It’s going to be another big year for games, as Newzoo is projecting that 2015 will see global gaming revenues jump 9.4 percent year-over-year to $91.5 billion. The future looks bright as well, with the research firm’s upcoming Global Games Market Report projecting worldwide revenues to reach $107 billion in 2017.
As the overall market grows, the distribution of where that money is coming from will also shift. Newzoo’s projections for this year have a surging Chinese market narrowly overtaking the US as the single biggest revenue contributor, bringing in $22.2 billion (up 23 percent) compared to the American market’s $22 billion (up 3 percent). As far as regions go, Asia-Pacific is far and away the largest source of gaming revenue, accounting for $43.1 billion (up 15 percent). Latin America is the smallest of the four major markets with just $4 billion in revenues, but it is also growing the quickest, up 18 percent year-over-year.
The platforms on which people spend money gaming are also in flux. Tablet revenues are expected to be up 27 percent year-over-year to $9.4 billion, with smartphone and watch revenues jumping 21 percent to $20.6 billion. However, PCs are the most popular platform for games, bringing in $27.1 billion (up 8 percent) from standard titles and MMOs, while casual webgames will draw an additional $6.6 billion (up 2 percent). Newzoo grouped TV, consoles, and VR devices into their own category, projecting them to bring in $25.1 billion (up 2 percent) in game revenues. The only market segment not seeing growth at the moment is the dedicated handheld, which Newzoo expects to bring in $2.7 billion in revenue this year (down 16 percent).
While the firm’s grouping of VR and smartwatch revenues in other categories may be unusual, it said both segments are too small to report for now.
“Short- to medium-term VR revenues will be limited and largely cannibalize on current console and PC game spending as a share of game enthusiasts invest in the latest technology and richest experience that VR offers,” Newzoo said. “Smartwatches will be a success but not add significant ‘new’ revenues to the $20.6 billion spent on smartphones this year.”
ARM has announced the acquisition of two Bluetooth companies in a bid to expand its presence in the Internet of Things (IoT) arena, and has created a new portfolio dubbed ARM Cordio in the process.
The UK semiconductor designer has picked up Wicentric, a Bluetooth smart stack and profile provider, and Sunrise Micro Devices (SMD), a provider of sub-one volt Bluetooth radio intellectual property (IP).
Wicentric is a privately held company that focuses on the development of low-power wireless products. These include Bluetooth protocol stack and profiles for creating interoperable smart products, and the link layer for silicon integration.
SMD is also privately held and provides radio IP solutions including a pre-qualified, self-contained radio block and related firmware to simplify radio deployment.
“Central to all SMD radios is native sub-one volt operation,” explained ARM in justifying its acquirement. “Operating below one volt enables the radio to run much longer on batteries or harvested energy.”
Terms of the agreements have not been disclosed, but ARM said that both companies’ IP will be combined to form the ARM Cordio portfolio.
This will integrate with the firm’s existing processor and physical IP targeting markets that require low-power wireless communications in the IoT space. The portfolio is available now for immediate licensing.
ARM is pushing its stance in the IoT market in a bid to monopolise on what is essentially the next big thing in tech before it becomes ubiquitous.
For instance, ARM joined forces with IBM in February to launch its mbed Device Platform as a starter kit with cloud support, offering developer tools with cloud-based analytics.
The mbed tool was announced last year and is primarily an operating system built around open standards to “bring internet protocols, security and standards-based manageability into one integrated tool” and make IoT deployment faster and easier and thus speed up the creation of IoT-powered devices.
Launching the mbed IoT Starter Kit Ethernet Edition with IBM means that the company can channel data from internet-connected devices directly into IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform.
The IoT Starter Kit consists of an ARM mbed-enabled development board from Freescale, powered by an ARM Cortex-M4-based processor, together with a sensor IO application shield.
EA is shuttering four high-profile free-to-play games, all of them allied to popular IP like Battlefield and FIFA.
Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free, Need for Speed World and FIFA World will all continue for another 90 days, at which point they will be taken offline for good. Further development on the games has stopped already.
“In more than five years since most of these titles launched, how we play games has changed dramatically,” said Patrick Soderlund, EVP of EA Games, in a statement. “These were pioneering experiences, and we’re humbled that, over the years, so many of you joined us to enjoy the games and the community.”
In terms of EA’s growing interest in free-to-play models, the real pioneer among that group is Battlefield Heroes, which was pitched at “frustrated, restricted” gamers back in 2008. Need for Speed World and Battlefield Play4Free followed, launching over the second half of 2010.
By the start of 2012, EA was reporting a combined total of 25 million players across the six games in its “Play4Free” initiative, with Battlefield Heroes and Need for Speed World contributing 10 million players each.
However, FIFA World is by no means a forerunner. It only reaching open beta late in 2013, and so it is being shuttered after substantially less than two years of public availability. This wouldn’t imply a slow decline in interest, but a lack of interest in the first place.
That’s in stark contrast to FIFA Online, the free-to-play version of the game made specifically for markets in Asia. In 2012, EA’s Andrew Wilson claimed that FIFA Online was making $100 million a year in revenue. A year later, FIFA Online 3, the most recent iteration, was the leading online sports game in both traffic and revenue in Korea.
One thing is certain, take these four titles away from EA’s free-to-play games on Origin, and you’re left with only Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances and Star Wars: The Old Republic – in his statement, Soderlund stressed the latter’s “enthusiastic and growing” community, and reiterated EA’s commitment to providing new content.
The remainder of the company’s free-to-play catalog is composed of games like Outernauts, The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Bejeweled Blitz. Casual, social, call them what you will, but they are intended for a very different audience to Need for Speed World and Battlefield Play4Free, and that audience has just lost two-thirds of the games EA had made to satisfy its needs.
MediaTek is working on two new tablet SoCs and one of them is rumored to be a $5 design.
The MT8735 looks like a tablet version of Mediatek’s smartphone SoCs based on ARM’s Cortex-A53 core. The chip can also handle LTE (FDD and TDD), along with 3G and dual-band WiFi. This means it should end up in affordable data-enabled tablets. There’s no word on the clocks or GPU.
The MT8163 is supposed to be the company’s entry-level tablet part. Priced at around $5, the chip does not appear to feature a modem – it only has WiFi and Bluetooth on board. GPS is still there, but that’s about it.
Once again, details are sketchy so we don’t know much about performance. However, this is an entry-level part, so we don’t expect miracles. It will have to slug it out with Alwinner’s $5 tablet SoC, which was announced a couple of months ago
According to a slide published by Mobile Dad, the MT8753 will be available later this month, but we have no timeframe for the MT8163.
But there’s nothing to see here as far as Torvalds is concerned. It’s just another day in the office. And all this in “Back To The Future II” year, as well.
Meanwhile under the bonnet, the community are already slaving away on Linux 4.1 which is expected to be a far more extensive release, with 100 code changes already committed within hours of Torvalds announcement of 4.0.
But there is already some discord in the ranks, with concerns that some of the changes to 4.1 will be damaging to the x86 compatibility of the kernel. But let’s let them sort that out amongst themselves.
After all, an anti-troll dispute resolution code was recently added to the Linux kernel in an effort to stop some of the more outspoken trolling that takes place, not least from Torvalds himself, according to some members of the community.
Moore’s Law will be more relevant in the 20 years to come than it was in the past 50 as the Internet of Things (IoT) creeps into our lives, Intel has predicted.
The chip maker is marking the upcoming 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law on 19 April by asserting that the best is yet to come, and that the law will become more relevant in the next two decades as everyday objects become smaller, smarter and connected.
Moore’s Law has long been touted as responsible for most of the advances in the digital age, from personal computers to supercomputers, despite Intel admitting in the past that it wasn’t enough.
Named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit will double approximately every two years.
Moore wrote a paper in 1965 describing a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit. He revised the forecast in 1975, doubling the time to two years, and his prediction has proved accurate.
The law now is used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.
Many digital electronic devices and manufacturing developments are strongly linked to Moore’s Law, whether it’s microprocessor prices, memory capacity or sensors, all improving at roughly the same rate.
More recently, Intel announced the development of 3D NAND memory, which the company said was guided by Moore’s Law.
Intel senior fellow Mark Bohr said on a recent press call that, while Moore’s Law has been going strong for 50 years, he doesn’t see it slowing down, adding that Moore himself didn’t realise it would hold true for 50 years. Rivals such as AMD have also had their doubts.
“[Moore] thought it would push electronics into new spaces but didn’t realise how profound this would be, for example, the coming of the internet,” said Bohr.
“If you’re 20-something [the law] might seem somewhat remote and irrelevant to you, but it will be more relevant in the next 20 years than it was in the past 50, and may even dwarf this importance.
“We can see about 10 years ahead, so our research group has identified some promising options [for 7nm and 5nm] not yet fully developed, but we think we can continue Moore’s Law for at least another 10 years.”
Intel believes that upcoming tech will be so commonplace that it won’t even be a ‘thing’ anymore. It will “disappear” into all the places we inhabit and into clothing, into ingestible devices that improve our health, for example, and “it will just become part of our surroundings” without us even noticing it.
“We are moving to the last squares in the chess board, shrinking tech and making it more power efficient meaning it can go into everything around us,” said Bohr.
The Intel fellow describes the law as a positive move forward, but he also believes that we need to have a hard think about where we want to place it once products become smart as they can become targets for digital attacks.
“Once you put intelligence in every object round you, the digital becomes physical. [For example] if your toaster becomes connected and gets a virus it’s an issue, but not so important as if your car does,” he said.
“We have to think how we secure these endpoints and make sure security and privacy are considered upfront and built into everything we deploy.”
Bohr explained that continuing Moore’s Law isn’t just a matter of making chips smaller, as the technology industry has continually to innovate device structures to ensure that it continues.
“Moore’s Law is exponential and you haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come. I’m glad to hand off to the next generation entering the workforce; to create new exciting experiences, products and services to affect the lives of billions of people on the planet,” added Bohr.
“Moore’s Law is the North Star guiding Intel. It is the driving force for the people working at Intel to continue the path of Gordon’s vision, and will help enable emerging generations of inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders to re-imagine the future.”
An upcoming MediaTek SoC has been spotted in GFXbench and this tablet-oriented chip has created a lot of speculation thanks to the choice of GPU.
The Cortex-A53 based MediaTek MT8163 was apparently tested on a dev board with 2GB of RAM and the benchmark failed to identify the GPU. GFXbench identified the GPU as a part coming from “MediaTek Inc. Sapphire-lit”.
Spinning up the rumour mill
This is where the speculation starts, as many punters associated the GPU with AMD, and the presence of the word “Sapphire” also prompted some to conclude that AMD’s leading GPU add-in-board partner had something to do with it.
The Sapphire word association doesn’t look like anything other than clutching at straws, because it’s highly unlikely that an AIB would have much to do with the process of licensing AMD IP for mobile graphics.
However, this does not necessarily mean that we are not looking at a GPU that doesn’t have anything to do with AMD. The fact that MediaTek’s name is on it is perhaps more important, because it suggests an in-house design. Whether or not the part is indeed an in-house design, and whether it features some AMD technology, is still up for debate.
Why would MediaTek need AMD to begin with?
MediaTek relies on ARM Mali GPUs, although it uses Imagination GPUs on some designs. So where does AMD fit into all this?
As we reported last month, the companies have been cooperating on the SoC graphics front for a while, but they are tight lipped about the scope of their cooperation.
MediaTek is a supporter of HSA and a founding member of the HSA Foundation, but this doesn’t prove much, either, since the list of founding members includes ARM, Imagination, Texas Instruments, Samsung and Qualcomm.
Using AMD technology on SoCs would have to be a long-term strategy, built around the concept of using AMD IP to boost overall SoC performance rather than just GPU performance. This is why we do not expect to see the fruits of their cooperation in commercial products anytime soon.
Improved compute performance is one of the reasons MediaTek may be inclined to use AMD technology, but another angle is that “Graphics by AMD” or “Radeon Graphics” would sound good from a marketing perspective and allow MediaTek to differentiate its products in a saturated market.
During a presentation at the Game Developers Conference earlier this month, Boss Fight Entertainment’s Damion Schubert suggested the industry to drop the term “whales,” calling it disrespectful to the heavy spenders that make the free-to-play business model possible. As an alternative, he proposed calling them “patrons,” as their largesse allows the masses to enjoy these works that otherwise could not be made and maintained.
After his talk, Schubert spoke with GamesIndustry.biz about his own experiences with heavy spending customers. During his stint at BioWare Austin, Schubert was a lead designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic as it transitioned from its original subscription-based business model to a free-to-play format.
“I think the issue with whales is that most developers don’t actually psychologically get into the head of whales,” Schubert said. “And as a result, they don’t actually empathize with those players, because most developers aren’t the kind of person that would shell out $30,000 to get a cool speeder bike or whatnot… I think your average developer feels way more empathy for the free players and the light spenders than the whales because the whales are kind of exotic creatures if you think about them. They’re really unusual.”
Schubert said whales, at least those he saw on The Old Republic, don’t have uniform behavior patterns. They weren’t necessarily heavy raiders, or big into player-vs-player competition. They were just a different class of customer, with the only common attribute being that they apparently liked to spend money. Some free-to-play games have producers whose entire job is to try to understand those customers, Schubert said, setting up special message boards for that sub-community of player, or letting them vote on what content should be added to a game next.
“When you start working with these [customers], there’s a lot of concern that they are people who have gambling problems, or kids who have no idea of the concept of money,” Schubert said.
But from his experience on The Old Republic, Schubert came to understand that most of that heavy spending population is simply people who are legitimately rich and don’t have a problem with devoting money to something they see as a hobby. Schubert said The Old Republic team was particular mindful of free-to-play abuse, and had spending limits placed to protect people from credit card fraud or kids racking up unauthorized charges. If someone wanted to be a heavy spender on the game, they had to call up customer service and specifically ask for those limits to be removed.
“If you think about it, they wanted to spend money so much that they were willing to endure what was probably a really annoying customer service call so they could spend money,” Schubert said.
The Old Republic’s transition from a subscription-based model to free-to-play followed a wider shift in the massively multiplayer online genre. Schubert expects many of the traditional PC and console gaming genres like fighting games and first-person shooters to follow suit, one at a time. That said, free-to-play is not the business model of the future. Not the only one, at least.
“I think the only constant in the industry is change,” Schubert said when asked if the current free-to-play model will eventually fall out of favor. “So yeah, it will shift. And it will always shift because people find a more effective billing model. And the thing to keep in mind is that a more effective billing model will come from customers finding something they like better… I think there is always someone waiting in the wings with a new way of how you monetize it. But I do think that anything we’re going to see in the short term, at least, is probably going to start with a great free experience. It’s just so hard to catch fire; there are too many competitive options that are free right now.”
Two upstart business models Schubert is not yet sold on are crowdfunding and alpha-funding. As a consumer, he has reservations about both.
“The Wild West right now is the Kickstarter stuff, which is a whole bunch of companies that are making their best guess about what they can do,” Schubert said. “Many of them are doing it very, very poorly, because it turns out project management in games is something the big boys don’t do very well, much less these guys making their first game and trying to do it on a shoestring budget. I think that’s a place where there’s a lot more caveat emptor going on.”
Schubert’s golden rule for anyone thinking of supporting a Kickstarter is to only pledge an amount of money you would be OK losing forever with nothing to show for it.
“At the end of the day, you’re investing on a hope and a dream, and by definition, a lot of those are just going to fail or stall,” Schubert said. “Game development is by definition R&D. Every single game that gets developed is trying to find a core game loop, trying to find the magic, trying to find the thing that will make it stand out from the 100 other games that are in that same genre. And a lot of them fail. You’ve played 1,000 crappy games. Teams didn’t get out to make crappy games; they just got there and they couldn’t find the ‘there’ there.”
He wasn’t much kinder to the idea of charging people for games still in an early stage of development.
“I’m not a huge fan of Early Access, although ironically, I think the MMO genre invented it,” Schubert said. “But on the MMOs, we needed it because there are things on an MMO that you cannot test without a population. You cannot test a 40-man raid internally. You cannot test large-scale political systems. You cannot test login servers with real problems from different countries, server load and things like that. Early Access actually started in my opinion, with MMOs, with the brightest of hopes and completely and totally clean ideals.”
Schubert has funded a few projects in Early Access, but said he wound up getting unfinished games in return. Considering he works on unfinished games for a living, he doesn’t have much patience for them in his spare time, and has since refrained from supporting games in Early Access.
“I genuinely think there are very few people in either Kickstarter or Early Access that are trying to screw customers,” Schubert said. “I think people in both those spaces are doing it because they love games and want to be part of it, and it’s hard for me to find fault in that at the end of the day.”
MSI recently announced a 970A SLI Krait motherboard that will support the AMD processors and the USB 3.1 protocol. Motherboards with USB 3.1 ports have also been released by Gigabyte, ASRock and Asus, but those boards support Intel chips.
USB 3.1 can shuffle data between a host device and peripheral at 10Gbps, which is two times faster than USB 3.0. USB 3.1 is also generating excitement for the reversible Type-C cable, which is the same on both ends so users don’t have to worry about plug orientation.
The motherboards with USB 3.1 technology are targeted at high-end desktops. Some enthusiasts like gamers seek the latest and greatest technologies and build desktops with motherboards sold by MSI, Asus and Gigabyte. Many of the new desktop motherboards announced have the Type-C port interface, which is also in recently announced laptops from Apple and Google.
New technologies like USB 3.1 usually first appear in high-end laptops and desktops, then make their way down to low-priced PCs, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst of Mercury Research.
PC makers are expected to start putting USB 3.1 ports in more laptops and desktops starting later this year.
Buried in AMD’s shareholders’ report, there was a some suprising detail about the outfit’s first ARM 64-bit server SoCs.
For those who came in late, they are supposed to be going on sale in the first half of 2015.
We know that the ARM Cortex-A57 architecture based SoC has been codenamed ‘Hierofalcon.’
AMD started sampling these Embedded R-series chips last year and is aiming to release the chipset in the first half of this year for embedded data center applications, communications infrastructure, and industrial solutions.
But it looks like the Hierofalcon SoC will include eight Cortex-A57 cores with 4MB L2 cache and will be manufactured on a 28nm process. It will support two 64-bit DDR3/4 memory channels with ECC up to 1866MHz and up to 128GB per CPU. Connectivity options will include two 10GbE KR, 8x SATA 3 6Gb/s, 8 lanes PCIe Gen 3, SPI, UART, and I2C interfaces. The chip will have a TDP between 15 to 30W.
The SOC ranges between a TDP of 15 – 30 W. The highly integrated SoC includes 10 Gb KR Ethernet and PCI-Express Gen 3 for high-speed network connectivity, making it ideal for control plane applications. The chip also features a dedicated security processor which enables AMD’s TrustZone technology for enhanced security. There’s also a dedicated cryptographic security co-processor on-board, aligning to the increased need for networked, secure systems.
Soon after Hierofalcon is out, AMD will be launching the SkyBridge platform that will feature interchangeable 64-bit ARM and x86 processors. Later in 2016, the company will be launching the K12 chip, its custom high performance 64-bit ARM core.
Microsoft’s Xbox division is in a much healthier state today than it was a year ago. It’s had a tough time of it; forced to reinvent itself in an excruciating, public way as the original design philosophy and marketing message for the Xbox One transpired to be about as popular as breaking wind in a crowded lift, resulting in executive reshuffles and a tricky refocus of the variety that would ordinarily be carried out pre-launch and behind closed doors. Even now, Xbox One remains lumbered with the fossilised detritus of its abortive original vision; Kinect 2.0 has been shed, freeing up system resources and marking a clear departure for the console, but other legacy items like the expensive hardware required for HDMI input and TV processing are stuck right there in the system’s hardware and cannot be extracted until the inevitable redesign of the box rolls around.
All the same, under Phil Spencer’s tenure as Xbox boss, the console has achieved a better turnaround than any of us would have dared to expect – but that, perhaps, speaks to the low expectations everyone had. In truth, despite the sterling efforts of Spencer and his team, Xbox One is still a console in trouble. A great holiday sales season was widely reported, but actually only happened in one territory (the USA, home turf that was utterly dominated by Xbox in the previous generation), was largely predicated on a temporary price-cut and was somewhat marred by serious technical issues that dogged the console’s headline title for the season, the Master Chief Collection.
Since the start of 2015, things have settled down to a more familiar pattern once more; PS4 consistently outsells Xbox One, even in the USA, generally racking up more than double the sales of its competitor in global terms. Xbox One sells better month-on-month than the Wii U, but that’s cold comfort indeed given that Nintendo’s console is widely seen as an outright commercial failure, and Nintendo has all but confirmed that it will receive an early bath, with a replacement in the form of Nintendo NX set to be announced in 2016. Microsoft isn’t anywhere near that level of crisis, but nor are its sales in 2015 thus far outside the realms of comparison with Wii U – and their installed bases are nigh-on identical.
The odd thing about all of this, and the really positive thing that Microsoft and its collaborators like to focus on, is that while the Xbox One looks like it’s struggling, it’s actually doing markedly better than the Xbox 360 was at the same point in its lifespan – by my rough calculations, Xbox One is about 2.5 million units north of the installed base of Xbox 360 at the same point. Oddly, that makes it more comparable with PS3, which was, in spite of its controversy-dogged early years, a much faster seller out the door than Microsoft’s console. The point stands, though, that in simple commercial terms Xbox One is doing better than Xbox 360 did – it just happens that PS4 is doing better than any console has ever done, and casting a long shadow over Microsoft’s efforts in the process.
The problem with this is that I don’t think very many people are under the impression that Microsoft, whose primary businesses lie in the sale of office and enterprise software, cloud services and operating systems, is in the videogames business just in order to turn a little profit. Ever since the departure of Steve Ballmer and the appointment of the much more business-focused Satya Nadella as CEO, Xbox has looked increasingly out of place at Microsoft, especially as projects like Surface and Windows Phone have been de-emphasised. If Xbox still has an important role, it’s as the flag-bearer for Microsoft’s brand in the consumer space; but even at that, the “beach-head in the living room” is far less important now that Sony no longer really looks like a competitor to Microsoft, the two companies having streamlined themselves to a point where they don’t really focus on the same things any more. Besides, Xbox One is being left behind in PS4′s dust; even if Microsoft felt like it needed a beach-head in the living room, Xbox wouldn’t exactly be doing the job any more.
But wait, we’ve been here before, right? All those rumours about Microsoft talking to Amazon about unloading the Xbox division came to nothing only a few short months ago, after all. GDC saw all manner of talk about Xbox One’s place in the Windows 10 ecosystem; Spencer repeatedly mentioned the division having Nadella’s backing, and then there’s the recent acquisition of Minecraft, which surely seems like an odd thing to take place if the position of Xbox within the Microsoft family is still up in the air. Isn’t this all settled now?
Perhaps not, because the rumours just won’t stop swirling that Microsoft had quietly put Xbox on the market and is actively hunting for a buyer. During GDC and ever since, the question of who will come to own Xbox has been posed and speculated upon endlessly. The console’s interactions with Windows 10, including the eventual transition of its own internal OS to the Windows 10 kernel; the supposed backing of Nadella; the acquisition of Minecraft; none of these things have really deterred the talk that Microsoft doesn’t see Xbox as a core part of its business any more and would be happy to see it gone. The peculiar shake-up of the firm’s executive team recently, with Phil Harrison quietly departing and Kudo Tsunoda stepping up to share management of some of Microsoft Game Studios’ teams with Phil Spencer, has added fuel to the fire; if you hold it up at a certain angle to the light, this decision could look like it’s creating an internal dividing line that would make a possible divestment easier.
Could it happen? Well, yes, it could – if Microsoft is really determined to sell Xbox and can find a suitable bidder, it could all go far more smoothly than you may imagine. Xbox One would continue to be a part of the Windows 10 vision to some extent, and would probably get its upgrade to the Windows 10 kernel as well, but would no longer be Microsoft hardware – not an unfamiliar situation for a company whose existence has mostly been predicated on selling operating systems for other people’s hardware. Nobody would buy Xbox without getting Halo, Forza and various other titles into the bargain, but Microsoft’s newly rediscovered enthusiasm for Windows gaming would suggest a complex deal wherein certain franchises (probably including Minecraft) remain with Microsoft, while others went off with the Xbox division. HoloLens would remain a Microsoft project; it’s not an Xbox project right now and has never really been pushed as an Xbox One add-on, despite the immediate comparisons it prompted with Sony’s Morpheus. Xbox games would still keep working with the Azure cloud services (Microsoft will happily sell access to that to anyone, on any platform), on which framework Xbox Live would continue to operate. So yes, Xbox could be divorced from Microsoft, maintaining a close and amiable relationship with the requisite parts of the company while taking up residence in another firm’s stable – a firm with a business that’s much more in line with the objectives of Xbox than Microsoft now finds itself to be.
“None of Xbox’ rivals would be in the market to buy such a large division, and no game company would wish to lumber itself with a platform holder business. Neither Apple nor Google make the slightest sense as a new home for Xbox either”
This, I think, is the stumbling block. I’m actually quite convinced that Microsoft would like to sell the Xbox division and has held exploratory talks to that end; I’m somewhat less convinced, but prepared to believe, that those talks are continuing even now. However, I’m struggling to imagine a buyer. None of Xbox’ rivals would be in the market to buy such a large division, and no game company would wish to lumber itself with a platform holder business. Neither Apple nor Google make the slightest sense as a new home for Xbox either; the whole product is distinctly “un-Apple” in its ethos and approach, while Google is broadly wary of hardware and almost entirely disinterested in games.
Amazon was the previously mentioned suitor, and to my mind, remains the most likely purchaser – but it’s seemingly decided to pursue its own strategy for living room devices for now, albeit with quite limited success. I could see Amazon still “exploring options” in this regard with Microsoft, but if that deal was going to happen, I would have expected it to happen last year. Who else is out there, then? Netflix, perhaps, is an interesting outside possibility – the company’s branching out into creating original TV content as well as being a platform for third-party content would be a reasonably good cultural match for the Game Studios aspect of Xbox, but it’s hard to imagine a company that has worked so hard to divorce itself from the entire physical product market suddenly leaping back into it with a large, expensive piece of hardware.
This, I think, is what ultimately convinces me that Xbox is staying at Microsoft – for better or worse. It might be much better for Xbox if it was a centrepiece project for a company whose business objectives matched its strengths; but I don’t think any such company exists to take the division off Microsoft’s hands. Instead, Spencer and his talented team will have to fight to ensure that Xbox remains relevant and important within Microsoft. Building its recognition as a Windows 10 platform is a good start; figuring out other ways in which Xbox can continue to be a great game platform while also bringing value to the other things that Microsoft does is the next challenge. Having turned around public perception of the console to a remarkable degree, the next big task for the Xbox team will be to change perceptions within Microsoft itself and within the investor community – if Xbox is stuck at Microsoft for the long haul, it needs to carve itself a new niche within a business vision that isn’t really about the living room any more.
The HSA Foundation has issued a new standard which can match up graphics chips, processors and other hardware to boost things like video search.
The downside is that Intel and Nvidia to not appear to have been involved in the creation of the version 1.0 of its Heterogeneous System Architecture specification.
What the standard would mean is that compute, graphics and digital-signal processors will be able to directly address the same physical RAM in a more cache-coherent manner. It will mean the end of external buses and loosely linked interconnects, and allow data to be processed at the same time.
A GPU and CPU can work on the same bits of memory in an application in a multi-threaded way. The spec refers to GPUs and DSPs as “kernel agents” which sounds a bit like corporate spies for KFC.
The blueprints support 64-bit and 32-bit, and map out virtual memory, memory coherency, and message passing, programming models, and hardware requirements.
While the standard is backed by AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Samsung, Intel and Nvidia are giving it a miss. The thought is that with these names onboard there should be a enough of a critical mass of developers who will build HSA-compliant games and tools.
Intel has announced details of its first Xeon system on chip (SoC) which will become the new the Xeon D 1500 processor family.
Although it is being touted as a server, storage and compute applications chip at the “network edge”, word on the street is that it could be under the bonnet of robots during the next apocalypse.
The Xeon D SoCs use the more useful bits of the E3 and Atom SoCs along with 14nm Broadwell core architecture. The Xeon D chip is expected to bring 3.4x better performance per watt than previous Xeon chips.
Lisa Spelman, Intel’s general manager for the Data Centre Products Group, lifted the kimono on the eight-core 2GHz Xeon D 1540 and the four-core 2.2GHz Xeon D 1520, both running at 45W. It also features integrated I/O and networking to slot into microservers and appliances for networking and storage, the firm said.
The chips are also being touted for industrial automation and may see life powering robots on factory floors. Since simple robots can run on basic, low-power processors, there’s no reason why faster chips can’t be plugged into advanced robots for more complex tasks, according to Intel.
While AMD FreeSync capable monitors are now available in select regions, AMD has given a short update regarding it saying that the FreeSync driver will be coming on March 19th.
According to AMD, FreeSync monitors are now available in some countries in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region and since “gamers are excited to bring home an incredibly smooth and tearing-free PC gaming experience powered by AMD Radeon GPUs and AMD A-Series APUs”, AMD has announced that FreeSync-capable driver for single-GPU configurations will be available on March 19th. Unfortunately, those running on AMD Crossfire system will have to wait until April.
Plenty of manufacturers, including Acer, LG, BenQ, Iiyama anmd many more, have already announced their own FreeSync monitors so there will be plenty of choice when it comes to screen size and resolution.
In case you missed it earlier, FreeSync is AMD’s response to Nvidia G-Sync and syncs the refresh rate of the monitor with the rendering rate of the AMD Radeon GPU, thus removing screen tearing and reduce stuttering in games. We had a chance to check it out during CES 2015 and it looked pretty good.
Most manufacturers announced that their FreeSync monitors will be available during this month so finally we will have a chance to see AMD’s FreeSync push in retail/e-tail.
It looks like the Mantle API developed by AMD is slowly reaching its end of its useful life.
Mantle has apparently served its purpose as a bridge between DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 and AMD is starting to tell new developers to focus their attention on DirectX and GLnext.
Raja Koduri, the Vice President of Visual and Perceptual Computing at AMD said in a blog post:
The Mantle SDK also remains available to partners who register in this co-development and evaluation program. However, if you are a developer interested in Mantle “1.0″ functionality, we suggest that you focus your attention on DirectX® 12 or GLnextGLnext.
This doesn’t mean a quick death for Mantle. AMD suggest it will support its partners and that there are still titles to come with support for Mantle. Battlefield Hardline is one of them and it’s a big one.
Back in November AMD announced a Mantle update, telling the world that there are four engines and 20+ launched or upcoming titles, and 10 developers publically announced their support for Mantle.
There are close to 100 registered developers in the Mantle beta program. The Frostbite 3 engine (Battlefield Hardline), CryEngine (Crysis series), Nitrous Engine (Star Citizen) and Asura Engine (Sniper elite) currently have support for Mantle. Some top games including Thief and Sid Meir’s Civilization Beyond Earth also support Mantle.
AMD will tell developers a bit more about Mantle at the Game Developers Conference 15 that starts today in San Francisco and will talk more about its definitions of an open platform. The company will also tackle on new capabilities beyond draw calls and it will remain there for the people who are already part of the Mantle program.
However, AMD suggests new partners should look the other way and focus on alternatives. When we spoke with Raja and a few other people from AMD over the last few quarters, we learned that Mantle was never supposed to take on DirectX 12. You should look at Mantle as AMD’s wish list, that’s what AMD wanted and needed before Microsoft was ready to introduce DirectX 12. Mantle as a low-level rending API and keep in in mind that it came almost two years before DirectX 12.
The Battlefield 4 Mantle patch came in February 2014 roughly a year ago and it showed a significant performance increase on supported hardware. Battlefield Hardline is the next big game to support Mantle and it comes in two weeks. CryEngine also supports Mantle, but we will have to wait and see if the support will ever translate into an actual game with Mantle support.
Free to play has an image problem. It’s the most influential and arguably important development in the business of games in decades, a stratospherically successful innovation which has enabled the opening up of games to a wider audience than ever before. Implemented well, with clear understanding of its principles and proper respect afforded to players and creativity alike, it’s more fair and even, in a sense, democratic than old-fashioned models of up-front payment; in theory, players pay in proportion to their enjoyment, handing over money in small transactions for a continued or deepened relationship with a game they already love, rather than giving a large amount of cash up-front for a game they’ve only ever seen in (possibly doctored) screenshots and videos.
While that is a fair description, I think, of the potential of free-to-play, it’s quite clearly not the image that the business model bears right now. You probably scoffed about half a dozen times reading the above paragraph – it may be a fair description of free-to-play at its hypothetical best, but it’s almost certainly at odds with your perceptions.
How, then, might we describe the perception of F2P? Greedy, exploitative, unfair, cheating… Once these adjectives start rolling, it’s hard to get them to stop. The negative view of F2P is that it’s a series of cheap psychological tricks designed to get people to spend money compulsively without ever realising quite how much cash they’re wasting on what is ultimately a very shallow and cynical game experience.
I don’t think it’s entirely unsurprising or unexpected that this perception should be held by “core” gamers or those enamoured of existing styles of game. Although F2P has proven very successful for games like MMOs and MOBAs, it’s by no means universally applicable, either across game types or across audience types; some blundering attempts by publishers to add micro-transactions to premium console and PC titles, combined with deep misgivings over the complete domination of F2P in the mobile game market, have left plenty of more traditional gamers with a very negative and extremely defensive attitude regarding the new business model. That’s fine, though; F2P isn’t for that audience (though it’s a little more complex than that in reality; many players will happily tap away at an F2P mobile game while waiting for matchmaking in a premium console game).
What’s increasingly clear, however, is that there’s an image problem for F2P right in the midst of the audience at whom it’s actually aimed. The negative perception of F2P is becoming increasingly mainstream. It gets mass-media coverage on occasion; recently, it spurred Apple to create a promotion specifically pointing App Store customers to games with no in-app purchases. I happen to think that’s a great idea personally, but what does it say about the feedback from Apple’s customers regarding F2P games, that promotion of non-F2P titles was even a consideration?
Even some of the most successful F2P developers now seem to want to distance themselves from the business model; this week’s interview with Crossy Road developers Hipster Whale saw the team performing linguistic somersaults to avoid labelling their free-to-play game as being free-to-play. Crossy Road is a brilliant, fun, interesting F2P game that hits pretty much all of the positive notes I laid out up in the first paragraph; that even its own developers seem to view “free-to-play” as an overtly negative phrase is deeply concerning.
The problem is that the negativity has a fair basis; there’s a lot of absolute guff out there, with the App Store utterly teeming with F2P games that genuinely are exploitative and unfair; worst of all, the bad games tend to be stupid, mean-spirited and grasping, attempting to suck money out of easily tricked customers (and let’s be blunt here: we’re talking, in no small measure, about kids) rather than undertaking the harder but vastly more rewarding task of actually entertaining and enthralling people until they feel perfectly happy with parting with a little cash to see more, do more or just to deepen their connection to the game.
Such awfulness, though, is not universal by any measure. There are tons of good F2P games out there; games that are creative and interesting (albeit often within a template of sorts; F2P was quick to split off into slowly evolving genre-types, though nobody who’s played PC or console games for very long can reasonably criticise that particular development), games that give you weeks or months of enjoyment without ever forcing a penny from your pocket unless you’re actually deeply engaged enough to want to pay up to get something more. Most of F2P’s bone fide hits fit into this category, in fact; games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or Hay Day, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons and, yes, even King’s Candy Crush Saga, which is held aloft unfairly as an example of F2P scurrilousness, yet has never extracted a penny from 70 percent of the people who have finished (finished!) the game. That’s an absolutely enormous amount of shiny candy-matching enjoyment (while I don’t like the game personally, I don’t question that it’s enjoyment for those who play it so devotedly) for free.
Unfortunately, the negative image that has been built up by free-to-play threatens not just the nasty, exploitative games, but all the perfectly decent ones as well – from billion-grossing phenomena like Puzzle & Dragons to indie wunderkind like Crossy Road. If free-to-play as a “brand” becomes irreparably damaged, the consequences may be far-reaching.
A year ago, I’d have envisaged that the most dangerous consequence on the horizon was heavy-handed legislation – with the EU, or perhaps the USA, clamping down on F2P mechanisms in a half-understood way that ended up damaging perfectly honest developers along with two-bit scam merchants. I still think that’s possible; companies have ducked and dived around small bits of legislation (or the threat of small bits of legislation) in territories including Japan and the EU, but the hammer could still fall in this regard. However, I no longer consider that the largest threat. No, the largest threat is Apple; the company which did more than any other to establish F2P as a viable market remains the company that could pull the carpet out from underneath it entirely, and while I doubt that’s on the cards right now, the wind is certainly turning in that direction.
Apple’s decision to promote non-F2P titles on its store may simply be an editor’s preference; but given the growing negativity around F2P, it may also be a sign that customer anger over F2P titles on iOS is reaching receptive ears at Apple. Apple originally permitted free apps (with IAP or otherwise) for the simple reason that having a huge library of free software available to customers was a brilliant selling point for the iPhone and iPad. At present, that remains the case; but if the negativity around the perception of F2P games were ever to start to outweigh the positive benefits of all that free software, do not doubt that Apple would reverse course fast enough to make your head spin. Reckon that its 30 percent share of all those Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga revenues would be enough to make it think twice? Reckon again; App Store revenue is a drop in the ocean for Apple, and if abusive F2P ever starts to significantly damage the public perception of Apple’s devices, it will ban the model (in part, at least) without a second thought to revenue.
Some of you, those who fully buy into the negative image of F2P, might think that would be a thing to celebrate; ding, dong, the witch is dead! That’s a remarkably short-sighted view, however. In truth, F2P has been the saviour of a huge number of game development jobs and studios that would otherwise have been lost entirely in the implosion of smaller publishers and developers over the past five years; it’s provided a path into the industry for a great many talented creative people, grown the audience for games unimaginably and has provided a boost not only to mobile and casual titles, but to core games as well – especially in territories like East Asia. Wishing harm on F2P is wishing harm on many thousands of industry jobs; so don’t wish F2P harm. Wish that it would be better; that way, everyone wins.