As anyone who has accidentally walked into a room full of children can tell you, they’re good at asking the kinds of questions that just keep drilling down. “Why is the sky blue? So why does blue light get scattered more? Then why is the sky red at sunset? Where are you going?”
And although I don’t recommend it, if you were to sit one of these little buggers down with a quarterly earnings reports from EA or Activision, they might soon start asking “Why are violent video games so much more popular than other games?” It’s a tricky question to answer without falling down the why hole. Because shooting stuff is fun. Why is it fun? Because people like military themes where they can be the hero. Okay, but why is that? Because players like feeling ridiculously powerful and enormous guns let them do that. But why is that appealing? Why, why, why?
Well, some psychologists are trying to tease apart the reasons why violence sells without throwing their hands up and shouting “Just because! And I’m not even your real dad!” Researchers Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan describe how they think that the design of violent games – especially shooters – naturally does a pretty good job of satisfying some very basic psychological needs. But not in the way you may be thinking.
In their book, Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound, Rigby and Ryan describe “self-determination theory,” a fairly well established framework that aims to describe why people pursue certain voluntary activities. In part, self-determination theory says that people are motivated to engage in activities to the extent that they satisfy three psychological needs:
- 1. Competence – progressing in skill and power.
- 2. Autonomy – being able to choose from multiple, meaningful options.
- 3. Relatedness – feeling important to others.
What does this have to do with violent shooters? Rigby, Ryan, and their colleagues argue that many of the design principles of good shooters also happen to follow well worn paths to satisfying these three psychological needs. Let’s take a closer look.
Competence is communicated by immediate and unambiguous positive feedback in response to your actions – you see opponents stagger, see blood fly off them, and ultimately see them collapse. The beloved headshot is particularly effective in this regard. Scott Rigby notes, “I’ll often put up a slide with a great screenshot of a headshot, and it always elicits smiles. The smiles here aren’t because everyone is sadistic – they are because this is a moment of mastery satisfaction that all gamers can relate to. The blood may not be the value component, but really is just a traditional way dense informational feedback on mastery is provided.” Information about competence in shooters is also thrown at you in the form of scoreboards, rankings, weapon unlocks, and eventually the outcome of every (relatively short) match.
Autonomy, the second motivator in self-determination theory, is also well served by the design of most popular shooters. Having the option to choose many different paths through a level satisfies autonomy, as does choosing between different classes, different loadouts, or different tactics. In a lot of games you can even choose between different modes, modifiers, or maps, allowing you to satisfy the need to play a game how you please. And if that’s not enough, custom character or weapon skins or models also fit in here.
Finally, relatedness is most obviously important in multiplayer games where you can feel like part of a successful (or, perhaps more likely of pickup games, incompetent) team bound together by opposition to a common foe. To the extent that shooters communicate your contributions in the forms of scores, points, server-wide notifications, or MVP awards, relatedness will be satisfied – to say nothing of what you can get out of text and voice chat. But even most modern shooters have single player campaigns that somewhat mimic this and put you in the role of someone important to those around you.
Of course, none of these motivators is unique to shooters. They show up in good game design across all genres and themes. But violent shooters usually hit on all three, and Rigby and Ryan believe that’s there’s a big overlap between what makes an effective shooter and what satisfies multiple facets of all three of these psychological needs. So while RPGs might nail autonomy, platformers may demand competence, and MMOs may allow the most relatedness, violent shooters fire on all three cylinders.
“[Violent games] are fun not because of the blood and gore,” write Rigby and Ryan, “but because games of war and combat offer so many opportunities to feel autonomy, competence, and the relatedness of camaraderie rolled up into an epic heroic experience.” But, that all said, do shooters satisfy all these motivators so well because they’re violent?
It’s an important question, and Ryan, Rigby, and their colleague Andrew Przybylski published a 2009 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that addresses it. Part of their research involved a clever experiment where they modified Half-Life 2 to create a high-violence version of the game’s multiplayer and a low-violence version. The high violence version is pretty much what you’d expect. The low violence one, though, was created by changing the bullet-spewing guns into “tag” tools that players would use to zap opponents. Once tagged, foes would freeze and float up into the air for a second before being harmlessly teleported to a “penalty box” where they would wait to respawn into the game. So the main difference – arguably the only difference – between the two groups was how much violence there was in the game. Everything else was the same: the level layouts, the controls, and all the other stuff that satisfied competence and autonomy (unfortunately they didn’t examine relatedness). Only the violence was teased out of the equation
What did they find? Well, a lot of things. But one interesting finding was that the games in either condition were found enjoyable and both games satisfied the basic psychological needs of competence and autonomy. Even whether or not a person was naturally aggressive and normally enjoyed violent games didn’t matter once you accounted for competence and autonomy.
To me, this is vastly interesting and argues for alternatives to the go-to trope of violence and gore if you’re looking to draw people to games. It’s not the bloodshed as much as it is feeling like you’re able to make what you want happen on-screen. It’s not fetishising guns and explosions as much as it is the ability to use tactics and choose among meaningful options on the road to victory. It’s not the military themes as much as it is feeling like you’re an important part of a team.
Sure, war and military heroism are themes and experiences worthy of exploration, but there are other options that can be just as effective. Gamers may be happy to just keep buying the same game over and over again without understanding a thing about self determination theory, and publishers may only want to greenlight games that look like smash hits from the past without caring about mechanisms for satisfying psychological needs, but developers who think about these things and play around with them can definitely do something both great and different.
When Crytek opened its new Crytek USA studio, it picked up a number of the staff from Vigil when THQ hit bottom. Now, it looks like those former Vigil studio members might be lucky enough to see Crytek acquire the Darksiders franchise that these folks poured their hearts and souls into.
Crytek is apparently looking to buy the rights to the Darksiders franchise. This is not to make a new Darksiders game, but is in the spirit that the people who created the game might as well own the IP if someone if going to get it.
Former Vigil boss, David Adams, now the head of Crytek USA, went to Twitter to announce the news that Crytek would be bidding to acquire the franchise because the IP belongs at home with is creators, according to the Twitter posting.
While it is far from assured that Crytek will acquire it, the courts and the legal wrangling will determine how it shakes out. Still, it is nice thing to see that some of the former Vigil crew could end up with the IP being under the roof where they work again. It does not get anywhere close to a new Darksiders game, but it would be nice for the Vigil folks to have something good come their way.
Warhammer 40K owner Games Workshop has confirmed a new licensing deal with Roadhouse Interactive to develop new titles for mobile space based on the franchise. The developer, who is based in Vancouver, describes the new Warhammer title as a side screening action game.
While Roadhouse confirms that the game is in development, the end mobile platforms that will see the released version of the game are still up in the air at the moment; but more information is sure to be coming in the months ahead, according to the studio.
The Warhammer 40K has had others attempts to capture the tabletop war game in video form before. These Warhammer offerings have met with mixed reviews, but this new title from Roadhouse will be a first for Warhammer 40K in the mobile space.
Crytek chief executive officer Cevat Yerli has told Digital Spy that Crysis 3 won’t be coming to the Nintendo Wii U because there’s no “business drive” between Electronic Arts and Nintendo.
“There have been discussions between Nintendo and EA and Crytek, but the bottom line is that there is that there’s not enough business drive in it,” Yerli told Digital Spy.
“I’d love to see it on Wii U, but what I love to see and what gets done at the end of the day are two different things. Even so, I could initiate it but someone has to sell it, right?” said Yerli. “It’s a business decision between EA and Nintendo. If that business decision doesn’t make sense, or seems to not make sense for them, it’s… not possible for us to make it. We can’t publish ourselves, and that’s the bottom line.”
Crysis 3 will be coming Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 19 in North America and February 22 in Europe. Electronic Arts has released the Unreal Engine 3-powered Mass Effect 3 and versions of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 13 and FIFA 13 on Nintendo’s new console.
Crysis 3 is one of the most anticipated game titles and it appears that the PC version will feature high-res texture pack from day one.
According to a post over at PCGamer.com, Crysis 3 will feature high-res texture pack as well as some advanced graphics options that will put that console version to shame. As you remember, Crysis 2 only featured v-sync, resolution, HUD bobbing and general quality settings before the famous patch. Crytek and EA are not going to make the same mistake and will include a great deal of settings that will make the PC version much better than the console version.
The list includes game effects, objects, particles, post processing, shading, shadows, water, anisotropic filtering, texture resolution, motion blur amount and lens flares.
In any case it sounds like really good news for PC gamers.
EA has finally revealed minimum, recommended and high performance system requirements for the upcoming Crysis 3 first-person shooter and, unsurprisingly, if you want to play it at high performance settings you’ll need AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 or Nvidia GTX 680 graphics cards paired up with a decent CPU.
Posted over at Crysis.com, the system requirements are pretty much in line with what expectations, and Crysis 3 will run on Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8 OS. The minimum requirements include at least a dual core CPU, DirectX 11 graphics card with 1GB of VRAM and 2GB of memory (3GB on Vista OS). As an example, EA offered Intel’s Core 2 Duo E6600 paired up with GTS 450 graphics card or AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 5200+ paired up with Radeon HD 5770.
The recommended specs take these specs a notch higher to quad-core CPU and 4GB of system memory with examples like GTX 560 paired up with Core i3-530 or Radeon HD 5870 paired up with Phenom II X2 565. The high performance requirements include “latest DirectX 11 GPU” and “latest quad-core CPU” paired up with 8GB of system memory. The examples are Intel’s Core i7-2600k paired up with the GTX 680 or AMD FX-4150 paired up with Radeon HD 7970.
Crysis 3 is scheduled for February 2013 release and will be available for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
A new and updated Spy Hunter is coming from Warner Bros Interactive. Warner acquired the rights to Spy Hunter, as well as other Midway titles, with the asset purchase from Midway when the company closed some time ago.
While the new trailer that Warner has released does not tell a lot about the new Spy Hunter, what we can tell you is that so far it is only planned for the portable platforms. Both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita will get the new Spy Hunter when it arrives in October 2012.
No word yet if Warner is looking at additional Platforms for the title, but if it does generate enough interest, we could see it coming to other platforms, as well. TT Fusion is said to be leading the development effort for Warner Bros on this title.
Diablo III was an instant smash when it was released, and if there is anyone left that wants to play it but hasn’t yet, then this is for them.
The Diablo III Starter Edition gives you limited access to the game, but it is free. If you want to play it you have three options: one, you can log in to the Battle.net with an existing account; two, you can borrow the game disc off a friend and install it using what is called a Guest Pass; or three, you can create a new Battle.net account.
Do any of those things and you have access to a version of the game that is missing some features and only carries you through to level 13, but what do you want for free?
As a player you can fight your way up to the Skeleton King boss in Act I, and advance all the way to level 13, according to Blizzard. There are no auction facilities, and players can only indulge in multiplayer sessions with other Starter Edition players.
If you like what you see and want to upgrade, that’s easy, and Blizzard said that the Starter Edition restrictions will be removed within 72 hours of full game payment.
Diablo III is the fastest selling PC game title to date.
Following Activision Blizzard’s earnings announcement, the publisher held its investors call to discuss its results and the industry at large. Chief Executive Bobby Kotick was asked by an analyst about the challenging marketplace this year and why sales have been down at retail.
“You have a very difficult macroeconomic environment, when you look at the things that can generally have an impact on the consumption of entertainment – unemployment data is very concerning, and when you look at the challenges in Europe there are a lot of things that are going to affect the macroeconomic outlook. We are also at the late end of the cycle, and the late end of a console cycle is always going to have its share of difficulties,” Kotick began.
He then proceeded to lay some of the blame at the feet of his competitors, which he said are not necessarily doing the industry justice by shipping less than stellar games.
“I also think you’ve had, unfortunately, a stream of products that are less than adequate from some of our competitors. The demand in the marketplace is for great quality products. If you look at the success we’re having it validates that there is an opportunity for great quality products but I think at this stage in the cycle, it’s challenging for anything other than great quality products,” he said.
Kotick added that other sectors, particularly mobile, are having an impact on how much money consumers are willing to spend. Beyond that, many gamers are happy to keep playing online games for longer stretches of time instead of rushing out to buy new products.
“There’s also a lot of competition for entertainment dollars – you look at mobile games and what’s happening there and the pricing there that’s having an impact,” he continued. “And I also think that a lot of the games we make, like Call of Duty, that are multiplayer games offer a lot of replayability, and when you have the opportunity for replayability in an economic environment like this, you’re going to spend more time playing the games that you have.”
“But I will say that if you look out at the next five years, there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful and enthusiastic, but the next few years are going to be challenging,” Kotick concluded.
A new report from Cowen and Company states that the recently settled case between ex-Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella and Activision settled to the tune of ‘tens of millions.’ Analyst Doug Creutz believes that while the settlement was undisclosed, the two Call of Duty executives walked away with a very healthy sum.
The comments from the firm come just a few days shy of financial reporting for Activision. Creutz notes that Activision will more than likely ignore the settlement when discussing the outlook for the company during the earnings call as it feels investors will see the sum as negligible going forward.
Activision is looking at healthy sales overall from the Blizzard side, thanks in part to an expected 8 million units sold for Diablo III, says Creutz. The game pushed past 6 million units sold in May, beating out earlier predictions of only 5 million forecasted. Blizzard’s next release, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, is more than likely not going to ship until 2013, adds Creutz.
EA is also gearing up to release its financial report as well. Creutz believes that EA will be reducing sales forecasts for upcoming titles, notably Medal of Honor: Warfighter. The game is expected to only sell 1.44 million units, a sharp decline from Creutz’s previously forecast 2.33 million. The analyst also had sobering news for BioWare’s The Old Republic, which he believes will continue to see rapid declination in subscribers to around 500,000 users overall.
Last month, Activision Blizzard unveiled its new Activision Mobile publishing label in partnership with analytics firm Flurry. While that announcement was mainly geared towards third parties, today the publisher announced a new effort to boost its first-party mobile offerings: a partnership with Swrve New Media, which has expertise with in-game behavioral analytics and A/B testing in mobile applications.
Activision will utilize Swrve’s proprietary testing platform in the company’s mobile games in order to test, tune and optimize its games in real-time. The Swrve technology is not new to Activision, as it was integrated into the top-selling iOS title Skylanders Cloud Patrol.
“Using Swrve’s analytics platform we are able to seamlessly balance and optimize our games in real time to offer a better experience to our players,” said Greg Canessa, vice president of Mobile at Activision Publishing, in a press release. “We are also able to offer engaging and personalized experiences to an unlimited range of players. The Swrve platform has been designed by an experienced team with long-standing success in gaming industry and we are very excited to be working with them.”
Canessa and Hugh Reynolds, founder and CEO at Swrve, spoke more about the partnership and Activision’s evolving mobile strategy.
“We’ve got two separate but related efforts going on under the Activision Mobile umbrella,” Canessa explained. “We have our first party offering and we’ve been hard at work building a technology platform and staffing up our core gaming capabilities to pursue a suite of mobile games with a micro-transaction focus around our IP. Whether that’s around Skylanders, Call of Duty: Zombies or some of our other franchises or IP, we are going after the mobile space in the best way we know on the iOS and Android side.”
“Flurry of course is our third-party effort where they act as business analytics partners as well as just publishing partners so we can utilize Flurry analytics to identify indie game developers that could show potential and then provide funding, technology resources, branding and so forth, which we’ve talked about previously.
“Swerve is the partner we’ve selected for our behavioral analytics for the Activate Mobile Platform, which is a platform that will power all of our first party games now and in the future. So these guys are long-time industry veterans who have had a great deal of success in partnership with Activision Blizzard in the past of course from Havok; these guys were the creators of Havok. This new start up that they’ve created, Swerve, is what we believe to be the premier behavioral analytics solution out there. So we are happy to have them and have them power our game design analytics for our micro-transaction games on the first party side.”
Reynolds added, “We are very unique in that we are action oriented first, so we are very much into beta testing and we believe that a key way to continue polishing it is to have the business team involved. We want to push new versions out, run different userbase and then deliver a new app that is optimized for specific users. So it is very test-driven first for analytics. We’re turning the traditional model around and letting it work for business and game designers.”
Activision hasn’t exactly been known for its prowess in the mobile gaming sphere, but the company is looking to change that. Canessa stressed that these moves, like the Flurry and Swrve partnerships, are just the beginning for the company.
“You are seeing this announcement as well as a few others of late really focus on our serious intention to get into mobile in a fairly significant way,” he said. “When you take a look at our Activision Mobile publishing announcements, we look at our first-party stuff and then at our Swerve relationship, you see us taking the steps to bolster our internal platform capabilities around mobile, our data analytics capabilities and of course launching Skylanders Cloud Patrol as our first effort. This is the beginning of a lot more you are going to see from us in the mobile space.”
Canessa was reluctant to discuss what Activision Mobile is working on. The new studio in the UK has been growing and is no doubt working on some top IP in the mobile space for Activision. Don’t assume, however, that just because Call of Duty is Activision’s top property that its mobile efforts will be equally core-focused. If anything, Activision wants to attract as broad an audience as it can on mobile.
“We have a wide variety of IP and the market for iOS and Android is very broad. There is lighter touch and then there are more and more immersive experiences. All of those are interesting to us. Without going into specifics, you can see Skylanders is more light hearted which appeals to a broader audience. I think you are going to see us do more of that. To a point, we have more core games on different platforms and we can go into that as well. I think we’re interested in all sorts of entertainment experiences,” Canessa said.
Everyone was wondering the other day about some of the titles missing in action at E3. It would appear that the mystery behind Rainbow 6: Patriots not being shown has been answered by UbiSoft. According to Tony Key from UbiSoft in a discussion with IGN, he stated that the game was, “…still in active development”, but “the best thing for the brand was not to bring it to the show right now.”
While a trailer was released last December that looked like the game was very promising, then news was released that changes to the team were taking place, with Jean-Sebastian Decant taking change of the title. Whispers behind the scenes suggested a number of issues going on with the development team and the project schedule, but none of this ever seemed to be confirmed by multiple sources.
While Key said that the project was slated for the current generation of consoles, he did suggest that the full schedule of titles at E3 to show contributed to the decision not to show Rainbow 6: Patriots. While this is all well and good, Key had no additional release date information. Our sources tell us that an 2012 release is pretty much impossible and a late 2013 release is likely; but it could even slip into early 2014, depending on how development remains.
Activision is in the process of establishing a new mobile studio in the north of England, with the help of ex-Team 17 boss Martyn Brown.
A spokesperson for Activision UK said today that “we can confirm that we are currently putting together a mobile studio for the UK and look forward to revealing more in the near future.”
The studio is expected to handle the development of projects based on Activision’s brands, but GamesIndustry International understands that all work is at very early stages.
Activision established a business based in Leeds in November last year and GamesIndustry International understands the city will be the final location for the studio which will eventually scale to around 40 employees.
The move has been hailed by UK developer body TIGA as a vote of confidence in regional talent, with CEO Richard Wilson commenting: “We have the talent, we have the tax breaks and now we are winning the investment.
“This is terrific day for the UK games industry, for people looking to work in our high technology, high skilled industry, and for the UK economy. We are back in the game.”
UKIE’s Andy Payne added that the publisher had been eyeing further investment in the North of England and the move shows faith in the regional development scene.
“Activision have indicated for some time that they wanted to invest in the huge talent pool for video games development which is located all over the UK,” said Payne.
“The landscape is fast and wild, but the rewards are big. This decision proves that we have the right blend of experience, creative and technical talent which added to competitive fiscal taxation conditions means we can forge winning businesses and create jobs and reward talent. It is truly a great day for UK resident games developers and marketers.”
Call of Duty: Black Ops II will face stiff competition this holiday season and while Activision Blizzard is already seeing high pre-order figures, the sales bar was set enormously high by the first Black Ops (over 25 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling game of all time in the US, UK and Europe). Does Black Ops II have a chance to break any records? Analysts don’t believe so.
“I don’t think Modern Warfare 3 is going to sell more than the last Black Ops, so I doubt that this one will break a record. I think that Call of Duty is a phenomenon, selling way more than 20 million units annually, and it’s unrealistic to think that number can grow meaningfully with each annual release,” Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter said.
Colin Sebastian of RW Baird agrees. “We are forecasting Black Ops 2 to sell roughly the same number of copies as Modern Warfare 2 in 2011 [22 million copies worldwide - ed.]. Call of Duty is the only mass market core video game and the console industry continues to consolidate around a small number of top franchises. Halo 4 is a potential wrinkle in the ointment with a November launch, but on the flip side, GTA V likely not shipping until March helps,” he told us.
Interestingly, Sebastian believes that AAA games like Black Ops II at this point really need new hardware to shine. “Overall, I think games like Call of Duty need new console hardware – developers are working with 7-year-old technology in an environment when tablets and smart TVs will soon be just as powerful,” he commented.
On the flip side, EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich said we shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of Call of Duty, and Activision’s marketing muscle.
“The entire HD market is very soft at the moment, and it is understandable that retailers, publishers, and analysts are likely to be conservative on any Black Ops II forecast. Whether Black Ops II sets any records this year will depend entirely upon the overall engagement of HD consumers, which is largely out of the control of Activision and Treyarch,” he said.
Divnich continued, “Every year we question whether the Call of Duty franchises can set new records, and for the last four years they have proven us wrong. Personally, I wouldn’t under-estimate Activision, even against the odds of a more torpid HD market this holiday season.”
Billy Pidgeon of M2 Research thinks there’s a chance for Black Ops II to set a record as well.
“Call of Duty should continue to do very well and is likely to continue to break records as it will sell into a larger installed base of consoles,” he stated. “I think other big hits will also continue to perform strongly until we get into the console transition and enthusiast spending begins to shift towards hardware again.”
Activision has confirmed that the latest title in the Call of Duty franchise will launch on November 13 worldwide.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a sequel to the 2009 hit a game that is expected to outsell lifetime sales of last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Last year Activision upped the stakes with Modern Warfare 3 by introducing Call of Duty Elite, a social service for online players, but a troubled launch saw the reputation of the franchise take a hit as it struggled technically to meet player demand. Despite the hiccups, the service has 1.5 million paying members.
Activision aims for a November release for its number one console property, and this year goes up against a similar release window for high-profile titles including Bioshock Infinite, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Assassin’s Creed III and Halo 4.