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Steam’s pricing policy for developing countries – good news for Bangladesh

An increasing number of PC gamers in Bangladesh have shied away from the decade-old norm of buying pirated DVDs from their local shopping mall or sailing the high seas themselves and are now buying original games for full retail price.

The reasoning behind that, aside from the obvious moral ones, is that video games have immense online interactions now — from updates, patches and DLC’s to the doom and gloom of MTX’s — and players are also drawn towards playing online, something which is cumbersome to say the least with pirate games, as couch co-op slowly fades.

Developers have also spurred on that trend with DRMs, with mixed results.

As much as one can build up their library during Steam sales, the prohibiting factor for every gaming enthusiast in Bangladesh has always been the pricing.

Justifying the $60 purchase of a single game can prove a tough ask, especially to your girlfriend who will ask why you didn’t take her to the Westin for a buffet dinner using a certain telecom company’s ‘buy one get one free’ offer.

Just kidding, PC gamers don’t have girlfriends.

But more to the point, that load on your wallet is definitely going to get a lot lighter after Valve’s latest changes. The software giant announced that they would not only be adding more payment methods, but that they would be starting a ‘South Asian Pricing Region’, meaning the prices of games South Asia will be lowered.

As a result, PC gamers in Bangladesh can expect to see hugely reduced prices for some upcoming titles, while they can grab Middle Earth: Shadow of War for just $30 compared to the $60 that North Americans will have to pay for the AAA experience. Other $60 AAA games include Call of Duty WWII, which currently costs $32, and Assassin’s Creed Origins, for $44.

Image: Ubisoft

All over the store games have been reduced in price. Cuphead is retailing for $8.19, less than the $9.99 its soundtrack costs!

That load on your wallet is definitely going to get a lot lighter after Valve’s latest changes, which aims to make games cheaper for countries like Bangladesh.

The changes have not been made without their troubles however. The process has led to gifting harder due to pricing differences across countries. If you have a cousin living in Canada or the US and they want some of the sweet deals, it’s not going to happen. Sure they can Western Union the money to your mom, but Steam has restricted the gifting of games to players in other regions where the prices are different.

Great, so now you know that the games in Bangladesh are cheaper, but how do you go about acquiring them without an international credit card? While Valve seriously needs to work on accepting BKash directly, you can have a gander around Facebook.

Image: Cuphead

Impex Computer, a shop in Elephant Road’s Multiplan Center, have Steam Wallet Codes available.

The process is akin to recharging your phone in the pre-flexi days, with a scratch-off card, and the price isn’t that bad either.

While a $2 card currently costs Tk 250, an 82.5% mark-up, that difference is just 23 taka when you buy a $10 card for Tk 850. Using my A level degree in math, I have calculated that buying Call of Duty WWII ($32) would cost you Tk 2,800 – a bit more than you’d need to pay officially, but a far cry from the official retail price of $60.

Group gaming with Nintendo Switch – the next big console?

The current generation of consoles brought improved graphics and made new gameplay mechanics possible but they do not do anything to shift the planes of the video game industry. The Nintendo Switch is the newest entry and it is by far the most innovative one. But will it really click with the average Bangladeshi gamer?

For the uninitiated, the Switch is a portable console by default that also doubles as a traditional home console. You have the main unit with two controller sticks attached at the sides called “Joy-Cons”. The main unit can be placed onto a dock that is meant to be connected to a display via HDMI. If you dock the portable unit, your game instantly shifts to the big screen. You can remove the joy-cons from the sides of the Switch and they’ll work wirelessly with your console. You can also slot the joy-cons onto an included grip module that makes the controller sticks mimic an actual controller. The joy-cons also have gyroscopes and accelerometers so you can use them to play games like you did on the Wii.

Nintendo Switch - HIFI Public
Squinting at a tiny screen has never been this fun. Neither has fighting for elbow space. Image: Nintendo

This innovative design means that you can take your game anywhere you want to. One moment you’re playing Zelda on your TV screen, the next moment you’re stuck in Dhaka’s traffic jam bashing bokoblins instead of listening to your chauffeur arguing with unruly pedestrians. It is truly a technical marvel that is just as seamless as the commercials showed us.

You might be wondering about how big the console actually is and how much it weighs. The screen size is 6.2 inches and the whole shape of the device is larger than your average cellphone, so fitting this one in your pocket is a no-no. But the shape can be accommodated for easily in a backpack or messenger bag. It weights around 300 grams so it is very light and it isn’t tiring on your hands either.

The internals of the device are as follows:

Display: 6.2 inch, 1280×720 LCD (the Switch outputs at 1080p when in docked mode).

System Chip: Nvidia Tegra X1.

CPU: Octa-core (4×ARM Cortex-A57 & 4×ARM Cortex-A53) @ 1.020 GHz.

Memory: 4 GB LPDDR4.

Storage:  Internal flash memory: 32 GB.

GPU: Nvidia GM20B Maxwell-based GPU at 307.2 – 384 MHz while undocked, 307.2 – 768 MHz while docked.

Sound: Linear PCM 5.1ch (via HDMI), front-firing stereo speakers, and headphone jack.

Nintendo Swiitch games - HIFI Public
Image: Gamestop

The Switch has an extensive library of video games, all utilising the console very well. For starters, you have two Game of The Year award winners in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. If single-player games aren’t your forte, you have Splatoon 2 – a competitive shooter with a unique twist on gameplay. You also have a game called ARMS where you have to use your joy-cons to emulate punches thrown at your opponent.  There are also multiple ports by Bethesda – Skyrim, DOOM, and Wolfenstein 2 which are to be released at a later date.

It is truly a technical marvel that is just as seamless as the commercials showed us.

Most games run at a steady 30 fps both in portable and docked mode. Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 run at 60 fps. The Switch does very well with the modest hardware that it has and games do not have any sort of noticeable lag or fps drops even during taxing situations like combat and rendering heavy particle effects.

Playing on the portable mode is easy and ergonomic. The whole shape isn’t too wide and the joy-con controllers were adequately sized even for my large hands. We definitely recommend picking up a pro controller though, as the included grip module is a bit of a joke.

Nintendo Switch - HIFI Public
Nintendo has found a magical way to make controllers float. Image: Nintendo

The big plus side to the Switch’s design is that during summer days, when load-shedding is common in Bangladesh, you need not worry because if the power goes out, the console instantly shifts to portable mode. So, you can rest assured that your boss fight isn’t going to be disrupted by electrical problems.

Games for the Switch can be found at all the common video game retailers in Bashundhara City or Rifles Square. IF you want e-shop cards, the Facebook page Get-Set-Gaming can set you up.

All in all, the Switch can be a worthy addition to your video game hardware collection. It has great games, amazing design, and is a blast to play on.

Will the real Need for Speed please stand up

Turn the clock back to 2010, and you’ll find yourself in a world where all racing games were measured by the gargantuan franchise that was Need for Speed. Regardless of what kind of racing game it was, the gamers, and sometimes reviewers, would still judge it by names in the Need for Speed stables. And why not? Back then, they had arcades as well as simulators and a loyal fan base under their belt. Fast forward to present  day, and the Need for Speed name is either being dragged through the mud, or worse, ignored and forgotten altogether.

How is it that a renowned franchise such as this has fallen into such dismay? A franchise almost synonymous with cars and racing is now considered a brand you’d rather overlook and not spend your hard earned money on. You’d think that having been in the industry since 1994 have earned them a wealth of knowledge and insight into the mind of the gamers, but their more recent titles feel more and more disconnected with the fan base.

It’s easy to say that EA, the company behind the franchise, is to blame for the progressively bad entries being made, but is it really that simple? Let’s go through all the possible scenarios that could be hampering this series from claiming its bygone glory.

Image: Electronic Arts

New kids on the block

Back in the heydays of NFS, there weren’t really that many titles that could really challenge it. Rather, it was the yardstick by which other racing games were judged. However, the competition started to rise to the challenge, and newcomers were suddenly taking the virtual racing scene by storm. Titles like the Test Drive Unlimited series, Burnout Paradise, and the newly competing Forza Horizon series was showing the way forwards with arcade racing games. Unfortunately, Need for Speed did not have the same development pace as its competitors, instead stubbornly sticking to age-old formulas instead.

Image: Electronic Arts

Taste Evolution

Up until 2002, the formula of NFS was pretty straightforward; exotics darting across scenic, albeit closed, tracks and maybe throw in a police chase or two for a good surge of adrenaline. That all started to change, however, when car culture as we knew it started to shift to a new paradigm thanks to the first two Fast and Furious movies (back when they were about cars and racing, that is). EA was smart to jump in on this with their newly rebooted Need for Speed Underground and its subsequent follow-up titles. The new formula was all about self expression through the customization of one’s car, and the new titles were providing that in spades. However, pushing the same styled content over and over again does tend to grind on one’s tastes, and unfortunately, that was precisely what had happened. EA had even gone as far as to bring back the exotics, pretty tracks and police chases in the hopes of getting fans back under the banner, but of course this wasn’t exactly what the fans wanted.

Image: Electronic Arts

Shifting Studios

Don’t know if you noticed, but NFS has been going through a bit of an identity crisis in the recent years thanks to the inconsistent number of studios that have worked on its various instalments and that’s another reason NFS can’t match up to its competitors. Take the era of Underground for example. The first one, its sequel, Carbon, 2005’s Most Wanted, and Pro Street were all developed under Black Box games. All of these were hits with the audience and it gave Black Box studios a wealth of experience that could have filtered down to future titles. However, as history teaches us, EA has a habit of acquiring studios and then dissolving them, and as such, Black Box was dissolved, and future titles were put under charge of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout series. And that lineage showed, as Need for Speed suddenly started getting Burnout-esque crashes and lacked any kind of customization other than colours, and the same thing happened when they decided to do an arcade-y remake of the beloved Most Wanted title. With things starting to crumble, EA handed over development of the next title, Rivals, to the current studio, Ghost Games, with Criterion overseeing things. It was the first time in a long time that customization, albeit rudimentary, had popped up.

Image: Electronic Arts

As history teaches us, EA has a habit of acquiring studios and then dissolving them, and as such, Black Box was dissolved, and future titles were put under charge of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout series.

Ghost Games seemed to have gotten their bearing with their 2015 reboot of the franchise, finally returning to the belly of underground racing and deep levels of customization. Ghost Games also has a good rapport with the community as many of the feedback was actually addressed, unlike in the past. Aside from a few technical and handling glitches, it was well received by fans and hailed as the first step to NFS’s return, and when 2017’s Payback was announced, fans waited with bated breath for Ghost’s second outing. However, the slot machine style “Speed Card “performance upgrades and EA’s new-found greed of incorporating lootboxes have otherwise ruined a good sequel.

Image: Electronic Arts

All the problems outlined above are indeed a breakdown of things that EA should be able to manage, and yet it isn’t happening. What is happening instead is the Need for Speed name keeps getting more and more negative hits, and with games like Forza now making it’s way into the PC realm, EA can no keep the racing market all to itself. This isn’t the first time a beloved franchise went down under because of profit-making initiatives, with Mass Effect, and Star Wars Battlefronts being  recent victims. Unless Ghost Games start addressing these issues and ACTUALLY start listening to their fan base, they may actually have to drag this franchise to the digital graveyard .

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and not to be attributed to HIFI Public or its editorial team in any way.

Table-Top Role Playing Games

Only one medium of entertainment allows me to design and then play a Mongolian ghost-wrestler who beats down doors with a giant hammer and then helps blow up a ship using electroplasmic spirits. Only one medium of entertainment allows me to go mad with rage in an attempt to cover my team’s escape from said ship, with only the team’s thief rolling a lucky crit that allowed him to manhandle my character’s berserk body onto the getaway boat. Only one medium of entertainment lets you respond to a police raid by producing a shrunken head from your coat and throwing it at them, sending them packing in panic.

Role-playing games. A hobby with a bit of an image problem, and one that is pretty non-existent in Dhaka. It’s not a surprise given that Dhaka’s hobby culture is very trend-based and tabletop RPGs seem too geeky and outré – we don’t even have proper drama classes in our schools – but it’s a shame because these games map really well onto the blank spots of Dhaka’s lifestyle.

Image: Stranger Things / Netflix

You can place most free-time activities in Dhaka on a two-axis compass: running from social to solitary, and from sedentary to mobile.

You want to go out and meet your friends? Even if it’s just at one of their homes the traffic is a killer, makes scheduling really hard and you might have to give up your whole day to it – not to mention possible traveling costs. Throw in the price of movie tickets or the cost of eating a restaurant and it gets worse. Sure you could hang out with your friends on the football field, but you can’t get just any old friend of yours to turn up for that. What about solitary activities like reading? Books can get pretty expensive. Gaming? Ditto, especially if you want to shell out on a multiplayer game you and your friends can enjoy in the comforts of your own homes.

So thinking in terms of what people in Dhaka like to do anyway, the tabletop RPG pitch is as follows –

  • If you want to schedule a game session in person, it is dirt cheap. Just get your hands on a game manual PDF, maybe some character sheets, and just print whatever you need and keep the rest on your laptop or whatever device you prefer. Not every game system requires dice, and the ones that do can often work well enough with your bog standard 6-sided dice from your old Ludu set. Hell, there are perfectly good apps on the Play Store that roll dice for you – you don’t need to bother trying to track down a 16-sided dice in Dhaka. Things can get expensive if you want gear like miniatures, but even those can be MacGyvered using old action figures or what have you. Importing an expensive DnD kit using a backpack company is entirely an option, but in absolutely no way is it a requirement. The only price you absolutely have to pay is the rickshaw fare and snack costs for getting your mates together.
  • You can play online with friends, just as you would a session of League of Legends (cheaper too, because while LoL is free to play, the therapy you need afterwards is not.) Get a free account on Roll20.net, find the user-created tools for your game system of choice (almost certainly free) and send the game room link to your friends. If you wish to hear their lovely voices as you play, just use Discord. Or Skype, if you want to punish yourself. Zero cost.
  • RPGs allow and in fact encourage you to immerse yourself in a story, just like any good book. And unlike a book it’s not a passive experience – every player gets to exert creative freedom over what happens, to a degree that resembles the video game experience – but far more freeform. Anyone who enjoys either gaming’s system mastery or the joys of storytelling (ideally both) would find something to like. There’s nothing quite like it, but those come close. Maybe a bit of improv theatre, in case you do that.
  • Like your gaming crew, your football team or your mini book club, it will foster the creation of a tight group of fellow hobbyists. Don’t go in expecting all your friends to be up for it – though it’s certainly possible that they would be!
Image: Stranger Things / Netflix

In case your primary objection is that you don’t really see yourself as the Dungeons and Dragons type, don’t worry about that. There is absolutely no end to the game systems and settings you can give try. (Quick primer: the setting is all the cosmetic stuff, the flavour and world in which you play, whereas the system is the actual body of rules you need to play. A lot of systems have setting associated with them, but there’s no reason you can’t use D&D’s rules to play a game themed around a world like Mass Effect’s.) Choosing a game based on the setting is easy: you’re either excited by it or you aren’t. Choosing a game system is a little bit harder because until you give it a shot you won’t know if you and your friends prefer more narrative-driven games or more rules-based ones. Do you guys like complex games that require a lot of strategy or planning, or do you prefer to wing it? Maybe you want to play one big sit-down session, a short one while lazing around after lunch, or commit to a long campaign.

I’ll just give a brief rundown of a few games that could be appropriate for beginners – bearing in mind that whoever has responsibility for running the game is also probably playing an RPG for the first time ever.

  1. Dungeons and Dragons. There’s a reason this one’s the poster child for the hobby. It’s a system and setting that is so inherently familiar – especially if you video game – that you can slip into the mindset easily. Does take a bit of reading up and learning before you play, but the recent 5th edition is the most accessible yet. If you want the baseline RPG experience, this is the one.
  2. Powered by the Apocalypse. This one’s a game system focused around creating characters with relationships with one another. It’s relatively rules-light and relies heavily on players to narrate their actions instead of straightforward mechanics. Good if you like character-based storytelling. The main setting for Powered by the Apocalypse is Apocalypse World – think Mad Max with psychics. I’d avoid Apocalypse World itself because the game encourages player characters to get hot and heavy with one another, and that’s probably going to be awkward for your first time game group. You could try Masks: A New Generation It’s basically Teen Titans.
  3. Blades in the Dark. My personal jam, and the one I described in my opening paragraph. Narrative-driven game about playing criminals in a haunted steampunk city – think Ocean’s Eleven meets Dishonoured. This is one of the easier ones to learn as a player and conducive to both long campaigns and shorts – the GM needs to do most of the heavy lifting, so that’s good news if you don’t mind investing a lot more time than your friends.
  4. Now for something completely different – this isn’t an RPG at all, but looks enough like one for me to feel comfortable throwing it down here. It’s a collaborative worldbuilding exercise – you and your friends spend your time creating a new fictional world and filling up its history, moving back and forth along the timeline and zooming in and out (hence the name) on the focus and adding whatever layer of detail you want. It’s a very different experience to the rest, but with the right people it can be an easier sell than anything else on this list.
  5. Lasers & Feelings: Just a single sheet of rules. Shlocky sci-fi setting that’s ridiculously easy to grasp. Suitable for really quick sessions. One disadvantage of being so incredibly light is that it requires more imaginative heavy lifting to fill in the necessary blanks.

So go forth and test the waters of role-playing games. Who knows? It might let you find out things about your friends that you would otherwise never figure out.