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Apex Legends players think its in-game items are way too expensive

Respawn’s Apex Legends is a huge hit. The free-to-play battle royale shooter is closing out its second week since release, and it’s still retaining its top spot on the Twitch leaderboards following its successful first e-sports event. Top streamers like Ninja and Shroud continue to play the game on a daily basis, and it’s looking like it could have a healthy life as a top-tier competitive game if Respawn puts the resources into building out a proper tournament structure.

But one element of the game that may affect its long-term popularity is its business model, with many players worried that Apex’s in-game prices are too expensive.

As a free-to-play title, Apex Legends has to generate revenue somehow, and the best way to do that in an online multiplayer game is to borrow concepts from popular titles like Fortnite and Overwatch. That means letting players party real money for character costumes, weapon skins, and various other collectibles that don’t affect gameplay, but make you look cool or unique while you play.

Apex Legends, however, has a particularly aggressive pricing model and an overly complex economy. Now, players are starting to voice concern about how that model could eventually harm its longevity, as more revenue from microtransactions likely translates to a more robust development team, faster updates, and more support from EA.

As it stands, Apex Legends charges as much as $18 for singular weapon and legend skins. That’s more than Epic has charged for all but the rarest Fortnite items, and it’s particularly egregious when you consider that there’s no easy way to play Apex enough to earn any of them in a realistic fashion, at least until Respawn launches its battle pass subscription service next month. For its Valentine’s Days event, Respawn released a character banner — one that only displays at the beginning of a game and in select moments while you’re playing — and a weapon skin that cost $11 each. It’s a particularly frustrating price point, as it requires players buy at least $20 of in-game currency because the next-lowest tier is a $10 bundle.

Part of the reason behind the focused anger — around a game that is otherwise awash in well-earned praise — is that EA and Respawn have instituted a complicated, multi-currency economy that doesn’t seem to reward you fairly for time spent. You can buy some of those absurdly pricey, $18 items outright by buying Apex Coins, but if you want a chance at earning them on your own, you have a few options and none of them are particularly well designed. You can buy lootbox-style Apex Packs at $1 apiece and hope you get a rare item among the hundreds of throwaway ones like voice lines and profile trackers. Or you can level up to earn an additional separate currency, Legend Tokens, that only let you buy certain items.

Additionally, you can save up enough “scrap” (an entirely separate third currency) that lets you craft some of these items. But the only way to earn scrap is to open Apex Packs, which, again, can only be bought or earned by leveling up. Yet Respawn reduces the frequency you get awarded packs by leveling up the more you play the game, encouraging players to buy them as they become more invested. (Granted, the element here that does affect gameplay, new characters like Mirage and Caustic, can be purchased relatively easily using Legend Tokens.)

The end result of this complex web of currencies and reward mechanisms is a microtransaction system that players are starting to outright reject just two weeks after release. On the dedicated Apex Legends subreddit, which has ballooned to nearly half a million users, a number of multi-thousand-comment threads have popped up this past week addressing the issue. “Respawn, I would not hesitate to impulse purchase $3-5 for cosmetic items. $11-18 though? Will not even consider it,” reads one. “So far, the store seems to be predatory,” reads another.

And as one player put in a top comment on the former of the two threads: “I’m actually glad the cosmetics are so expensive. Makes it really simple to control myself and not buy a shit ton of them.” That may be the center issue at play: Apex Legends’ success depends not just on people finding the game fun and playing it. It also depends on people finding it so enjoyable, and its cosmetic items so worthwhile, that they’ll be willing to spend a healthy chunk of money on it.

Ask a hardcore Fortnite player with deposable income, like yours truly, how much they’ve spent on the game, and it’s likely much more than a standard $60 price tag you’d see on a boxed video game product. But the reason Fortnite generates hundreds of millions of dollars a month is its entirely fair and straightforward economy and its excellent cosmetic designs.

There’s only one currency in the game. Fortnite offers just v-bucks, and those can be earned by buying the $10-per-season battle pass subscription and leveling up. Epic also has clear-cut method for pricing: skins can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, while emotes will never cost more than $8 and often cost either $3 or $5. Even better is Epic’s constant giveaways. The developer runs constant special events where you can play the game, complete challenges, and earn free stuff. Its best deal is a multi-step challenge list released just yesterday that will let players even earn a season 8 battle pass subscription without paying a cent.

Right now, we have no idea how much money Apex Legends is generating, so it’s hard to say that players’ vocal complaints about price tags will have an effect on the game’s earning potential. But it’s safe to say that EA wouldn’t be footing the bill for a free-to-play game of this scale if it didn’t have high hopes it could be a money-generator like Fortnite. That has a slim chance of happening unless some of these pricing schemes change, or in the unlikely event its battle pass is so successful it floats the entire the game.

But it would be a real shame to see Apex Legends stumble because it’s too busy testing the limits on what maximum it can charge per item, when it could be thinking up creative ways to make fans want to spend time and money and support it.

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LG’s first 5G phone just leaked — here’s the V50 ThinQ

OK, I’m about convinced that Vlad is right: phone manufacturers aren’t even trying anymore. Hot on the heels of learning practically everything Samsung could possibly announce at its Galaxy S10 press conference later this month, including up to five phones and an entire wearables lineup, we're now leaning that LG’s new superphone — the LG V50 ThinQ — has just broken cover. It turns an entire trail of bread crumbs into a remarkably decent picture of a phone worth watching for.

We knew that LG was bringing a 5G smartphone to Sprint in the first half of 2019, and separately, we’d heard that the company might debut its rumored, 5G-equipped V50 superphone alongside the likely-to-be-more-reasonably-priced LG G8 at Mobile World Congress later this month.

But now, prominent phone leaker Evan Blass (@evleaks) has given us what’s almost certainly our full first press pictures of the V50, and it seems those two reports are describing the same thing. The LG V50 ThinQ appears to be headed to Sprint’s 5G nacent network, and we should see an announcement on February 24.

LG V50 ThinQ for Sprint 5G pic.twitter.com/TNLQsYPgPS

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) February 16, 2019

Why am I so certain about that date? It’s not just the date teased in the center of the screen, though that’s certainly cute — as Android Authority and others point out, it’s the fact that LG already officially revealed in a Korean press release that its first 5G phone will be unveiled on the 24th as well.

And because that press release officially announced some early details of that phone, it’s probably safe to assume those details will apply to the V50 ThinQ as well — meaning we should expect this phone to come with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 processor, a new (and large, with 2.7 times the surface area) vapor chamber cooling system, and a fairly high-capacity 4,000mAh battery as well.

 LG Newsroom

In that release, LG suggested that the battery in particular would help address fears that 5G phones might have lower battery life, which is a pretty dang valid one considering how poor the first 4G LTE phones’ batteries were, and I’m wondering if more capable cooling systems will be a necessity for the first 5G phones as well.

It’s not clear from Blass’s image how thin the LG V50 ThinQ might be or whether it’ll still have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but we can see a few notable features nonetheless — while the inclusion of a rear fingerprint divot might be disappointing for those who are hoping LG migrates to in-display fingerprint sensors, it’s impressive to see that LG may have managed to cram the LG V40’s three rear cameras — wide angle, normal, and telephoto zoom — into a package that lays flat instead of bulging out the back of the phone.

We’ll almost certainly find out more at LG’s event at Mobile World Congress on February 24.

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Google is reportedly hiding behind shell companies to scoop up tax breaks and land

Should local communities have the right to know before a big tech company moves in? Should they be able to protest before city planners offer those companies millions or even billions of dollars in incentives? Those were the questions raised when Amazon was promised $1.2 billion in subsidies to bring a new headquarters to New York City, and we’re asking them again today — because The Washington Post reports that Google has been using secret shell companies to nab millions in tax breaks as it expands its data centers and offices across the US.

The Post’s investigation starts with a doozy: Google reportedly hid behind the names “Sharka LLC” to win $10 million in tax breaks for a new data center in Midlothian, Texas, by signing both its development agencies and city officials to NDAs that forbid them from revealing that Google was behind the deal. Google also reportedly used “Jet Stream LLC” to quietly purchase the land.

This passage from the Post is so perfect at painting a picture of big company vs. small community that I’m going to quote it in its entirety:

“I’m confident that had the community known this project was under the direction of Google, people would have spoken out, but we were never given the chance to speak,” said Travis Smith, managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, the local paper. “We didn’t know that it was Google until after it passed.”

After the deal went through, Sharka changed its main address to that of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Site work began last fall.

Midlothian, Texas is just one of the locales that the Post highlights in its story. My gut reaction, reading it, was to wonder whether Google decided to publish that blog post last week — the one about how it’s investing $13 billion in America by opening data centers and offices across a wide swath of the US — at least partly so it could get out ahead of this reporting.

As we learned when reporting on Amazon’s similarly secretive bidding process, it’s not at all unusual for a company to quietly pursue deals like this. “When companies conduct site location searches, it’s almost always a secret affair,” Greg Leroy, executive director of Good Jobs First, told us at the time.

And that seems to be Google’s official response to the reporting as well — the company’s statement to the Post suggests that these are “common industry practices.”

Still, I feel like I should point out how laughable this part of Google’s statement sounds when you consider the practices the Post describes in its story: “We believe public dialogue is vital to the process of building new sites and offices, so we actively engage with community members and elected officials in the places we call home.”

In Amazon’s case, the surprise handouts let to a backlash, which in turn led to Amazon surprising everyone yet again by pulling out of the plan to open new offices in NYC. Still, Amazon stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for its Virginia offices as well.

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10 new trailers you should watch this week

I’ll keep this week’s intro (relatively) short and simple: if you haven’t already seen Into the Spider-Verse, you should do it. The animation alone is worth the price of admission — there’s nothing else on screen that’s quite like it in terms of look and feel.

The film is also a perfect example of how you can tell the same basic story over and over again (it’s still Spider-Man, after all), but still make it feel fresh by infusing the details with characters that draw you in and make you care about them. And this film does that with the perfect balance of earnestness and humor.

Check out 10 trailers from this week below.

Aladdin

Oh my god, Will Smith as a genie. On one hand, it’s horrifying. On the other, maybe it’s the role he was born to play. Disney’s live-action Aladdin comes out May 24th.

Frozen 2

My only experience with Frozen is watching the short film that played before Coco, which I will just say was very long. But I really love the opening to this teaser for the second film, which has some gorgeous animation and places Elsa in a moody, lonely situation requiring careful and clever use of her powers. It certainly looks darker than you’d expect. The film comes out November 22nd.

Catch-22

Hulu has a six-episode adaptation of Catch-22 coming up that’s directed in part by George Clooney. Clooney also stars alongside Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie, and the guy who played Marnie’s first boyfriend in Girls. The series debuts May 17th.

Killing Eve

The first season of Killing Eve was a huge success, and now the series is headed back for a very eerie looking season two. It starts up on BBC America on April 7th.

Ma

Octavia Spencer plays a seemingly sweet but apparently murderous woman in Ma, a movie that seems to be about a lonely woman who preys on teenagers. The premise sounds all at once too mundane and too unreal, but it seems like a solid horror setup. The movie comes out May 31st.

Tolkien

Fox put out a first trailer this week for Tolkien, its biopic about the “formative years” of J.R.R. Tolkien and how he came to write Lord of the Rings. This trailer teases a film that intersperses the real world with imagined shots of Middle Earth, which seem to blend in eerily well with the outbreak of World War I. The film comes out May 10th.

DC Super Hero Girls

There’s a new DC superhero series coming up that’s all about the publisher’s female heroes — in this case, with all of them still stuck in high school. The show comes to Cartoon Network on March 8th.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

HBO grabbed Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, which unpacks the complete mess that was Theranos. My colleague Tasha Robinson saw the film at Sundance last month and said one its great strengths was “making all this information clear, simple, and easily accessible,” which is great if you weren’t able to follow along with the multi-year saga. It comes out March 18th.

The Hustle

This year’s latest gender-swapped remake is The Hustle, which turns Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — a comedy about a classy con man and small-time hustler competing to scam a mark — into a film about two women working together to con bad (and rich) men. It’s kind of the perfect premise for a gender swap, and the advertising is really playing it up. The film comes out May 10th.

Love Death + Robots

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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