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Did EA Screw Up SW Battlefront II With Microtransactions

November 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

EA has suspended microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II following a furor over loot boxes, hours before the game’s launch earlier today.

Loot boxes have been increasingly controversial in recent months but the backlash towards Star Wars Battlefront II has eclipsed the debate.

While other developers and publishers have been embroiled in the controversy, EA has taken the brunt due to the imbalance potentially caused by randomized loot in a competitive multiplayer shooter.

“We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases,” said DICE general manager Oskar Gabrielson in a statement. “We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing, and tuning.”

The option to purchase in-game currency will be taken offline until a later date while the team make changes to the game. Until then, all progress will be earned through gameplay.

“Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike,” added Gabrielson.

launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.”

Just yesterday DICE took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything session which was met with derision from the community due to the the developer’s vague, non-committal answers.

The news comes just days after it was announced that the Belgian and Dutch gambling authorities are investigating whether loot boxes in Battlefront II and Overwatch constitute gambling.

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

 

Xbox One X Beats PS4 PRO In The UK

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The first week sales of Xbox One X is over 80,000 in the UK, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal.

Retailers have shared data that reveal that Microsoft’s new super-powered console has sold as many units in its first week as Nintendo Switch did in March (hardware figures are up-weighted 20%. Xbox One X raw data is at 67,000).

It’s first week sales are also well ahead of PS4 Pro, which did a little over 50,000 back in November 2016. Indeed, it took PS4 Pro four weeks to reach the same number.

Of course, stock shortages of both PS4 Pro and Switch will have impacted the performance of those machines.

The majority of sales were for the special Project Scorpio version of the machine.

It’s a pleasing performance for Microsoft, which has had a quiet year in terms of new Xbox products so far.

The best-selling Xbox One game of the week was Call of Duty: WWII, followed by Assassin’s Creed Origins (which was promoted with the system), FIFA 18 and the Forza duo: Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle Virtual Reality

November 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The response to Nintendo’s portable/console hybrid has been incredible thus far, with sales almost on track to match that of the original Wii. While the VR market has yet to see mainstream appeal on a level anything close to the Switch, Cloudhead Games CEO Denny Unger does believe that it could benefit from a device that offers similar mobile functionality but when at home can “dock” or tether to a PC to utilize its full power. Moreover, he thinks such a device could help to solve one of the more frustrating issues that VR developers have faced in the early days: market fragmentation.

“I think there’s some frustration in the industry internally with the fragmentation of the market,” he says. “We’ve got this weird separation between high-end VR and lower tier VR, mobile VR, and consumers have a real tough time going into this understanding the differences, what kind of impact those different technologies have on the experience, which makes it a big challenge for developers to target one or the other or all. To target all platforms is a huge financial investment because you can’t build a high-end VR experience and then cleanly port it to Gear VR or some lower-end VR platform. It just doesn’t work that way.

“So what you tend to get is developers making something for Cardboard or Gear VR and then trying to up-sell it to Oculus or the Vive, but it’s not as good of an experience because it started on the lowest common denominator. If you’re working from the opposite end of the spectrum, you can’t really backport it. It doesn’t even work. There’s no motion control. There’s no 6DOF tracking. There’s no positional tracking.”

To that end, Unger says he’s amazed that none of the headset makers have worked towards a hybrid device that can scale based on how it’s being used – something you can throw in your bag and use on-the-go with lower performance capabilities or tether to your PC when at home for a high fidelity experience. It would be a natural solution to the fragmentation problem, and developers would likely embrace it rapidly.

“I want a headset that connects to my PC, utilizes all the power of that platform, uses room-scale, uses motion controllers, but then I can unplug the thing and take it with me and suddenly it becomes a mobile computing platform,” he explains. “It’s got a lower tier, a lower bar of entry, and I can only play certain experiences on it, but I can take the same exact headset with me and it does that job on its own. Then I can bring it back to my PC, plug it in, and I have all that power again. That’s what I want to see as a developer. They must’ve considered it.”

Unger doesn’t have anything against Oculus and others beginning to introduce mid-tier standalone VR headsets like Go or Santa Cruz, but he’d prefer to see more unification around standards and devices.

“This is just kind of a general frustration that I hear from other developers as well. We should be trying to harmonize and come to some kind of platform parity instead of spreading it out so far,” he adds.

The odds are, Unger notes, that some company has already thought about this idea behind closed doors, possibly even prototyped it. But costs could get in the way.

“[Companies are] trying to get price points down… I think that to smash all of these bits of technology into a single headset that is a hybrid and does both things is cost prohibitive,” he says. “But I also believe that a smart company could take that and make the system modular and let people add on things to that headset to make it more capable or less capable. So they could start with a lower baseline product, but if they want to bump up its capabilities, they can add a couple things for tethering to the PC and whatever. There’s a bunch of ways to do it.”

Unger remarks that the frustration around market fragmentation ultimately is borne out of the fact that small studios like Cloudhead have been doing the heavy lifting in VR, and he’d love to see the manufacturers do a bit more.

“Smaller studios are taking the biggest risks in VR right now to really drive adoption for these hardware companies. I guess we want some kind of meaningful voice within that development of stuff. We can’t dump money into every platform. It’s just not possible,” he says.

Another area that he’d love to see more of a unified voice around is in educating the masses on VR and what good VR should feel like in general. This is especially true when developers have to deal with players’ expectations around game length and a title’s pricing. Cloudhead’s communications lead actually took to the Steam forums to address this very issue and the “mistrust” that many gamers unfortunately have of VR developers right now.

“The big problem, and you probably heard this from other developers, is the numbers just aren’t there in terms of adoption, in terms of the headsets,” Unger says. “So consumers come into it and, rightfully so, they expect pricing models that are standard PC gaming pricing models. Because in that market you’re dealing with millions of PCs and because there’s such a density of platform attachment there, you can artificially reduce your price point. You can say, ‘Well, even though it cost us X amount to produce this product, we can drive that price point down to $5 or $10 a unit because we know we’re going to roughly hit a 30% attach rate or a 20% attach rate or a 10% attach rate even, and we’ll still make our money back.’ But VR fundamentally just doesn’t work that way because the numbers aren’t there.

“So, especially when it comes to a product that’s got high production values, like Call of the Starseed or Heart of the Emberstone, our pricing model reflects the actual production costs… And a lot of consumers come into it thinking, ‘Oh, this is just like Telltale Games and you’re just doing episodes and why is it so expensive?’ Again, the reality is it’s a lot more like when Valve did Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. They were episodes, but each time they launched a new product, they were dealing with new advancements in the tech. Because of that, there was a deeper production emphasis on research and development and creating new systems or new designs to make this thing better. VR is very, very much like that. It’s heavily front-loaded with R&D.”

Consumers who come into the VR ecosystem expecting some sort of parity with traditional PC gaming are unfortunately going to have a problem accepting how developers price their games currently.

“The big problem for people in VR across the landscape is educating consumers about the slow growth curve of the market and what developers actually have to work with in terms of numbers,” Unger says. “So prices directly reflect that, unless you’re being supported by a third-party entity or you’ve got investors or you’ve got Valve or you’ve got HTC or Oculus supporting you somehow on the back end.

“As a developer, I really wish we had more help from the industry, from the hardware makers, from people who have really strong voices in the industry, to help describe why it’s different, why pricing models are the way they are, why it’s hard, where the effort and energy must go to create good experiences in VR. I would love to see an education campaign to help people out.

He continues, “I think the reason they don’t do that is because it would show some kind of weakness, some kind of systemic, ‘Oh, well then VR’s not doing very well, if we have to educate people on the why.’ So, as developers, we kind of get stuck with that bill and have to try to educate ourselves. But you have to be careful doing that, because then you look like an asshole, right? If you’re saying, ‘Well, it’s because of this, this, and this,’ people don’t care. They don’t want to hear that.”

Getting nasty emails or reading harsh feedback on forums from the audience is all too common for developers nowadays. So as much as Cloudhead may not have enjoyed seeing people complain online, dealing with player toxicity online comes with the territory in 2017.

“What really helps me personally, and it helps most of us in the studio, is to recognize that this isn’t just a VR problem,” Unger notes. “This is a games industry problem in general. And, even in traditional PC gaming, you have people complaining about price versus content and time. And a lot of times they’ll [not think about], well where’s the quality in that equation? Was it a quality experience? Did you have a good experience? Sure, it was two or six hours long, but was it good? That seems to be missing from the conversation. But it’s endemic in the entire video game industry.

“I don’t take it personally. As with any other video game in the industry, yeah, we’re pouring 16-hour days into production. Especially in VR, we’re taking substantial risks and there’s a lot of innovation and invention that happens alongside standard video game production. So it increases the workload for your small team substantially. So it’s hard not to take it personally when somebody attacks the game for being too short, or whatever the thing is. It does help to re-frame it in your head as, this is just the industry that we’ve somehow created together over the last 20 years. It’s what people of privilege tend to do.”

Cloudhead has been one of the leaders in VR since the beginning. It’s narrative adventure, The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, was a hit and the Vancouver-based studio has committed to making at least three episodes in the franchise. Episode 2, Heart of the Emberstone, recently released to rave reviews.

“The Gallery: Call of the Starseed was one of the top five selling games in VR of all time. Because it was so successful initially, even though it was a small market, all of the funding from that went directly into Episode 2. And we went from a 12-ish team to an 18-person team and dumped all of the money into upping production value across the board,” Unger says.

Interestingly, although Episode 2 offers several more hours of gameplay and has more to explore, it actually cost Cloudhead a bit less to make. “We actually started Episode 1 in early 2013. We were using prototype Oculus Rift hardware at the time,” Unger explains. “That was before motion controls and stuff too, so even though we were doing R&D… that was like a three-year span of development. So we actually put more money into Episode 1 than Episode 2, because Episode 2 was a year and a half of production. That was kind of the beauty of Episode 2 – we got into just refining systems, because we’d already done all that hard work. We knew what we were going to do. We could just kind of blow out the length and complexity of what we were doing.”

Cloudhead had a clear vision and plan in place, but that doesn’t make the VR space suddenly less risky for the team. Unger advises any developers interested in joining the VR industry to tread very carefully at this stage.

“It’s incredibly risky to get into VR and you have to do it from kind of a place of purity, honestly,” he comments. “You have to really believe that you’re bringing something new to the table and you’re pushing the conversation a bit further in terms of what the medium is and what it means. If you don’t care about that stuff, you’re probably getting into it for the wrong reasons. It is very costly. There is a lot of R&D involved. And you’re doing things that have never been done before. Because of the very nature of that, things fall apart or don’t work and you have to redo them. So if you’re not in a studio that’s highly experimental, or isn’t willing to put in the extra time and funding to do those things properly, then [it’s] probably not the industry for you right now.”

While the risk in VR remains high at the moment – just ask CCP Games – Unger believes the big turning point is about a year away for the industry. Christmas 2018, in fact, is when the stars may align for the world of VR.

“We constantly have our heads in numbers that are public and not public about where this market is going. We see an uptick in adoption happening sometime after Christmas 2018. So our internal goal is actually to get there. And we’ve been told this by many industry insiders as well – they want Cloudhead to be there – and if we get there, we’re going to be sitting in a really, really good position,” Unger says.

Investors and others staying out of VR simply because AR is on the horizon could be making a mistake, too, he says. Even with Apple getting involved, the AR market will take a long time to become established, while VR meanwhile continues to gain a better footing.

“AR is still a good five years out. I say that because we’ve seen some stuff being worked on and they have a lot of hard challenges,” Unger explains. “Everyone’s touting how amazing AR is going to be, and it will be, but it’s not going to be there for a long time. You’ll start seeing stuff coming out that is developer or enthusiast friendly, but it’s not the kind of thing that consumers are going to want to put on their face. It’s going to have the same trough and dips and ups and downs as VR will. It’s going to take longer. The thing about VR is we’ve already established this design language for what constitutes kind of a stable, good experience in VR. Developers, at this point, can jump in and do some pretty astounding stuff. On the same token, I see a lot of wave shooters and just garbage flooding the market, because that same group of people isn’t willing to take the risk or the investment risk into doing brave and different new things and figuring out what it does best.”

An industry that could give VR a leg up is Hollywood. There’s already been interest from famous directors like James Cameron and Jon Favreau, and the truth is that Hollywood very much needs video game talent in order to make VR work. Some cross-pollination of talent is inevitable, and that’s something Unger embraces. He recently attended an event called VR On The Lot, where he spoke to numerous people in film about why 360 video isn’t the best use for VR.

“I gave the example of, what I really want to do is be in an environment with my family. I want to see them in some way,” he says. “I want to be on the wall with Legolas and he’s shooting orcs with arrows on the top of the wall. I want to watch that narrative kind of play out. And it’s not going to stop no matter what I do with my wife. But if my kids get bored, they can get up and grab some bows and start nailing orcs as well, right?

“There’s a way to build a story that’s very movie-like that has a progression that you can be a part of but you’ve got a limited interactive influence over it. And you can choose to be as much a part of it as you want to be. So driving towards that I think is really important. And, personally, I want to see ports of beloved movies brought to VR. I want to make Indiana Jones in VR. I want to make a completely pitch perfect version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I want users to experience that. I want them to be Indiana Jones. That’s the kind of stuff I want to build towards.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does Nintendo Still Plan To Focus On Mobile Gaming

November 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo’s long-awaited push into the mobile space hasn’t been quite as disruptive as many might have hoped, but the firm is determined to press on with its plans.

During a Q&A for investors following Nintendo’s most recent financial results, president Tatsumi Kimishima discussed the platform holder’s thoughts on the future of its mobile business and whether he expected Nintendo to develop its own smart devices.

“Nintendo is a newcomer for the smart-device business, and there is still much we have to learn,” he said. “Nintendo has a large stock of valuable IP characters and has developed many games. We cannot, however, simply port our existing games and IP to smart-device applications. A lot of thought is going into what kind of games for smart devices will further our business and how we can continue to foster good relationships with our existing dedicated video game platform business.

“Among the various ideas, a primary concern is enabling our consumers to play on not only smart devices, but also our dedicated video game systems. We want to build up the smart-device business as a core pillar of Nintendoʼs various businesses, but we have not yet reached that level.

“Nintendo is not at a stage where we can consider becoming a smart-device platform developer.”

Kimishima’s comments follow Nintendo’s acknowledgement that Super Mario Run, the ‘pay-to-start’ mobile platformer analysts believed would kickstart the firm’s aggressive growth in mobile, has “not yet reached an acceptable profit level”. This is despite worldwide downloads of 200 million, a not insignificant figure.

Nintendo’s next release for smart devices will be Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which will utilise the typical free-to-play mechanics that drive many of the mobile sector’s biggest hits rather than the one-time payment found in Super Mario Run. It also continues to enjoy decent revenues from Fire Emblem Heroes, which launched earlier this year.

Elsewhere in the Q&A, Kimishima reiterated how pleased Nintendo is with the performance of its new Switch console. Providing the device sells as well as expected this Christmas, the president is confident the firm “can maintain the same level of momentum we saw with Wii”, Nintendo’s most successful console to date.

Switch is on course to surpass the lifetime sales of its predecessor, the Wii U, within its first year. The previous console struggled so badly, Kimishima confirms Nintendo’s “cash reserves declined by hundreds of billion yen.”

He added: “The peaks and troughs in this business are this extreme, and we need sufficient cash reserves to make it to the next wave peak.

“I wouldn’t consider our current cash reserves to be very high, but if reserves increase going forward, we would need to consider different approaches. We are looking at possibilities for share buyback in terms of the timing and what kind of effect that would have, but I cannot say anything specific at this juncture other than that share buyback is something we always have on the table, and we will make an announcement when we are able to do so.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Xbox One X Sales Higher Than Anticipated

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

At $499, the new Xbox One X isn’t going to attract people in droves, but it’s going to fare better than some might expect. Feedback on pre-orders has been encouraging and analysts are upgrading their forecasts. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter recently told us that he’s upping his Xbox One X sales forecast from 1 million to 1.5 million for 2017, and now IHSMarkit has raised its numbers as well.

“Feedback on pre-order volume for both the limited-edition Project Scorpio Xbox One X and for the standard version of the X console has led us to increase our 2017 sell-through forecast for Xbox One X,” said IHSMarkit’s Piers Harding-Rolls. “The Project Scorpio limited edition pre-order strategy has been particularly effective in driving what is expected to be a robust launch week in key sales territories. IHS Markit has therefore increased its 2017 forecast from 500,000 to 900,000 units. At this level, Xbox One share of total Q4 2017 Xbox One console family sales will be close to 20 percent, similar to the performance of PS4 Pro at launch. If Microsoft outperforms and delivers sales in excess of this forecast it will be considered a major launch success.”

Harding-Rolls even thinks some PlayStation fans could switch to Xbox One X: “A small share of PS4 Pro gamers that are keen to have the most powerful hardware for playing third-party published games are likely to shift their usage across to the new console, which may moderately shift the sales share of games between the two competing platforms.”

The extra sales for Xbox One X aren’t about to tip any scales in Microsoft’s favor, however: “Xbox One X is poised to give the company a boost in its ambition to compete more effectively with PS4 Pro in strategically important markets of the USA and UK. Other select markets, such as Germany in Europe with its PC gaming heritage, are also forecast to deliver solid launch traction. Overall, however, IHS Markit does not expect Xbox One X to have a dramatic impact on market share between Sony and Microsoft in continental Europe as the market’s current momentum is well entrenched. IHS Markit currently forecasts the Western Europe installed base of PS4 family of consoles to reach 26 million by the end of 2017 compared to 8 million for the Xbox One family of consoles.”

Importantly, while Microsoft is not selling Xbox One X hardware at a profit, the platform should help the company’s bottom line. Harding-Rolls adds, “Sales of the more expensive Xbox One X console will also help mitigate the fall in Xbox One S hardware average sales price which in recent fiscal quarters has undermined the positive impact felt by Microsoft of increased revenues from software and services. As such, Microsoft’s games business-related revenue is expected to increase year-on-year in Q4 2017.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

As Microsoft Gaming Division Revenue Has A Slight Revenue Increase

November 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft’s gaming revenue has stalled according to the latest quarterly report.

While overall Microsoft revenue reached $24.5 billion, a year-on-year increase of 12%, gaming revenue was up by only 1% (0% in constant currency).

Gaming revenue for the quarter ending September 30, 2017 reached $1.89 billion, edging up slightly from $1.88 billion over the same period last year.

Xbox software and services revenue grew up 21% (20% CC) driven by continued momentum in digital distribution and strong game title performance, but offset by a lower hardware revenue.

The number of Xbox Live active users sits at 53 million, meaning a year-on-year increase of 13%. However, the number has not grown from the previous quarter and remains lower than it was during the three-month period ending December 31, 2016 where it reached 55 million.

Looking forward to the next quarter, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said: “We expect revenue growth from the launch of the Xbox One X console and continued healthy growth of software and services revenue. In Q2, the higher mix of gaming hardware revenue will significantly impact both the segment and company gross margin percentages.”

Company-wide net income was $6.6 billion, a year-on-year increase of 16%.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: “Our results reflect accelerating innovation and increased usage and engagement across our businesses as customers continue to choose Microsoft to help them transform.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Digital Games Catching Up With Physical Media Games

November 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The tipping point for digital in the UK console space is approaching faster than previously expected.

Confidential digital data, shown to GamesIndustry.biz, reveals that the digital-to-physical split on some AAA console games now exceed 45% in the UK.

Last year, the split was estimated at between 15% and 25%, depending on the game.

GfK data, which only counts physical sales, showed that some recent games have sold below their predecessors – titles such as Destiny 2, FIFA 18, Wolfenstein II, The Evil Within 2, Forza Motorsport 7 and Assassin’s Creed Origins. However, according to the data shown to us, some of these games were actually up over their previous titles due to the significant increase in downloading.

It’s a potential blow to the physical retail market, although one publisher told us that it’s the lack of discounting from retailers that may have resulted in this rapid switch.

“UK retailers have been selling new games closer to their RRP, so although digital titles are still quite expensive, they’re now closer to their physical counterparts in terms of price,” a senior source said. “Some consumers have clearly found that the convenience of digital offsets the now slight premium – whereas before they were paying upwards of £15 more for the privilege, that’s not the case this year.”

Another publishing boss said: “The challenge retailers face is how they react to this. To protect their revenue, the temptation may be to keep prices high, but this might only cause the digital acceleration to speed up further.”

EA’s financials this week showed that 36% of their PS4 and Xbox One sales are digital on a global basis, and that includes territories with lower broadband penetration. Last year that number was 30%. The firm says that 25% of FIFA 18’s sales have been digital after three weeks, whereas FIFA 17’s number was just 16%. Madden’s download share is also up 9% to 34% of total sales.

EA believes its games may have a lower download penetration generally, with its sports title being more mainstream and therefore appealing to consumers that perhaps don’t use download services.

“We were very pleased and a bit surprised at the strength of digital downloads, both for FIFA and Madden,” said CFO Blake J. Jorgensen in EA’s latest financial call. “FIFA, in particular, since it’s such a global game and sold in many markets where digital is not as strong as it is in some of the more mature markets. So it’s great to see the movement towards digital. And we attribute that to some digital-only promotions that we did, some special digital packages, as well as the continued involvement of everyone with Ultimate Team, which is 100% digital, and I think that’s driving the adoption.”

Meanwhile, the latest UK stats from October show that physical software sales were down 16% compared with the year before. However, early reports state that physical pre-orders for upcoming titles such as Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars: Battlefront II are strong, and coupled with continued demand for Nintendo Switch and the upcoming Xbox One X, the expectation is that Christmas 2017 may still prove to be a strong one for physical stores.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is The Olympic Committee Beginning To Take eSports Seriously

October 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Esports’ battle for mainstream acceptability has yet another endorsement, this time from the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement following a summit of the IOC, it was announced that esports “could be considered a sporting activity.”

According to the IOC, “the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.”

While acceptance comes with certain caveats – esports must not “infringe on the Olympic values” and there must be “an organization guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement” – the announcement is a huge coup for the rapidly expanding industry.

The decision by the IOC is the latest in what is slowly becoming the prevailing consensus. The first major development came in July 2013 when the US State Department recognized professional League of Legends players as athletes, with a number of other nations following their lead including Finland and the Philippines.

Additionally, the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China will recognise esports as a medal event, and the Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics is considering a program of esports.

From here the IOC will work alongside the Global Association of International Sports Federations “in a dialogue with the gaming industry and players to explore this area further and to come back to the Olympic Movement stakeholders in due course.”

While the IOC has conceded that there is room for esports in the Olympics, there is a notable apathy toward the idea from esports fans.

According to a recent report from Nielsen, only 53% of fans from the four largest markets (UK, France, Germany, and US) consider esports to be an actual sport, and only 28% felt that esports should be included in the Olympics.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Loot Boxes Good For Video Games

October 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The loot box debate rages on, but very few members of the industry have joined in the discussion.

As games sites become awash with reports and opinion pieces on each blockbuster’s new monetization system, picking apart the model with which publishers are attempting to retain and monetize players through this Q4’s biggest releases, the consensus seems to be that loot boxes are another attempt to nickel and dime the unassuming consumer.

Attempts to sell in-game items through full-price titles such as Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Forza Motorsport 7 and Destiny 2 have triggered discussions as to whether AAA gaming has become akin to gambling, and driven thousands of people to sign government petitions as they demand that action be taken.

While ratings boards have agreed the use of loot boxes does not technically class as gambling, it’s easy to understand the upset that surrounds them. Having already paid $60/£60 for a AAA title, consumers are indignant at the idea of having to spend more money in order to fully enjoy their purchase. Implementation varies between each game, with some examples – such as the Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta’s implication that multiplayer progression will be locked behind loot boxes – prompting more ire than others.

Getting an official response as to why these systems are becoming more prevalent is nigh on impossible – GamesIndustry.biz received a polite ‘no comment’ from Activision, Warner Bros, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and several other publishers we asked to weigh in on the subject – but those who do point the finger of blame squarely in one direction: the rising costs of both development and marketing.

This is something we already discussed at length last week, and it seems to ring true for developers across the industry. In the case of Battlefront, this has dramatically increased since EA decided to forego the usual Season Pass model and provide maps and extra content for free, but it still needs to fund development.

But according to one studio director – who wished to remain anonymous – it’s not just that costs are increasing, but that the disparity between how much publishers are charging and what consumers are spending is also growing.

“Development costs of AAA titles are five to ten times the price they were in the ’90s,” the person told us. “As technology moves forward, costs go up and teams get larger. Salaries also go up in that time both for starters and people employed for those periods of time.

“But sales and prices have remained pretty static – especially given the ‘sale culture’ nowadays.”

Ben Cousins, CEO of The Outsiders and a former EA and DICE exec, agrees: “The number of full-priced games console gamers are buying a year is dropping and the cost of developing games is increasing, while the actual audience for console games remains static. They need to find ways for full-priced games to continue to be profitable. Big publishers have been working on plans like this for over a decade.”

In recent weeks, UK sales of Shadow of War, Destiny 2, FIFA 18, Forza 7 and The Evil Within 2 are all trending below their predecessors, and this is likely to be the case in other markets. Digital downloads may be making up for some of that shortfall, but not all of it – and there’s certainly no sign of significant growth in terms of audience’.

Meanwhile the ‘sale culture’ is also likely to be impacting revenues. Last year’s Black Friday promotions saw sales of recent releases soar once available for £30 or less, many of which had been at full price just a few weeks before – and no doubt this will be repeated with this year’s Q4 hits next month.

Jason Kingsley, co-founder and CEO of Rebellion, emphasises that loot boxes don’t even need to convert every player into a payer in order to help offset those costs.

“Some big games are just not selling enough copies to make the development and marketing costs viable,” he says. “Loot boxes mean more revenue from those who are interested.

“For the biggest games that are made by thousands of staff, then yes the simple boxed copy sales may not be enough to make the economics work.”

Larger teams and more advanced technology aren’t the only things driving this increase. Hidden Path’s Jeff Pobst, who previously discussed this subject with us, says the audience has contributed to escalating costs.

“What players may not realize is their expectation that each game in a series gets bigger and better and has more content and looks more modern than before… means it is likely going to cost more to make. The creators are going to want to find a way to cover those new costs as well.”

Then there are the sales expectations of the publishers bringing each game to market. Just yesterday, in the wake of Visceral Games’ closure, former Dead Space level designer Zach Wilson tweeted that the second game in the series cost $60 million to make, and another $60 million to market. The title sold a seemingly respectable 4 million copies, but Wilson reports that “wasn’t enough.”

Again, this emphasizes the damage the aforementioned ‘sales culture’ can have; if all 4 million copies had sold at the full price of $60, EA would have received $240 million. While this may seem to be double the combined marketing and development cost, once you take into account the retailer’s share, distribution and manufacturing costs, plus tax, the publisher’s share actually diminishes (In the comments below, analyst Nicholas Lovell estimates closer to $150m than $240m). The lower the sales price, thanks to promotional discounts and so forth, the lower the publisher’s take.

Still, the dominant element of the loot box debate seems to be the consumer outrage and the notion that greedy publishers are simply trying to extract every last penny from customers already paying for their products. Naturally the most extreme reactions are amplified by social media, but are they in fact the minority? Does the very presence of microtransactions in full-price games really affect that many people, especially when so many publishers stress that they are optional?

“I don’t know the numbers, but my experience tells me this is probably the case,” says Cousins.

He continues: “Until we have hard data that the presence of loot boxes in a given title is negatively affecting sales and profitability, rather than just being a thing people talk about on the internet, we should not worry about messaging issues.”

Kingsley adds: “That’s hard to quantify but it’s clearly an issue as it’s getting coverage. Whether it’s an issue for most or even the majority is not as relevant as it being a big issue for some I suppose.

“The reactions to them seem to be based largely on how they are handled and whether the contents are game changing or just cosmetic.”

Pobst suggests that the source of the anger is not, in fact, the transactions themselves. Instead, it stems from the changing perception of the game: initially purchased as a piece of entertainment, but starkly highlighted as a commercial product by the immersion-breaking call to spend real-world money.

“Personally, I’m not sure that individual game mechanics or features such as loot boxes are themselves the driving issue for players when you see outcry or concern about the fairness of a game, its feature set, or its monetisation,” Pobst explains. “Typically if you go looking, one can find examples of where those same features or mechanics are used in other games and the players there are happy and enjoying themselves. 

“I think the underlying issue is really about the relationship between the product and the players, and how the expectations are set by the people making and marketing the product: the “promise” to the player by the product, as Gearbox President Randy Pitchford likes to say.”

The problem most often comes, Pobst posits, when firms add monetisation mechanics to a title or series where they were previously absent. Certainly this was the case with Bungie’s Destiny 2 – the earliest example in the recent wave of microtransaction controversies – where shaders that were previously reusable became one-time consumables, with the game offering to sell more to players in exchange for real money.

“Sometimes publishers and developers don’t recognize that changing the monetization can be a more significant impact in changing the promise of the game to the player than they may expect,” Pobst continues. “The gameplay and content promises are still there, but the monetization part of the promise has changed in that case. And depending on the game and the monetization changes, players may or may not feel like the promise they are excited about is being maintained.”

Equally, some consumers seem to have an entirely different view on how the relationship between themselves and the publisher or developer works. Fundamentally they seem to forget that while games are indeed provided as both art and entertainment, they are also commercial products and subject to inherent pressures.

“Regardless of development costs, developers and publishers are going to attempt to make money – it’s a business,” says Niles Sankey, developer of first-person psychological thriller Asemblance. Sankey previously spent ten years working at Bungie on both Halo and Destiny, although he stresses that he was not involved in monetization.

“Developers have retirement to save for and families to feed… If people don’t like loot crates and microtransactions, they shouldn’t support the game by purchasing them. And I’d suggest not buying games made by companies that have previously demonstrated insincere business practices.

“I stopped developing investment heavy games and I no longer play them. In my opinion, there are better ways to spend your time and life. There are so many great non-addictive/investment games to play.. and there’s so much more to life than video games.”

This is also a message that sometimes gets lost in the outrage: in most cases, microtransactions in full-price games are entirely optional. Following the initial outburst, Shadow of War design director Bob Roberts told our sister site Eurogamer that the team had developed the entire game without the loot boxes activated in order to ensure balance.

Our anonymous developer has no qualms declaring that he has spent money on such items, adding: “It’s normally to accelerate my progress. I don’t have as much time to play now as I did 20 years ago.”

Emphasising that loot boxes are optional seem to do little to assuage consumer concerns. Common arguments range from accusations that developers have slowed normal in-game progress in order to sell boosters, or that the very presence of microtransactions psychologically draws players into what Cousins refers to as the “compulsion loop”.

There is also an inconsistency to player reactions, albeit driven by the different implementations of monetization. For all the flack Electronic Arts has received over the proposed monetization system shown in the Battlefront 2 beta, it still generates $800 million per year with FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode – a prime example of successfully monetizing a full-price game in the long term.

Similarly, while Shadow of War and Forza 7 have been virtually crucified on Twitter, titles such as Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch escape unscathed, despite the presence of loot boxes – although Cousins says, “Blizzard get a free pass on pretty much everything, as do Valve. Never try to get learnings from them, as they are outliers.”

The consumer reaction (particularly in the run-up to launch) has the potential to be highly damaging, further preventing publishers from recouping costs and exploring new methods of monetisation. Our anonymous developer pointed to one particular practice that has hindered the debate around loot boxes.

“Review bombing exaggerates issues and causes damage to everyone,” they say. “Which is why most won’t talk about it as they don’t want to be targeted unfairly next.”

And, ultimately, such tactics are a fruitless endeavour. Despite the controversy around recent titles and their microtransactions, publishers will inevitably continue to experiment with new business models. Especially as a recent report proves that games-as-a-service systems have tripled the industry’s value.

Just today, Activision was granted a patent for a matchmaking system designed to encourage more consumer spending; a system the publisher stressed has not been implemented in any game, but is something it may well consider in future. And experimentation is fine – it’s essential the evolution of any industry – but as our own Rob Fahey warns, publishers need to be careful to cross the line, no matter how poorly defined that line may be.

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Atari’s New AtariBox Console Succeed

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Atari has revealed more juicy details about its upcoming Ataribox console, due for release in 2018.

The Ataribox will be based on PC tech, and as such won’t be tied to any one ecosystem. Now, usually this would send us screaming for the hills, but we know this one is going to get funded, so we’re not sweating about sharing some more info.

Thanks to a report in VentureBeat including an interview with Feargal Mac, the creator of the device and reviver of the company, we now know it’ll be an Indiegogo job, which means there’s less of the “all or nothing” fear attached with Kickstarter.

“I was blown away when a 12-year-old knew every single game Atari had published. That’s brand magic. We’re coming in like a startup with a legacy,” Mac said. “We’ve attracted a lot of interest, and AMD showed a lot of interest in supporting us and working with us. With Indiegogo, we also have a strong partnership.”

It should ship in Spring 2018, if all goes well, and will come with a custom AMD processor, with AMD Radeon Graphics. The Linux operating system will be customizable and will run not only Atari emulators, but potentially other app portals such as Steam.

Here’s the return of the Mac: “We wanted to create a killer TV product where people can game, stream and browse with as much freedom as possible, including accessing pre-owned games from other content providers.”

Projected price is $250-$300 but as we all know, when it comes to crowd-funding, timescales can slip and prices can rise.

The important thing is that this is more than just another retro console. It will boast a customized Linux interface for TV, and users will be able to do as much tinkering about under the bonnet as they like.

We’re not looking at a gaming powerhouse, but it should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with a good, non-game-specific PC.

The big draw, of course is that looks-wise, it is a sleek, more refined version of the classic Atari 2600, walnut wood finish and all.

Courtesy-TheInq

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle The Final Fantasy Game Engine

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Developers have been exploring the limitations of Nintendo Switch in order to judge whether to bring their games to the popular new platform.

Most notably, the Square Enix team behind last year’s Final Fantasy XV has been investigating whether it can bring the epic RPG to Switch – but has found that the console is unable to “bring the most out of” its proprietary Luminous Engine, DualShockers reports.

The game’s director Hajime Tabata clarified that he was not saying anything negative about Nintendo’s device, merely that it was unable to support the optimised version of the high-end engine that powers the title on Xbox One and PS4. Instead, his team has been trying out Unity and Unreal Engine 4 on Switch and notes that these perform well.

Square Enix recently announced Final Fantasy XV will be heading to PC in early 2018 in full Luminous Engine-powered glory, with a simplified and cartoony Pocket Edition heading to iOS, Android and Windows 10 devices by the end of the year.

Tabata’s comments followed a tease during Gamescom that FFXV might be released for Switch in future. If so, Square Enix is more likely to port the Pocket Edition than create a brand new Nintendo-specific version.

Final Fantasy XV has been a hit for Square Enix, selling 5m units in a single day at launch. The publisher has previously said it needs 10m sales to recoup investment, so it’s understandable why the publisher might consider bringing it to more platforms.

Meanwhile, Montpellier-based developer The Game Bakers has also been speaking out about the Switch’s power.

Also talking to DualShockers about the possibility of bringing its retro shooter Furi to the console, the studio has said it “would love to make that happen” but they “would need to secure a good enough framerate first.” Furi runs at 60fps on PS4, Xbox One and PC, but the team was unclear whether this was possible on Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo’s hardware has been less powerful than that of its rivals since the launch of the Wii, which limits the ability to directly port titles from other consoles to Nintendo devices. Instead, developers have to judge whether the audience available warrants the creation of a separate version of their game or something new entirely.

With 1.5m units already sold in Japan and a strong line-up for Christmas, it may be that Nintendo Switch makes this easier for studios to justify going forward.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Gamers Support CoD Going GaaS

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Eric Hirshberg has addressed suggestions that Call of Duty could evolve into an ongoing, persistent product rather than follow the yearly cycle of new releases it has followed for more than a decade.

In an interview with Game Informer, it was suggested that the introduction of the Headquarters social space (among other things) points to Activision’s flagship shooter franchise moving towards a games-as-a-service model. The CEO responded: “It already is in many ways.”

He pointed to the “very high percentage” of players that buy each new Call of Duty on a yearly basis, and shift with their friends to the next multiplayer mode in order to maintain social ties.

He continued: “Now, I understand that the properties it doesn’t have are that sort of continuous world with expansions and a continuous string of accomplishments that carry over from game to game, so it doesn’t have those things that I think classically people associate with a persistent platform, but it does have a very stable community that has been very committed to the franchise and very ‘sticky’ for a very large number of people, which is, I think, one of the main benefits of a game as a service.

“I think that we have tried to find the right solution for each franchise individually, and Call of Duty has really benefitted from that annual innovation moment, that annual reengagement moment where a lot of people, who maybe played for a couple months and had a great experience but moved on to other things, come back and check out the new game.”

The conversation moved to a comparison with Destiny, perhaps the most high profile games-as-a-service product to emerge from the console space. While the Bungie franchise has done an admirable job of retaining its community with regular in-game events and multiple expansions, Hirshberg notes that there are disadvantages too.

“We see that sometimes it’s harder to bring a new player into an environment where they feel like ‘Oh, I’m three years behind my buddy who’s been playing persistently for that length of time’,” he said. “So I think there are gives and takes on both sides.”

Hirshberg said Activision will continue to service the Call of Duty community based on which game they’re playing, citing the release of a new DLC pack for Black Ops III earlier this year – two and a half years after the game’s launch.

He concluded: “I think that our goal is to not necessarily completely reinvent the things that are working, but to make the experience for “I’m a Call of Duty player, I like multiple titles within the franchise” – make that experience better, create more benefits for being a loyal player, those are things that we’re working on and trying to improve.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Blizzard Get Tougher on Bad Gamers

September 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Blizzard has reassured its community that it will be clamping down on those who are consistently abusing other players or demonstrating bad behaviour in Overwatch.

A user post on the official forums described the community as “toxic” and the reporting system “a failure”. Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan responded to this with more details on what the developer plans to do.

In the short term, the Overwatch team plans to re-evaluate which punishments are assigned to various offences, and as “in the process of converting silences over to suspensions”, according to Kaplan. Suspensions will also be extended as the original user post observed that a one-week ban isn’t particularly threatening to some players.

Blizzard plans to eventually phase out silences and rely solely on suspensions and bans, although users causing violations with their BattleTag name will be forced to change.

Repeated offenders within the Competitive Play mode will face permanent bans. Currently bans are only in force for the rest of the current season, but if Blizzard bans the user for more than a certain number of seasons, they will not be allowed to play this mode ever again.

Kaplan promised Blizzard will be “way more aggressive” during the upcoming sixth season of Competitive Play.

An email system will also be introduced that informs players if someone they reported has been punished, as well as an in-game notification system that delivers similar information. While the emails won’t offer full details, the idea is to encourage more users to report abusive behaviour by showing that it is acted upon.

Kaplan finished by calling on Overwatch players to help identify the most toxic members of the community, and hopes that one day effort spent on dealing with them can be put to better use.

“In the long term, we really want to work on systems that encourage positive behavior and reward good players. It really bums us out to spend so much time punishing people for being bad sports. We like making cool, fun game systems — that’s what we do for a living. But because people seem to lack self-control or because people like to abuse anonymity and free speech we’re put in a position of spending a tremendous amount of our time and resources policing the community. We will do this as it is our responsibility but we’d like to spend more time rewarding good players rather than having to focus on poor sportsmanship and unacceptable bad behavior so much.

“Like it or not, this is an ‘us, the OW community problem’ and not just an ‘OW team problem’. For better or for worse, we’re in this together. We’re working hard to make changes. I hope you all do too.”

A video update about plans for a stronger regulation system has already been filmed and will go live soon, although Kaplan was not sure when.

Courtesy-GI.biz

PlayUnknown’s Battleground Headed The Top

September 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

It was a big weekend for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, as Bluehole’s breakout hit saw the conclusion of the ESL Gamescom PUBG Invitational tournament and reached a new milestone to boot.

On Saturday morning, the game’s creative director Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene tweeted that the game had surpassed 800,000 concurrent players on Valve’s Steam storefront, sandwiched between a pair of Valve-developed evergreen hits on the service, Dota 2 (839,000 players at the time) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (538,000 players). By Sunday morning, Greene’s game had climbed ahead of Dota 2, 878,000 concurrent players to 843,000 concurrent players.

Battlegrounds has been in uncharted territory for non-Valve games on Steam for some time already. Last month, Greene tweeted a game-by-game list of highest record player counts on Steam. Battlegrounds’ record at the time of 481,000 players was already the third-best ever, and the highest for a non-Valve game with Fallout 4 the next best at 472,000. This weekend may have moved Battlegrounds into second place all-time ahead of Counter-Strike, which as of last month had a record of 850,000 peak concurrent users.

Battlegrounds still has a ways to go before it can claim the all-time record (held by Dota 2, which drew 1.29 million players in March of 2016), but if it somehow kept growing as it has during the summer, it would surpass that mark next month.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Microsoft’s Xbox One X Enhanced Games List Keep Growing

August 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft spent its Gamescom livestream detailing some of the games that will be enhanced for Xbox One X.

The company announced over 115 games that have been souped up for Microsoft’s new console, including including Halo 5, Dishonored 2, Halo Wars 2, Killer Instinct, Resident Evil 7, Gears of War 4, Rime, Star WarsL Battlefront II, Project CARS 2, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Smite, Rocket League, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ark Survival Evolve and a whole lot more. The full list is through here.

The firm also showed some new titles that will utilize the hardware, including Frontier Development’s Jurassic World Evolution, which is a theme-park-style game that’s due next summer (the title is coming to PS4 and PC, too). Microsoft also confirmed the existence of a special edition of last year’s ReCore, which was a big bet from Microsoft that unfortunately failed to deliver at the time.

Elsewhere, the platform holder pledged to support family and casual gamers, and announced that titles such as Disneyland Adventures and Zoo Tycoon will be updated for Xbox One X.

In terms of pre-orders, Microsoft detailed a special ‘Project Scorpio’ edition of Xbox One X. Similar to the ‘Day One Edition’ it created for the original Xbox One launch, this version of the console will feature a custom design and an exclusive vertical stand. It’s available only to those that pre-order.

It wasn’t just Xbox One X, however. Xbox One S bundles were also revealed, including a partnership with Warner Bros on Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The Shadow of War bundles will be priced at $279 for the 500GB S model (not available in the US) and $349 for the 1TB S edition (which is the same price as the current RRP). It will be bundled on October 10th alongside the launch of the game.

Finally, Microsoft showed off a limited-edition Minecraft version of Xbox One S. The newly designed machine will come with a special ‘Creeper’ Minecraft controller, with a second ‘pig’ controller sold separately. It will also include the Minecraft game, and is coming to retail on October 3rd.

Courtesy-GI.biz

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