It’s not AAA, but it’s not “indie” either… So what is it? It’s a mid-tier game! These are your $20-40 titles that can come from big, medium or small developers – they have a meaty experience, some spit and shine, and sometimes even a heritage to them.

Releasing this week are Insurgency, a mix of Counter Strike, Rainbow Six and Call of Duty, and Might and Magic X: Legacy. The Might and Magic series has been around for decades, but it has hit the big time in recent years. Both titles were part of Steam’s Early Access program, and will be fully released this week at $25-30 – a pretty sweet spot on PC.

How much does the industry owe to mid-tier game popularity? Is this where core gamers transition when they want to dive beyond the AAA titles? 

Thursday, 10:50 am – Gavin

I saw the EBGames price boost earlier in the week.  It looks like it includes some DLC as well, so that appears to be how they’re justifying the price increase.  Obviously silly, but there you do.

I finished Zelda: A Link Between Worlds this week, putting in something around 20 hours into it.  Incredible that I found 20 gaming hours over a month, especially with the holidays there, but they were mostly on the subway.  That gives me around an hour a day, plus plenty of evenings where I busted it out for half an hour here or there, so not unreasonable that I could beat it in that amount of time.

The final verdict?  Holy crap.  I gave it GOTY 2013 without having beaten it, and I stand by that assertion 100%.  Everything about it was the right mix of familiar and fresh.  It was so smooth and absolutely beautiful.  There was significant challenge in finding all of the optional treasure.  Where I got stuck, it was entirely because I forgot about some of the items in my inventory.  I could rave on and on about this game, but I’ll spare you.  It’s a fabulous entry in the series and with the right amount of perspective, I could easily see this overtaking Skyward Sword as my second-favourite.  Link to the Past will always be tops just by virtue of circumstance, but this was amazing.  It sold me on the 3DS and I regret nothing.

If I had to complain, and I don’t really want to, I would say that the core game is a little easy.  There were still some heart containers I couldn’t find or couldn’t figure out how to get to, but the core dungeons were challenging in that the puzzles were not always the easiest to figure out, but I only died five times in this game, and three of those were me just screwing around in a dungeon, trying different things to get a feel for the game.

So, one game down in the 2014 challenge.  I lamented to Ricky, however, that that was one of the four 3DS games that I own, and I’ve already beaten one of the other ones (VVVVVV).  I will need to ration out my time with Mario Kart 7 and Splinter Cell 3DS.  I suspect I will dump a shit-ton of time into Mario Kart 7 though, so I’m not desperately worried.  Meanwhile for the Wii U, I’ve finished all of the optional missions (except for those useless goddamn horde-mode missions) for Splinter Cell: Blacklist and I’m two missions in on the campaign.  I realize that the last optional mission is significantly easier than the second campaign mission.  It’s like they deliberately dialed-back the enemy AI.  I’m making mistakes that would get me slaughtered in the optional Kobin and Grim missions, but the enemy isn’t even responding in the campaign (yet).  Hoping it picks up as I go on though.  I rarely complain about games being too easy, and maybe I’m not even really complaining – just commenting.

Wednesday, 8:14 am – Ricky

Great dialog on the mid-tier stuff! I definitely equate the “tier” of a game with the budget and team size put against it. So, even though a AAA game will eventually be $20-30 on sale, the cost of creating and marketing that game vs. a game launched at $20-30 makes it AAA vs. mid-tier? Am I rambling? There was a fire alarm at 2am in my building, cut me some slack.

Regardless, by this definition, Borderlands was a AAA game that launched at a mid-tier price. That’s something a bit different. We’ve been seeing new games discounted on Steam prior to release for a while now (though, admittedly not discounted by more than 10% usually), but it’s clear that developers are looking to use price as another part of the marketing mix – as it’s meant to be! For a co-op game that relies on a healthy community size, launching Borderlands at a deeply discounted price got a lot of people to buy-in, spread the word, and create a success story for Gearbox. Borderlands 2 wasn’t discounted in the same way because it the IP was a known factor – you knew what you were getting for your $60, and you either wanted it, or you didn’t.

Speaking of price as part of the marketing mix, 2 news bombs dropped some time over the last couple of weeks:

  1. EB Games, Best Buy’s and Future Shop’s in Canada are all raising their new release prices from $59.99 to $64.99 (matt and Twitter even reported seeing Watch Dogs and Destiny at $69.99!) – Thanks to Game Deals Canada for breaking this one to me, definitely a great account to follow if you’re interested in paying less for games.
  2. Steam will begin using CAD for Canadian residents at some point in 2014, which will probably mean that we’ll start getting taxed on our digital game purchases.

So, not great news by any stretch. That said, no one is forcing me to pay higher prices on new releases, and I’m all for contributing tax on my purchases.

Ok, on to playing games! I’ve been playing Vita stuff a lot lately – a combination of cheap games and time spent on the couch with the wife vs. being in front of a dedicated gaming. I’ve dipped my toe into Spelunky and played a bunch of OlliOlli last night. Both are great games, and both punish you brutally for a slip of the finger. I’ll admit: I’m old, and my dexterity is not what it used to be. That said, I actually like these difficult games, assuming they’re still accessible and easy to learn. I’ll definitely be playing some more as I wait for my next chunk of dedicated gaming time.

Tuesday, 4:40 pm – matt

We have an exciting new game launching today, that has been featured on gamentary before: OlliOlli for the PS VITA

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Monday, 4:14 pm – matt

looks like everyone is chiming in with their two cents so I figure ill join this party. I tend to agree with Gavin, mid-tier games are hard to judge against cheaper indie titles and the more expensive AAA titles, and often get lost along the giant wall of games found at any retailer. while I cant remember too many mid-tier games I have played, I will always fondly remember a little game called Blasto! starring the late Phil Hartman. I worked a single day at Ricky’s mutual friends dads’s company and earned enough to buy this game and despite its mixed reactions from the gaming community, it still hold a dear place in my heart. That’s the allure of mid tier games I believe.

I believe everyone has that one favourite game that for some reason or another was panned by critics, but you still convince yourself its great. Like Gavin mentioned when you see a mid-tier game obviously the first you notice is the price, then you realize its a mid-tier game and almost feel more compelled to try it and see how good a job the creators pulled off with it. I feel like I in the SPCA looking at rows of prime puppies waiting to be taken home and I cant help but fall in love with an old flea bag dog missing a ear…

perhaps the greatest mid-tier game of all time completely re-wrote the rules for mid-tier games. Gavin mentioned the lack of advertising hurts most mid-tier games, and this one jumped the gun by lowering its price to a mid-tier level and BECAME the marketing campaign of the game. its called Borderlands. I know soMe will argue this was a full retail AAA title but i feel that inflated price to retail title in order to make it seem like a great deal, it’s a classic retail trick to convince people they get a deal when the company still sells the product for the real price they wanted. Originally supposed to be a full price game (and still was in some places), the developers jumped the gun and “signed” a ridiculous agreement with Wal-Mart lowering the launch day price to $29.99. this forced every competitor to price match and the buzz from gamers and media outlets launched it to one the highest selling games of the year, and generated enough revenue and excitement to enable Gearbox to make a more fleshed out sequel which has been well received by nearly every member of the Gamentary crew.

Was it a true mid-tier? I believe so, anyone who has played the original Borderlands can agree while it is a great game, it was certainly anything but a fully fleshed out AAA title (no voice overs, no cut-scenes, little explanation of anything going on). I feel gearbox knew this and arranged the pricing of the game in such a way that it seemed it was greatest deal of all time.

Monday, 4:14 pm – Albert

The concept of Mid-tier games is something that I haven’t really put much thought into. If anything is on sale or less than $60.00 then i’m inclined to take a look. It reminds me of the price point that goes up on Xbox’s Summer of Arcade (or whatever — I haven’t been on an Xbox in years). The concept was cheaper than AAA $60 games and gave a chance to more “Indie”. Regardless if Mid-tier are more “meaty” than what we consider Indie now, I pretty much lump Mid-tier and Indie together. The best mid-tier game I played last year was State of Decay. It was $20 and gave me hours and hours of gameplay.

In my opinion, I think mid-tier games definitely are a transition point for gamers who want to play more than just the AAA games. I believe this goes all the way to cheap indies and early access games. The cheaper the game gets the more niche the audience it seems. Then you snowball the game until it becomes more popular and become mainstream. Regardless of the price, I just want a good experience. Let’s hope when Thief comes out this year that I get my wish!

Oh — also — Payday 2 is considered a mid-tier game. That is well worth the price of admission.

Monday, 10:30 am – Gavin

Mid-tier games are a dangerous prospect.  They always lack the marketing oomph of a AAA $60 release, but they’re too much money to justify an impulse purchase.  Lots of them end up in that dead zone where nobody’s buying them, so they can’t generate capital to push more marketing, meaning fewer people buy them, etc.  You have to actively seek out media about them, rather than having it shoved in your face the way it is with a AAA title not necessarily belonging to part of a franchise (The Last of Us is a prime example of this).

Looking back to 2012, my two favourite games of the year wound up in this price range – Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead.

I would say that the mid-tier games (that is, priced upon release, not after drops or during sales) are probably the riskiest prospect for a developer.  Every dollar on your price tag represents a barrier to someone.  The higher the value, the greater the barrier, and these mid-tier games always lack the marketing to help convince a customer get over their fear of spending X on “the unknown”.

Not every (well-reviewed) AAA title markets itself well.  Darksiders 2 sold below expectations because nobody heard anything about it before it went on sale.  Splinter Cell: Blacklist has also sold relatively poorly – 2 million copies (as an aside, Wii U sales only account for 10,000.  How awful is that?!).  But compare that to, say Spec Ops: The Line, which had only sold something around 300,000 copies at last count, not even enough to make its development budget back.  That makes me sad.  Speaking of which, it’s 75% off through Steam until Tuesday at 1:00pm EST.  BUY BUY BUY.

Looking at my library, mid-tier games don’t account for much.  Walking Dead seasons 1 and 2, Spec Ops: The Line, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Gone Home (just scraping by at $20), and Driver: San Francisco.  Everything else is either premium-priced (or rather, it was when it first went on sale), or indie.  I’m just not inclined to take a risk if I don’t already know a lot about a game, whereas I’ve impulse-bought a pile of indie games.

Monday, 8:35 am – Ricky

I have a copy of Insurgency that I’m going to dive into again this week. My initial look at it was pretty fun, but I want to see what they’ve polished up for the final release. I’ll also try and play some more Last of Us tonight… Getting there, slowly but surely…

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