Simplygon takes 3D models in a number of formats, and reduces the volume of data used to describe them by taking out some of the detail — somewhat like reducing the size of a JPEG image file by increasing the level of compression while leaving the resolution unchanged.
That means the models can be rendered more rapidly or with less powerful hardware, something that will help Microsoft with the “3D for everyone” vision it outlined last October at the launch of Windows 10 Creators Update.
The company is pushing hard into the markets for virtual reality, with a U.S.$300 consumer VR headset for PCs due out as early as March, and augmented reality, where it is seeking to build an ecosystem around Hololens, its enterprise-oriented stand-alone AR headset.
3D models, whether for video games, architectural rendering, or viewing in augmented or virtual reality, are typically composed of many adjoining flat surfaces, or polygons. The more polygons that are used, the better the model is able to represent complex curved surfaces — but the more memory and processing power it takes to render, or draw on the screen.
Simplygon works best with rendering engines that use a similar density of polygons throughout, simplifying the model to describe flatter parts with fewer polygons, while retaining more polygons in more complex areas, so that they don’t look blocky.
Using this technique, the company says it can reduce the number of polygons used in a model by up to 90 percent, while still retaining the essential details and shape.
For Kudo Tsunoda, corporate vice president for next-gen experiences in Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, the acquisition will make it easier for Windows users to capture, create, and share 3D models.
“It builds on and extends our aspirations to empower a new wave of creativity with the Windows 10 Creators Update, Paint 3D and our online creator community at Remix3D.com,” he said in a post on Microsoft’s blog announcing the deal.
Simplygon was developed by 10-year-old Donya Labs, based in Linköping, Sweden. CEO Matt Connors, founder and CTO Ulrik Lindahl and co-founder Koshi Hamedi will join Microsoft following the acquisition, according to the companies’ websites. They did not provide information about the terms of the deal.
The biggest market for Simplygon is in 3D game design, where it was used by the developer of the game Submerge to reduce the size of models designed for PCs and consoles when the game was ported to iOS.
It would appear that the trend of big publishers hosting their own events will continue in 2017. Last year’s E3 show floor was missing booths from the likes of Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Disney and Wargaming. For its part, EA decided it could better serve the fans by hosting its own event next door to E3, and now the publisher has confirmed that EA Play will be making a return for the second year in a row, but it won’t be as close to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
EA Play will be held from June 10-12 at the Hollywood Palladium, which is around seven miles away. “Whether in person or online, EA Play 2017 will connect fans around the world to EA’s biggest new games through live broadcasts, community content, competitions and more. Those that can attend in Hollywood will experience hands-on gameplay, live entertainment and much more. For anyone joining digitally around the world, EA Play will feature livestreams, deeper looks into EA’s upcoming games and experiences, and content from some of the best creators in the community,” the company stated in a press release.
Furthermore, a spokesperson confirmed to GamesIndustry.biz that EA will indeed be skipping out on having a major E3 presence. “EA Play was such a powerful platform for us last year to connect with our player community. We learned a ton, and we wanted to build on everything we loved about last year’s event to make EA Play 2017 even better,” EA corporate communications VP John Reseburg said.
“So after an extensive search, we’ve selected the Hollywood Palladium as a place where we can bring our vision of creativity, content and storytelling to life, and build an even more powerful experience to connect with players, community leaders, media and partners. EA Play 2017 will originate from Hollywood, with more ways for players around the world to connect and experience the excitement.”
It’ll be interesting to see what the other major publishers do about E3 this year. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Chinese search engine Baidu Inc announced that it has launched an augmented reality (AR) lab in Beijing as part of a $200 million effort to revitalize the company’s shrinking profits with cutting edge technology.
The lab, which currently employs 55 people, will initially aim to drive revenue through AR marketing, though will later explore healthcare and education.
“AR marketing is taking off,” Andrew Ng, the chief scientist overseeing Baidu’s artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and deep learning projects, told Reuters.
Popularised in 2016 by Nintendo Co Ltd’s Pokemon Go game, augmented reality involves rendering virtual images over real life settings viewed on a smartphone, headset or other device. In marketing, the software can be used to animate a product or a branded space.
Baidu’s AR launch comes as the company gears up to report full-year earnings next month. It has forecast a revenue drop of around 4.6 percent as it grapples with the aftermath of new government curbs on medical advertising. Those curbs have slashed into the profits of its core search business and saw ad customers drop 16 percent in the quarter ended in September.
The company injected $200 million into its AI and AR unit in September in an effort to kick start new growth, followed by the announcement of a $3 billion investment fund announced in October focusing on mid-to-late stage startups.
The company in a statement said it is currently working with AR in China with Yum! Brands Inc’s KFC, BMW and L’Oreal SA’s Lancome among other brands, and has demonstrated a small range of high-end applications.
Baidu began working on the technology two years ago, and is working on integrating it with AI to produce visuals capable of interacting with real-time surroundings, unlike current popular AR games.
“It’s working quite well now, but it’s clear that it could be better,” said Ng. “I’m quite optimistic.”
AR technology is still going through a regulatory teething phase in China. While Pokemon Go is yet to launch there, location-based AR concepts have sprung up, drawing the ire of regulators who have refused to license some services over security concerns.
According to Ng, Baidu is yet to run into the same issues.
“I feel like the abilities for AR have risen up in China faster than the Western world may be aware,” said Ng.
The rules took effect Monday, in a country where domestic third-party app stores — not from Apple or Google — are serving billions of downloads to Android smartphones. Chinese internet companies such as Baidu, Tencent and a host of smaller, shadier local app stores have been feeding the demand, at a time when Google has largely pulled out of the market.
The government, however, has problems with the proliferation of app stores and the lack of industry oversight, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement on Friday. Some app stores have been offering products that violate users’ rights, contain security vulnerabilities or spread “illegal information,” it said.
The new rules intend to force the stores to better audit their products. Cyberspace Administration officials will keep records on the app stores and investigate those that fail to register or which are found falsifying information.
However, in some cases, apps have provided one way for users to circumvent the strict controls. That happened with The New York Times, whose main website was blocked in the country in 2012.
Despite the censorship, the company’s news app was offered on Apple’s app store until China ordered its takedown earlier this month.
Third-party app stores in China have also been known to spread malware. Last year, a mobile Trojan likely sourced from the country managed to infect millions of devices across China, India and Indonesia by imitating Android apps.
The country has over 650 million mobile internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. The huge user base has made its app stores some of the biggest in the world.
As with many game cancellations, it’s likely we’ll never know exactly why Platinum Games’ Xbox One exclusive Scalebound has been dropped by Microsoft. For a game that’s been in development for several years at a top-flight studio, helmed by one of the most accomplished directors working in the industry today, to be cancelled outright is a pretty big deal. Even acknowledging that most of the cost of launching a game lies in marketing budgets, not development costs, this still represents writing off a fairly huge financial investment – not to mention the hard-to-quantify costs to the image and reputation of the Xbox brand. This isn’t the kind of decision that’s made rapidly or taken lightly – and though the reasons remain obscure, we can guess that a mix of factors was considered.
For one thing, it’s fairly likely that the game wasn’t living up to expectations. Scalebound was ambitious, combining unusual RPG aspects with a style of action Platinum Games (usually masters of the action genre) hadn’t attempted before, and throwing four-player co-op into the mix as well. There are a lot of things in that mix that could go wrong; plenty of fundamental elements that just might not gel well, that might look good on paper but ultimately fail to provide the kind of compelling, absorbing experience a AAA console exclusive needs. These things happen, even to the most talented of creative teams and directors.
For another thing, though, it’s equally likely that Microsoft’s decision stems in part from some issues internal to the publisher. Since Scalebound went into development in 2013, the Xbox division has been on a long, strange journey, and has ended up in a very different place to the one it anticipated when it inked its deal with Platinum three years ago. When Microsoft signed on to publish Scalebound, it was gearing up to launch an ambitious successor to the hugely successful Xbox 360 which would, it believed, expand upon the 360’s audience by being an all-purpose entertainment box, a motion-controlled device as much media hub and high-tech TV viewing system as game console.
By the time Scalebound was cancelled this week, much of that ambition had been scrapped, PS4 had soared off into the sunset leaving Microsoft trailing in a very distant second place, and Xbox One has become instead one link in a longer chain, a single component of an Xbox and Xbox Live brand and platform that extends across the Windows 10 ecosystem and which will, later this year, also encompass a vastly upgraded console in the form of Scorpio.
It only stands to reason that the logic which led to the signing of a game before this upheaval would no longer apply in the present environment. While quality issues around Scalebound cannot be dismissed – if Microsoft felt that it had a truly great game on its hands, it would have proceeded with it regardless of any strategic calculation – the implications of Scalebound’s cancellation for the broader Xbox strategy are worthy of some thought. Actually, it’s not so much Scalebound itself – which is just one game, albeit a very high profile one – as the situation in which its cancellation leaves the Xbox in 2017, and the dramatic defocusing of exclusive software which the removal of Scalebound from the release list throws into sharp relief.
A quick glance down 2017’s release calendar suggests that there remain only two major Xbox One exclusive titles due to launch this year – Halo Wars 2 and Crackdown 3. The console remains well supported with cross-platform releases, of course, but in terms of reasons for a player to choose Xbox One over the more successful PS4, or indeed for an existing PS4 owner to invest in an Xbox One as a second console (a vital and often overlooked factor in growing the install base mid-cycle), things are very sparse. By contrast, the PS4 has a high profile exclusive coming out just about every few weeks – many of them from Sony’s first-party studios, but plenty of others coming from third parties. Platinum Games’ fans will note, no doubt, that Sony’s console will be getting a new title from the studio – NieR: Automata – only a few months after Scalebound’s cancellation.
The proliferation of multiplatform games means that Xbox One owners won’t be starved of software – this is no Wii U situation. Existing owners, and those who bought into the platform after the launch of the Xbox One S last year, will probably be quite happy with their system, but the fact remains that with the exception of the two titles mentioned above and a handful of indie games (some of which do look good), the Xbox One this year is going to get by on a subset of the PS4’s release schedule.
That’s not healthy for the future of the platform. The strong impression is that third parties have largely abandoned Xbox One as a platform worth launching exclusive games on, and unlike Sony during the PS3’s catch-up era, Microsoft’s own studios and publishing deals have not come forward to take up the slack in its console’s release schedule. This isn’t all down to Scalebound, of course; Scalebound is just the straw that breaks the camel’s back, making this situation impossible to ignore.
Why have things ended up this way? There are two possible answers, and the reality is probably a little from column A and a little from column B. The first answer is that Microsoft’s strategy for Xbox has changed in a way which makes high-profile (and high-cost) exclusive software less justifiable within the company. That’s especially true of high-profile games that won’t be on Windows 10 as well as Xbox One; one of the ways in which the Xbox division has secured its future within Microsoft in the wake of the company’s reorganisation under CEO Satya Nadella is by positioning itself as a key part of the Windows 10 ecosystem.
Pushing Xbox One exclusive software flies in the face of that strategic positioning; new titles Microsoft lines up for the future will be cross-platform between Windows and Xbox, and that changes publishing priorities. It’s also worth noting that the last attempt Microsoft made to plug the gap in its exclusive software line-up didn’t go down so well and hasn’t been repeated; paying for a 12-month exclusivity window for the sequel to the (multiplatform) Tomb Raider reboot just seems to have annoyed people and didn’t sell a notable number of Xbox Ones.
The second answer, unsurprisingly, revolves around Scorpio. It’s not unusual for a console to suffer a software drought before its successor appears on the market, so with Scorpio presumably being unveiled at E3 this year, the Xbox One release list could be expected to dry up. The wrinkle in this cloth is that Scorpio isn’t meant to be an Xbox One replacement. What little information Microsoft has provided about the console thus far has been careful to position it as an evolution of the Xbox One platform, not a new system. What that means in practice, though, hasn’t been explained or explored. Microsoft’s messaging on Scorpio is similar to the positioning of PS4 Pro – an evolutionary upgrade whose arrival made no difference to software release schedules – but at the same time suggests a vastly more powerful system, one whose capabilities will far outstrip those of Xbox One to an extent more reminiscent of a generational leap than an evolutionary upgrade.
The question is whether Microsoft’s anaemic slate of exclusive releases is down, in part, to a focus on getting big titles ready for Scorpio’s launch window. If so, it feels awfully like confirmation that Scorpio – though no doubt sharing Xbox One’s architecture and thus offering perfect backwards compatibility – is really a new console with new exclusive software to match. If it’s not the case, however, then along with clearing up the details of Scorpio, this year’s E3 will have to answer another big question for Microsoft; where is all your software?
2017 needs to just be a temporary dip in the company’s output, or all its efforts on Scorpio will be for naught. Seamus Blackley, Ed Fries, Kevin Bachus and the rest of the original Xbox launch team understood something crucial all the way back in the late nineties when they were preparing to enter Microsoft into the console business; software sells hardware. If you don’t have the games, nothing else matters. Whatever the reasons for 2017’s weak offering from Xbox, we must firmly hope that that lesson hasn’t been forgotten in the corridors of Redmond.
Finnish mobile games and animation developer Rovio Entertainment is intensifying its search for new hit games by opening a studio in London to focus on multiplayer games that would not rely on the company’s Angry Birds brand.
Privately-held Rovio has struggled in recent years as profits from the Angry Birds franchise dropped, prompting deep job cuts and divestments.
But last year Rovio launched an animated Angry Birds 3D Hollywood film that it said did well at the box office and yielded new licensing deals.
“MMO is a genre that is growing in mobile, but it is not fully saturated. We are not looking for a niche position but a very wide, inclusive game,” Wilhelm Taht, head of games, told Reuters.
The original Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs, was launched in 2009 and it remains the top paid mobile app of all time.
Rovio exploited the brand early on by licensing its use on a string of consumer products. But the company’s failure to bring out new hit games resulted in falling profit, prompting Rovio to cut more than 300 jobs in 2014 and 2015.
“In the long term, our new characters may generate intellectual property and even a brand,” Taht said.
Rovio has a series of smartphone games based on Angry Birds characters. In 2015 it published a puzzle game called Nibblers and it will soon put out Battle Bay, a real-time multiplayer game.
Rovio is not looking to launch a large number of games this year, Taht added.
“Perhaps there’s been some change in our thinking here,” he said. “The market is favorable for games that will live long and that are operated with a service mindset.”
Asked about Nintendo’s hit smartphone game Pokemon GO, Taht said the game truly put augmented reality (AR) on the gaming map.
“We will, of course, be following AR as a technology and a tool,” he said.
In the first half of 2016 Rovio booked a small operating profit, compared with a loss a year earlier, help by growth in game sales.
Rovio has around 200 employees spread between its four game studios in Finland and Sweden and about 400 in total.
According to the provided details, the new HDMI v2.1 specification will be backward compatible with earlier versions and in addition to higher video resolution and refresh rates, including 8K@60Hz and 4K@120Hz, it will also bring support for Dynamic HDR, Game Mode variable refresh rate (VRR), eARC support for advanced audio formats and the new 48G cable that will provide 48Gbps of bandwidth which is a key for 8K HDR support.
The full list of resolutions and refresh rates start with 4K at 50/60Hz and 100/120Hz and climbs all the way up to 10K resolution at both 50/60Hz and 100/120Hz.
The big surprise is the new Game Mode VRR, which is similar with AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync, and meant to provide stutter-, tearing- and lag-free gaming, on both consoles and the PC.
Another big novelty is the all new 48G cable, which will provide enough bandwidth for higher resolutions with HDR. The old cables will be compatible with some of the new features, but for 8K/10K with HDR, you will need the new HDMI v2.1 cable.
According to HDMI Forum, the new HDMI v2.1 specification will be available to all HDMI 2.0 Adopters which will be notified when it is released in early Q2 2017.
Games generated $91 billion worldwide in 2016, according to a report from beancounters at SuperData Research who have been adding up some numbers on Christmas Party napkins.
Most of the cash was made in the mobile game segment some $41 billion (up 18 percent), followed by $26 billion for retail games and $19 billion for free-to-play online games.
Beancountrs at SuperData said that the new categories such as virtual reality, esports, and gaming video content were small in size, but they are growing fast and holding promise for next year. Hardware firms like Sony and HTC to take the lead in 2017. Still,
VR grew to $2.7 billion in 2016. Gaming video reached $4.4 billion, up 34 percent.
Mobile gaming was driven by Pokémon Go and Clash Royale. The mobile games market has started to mature and now more closely resembles traditional games publishing, requiring ever higher production values and marketing spend. Monster Strike was the top mobile game, with $1.3 billion in revenue.
The esports market generated $892 million (up 19 percent) in revenue. A string of investments in pursuit of connecting to a new generation of media consumers has built the segment’s momentum, as major publishers like Activision, Riot Games, and EA are exploring new revenue streams for selling media rights, according to the report.
Consumers increasingly download games directly to their consoles, spending $6.6 billion on digital downloads in 2016 which has helped improve margins.
PC gaming continues to do well, earning $34 billion (up 6.7 percent) and driven largely by free-to-play online titles and downloadable games. League of Legends together with newcomers like Overwatch are driving the growth in PC games.
PC gamers also saw a big improvement with the release of a new generation of graphics cards.
With the exception of the last generation of consoles, which saw a roughly eight-year run on the market, the traditional console cycle has averaged around five to six years. This time around, however, perhaps influenced by the wave of high-end graphics cards necessitated by VR, both Microsoft and Sony are testing the market with so-called mid-cycle upgrades. The PS4 Pro and next year’s Scorpio offer gamers the chance to play in 4K – a resolution that until recently was only possible in the realm of PC gaming. Perhaps more importantly, the inclusion of HDR gaming offers a new level of visual fidelity that brings a much wider color gamut to players.
Factoring in the recent release of the Xbox One S, and the PS4 Slim model as well, we’ve never seen this many new consoles launched to the market so near to the start of a new console cycle – both PS4 and Xbox One released only three years ago – which begs the question: is the traditional console cycle now dead?
2016 and 2017 with Scorpio will certainly prove to be an interesting test for the market. It’s far too early to judge the reception to PS4 Pro, but Xbox One S has been selling moderately well, even allowing Xbox One to outsell PS4 for a few months.
NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, who joined the data firm with years of publishing experience at Activision and WBIE, commented, “I think I’d call it more ‘evolved’ than ‘died’… Nintendo seems to have already been there for years, at least in the portable space. We have to wait and see what they will do with the Switch. But the iterative model certainly will be tested over the next 12-18 months.”
“Nintendo’s past approach in the portable space has proven that the iterative model can be successful,” he continued. “However, the PS4 Pro and Scorpio (we assume) will bring much more significant performance upgrades at higher upfront costs to the consumer.
“Adding iterative hardware into a cycle also creates the need for a much more demanding set of go to market strategies while making successful execution of those strategies more critical than ever before. Balancing game development resources, the hardware R&D challenges surrounding an iterative launch, the detailed planning that will be necessary to properly align the supply chain from production to retail to ensure the proper mix and stock volumes in channel, ensuring the pricing and price promotion programs are right, all while communicating marketing messages that speak to the different customer sets effectively… this will certainly be an ongoing challenge.”
While some have speculated that we’ll now see new consoles literally every year, mimicking the lightspeed pace at which smartphones get upgraded, the market dynamics for consoles and the impact of new hardware on developers makes that a much more difficult proposition.
Consequently, Piscatella doesn’t think we’ll see more than one new console iteration per cycle. “I don’t see a more rapid deployment as feasible due primarily to development challenges. Making video games is hard, and ensuring a game is optimized for two versions of a console is challenging enough. Getting to 3 or 4 versions of the game for the same console base seems to me as though it would bring diminishing returns,” he explained.
SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen believes that the typical console cycle will remain intact, but unlike Piscatella, he sees the platform holders iterating continuously.
The constant technical upgrades that we see in mobile have effectively changed consumer expectations and the broader market for interactive entertainment, he noted. “So as Sony and Microsoft are pursuing their respective long-term VR/AR agendas, they now also have to keep in touch with what’s happening outside of their secret labs. This means we’re probably looking at the release of a new hardware architecture every 5-7 years, and allowing for annual iterations of key components throughout the lifecycle,” he said.
“This blend of internally developing proprietary hardware and adopting externally emerging trends that are popular with consumers is a powerful mix, and has allowed console gaming to thrive when many wrote it off. And given the current success of both platforms, and the imminent arrival of Nintendo’s bid, I don’t expect the console gaming market to soften any time soon.”
While the longstanding five-plus year console cycle was a boon for developers to work with and optimize for a set specification, the iterative approach that we’re likely to see in hardware moving forward brings advantages as well. As Piscatella explained, introducing console iterations can help to reduce cycle stagnation and boost consoles’ cycle tail, while also “encouraging pubs/devs to invest in scalable development environments, to hopefully avoid the dramatic steps up in development costs seen previously with new hardware deployment.”
Furthermore, by offering multiple configurations that still adhere to the same architecture (Xbox One, One S, Scorpio), there’s an opportunity for “price/benefit ratios appealing to both enthusiast and mass market audiences. Marketing approaches no longer have to take a one-size-fits-all approach,” Piscatella said.
The iterative release schedule would appear to make sense for the console manufacturers, enabling them to maximize returns and keep average pricing elevated, and so long as the ecosystem and gaming experiences are kept consistent across the numerous variations of the consoles, Sony and Microsoft don’t really care which version of their hardware a player owns – so long as that player remains invested in Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, that’s a win for Microsoft or Sony. The platform is less important than the digital ecosystem nowadays, especially with digital sales rising rapidly.
“The console market is at its heart a consumer electronics market,” van Dreunen remarked. “But increasingly it is incorporating tactics from the fashion industry, where we see an accelerated adoption of trends that emerged outside of the ateliers and studios of salaried designers. Console manufacturers have been actively pursuing digital distribution and free-to-play, both of which first gained traction on PC and mobile. Full game downloads now represent about 27% of holiday sales, up from just 5% in 2012, adding just under $7 billion a year to the console market. Titles like FIFA, GTA Online, and Call of Duty, do really well in terms of digital sales, and have managed to improve margins and player base longevity. Further facilitating this trend will be as important as making the hardware better.”
With the digital ecosystem taking precedence, it’s no surprise that Sony has made PlayStation Now streaming titles work for Windows PCs, and with the remote play feature, customers can enjoy PS4 titles on a PC or Mac as well. Microsoft, of course, which has a deep investment in the PC space with Windows 10 has extended the Xbox ecosystem across devices with Xbox Play Anywhere, enabling certain titles to be played with progress intact on a PC or Xbox console.
Whether you’re playing on Windows 10 or Xbox One doesn’t matter to Xbox boss Phil Spencer. In fact, he’s not even concerned about whether you upgrade to Scorpio next year.
“For us in the console [industry], the business is not selling the console,” Spencer told me back at E3. “The business is more of an attached business to the console install base. So if you’re an Xbox One customer and you bought that console 3 years ago, I think you’re a great customer. You’re still using the device. That’s why we focus on monthly active users. That’s actually the health of our ecosystem because it’s really you want this large install base of people that are active in your network buying games, playing games… So our model’s not really built around selling you a new console every one or two years. The model is almost the exact opposite. If I can keep you with the console you have, keep you engaged in buying and playing games, that’s a good business.”
If frequent hardware iteration is indeed the new reality for the console market, publishers couldn’t be happier. “I actually see it…as an incredibly positive evolution of the business strategy for players and for our industry and definitely for EA. The idea that we would potentially not have an end of cycle and a beginning of cycle I think is a positive place for our industry to be and for all of the commercial partners as well as players,” EA global publishing chief Laura Miele said during the company’s EA Play conference.
Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick agreed, “It would be a very good thing for us,” not to have to worry about hardware and who owns which console. He likened it to TV. “When you make a television show you don’t ask yourself ‘what monitor is this going to play on?’ It could play on a 1964 color television or it could play on a brand-new 4K television, but you’re still going to make a good television show.”
“We will get to the point where the hardware becomes a backdrop,” he said. That may very well be true. At the point when high fidelity games are playable literally anywhere and on any device, will we even have consoles? Much like Netflix, the networks and content providers/curators will live on, but hardware may not matter.
And as happy as publishers appear to be about the new world of console iteration, NPD’s Piscatella did point to a possible cause for concern. “Here’s the real question. If consumers are purchasing multiple iterations of the same console over the course of a generation, does this potentially increase or decrease the amount of money that consumer will spend on software and associated content?” he asked.
“And I think this is an open question… will they spend more because they’ve reinvested in the ecosystems? Or will they spend less because they’ve just output more money on to the iterative hardware? We’ll see how the market answers that question over the next 12-18 months.”
The company famous for making “independently-minded” drivers has just got its licence to put its tech behind the wheel of a fast-moving car.
Nvidia has just got permission from the California DMV to test its own self-driving car technology on public roads.
Nvidia, which was named after a Roman vengeance daemon, had its permit granted late last week. Its car has already been spotted in the Bay Area last weekend. Hopefully its “game ready” driver has not crashed yet.
The company has been eager to enter the market. The last few years it has been heavily involved in artificial intelligence, and now it’s putting that tech to use in designing processors for self-driving cars, and even partnering with China’s Baidu to develop an AI platform for autonomous vehicles.
Nvidia’s Drive PX2 system, which is an AI brain to power self-driving cars, was first unveiled at CES in January this year. The Drive PX2 was used in the vehicles competing in the Roborace Championship, one of the world’s first self-driving race events where it did quite well.
I was prepared to write all about virtual reality once again, despite the fact that my colleague Brendan Sinclair did a fine job of it last week, but then I woke up today to see Nintendo’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and it got me thinking about the company’s future.
Before I dive into it, the one thing I’ll say on VR is that I’m encouraged by moves that bring about unity. With the Global Virtual Reality Association pushing for solidarity and open standards, and the discovery this week following the launch of Oculus Touch that Rift with Touch can support most SteamVR titles, developers should find it easier to target the combined (albeit still limited) installed bases of the PC VR platforms. Game makers in the VR ecosystem need all the help they can get.
Onto Nintendo, the company is quite possibly on the cusp of a major comeback after a miserable few years with its worst performing console in history, the Wii U. Watching as an excited audience witnessed Shigeru Miyamoto play the Mario theme along with The Roots, followed by Reggie Fils-Aime demoing both Super Mario Run on iPhone and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Switch reminded me that there’s still quite a lot of goodwill for Nintendo and its highly valuable IP. Now it’s up to the company to actually capitalize on that excitement. The rise of Pokemon Go, which helped jumpstart Pokemon Sun and Moon to become Nintendo’s fastest-selling titles ever in Europe and the Americas is just the start.
The NES Mini microconsole has been continually selling out at retail, feeding into nostalgia for NES classics while people eagerly await the launch of the first ever Mario game for smartphones, Super Mario Run. The game, which quickly saw 20 million people sign up to be notified about its release, will be a fascinating test for the mobile market given its $9.99 price point and for Nintendo, which hopes that both lapsed gamers and new players will come to appreciate the Italian plumber and seek out deeper and even more engaging experiences — on the Switch of course.
“Super Mario Run is going to introduce millions of more people to the fun of Mario, and it’ll become the entry point for them,” Miyamoto told The Verge. “And then the question becomes, once you’ve gone through that entry point, then what comes next? Is it a more traditional Mario experience? Is it something like the Mario Galaxy games? We’ll then have to look at what it is these new fans want from a Mario game, and we’ll continue to see Mario evolve in that way.”
Miyamoto and Nintendo may be a bit too optimistic to think that everyone who picks up Super Mario Run will want to run out and spend several hundred dollars more on a dedicated gaming platform plus software, but I’m convinced that a certain portion of the Super Mario Run audience will do just that. Another, possibly much larger, portion of that audience, however, could very well decide that Super Mario Run is fantastic and they’d simply like more experiences like that from Nintendo on smartphones. Either way, that’s great news because it means Nintendo has vastly expanded its audience.
“Frankly, I think the future is once again starting to look quite bright for Nintendo. The next critical step for the company is to absolutely get its marketing message right as it moves forward”
In a sense, the Switch will become the “niche” product for the hardcore Nintendo fan, while mobile will ultimately become where Nintendo reaches the majority of players. If the lion’s share of revenues for Nintendo begin to come from mobile, it’ll pose a very interesting question about the future of hardware like Switch, but as long as people crave in-depth games like Breath of the Wild, Nintendo will find a way to make them, regardless of platform.
Frankly, I think the future is once again starting to look quite bright for Nintendo. The next critical step for the company is to absolutely get its marketing message right as it moves forward. All the love and excitement Nintendo engendered with the Wii was squandered with the Wii U, but now the company has a legitimate chance to see a real domino effect take place, with each piece pushing the next forward – Pokemon to Super Mario Run to Switch and Zelda, etc, etc.
What needs to happen from now through next March when the Switch launches is an all-out assault on the media; mainstream news, talk shows, social networks, and more. What Nintendo achieved with Jimmy Fallon this week was pure marketing brilliance, and it’s that sort of approach that catapulted the original Wii to stratospheric heights in 2006. The Wii didn’t succeed because IGN or GameSpot thought it was cool; it took off because everyone from The Wall Street Journal to the New York Times to Bloomberg wrote glowing things about it. Nintendo’s appearance on Fallon could perhaps be the start of a new media blitz; it needs to be if Nintendo wants to reclaim its place atop the industry.
We’ll see how the next domino piece tilts in one week when Super Mario Run launches. “This is definitely a defining moment for Nintendo,” Yoshio Osaki, president of IDG Consulting Inc, told The Wall Street Journal. “If Mario can’t get the job done, I don’t know what other character could.”
Dean Hall, CEO of RocketWerkz and previously lead designer of DayZ, has spoken openly on Reddit about the harsh financial realities of VR development, explaining that without the subsidies provided by platform exclusives and other mechanisms, the medium would currently be largely unviable.
In an extended post which has garnered over 200 comments, Hall proclaimed that there was simply “no money” in VR game development, explaining that even though his VR title Out of Ammo had sold better than expected, it remained unprofitable.
Hall believes that many consumer expectations from the mature and well-supported PC market have carried over to VR, with customers not fully comprehending the challenges involved with producing content for such a small install base.
“From our standpoint, Out of Ammo has exceeded our sales predictions and achieved our internal objectives,” Hall explained. “However, it has been very unprofitable. It is extremely unlikely that it will ever be profitable. We are comfortable with this, and approached it as such. We expected to lose money and we had the funding internally to handle this. Consider then that Out of Ammo has sold unusually well compared to many other VR games.”
Pointing out that making cross-platform VR to ameliorate that small install base is not as simple as cross platform console development, Hall went on to talk about the realities of funding VR games, and what that meant for the studios involved.
“Where do you get money to develop your games? How do you keep paying people? The only people who might be profitable will be microteams of one or two people with very popular games. The traditional approach has been to partner with platform developers for several reasons:
“The most common examples of this are the consoles. At launch, they actually have very few customers and the initial games release for them, if not bundled and/or with (timed or otherwise) exclusivity deals – the console would not have the games it does. Developers have relied on this funding in order to make games.
“How are the people who are against timed exclusives proposing that development studios pay for the development of the games?
“There is no money in it. I don’t mean ‘money to go buy a Ferrari’. I mean ‘money to make payroll’. People talk about developers who have taken Oculus/Facebook/Intel money like they’ve sold out and gone off to buy an island somewhere. The reality is these developers made these deals because it is the only way their games could come out.
“Here is an example. We considered doing some timed exclusivity for Out of Ammo, because it was uneconomical to continue development. We decided not to because the money available would just help cover costs. The amount of money was not going to make anyone wealthy. Frankly, I applaud Oculus for fronting up and giving real money out with really very little expectations in return other than some timed-exclusivity. Without this subsidization there is no way a studio can break even, let alone make a profit.
“Some will point to GabeN’s email about fronting costs for developers, however I’ve yet to know anyone who’s got that, has been told about it, or knows how to apply for this. It also means you need to get to a point you can access this. Additionally, HTC’s “accelerator” requires you to set up your studio in specific places – and these specific places are incredibly expensive areas to live and run a studio. I think Valve/HTC’s no subsidy/exclusive approach is good for the consumer in the short term – but terrible for studios.
“As I result I think we will see more and more microprojects, and then more and more criticism that there are not more games with more content.”
In addition to the financial burdens, Hall says that there are other pressures too. For example, in his experience VR development burns people out very quickly indeed, with the enthusiasm of most, including himself, waning after a single project.
“I laugh now when people say or tweet me things like ‘I can’t wait to see what your next VR game will be!’ Honestly, I don’t think I want to make any more VR games. Our staff who work on VR games all want to rotate off after their work is done. Privately, developers have been talking about this but nobody seems to feel comfortable talking about it publicly – which I think will ultimately be bad.”
“For us it became clear that the rise of VR would be gradual rather than explosive when in 2015, it was revealed that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive would be released in 2016 and that the gold rush would be on hold”
Sam Watts, Make Real
It’s not a universal opinion among VR developers, however: there was opposition to Hall’s points both within and beyond the thread. Sam Watts, Operations Lead at Make Real had the following to say.
“I think the reality of that thread is a direct result of a perceived gold rush by developers of all sizes to a degree, since analyst predictions around sales volumes of units were far higher than the reality towards the end of the year. There have been waves of gold rush perceptions with VR over the past few years, mostly around each release of new hardware expecting the next boom to take the technology into the mainstream, which has mostly failed to materialise.
“For us it became clear that the rise of VR would be gradual rather than explosive when in 2015, it was revealed that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive would be released in 2016 and that the gold rush would be on hold.”
Watts also sees a healthier VR ecosystem on the way, one where big publishers might be more willing to invest in the sort of budgets which console games are used to.
“Whilst typical AAA budgets aren’t yet being spent on VR (to our knowledge) it doesn’t mean AAA isn’t dipping their toe in the water. The main leader being Ubisoft who created a small VR R&D team that eventually became the Eagle Flight devs. They have avoided what many early VR developers were worried about AAA approach to VR by prototyping, iterating on design, making mistakes, learning from them and working out what does and doesn’t work in VR, even creating a now widely popular comfort option of the reduced peripheral vision black tunnel effect. They didn’t just storm in late to the party, throwing AAA megabucks around at the problem, assuming money would make great games.
“I know Oculus, Steam, Sony and Razer are still funding games titles for development in 2017, I would hope to see this continue beyond to ensure the continued steady adoption and rise of VR as a new gaming platform moving forwards. This will help continue to improve the quality of content offering on the platforms to ensure full gaming experiences that gamers want to buy and return to, rather than just a series of short tech demos, are available, helping establish the medium and widen the net.”
Nintendo is offering cash rewards for hackers that can expose security weaknesses in its 3DS family of consoles.
Upwards of $20,000 will be made available to successful hackers who can help address the weaknesses in Nintendo’s portable machine. The offer does not extend to Wii U.
It’s part of a program the firm is working on with HackerOne.
The offer is Nintendo’s renewed efforts to reduce piracy (including game application dumping and game copying execution), cheating (which includes game modification and save data modification) and the spreading of inappropriate content to children.
It suggests that Nintendo is true to its statement that it wants to maintain its 3DS business, even after the launch of its Switch console in March. Switch, which doubles as both a home and portable console, is seen as the natural successor to the 3DS, although Nintendo has stated it will continue to release games for the hardware. Over 60m 3DS consoles have been sold worldwide since the machine launched in 2011.
The ‘reward’ for finding vulnerabilities in the 3DS hardware will range from $100 to $20,000, and the amount will be at Nintendo’s discretion. Vulnerabilities that are already known will not be counted. The level of the reward will depend on the importance of information, quality of report and the severity of the vulnerability. Nintendo is looking for reports that include a proof of concept or functional exploit of code.
Turner Broadcasting System Inc will develop additional video content for mobile app Snapchat and team up with the social media company on advertising, Turner announced, as they expand a partnership to broaden their reach among millennials.
TV networks of the Time Warner Inc unit, including TBS and Adult Swim, will create original series exclusively for the unit of Snap, Inc, the broadcaster said in a statement.
The companies also renewed their March agreement for Snapchat to create Live Stories, collections of user-submitted photos and videos centered around a specific event, with sports shows from Turner. The shows include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAAA) Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Championship.
Turner will lead sales efforts for Live Stories and shows, while Snapchat will take the lead for sponsorships on the Discovery channels.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Turner formed the partnership with Snap in 2015, and forged links with other digital media companies, to court younger viewers who prefer mobile gadgets to television. Turner said its networks reach more than 75 percent of millennials each month, the same audience that Snapchat targets.
The partnership began with the launch of Snapchat’s Discover feature which allows companies to offer and manage their own content. The original channels included Turner’s CNN and Bleacher Report, a San Francisco-based sports news website.
Bleacher Report, which had been available worldwide except in the United States, France and Australia, will launch a U.S. Discovery channel on Jan. 4. CNN will increase its content on Discovery.
Snap has partnered with multiple traditional U.S. media companies, including Viacom Inc and Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, as it prepares to go public early next year.
This year Turner has also invested in digital media companies Mashable and Refinery29, and launched a digital video startup within CNN called Great Big Story.
The upcoming titles will free up some of Sony’s popular gaming franchises, such as Everybody’s Golf, from PlayStation consoles to make them available on Apple Inc’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile platforms.
An aggressive push into the rapidly growing segment is seen as a necessity for Sony as its games unit has emerged as the group’s largest profit contributor following an overhaul of the group’s consumer electronics business.
They will be available initially in Japan and eventually in other Asian countries, Tomoki Kawaguchi, executive director of Sony’s mobile gaming unit, told reporters.
The announcement comes before Nintendo debuts its game franchise Super Mario Bros on Apple’s iPhone next week.
While disappointing sales of Wii U consoles helped push Nintendo into mobile gaming, Sony has been a decisive winner in console gaming with over 40 million PlayStation 4 sales, almost double the sales of Microsoft Corp’s XBox One.
But Sony is facing the increasing threat from mobile in countries such as Japan, the world’s third largest game market where mobile gaming accounts for more than half of the $12.4 billion market, according to games research firm Newzoo.
Sony has launched some games for smartphones through its music entertainment unit but failed to fully introduce mobile gaming to its PlayStation business.
Analysts doubt Sony’s chances of major success in mobile gaming, citing a lack of powerful characters like Nintendo’s Super Mario and Donkey Kong, which have achieved widespread appeal globally.