down the road, and still be left with a sizeable profit.
    The problem with many gaming companies, in particular EA, isn’t just the recent microtransactions. It’s also how little some of their products are void of content. The SW:BF games are great examples of this, where the content is very, very little (the campaign was only 4 hours long, which is unacceptable), and the DLCs often end up providing the extra content that you ought to have had from the very beginning. All of this is very evident when you compare their games to other titles, like The Witcher 3, Uncharted, Fallout 4, GTA 5, etc.
    Many of EA’s titles end up being insipid and uninspiring as a result of their behaviour, too. Just look at the campaign in BF2. Even a 10-year-old can see that there’s hardly any artistic effort put into devising the story.

    >” I do know that microtransactions are the only way anyone makes money in mobile games because no one pays for mobile games upfront. “

    That may be true for some games, and being F2P act as a justification for introducing these sorts of things. But there’s also clear moral issues in place here, as we’re talking about many titles in which the games are virtually impossible to progress in or win, without paying money for upgrades. Simple math usually shows that many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours need to be put into the games (with often lacklustre content) to complete them. This exploit has gone so far that the Chinese government had to put a restriction on it, due to so many Chinese game developers taking advantage of it.
    Just like gambling, microtransactions can have, and do have, severe social effects. There’s a reason why various governmental organ in many countries now are discussing to impose regulation into the gaming industry the same way as gambling.
    People have so far been tolerant, though not supportive, of microtransactions due them being purely about cosmetics (like Dota 2, LoL, Overwatch, etc.). But implementing it as a fundamental part of gameplay, is a step too far. We don’t need to argue about whether it’s right or wrong. The overwhelming opposition against it, as well as the consensus opinion of psychologists about microtransactions and their effects, make it pretty clear. It’s immoral and socially deplorable.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    >”Secondly, the whole Star Wars Battlefront II “controversy” is super annoying. It comes down to margins… games have cost 60 buckaroos for a long time, and with inflation and games costing more and more to make, publishers have to take these half-steps of offsetting those costs.”

    This claim has no factual grounds.

    Income of EA is at 5 billion USD today. R&D is at 331 million. From a compartive standpoint, we’re talking about EA making 15 times as much money as it spends on developing games.

    EA had a net income of $1 billion the last year. That’s after all taxes, marketing costs, wages and other spending. These companies (Activision, EA, Microsoft, Ubisoft) are thriving. They’re making way more money than they ever did 10 years ago.

    The first SW:BF had an income of $660 million USD after only a few months. Let’s for the sake of the argument suppose half of that was from premium deals and DLCs (which we know isn’t true). That leaves us at $330 million. The development of the game itself was about $50 million (a generous guess). Add marketing costs and all that into the mix, and you’re still way off here. They still made a ton of money from the game alone. It clearly contradicts the assumptous claim that somehow EA are using mechanims like microtransactions to keep themselves and their costs afloat. It’s simply not true.

    This argumentation also falls apart when comparing against various other games. Take for example Witcher 3, which had 3.5 years of development behind it, $60 million development costs, over 100 hours gameplay and way more content than any EA game in recent years. The company behind that game, CDPR, still made a revenue of $250 million, of which they med tens of millions in total net income. And that as considered a success!

    And they also still supported the game with updates and new free content 2 years down the road. Even their two paid DLCs had tens of hours of content in them, dwarfing anything you have seen in SW:BF.

    This idea that somehow developers need DLC/microtransaction money to continue producing content for a game just doesn’t make sense (by that logic it makes no sense that PU: Battlegrounds is still being supported). You are ignoring how much companies actually make from the sales early on, and also ignoring the fact that games sell copies all the time after its release. EA’s still making revenue from the first SW:BF.

  • Blake in Boston

    1. You seem to be nailing all the data over our heads, but you seem to be missing a crucial point: EA is a company. They exist in a capitalist/profit driven world. They’re not altruistic. They have financial budgets and stretch goals. They have bonuses to make. This, unfortunately, means they have to improve on their profits year over year. And this has some nasty side effects–from the closure of studios (RIP Visceral), to the acquisition of properties/talent (e.g. Respawn Entertainment), and ultimately–ways to profit off their existing IPs (loot boxes, microtransactions, etc.). Look… I never once claimed that they’re trying to “stay afloat.” And yes, they’re making more money than they did 10 years ago. All non-profits should. You seem to be either naive to how business works, or have an overtly optimistic viewpoint towards publishers.

    2. I actually have the game. That whole 4,200 hour “unlock everything” bullet point I keep hearing about is nonsense. Why would you want to unlock and max out all Star Cards when you can only 3 of each per class/ship/hero?? I’ve played the game for about 40 hours in the multiplayer and about 6 hours in the (albeit underwhelming) singleplayer campaign and have all heroes unlocked. I also have three cards crafted for my favorite soldier class and don’t feel like I’m grinding against an impossible goal at all. The game feels content complete to me and has more map/mode variety than most multiplayer games as of late (looking at you, CoD WWII).

    The worst part of all this “uproar,” (for one it should be focused on more important things) is that DICE actually made one damn fine/fun game. I’m enjoying it a lot! Yet, it has been crucified because of EA’s track record and public opinion. They’ve had a shit year (Mass Effect and Need for Speed sucked), so it’s a shame that a good game had to get wrapped up in the shit storm surrounding them. So, instead of linking more comments with the same “argumentations..” do this: Relax. Take a deep breath. Go enjoy the games you like and VOTE with your WALLET. Going off on people in comments threads accomplishes nothing. In fact, I feel like I just wasted the last 5 minutes of my life. Thanks! ;-)

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    I’m not naïve at all at how business works, and my point was exactly that: that introducing microtransaction is about making profit, not about economic necessities. Which I was a lot of people defending EA and defending microtransactions do (just look at Sean and the FilmJunk crew). Also, you did as well, when blaming microtransaction on the rising costs of games, and making this image of either/or of season passes and microtransaction. Such an argument makes the supposition that these companies HAVE to do it (out of necessity), when that’s simply not the case.

    If EA and other companie want to make money, that’s fine. But if they want to do it through methods like microtransactions, which is clearly immoral, there’ll be a reaction. Which there just was. An outcry that has now lead to various legislators in the West contemplating regulatory actions. Microtransaction is similiar to gambling, after all.

    >”Go enjoy the games you like and VOTE with your WALLET”

    Which you did by buying the game. So you’ve clearly voted for microtransactions in games.

  • Gattling Gun

    Frank complain reviews pander to what people are saying? How the fuck is it negative that game critics give in to the pressure of people actually voiced an opinion similar to the majority of users (though, tbf, critics were not nearly as harsh as they ought to have been) for once? So, you’d rather the reviewers pander to EA instead? Because even a child knows how the societal game critics set up; they are generally pretty evidently influenced in their opinion by video game companies. Even a 10-year-old can see that by looking at review sites like IGN, that always end up giving various games by various companies’ higher ratings. As if their rating system somehow starts from 7/10 and upwards. You also see it in the huge gap between reviewers and users in rating – granted user ratings are extremely skewed at times as well.

    Try finding a game critic who doesn’t receive his games to test by said company for free, or gets pre-access, or is working in a newspaper with sponsor (that might be tied to that very same industry). They’ll very often have much more diverse and critical opinion of the games than another reviewer. This is true for reporting everywhere; whether it’s entertainment consumption like video games, movies, music, etc., or if’s journalism about politics.

    The question then becomes why it’s like this. And the reasons are obvious enough. Reviewers rarely go out and buy the games. They receive it for free by the companies. Anyone one can understand that this implicates a bias. It’s even more so a bias when reviewers often get invited to various events, get access to important interviews, and also get pre-access to games, to make for articles, videos and release videos ahead of time – which is crucial to reader- and viewership. All of this is of course dependent on how you portray the company that provides you with all this service.

    To give you an example, this one guy who reviewed smartphones tested the iPhone 6 by bending it (in which it itself bent), and started off the whole “bendgate” scandal. And despite the size of his channel being enormous, he stopped receiving iPhones after this. So when the iPhone X recently came out, he didn’t receive a unit before it was launched, and had to go out to buy and test it himself; putting him 3 weeks after everyone else. He clearly lost out on a lot of coverage because of this. Incidentally, because he bought the phone, he also happened to be more critical of the phone than many other reviewers, and being one of few to really go out and criticize the phone for glaring issues like its price (which others, like MKBHD, excused by rueful sentences like “it depends what you think it’s worth”). This happened to be true for other reviewers that actually went out to buy the phone themselves, as well (Matthew Moniz, Linus, etc.)

    As in normal journalism, where someone has an important source (like someone within the government), it’s known secret in the industry that you never ask too tough question and are never too critical to your source.

    That’s where you get the bias that signs like IGN, Gamespot, etc. have. That isn’t to say that they are complicit in the opinion of said companies – if something becomes too bad to ignore, like in the case of SW:BF2, they’ll of course do so. But in general, their opinion are influenced by video gaming companies.

    Videogamedunkey has a nice video about this:

  • Gattling Gun

    The argument about “getting something regardless” is pretty stupid. By that definition I can go out and sell lottery tickets in which the users is guaranteed to get 1 cent back. Does that somehow justify what I’m doing and make it any less gambling? No, of course not. This argument has very few legs to stand on.

    Also, one of you guys said that microtransactions are supposed to be there to earn profit for development, and that they were badly balanced in this game. But this is wrong. Microtransaction don’t just support development, they make excess profit as well. The way microtransactions were done in BF2 are the way they are done in the overwhelming amount of games they are being introduced in. Which makes sense, as that’s the entire purpose of them. If you weren’t forced to play unreasonable amount of hours to get various heroes, you wouldn’t pay money for the microtransactions. That’s how they lure you in.
    Please read this to understand it better:

  • Jr

    The real issue here is that youngins today are just too damn entitled. Go play Battletoads and then complain about unlocking all the game content. Get the fuck off my lawn.

  • pcch7

    Battletoads is so good

  • pcch7

    Most frequently used word: frustrated

    haha. Great to have gamejunk back

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    Microtransactions are purposely made to make unlocking near impossible and force you to buy in-game content. And it also adds the element of p2w in that those with more money gain advantages. These people actually care about grinding more than you; microtransactions completely ruin that.

    Also opposing gambling-like practices isn’t entitlement. It’s normal, rational, human behavior. People like you seem to be completely oblivious that companies only care about profit and will do it through means that are disgraceful and unjustified for anyone with even the most basic, ethical codes. Consumer-protective regulations didn’t just fall upon our lap; they have been constructed after situations like these.

    Some people just refuse to show any form of critical though about anything. I recently game of a discussion about consumer electronics with an American guy about warranties. He argued that warranties longer than 1-2 years would be economically unbearable for electronics companies. That was of course before I told him that warranties for consumer electronics (laptops, phones, etc.) are 5 years long in countries like the UK, Norway, Iceland, etc, without no additional costs.

    Open your eyes a little. You live in an ever more neoliberal capitalist society, where profit comes before people. The gap between rich and poor is bigger than every before, and a small percentage own nearly the entire wealth. You got to be truly indoctrinated or simply uneducated to think that economic actualities, which the video gaming industry is a part of as much as anything else, are part of some balanced system. Wealth is not balanced at all, but skewed overwhelmingly in favor of a small elite (which the video game publisher are a part of).

    Video gamers aren’t entitled. EA are. Activision are. Ubisoft are. Warner Bros. are. They have more wealth than they ever had, with increasing income from game sales as well as decreasing taxes (thanks to tax cuts, as well as captial flight to tax havens — documented plenty). They have more wealth than ever before, and are trying to have an even larger piece of the pie.

  • Sean

    So just to be clear, you’d be fine with microtransactions from an indie studio that is just doing it to make ends meet? What about games like Clash of Clans, which people generally seem to love? Microtransactions are not inherently evil, it’s how they are used.

  • Sean

    A lot of stuff to respond to here. I heard about the PvZ thing. It has not been confirmed that his dismissal was directly related to disagreements over monetization.

    Gambling is not illegal in a lot of places. It’s very contextual. Obviously I agree that kids should be protected from this kind of stuff, but what about self-aware adults? Gambling and chance are a basic element of all games.

    Again, I’m not necessarily trying to defend big business. I’m genuinely interested in the debate, which I don’t think is so clear cut.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    If it’s an economic inevitability, then there is somewhat justification, yes. But there’s to arguments we need to look at:

    1. Are microtransactions, or at least how they are set up as in BF2, where it’s not about just cosmetics, ethical? Their predatory natures and simulertes to gambling, are well-documented. The exploit got so much out of hand in China, where there were clear social effects, that the Chinese government, which isn’t exactly famous for protecting human rights, had to impose strict regulations.

    The argument of economic necessity becomes irrelevant once ethics come into play. I worked in a private restaurant where my manager hired desperate immigrants and paid them 1/3 below the average wage When challenging him on it, he claimed that was the only viable way to run his business. If a business can’t run without unethical methods, it should not exist to begin with (imo).

    The tobacco industry and gambling industry were also impeded by regulations. But for the better; the ethical aspects come before economic. You don’t want cigarettes or gambling to be deliberately advertised towards children, for example.

    2. As a lead up to no. 1, is microtransactions the only viable options? Games with proper prices have proven to be just as successful as those that don’t (Witcher 3, Last of Us, Zelda, Mario Odyssey, etc. being recent examples). This is in fact even more true in the indie stage (not counting mobile games). Indie developers on the PC and console platform, who are generally known to be closer to the gaming community, view microtransactions quite negatively.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    Just to add some more info to my post above. Gambling regulations are constantly ever-changing and renewed as the gambling industry finds new ways and methods to take advantage of. The “National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report” by the US government says it:

    “the dynamism of the industry as a whole requires continuous adaptation on the part of regulation: In addition to a rapid pace of expansion, technology continues to produce new and different forms, often directly aimed at any weak links in government restrictions and regulation. Far more worrisome than these factors, however, is that most government decisionmaking has been chasing rather than leading the industry’s growth and evolution and has often focused on less-than-central concerns, to the neglect of the larger public interest”.

  • Chris

    It seems like the crew is missing the main point of the problem with Battlefront 2 which is that everything is tied to loot boxes. You’re making it sound like one can go in to BF2 and shell out some money to get Vader but real money can only be exchanged for loot boxes. There isn’t a direct path to buy what you want if you desire to do so. Also all of the class skills are locked in the loot boxes so if i am having a good time playing one class the only way for me to get the new skills/star cards is to grind enough or pay money for crystals to get a loot box that has not only a chance of having the item I want but anything for that class at all. They aren’t even narrowed down to things I have unlocked, so if I spend all my credits on loot boxes I am potentially unlocking things I can’t use for heroes I can’t afford because I spent my credits on loot boxes instead of heroes. Even now that real money is out of the equation the whole system is still fucked.

    As Sean pointed out it’s different from mobile games because those are free (and again you usually exchange money for a premium currency to directly buy things) and in other games the items in boxes are outside of the normal progression chain and are cosmetics like skins and taunts and whatnot. Really Huck pointed out the best model that I have seen which is to offer both a season pass and the ability to “grind” for it in game. Rainbow Six does this and has managed to continually build a player base by doing so.

  • rudolph rocker

    The lack of information and understanding from GameJunk crew is disappointing. I can’t even take Frank seriously anymore, as his purposefully acting like an asshole. “Ohh the people were angry about this, therefore I will do the exact opposite”. How about you act like an adult person and look at situation based on what’s right and wrong, not what people do and not?

    You guys need to read into this topic to see destructive implications of microtransactions. And Sean, Clash of Clans is a horrible example. That game is a gambling simulator, and is also marketed towards kids. Just search “Clash of Clans + addiction” on Google, and look what the search results show. That game has grown so big because of its greedy monetization model that they paid $40 million for the advert that gets Kate Upton in uniform to advertise for them on TV. For a game that had half a dozen developers and probably cost $1-2 million at most to develop.

    Also funny to say that it’s necessary to support games after launch. Apart from how this is so untrue when you look how much games make. The publishers who have introduced microtransactions are the same ones who couldn’t give two fucks about supporting games to begin with. Just look at EA’s track record with their titles, and how easily support is dropped.

  • Sean

    But is Supercell greedy or were they just successful with what they were doing? That’s kind of my point. Everything is cool until a company becomes too big and then they are evil. How much money is too much? When do companies cross that line. I think the only thing you can measure is whether or not this stuff is hurting the game itself. I haven’t actually played Clash of Clans personally but the general feeling a couple of years ago was that they had a good balance and that the microtransactions didn’t get in the way of the game. You could still play for free and have fun.

    I don’t doubt that people are addicted to Clash of Clans… people are addicted to World of Warcraft and a ton of other games too. That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to outlaw it.

  • rudolph rocker

    I thought the users below filled you in, but it clearly looks like you did not read anything you wrote. This isn’t about success, it’s about the monetization model itself and how it’s bad. I’m sure Clash of Clans was good game in itself as well, sure you could argue that. But that doesn’t change the fact that microtransactions are inherently bad. The whole gameplay, ranking and competitive system of the game is tied to paying lots of lots of money. Users are cashing out hundreds, if not thousands, play competitively. If you really think microtransactions aren’t hurting the game, you are so, so grong. Go download the game (it’s free) and try it yourself.

    This is nothing about a company being big or not. EA is not hated because they are big. They are hated because of their practices. You might not, but gamers remember how games used to be. They also constantly play games from many companies out there that still give us rich enough content without paywalls, pre-order DLCs, etc. Back when DICE made Battlefield, there wasn’t any pre-planned DLCs, and the base games had lots of content. Bad Company 2 from 2009 had free map packs, and DICE even made statements about how this was important so as not to divide the gaming community. The game got a ton of support after launch. This is akin to many other games today by smaller companies.

    Then this model changed where we got games where the content was little and hidden in DLCs that we had to pay money to get. And now microtransactions. There is a reason why people are upset.

    It’s decision-making like this people hate. Not the size of the company. People hade f2p mobile games as well for this very reason. Small or big.

    It seems to me that the only people who actually justify microtransaction are those that are inexperienced gamers who haven’t actually experienced how it hampers with the gameplay and how it’s extremely predatory.

  • Sean

    I understand completely how this stuff can be exploited and how it ruins games. I worked for a company for five years that made 100% of their money from sketchy free to play stuff. I have no interest in playing any of these games myself. But lots of people out there do play them by choice and enjoy them. And believe it or not, if you get the balance wrong, a game will fail and people will not play it. Granted, that is all in the free to play space so it’s a slightly different discussion.

    All I’m trying to say is that I don’t think these things should be illegal and I don’t think it automatically ruins a game. Whether or not it is “necessary” to support development costs, we can debate that forever. But it’s cool, we can agree to disagree.

  • rudolph rocker

    This isn’t just addiction. It’s addiction tied to a systemt that is near coercive in you paying a ton of money.

    People 80 years ago understood this about gambling and imposed rules about it. Yet you seem completely incapable of doing so. In your mind gambling is just okay as well, I guess. I mean after all, you are free to gamble if you like as well. I’m sure the psychology behind gambling’s predatory consequences, the addiction, the social effects — you know, the reasons why they got regulated — goes completely over your head as well.

    No worries. I hope microtransaction eventually ends up being introduced in some game series and genres you love playing, so that you can properly experience how it damages and ruins gameplay.

  • Sean

    But as I said before, gambling isn’t illegal (at least not in North America) it’s just regulated. Perhaps there is some middle ground where this stuff is regulated in some way, I just don’t know what that looks like. I understand that gambling has a downside and that certain types of personalities fall victim to it, but plenty of people also enjoy it without any issues.

    And yeah, fair enough. If Nintendo adds microtransactions to Metroid Prime 4 I will probably be pissed.

  • rudolph rocker

    Illegal, maybe not. But they need to be regulated. Gambling isn’t illegal either, but regulated enough so that people aren’t exploited en masse.

    You say microtransaction is bad when they get exploited too much, but my experience is that this happens more moften than not. Does 4000+ hours to unlock all content in a game realistic? The whole point of this is also excactly that: to not let microtransactions be as exploititive as they are.

    I hope you can at least agree about regulation being necessary here. Regulation implies adding warning labels. Demanding that publishers outline how much the actual cost for the full experience will be. Setting various bars as to how long it will take to achieve something. Also putting restriction how misinformative advertising is (adverts already have restrictions that limit them to not be too misinformative and luring), and also age limits.

    I have children myself, and having studied psychology, as well as read about the very topic itself and experienced f2p games, I am very worried. The ability to weigh short term “pain relief” vs. the long term opportunity costs of spending money is a brain activity handled in the pre-frontal cortex, which is not fully developed before you reach 25. Thus consumers under the age of 25 will have increased vulnerability to fun pain and layering effects, with younger children increasingly vulnerable. For this reason these products are almost always presented with cartoonish graphics and child-like characters. The most aggressive companies will hire soft and hard scientists to optimize the exploitation of youth. I don’t think in app purchases belong anywhere in games marketed to minors.

  • rudolph rocker

    It’s not about making microtransactions illegal, but at least regulating them. See my recent answer to you below for more explanation.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    >”A lot of stuff to respond to here. I heard about the PvZ thing. It has not been confirmed that his dismissal was directly related to disagreements over monetization.”

    He confirmed it himself in a Twitter post recently. I doubt he would officially claim such a thing, if it wasn’t true. EA could very easily sue him for libel for something like these, or at least respond to it.

    Gambling is regulated not just for the benefit of children. It’s also regulated to protect adults. Adults are prone to being exploited as well. So regulation of microtransactions should use gambling as a model. Which it seems to do, as the same comissions discussing regulation of MTX are the same regulating gambling.

    If you are genuinely interested in the debate, I suggest reading these:

    I would honestly add Gamasutra to my bookmarks if I were you. They offer very informative discussion and debate about this very topic by professionals. Many of the things that you are curious about, about gaming, like development costs, the state of gaming, how development can improve, etc., are discussed on that site daily. There’s a ton of good, rich, articles debating all of this, and I truly advise you visit them often in the future. Instead of your average gaming site, which devotes 90% of its time to indirectly advertise games through news, “leaks” and reviews, Gamasutra actually discusses the serious issues and debates that arise within the world of gaming.

  • pcch7

    oh I just remembered, about the combat in AC Origins, I didn’t like it initially but I got used to it fairly quickly and I think it’s better. Makes fights a bit more interesting when you can’t simply hold the counter button. Really liking the game so far, some truly great visuals as well.

    And you guys need to try Wolfenstein 2, these games are so fucking good.

  • “$20 for a bunch of free upgrades.”

    – Huckcity

  • This is such bullshit. I have no problem grinding through a game to advance my character or get better and better equipment. But grinding can’should be fun. Grinding through Diablo or Elite Dangerous or whatever is fun.

    Battlefront II is simply not fun because of the fucked progression system. Even without all the people putting rubber bands on their controllers – which at this point has made the game pretty much unplayable – you’re spawned into a game of 23 other players, many of whom who outgun you because they paid. It’s not fun at all to spawn, run down a hallway and instantly get killed by a guy with three 4+ power star cards, bought and paid for then repeat. It takes AGES to get to that point and it isn’t based on your performance, it’s based on time played and money spent. Which is why you have the rubber banding issue going on now.

    Spend about 10 minutes reading through /r/starwarsbattlefront and tell me there’s no problem with this game.

    As a side note, their servers have gotten progressively worse over the past week to the point now that the game is literally unplayable for a good percentage of players. Fuck EA.

  • This is the state of the game as of last night. And I saw it first hand when my buddy and I rented it from Redbox…

  • Newtman98

    I’m playing through it right now. Those games remind me how much I suck at shooters.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    You finally came around, Andrew. Nice! I remember how excited you were about the first SW:BF when it came out 2 years ago, and how I chewed you out for supporting EA with your money by supporting yet another of their games that was rushed, full of issues, void of base game content and long-term game support, and a DLC-system segmenting the player base. However; no talk in the world is as convincing as actually playing the game and seeing the bullshit for yourself. Now, I don’t know what sense of pride and accomplishment the first SW:BF left you with. But your opinion about SW:BF2 is similar to everyone else I know who bought the game (l didn’t buy it myself, as I’ve been boycotting almost all AAA titles with these schemes for many years now). I’m also sure if the Filmjunk guys put in actual hours into the game, they’d be of a similar opinion.

    It’s important to note that EA are not the only guys at fault here (though they easily are one of the worst). AAA games with lack of base content and pre-planned season passes and DLCs are issues that have been hugely criticized by the gaming community in over half a decade now. Microtransactions in the form of pay-2-win is another horrible addition to AAA games recently, and is turning gaming into entertainment casinos. The recent Shadow of Mordor game had microtransactions in the Single player campaign as well — hiding good characters behind paywalls. Even single player games are forcing you to pay more money to get enjoy “the full experience”.

    Activison/Blizzard are probably the nastiest in the AAA place in terms of microtransactions, with a game like Destiny/Destiny 2 being essentially a gambling simulator. They are also going out of their way patenting and developing technologies and methods around microtransactions; putting in a lot of resources to construct more effective methods. And remember, these are the guys who yearly put a new CoD Game (that make $600 million – more than your average Disney Marvel blockbuster). But despite all the resources and all the wealth, they’re not going to let the chance slide to tap into the enormous wealth that these gambling schemes provide. Greed breeds even more greed.

  • Mohammed Safari

    I was always carefully accepting of MTX’s (microtransactions), so long as it was only for cosmetics, which has its own problems as well. But now I see that it was only a part of them progressively introducing microtransactions, instead of ramming it down our throat too fast. First it was cosmetics. Then it was microtransaction to get free upgrades. And now they have decided to make advantagous upgrades a part of it, as well as making progression incredibly slow and limited. What’s next? MTX in singleplayer games? Oh wait! Waner Brothers is already doing it!

    Seriously, was this a big surprise? These corporations having fucking us over for over a decade now. They figured they could make easy bucks of cheap and quickly developed games and screw any support. Then they saw the value of tying support to season passes. And now this MTX horseshit.

    If they keep at it, we’ll be heading into a Gaming Dark Age. Or maybe we’re already in it…

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust

    Yup, this is what happens when you tie progression to just being in the game and nothing else. I’m sure those AFKers felt a sense of pride and accomplishment.

  • pcch7
  • Blake in Boston

    Don’t feel bad–this game is notorious for being very difficult at its “normal” difficulty setting. I’m halfway decent at FPS’s but this game KICKED MY ARSE.

  • Glad Frank mentioned the difficulty of Mario. My biggest gripe with Mario Wii U was that it was too damn easy. I beat the whole game and I think I died like three times. I had essentially unlimited guy by the end and I was disappointed that it wasn’t much of a challenge.

    It’s actually enough to make me not want to play this game. I LOVE Mario games, but when they’re this simple I just feel like I’m being pandered to. Or babied.

  • I think the problem with this discussion is that these guys are talking about loot crates kind of in general. I think it’s important to look at these transactions on a game by game basis. How well they fit the game, what do they give, what do they cost, how much did the original game cost, is this a multi-player game, etc. etc.

    With Star Wars Battlefront II, the problem with this conversation is two-fold. One, these guys haven’t even played it yet. And two, it isn’t even really about loot crates (or at least the real world money tied to them) anymore since EA did away with them (for now). It’s the progression system as a whole and how terrible it is. How uneven and like Huck said, unbalanced. And not just unbalanced in how the progression works, but how it matches players in multi-player. If some kid buys this game four months from now and jumps into a multi-player match, she will get absolutely annihilated immediately (assuming they game is at is now) and that’s no fun for anybody.

    I would love to hear a full review of this game from these guys once they’ve played the thing. The campaign is alright, but it’s basically on rails and pretty uninteresting. Switching from hero to hero throughout is a nice idea, but how terribly implemented! That Luke Skywalker level felt like I was playing a Nintendo 64 level.

    After finishing the campaign, play through the arcade stuff; which is pretty damn great, until once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. Not much reason to go back again. Then play some Starfighter (which is also great). Then play about 20-30 multi-player matches, the game’s so called bread-and-butter.

    Then review everything about the game then. I won’t say abysmal because there is good stuff in here, but the reviews coming out giving it around a 5 or 6 out of 10 are spot on.

  • Lisa Naarseth Myklebust
  • pcch7

    I mostly just play it for the pvp and I think it’s really fun tbh. Although I played more in beta than I have after release, cause of other games but I’ll get to it.

  • HuckCity

    TL;DR: I feel that loot crates are gambling if the only way to open a loot crate is by purchasing them with real money. If they can be purchased with an in-game currency that can be earned without paying real money, then they are not gambling and should be allowed to exist without regulation. However, they should be listed by the ESRB (or equivalent board) as being included in the games. I do also believe that loot crates are immoral if the percentage for winning is not shown to the user or balanced poorly. I am completely fine with other forms of microtransactions that are not chance based.
    I’ve been trying to formulate a good response to all of the discussion and I think I’m finally ready to do so. I’ve been reading a lot and actually played the multiplayer of SW:BF2 to really try to understand what was going on here and while I still think that what I originally expressed on the show holds pretty true, I think I can flesh out my thinking a little more.

    First…I played SW:BF2 and it is a complete disaster right now. Super long load times, game feels really unbalanced and only being able to see the cost of the heroes you are buying and not the star cards and things that you earn in the loot boxes is really frustrating. I didn’t get to play it while it was at peak microtransactions, but I can see why people are pissed.

    Now onto the real discussion. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is really just about the loot boxes (which I would consider a subset of microtransactions) and if they are gambling.
    Definition time (from
    1. the activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes.
    2. the act or practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly:
    If you don’t back up your data, that’s gambling.

    In this situation, I believe only the first definition applies. So, for loot boxes, we are definitely using “money” to play a game of chance for other stakes. No question there. But, in the case of most games that have loot boxes, you don’t explicitly use real money to purchase the loot boxes. You are using your time (and/or possibly real money) as the currency. Therefore, unless the only way to open a loot box in the game is to purchase it with real money, then I don’t believe that loot boxes should be considered gambling in the legal sense of the word. The game is not forcing you to pay money.

    Is it predatory? Possibly if people are not educated.

    Is it immoral? I don’t really think so if the game is balanced correctly. If the game is balanced incorrectly (like SW:BF2), then the game is just bad. I do think that it’s immoral to not tell players what their chances of receiving certain items in a loot crate are though.

    Is it targeting kids? No, and if kids are playing, why do they have access to the credit cards. This is a parenting issue. Parents need to be educated about games. Video games are not just for kids anymore and haven’t been for a long time. The ESRB already can put “simulated gambling” as a feature of a game in their ratings and I don’t know if loot crates fall into this heading, but they should or the ESRB should add a new feature that sounds less benign to tell parents that loot boxes are in the game.

    When it comes to regular microtransactions (i.e. purchasing an explicitly defined item for a set amount of real money or time), I am totally fine with this in games.
    @Lisa I don’t think that wanting regulation in video games just because EA make lots of money is a valid reason. I want EA to make money because I want them to be able to make more games (and also expand their indie publishing initiative ;) ). Yes, one billion in profit is a ton of money, but they don’t just shell that money out to their shareholders. A ton of that is used to pay for upcoming games. By my count they have at least nine announced titles in development (A Way Out, Anthem, UFC 3, Fe, Sea of Solitude, FIFA 19, Madden 19, NHL 19, NBA 19) and probably a bunch more that haven’t been announced that they need to pay for. They also need to cover the cost of the games that don’t do well (Mass Effect Andromeda, Need for Speed Payback, NHL, NBA Live, Unravel, etc…). I’m pretty sure that Madden, FIFA and their Star Wars games basically cover the costs of the other games they ship. (I tried to look at most of the links you provided but unfortunately couldn’t look at some [] as they were, ironically, behind a paywall ;) )

    I also think that some of your estimates for how much games cost to make is incredibly low. In one of your posts you said that a 50 mil budget for SW:BF was “a generous guess”, but I would argue that it probably cost much more that than just to create the game. [$10k per man per month * 400 employees (estimate…probably on the low end) * 36 months = 144 mil. Marketing was probably another 50-100 million]

    Your Witcher 3 example is also a little deceiving because they are based in Warsaw Poland, which has a much lower cost of living than SF, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, etc…So although it’s great that they made so much in profit from that game, you can’t just directly map it to studios and games created in North America as the margins would have been much smaller.

    I know your main argument is about the gambling aspect and its effect on people, but, as I said above, I don’t think that most video games with loot boxes would legally count as gambling. Many games have random rewards that don’t use money (Random drops in Diablo, Any game with a simulated casino, etc…). These are not considered gambling, but could have the same psychological effects on people. We also mentioned in the show and the comments that there are other things that use this exact same tactic to get people to buy them that aren’t wrapped in video game form (baseball/Pokemon cards, kinder surprise, L.O.L. Surprise Dolls,…should those be considered gambling? I think by the strict definition of gambling, those toys/cards are much bigger offenders than loot boxes in video games that don’t have to be purchased with real money.