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Opinion: Could Sprked be the answer to the paid mods issue?

I recently wrote an opinion piece in which I discussed Valve’s attempts to introduce paid mods to Steam and outlined potential solutions for making paid mods work. The piece only covered a few scenarios, but it caught the eye of Andrew Moussa, the CEO and one of the co-founders of Sprked, a new online service that seeks to implement paid mods in a way that will make both modders and players happy. It’s a tall order, as Valve learned, but judging by the way in which Sprked allows modders to make money off of their creations, it could theoretically work if implemented correctly.

Appealing to the Masses

If you’ve ever heard of or used the online service Patreon, Sprked functions in a very similar manner while focusing specifically on PC mods. Modders who start a campaign on Sprked don’t promote an individual mod (although they can), but are instead are encouraged to show off the full breadth of their modding capabilities. While a Sprked modder’s mods are free, fans of the modder’s work can “subscribe” to their Sprked campaign at various monthly payment tiers (determined by the modder) with each tier granting specific perks much like a Kickstarter campaign. For example, a modder might have a campaign with a $1 per month tier that grants subscribers a personal thank you message, a $5 per month tier that adds their name into a mod’s credits, a $10 per month tier that grants early access to an upcoming mod, and so forth.

This system has a much better chance of working than Valve’s system because it incentivizes users to subscribe to campaigns without forcing them to. You can still play a mod featured in a campaign for free, but supporting the mod’s creator allows them to continue making them while unlocking some cool perks. Since modders on Sprked receive 95% of the funds generated through their campaigns, you can also rest assured that your money is primarily benefiting the modder and not some third-party company.

The campaign structure used in Sprked can be tweaked to fit an individual modder’s unique parameters. For example, if a modder would rather ask for donations on a per-mod or per-game basis instead of per-month, they can do so. Modders also have full control over the kinds of rewards they offer. Physical rewards such as personalized post cards, social rewards such as access to exclusive livestreams or Google Hangouts, in-game rewards such as skins or items, these are just some of the many different rewards modders can use to entice interested fans into subscribing.

An Uphill Battle

As great as the idea behind Sprked sounds, it isn’t without its challenges. The simple fact that it’s a service associated with the hot-button issue of paid mods means there will likely always be a fair number of people thumbing their noses at it. Plus, there’s a lot of room for abuse on both sides of the service’s userbase. Devious users could “troll” modders by making large fraudulent payments, either with a stolen credit card or by disputing the charge with their bank. Since modders are directly responsible for providing all of their campaign’s perks, it would be very easy for a modder to promise a perk, hit a rough financial patch, and then be unable to fulfill those promises. According to the Sprked terms of use, modders are legally bound to provide perks as promised but it’s up to individual modders and their fans to figure out a solution if the modder can’t deliver (refunds, alternate perks, etc.)

The terms of use are also careful to clarify that Sprked isn’t responsible if a modder can’t provide the perks they promised. This means there is more risk involved when subscribing to a modder’s campaign, at least when compared to Valve’s more straightforward system of charging a flat amount for access to a mod, since if the modder and fan can’t reach a resolution, Sprked is under no obligation to step in. In short, while the Sprked campaign system offers freedom and flexibility to both modders and fans, the folks behind Sprked are relying on a baseline level of trust and accountability, which - as Kickstarter has proven - isn’t the most stable foundation.

A Bright, If Uncertain Future

A quick perusal of the current Sprked website shows that the service still has a long way before it can go mainstream. While all of the service’s campaigns are grouped together into broad categories like “Adventure”, “RPG”, and “Sandbox”, there is currently no easy way to find specific modders or games, aside from browsing through all of the categories. A number of mods also appear to be mis-categorized, making it even more difficult to find what you want. Many of the campaigns also contain low-quality images and grammatical errors in their description text, which doesn't exactly encourage investment. These may all be minor, easily-fixable issues, but considering the fact that Sprked is trying to re-introduce a concept that Valve, the undisputed granddaddy of PC gaming, failed to successfully launch, the service definitely has its work cut out.

Even with these issues, Sprked offers a much more user-friendly system than what Valve introduced. When used as intended, the Sprked system benefits all parties without forcing any restrictions, financial or otherwise, on either the modders or the potential subscribers. It will be interesting to see how much Sprked catches on as it gains more media attention (especially if Valve ever tries to re-introduce a paid mod system) but for now, the success or failure of the service rests firmly on the shoulders of Andrew Moussa and the rest of the Sprked team.

Batman: Arkham Knight introduces Batgirl story on July 14

There are still a large number of Batman: Arkham Knight players that are running through that game's main story, but the story is about to expand just a little more. Warner Bros. is preparing to issue the game's first Season Pass content and is kicking off its six months' worth of content with the Batgirl prequel first revealed in May.

Titled "A Matter of Family," the Batgirl DLC will take place before the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, introducing new locations, missions, and side quests. Batgirl will have her own hacking tool to help her get through the world, while she'll also occasionally team up with Robin for some dual-team takedowns. WB Montreal (developer of Batman: Arkham Origins and perhaps the next in line to take the mantle of the Bat) is the team behind this Batgirl content, but the remainder of the Season Pass content will be released under the Rocksteady banner.

Batgirl begins for Season Pass owners on July 14. For those that do not own the Arkham Knight Season Pass, A Matter of Family will be released separately for about $9 on July 21. This Season Pass content will be released for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. No word on when the PC version of the game will get this content, but that particular iteration of the game seems to have its own problems at the moment.

Segmentation for mobile game developers

"Push Notifications are a great way to (re-)engage with users and reward those who have been very loyal or entice those who haven't played in a while to come back and rejoin the gameplay." ...

Examining organic tutorials

"What makes organic tutorial design work so well is that the player is learning how these mechanics work via situations and challenges that the game is built around." ...

Making design tools in Unity: Creating WorldShape

"How does our WorldShape tool actually work? How might you create your own similar tools? I won't be able to explain every aspect of Unity, obviously, but I'll try to point you in the right direction." ...

Epic Games leads GDC Europe's lineup of great sponsored talks

Passes for GDC Europe 2015 are still available at a discounted Early Bird rate, and as the show draws nigh we're debuting a pair of sponsored sessions on UE4 and PowerVR that you'll want to check out. ...

Top Games of 2015 (So Far): Steve Watts

We're halfway through 2015, so the Shacknews staff has been sharing what we've affectionately nicknamed our "GOTMYs"--Games of the Mid-Year. This year will be top-loaded with big releases in the fall, so we're bound to shift some spots around when it comes to crowning our official winner, but in the meantime here are some of my frontrunners so far.

Box Boy

Who would have thought such an unassuming game would make my list of favorites? Box Boy came out of nowhere for me, and became one of my biggest surprises this year. It's a throwback to the simple mechanics and monochromatic colors of classic Gameboy games, with a simple and ingenious hook. You are Box Boy, a small anthropomorphic box with the power to replicate boxes out of himself to make stacks or patterns.

That's it. That's the whole premise. Box Boy doesn't gain new powers or abilities. Your character at the start is the same as your character at the finish. What follows is a master's class in gameplay iteration, with more than a dozen worlds absolutely bursting with puzzle-platforming challenges that each feel unique. That these mechanics can be used to such an expansive degree really goes to show that we don't always need big budgets and massive worlds. Sometimes a game designer can still surprise us simply by wringing every last drop of potential out of a simple concept.

Batman: Arkham Knight

I have a few reservations about Batman: Arkham Knight. The story reveal of the Arkham Knight's identity frustrated me, the character motivations seem muddled at times, the Batmobile has a tendency to feel forced and overused, and some of the combat scenarios press the crowd control aspect just a hair too far.

On the other hand: Batman.

Whatever faults it may have, Arkham Knight is building on one of the most rock-solid foundations in recent gaming history. It has created a Batman universe with its own unique tone, borrowing liberally from both the Animated Series and some of the darkest pieces of the Dark Knight's saga. Dropping into a room full of thugs still feels great, edged out only by taking them out one by one as the remaining ones grow increasingly terrified. The feeling of being Batman permeates everything, from the empowerment of his gadgetry to the way every character is certain from the start that he'll get the job done. Even the Batmobile feels great in its best moments--a powerhouse vehicle that outclasses everything the Knight throws at you. It may not be the best Arkham game, but there's no shame in being second place to Asylum.


I intentionally remained in the dark on Splatoon, somewhat turned off by the art style but otherwise ambivalent towards Nintendo's quirky take on the third-person shooter. I really should have known that if Nintendo was going to dip its tentacle in a new genre, it would nail the fundamentals and make something that felt entirely new. 

Splatoon is a shooter, but it isn't. It's a playful experience that mixes arena combat with a Jackson Pollock painting. It finds a way to deemphasize combat and give everyone a chance to contribute to the team. It's gloriously fun and supremely weird. I raised concerns in my review over some odd user-interface choices and a lack of content. The UI remains somewhat awkward, but the summer of free content has already provided plenty of richness to the experience. Games like this remind me why it's never wise to underestimate Nintendo.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

I haven't finished The Witcher 3. I may never finish The Witcher 3. If we were giving a prize for "most game," it would go to The Witcher 3. I predict this will be a slow burn, the game that I constantly go back to between finishing all other games, possibly right up until the end of the year when we get to our actual GOTY votes. It's just so massive that it's intimidating.

Not so intimidating that I can stay away, however. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with it so far, and though I feel like I'm only scratching the surface, I can already see the depth and breadth of this enormous world that CD Projekt Red created. It swept me up with its characters and personality, and even the smallest of sidequests has a story of its own to tell. I can't wait to finish it (estimate: 2017).

Ori and the Blind Forest

Being a veteran in the games media, I'm prone to navel-gazing discussions of cliches and writing crutches. Games writing is filthy with these, and I was recently pondering a few with a fellow games journalist. He mentioned "tight" as an example, and I had to admit I was guilty of it. The problem, I pointed out, is that the games media hasn't come up with an elegant way to say "this feels like it should feel." So we use shorthand.

Ori and the Blind Forest feels like it should feel. There's an intuitive, ineffable sensation to mechanics so expertly crafted that a game immediately feels not just good, but correct. Nintendo is infamous for finding this hallowed ground consistently, while other platformers tend to be hit-or-miss. Ori is all hit and no miss. In terms of sheer mechanics, it is as close to perfection as any Mario game.

Layered on top of that foundation are a few elements that make it stand out even more. It's composed of a gorgeous 2D world with artwork that appears to live and breathe. The story is emotionally resonant from beginning to end, giving each character its due. It's tough as nails in a way that constantly entices the player to give it just one more try. 

This fall looks packed full of games that are bound to shake up my favorites of the year, but even this far in advance I predict Ori and the Blind Forest will make my top five. I simply can't see five more games coming that will displace such a touching story, harrowing challenge, and yes, "tight" controls.

Укрощение интерфейса антивируса

Сегодня речь пойдет о том, как мы конструировали интерфейс антивируса для сайтов, с какими сложностями столкнулись в погоне за лучшим UX и о том, как нам пришлось пересмотреть традиционные взгляды на организацию подобных интерфейсов.

Итак, перед нами стояла задача сделать интерфейс антивируса для сайтов. Он должен быть удобным, простым и быстрым. О скорости и подходе проектирования на слоях мы уже писали в предыдущих постах. Сервис Вирусдай включает в себя пять инструментов. Здесь я расскажу о компоновке и функциональности элементов первого из них — антивируса. Читать дальше →
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