#35: Quality be damned

Hello! A quick opening note: there will be no Hit Points next week because I’m going on holiday (gasp). After 18 months staring at the same four walls I am looking forward very much to shushing the children, and trying to get the dog to sit still, in a slightly different setting. I’ll have a laptop with me in case something enormous happens, but if not normal service will resume on Monday, August 9.

What a week it’s been for Game Pass, the subscription service that lets everyone feel like a pirate, whether they download Sea Of Thieves or not. Whenever I browse through the Game Pass library I am reminded of my days on the high seas, when I had a modded Xbox, a SwapMagic PS2, an early-stage broadband connection and an insatiable appetite for new games. Sure, they were mostly new games I’d play for half an hour then never go back to, but it was good training for these days of endless subscription services and freebies. You have infinite choice and precious little time, and if something doesn’t make an instant impression it gets swiftly forgotten about.

I’m not proud of my piracy days, but I certainly believe they were useful prep for my life as a game journalist, when you have to rapidly form a critical opinion of something within minutes of picking up a controller. That is still a useful skill today: with two kids and a dog, a thrice-weekly newsletter to write and a consultancy business to maintain (hello!) I simply don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to persist with something that doesn’t grab me immediately. The sniff test is more important than ever.

I’ve written before about how Game Pass has changed the psychology of how we view new games: we do not ask ourselves whether we want to buy something, merely if we will download and play it. But it’s only over the last week or so that I’ve also realised that it no longer even really matters if a game is any good. Over the past week or so I have downloaded Last Stop, Variable State’s London-set supernatural adventure (I am invested enough to stick with this, though am struggling with the character designs and animation a bit); Flight Simulator, a game I always knew I would load up once in order to fly into my house, then likely never return to; and The Ascent, a twin-stick cyberpunk looter-shooter that launched yesterday, which everyone already seems to agree is a bit pump, but no one seems too upset about, because it has good graphics and is free.

I think often about how the traditional games press has been sidelined in recent years. Companies dipping out of events like E3. Reduced preview and interview opportunities. Review code arriving closer to release than ever, being dependent on day-zero patches, and with embargoes set late enough to ensure reviews don’t interfere with pre-orders. Game Pass, and its ilk, introduce another one: it no longer even matters what the reviews say, because we no longer need help making a purchasing decision. We’ve already bought it anyway. And just like the pirates back in the day, we can make up our own minds at zero cost. If it doesn’t click, no matter: there’ll be something else along in a day or two. I can’t help but worry a bit about where this is all heading. At least for now I’ve got plenty of solid seven-out-of-ten games to distract me.


  • Faultless arthouse-indie publisher Annapurna Interactive did its first ever Direct-style thing last night, with predictably fine results. Highlights include an expansion for Outer Wilds, release dates for The Artful Escape and Solar Ash, news of a hook-up with Observation developer No Code, and plenty of updates and announcements besides. The law of averages suggests that one of these days Annapurna will put out a bad game. On last night’s evidence there’s no danger of its hot streak being broken any time soon. What a run they’re on over there.
  • Ubisoft CEO — sorry, beleaguered Ubisoft CEO — Yves Guillemot has responded to the thousand-plus staff who signed an open letter expressing solidarity with the Blizzard staff walkout, calling on their employer to finally make good on promises made after its own misconduct scandal last year. “Myself and the entire leadership team [are] committed to building a better Ubisoft for all of us,” he said. We’ll see.
  • Sony is finally unlocking PS5’s spare internal SSD slot. On paper, this is a far better solution than that of Series X, which involves the sort of costly proprietary solution we used to associate with Sony. In practice, only a handful of drives are supported, the requirements are maddeningly specific, costs are outrageous and Sony warns that performance may be worse than the internal drive regardless. Just a real mess all round.
  • Meanwhile, PS5 has passed 10 million units sold, making it the fastest-selling PlayStation to date. Though given software attach rates — 1.1 million sales for Ratchet & Clank; 550,000 for Returnal — it appears around 8 million of those are still in the hands of scalpers.
  • Nintendo is shutting down the servers for smartphone puzzler Dr Mario World in November. It is the company’s worst-performing mobile game to date, bringing in just $13.8 million in lifetime revenue. I am not surprised. It was not good.
  • Preorders for charmingly bonkers hipster handheld Playdate finally launched yesterday — remarkable to think we put this thing on the cover of Edge two years ago — and over 20,000 units were ordered in the first 20 minutes. I was about to put an order in, but then realised they wanted full payment in advance, and were only promising a vague delivery window of 2022. I think a key part of the appeal is being there for that ‘season’ of games, with two new games beamed automatically to the system every week. I am, regrettably, out, at least for now.

There you go! As ever, if you’ve enjoyed this, please ‘engage’ and ‘connect’ with the buttons below. I am off to a barn conversion on the edge of a working farm, where it is probably going to rain a lot. Have a great week, and I’ll see you on the flip.