Editorial: May 2019

Welcome to May’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds-up all the happenings here at Later Levels along with the games we’ve been playing. There’s plenty to report on from the past month, so let’s get this show on the road.

Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 996
  • Twitter: 482
  • Facebook: 58
  • Instagram: 168
  • Twitch: 69
  • Posts:

  • Published: 14 posts
  • Most viewed: Not getting it: video games and sex
  • Most liked: Not getting it: video games and sex
  • Most commented on: Live service games: “It’s good now!”
  • My favourite: Kickstarting to feel old
  • Games played:

  • 103 (video)
  • Backbone preview (video)
  • Guard Duty (review / videos)
  • In Other Waters demo (preview)
  • Lamplight City (preview / videos)
  • Neo Cab demo (preview)
  • Rainswept (videos)
  • Subsurface Circular (video)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • The Little Acre (video)
  • Unforeseen Incidents (videos)
  • Whispers of a Machine (videos)
  • Blogger highlights:

  • Top 5 – Video Game Soundtracks by Matt from 3PStart
  • Gendered Careers by Angie from Backlog Crusader
  • The Children’s Corner by Blast Away the Game Review
  • The Lord of the Rings: Marathon of Food by I Wasn’t Prepared For This
  • Kickstarter 10 Years Old by Naithin from Time to Loot
  • Blog life:

    The highlight of the month was volunteering for SpecialEffect on their stand at the MCM Comic Con in London. As well as raising awareness of their amazing work in helping individuals with physical disabilities to play video games, it gave me the chance to chat to some amazing people. Tom and Mark filled me in on their plans for GameBlast20 in February, and I even got to meet a couple of members of the This is How we Role crew! You might see me popping up in one of their streams later this year.

    The collaborations don’t stop there. Blogovision 2019 was hosted by Chris from OverThinker Y and Pix 1001 from Shoot the Rookie (I’m still consoling Guybrush after his defeat to Goro Majima and Brandon from That Green Dude). There was also An Epic Debate with Dan from nowisgames.com where we discussed our thoughts on what’s happening with Epic Games. And Phil made his blogging return after several years away with a post about live service games. Stay tuned for more projects next month.

    Real life:

    After being offered a job as a Database Platforms Engineer in mid-April, I’m disappointed to say that I’m still in my current role. It looks like I’m not moving over to the new team until the beginning of July as the company want me to work my full three-month notice period. It’s frustrating because I want to get started and I’m aware of how much I’m going to need to learn; but I just have to keep reminding myself that the change is coming and brighter things are on the horizon. One more month to go!

    Attending the London Cats International Show helped take my mind off of it – how can you not be distracted by a whole room of adorable kitties? I even came away having purchased a Cattitude Box subscription and both Zelda and I were very pleased with our first delivery. My other-half and I also tried out the Dr Wilson’s Office escape room at Escape Live after enjoying their Pirate’s Plunder experience so much last month, and I’m happy to say that we made it out with just over five minutes to spare.

    Gaming life:

    LudoNarraCon, panel, stream, Peter Ewing, Cassandra Kwan, StrixI had the opportunity to attend LudoNarraCon this month, a new convention organised by Fellow Traveller and hosted entirely on Steam. It’s always going to be difficult to capture the buzz experienced at real-world expos in an all-digital event, because there’s something about being among a crowd of people with the same interests and who are just as excited as you. But the team did an awesome job; it’s the perfect way of making conventions accessible to everybody as well as allowing ‘quieter’ narrative title to take centre stage.

    I was intrigued after trying out the demos for ‘emotional survival game’ Neo Cab and unique underwater exploration In Other Waters, and both have now been added to the wishlist. I also purchased Whispers of a Machine after watching the developers stream some of the gameplay during the event, and came away from my playthrough with a Wadget Eye Games’ vibe. My favourite title of the month however had to be Guard Duty: if you’re a fan of point-and-clicks, make sure you pick this one up at some point.

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 17 June: Summer 2019 blog party
  • 22 June: ICO: retro Saturday stream
  • Until 23 June: Video Game Literary Classics 101
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • What came first: the female gamer or the problem?
  • Switching characters in video games
  • Can we live forever through gaming?
  • How I’d spend the longest day of the year
  • An escape room round-up
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    Achievement Unlocked: a new award

    Last month, Michelle from A Geek Girl’s Guide had the great idea of creating a new blog award. There may be many that already exist and that do a great job of bringing the community together; but the Achievement Unlocked recognition is unique in that it specifically celebrates sites that cover all sorts of geeky interests.

    I’m humbled and honoured to say that she very kindly included Later Levels as one of the nominations for the first award. This means responding to five standard questions, followed by another five which have been dreamt up by the nominator themselves. As the Achievement Unlocked creator herself wrote: “Whether you are all about video games, DIY across all fandoms, sharing your cosplay journey, or anywhere in between, it all fits and is worth celebrating” – so let’s get on with those answers.

    1. Why did you start your blog?

    I first started blogging in February 2013 after finding a book called 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die and suggesting we did just that to Ben and Phil. We soon found out however that the idea was completely unrealistic! Later Levels was then formed in December 2016 through a desire to produce posts which were more ‘personal’ than reviews and based on titles or subjects I was actually interested in, rather than what was listed in a book or appeared in the news. You can read the full story in this article if you’re interested.

    2. What are your favorite topics to write about?

    The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush Threepwood, pirate, man, surprisedIt will come as no surprise to regular readers that I enjoy playing and writing about my favourite genre of video games: adventures. I’ve adored point-and-clicks and wannabe pirates since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a kid. I also like writing about things going on in the community or gaming industry, such as whether Fortnite will be the downfall of our children or poor research completed by gaming news outlets – subjects which require a bit of investigation and digging around to get to the original sources.

    3. What have you learned since you started your blog?

    One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is not to forget the sheer joy that comes from playing video games, rather than simply finding the subject for your next post. It’s also critical to understand there are no quick wins: resorting to dubious measures might be tempting but you’ll only end up with hollow stats and a lack of fulfillment. It’s also been enlightening in terms of finding out more about myself. I’ve learnt that although I may not be a naturally sociable person, I’m capable of putting myself out there when I need to.

    4. What do you love about being a geeky blog?

    Rezzed, SpecialEffect, Ben, Kim, PeteIt’s definitely the people! Most of my real-life friends now are those I’ve had the opportunity to meet through blogging and it’s great having a group at a similar stage in their lives with an interest in video games. Some of these awesome individuals even took time out of their busy schedules recently to provide references and help me prepare for an interview, and it was with their support that I managed to secure a new job and career change. I can’t thank them enough – more about this lovely lot a little later on in this post.

    5. Where would you like to see your blog go in the future?

    This may sound like a strange answer but the response to this question is definitely ‘nowhere’. At no point during Later Levels’ progress has blogging becoming a career or an avenue to make money ever been considered, and that’s how I’d like to keep it. The joy for me comes from it being something completely different from my day-job and a task which doesn’t feel like a chore; it’s a creative outlet I wouldn’t get anywhere else. If the site is still going in years to come and I’ve met even more awesome people through it, then I’ll be a very happy blogger.

    6. If you could be a part of one of your favorite fictional worlds, what world would it be?

    Eastshade, video game, countryside, mountains, hot-air balloon, easel, canvas, paintingI’ve given several answers to this question in the past but after playing Eastshade recently, I think I’ve finally found the place I’d like to call my digital home. I want to watch the eclipse from the harbour, ride my wooden bicycle through the pink trees in Blushwood forest, sail my raft down the river, and go fishing for Old Pops in the lake. Every location in this game is beautiful and it’s so relaxing to play, as noted in my review last month; I could imagine every day on Eastshade island feeling like a holiday.

    7. If you could interview any fictional character, who would it be?

    After playing Heaven’s Vault, the character I’d like to interview right now is Myari. I went out of my way to try and avoid this her during my playthrough because there was something about her I just didn’t trust, but my ears pricked up when a conversation with another NPC hinted at something going on behind that cool exterior. I’d like to ask her about her history, her belief in the Loop, what she knows about the robots and why she’s so interested in the Empire Crown. If I can’t interview Myari, I guess I’m going to have to dive back in for a second run.

    8. What fictional character do you think would make a good geeky blogger?

    Night in the Woods, video game, kitchen, cats, conversation, Kandy, Mom, MaeI think Mae from Night in the Woods should have her own blog. We’d get all sorts of interesting content from her as a writer: thoughts on video games she’d been playing with Gregg recently, analysis of films she’d watched at the cinema with Bea, some far-out fan fiction, and updates on new songs the band is working on. If we’re really lucky, we might also get the chance to read some guest posts by her mom Candy; she reads all sorts of books (including some about eels) so maybe she could do a book review or two.

    9. What other hobbies do you have besides blogging?

    If I’m at home and not playing video games, you can usually find me in the kitchen trying out a new recipe because I really enjoy cooking (and eating side of it too). I’m also a big fan of 80s music and fashion and have been known to frequent a themed weekend or two every year. I went to one with friends at the end of April and I’m not sure what I enjoyed about it the most: the fact that I got to see Tony Hadley and Soul II Soul perform, or that I had an excuse to wear a denim boiler suit and white stiletto boots. It’s a very tough call.

    10. What is your favourite geeky thing as of right now?

    Elgato, Stream DeckMy lovely other-half doesn’t do traditional romance but he does know good technology: instead of flowers, he surprised me with a Razer Blade 15 Advanced recently. Despite initially not thinking I needed one, the thing has barely left my side since and I’ve got so much use out of it for both gaming and blogging already. The other thing I love is our Elgato Stream Deck – another item I thought was a bit of a frivalous purchase, but came to appreciate massively while completing our GameBlast19 marathon stream in February.


    It’s now time to nominate some fellow bloggers. As mentioned for question four above, there have been several people who have helped me massively over the past month and I’d like to issue them with an Achievement Unlocked Award to show how grateful I am to them. They’re not only wonderful writers with awesome geeky interests, but lovely friends who are willing to take the time out from their busy schedules to offer advice and assistance to others.

  • Tim from GeekOut South-West
  • Jonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
  • Dan from nowisgames.com
  • Chris from OverThinker Y
  • Kevin from The Mental Attic

  • Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the first five standard questions above along with these little challenges:

  • How would you describe yourself if you could only use gaming terms?
  • Who would be the worst video game character to be stuck in a lift with?
  • If a game based on your life was made, what would be the genre and title?
  • Which three video game items would you take into the zombie apocalypse?
  • Which gaming character should we elect as our next prime minister and why?

  • Thanks so much again to Michelle for the Achievement Unlocked award, and to my own nominations above for being simply awesome. I look forward to reading your answers!

    MCM Comic Con London 2019: volunteering for SpecialEffect

    SpecialEffect is an amazing UK-based charity which puts the fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by assisting them to play video games. By using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control software, they’re finding a way to help everyone play to the best of their abilities and having a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation.

    I’ve been volunteering for the organisation for around six years now, after coming across their stand at the EGX event in September 2013. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to do all sorts of things for them: complete 10K runs through London, host video-game-themed pub quizzes, play FIFA against professional footballers, and looks after raffles at Twitch meetups. Next month I’ll be doing a presentation about the charity before the planning soon starts for the next GameBlast event (more about that later).

    I volunteer for SpecialEffect for several reasons. Over the years I’ve been able to meet some of the people they’ve supported and hearing about the impact of their work first-hand is simply inspiring. Video games aren’t just about entertainment; they can connect people, and everybody deserves to be a part of that experience. On a more personal note, I can become quite anxious in social situations and volunteering is a great way of reminding me that I can manage it. And finally: it’s so much fun.

    Last Friday I attended MCM Comic Con and spent the day at the ExCeL Centre helping on the charity’s stand. This time around we were showing off Trials Rising, a racing game that’s hard when it’s played in the usual manner – but even more so when it’s played with your chin, in a set-up that may be suitable for individuals with spinal injuries for example. I played a few rounds with Mark Saville, SpecialEffect’s Communications Officer, and we managed to reduce our time from 12 minutes to just under four by the end of the event.

    On the other side of the stand was ProtoCorgi, a horizontal shoot-em-up featuring – yes, you guessed it – a corgi protagonist. The controller had been replaced with large buttons and an oversized joystick to show attendees a set-up for someone who may not have fine motor skills in their hands. The title is pretty challenging and only fellow volunteer Erik was able to make it to the end of the level, but it proved to be a popular attraction and several people came back for multiple tries throughout the day.

    One of the best things about volunteering at Comic Con is that you get to see everyone in some fantastic cosplay. We took the chance to get as many photographs as we could with people holding a sign to promote One Special Day, where companies from the gaming industry are invited to donate a day’s revenue from one of their releases. My favourite was the family who came dressed as Fred, Velma and Scooby-Doo, and the young daughter just looked so adorable in her costume.

    After the summer I’ll start preparing for next year’s GameBlast, the UK’s biggest charity gaming weekend. Hundreds of gamers across the country will be taking part in a marathon video game session while raising funds and awareness for SpecialEffect. Over £800,000 has been raised through these events since 2014, and this amount has enabled the charity to continue their fantastic work and help change the lives of many more people with physical disabilities.

    GameBlast20 is due to take place from 21-23 February 2020 and more details will be announced soon. If you fancy taking part or even signing up as a volunteer yourself, get in touch with the awesome Becky Frost using the contact details on the organisation’s website. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a commitment of time and effort, but trust me: it really is a lot of fun and gives the greatest sense of fulfilment. You’ll be walking around for the next week feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Kickstarting to feel old

    After logging into Kickstarter to see whether there were any new campaigns, I received a notification confirming that the platform was ten years old. That’s a decade of crowdfunding since 28 April 2009, bringing communities together to help bring creators’ dreams to life.

    I’ve now backed 36 projects since February 2013 so that’s an average of one every other month. Although the quantity and quality of video game campaigns has declined recently, I still visit the website occasionally to see what’s happening; and I enjoy being able to show my support for unique titles which are a little different from the norm, although there’s obvious no guarantee there’ll ever be made. In celebration of all things Kickstarter, here are ten campaigns I’ve pledged to over the past six years.

    First project backed

    Shortly after starting to blog in February 2013, I made my first pledge on the platform and backed Lucky Pause’s campaign for Homesick. It was the mention of some of my favourite classic titles in the promotional video that drew my attention and I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this ‘puzzle exploration mystery game’. And for the part we played, my other-half and I did; but unfortunately we got stuck after three hours or so and ended up putting the title to one side. I really should get back to it one day and finish it off.

    Best game backed

    I’ve been a fan of The Longest Journey for a very long time and jumped at the chance to support Red Thread Games’ campaign for Dreamfall Chapters shortly after the project above. But I still haven’t finished the title despite playing for 23 hours! The reason for this is slightly strange: I just can’t bring myself to complete the final instalment of the series because once I do so, it will all be over. Ragnar Tørnquist said in a forum post that he didn’t think a further sequel would happen for ‘many, many reasons’ so this may sadly be the last we see of Zoë Castillo.

    Most controversial game backed

    Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, video game, Kickstarter, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, men, detectives, London, street, street lampElementary, My Dear Holmes! was a release being made by Victory Square Games in August 2013. The developer had signed up to Ouya’s Free the Games Fund so if their Kickstarter campaign reached a minimum of $50,000, the company would match the funds. Unfortunately a number of dodgy high-value donations were received from backers who were new to the platform and these resulted in accusations that head Sam Chandola or family members had made these pledges themselves. The project was then suspended admit the controversy.

    Worst game backed

    I backed the campaign for Pandora: Purge of Pride in May 2013 because I kind of felt a little sorry for developer High Class Kitsch. They were young, inexperienced and looked like they needed all the help they could get. But this game was one of the worst I’ve ever played: it was full of bugs, the story was incredibly flimsy with very little character development, and it just looked awful. The only thing the title had going for it really was the fact it had been made by a studio whose logo was a cat wearing a top-hat and monocle.

    The campaign that meant the most

    The Tomb Raider Suite by Nathan McCree was a celebration of the music of Tomb Raider and I backed the campaign because it brought back a special memory. My brother played the original game extensively and The Tomb Raider Theme could continuously be heard throughout our house – so it’s therefore no wonder I decided to use it to accompany my GCSE Dance examination piece. After receiving the backers rewards, Pete and I decided to use the recording as the music to which we signed our wedding vows in January.

    The campaign with the best physical reward

    Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on a physical Linking Book? This was the opportunity offered by Cyan Worlds with their campaign for the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection in April 2018. The book is awesome, and it was great to get my hands on the whole collection of games too as this inspired a complete playthrough on Twitch. Well, I say ‘complete’, but a rogue Bahro unfortunately caused Myst V: End of Ages to crash at almost six hours in and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to restart the game from the beginning.

    A project backed that’s unrelated to video games

    As if often the case with YouTube, one day I was idly passing the time by flicking through videos and came across a performance of Sensitive Badass by The Doubleclicks. This was an excellent song about being strong, fierce and honest: “Don’t tell me to calm down, don’t tell me it will pass, I’m not just sensitive, I am a badass.” It was with some pleasure that I then discovered the Kickstarter campaign for a related pin and made my pledge in June 2018. I’m still wearing it on my denim jacket today.

    The unsuccessful campaign I’m most disappointed about

    The Black Glove sounded as though it would be amazing: an eerie, surrealistic first-person game by a team of developers who helped make BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Unfortunately however, Day For Night Games’ campaign totally felt short of its target in October 2014. Some people say that it’s because readers couldn’t understand what the title was about from the information provided on the page but for me, it just made it all the more intriguing. The developer has since said their idea is shelved so it might not be a game we ever get to play.

    Game most likely never to be made

    LAST LIFE by Sam Farmer was a Kickstarter campaign which caught my eye immediately, as it was a sci-fi noir adventure was inspired by modern point-and-clicks such as Kentucky Route Zero. I made my pledge in April 2014, received updates that decreased in frequency until August 2017… and then nothing until Farmer announced his new game in September 2018. Take a look at this post for the full story, but to sum it up: the developer seems to have disappeared along with $103,058 of funds received from thousands of backers.

    Latest game backed

    I decided to back Twinspell Studio’s campaign for Descend recently because the idea of exploring a giant ruined structure, with different floors that have their own seasons, flora and fauna, is immensely intriguing. Nobody has seen the bottom floor but many of the characters in the game believe that whatever is down there could be the key to several mysteries that bewilder the inhabitants of Hemonnet. Unfortunately the project wasn’t successful and only achieved around 50% of its target, but hopefully this doesn’t mean the end.



    As mentioned at the start of this post, the quality of campaigns on Kickstarter has been gradually declining and Jessica Saunders of Salix Games even said recently that it was ‘dead for video games’. I therefore have my doubts about whether I’ll be writing a similar post for the platforms 20th birthday. But hey: the past decade has been fun and I’m glad I’ve been able to support indie developers through crowdfunding, so that’s worth celebrating.

    An Epic Debate: Kim’s argument

    The popularity of Fortnite has been transformative for Epic Games. But with huge success has come rivalry with Valve, gamers unhappy with exclusivity deals, rumours of stressful working conditions and many unanswered questions. Later Levels has joined forces with Dan from nowisgames.com for An Epic Debate, in which we’ll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.


    Disclaimer: I’m not an Epic Games. Let me make that clear for transparency right from the start of this paragraph. Dan mentioned in his post on Wednesday that he doesn’t like having to have yet another store application on his PC, disagrees with the company’s strong-arm tactics and resents not having a choice to buy a game he wants on Steam; and I can see where he’s coming from. As he’s doing himself, I’ll be exercising my ability to make a choice by avoiding the Epic Games Store and voting with my wallet.

    On the other hand though, I find myself agreeing with Ben on certain aspects too. I understand I might not like certain decisions but they do make business sense because competition can be positive. As my blogging-partner-in-crime pointed out on Monday, Epic is trying to get a foothold in a market dominated by Steam since 2004 and has the bank-balance to be able to do so. They’re challenging Valve to change their ways by offering developers a more favourable split of the revenue, and that’s great for all the indie creators out there.

    Although the three of us have different opinions, there’s one thing we can all agree on: that crunch is never good and shouldn’t be a part of the development process. Recent news articles have highlighted how the company’s employees have been under extreme pressure to work grueling hours to maintain Fornite’s success in a hostile environment, where completing overtime is expected even though it’s officially voluntary. Crunch is destructive. It hurts both mental and physical health, damages relationships, and should never be forced on people.

    But putting terrible working practices to one side for a moment, and as much as it pains me to say it, Epic does get the blunt end of the stick occasionally. Every time the dangers of playing video games are discussed by the media, politicians and even our royals, Fortnite seems to make an appearance. I remember watching an episode of the ITV News last year where Correspondent Martha Fairlie reported that the game could be ‘dangerously addictive’ and is exposing our children to all sorts of terrible risks.

    Time for another disclaimer now: I’m not a fan of Fortnite either. There’s nothing enjoyable about the gameplay for me and it’s a rip-off of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) anyway. I’m fed-up of arranging tickets to expos and then finding the exhibition hall filled with numerous stands featuring the title, when it’s free-to-play and already available to the public. At Insomnia63 last August we counted five separate areas, and that’s not to mention the fact it also made several appearances on the BYOC timetable for the weekend.

    But regardless of my feelings towards the title, it’s important to set the record straight – particularly when a slow-news-day results in unjustified reporting. Fortnite isn’t going to bring about the downfall of our children, especially not if parents are aware of what their kids are doing. News reports back in the early 1990s would have had you believe that seeing Mortal Kombat on the Game Gear was going to cause me harm; but almost 20 years later, I’m still involved with video games and think I’m doing alright when it comes to functioning as a member of society (maybe).

    At the EGX Rezzed event in April, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion by Dr Pete Etchells called The psychology of gaming addiction. He feels that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) formal classification of gaming disorder was too pre-emptive and that moving from research to disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than is currently available. I was shocked to hear that various papers have indicated that as much as 46% of the population could be addicted, so there’s a danger we’re over-generalising along with a risk of abuse of diagnoses.

    It’s studies like these which get politicians and parents declaring that Fortnite will ruin us all; and public figures who feel they need to wade in on the discussion aren’t helping either. While at an event at a YMCA in London last month, Prince Harry said: “That game shouldn’t be allowed. What is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down.”

    All comments like this do is reinforce the negative stereotypes about gamers and their hobby that we’ve been working so hard to dispel in recent years. It’s even more frustrating when they appear to have come from someone who’s far removed from video games or seems as though they’ve never played a single title in their life. I’ll tell you what, Harry: spend a day playing and if you can tell me you didn’t take something positive away from the experience, then we’ll chat your idea for banning Fortnite.

    The things that grinds gears the most about all of this is how it feels as though the title is used as a scapegoat to cover up a lack of parenting. Let’s take a comment from that ITV News report as an example: “It takes away from precious study time.” Give a child a choice between homework and gaming, and I bet I can predict with a startling degree of accuracy which they’re going to pick. If your kid is meant to be studying but is instead playing – and you’ve provided them with the means to do so – then perhaps it’s not Fortnite which should be blamed.

    It’s important for parents to be aware of the risks of any title. Whether it’s free-to-play or purchased, online or offline, multiplayer or single-player; it’s up to you to understand what your child is playing and find out whether the content is suitable. We shouldn’t be leaving it up to an age-rating on the packing, a poorly-researched report on the evening news or someone who has limited knowledge of video games to do our parenting for us.

    Yes, parenting is hard. But blaming Epic and Fortnite is far too easy.

    An Epic Debate: Ben’s argument

    The popularity of Fortnite has been transformative for Epic Games. But with huge success has come rivalry with Valve, gamers unhappy with exclusivity deals, rumours of stressful working conditions and many unanswered questions. Later Levels has joined forces with Dan from nowisgames.com for An Epic Debate, in which we’ll be giving our opinions and thoughts on the company over the coming week.


    It’s one of those things in blogging that whenever I feel I’m about to go against the tide of public opinion, I need to clarify my position. I was asked if I supported what Epic Games are doing with their store in securing exclusivity for certain releases. Actually I don’t care – it doesn’t impact me as a console gamer – but I support the principle of what they’re doing because I believe strongly in competition.

    Let me be clear though, this is not a post that discusses working practices or how Epic made their money. I might write more about those in the future but (contrary to many opinions, it seems) I can agree with one aspect of a business and disagree wholeheartedly with others.

    Like any rational, sensible person, I do not support any aspect of video game ‘crunch’ or any team member working the sorts of hours being spoken about in the news right now. Not just at Epic but at any studio where it has raised its head. Even one of my favourite gaming series, Mortal Kombat, has been subject to this of late and if I’m honest the game feels tainted as a result. I would much rather have waited months for a title that didn’t push people to breaking point.

    Had I known prior to my pre-order, I might not have bought it.

    Fortnite is another one of these games and it’s especially relevant given it’s Epic I’ve been asked to write about.

    Also, I should also say I’ve been buying products from Epic for 25 years, maybe more. I managed to convince my Dad to write a cheque to them to upgrade to the full version of One Must Fall 2097 from shareware in the 1990s, Unreal Tournament remains one of the greatest games I’ve ever played and Gears of War is a series I can’t get enough of. I even bought early access to Fortnite: Save The World before the Battle Royale came along and turned pop-culture on its head.

    It’s safe to say I’ve been a long-term customer of Epic then.

    It’s kind of irrelevant though because the crux of what I’ve been asked about is whether or not I support what they’re doing and you can, in my mind, replace Epic with any company you like.

    They’re trying to get a foothold into a market dominated by Steam. Valve have held all the cards in terms of online distribution since 2004 and the release of Half Life 2, with no real, viable challenger. If Epic want to offer developers a more favourable split of the revenue (88/12) to Steam (70/30) then I have no problem with that. If they want to waive royalties for the use of their Unreal engine if games built with it are sold through the store, then I have no problem with that too.

    Epic are in a very fortunate position to have a healthy bank balance and they are using it to get traction. If a developer decides that they want to publish on the Epic Games Store instead of that platform then I don’t understand why that’s a problem either. At the end of the day, a developer wants to maximise the return from sometimes years of work and 88% is better than 70%. I would suggest you look at some of the more outspoken indie creators on Twitter about how much they struggle financially to bring us the games we love.

    The reality is they will probably publish on both but if more developers go to Epic exclusively, you can bet it will prompt Valve to react and change its structure to win them back.

    So how does it impact the consumer? Well, you’ll still be able to play the games, the prices aren’t going up, the developers get a larger cut (which must be a good thing!) so that only leaves one thing.

    From what I can tell, the wider issue seems less about Epic or Steam but more about the requirement for another installer on the desktop. We all want convenience, I get that, and the ability to access an entire software library from a single client is the ideal. No-one wants to have to remember whether the title they want to play is on Steam, Epic, GOG, Blizzard, Uplay, Origin or a game-specific launcher, but it is what it is.

    Feels like a small price to pay from where I’m sitting.

    I don’t remember there being an outcry when Microsoft effectively secured the exclusivity to all future Obsidian, Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs and Compulsion Games’ output when they bought those studios. Or when Sony tied up Insomniac’s Spider-Man. You have to switch to a completely different machine to play those. Double-clicking on an icon seems much easier in comparison if I’m honest.

    Maybe I am just an uneducated console peasant who doesn’t understand the wider vagaries of PC gaming politics but ultimately I think competition is good. What Epic are doing will prompt Valve to react and innovate to protect their position, which in turn will cause Epic to do the same and vice-versa. Developers will get more return from each game that is sold, and consumers will be able to choose which platform to buy their games on, possibly at different price-points. Yes, there will be some exclusives but to a console gamer like me this is nothing new and a part of the wider gaming ecosystem.

    At the end of the day, nobody is forced to buy a product on the Epic Games Store if they don’t want to, and if the gaming populace really wants to send a message to Epic and those that publish through that route, then they just have to vote with their wallets and not buy the game.