Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter spoke at the Game Monetization USA Summit in San Francisco, and once again made some bold predictions about the future of the game industry. He pulled no punches as he evaluated the current state of affairs in the business, and he had some hard advice for a number of companies.
Pachter noted that more people are playing games on more devices than ever before, but he doesn’t think the console market will be growing. “I don’t think you’re ever going to see 500 million consoles out there,” Pachter said. For lifetime sales, Pachter expects the Wii U will ultimately sell 30 million “or fewer” units, the PS4 will sell 100 to 120 million units, and the Xbox One will sell 90 to 110 million units.
“The reason Sony beats Microsoft is solely the price,” Pachter noted. “Microsoft loses the next generation unless they cut price. If Microsoft drops its price to $399, I expect the sales to be equal to the PS4.”
The lifetime sales Pachter predicts compare to current sales of the PS3 and the Xbox 360 at about 80 million units apiece, but it’s far below some estimates of hundreds of millions of next-gen consoles. “I don’t know where they get those numbers,” Pachter said. He feels that at several hundred dollars, with games costing $60 or more, consoles are just too pricey to ever sell hundreds of millions of units.
The Wii U’s performance so far Pachter characterized as “underwhelming,” but noted it’s possible “but unlikely” that exciting new titles will reinvigorate growth. He believes that Nintendo is missing a huge opportunity to bring new gamers into their brands: Nintendo should put old GameBoy Advance content on phones and tablets for free, and charge $3 to $5 for more recent titles from the DS. Pachter feels this would generate enormous revenue for Nintendo and bring millions of new fans into their brands, and give them a strong way to sell newer titles on the 3DS and Wii U that use those brands.
“I don’t know why Iwata is still employed,” Pachter said, given that he refuses to take advantage of this opportunity while the handheld market continues to shrink and the Wii U has failed so far to catch on in a big way.
Pachter is more positive on the PlayStation 4 – “Sony thrives, Nintendo doesn’t” – saying it’s impressive as a game playing device. “The graphics are phenomenal, and the huge RAM makes future innovation likely,” Pachter pointed out. He noted that the multimedia features remain unclear, but the CPU power of the PS4 allows the potential for huge improvement in the future. As for the Xbox One, Pachter noted it’s impressive as a multimedia device, and the added features of Kinect and Skype give it additional value. “We’re sticking with our prediction of a built-in TV tuner” for the Xbox One, Pachter said, which would simplify the ability of the Xbox One to control your television viewing.
“The next generation of consoles is probably the last,” Pachter said. “We expect frequent model updates instead of new consoles.” Moreover, there’s going to be renewed interest in the PC, he predicted. “I think the PC is going to make a comeback, the PC will be the hub of all this stuff,” he stated. He feels Smart TVs are a dumb idea, noting that you don’t have a smart monitor connected to your computer. He envisions there will be a number of screens around the home, perhaps controlled by a tablet, being driven by a supercomputer in your pocket that we call a smartphone.
With the release of Grand Theft Auto Online, Rockstar has taken its blockbuster franchise in an ambitious new direction. The multiplayer world, complete with in-game economy, certainly has many of the hallmarks of a Free-2-Play title, but could GTA Online actually make it as a standalone F2P game?
Given the seismic shift the games industry has already made towards F2P, no one would be surprised if Rockstar made this next step. However, there is a lot a stake and creating a successful F2P isn’t simply a case of throwing in some in-app purchases and giving a £40 game away for free.
F2P is already established as the dominant business model for mobile and PC games. Reasons for this include the prevalence of micro-transactions and because these platforms make it relatively easy for publishers and developers to integrate analytics and use that data to make informed real-time game design changes to keep players engaged and increase retention. The transition onto console has been a slower burn – designing successful F2P games requires an understanding and skill set which isn’t necessarily native to publishers with a long heritage in designing games to ship in a box.
“Many F2P console games have come up short, offering a poor tutorial and on boarding process, plus a monetisation structure that is much closer to a used car sales man than an enjoyable experience that puts the control in the users’ hands”
As a result, many F2P console games have come up short, offering a poor tutorial and on boarding process, plus a monetisation structure that is much closer to a used car sales man than an enjoyable experience that puts the control in the users’ hands. However, the data capabilities of the Xbox One and PS4 means that F2P on console finally looks set to take off, with an impressive list of F2P titles already set for release including Little Big Planet, Planetside 2 and War Thunder.
To better understand the potential of console transition we thought we’d take a theoretical look at GTA Online as a standalone F2P title.
Our in-house design team applied GamesAnalytics’ proprietary evidenced based research methodology to benchmark key aspects of its game design against best practice F2P game design from over 80 titles.
Focusing on six main categories including Monetisation, Retention, Engagement and Virality and analysing 50 key criteria the team found unsurprisingly that GTA Online surpassed the best in genre score for Retention, Game Mechanics, Engagement and Game Overview, clearly reflecting the high quality of the game. However, if GTA Online was going F2P it would need to look at mechanics around Monetisation and Virality.
Based on these data findings, here are five recommendations to improve the F2P potential of GTA Online:
1. Improve the currency structure
Currently GTA Online has a single currency, this is fine when the game is not relying on this currency as a part of the monetisation, but for a true F2P game you would want to extend this to provide greater flexibility. Adding in a premium currency is generally the way of giving games more flexibility in delivering the F2P mechanic. Making the currency a part of the world so it feels natural is vital in making sure the monetisation doesn’t jar with the game surrounding.
There are a number of ways that people are encouraged to spend money both in the real and the virtual world. Especially for a game like GTA, it is vital that it feels natural and intuitive. Discounts and bundles are obvious incentives for getting people to invest in in-game economies, but rental and test drives are also a good way of letting players get a taste for the high life and incentivising them to keep grinding or splash the cash.
These ‘try before you buy’ mechanics are good ways of easing players onto the paying path while keeping the barrier low and the incentive high.
Giving players the ability to buy luxury vanity items using a premium currency is exactly the way you would expect Rockstar to monetise its players. The game has always been about getting rich quick and showing off the proceeds of your crimes. This is not about honest hard slog, so it’s fitting that players should be given a quick route to the high life through whatever means at their disposal. A successfully free-to-play GTA Online should also include consumables: things that the player will spend money on that give them a short term advantage or simply let them show off.
2. Introduce a VIP structure to fast track progress and reward members
“This is not about honest hard slog, so it’s fitting that players should be given a quick route to the high life through whatever means at their disposal”
There is no game that is more about being king of the hill than GTA, so a full VIP structure is essential. Imagine the retention value of being the only player that can drive around the hills of Los Santos in a purple Ferrari with gold trim.
VIP membership could offer:
Rank Point/Job Point boosts
Monthly $/Gold allowance
Access to premium clothes, vehicle paint jobs and vanity items
Special members store accessible through the iFruit with daily/weekly member offers
3. Utilise no lose gambling
We’ve already touched on the repetition which exists within GTA Online – completing mission after mission to build up your cash and accessory stockpiles. One alternative to a life of hard graft and long hours is gambling, an easy to implement F2P mechanic which fits with Rockstar’s vision and GTA’s ‘feel’. Mechanics such as magic boxes offer players a no lose gamble: spending some money guarantees something cool. There can be no better way of taking the easy route than making sure the odds are stacked.
4. Introduce a trading mechanism to help increase community aspects
If gambling isn’t your thing then a bit of business on the side can help you make it to the top. Trading in F2P games inevitably encourages a black market, but unlike other F2P games where there is a clear split between grind currency and premium currency, GTA Online F2P should allow this secondary market to exist.
Letting players trade whatever they want will encourage a free-form economy that will favour the adventurous, the ruthless and the downright corrupt. The mechanic will drive the economy and build player loyalty.
Players will buy and sell from each other, and using rare items it is also possible to use data analytics to monitor the price elasticity of items as players bid for certain items. Items can trade for 100x their original value in F2P games and can be useful to define pricing as well as delivering value and incentivising players.
5. Build in reward mechanics for better social sharing
GTA is such a well-known franchise, it pretty much sells itself. However, giving players rewards for inviting other players to join is a well-structured mechanism and can help to double your player base for little or no cost.
Giving players an incentive to invite is key, there would be nothing better than being able to pimp your friends by taking a cut of the money they spend as their due deserves for getting them in to the game in the first place.
Take-Two Interactive Software has repurchased all of the Icahn Group’s stock, a deal worth $203.5 million and involving 12.02 million shares.
“This share repurchase reflects our confidence in the Company’s outlook for record results in fiscal 2014 and continued Non-GAAP profitability every year for the foreseeable future,” said Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick.
“With our ample cash and strong expected cash flow, we are able to pursue a variety of investment opportunities, including repurchasing our Company’s stock. On behalf of our board and management team, I would like to thank Brett, James and Sung for their support, dedication and service to our organisation. They leave Take-Two better positioned than ever for continued success.”
The move was funded by cash and cash equivalents on hand and Take-Two explained the move is “part of an ongoing strategy to buy back its shares.”
Take-Two and Icahn gave no reason for the sale of the shares, but as previously agreed, Icahn’s Brett Icahn, Jim Nelson, and SungHwan Cho and have resigned from the Take-Two board.
The Icahn Group is overseen by activist investor Carl Icahn and this year Forbes named him one of its 40 Highest-Earning hedge fund managers. In the past he’s tried to acquire Dell, Marvel Comics and owns a ten percent stake in Netflix.
[UPDATE]: Investors did not greet the news warmly, as Take-Two shares traded at twice their average volume and ended the trading day down 5.49 percent to $16.
The Wii U gets a new system update from Nintendo. While details are a bit vague on what all the new system updates actually does, Nintendo says it “improves overall system stability” and also includes minor adjustments “to enhance the user experience”.
The update comes ahead of a planned Nintendo update for the 3DS that is scheduled to arrive next month. The 3DS update will bring the Miiverse to the 3DS as well as adds the ability to combine eShop balances on both the 3DS and Wii U systems. In addition it will add Network IDs to the 3DS to access the eShop. Apparently 3DS owners will not have to take advantage of using a NNID to combine their eShop purchases and will still be allowed to download software from the eShop without a NNID.
Rumors suggest that another system update for the Wii U is just around the corner, but will likely not arrive till early next year, unless Nintendo has a reason to release it sooner. On the software front, the Wii U is still struggling, but the recent sales boost has helped, but Nintendo needs strong sales for the Wii U this holiday season in order to help get published and developers re-engaged in developing for the console. Whispers suggest that Nintendo expects supplies of the Wii U to be plentiful this holiday season and does not foresee shortages like what has plagued the Wii consoles of the past. The problem is however that the lack of software will likely keep many buyers away.
A few days ago AMD announced it would extend the Battlefield 4 bundle deal to all R9-series cards, but right now it’s starting to sound like President Obama telling Americans that none of them will lose their healthcare plans.
In theory all R9 cards could get the bundle, but AMD is saying that it is up to AIB partners to decide whether they will offer the game with all cards or just with some. It basically sounds like AIBs could offer pricier SKUs with the BF4 bundles and also plain cards with a discount. It is unclear how much the bundle would affect the retail price.
This is what AMD said to clarify the situation:
An email sent to press that provided details on AMD’s Battlefield 4 promotion was not clear and has led to some confusion in the marketplace. It suggested that all customers who purchased an AMD Radeon R9 series graphics card on or after November 13, 2013 would receive a complimentary copy of Battlefield 4. While all AMD Radeon R9 series cards are theoretically eligible for the promotion (which is administered by AMD’s channel partners), retailers and add-in-board partners ultimately decide which select AMD Radeon R9 SKUs will include a copy of BF4.
In addition, AMD made it clear that customers who purchased R9 cards before November 13 are not eligible for any retroactive bundle deal due to contractual agreements with EA/DICE. However, as a gesture of goodwill AMD plans to hand out 1,000 BF4 codes on social media, although the full details of the giveaway have not been announced yet.
Basically if you are interested in getting an R9 BF4 bundle, it’s probably best to wait for a few days or weeks and see what AMD channel partners plan to offer.
As evidenced by the 40-foot console constructed in a Vancouver parking lot recently, Microsoft expects Xbox One to be big. Microsoft Canada’s Xbox director of marketing Craig Flannagan put the November 22 launch into perspective.
“I’ve been here for the launch of Xbox 360. I was here for the launch of Kinect. This is far and away the biggest launch we’ve ever done,” Flannagan said. “It’s the most hardware we’ve ever produced. It’s the most we’ve ever pre-sold. We’re preselling a little over 2-to-1 from what we did with Xbox 360. The momentum on launch has been really good. And we didn’t have a 40-foot console at the launch of the 360, either.”
As for how Xbox One will fare against the PlayStation 4 and Wii U, Flannagan pointed to Xbox Live and the company’s focus on social integration as two differentiating factors that will give it the edge. He also said he was proud of the game lineup, saying Xbox One exclusives walked out of E3 with twice the awards of both competitors.
“Xbox One is going to start ahead, in terms of the experience we can deliver,” Flannagan said. “And because we’re built for the future, we’re going to stay ahead. I think there is not a better experience you can buy this holiday, and there will not be a time this generation where there’s a better experience you can buy than Xbox One…And it’s probably going to be a pretty long generation. We’re probably here for a while because we’re built for the future. This is a console that will last you, conservatively a decade, if I had to put a bet down today.”
The idea of a launch Xbox One lasting a decade brings to mind the Red Ring of Death and Microsoft’s notoriously unreliable Xbox 360 launch hardware. When asked if he’s heard consumers expressing concerns about the Xbox One’s durability, Flannagan said, “Not really.”
“We feel great about where the hardware is at right now,” Flanagan said. “Our yields are good. It’s allowing us to produce more consoles than we ever have for a launch. We feel great about how the hardware is performing.”
While Flannagan expects the hardware purchased this month to keep running years into the future, he doesn’t expect it to offer the same experience. Just as the Xbox One went through multiple different dashboards and overhauled feature sets over the course of the last eight years, so too will the Xbox One evolve.
“Much like 360, Xbox One’s not going to look a whole lot five years from now like it does on November 22, 2013. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but that’s kind of fun because we’re built for the future. We do have a connection; we can change what things look like and how it performs.”
That’s according to the publisher, which also highlights the game’s number one ranking on Xbox Live, and the most pre-ordered release at US retailer GameStop.
Activision claims over 15,000 stores opened at midnight on Monday to sell the game across the globe, although it stopped short of revealing unit figures.
“Ghosts is an amazing game which ushers in the next generation of Call of Duty,” commented Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing.
“This is the must have launch title for the next generation of consoles, and we expect Call of Duty: Ghosts to be the most successful launch title for the Xbox One and PS4 by a wide margin. In fact, according to GameStop, Call of Duty: Ghosts is their most pre-reserved next gen title.”
Like all major companies, Electronic Arts from time to time has come under fire from pundits and consumers. In fact, earlier this year, the publisher won the Consumerist poll for “Worst Company in America” for the second straight year. Whether or not there’s any merit to that accusation, rather than simply shrug it off, EA says it’s listening and wants to do even better by its consumers.
In a recent interview with Kotaku, newly minted CEO Andrew Wilson and vice president of the Games Label, Patrick Soderlund, talked at length about making consumers more satisfied than they have been with EA in the last few years.
“There are lots of really big public companies that make a lot of money that are loved by their consumers,” Wilson acknowledged. “That’s because the consumers feel like they get value from that company in the investment in their dollars [and] time.”
To that end, Wilson would like his consumers to really feel like they, not EA, are getting the better end of the deal when they purchase any games from the publisher. “Any time we create something, if you’re asking for an investment from the consumer in dollars and time, make sure they feel like they’re stealing from you and that they are getting the best end of that deal and the rest will follow. And that will be our philosophy,” he continued.
Interestingly, Soderlund admitted that the Consumerist distinction really did give EA pause. The executives have been thinking about what it means and what the company can do to change perceptions around EA.
“We started thinking about how we don’t want to be viewed as the worst company in America. I personally don’t think we’ve ever been the worst company in America, but it says something. The consumers out there are telling us something. And we actually took it very seriously. This was before Andrew was the CEO. We and [EA chief operating officer] Peter Moore and a couple of other guys in the executive company got together to try to understand what caused people to say these things. And there were some things out there that…consumers told us they didn’t like. Online pass was one thing.”
It may sound easy, but one of the best things EA can do for its reputation is to make amazing game experiences. If consumers love the games, the rest should follow. Wilson noted that for as much as EA has tried to raise its own bar on quality, it’s still not enough.
“The demand and expectation on us are higher than they ever have been,” Wilson said. “We need a mechanism and a process which we can get to better games more quickly. If we can be faulted for anything, over the years, it’s kind of hanging on to ideas or concepts of games too long, driving too hard against them, spending too much to the point that we couldn’t invest in other opportunities and ideas. And a big part of what Patrick and [fellow top execs] Frank [Gibeau] and Lucy [Bradshaw] and I committed to is let’s drive a culture of innovation inside the company that actually starts a lot more stuff but at the same time kills a bunch more stuff before it gets to market so that we can give ourselves more short-term goals to get to that next innovative product.”
While EA is still trying to convince investors that profits are coming, its management ultimately sees the consumer perception and game quality issues as the most important to tackle. If it handles those problems with aplomb, the bottom line will take care of itself.
“…whether it’s DLC or something else, as long as we take the approach of being player-[d]riven and not driven by a short-term financial decision, players are telling us that Battlefield Premium is a good thing, because they’re buying it, they like it and they look at this and say, ‘Wow this is a great value proposition. I get four or five expansion packs and all these things for $50 that I can play over two years’ time. That’s worth something. Will Electronic Arts make money out of that? Yes, but will the consumers like it and want it? Yes they do. Wholeheartedly. I think that’s an approach where if we come at it from a consumer perspective and we do things that they tell us they want and we do that well, business will follow,” said Soderlund.
Japanese gamers are playing a slightly different version of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5) than players in the US and Europe.
Gaming website Kotaku has posted a video that compares the two versions, and we can see that most of the differences relate to Trevor, who is perhaps the most colorful of all the GTA characters.
In the game Trevor performs various acts that can be viewed as unsavory. In one he tortures a chap, while in another he drops his pants.
In the case of the latter, someone, probably the waggish Japanese censor, has installed a second pair of trousers on the Trevor character. This means that when he flashes his genitals in the UK he only shows off a clean pair of pants in Japan. It doesn’t make much sense, but nor does most of Trevor’s behavior.
A bigger difference is seen in the Japanese telling of the torture scene, a part of the game that some people found stretched things too far anyway. In the version seen in the US and the UK Trevor is tasked with selecting an implement with which he must rearrange the bone structure of a man from whom he needs information. In the Japanese version he doesn’t, and those gameplay parts are just skipped.
A couple of sex scenes have also been excised from the game. One of these features Trevor, who is also watching TV at the same time, while another happens during one of the paparazzi missions.
Michael Dailly is head of development at Yoyo Games in Dundee. He is also the chap that gave the world Lemmings and GTA.
He has been posting updates to his GTA project on Twitter and has shared some imagery. It doesn’t look much like the Grand Theft Auto we have seen in GTA 5, but it’s still cool.
The original Grand Theft Auto was released in 1997 on the PSOne, Windows PC and Nintendo Gameboy Colour. It was followed two years later with a London version that added the Sega Dreamcast to its hardware list.
Dailly said that it has some gaps, but explained that he does not have the rights to the maps, and can only work from what he has. What he has runs in HTML5 and WebGL at 60 frames per second, according to the USgamers website. This should mean that while you won’t be able to play it you will be able to use it through your web browser for virtual tours.
@gnysek I can’t really give it out I’m afraid….I don’t own the assets, and the extraction tool isn’t complete. I had to do bits by hand
— Michael Dailly (@mdf200) October 16, 2013
In tweeted messages he said that original CMP files are uploaded into Gamemaker Studio software – that’s Yoyo Games’ software – and stored as a “2D Grid with 1D arrays in it (so 3D map)”.
“It’s the original .CMP map format the game uses. I just import that and convert to a 3D model on load,” he added. “Taking stock, looks like all I’m missing from the rendering of the #GTA level now, is slopes. You can see the large holes in the map. Shouldn’t take too long to fix,but probably only when I get back from holiday.”
He has gone on holiday now, so will not be doing any more work on his project in the short term.
Not too long ago, Sony and Microsoft laid bare the engines of their eighth generation consoles. CPU clock speeds and DDR3 Ram numbers were bandied about, GHz were brought to bear, teraflops flaunted salaciously. When the dust eventually settled and the media guns lay relatively silent once more, a fairly predictable treaty was agreed upon: to all but the most technically minded of consumers, there’s little to choose between the raw grunt of the two machines. The company supporting each machine has its priorities, its foibles and its USPs, and we’re discounting Kinect and the first-party exclusives, but in the on-paper battle of boxes, you can expect much of a muchness.
Except now Microsoft’s John Bruno is now telling me that those numbers aren’t the full story, and it might not be unfeasible that they’ll one day become almost completely irrelevant. Microsoft, owner of one of the largest and most powerful arrays of computational servers in the known universe, is putting it to use on Xbox Live.
Now, we’ve all heard promises about cloud processing and non-local computation. For a while, it seemed like it might be the future. Then it seemed like perhaps it might not. The public, burned by an experience which promised so much and delivered so little, returned to thinking of the cloud purely as a handy place to keep save games and MP3s. Now, says Bruno, that might all be about to change with advent of Xbox Live Compute, a service which “is specifically designed to enable game creators to utilize the scalable computing resources that Microsoft deploys within our regional datacenters, to enhance their game experiences beyond what is generally possible with the finite resources of a console.”
What that means is not just convenience or multi-device access to content, but a significant extension of the power and scope which the Xbox One can offer developers and players. It means persistent worlds, improved AI, better rendering and dedicated servers for every multiplayer game on the platform. And it’s all being offered to developers for free.
“Essentially what we did, about a year and a half ago, was sit down with a big group of game devs, some of whom have talked about their development on the platform,” Bruno explains to me. He’s the lead program manager of Xbox Live, a role which involves overseeing product direction as well as the engineering teams that build the Compute services.
“We really tried to understand how we could help them on the server side, we have this huge asset of lots of available computing power in the cloud. The intent was to build a platform which takes away a lot of the heavy lifting from server development. Things like scalability, things like peer distribution, things like being able to monitor and keep servers healthy: things that don’t really do a lot for game development, but if we were to take that problem away from them and enable them to focus on building better games, think of the amazing things they’d be able to do with the additional compute power.
“So really what the service is intended to do is to provide more of the infrastructure type services and deliver the on-demand compute features to developers so that they can build that into their games from the outset. What we’ve seen, from a feature function benefit perspective, at least in v1.0, is that dedicated server multiplayer is a lot easier to build on Xbox One than it has been in previous years. So that was an obvious key benefit and there are a lot of key benefits to multiplayer gaming from that. We’ve also seen things like Forza, where they’ve done a lot with Drivatar and a lot of AI computations in the cloud. The cloud can just get smarter about the player and the game.
“One of the other things we’ve really been trying to push on is games as a service, we’ve seen this with other online games, but from a console view we saw it as a real opportunity to get games to be more adaptive, with more updates directly from the cloud. Building a game configuration in from the outset, so that game developers can tweak and tune the game without having to update the physical bits actually on the box.
“So again, building that sort of infrastructure to make those scenarios easier for developers was sort of our initial goal. We see a lot of opportunity in the future, there’s a large number of things we’re considering for the future, but right now we’re obviously laser-focused on making it a really great launch.”
That’s an understandably fuzzy picture of the future, considering the program’s nascent qualities, but will it sell to the customer? So far, the cloud seems to be cut from the same cloth as the clothes of the proverbial Emperor. It’s everywhere, but doing relatively little of practical use. What actual difference is this going to make to players?
“From a computing perspective, server computing is evolving at a rapid rate,” Bruno offers. “We expect that, over time, there’ll be tons and tons more power that comes online from a server point of view. The physical box, with the chips in it that it has, well there’s no easy way to upgrade that. So we do expect that over time we’ll see more and more offloading of intensive CPU processing to the cloud.
“Now what that buys game developers is that, as you can imagine, they’re going to make trade-offs in their game as to what they’re going to use the local CPU for versus the remote CPU. We believe that there’s going to be higher fidelity experiences over time, because of having that ability to offload those tasks that they often have to trade off with local resource. So we do expect higher fidelity games over time, we do expect that the cloud will just be better from a pure computing point of view.”
Suspecting that this might not be specific enough for some, I try to nail Bruno down to a specific measure of the improvements we can expect. Is this going to be on the order of magnitude of a jump from 30fps to 60, for example, or the switch from SD to HD?
“That’s not a question that’s actually that easy for me to answer,” he tells me, diplomatically. “Mostly because a lot of that depends on how the game is built. What I can tell you is what we’ve seen with some of our developers, in the case of someone like Respawn, is that adding that additional CPU resource for them in the cloud has made a huge difference in terms of what they can do locally on the box. So we’re super excited about what we can do in the short term, but in the long term there’s a lot of opportunities. Especially when you look at what our launch footprint looks like from a datacentre perspective and what that can grow to over a number of years.”
Obviously, being an remote resource, utilising the Compute network is going to require a reliable, always-on internet connection. Last time Microsoft tried to introduce something along those lines, it ended in something of a backpeddle. What makes Bruno convinced that the announcement of Xbox Live Compute isn’t going to result in a similar outcry?
“I think it comes down to a couple of things. One is that users who want to play multiplayer games are going to play them online. So for argument’s sake we can assume that there’s a connection there. The game itself can make the decision about what sort of experience it wants to deliver online vs. offline. I think that obviously there are some benefits to being online, and there are some benefits to being offline, but I generally think that it will be additive to users that are online.”
It’s a tricky proposition, and aiming the advantages at those who are already going to be permanently connected is a canny way to get around it. Bruno tells me that “at launch the experiences will be predominantly multiplayer,” but there will be more to come on the single-player side in the future, if the developers decide to use it. For now, however, it’s going to be the blockbuster multiplayer games like Titanfall and Forza 5 which are going to be the big beneficiaries.
“We’ve had Forza 5 working on it from day one,” Bruno confirms. “We’ve had Titanfall working on it in the more recent months. I’d say Titanfall is definitely pushing on the additional computing resources; they’re doing a good job of taking advantage of what’s in the box and what’s on the cloud. The Forza guys have done a really good job of providing a good multiplayer story as well as the AI technology for Drivatar in the cloud as well. So we’ve definitely had a great partnership from our development shops, both first and third party.
“We are giving this resource away to them for free, so there is a huge incentive to utilise it on Xbox One as much as possible. I don’t think that game developers of that magnitude, the Activisions and EAs, are going to put all their eggs into that basket. I think that any good service infrastructure is going to pick and choose the way that they architect the system in the way that’s most beneficial to them. I think there’ll be cases where developers will want services that the Compute isn’t designed for, things like database services or CDNs, things that are going to provide different experiences that are unique to the way that they want to build the game.
“But I do think that will be advantages to the smaller game shops that had previously been spooked about getting into the server development because of the financial obstacle or the development obstacle there. That was one of the big intents, to take this barrier to entry of server development away and let these developers really explore what they could do with the cloud without having to worry about allocating financial resources or server developers to the problem.
“We’ve even heard stories where the developers have had that and wanted to shut down games and servers over time and that really does disrupt their communities. One of the big advantages of our service is that it’s completely on demand, so that as games wax and wane in popularity so do the resources that get applied to it from Compute. Providing that elastic scale at a really beneficial cost price point is a big benefit to developers.”
Giving those big-hitters new toys to play with might be a good thing for the end user who wants to while away endless hours in the worlds of Titanfall or Battlefield, but it doesn’t do too much for Microsoft’s reputation with the indies. Presumably there’s not going to be much need to utilise Compute unless you’re already stretching the Xbox One’s internal organs, but is this extra dimension reserved only for major publishers, or can anyone get a piece of the action? At the bottom line, is the extent to which you can take advantage of Compute tied to success?
“Technically we have developer policies that we apply for any of our assets for Xbox Live, we don’t make a lot of those public – but I should say the intent is to incentivise developers to do great things with the computing power but obviously not run away with it. So we have put some minimal guidance in place, we’re trying to encourage this environment where developers can iterate and do more with the server and so we don’t want to be limiting but at the same time we want to make sure there are some guardrails to keep cost somewhat under control.”
So far, so free-market capitalism, but I feel we’ve not really reached the end of the list of potential gripes which consumers are going to raise. What about dropped connections, server side crashes, lost data and unavailable services? Bruno is surprisingly honest and pragmatic.
“Well, there are always some risks associated with any internet connection, right? But we are trying to provide facilities to developers to help them mitigate those types of things. One of the great things about building on the server is that lost connections are something that the server can smartly detect and deal with from a state-saving perspective. We have also included this notion of storing a state for a game session, so a game that like similar to Minecraft, for example, with a number of players participating in a shared objective, that can be stored in the cloud in the event of disconnects.
Potentially, then, this could be something the effect of which exponentially increases over time. If there’s the power to turn the Xbox One into what is essentially a terminal, streaming content processed on a different continent, surely this is going to extend the lifecycle of the machine tremendously?
“I don’t know that it’s true or untrue,” Bruno admits. “I guess at the end of the day we believe that the cloud is going to augment the Xbox One experience pretty well and it’s obviously going to get better over time. Does that extend the life of the box? Potentially, I guess we’re going to have to wait and see.”
The Delaware Supreme Court has overturned a preliminary injunction preventing Activision Blizzard from buying Vivendi’s stake in the company. In September, the Delaware Court of Chancery blocked the sale due to a lawsuit filed against Activision by shareholder Douglas Hayes. Hayes argues that the sale requires the approval of shareholders to proceed. Vivendi filed an emergency appeal against the ruling in late September, attempting to remove the injunction before the October 15 termination date on the agreement.
The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Activision’s assertion that the sale was a stock repurchase and did not require the approval of minority shareholders.
With the injunction gone, Vivendi and Activision expect the deal to close by October 15. The deal will have ASAC II, an investment group led by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, buying 172 million shares from Vivendi for $2.34 billion and Activision Blizzard buying 429 million shares for $5.83 billion. The two transactions would give Activision control over Vivendi’s 61 percent stake.
Wedbush Securities expects Activision’s stock to outperform once the deal is completed, with a 12-month price target of $22 per share.
“While some investors may have concerns about declines for the company’s core businesses, we remain fans of Activision Blizzard. The company communicates clearly, executes well, and its management appears to truly understand how to make money,” said Wedbush is a recently released note.
Sources close to the Eurogamer website and games house Rockstar have revealed that the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5) should be released next year.
So far we are filing a PC release of the game under “very likely”. There is a petition that is slowly approaching one million signatures.
Rockstar has had some problems on its hands, however, and has been scrambling to fix GTA Online, the online version of GTA 5. That is supposedly all settled now, and it is possible that Rockstar will turn an eye toward the PC desktop version.
This summer, in a question and answer post, it didn’t give any clues about its intentions and has not since.
“The only versions of the game that we have announced are for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 which are set for a September 17th worldwide release,” said the unchanged information.
“We don’t have anything to share about the possibility of a next-gen or a PC platform release at this time and we are completely focused on delivering the best possible experience for the consoles people have right now.”
Eurogamer’s sources come from the industry, it said. They reckoned that the PC version will be out in the first three months of 2014.
The petition wants 1,000,000 signatures. So far it has 597,736 supporters. Previous title Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA 4) for the PC came out around eight months after the console versions.
The online portion of the GTA 5 console game is now fixed, we think, and we have installed a third Xbox 360 update.
In a post Rockstar explained some of the most recent fixes, including one that prevents players from losing all-important guns and ammo.
The independent gaming scene has been growing by leaps of bounds, so it makes sense that the events designed to celebrate it are keeping step. This weekend’s IndieCade Festival in Culver City, California (on the West side of Los Angeles) is the largest in the event’s seven-year history. IndieCade founder and CEO Stephanie Barish said the event is expecting to draw more than 5,000 people to Culver City, which has a population around 39,000.
Much like the indie scene it promotes, the show has also been getting increased attention from the mainstream gaming industry of late. Sony has been a primary sponsor of the event for years, but the 2013 show sees Nintendo chip in for the first time, with Microsoft returning to the list after taking 2012 off. Activision is also on the list of sponsors, as well as Epic Games (for the Unreal Engine), Unity, and 20 more companies. Barish said some of the event’s more recent sponsors saw how Sony benefitted from its overtures to independent developers and have been following suit.
“[Sony has] put four or five years of effort now into the indie development sector and it’s really paid off for them,” Barish said. “Developers are really interested in meeting with them. They see there are possibilities, that Sony has proven [indies] can do well and are treated well. More and more the fact that independent games are interesting to a broader public is becoming apparent to the larger publishers. As well, there’s a huge creative energy and force and momentum coming out of the independent sector, and they don’t want to not be part of the future.”
That future is a big part of the attraction for IndieCade. Attendees to this year’s show will be able to try out a handful of games on upcoming hardware like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation 4. In all, IndieCade 2013 features 36 “official selections” for the festival, with dozens more games on show. Barish expects that crop of games to not only produce some of the next big hits, but also draw attention to the next crop of important developers. In the past, she said IndieCade has served as a coming out party for indie hits like Braid and Everyday Shooter, or developers like Telltale Games (who would go on to create the multiple Game of the Year award-winning The Walking Dead series). It’s also been a place to debut games that think outside the set-top box, like Johann Sebastian Joust, a six-player game that uses music and PlayStation Move controllers, but no screen.
“It’s really important for the mainstream to see what’s at the cutting edge, and we just continue to bring things in that are more cutting edge, that are more different than publishers or other mainstream things would even think to look at yet,” Barish said. “We’re really a window into what’s going to happen.”
Among this year’s selections are That Dragon, Cancer (a narrative-driven game set in a children’s hospital over three years), Perfect Woman (a “strategic dancing game” for the Kinect), and [code] (a PC game in which players delve into ersatz programming code to solve puzzles). While some of the IndieCade games will almost certainly prove to be lucrative for their creators, Barish stressed that isn't the only way to measure their success.
"There's definitely a desire for the Cinderella story, but having seen so many of the games, they're really good," Barish said. "So even if they're not commercially successful, they're impacting the way mainstream games are designed, the directions and the trends for those."
The trend for IndieCade looks to be continued growth. This year saw the event spawn an IndieCade East sister show in New York City, a second installment of which is confirmed for February 14-16, 2014 at the Museum of the Moving Image. Beyond that, Barish said there has been talk about expanding the festival even further with a European event.