Don’t Box Cost Me, Bro

I recently had a conversation with a friend about picking up Tera, an MMO from En Masse that was making its way to the States. Tera’s big sell is a combat revamp from the typical MMO. Gone are the days of tab-targetting. Tera requires that you actually be facing your target in order to land your skills. It’s a nice concept, and it plays fairly well, but I still can’t justify buying the game. In a world of free-to-play, microtransaction games, the box cost just doesn’t play anymore.

Gaming is a zero-sum hobby at this point. If I want to pick up a game like Tera, it means subbing one of the games I’m currently enjoying out of rotation. Strangely enough, it hasn’t always been this way. Ten years ago, there just weren’t as many high quality games. With the proliferation of quality indie titles and the accessibility of those free-to-play games, though, I have plenty of titles to play. So why pick up a game like Tera?

This may seem a little clinical, but it’s the best system I’ve been able to devise. When I’m considering a new game, I basically break down the game’s entry cost. It’s not just the monetary cost. I also consider the amount of time I need to invest learning the game before I can really enjoy it (for some games this is a fair amount of time). For Tera, it looks a little something like this:

$50 box cost
$15 monthly fee
5+ intro hours

Is that really worth it? When I consider it against another game I’ve been playing lately, it becomes pretty clear. For Tribes Ascend, the cost looks more like this:

1 intro hours

And even that is a little aggressive. I was having fun with Tribes in the first 30 minutes, but if you haven’t played any of the previous titles you might take a little more time. Now granted, Tribes and Tera aren’t exactly analogous titles, but the list of top quality games with low entry costs continues to grow. And that says nothing of the changing face of the MMO. Players aren’t as dedicated to single titles, so does it really make sense to charge a box cost and a sub? Not to me.

I realize publishers want to recoup some of their investment with an initial return, but the box cost is actually keeping me from buying the game at all. I’d gladly throw $15 at the first month of a game, but $50 on top? I don’t think so.

As more games embrace MMO-style play without MMO subscriptions, the box + sub model just won’t be sustainable. Take a look at Diablo 3 – Blizzard could easily ask a sub for that game, but it’s box cost only. They aren’t even working in a microtransaction model (granted, they’re looking to get a cut of the real money auction house). It’s not just top-tier publishers; even the alpha-funding model upstages Tera-style pricing. I can pay as little as $10 to fund the development of an indie title and receive the full thing on release.

As the quality of games continues to improve, publishers are going to have to consider more flexible pricing structures. Like I said, gaming is a zero-sum hobby. I only have so much time to dedicate to games. When the low-cost games are outperforming the high-cost, you can guess what I’ll be playing.

  

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Game of Thrones 205: The Ghost of Harrenhal

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Morning Announcements: It’s come to my attention that non-readers (and probably some readers too) have a hard time keeping all the names aligned with their faces. In order to help remedy that problem, the first mention of a character in a post will include a link to a picture of them. 

I almost can’t believe that a show exists where the opening sequence bears discussing week in and week out. But one does in Game of Thrones. No new cities this episode, but as the camera panned from the Wall across the Shivering Sea to Qarth, we actually got an up-close glimpse of the mysterious red comet. Now, all the best shows have incredible attention to detail, but I challenge you to find one that reaches “Throne’s” level in its opening sequence. Moving on.

Renly vs. Stannis, Littlefinger and the Tyrells

Well they certainly didn’t waste any time here, which is a good thing. After leaving us with a cliffhanger last week, not making Renly’s death the opening scene would’ve rustled my jimmies. Now all of us Stark supporters will be left wondering what might have been if Renly and his hundred thousand swords had been able to join forces with Robb against the Lannisters. Stannis is “pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends.” He will never align with the Starks as long as Robb insists on calling himself the King in the North.

You’ve got to credit the showrunners for the way they handled this. From the preseason trailers they made it seem as though Renly would have a tremendous part to play, which I’m sure made his sudden death that much more surprising. Plus, the CGI was fantastic, the shadow assassin actually looked like Stannis, as it should considering it’s his “son.”

Only Littlefinger knows what Littlefinger’s true motivations are. He knows that war is unpredictable, so he’s trying to be everybody’s friend. Problem is, nobody trusts him. His conversation with Loras and Margaery Tyrell was illuminating for all three characters. Lord Baelish asks Loras what he desires most. Loras responds, “revenge,” which Littlefinger has “always found to be the purest of motivations.” Perhaps a hint as to why he betrayed Ned Stark, who was married to the only woman he’s ever loved, Catelyn.

In this week’s “Inside the Episode,” the showrunners explained that House Tyrell is a “secret matriarchy,” in which the men are “handsome dopes” and the women are the “brains behind the operation.” Littlefinger asks Margaery if she wants to be a queen. “No,” she responds, “I want to be the queen.” Margaery is a saner version of Cersei, she’s not so conniving, but she’s certainly a player in the game of thrones.

King’s Landing

Back in the capital, Tyrion continues his attempts to restore order and institute justice, always quipping as he goes. Lancel tells him of Cersei’s plan to defend the city from siege using wildfire. Tyrion takes control of the plans, knowing that in the wrong hands, the volatile substance is likely to burn the city, and people, it’s meant to protect. On his way to the Alchemist’s Guild, he learns he’s being made a scapegoat for the city’s ills, because it’s easy to blame someone who’s different. Tyrion is incredulous, “Blame me?” he asks, “I’m trying to save them.” Story of his life.

The parallels between both Cersei and Joffrey and Aerys II Targaryen, the “Mad King,” are becoming increasingly clear. Joffrey is quick to punish anyone who questions his reign, or, you know, anyone he feels like punishing, be it Sansa, Ser Dontos, or a lowly bard. And like Cersei, the Mad King had a penchant for paranoia and wildfire. Last season, when asked what Aerys said when he stabbed him in the back, Jaime responded, “He said the same thing he’d been saying for hours. Burn them all.” In the books we learn that Aerys planned to burn the city, and everyone in it, rather than surrender. “Let [Robert] be king over charred bones and cooked meat… Let him be the king of ashes.”

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A chat with John Cusack of “The Raven”

The really fun part of setting up an interview with John Cusack is telling people about it and getting their reaction. The still boyish star of such classics like “Say Anything,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Grifters,” “Being John Malkovich,” and recent ‘plex-fare like “2012” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” is one popular guy, and not only with women.

Now in his mid-40s, the former teen rom-com leading man is also something of a paradox in that he’s been able to keep the details of his private life private while also being unafraid of a little controversy. He maintains a direct connection with his fans via his well-known Twitter feed that often touches bluntly on his strongly left-of-center politics. We interviewed Mr. Cusack back in 2008 about his somewhat underrated satirical broadside, “War, Inc.,” and he makes some revealing comments about its production below. He has nevertheless avoided becoming a Sean Penn-style right wing whipping boy, though his recent election-year bashing of the Obama administration’s civil liberties failings on “CBS This Morning” attracted some attention from conservative outlets.

The fact of the matter is that Cusack, still best remembered by many as idealistic aspiring kickboxer Lloyd Dobler, is the closest thing modern audiences have to a Jimmy Stewart. He’s a low-key, yet charismatic and highly energetic actor who never seems to act at all. That’s high praise, but it does make him a slightly counterintuitive choice for the role of Edgar Allen Poe, the flamboyant, floridly romantic author who largely invented modern horror and crime fiction.

Directed by James McTeigue of “V for Vendetta,” “The Raven” has the master of the macabre trying to solve a “Se7en”-style killing spree inspired by his own stories. Critics have not been impressed by the film and the crowded opening weekend box office returns have been kind of dismal, but that won’t have been for any lack of effort on John Cusack’s part. The actor spent weeks promoting the film everywhere from “The View” to our humble selves. He did, however, take a moment to receive a very special Hollywood honor.

Bullz-Eye: It’s been a good day for you; you just got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

JC: Yeah man, thanks.

BE: What’s that like at your relatively young age?

JC: I don’t know. I’ve never got one before so I don’t know. It was pretty surreal; pretty cool. I liked that I was right next to the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry. That was pretty cool.

BE: That is cool.

JC: I was right across from Musso and Frank’s, so I thought that was pretty damn cool. That’s such a great place. I’m also next to this great book store, so I’m well represented. I liked it.

BE: Speaking of books — a great segue there — I know that one of the reasons that you took on “The Raven” is it gave you an excuse to read up on Edgar Allan Poe. Why do you think he has remained kind of contemporary all of these years?

JC: I think he’s this classic sort of archetype for all of the shadow parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit out loud or you’re not supposed to admit in polite company or society. You know, all of these terrors and fears and phobias and anguishes and torments, and also this kind of grave, deep love of language and poetry. I think he’s a genuine genius and he spoke to the language of the subconscious and he was a great poet and artist. A great storyteller; a wild creator of different genres and hybrids of genres and mash-ups of genres. He was a pretty talented man, and he was also just wired way too tight, so it was a volatile mix.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

I remember a simpler time when May was still considered part of spring, but these days, the studios are so eager to beat the competition to the punch with the first big blockbuster of the season that it’s now widely accepted as the start of summer. That’s all fine and well, but by extending the season by an additional month, it also increases the chance of disappointment, which is looking pretty likely based on the May release schedule, despite the fact that a certain superhero film will be kicking off the festivities.

“THE AVENGERS”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson
What: Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers in order to save the Earth from Loki and his invading army.
When: May 4th
Why: The idea of an Avengers movie may not sound like much of a gamble today as it did four years ago when Marvel first announced its ambitious master plan, but it’s a risk that certainly seems to have paid off. Anyone that considers themselves a fan of comics or the recent Marvel solo films has undoubtedly placed this movie at the top of their must-see list. After all, the prospect of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers sharing the screen is simply too awesome to ignore, and the decision to bring back Loki as the main villain (hands down the most interesting of the Marvel film baddies) only makes things that much more exciting. Sure, Joss Whedon has never taken on a project of this scale before, but as a self-professed geek with a great track record of managing ensemble casts, there’s no one more qualified for the job than him.

“THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL”

Who: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Dev Patel
What: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, only to find that it’s less luxurious than its advertisements.
When: May 4th
Why: It’s hard to imagine a better piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers” than this John Madden dramedy, because although studios have typically put a chick flick up against a surefire blockbuster to lure female moviegoers in the past, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a film that both sexes can enjoy. And the best part is that it actually looks pretty good, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the cast includes four of the most respected British actors working today. While the movie could have easily come across as being too schmaltzy in the hands of another director, Madden appears to have struck the right balance between comedy and sentimentality.

“DARK SHADOWS”

Who: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter
What: An imprisoned vampire is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.
When: May 11th
Why: I’ve never seen the late ‘60s TV show that serves as the inspiration for this big screen adaptation, but based solely on the early reaction to the trailer, it’s not exactly what anyone was expecting. Though it may seem strange that director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, both of whom claim they were massive fans of the gothic drama as kids, would re-imagine it as a comedy, their version seems to be less about damaging the show’s memory and more about embracing its campiness. While they admittedly might have taken it a little too far (cue Alice Cooper cameo), the cast is simply too good for “Dark Shadows” to be a complete disaster. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

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Broadway show tickets are always a great gift

With the success of Trey Parker and Matt Stone with “The Book of Mormon,” you have a whole new generation getting introduced to the art form of Broadway musicals. Some guys really don’t appreciate this stuff, thinking there are more manly entertainment options. Yet if you’re looking for a great date idea or a gift that your mom, wife or girlfriend will remember, you really can’t do much better than show tickets.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are hilarious, and it’s fun watching them talk about the musical as they do above. Some of these shows are hilarious and “The Book of Mormon” definitely fits the bill. It’s been a sensation on Broadway, and you’ll definitely score some points with tickets to that show.

You should also consider theater tickets when you’re traveling, as many towns have surprisingly good theater districts. Cleveland is a good example. Then you have cities like New York and London where the theater experience is one of the primary attractions. If you can coordinate seeing plays in London you won’t regret it, as every major production is out there. You can get classic shows like buying Lion King tickets or the new hot show that’s getting all the buzz. Combine that with one of the great restaurants in London and you have an evening she’ll never forget.

So get outside your comfort zone and think about new things. The women in your life will appreciate it.

  

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