The number of games on Steam continues to rise at a daunting rate. According to new data from Steam Spy, the number of full games released on the store this year rose 40% over 2015.
Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin published a chart on Twitter that indicated a total of 4207 games launched on Steam in 2016, up from 2964 last year. If accurate, that means 38% of all games on Steam were released within the last 12 months – a sobering thought for any developer trading on Valve’s market leading platform.
Of course, the notion that Steam is crowded with product is hardly new, but Steam Spy’s chart – republished above – clearly illustrates the pace at which the trend is playing out.
The only small consolation is that the 40% rise over last year is actually lower than the 67% increase in new games between 2014 and 2015. Galyonkin noted that the chart doesn’t include movies and non-game software, but it also filters out relevant content like DLC packs and “games without owner data.”
Valve is certainly cognisant of the issues that Steam’s teeming inventory has created for both developers and consumers. It has responded with two “Discovery Updates” that gave more control over the experience to both groups, the first in 2014 and the second little more than a month ago.
Following the second Discovery Update, GamesIndustry.biz talked to developers about the “huge impact” of the changes.
As the numbers from Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend continue to trickle in, many analysts are examining how the holiday sales picture is coming together this year. While The NPD Group is not ready to give its full assessment just yet, the firm did note to GamesIndustry.biz that digital promotions on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live were much more aggressive this year and may have impacted the retail channel. Digital aside, the sector that seemed to struggle the most is virtual reality, according to SuperData, which said VR has been the “biggest loser.”
Thanks to “notably fewer units sold than expected due to a relatively fragmented title line-up and modest marketing effort,” VR headsets are now expected to sell even fewer than previously thought. SuperData’s revised forecast for 2016 calls for under 750k PlayStation VR units sold (their previous estimate was 2.6 million) with Google’s Daydream selling just 261k (down from 450k). Previous estimates for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Gear VR remain unchanged at 450k, 355k and 2.3 million, respectively.
As you can see, expectations for PSVR have seen the most dramatic shift. Stephanie Llamas, director of research and insights at SuperData, explained to us, “PSVR had the best opportunity to benefit from the holidays but their supply inconsistencies and lack of marketing have put them behind their potential. They did not offer any first-party deals this weekend, restock bundles or market the device, pushing instead for the PS 4 Pro. They have also pointed out that VR looks even better on a Pro than a standard or slim PS 4, so the message to most gamers is: Get the Pro now, then the PSVR later. As a result, we won’t see them break 1M shipments until well into the new year.”
Llamas added that Sony may be deliberately limiting PSVR supply until it can do a better job with supporting the platform. “Had Sony pushed the PSVR the way they’ve been pushing their other new hardware, the demand would have certainly fulfilled a supply of over 2 million. However, given its quiet release it’s clear they’re being cautious before fully investing in the tech. Without the ‘killer app’ and the slow, steady release of AAA content, they will release less than 1 million devices until they have content they feel confident will bring in the praise they want. They can afford to take it slow since they have no competition for now, so their supply and sales will rise steadily into 2017 as opposed to riding the seasonal wave,” she said.
As for Oculus, Llamas believes they’ve taken a risk by possibly splitting their own user base. “The Rift’s Touch controllers are an opportunity for Oculus to penetrate, but not many headsets have moved, especially with their round-about deal where purchasers earned $100 Oculus credit rather than just getting $100 off. Oculus’s hardware release strategy has also slowed them down and split their user base, so developers are having to make some choices around whether they should develop for both Touch and non-Touch users. This means development has slowed and is becoming another barrier to growth,” she remarked.
Looking at the non-VR games market, Nintendo may actually prove to be the biggest winner, thanks to updates both to Pokémon GO and selling out of its NES mini. “On mobile we recorded a spike in earnings as players made the most of the Thanksgiving special for Pokémon GO. The game’s ability to stay in the forefront of people’s minds as we approach the release date for Super Mario Run may prove beneficial for Nintendo, which has yet to make a convincing claim on the $38 billion mobile games market,” said Joost van Dreunen.
Overall digital game sales this holiday are down 2% from 2015 so far, but the impact of digital has grown tremendously in just a few years. “In 2012 full game downloads accounted for only 6% of total unit sales around the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. For 2016E that number was four times higher at 24%,” van Dreunen said.
The other big contributor to the slow holiday start has been big discounting, according to Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter. “We saw greater discounting of high-profile new video games this Black Friday compared to last year. Last year’s top sellers, Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III , Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 4, and EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, saw sticky pricing on Black Friday, with the $60 price point remaining largely intact. While discounting of sports games happens each year, many other titles that maintain pricing on Black Friday were listed at discounts of 40% or more this weekend,” he observed.
“For example, Walmart had EA’s Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 at $27, and Microsoft’s Gears of War 4 and Take-Two’s Mafia III at $35. Walmart also had Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition, which includes Modern Warfare Remastered , for $57, a $23 discount. Discounting of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare began earlier in the week, with widespread discounts of roughly $20 for the different versions of the game. Hardware discounting for the PS4 and Xbox One was largely consistent with 2015, as $50 discounts were commonplace.”
Pachter also agreed that the “pace of the mix shift to digital full game downloads continues to be brisk,” but we probably won’t know whether digital sales fully made up for retail declines until we get the complete NPD report for 2016 sometime in January.
The social network has rolled out a feature that allows users to play hugely popular games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the company’s latest attempt to get users spend more time on its messaging app.
The new feature, initially rolled out in 30 countries with 17 games, will be available on the latest versions of iOS and Android operating systems.
Facebook made Messenger a standalone app in 2014, a move that initially irked many users. The app, however, gained popularity after the company added a host of features to it.
The social network has also added instant video and payment facilities to the app.
Facebook boasts of having more than one billion users for its messaging app, making it one top three apps in the world.
Its main Facebook app is the most popular, followed by Messenger and WhatsApp, the messaging service it bought in 2014.
DirecTV Now is a flexible pay-as-you-go streaming service that starts at US$35 per month. DirectTV’s conventional satellite service is the foundation, but the content will be streamed over the internet.
Traditionally, users needed a two-year commitment and credit check to get DirecTV, but those requirements are not needed for the new service. The streaming service will work on the Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices, as well as mobile devices with Android and iOS and PCs.
There are four pricing bundles, AT&T said at a press event in New York City. Users will be able to get more than 60 channels for $35, more than 80 for $50, more than 100 for $60, and more than 120 for $70. As an introductory promotion, AT&T will offer 100 channels for $35.
The programming lineup includes Disney channels, ESPN, AMC, Turner Broadcasting, NBC Universal, Fox, and many more channels. HBO and Cinemax can be added for $5 each. A deal to add CBS and Showtime is being negotiated.
NFL Sunday Ticket won’t be available with the service, but AT&T is also negotiating to add the service. NFL content will still be available on the games broadcast on NBC, Fox, and ESPN. When CBS is added, its NFL games will be available, too.
AT&T also plans to add a cloud DVR service in the coming years. Subscribers will be able to watch two streams simultaneously on separate devices.
The interface is key to the success of a streaming TV service. DirecTV Now will be able to track the programs users are watching and provide recommendations based on categories. The content is categorized as TV shows, movies, and networks. The interface will list shows people are watching, and users will be able to search content.
DirecTV Now is the third major streaming TV option after Sony’s PlayStation Vue and Dish’s Sling TV. It’s competitive on price with PlayStation Vue, which starts at $40, but not as cheap as Sling, which has fewer channels for $20.
For AT&T, DirecTV Now is a big deal and a new way to deliver programming. It’s also a way to say goodbye to the ubiquitous DirecTV satellite receivers.
“This is the foundation for how we’ll do things in the future,” said John Stankey, CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group.
Last week, over three and a half years after its initial release, Digital Extremes’ free-to-play shooter Warframe broke its concurrent player record with expansion The War Within, hitting Steam’s top three on the weekend of release, recording a maximum of 68,530 players online at once and logging an incredible 1.2 million hours of playtime in a single day. Across PC and the more recent Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game, over 1 million of the 26 million players who have registered since the game’s 2013 launch had played by November’s halfway point, beating all previous monthly unique records with a fortnight to go.
Those are impressive numbers, especially for a game at a point in its lifecycle where it could certainly be forgiven for slowing down – and it’s no anomalous bump. Instead, a quick glance at SteamSpy’s graphs for the game show a steadily increasing number of players for the game, as well as a very healthy schedule of updates, patches and big content drops. Rather than leeching users to other games as it ages, Warframe is going from strength to strength.
Meridith Braun, VP Publishing at Digital Extremes, says that it’s been a tight compromise of strategies – resulting in a success which far exceeds the expectations of a game which was initially seen as something of a make or break exercise. Key to that, she says, has been a careful acquisition process, but not one which has come at the cost of long term curation and engagement of existing players.
“It’s definitely a balancing act between catering development to new players and veterans of the game,” Braun explains, “but after 3.5 years, the core of the game has grown so much that for new players there are literally hundreds of hours of missions, quests, customising and exploring game systems before they catch up to where veteran players are.
“Whilst many of our updates focus on adding new content and improving game systems that our veterans are most interested in, earlier this year we took a fresh look at the new player experience and released an update that refined some of the tutorials, updated the UI, tied quests together to help the lore flow better, and revamped the market for easier functionality. It was not our most played update, like The Second Dream or The War Within, but it served a long-tail purpose of making Warframe more inviting and easier to understand for new players. It helps them navigate to the really intricate depths of the game with the intent to retain them long-term.”
“We spend very little compared to other free-to-play games that focus a large amount of their budgets on acquisition”
Polishing the tip of the spear is a tried and tested acquisition technique, but it’s not usually a way of sidestepping the vast costs which many companies associate with gathering new players. Warframe’s marketing, though, was forged in a crucible of necessity, at a time when budgets were almost non-existent. As a result, the studio has learned to maximise the gain from channels which deliver users without draining revenue, although the financial success of the game has also enabled them to operate in areas previously well beyond their price range.
“We spend very little compared to other free-to-play games that focus a large amount of their budgets on acquisition,” says Braun. “Warframe was a passion project – the studio’s ‘Hail Mary’ pass, if you will. There was barely budget to buy an account server for the game, let alone to spend on marketing at the time. We turned to viral everything to get the word out: live streaming, social media, Reddit, forums, PR, knocking on partner’s doors for promotional opportunities. Once we launched in open beta and more players got a taste of the game, it was clear we had something unique on our hands. Since then our acquisition strategy has focused primarily on our update schedule and community involvement.
“We discovered early on that frequent significant updates – updates that added dramatic gameplay changes, enhancements and content, and transparency with our community, brought in droves of new players. Now that we have more wiggle room in our coffers, we work the usual acquisition channels – online CPA-focused advertising, social media, streaming, etc. – but nothing beats age old word-of-mouth between players telling their friends to join in on a game that only gets better and better over time.”
What’s perhaps even more unusual about the current high that Warframe finds itself riding upon is that it comes at a time when the AAA shooter market is crowded with a wide spread of very high quality competitors – many of which are under-performing at retail. The game’s peak numbers come at a point when there are brand new Battlefield and Call of Duty games at market, as well as extremely well reviewed releases like the Titanfall and Dishonored sequels.
“Warframe was a passion project – the studio’s ‘Hail Mary’ pass, if you will. There was barely budget to buy an account server for the game, let alone to spend on marketing at the time”
Braun very much sees free-to-play as playing a significant part in the difficulties which Warframe’s boxed rivals are experiencing.
“I think we’re seeing the F2P model disrupting the standard retail model for larger budget games,” she says. “The continued rise of AAA-quality, free-to-play games coming to market – and their ability to fill the long gaps between large IP releases – is taking a bite out of the big game market. Just this year it was great to see F2P titles like Paragon and Paladins launch to great fanfare and numbers, I’m sure they both had some effect on the big budget FPS games alongside Warframe.
“It’s hard to compete with free. Sure, we want people to eventually pay for the entertainment they’re receiving – but when you have the ability to try out a game for free for as long as you want, a game with equally great production value, and then decide if it’s a game that deserves your money, that’s pretty stiff competition. The larger games also aren’t built to be as agile and reactive to the market after they ship. Free games at their core are made to continually update and improve, offering incredible value and entertainment over a longer period of time.”
Blizzard probably has a few things to say about the notion that free-to-play games offer the best long-term player engagement and responsive improvement, and Braun freely admits that games like Overwatch share that strategy of player curation. Warframe, she says, also offers something else, though. Because it wasn’t a Blizzard game, born almost fully-fledged and slickly functional, early adopters have had the joy of watching it smooth out its rougher edges.
“When Warframe first launched it was a shell of the size of game it has become, and our players have stayed with our growth throughout its life-span. They enjoy taking the ride with us, being a part of the evolution, experiencing game development from the front seat. If you’re not thinking about long-term engagement and game service at the heart of your game design as a good part of the future of gaming, you may have yet to come to grips with the dwindling projections of one-and-done games.”
There’s something quite noble about Phil Larsen, Luke Muscat and Hugh Walters, and their reasons for turning their collective backs on Halfbrick.
The trio had been partly responsible for some of the biggest games in the smartphone space, including Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, but they felt they had nothing left to learn working at the developer, so took the gamble to go it alone.
“There weren’t too many more challenges, and the challenge of starting something new and being small and agile seemed like a smart idea,” says Phil Larsen, who is the MD at the studio. “And we are all basically in our early 30s, and we thought that maybe we wouldn’t get another chance. So we decided to go for it.”
The team left Halfbrick at the start of 2015 and attended GDC with “no money, no game, no nothing”. Although Larsen felt the newly formed team, named Prettygreat, had the capacity to pull in some big investors, they instead decided to aim a little lower, and accept funding from the founders of Crossy Road makers Hipster Whale.
“Matt [Hall] and Andy [Sum], being so successful with Crossy Road at the time, wanted to put some investment into other studios, and they were the perfect fit for us,” Larsen explains. “They were other developers who understand what we do, they trust in us as a team because we’ve done it all before, and it just helped us get everything off the ground. It has basically been the best possible decision we could have made.”
Prettygreat has only been going for 18 months, but it’s already created two games, with a third deep in development. The firm initially made the modestly popular smartphone title Landsliders, a casual collect ’em up project that it managed to pull together in just four months.
“Although we’d worked together before, working on our first game is always going to be tricky, you’ll be understanding each other and finding a new approach,” Larsen explains. “The way we did that was to try and create something a little bit unique, a bit weird, with some control innovation… as a game, it was profitable, which is good. It wasn’t the mega hit of the year or anything like that, it wouldn’t have reached any Top Ten charts in terms of downloads, but we made that game in four months, and we supported it for six months after launch, which we wouldn’t have done if there wasn’t profit to be made. The game has about 5m downloads so far, which is not bad. We’ve come from a place where 200m or 300m downloads were the norm, so we’re scaling back, which is fine. But Landsliders is a first game that says: ‘hey, this is what we can do. Make a game fast and make it successful’.”
It may seem like a rapid turnaround, but Prettygreat managed to outpace that with its second game, Slide the Shakes, which was designed and released in just six weeks.
“Basically, we had about three weeks left at the end of last year, because we’d done everything for Land Sliders. So we just decided to make a game. It also made a profit and had 3 or 4m downloads already. That was also a game where we understood its scope and potential, so we invested the appropriate amount of time – which was six weeks, but I think our quality level for that was quite high.
“We are game strategy agnostic, for want of a better way of expressing that. We are not sitting here saying we’re going to make triple-A games on mobile, or make six months projects every time. We are going to pick projects that we like and we are going to develop it to the level that we think it will be successful – and if that means it is six weeks, fine, if it is six months, which is our current project, then we will do that. We just want to make all sorts of crazy ideas. We don’t have any specific business model or genre.”
The Prettygreat team seem to know a thing or two about building sustainable smartphone games, which is difficult in a market where discoverability is difficult and the competition is plentiful. Even some of the world’s biggest mobile developers struggle to enjoy repeat success in this space. It’s a fact that’s not lost on Larsen, but he says if developers are smart, plan carefully and make sure the projects are in tune with the team’s talents, then success is not necessarily that hard to come by.
“A lot of people talk about how competitive it is, which is true. And they talk about how hard it is to make a whole bunch of money, which is true. But a misconception that a lot of people have is that you have to be making Clash Royale money, or you need to be spending loads of money, or you need to take years making the games,” Larsen begins.
“There is a lot of competing factors as to what makes a business successful. For a while it was Angry Birds, and building a brand, and merchandise. Then it was all about free-to-play. We have been through all of that at Halfbrick. Our perspective is, it is competitive but you need to pick the right business model for your team, and you need to pick the right approach for you. With three dudes at the start of a company, we weren’t saying: ‘Let’s do a Candy Crush and make $1m a day.’ No. We will pick something that we know we can get out there in a short amount of time, know generally what monetisation trends that are happening, and what is the easiest way of getting some revenue going for our games.
“Yes it is hard, but it is not impossible. A lot of people say it’s impossible, but no, you just need to be smart about how you approach it for your team specifically. If we had taken AUS$2m in funding when we started, or attacked it in a bigger way, then people would be expecting us to make a Candy Crush. But we didn’t want to do that.
“Our biggest strength as a company is scoping products right, and making them for the right people at the right time. It is very easy for an indie team to say mobile is hard, but that’s possibly because they’ve spent 18 months making the game – that might be hard to recoup as an investment. We would sooner spend four months on a game.
“Having a team that works together really well, and approaching it with a clear focus, then you can make money. We haven’t made millions of dollars yet, but that’s ok, you don’t need millions to pay three people.”
Prettygreat’s next product is currently not announced, although Larsen says it is an online multiplayer project that will be unveiled soon. This title has a much bigger scope and has already been in the works longer than its previous projects. However, Larsen is reluctant to suggest the team will continue to make bigger, more ambitious projects. He tells us that the following game could take six weeks again, or four months.
Yet don’t take this to mean there is a lack of ambition on the part of the former Fruit Ninja makers.
Larsen concludes: “I don’t want to be perceived as just three guys making stuff for the hell of it, and it’s all crazy and whatever happens, happens. That’s true to an extent, and day-to-day things are very fun and casual. But we are very serious about success financially, and our reputation is very high and we want to keep that going. The path we take is sometimes a bit unconventional, and it doesn’t necessarily have a simple six month or 12 month goal, which is what the bigger investors want to see. But we still have our eyes on the prize. We are probably not going to become a 100-person studio anytime soon, but the idea that we can create some of the biggest games in mobile and strategically scale to support them, then that’s fine. If that happens, then we will make that happen.
“We have come from a place where we were working on Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, which were some of the biggest mobile games ever for a few years. We are not strangers to that environment. We haven’t started a studio to figure out how to do mobile, we absolutely already know how to do that. We’ve been through the highs and lows of some of the biggest things out there. We know what to expect and we are definitely aiming for it, but we are not going to compromise quality or our studio culture to get there.”
EA CFO Blake Jorgensen says he ‘can’t yet predict’ if people will be interested in Switch alongside their regular portable device.
His statement came at the UBS Global Technology Conference, and reported by GameSpot. He says the firm is excited about the product and committed to bringing ‘one or two’ of its biggest games IP to the platform. Based on EA’s history with Nintendo, these will likely be games from its sports catalog.
“We’re excited for Nintendo, it’s an interesting device,” Jorgensen stated. “But I can’t yet predict how broad it’s going to be, and if folk will be interested in a portable device alongside their regular portable device that they already have.”
He continued: “In their announcement they announced that we’ll be supporting with a game or two on that new platform. We haven’t yet announced what game, but you should assume that it’s one of our bigger games we’ve been involved with.”
It is clearly positive for Nintendo that EA is showing support for its next machine after it abandoned publishing efforts on Wii U shortly after the machine launched. The company’s Wii U line-up included ports of Need for Speed and Mass Effect 3.
Nintendo proudly boasted a strong Switch third-party line-up, with the likes of Activision, Capcom, Warner Bros, Sega, Take-Two, Codemasters, Konami, From Software, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Bandai Namco, Platinum, Level-5, GameTrust and Atlas already signed on to support the device.
If Nintendo hopes to maintain this level of third-party support, it will need a significantly stronger start for Switch than it achieved with its Wii U console. It’s not clear what the launch line-up for Switch will be, with reports suggesting that the highly anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will miss the console’s release window. Other games shown during Nintendo’s Switch reveal, although not confirmed titles, included Mario Kart, a new Mario platformer, Skyrim and Splatoon.
More details on the Switch launch is scheduled for January, with the machine due to launch in March.
I had fun playing on Microsoft HoloLens this week.
That’s significant because the last time I went hands-on with the intriguing, expensive AR technology (at E3 2015) I was left palpably disappointed.
Part of that was because Kanye West had cut into the line and forced my group to wait an extra 30 minutes to play on it, but it was also because the restricted field of view meant that the ‘Halo experience’ (which is what we played) was underwhelming and only really worked well if we didn’t move our heads and stood exactly where we were meant to.
I could comfortably imagine how this device might work in the education, retail and manufacturing spaces, but it didn’t seem remotely suitable for video games. After playing HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, a piece of gaming technology where the illusion was ruined if I stood too close to an object just wasn’t good enough.
Microsoft seems to understands that. HoloLens, as it stands, is not a consumer product, it is not even a gaming device – not really. The demos we were shown at the firm’s Lift London studio last week mostly involved retail projects – the ability to dismantle a watch you might be buying, or to change the colours on a car you are interested in, or to make virtual changes to your kitchen. There were education uses, too, such as a nice demo where you can explore and analyse the human body. NASA has even invested in the tech so its engineers can wander around a virtual Mars Rover.
“It causes me great consternation every time HoloLens is shown at a gaming conference, because all journalists want to talk about is games.”
Leila Martine, Microsoft
It is here, in the commercial space, where HoloLens is most promising. We should all try to forget that Minecraft demo that over-excited the games business on stage at E3 2015.
“If you are in the gaming industry, it is things like E3 where you will have been exposed to this,” says Leila Martine, director of new device experiences in the UK.
“I am probably saying something out of turn, because I’m not sitting in the room when they’re making these decisions in Redmond, but I do know that it causes me great consternation every time they go to a gaming conference and they show HoloLens. Because when that happens, all that journalists want to talk about is games. I have Case Western University, which is one of these most phenomenal case studies [with its education product that teaches anatomy]. But they’ll get like 300,000 YouTube views, which is still great for a B2B scenario. But Minecraft… are you kidding me? Those views are in the bazillions.”
Martine says that games is ‘definitely a piece of the long-term vision’ for HoloLens, it’s just not there yet. However, Microsoft remains interested in attracting games studios. HoloLens utilises Unity technology, which means that video games developers are uniquely placed to build HoloLens applications – even if it’s not games that they end up making.
“We are definitely seeing games developers in demand,” says Martine. “Part of that is because Unity is a core way to be able to build on this right now. With their heritage in gaming and with the demand coming from these new places, it is a pretty hot place for these games developers to be. Then we are seeing who has the appetite to move outside of gaming and capture opportunities that are coming from, quite frankly, places they haven’t worked with before. It could be a power plant looking to visualise their plant, or training simulations for pilots or engineers. With the Unity capability, these opportunities are there for game makers.”
The HoloLens Minecraft demo at E3 2015 was viewed by millions
One of the key stumbling blocks for HoloLens right now, particularly for smaller independent games teams, is its price. HoloLens dev kits will set you back $3,000.
“Unlike some of the other ones that are out there on the market, you don’t need a high performance computer to go with it,” defends Martine. “Everything you need is right on that device. And that device is really unique in terms of it capabilities, and the team has done a tremendous amount to bring it to market in a very short amount of time.
“As we think about all the things that it can enable, there are a lot of companies right now that are going: “We need to be in this space”. This is not the final form factor, this is not a consumer device, there is much more on the roadmap, but right now, the focus is making sure that we’re getting it into the hands of people and doing stuff that isn’t trivial, but actually matters to companies… and we are seeing really good progress in that area.
“But this is not the end.”
Because we asked nicely, and promised not to tell people that HoloLens is anywhere close to being a consumer games product, Microsoft did let us try out one of its games it had experimented with.
The title in question was RoboRaid, which is a mixed reality demo where aliens drill through the walls in you room, and you have to shoot small flying robot invaders out of the sky. Over three levels, you’ll battle bosses, shoot around shields and dodge fireballs. It’s hardly a game that would inspire consumers to buy HoloLens, and it isn’t particularly dissimilar to the sort of experiences that you can find in VR. but it was definitely entertaining, it worked well within the device’s limitations and proved that maybe, one day, HoloLens might succeed in the world of video games.
Traditionally you only need a boss that doesn’t pay attention on what you do in Daydream, but Google wants you to have a display between 4.7 and 6 inches with a resolution of at least 1080p 60Hz display. These phones need to have a 3ms or less latency and 5ms or less persistence. Quad HD 2560×1440 or higher resolution is recommended.
If six inches is the maximum, we wonder if the Daydream will make an adjustment to work on Xiaomi Mi Max and the highly anticipated and sold out in a minute, bezel-less Xiaomi Mi Mix. Both of them have 6.44 inch screen. The Google document is pretty clear, it says: “The display MUST measure between 4.7″ and 6″ diagonal.”
Daydream needs a GPU supporting OpenGL ES 3.2 and Vulkan that is able to decode two instances of 60fps video simultaneously and can offer consistent 60 FPS rendering. Google also requires temperature sensors to read the device surface temperature as the company doesn’t necessarily want to set your face on fire. Just to remind you, you need to wear Daydream VR slot-in glasses with your phone on your face.
The device must have at least two physical cores, MUST support sustained performance mode, MUST support H.264 decoding at least 3840×2160@30fps- 40Mbps (equivalent to 4 instances of 1920×1080@30fps-10Mbps or 2 instances of 1920×1080@60fps-20Mbps), MUST support HEVC and VP9, MUST be capable to decode at least 1920×1080@30fps-10Mbps and SHOULD be capable to decode 3840×2160@30fps- 20Mbps (equivalent to 4 instances of 1920×1080@30fps-5Mbps). Google used ALL CAPS to make it clear that it is not kidding about the requirements.
Google Pixel is officially the first phone supporting Daydream and Daydream VR but it looks like most high end phones updated to Android 7.0 should work too. They MUST meet the requirements above.
Bear in mind that apart from the Pixel and the Pixel XL by Google the only phone having the Android 7.1 that we are aware of, the Huawei Mate 9 with 5.9-inch display and 1080p that qualify this phone to work with Daydream. Android 7 aka Nougat will come to more phones but as usual, Google and its partners are extremely slow to migrate to a new Android, a wound that won’t heal for Android OS anytime soon.
Google’s Daydream VR is on pre-orders for $79 and if that sounds like a good price, bear in mind that Xiaomi has its own Xiaomi slot-in VR glasses selling for $12.29 but it doesn’t come with the Daydream remote.
Nvidia just announced its fiscal Q3 2017 (not a typo Ed.) and the company reported record revenue of $2 billion, up 54 percent from a year ago. This is finally proof that Nvidia is more than a GPU outfit, as it finally expanded beyond its core business – gaming and professional graphics.
It took Nvidia a lot of sweat and a lot of failed products to get to where it is today. CEO Jen-Hsun Huang is not afraid of failure and as the CEO he took a lot of risks, knowing that one of them would eventually pay off. Don’t get me wrong, most of the money still comes from the gaming division, where Nvidia made $1.244 billion, +63.47% year over year and +58% quarter over quarter. The new Pascal architecture is obviously paying off big time. In recent years, Nvidia executives started talking more about automotive and deep learning, than about gaming. Huang wants to present Nvidia in a new light, to prove that is more than “just” a PC gaming company.
If you have been following Nvidia over the last 23 years as avidly as we have, you will know that many products and acquisitions didn’t pan out. Let me just mention a few obvious ones, starting with the PortalPlayer deal valued at $357 million. At the time, these guys were delivering chips for iPods, shortly before the company lost that deal. It also includes Agea, that promised a gaming physics revolution in 2008, but that failed to change the gaming world. The most recent acquisition was Icera, a modem company bought in 2011 that was supposed to help Nvidia to fight in the mobile market. That didn’t work out either.
Nvidia completely retreated from the mobile phone market after realizing that it could compete on its own terms or change the world of mobile phones. It tried to make its own gaming devices including Tegra-based tablets and TV consoles but didn’t really move mountains, cashing niche success with their own devices. It would have been better had Nvidia not been forced to recall one of its products due to faulty batteries.
But Nvidia realized that self-driving cars and deep learning could hugely benefit from its GPU architecture. This is when Nvidia started to abandon the company tradition of only caring about pixels. The latest quarterly report is the culmination of a a long process of transition from a mobile and GPU-oriented company to something bigger, a company whose processors might end up in millions of cars, helping you safely get from point A to point B. It will also help to train many artificial intelligence systems including robots with the help of deep learning algorithms.
This is not as sexy as some of the ideas Jensen promoted in recent years. Huang always looked up to Steve Jobs and wanted to create a product you cannot live without, something that Jobs managed to do for many products and services. We can single out the iPod, iPhone, iPad and many Macs that gained a fanatical following. Essentially Nvidia GPUs might end up in many cars. Tesla and Volvo are the first to announce the commitment to Drive PX2 assisted driving systems and there will be more announcements in the future.
Nvidia is currently the king of the PC gaming market as well as the king of the professional GPU market with its Quadro product line. Many high-end PCs have Geforce cards in them, representing a stable revenue base, under the helm of industry veteran and Geforce General Manager Jeff Fisher. This division has been doing great for the last few years, putting a lot of pressure on AMD’s Radeon Technology Group, its primary competitor in the desktop and notebook markets. Gaming will remain the main source of income for Nvidia, backed by the Quadro professional graphics business, which is an incredible cash cow. The beauty is that the Quadro uses the same gaming GPU with a special professional driver and sells for a few times the price, and this is where most of the money is coming from – software rather than silicon.
Gaming revenue has almost doubled, data center revenue has tripled, and the automotive market almost doubled as well. Both data center and automotive are still rather small markets, but they will continue to grow in the years to come. However, there is a chance that gaming revenue may decrease due to stiff competition from the AMD Radeon Technology Group.
So, the fact is that Nvidia lost most of its entry level business, due to market trends and the death of discrete entry-level GPUs, Nvidia actually lost a market that wasn’t making that much money after all. Gaming is what Nvidia knows, and which makes them most money on the desktop market, and this is going to continue. There is always a big threat that the Radeon team might come up more competitive products in 2017 and reclaim some of these huge gains from Nvidia.
The future growth of Nvidia will concentrate on automotive and deep learning, as Nvidia can sell a lot of these systems to big companies. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Baidu see great potential in the deep learning market. SAP, educational institutions, start-ups, oil and gas industry, as well as the financial markets are looking into using deep learning computers and some of them, such as the DGX1, cost more than $100,000 for education and even more for industry use.
Market response to the latest quarterly report was quick. Last time we checked, Nvidia was up more than 29.73 percent to $87.92.
Whether it is the return of X-Files and Twin Peaks, or Shenmue and Pokémon, bringing back classic IP has become a safe way to secure headlines and generate copious amounts of hype.
Yet it’s not just brands that are tapping into our love for the familiar. Take this summer’s smash Netflix show Stranger Things, which plays homage to both ’80s Spielberg and classic horror. Or indeed the millions of dollars that the likes of Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained have raised on Kickstarter – the former riffing on 1990s platformers like Banjo-Kazooie (and made by many of the same team members), with the latter acting as the spiritual successor to Castlevania (from former producer Koji Igarashi).
Ron Gilbert is another person looking to recreate those ’90s feelings. The adventure game maker behind the likes of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island is creating a new one called Thimbleweed Park, a point-and-click adventure with retro 8-bit visuals that raised $626,250 via Kickstarter.
“I think a lot of the nostalgia that is around right now comes from a desire to go back to a simpler time,” suggest Gilbert, speaking to Gamesindustry.biz shortly after appearing at Melbourne International Games Week in Australia.
“Back then games were a little bit simpler and seeping with charm. A lot of people that love the 8-bit games today might not have even been alive back then, but they still identify with that era because it was so interesting and charming.
“It is really one of the reasons we did Thimbleweed Park. We were looking at and asking why was Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion so appealing? What is it about modern adventure games, although they’re interesting and have great stories, that means they lack the charm those games from that era had? Can we recreate that old feeling today?”
Point-and-click adventure games are enjoying a small renaissance, thanks in part to the rise of indie developers – as indeed are platformers, Metroidvania games and a whole host of other genres long thought dead.
“I don’t know exactly why adventure games faded away,” Gilbert continues.
“I do feel that somewhere around the mid-90s, point-and-click adventures sort of ran off the rails. A lot of really – for want of a better word – stupid puzzles were being made. I think what happened was that people looked at this, and went: ‘Wait a minute, you’re asking me to do completely ridiculous and random things to get through these games.’ Some players just checked out at that point.
“You also had games like Doom that came along and were first person and were more action orientated, and those games attracted a very different audience into games. So I don’t know if adventure games necessarily fell, but they certainly didn’t grow with the rest of the industry. But now we are seeing this place where we are attracting a much broader audience, and a little bit of that is due to mobile games being so ubiquitous. There are just so many more people playing games these days, and with adventure games being very story and character focused, they are able to attract that broader audience.”
He continues: “You have games that have always been niche markets. Now, because of digital distribution and the way the democratization of development tools is working, niche markets can be viable markets.”
Gilbert is enjoying the current state of indie development and the ability to make decent games with relatively small teams. It speaks to his days making titles in the ’80s and ’90s. Maniac Mansion was made with three people, Monkey Island had five full time members of staff, which increased to seven for its sequel.
Thimbleweed Park is also being made by just a handful of creators, with input from the game’s plentiful Kickstarter supporters. But this desire to go back to those early days is not just about how the visuals looked or how small the teams were, Gilbert also wants to head back to a period when developers didn’t take themselves quite so seriously.
“When we were making games back then, it was all kind of new,” Gilbert remembers. “We didn’t have anything to go from, so it was a more innocent time. Games today, although I love modern adventure games like Firewatch or Kentucky Route Zero, they are very deep and thoughtful. They require a lot from me as a player, or the viewer, because there are very interesting, deep messages that I am gleaming from this stuff. And that’s largely just the advancement of the art form. The games of the ’80s and early ’90s, they were just more innocent, and simple and therefore more charming.
“Adventure games have certainly improved. Visually, games like Firewatch are much more advanced. But I think they’ve advanced in some ways and they’ve actually de-evolved in others. I think they’re more advanced because they are trying to tell more meaningful stories, stories that are truly about something interesting or important.
“But in other ways, they haven’t moved forward. Games like Kentucky Route Zero… although I enjoyed that game quite a bit, I sort of jokingly call it the ‘press A to continue game’, because I didn’t feel like I was making a lot of choices. I was just kind of pressing the A button to get to the next piece of dialogue, and it was greatly written dialogue and it was a captivating world, which made it ok. In Firewatch, you are spending a lot of time walking around and exploring this world, and it is a very fascinating world and a very beautiful place, so I was utterly enthralled with it, but there’s not actually a lot to do. The old school adventure games really required you to work. It was a case of: ‘here is a load of puzzles and here is a bunch of story, and you have to solve all these puzzles, which should lead to uncovering the next part of the mystery’. The classic adventure games were more sophisticated in that sense.”
Like Yooka-Laylee with Banjo-Kazooie and Bloodstained with Castlevania, Thimbleweed Park is a game that could easily have had the words ‘Maniac Mansion’ or ‘Monkey Island’ plastered on the artwork. Gilbert does hope his new IP can be successful enough to become a series, but he also, quite publicly, wants to revisit those classic franchises that made his name. Both Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island were created at LucasArts, so the rights to them currently reside in the vaults somewhere at Disney’s HQ.
Disney has largely moved on from video games, and Gilbert has asked the media giant on Twitter to let him buy back the rights to his old franchises. To no avail, so far.
We ended our conversation by asking Gilbert if he had considered returning to Kickstarter to raise the funds he might need to acquire those 1990s brands.
“Buying the rights back for those games… it’s not a matter of money, it is a matter of Disney being willing to sell them,” Gilbert concludes. “If Disney came to me and said: ‘Hey, we’ll sell you Monkey Island’. I will go get the money. No amount of crowd-funding is going to make this happen, it’s just a case of Disney agreeing to sell them.
“I’ve not managed to talk to anyone at Disney who is high enough up the ladder to make that decision. I fear that the people who would make that decision have no idea what Monkey Island is.”
A federal judge has ordered Amazon.com Inc to set up a year-long process to reimburse parents whose children made in-app purchases without permission, but rejected a U.S. regulator’s request for a $26.5 million lump-sum payout.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, issued his order more than six months after finding the online retailer liable, in a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC in July 2014 accused Amazon of making it too easy for children to run up bills while playing games such as “Pet Shop Story” and “Ice Age Village” on mobile devices, resulting in an estimated $86 million of unauthorized charges.
Coughenour said this approach “removes the uncertainty of the proper lump sum amount that the parties have vigorously disputed. Moreover, it accomplishes the goals of placing liability on Amazon and refunding eligible customers.”
Coughenour called the FTC’s $26.5 million damages request “too high,” agreeing with Amazon that it might have taken into account failed password attempts unrelated to unauthorized purchases by children.
But the judge rejected Amazon’s request to issue refunds in the form of gift cards, saying the company would “undoubtedly recapture some of the profits that are at issue.”
Neither Amazon nor the FTC immediately responded to requests for comment.
Just like the currently available Intel 600P SSD series, the new Intel 610P SSD series will be based on TLC 3D NAND from IMFlash Technology, which is a joint-venture between Micron and Intel.
As detailed in the slide leaked by Benchlife.info, the Intel 610P series will be available in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities and use M.2 2280 form-factor with PCI-Express 3.0 x4 interface and support for NVMe protocol.
While no precise performance details were given, we expect a minor update since the 610P SSD series will co-exist with the currently available 600P SSD series.
In addition to the 610P SSD series, the same slide shows that Intel plans to introduce a BGA version of the 600P series which will be available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities and use the BGA M.2 1620 form-factor.
The new Intel 600P SSD series is expected in Q4 2017 while 600P series BGA will come a few months before that.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was the No.1 boxed game in the UK this week, but Week One sales were down 48.4 percent compared with the same period for last year’s Black Ops III.
It’s the fiercest drop the franchise has suffered since it became one of the world’s most popular entertainment properties following the success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007.
There was no PS3 or Xbox 360 version this year, however even just comparing the PS4 and Xbox One figures shows a sales drop of 43.6 percent.
Activision has changed its strategy a little with the series, and has put an increased emphasis on generating more revenue from its fans via DLC, special editions and microtransactions, as opposed to growing user numbers. Nevertheless, such a steep fall will come as a big disappointment to the firm and to UK retailers.
This was still the second biggest UK game launch of the year after FIFA 17. However, Call of Duty now finds itself playing catch-up with its biggest rival, Battlefield 1, which has already passed over half a million sales in the UK – the game has been on sale for two weeks longer.
It is important to note that all of these statistics do not factors in sales made via Steam, PSN, Xbox Live or EA Origin.
Call of Duty’s performance follows the disappointing launch of Titanfall 2. That EA game suffered a relatively mild 41 per cent week-on-week drop in its second week, but it is still selling well below what would have been expected for the IP.
It once again calls into question the logic of launching three huge first person shooter games within such close proximity.
There was one other new entry in the physical retail charts this week, Football Manager 2016 at No.6. The PC game almost certainly would have performed far better than this once you consider digital sales.
It wasn’t all bad news for Activision, Skylanders Imaginators has returned to the Top Ten following recent TV advertising, with sales rising 131 percent week-on-week.
All figures are courtesy of UK physical games tracker GfK and UKIE.
The announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2 has gamers and Take-Two investors alike eagerly anticipating the game’s release next fall, but the company’s been giving both camps reasons to pay attention in the meantime. Take-Two today announced its results for the quarter ended September 30, meeting (and in the case of bookings, exceeding) guidance and touting some record-breaking recent releases.
September’s NBA 2K17 and Mafia III (which launched in the current quarter) set new records, with the former selling in more units at release than any previous title in the franchise, and the latter selling in more units than any previous game on the 2K label (which includes BioShock and Borderlands, but not Rockstar series like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption). The company also noted that NBA 2K17 posted the highest Metacritic scores that series has seen to date, as well as the best scores of any annualized sports game this console generation. (As of this writing, NBA 2K17 has a Metacritic average of 90, which the series has previously surpassed, but not since Take-Two acquired it from Sega in 2005.)
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Take-Two chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick acknowledged Mafia III’s reviews were not quite as record-setting as its sales. At the moment, they range from 62 to 69, depending on the platform. However, he characterized its overall reception as “phenomenal.”
“I think the scores have been a bit disappointing because there were some scores much lower than we expected,” Zelnick said. “But the reviews, especially from those who matter, have been phenomenal. And consumers absolutely love it; it’s selling really well.”
While it has been years since the NBA 2K series has been pushed by a strong competitor (Sony stopped making its own basketball series and EA has been struggling to return NBA Live to its former standing for years), Zelnick said the developers don’t take their success for granted.
“This was record first-week sell-in and we’re excited about that; virtual currency sales are up 160% year-over-year,” Zelnick said. “But if you sat with our creative team, they could give you a long list of things they feel we should be doing better, and we’re focused on all of them. Every year we aim to delight consumers, every year we make progress, and every year we fall short a bit from our own point of view. So I think we have plenty of motivation to delight the consumer, internally.”
But as games continue posting bigger and better numbers, so too do the expectations around them rise in lockstep. Zelnick said the return on investment for what constitutes a successful AAA game has only risen over time.
“For our successful titles, the ROI is very strong and getting stronger,” Zelnick said. “And I think that’s attributable to the fact that a few years ago, we’d make a title, market it, sell units, then sell catalog. And today, we offer opportunities for the consumer to engage after that release. And in many instances, we offer an opportunity to spend money after that release.”
He added that has “unquestionably” made the industry more hit-driven.
“I said in 2008 or 2009 that good is the new bad. Standards are going up, and that’s why our strategy always has been to be the most creative, innovative, and efficient company in the business,” Zelnick said. “And more often than not, we are. Sometimes we fall short.”
Take-Two met its expectations for the second quarter, posting net revenues up 21% to $420.2 million with net income of $36.4 million, down from $54.7 million in the year-ago quarter. The company also reported bookings up 28% to $452.8 million (well above the $400 million top-end range of its guidance) and non-GAAP net income of $50.7 million, down from $56.2 million the year before.