If we're to categorize Facebook as a major gaming publisher and platform holder, it's only because of its dominance as a social media company. Based on the current merits of Oculus and its Twitch competitor Facebook Gaming, well... let me put it this way, even after last week's PR disaster, I'd place Google Stadia on firmer footing than Facebook's ambitions for gaming, especially as they concern Oculus and virtual reality.
Today's news about Facebook tiptoeing into the cloud gaming space doesn't change that for me, either. I think there's wisdom in Facebook's approach here, which revolves around starting with simpler, engagement-milking mobile games like Asphalt 9: Legends and WWE SuperCard. Better for Facebook to first target a gaming audience closer to the one it seems to grasp than to start throwing elbows at consoles like Stadia and Amazon Luna are.
But even with the billions it's spent on building up Oculus and the recent rebranding that puts the Facebook name closer to its VR products, when people think of Facebook and video games they're more likely to think of the soon-dead FarmVille than they are of anything else. Those types of games migrated over to mobile and away from the web and Facebook, which frames Facebook's new cloud launch as something of an overdue catch-up attempt.
Oh, and about those billions poured into Oculus? Facebook is actively flushing much of the progress it's made for itself and the entire VR market down the toilet.
While the Quest 2 is by most accounts a solid VR kit, save for compromises made to get it down to $299, the new Facebook integration for the headset is a disaster. Many VR developers and players were not thrilled to hear that Facebook accounts would become necessary for the Quest 2, and the headlines since the headset's launch have been dominated by issues related to the account requirement. Newly created accounts were getting instantly banned, locking Quest 2 buyers out of using the headsets. Bans were mistakenly being given to users who signed in across multiple Oculus devices. Now, if you delete your Facebook account, you'll also be giving up all Oculus purchases you've ever made.
It's not as though the standards for digital ownership rights are particularly high in gaming; console makers are only now trying to get serious about cross-generation purchases with free upgrades on new hardware, and in Sony's case, it's still eroding consumer friendliness and preservation for digital purchases on older systems. The problem with Facebook is that it's somehow finding new ways to skirt way under the low bar. A year ago, the Quest 1 was being hailed as a device that might break VR into the mainstream, and yet a stubborn account change may blunt the reach of its cheaper sibling.
Facebook's defense of its account practices with Oculus is that other platform holders also make you sign into accounts. Fair enough, but setting aside the fact that Xbox and PlayStation accounts don't instantly get banned for silly reasons like signing in on two devices, even logging into a Google account doesn't set off as many warning bells for people as having to sign into Facebook does.
The advertising practices of Facebook and Google have all but demolished traditional media and have destabilized fact-based discourse and democracy the world over, but shameless data collection practices combined with inept platform moderation have given Facebook the worse reputation of the two. Having to tie every conceivable datapoint of your VR usage—what you play, how you play it, the intimate details of how you move—would already be a tough pill to swallow if Facebook also wasn't presenting an objectively bad deal: delete your Facebook account and you forfeit your VR library.
No doubt, there's a long-term perspective at play within Facebook that sees major missteps like these as minor bumps in the road. Facebook's end goal isn't competing in the gaming market, beating Twitch at streaming, or leading in VR. It wants to be the dominant go at a metaverse, lording over a post-web and post-gaming (as we now know it) digital space.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the botched launch of the Quest 2 is currently gouging a rough trench in the still-warm asphalt leading to Facebook's metaverse. For those who weren't soured on Facebook by its role in 2016 U.S. election or in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, the plain and simple consumer-unfriendly launch of the Quest 2 stands to turn another set of people off of the company for good.
Whether or not VR, streamers, and cloud gaming ultimately do help it grow into an even bigger behemoth, Facebook has already proven it's capable of a major fumble here. Branching out into cloud gaming might bring in big bucks from SuperCard, but that's a fraction of a step forward compared to the several steps back the Quest 2 has already taken.
Major Game Releases: October 26 to October 30
Here are the major releases for the week of October 26 to October 30. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Ghostrunner [October 27 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC]: Get ready to run like hell. One More Level, 3D Realms, All In! and Slipgate Ironworks are ready to let slip Ghostrunner, a crazy-fast action platforming game that's built with speedrunning in mind. If you pick up Ghostrunner and you're ever confused about what to do next, just remember the words of a wise blue hedgehog: "Gotta go fast."
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 [October 27 for PlayStation 4]: The Trials of Cold Steel series finally draws to a close with the fourth entry. Rean Schwarzer has always been there for his friends and students, and now he's in desperate need of their help. Class VII alumni team up with the young punks of the new Class VII to bring order to a bad situation.
- Watch Dogs: Legion [October 29 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia]: Think you can find some time in your busy schedule to save London, which has become a totalitarian police state? I mean, if you have a few minutes. It'd be appreciated. Watch Dogs: Legion is calling on citizens who can help you take down The Man by whatever means necessary—and since London's police force is armed to the teeth, that means using a lot of subversive methods like hacking. Or you can be a foul-mouthed granny who's not afraid to get physical. Whatever gets the job done.
- Pikmin 3 Deluxe [October 30 for the Switch]: Another overlooked Wii U title is getting another shot at life on the Switch under the "Deluxe" banner. Pikmin 3 Deluxe spit-shines the 2013 original and puts it into the hands of a much, much wider audience. Pikmin's never found big mainstream success, but the games are mostly confined to Nintendo's less popular consoles. Now that Pikmin 3 Deluxe is loud and proud on the Switch, will people finally embrace it as a long-lost classic? Or will the franchise fade into semi-obscurity yet again. We shall see!
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- It's very important for a console to have a clean UI, and Microsoft and Sony think they've nailed it. Check out virtual tour for the Xbox Series X/Xbox Series S's start-ups, then compare it to the PlayStation 5's user experience. Which do you prefer? Meanwhile, I'm just wondering when we'll see themes for the Switch. Never, I'm guessing. Unless the fabled Switch Pro has something up its mythological sleeve...
- Jump up and down for joy: Facebook is getting into cloud gaming. Yep, "Facebook Gaming" will bring free-to-try games to the social media platform, and users can enjoy them through their web browser or on their mobile Facebook app. On one hand, I'm worried this might spark a new wave of annoying messages and invites—remember FarmVille? On the other hand, I think most of Facebook's user base is too busy bashing out conspiracy theories about Obama and Hillary Clinton to bother with a round of WWE SuperCard.
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is coming to iOS and Android: If your first reaction is to cringe and say "ugh," that's normal. Action-intense games like Bloodstained just don't work with on-screen virtual controls. That said, Koji Igarashi's spiritual Castlevania successor might pair up just fine with a Bluetooth controller. That's how I played the iOS adaptation of Bloodline's direct inspiration, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It worked out!
- Obsidian's Grounded is getting an update next month, and it's adding koi to your nightmares. Koi are kind of nice to look at, but I wouldn't want to swim in the vicinity of one after being shrunken down to the size of a tasty morsel. Watch yourself: Koi get aggressive when they're hungry. Oh, and if you survive the maw of the koi, don't worry. Obsidian's including some new underwater spiders that are sure to polish you off if the big effin' fish misses you somehow. Happy Halloween!
- Destruction AllStars, a former PlayStation 5 launch title, will be briefly delayed. The multiplayer car combat game is coming out in February instead. There's a silver lining to the delay: When it comes out, it'll be a free PlayStation Plus game. Not a bad trade-off.
Axe of the Blood God for October 26, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
With the next generation of consoles mere weeks away, we're jumping ahead in the Console RPG Quest to the Xbox One! While at first glance the Xbox One's RPG legacy is quite weak, there's more to it than meets the eye. Kat and Nadia talk about the importance of backward compatibility, the possibilities afforded by streaming, and lessons learned as they delve into the Xbox One's console history. Also, Torchlight 3 reviews, Crown Tundra impressions, and much more! Listen here!