Square Launches Core Online: Earn Games Via Ads

By John Walker on August 29th, 2012 at 6:00 pm.

And then suddenly Hitman: Blood Money was free to play in a web browser.

Core Online, Square Enix’s foray into the world of online gaming, is a system that lets you play ad-supported HD games in your browser, where you earn gaming time by watching ads. And they’re launching it with one of the more loved Hitman games, Blood Money, along with Mini Ninjas. I have taken a look, and it’s safe to say the system is in something of a mess at the moment. But it remains an interesting idea.

It asks you for your date of birth (I hope it remembers to get me something!) and then offers you each of the game’s missions as a separate load. If you want to skip straight to the end, you can. Bearing in mind how infamously dull the first mission is, I picked mission two, A Vintage Year. And I’m informed that I’ve,

Time left: 10 minutes / Unlock ($0.49)

At 13 missions that would mean the game would cost a total of $6.37 or £4.03. Or you can get the whole game at once for $4.99/£3.15 That’s pretty decent, albeit a slightly peculiar way of purchasing a game – it currently costs £6 on Steam, for instance.

Of course, it doesn’t really run in your browser at all, but rather in a Java plugin that you’re required to install to your PC first. So gone are ideas of running it on university library machines, etc. And of course my Java was out of date, so I had to update that first. It then asks for its software, the Square Enix Secure Launcher, to be installed. That’s extremely simple – download it, run it, and the website automagically updates and offers the game.

The game runs in a window on the site, which captures your mouse cursor to prevent madness, with F12 changing things to fullscreen. And it’s a very smooth change too – no mad flickering, no YouTube-like hesitation, but a neat, instantaneous appearance.

There’s an options menu too, and while it doesn’t give you any resolution choices, you can adjust everything else you’d want to, along with keyboard controls. There’s also the option to save and load, with a limit of seven savegames available to you.

Although oddly, choose to restart a game, and your saves are wiped. Which means there’s no option here for quitting the game and carrying on from where you were. You have to play each chapter through in as long as you can leave the tab open.

Having quit out of the chapter, and then tried to return, I’m given a popup window that tells me I can watch an ad to earn more time, with two choices, “Remove ads” or watch one. When I click the little cross to close the window and do neither, to carry on with the remaining time it says I have, it takes me back to the chapter select. It seems I have to do one or the other.

The amount an ad earns seems to depend upon the length of the ad. So a 1.15 ad for Mini Ninjas Adventures gets me 25 minutes, while 1.11 of Mensa Academy gets me 23. 1.01 for Koozac nets 20, and 24 seconds of Game Globe lets me play for another 8 minutes. And while they’re YouTube embeds, they’ve done their best to have you watch them. I picked the Mini Ninjas, found there was no mute option, and then clicked over into this window to type these sentences, and the video stopped playing. Clever. No letting it run down quietly in the background then.

However, on a couple of occasions I’ve encountered bugs that let me skip all this. Deciding I didn’t want to watch an ad at one point, I clicked “Cancel”, and I seemed to be credited with another 9 minutes anyway. Weird. I even had the same results when blocking ads with Chrome. The ad options never load, but even here when I clicked cancel to get rid of the eternal loading screen, I was again credited with ten more minutes play.

And this is all without ever signing into it.

Registering promised me 60 minutes of game time, but it hasn’t been added to my profile’s count. Now cancelling ads no longer let me play the game. And logging out doesn’t change that, so who knows what’s happening there.

Letting all four current adverts play to themselves as I got on with some Words With Friends on my phone, I earned a total of 76 minutes with games on the site. But if I want more than that, I’m going to have to pay. The advert window informs me I need to come back tomorrow to get any more that way.

Except, oops, I did all that while not signed in. Those 76 minutes are not in my account, and to get them there I’ll have to watch them all over again, including now a Red Bull advert in Spanish. But then, I’ve plenty of Words With Friends games on the go.

Perhaps most odd about the setup is there’s no clear way to just load up on ads from its own front page. To get to them, you have to start trying to play a game first. That seems an odd choice, rather than it being something you can opt into as you arrive at the site. Also odd is the suggestion that chapters can be purchased for 49 cents, without anywhere on the front page mentioning this. To get to this option, again you have to start trying to play (where you’ll be forced to either do this or go to the ad choices, no matter how much play time you may have), and select Remove Ads. This then lets you buy the chapter for $0.49, or the whole game for $4.99.

Mini Ninjas behaves even more strangely, by the way, presenting itself as loading within the Core site, and then taking you to Google’s Play site without asking, wanting to be installed there, then when launching briefly taking me back to Core, then straight back to Google to ask me to launch it again. Not pretty at all. Completely impossible to play.

This is launch day, and clearly there are going to be teething problems. What’s more interesting is whether people will be prepared to play games this way. Especially since they’re all pretty old games, most of which have been in very low price sales in various places on a number of occasions. Sitting through two or three adverts isn’t the most arduous of tasks, but it’s still a pain in the arse when what you want to do is just start playing a game. And you’re still stuck inside your browser, which asks questions of whether they’ll be able to port bigger, more interesting titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That crazy old father Time will eventually let us know.

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87 Comments »

  1. Shooop says:

    I’m going to have to find another hobby in the future aren’t I?

    I already gave up on TV.

    • Alien426 says:

      Agreed. There doesn’t seem to be a day going by without terrible new ideas to make me feel like I’m too old for this shit. OnLive, F2P, reboots, browser games, MMOs, social games, DRM, always online, DLC, … Makes me sick.

      Quick, think of some genuinely intriguing indies!
      Gunpoint, Starbound, Underrail, Retrovirus, Stasis, The Witness, Xenonauts, Hostile Takeover, Lifeless Planet, Project Zomboid, The Cave, Prominence, Cradle, Reset, Miner Wars, Wrack, Owlboy, Pid, Kairo, Arcane Worlds, Snapshot, Castle Story, Overgrowth.
      Much better.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Probably, that started to make me feel physically ill (due to the content, not the image :P). The same is so with “advert” based gaming. :/

      Although I still watch stuff… Youtube. I did watch BBC iplayer but my bandwidth don’t allow it. Strangely, I don’t miss it.

    • airmikee says:

      Whenever I get sick of the current gaming crap I don’t look for a new hobby, I look backward into this one. I hunt down an old Atari 2600, or original NES, or old Xbox, or some old video game system and then I spend a few days or weeks in Nostalgia Land to remind me why I play video games.

  2. fenderspieler says:

    It’s normal for Hitman Blood Money to delete savegames. Depending on the difficulty you can save between (I think) 3 and 7 times, but if you quit the level, you lose your progress.

    • Yglorba says:

      The game is really designed to be played on the highest difficulty, which doesn’t let you save at all.

      The Hitman formula has levels that are supposed to be beatable in a single 5-15 minute run, but you’re meant to have to replay it repeatedly to explore different strategies and routes until you have a proper plan. Saves (on the difficulty levels that allow them) are more like checkpoints in a particular run — but the game is specifically trying to encourage you to start the level over again repeatedly, because that’s how it’s meant to be played, and if you don’t then you’re going to miss a lot of the game.

      • Bloodloss says:

        Nonsense. It turns into frustration: the video game if you have no saves at all. One little mistake and all of your work is over. For people who know what they’re doing and have completed the game, sure.

      • gwathdring says:

        And some of us get the same bang for our buck if we have a limited number of saves to play with, trying out this and that and trying to find the most interesting/fastest/fun/whatever way to finish the mission without going back to square one every time you’re a few miliseconds late one this or that.

  3. AmateurScience says:

    Well it’s certainly a more innovative take on digital than ‘make Steam but worse in many ways’ a la Ubi or EA. I shall watch with interest. Square have an interesting and eclectic back catalogue what with all the Eidos games etc: look forward to seeing how this pans out.

  4. Magnusm1 says:

    I think it’s a great idea, as long as you can purchase the game the normal way if you want.

  5. Similar says:

    Might be worth mentioning that Java allegedly has a rather serious security problem right now:
    http://thenextweb.com/apps/2012/08/28/mozilla-joins-chorus-tells-firefox-users-disable-java-due-security-hole/

    Seems like it could be a problem with such a plugin, at least (or with updating Java since that seems to get you the version with the security hole).

    • jalf says:

      Kind of, yes.

      As long as you trust the provider of the applets (Squeenix), and you’re sure the page you get it from has not been tampered with, it’s perfectly safe. The vulnerability allows evil Java applets to do evil things to your computer. If you don’t visit a site where evil Java applets exist, there’s no problem.

      The problem is if Java is installed and enabled when you visit sites that you don’t trust, where malicious Java code might be downloaded and executed.

      So the somewhat paranoid option would be to only enable Java when you want to use this service (or perhaps keep it enabled in a secondary browser, which is used only for that purpose).

      As I recall, the exploit is also not present in Chrome, so if you’re using Chrome, you should be safe regardless.

      Also, let’s be fair, security holes are regularly found in pretty much all commonly used software. This isn’t a unique occurrence. What is a bit unusual is that (1) we know about it, and (2) no patch is yet available for it.

      There could be plenty of other equally serious flaws out there that just haven’t been discovered by “the good guys” yet.

      Anyway, at the moment, disabling Java seems like the safe thing to do — as long as you don’t visit too many sites which require it.

      • subenji says:

        The exploit is in the java plugin itself, and there is nothing any browser can do about it – as such Chrome offers no more protection from this than any other browser.

        It even says as much in the linked article you replied to.

    • Forceflow says:

      Came here to comment on the Java issue as well: you beat me to it!
      Well done, sir.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I think it’s more obnoxious that they’re using Java at all. Leave its rotting corpse alone. It was never good technology (web-wise, about the best you can say about it is that at least it wasn’t ActiveX), and I wish people would stop propping it up.

      From the sounds of it, they’re only using it for priviledge escilation from a webpage anyway. This could have just been a program which you run, but someone must have decided that that wasn’t “web” enough.

  6. LTK says:

    On the Steam version I recently played, Hitman: Blood Money also does not preserve your saved games if you quit in the middle of a mission, and the number of saves available to you depends on the difficulty level, so the service is not interfering there.

    I think the concept of ads-for-gameplay is a pretty good one. What makes ads annoying is that most of the time, they’re presented to you when you don’t want to watch them. The obvious solution is then to make you want to watch the ads. I think it’s similar to those sites that send you ad-newsletters (spam by any other name) in exchange for a sort of currency you can spend on their website for… stuff. I guess the point is that being marketed to is less objectionable when there’s a prospect of a reward that otherwise costs money.

  7. Bhazor says:

    For fucks sake.
    Just let me buy your game without tying it to any bullshit.
    No cash shops. No day one DLC. No season passes. No streaming. And absolutely no god damn adverts.

    Just a reasonable unit of money for a fully completed game.

    All this nonsense changes the relationship between developer and customer from:
    “Heres our game. Thanks for the money! Enjoy.”
    To
    “Heres our game. Thanks for the money! Can I interest you in these fine leather jackets? Or could you take the time to fill in our partner survey? Would you be interested in attending our timeshare seminar? Go on give us your change asshole.Go on. Literally toss your coins at the screen.”

    • LTK says:

      You can buy the game, this is just an alternative. Why is having options so objectionable?

      • Brun says:

        Because change is scary.

      • Bhazor says:

        This is just another form of intrusive DRM and it has nothing to do with convenience or the end user experience so why should I support it? As for it being a choice? You can garauntee it will be the *only* option for some games.

        Diablo 3. It’s the future.

        • Brun says:

          So the real question is:

          Would you be willing to pay $120 per game if all of that stuff would go away?

          RPS comments are really starting to drive me insane. Too many bitter old men who want things to be like the 90′s.

          • Zugbop says:

            Totally agree with you. Why is it that some people can’t see the good side of change?

          • Phantoon says:

            You mean when prices were reasonable, and DLC wasn’t a thing? When games were made with love and attention to detail, not just “manshoot triple x death lobster the third”?

          • LionsPhil says:

            No, the real question is “why do you feel the need to triple the price to try to support your point”?

            Not to mention that the ’90s were somewhat of a golden age for PC gaming.

          • hello_mr.Trout says:

            @ zugbop
            ‘Why is it that some people can’t see the good side of change?’
            i am not sure having advertisments in games *has* a good side.

          • LTK says:

            The good side is that you have to pay zero moneys, mister Trout.

          • hello_mr.Trout says:

            but it’s no longer a game if that is the case! -> well, perhaps that is putting it overly dramatically, but i think that to a certain extent it a) dilutes the experience of whatever game you are playing & b) sets a negative preceedent for the gaming industry; where games and advertising start to intermingle and the emphasis of producing a quality product which sells based on what it is, is lost due to finding ways of further extracting money from consumers.

          • alundra says:

            I also thought in replying to Brun , then noticed the old guys from the 90s remark……

          • vedder says:

            I’d rather pay €120 for a game than have a single ad in it. Yes, but that still makes your statement ridiculous. PC games without ads cost €30-40 on release days if you pick the right shops.
            I hate ads and it’s one of the primary reasons I don’t have a TV nor listen to the radio. The other being that my free time is valuable and I’ll decide myself what I do in it and not let other people fill it in for me.

            I agree with Bhazor completely. I want to just spend money on a game and then immerse myself in the game. I don’t want any crap that has nothing to do with the game nor do I want to fork out my credit card ten more times before I own the full game. I just want to enjoy the experience.

            As long as this kind of streaming service is in parallel to simply buying something it can have value though, because it might be a nice way to play before you buy without having to go through the hassle of torrenting and installing in this age devoid of demos.

        • Moraven says:

          Option 1: buy the game from publisher store

          Option 2: Watch ads to play bits of the game at a time, potentially getting more playtime than a demo and/or completing the game.

          Its a novel idea. Just because you care not for streaming games does not mean its a bad idea. There might be a market for this type of delivery system (Onlive bankrupt, Gaiki bought by Sony)

        • jorygriffis says:

          Yeah man, deep breaths. Nobody’s forcing you to try it. Probably most of the people commenting here today won’t–not me, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting enough concept, though.

        • LTK says:

          You don’t have to support it, but you don’t have to raise hell about it either. It’s not DRM. Go to any online distribution service and buy Hitman: Blood Money. None of them will force you to watch ads during the game. It’s a monetization strategy, only they’re not taking your money, but the ad providers’. It’s convenient because it lets people play the game without having to pay anything, because some people aren’t pirates and still need to pay for food.

          Don’t worry, I’m sure publishers will be more than happy to take your money directly for years to come, rather than getting ad companies to pay them. If your fears were true then Hitman: Absolution wouldn’t be published through the same model as Blood Money.

          • Phantoon says:

            Yes, he does, because someone has to bring up how this takes things in a bad direction.

            You could argue that things don’t snowball, but then I’d point you to Diablo 3, which is the end result of people complaining about always-on DRM for single player games.

          • LTK says:

            Diablo 3 is a multi-million dollar budgeted game with a well-loved franchise behind it. If another new triple-A game sequel launches with an ad-based monetization scheme, then I’ll start worrying. You’re right, Diablo 3 is a good example of how DRM can take a bad turn, but don’t start generalizing it to years-old games that don’t force you to use their monetization scheme.

            Diablo 3: Released this year, costs $60, uses always-online DRM.
            Hitman: Blood Money: Released six years ago, costs $5, uses one-time activation DRM. Or: costs nothing, requires you to watch ads, and plays in a browser. Spot the differences.

    • Shuck says:

      This is an effort to create secondary revenue streams for games, because simply selling games is not, and never has been, enough to allow most games to break even. I can’t imagine anyone trying to turn this into their one and only revenue stream for a game; it would be self-defeating.

      • Phantoon says:

        You say that now.

        But it will happen.

        • Shuck says:

          I could see some games having this as their primary revenue stream (like ad-supported television programs that are followed by a DVD release), but as their one and only stream? No, I don’t buy it. Web games have had commercials and other secondary revenue streams for a while, but none of them have done away with the option of buying directly from them. This system involves more infrastructure and complexity for less revenue. I.e. it’s easier and more profitable to get money directly from players.

          • LTK says:

            Well, I could actually see Zynga adopt this scheme for some of their games, but what they have now is far too succesful already, and more ads are just going to turn off their mindless hordes of sheep from waiting until their energy points refill.

            So rest assured, everyone. If Zynga isn’t doing it, it’s probably not profitable.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        If you cannot break even that is a fault of your business process, not the lack of “secondary revenue streams”. See chocolate bicycles are not improved by streaming them, or tying them to exclusivity deals with retailers. ;)

        • LTK says:

          So you agree that a purely ad-based monetization scheme for modern PC games is inviable, then?

          • TechnicalBen says:

            I don’t really care if it’s viable or not. It’s viable to sell your office furniture to prop up a share price, and force workers to sit on the floor. It’s not the “best way to do it” though. Especially for your customers. :(

        • Shuck says:

          Most entertainment products don’t break even, it’s the nature of the beast. If you’re being creative, you’re taking economic risks. (The alternative is design-by-numbers man-shoot sequels, the sort of thing reviled by RPS readers.) Things like film have secondary revenue streams to help recover costs (and potentially make a profit), but games haven’t, traditionally. To say that “you should make money off of game sales” is to ignore the economic realities of game development.

  8. JackDandy says:

    Hahhahaahhaa
    If I was that desperate to play a game for free, I’d just pirate it.

    • Skull says:

      You’re a fool

    • AlwaysRight says:

      Hahhahaahhaa
      If I was that desperate for money, Id just steal some.

      (yeah, yeah that was a gross over-simplication of an answer for such a complex matter, but the comment didn’t deserve a well thought out come back)

      • derbefrier says:

        its not complex your completely right. people try to convince you it is in a vain attempt to justify it but its pretty black and white. The only people that seem to argue otherwise are the ones that practice it which to me seems like an obvious conflict of interest. I mean what do you expect a thief to say when asked if stealing is wrong?

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Hope you never listen to a song with more than 9 people standing in the room, because that’s an illegal performance and your stealing from the artists that way.

          No sarcasm there over the copyright laws, no sir…

  9. Cytrom says:

    What a disgrace.

  10. Jad says:

    While it is an interesting idea, and somewhat less egregious than others I’ve seen, this is the kind of thing that has been making me feel increasingly out of touch with what is apparently the audience of games nowadays: people with more time than money.

    Free 2 Play is the main thing that makes me feel this way: shouting “FREE!” does not make me interested in a game, in fact it usually makes me wary, as the quality of those games is often suspect, or the microtransactions might be frequent and necessary. I’d far rather spend $60 on a game that I’m fairly certain will be very very good (interesting premise, pedigree of developers, good reviews on sites I trust), than spend an hour with a “FREE!” game only to find out that it is boring and grindy.

    This just makes the time v. money equation even more blatant — if I want to play Blood Money, which I’ve heard is an excellent game, I’ll buy it on Steam and then be able to use all of my precious game-playing time actually playing the game.

    Also, while I’m sure they’ll fix it up, the current weirdness with the site that you’re describing is further putting me off: I’m fine with complicated game design, but the process of getting and starting a game should be as straight-forward as possible.

  11. Shortwave says:

    Hey guys, if this idea doesn’t seem like you’re kind of thing.. I came up with another solution.
    If you’re willing to suck on my penus, I’ll buy games for you.

  12. Zaxwerks says:

    An interesting concept. I can see it being useful for trying games that do not have a demo before you buy them, or allowing companies to save money by eliminating the expense of creating a demo, but it’s not a very good way of providing a full game experience. We already avoid the TV commercials by either skipping them or going to the toilet or making a cup of tea etc, but with the PC as demonstrated above they can force you to have to watch them (probably in the future they’ll use your webcam to make sure you are still in front of your PC watching, or make them mildly interactive so you have to keep clicking to proceed through the ad). Alright for kids with no income, but as someone who has a job I would find it too intrusive and annoying and start to resent the company providing them (like those ads that play before youtube videos that you can’t skip after 5 seconds.

    Altair drives off the rooftop, his pursuers are hot on his heals, I need to find somewhere to hide! They are getting closer, quick let’s try over ther… Wheatie-pops! Wheatie-pops! The scrummy-yummy-honey for your tummy snacks… please… kill… me… now…

  13. Carra says:

    I suppose it’s interesting for kids or people who live in the third world.

    I’ve still got a hundred games in my steam catalogue that have to be played, I’d rather spend my time with them :)

    • TechnicalBen says:

      How could this be marketed at third world countries? That car add is bringing in zero revenue over there, so would fail as a business. It’s got to be a first world system, to pay for it’s self.

      In the third world, I doubt they can afford the PC or the purchases via adds to support the service.

  14. Bobtree says:

    I really hate advertising.

  15. Berzee says:

    I love this idea of only needing to buy/play certain episodes! I always wanted to try Blood Money, but I know that some of the levels (for example the tutorial level) include a number of people with no many clothes on, or other things I don’t want to pay for / encounter frequently. Being able to pick and choose sounds grand — I will try it!

    • rb2610 says:

      So you’ll happily pay for and play what is essentially a brutal murder simulation, yet a few scantily clad people is objectionable…?

    • Berzee says:

      Update: I’ve tried it a bit now and it seems to work well enough. I haven’t tried closing down the game and loading it back up to see if it saved my saves, though. It seems a bit choppier than when I downloaded and tried the demo, but only sometimes. Overall, it works better than expected! But not quite in the same realm of convenience and nicety as actually installing and playing the game.

      I am treating more as an extended demo, but if I decide this is a game I would want to play regularly, I may probably buy it if there are level-skip cheatz. I don’t find the ads terribly intrusive so far — 1 minute of ads for 25 minutes of play is alright with me — but it boggles the mind that it actually is a sustainable business model. Ad-powered businesses (including, like, the radio) always boggle me.

      Update 2: Ok, it does lock up from time to time. I was running a VM in the background so that might be to blame, though — a lot of games are unstable on this machine. I also don’t like how when starting up the game, you have to go to the ad menu and then click “cancel” if you want to skip straight to playing the game with your accumulated minutes. It’d be nice to be able to skip the ad menu completely if you have accumulated some time already.

    • Berzee says:

      Update 3: Why comes I don’t get to watch the videos before each level? I don’t know if they’re simply not available, or if it’s something I need to pay for / find a secret button for.

  16. deathrune says:

    Its a great innovation and all, but I hate browser games and streaming game sonly due to not having rebindable keys.. ect.

  17. psaldorn says:

    I’m impressed, watch a little video (Or play in a muted browser) and you get half an hour of game time. The game itself runs very nicely too.

    If it works it always nice to have the option of some browser gaming for (essentially) free.

  18. malkav11 says:

    I absolutely loathe having to deal with ads, especially video ads, and am more than happy to give people money up front instead of having to view ads for the privilege of experiencing the content (hence why Hulu’s abject failure to have a paid option that removes the advertising, even if it were significantly more costly than the current still ad-ridden Plus option, drives me batty). But for people with no money or who would rather ads than pay, I suppose this is a promising idea.

  19. Slinkyboy says:

    Wtf, I stopped watching TV for a reason. Count me out.

  20. Berzee says:

    I’m kind of also excited about Mini Ninjas too. A wee bit.

  21. Geen says:

    …I fucking give up, I’m just gonna pirate everything.

  22. ankh says:

    Adverts already ruined TV now it’s going to ruin gaming then all I will have left is fishing. Not sure how them adverts are going to ruin that but I’m sure they will make a plan.

  23. ChainsawCharlie says:

    This sounds like absolutely the worst idea ever.

  24. Boarnoah says:

    Well doesn’t sound that bad, I tried to give it a try today. Stupid thing doesn’t finish loading, and the ads dont evens show up (however I did get some playtime credited)

    Ye,s Adblock is disabled.

  25. DonkeyManda says:

    Very nice service, I know i’m around a month late, but still :P
    Got in, played Mini Ninjas without a hassle, seems all the site issues were fixed. Loaded up the game, and it detected my 360 controller straight away (not overly impressive, but a really nice touch), played for 10 minutes, watched an add, played for 10 more and finished the level. Overall, I’m really pleased with this service, it’s now been bookmarked and I definitely plan on using it again. The site did seem to have an issue with AdBlock, but I just disabled that and things went fine.

    Also, absolutely incredible idea, any chance I get to support devs, play games, and not have to spend a cent is one well worth considering in my books. Definitely a much more appealing approach than piracy to play some old games I never got around to. Would definitely like to see the game catalogue expanded though! (At the moment it’s only Mini Ninjas and Hitman: Blood Money)

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