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Are Rising Game Development Cost Hurting Some Studios

October 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Making games is expensive. Let me rephrase that: making games is really, really expensive.

Obviously, that’s no secret, but the numbers involved are even surprising to those of us who follow the industry every day. Last month, Kotaku reported many studios budget around $10,000 per person per month to cover salaries plus overhead. Considering that many of the more polished games on the market can take years to create, budgets can spiral out of control very easily and this has a impact on the entire ecosystem.

Moreover, that $10,000 figure is actually lower than many studios spend, industry veterans Brian Fargo (inXile Entertainment) and Jeff Pobst (Hidden Path Entertainment) tell me.

“I used $10,000 per man-month [for budgets] when I was a producer for Sierra online in 2000,” Pobst notes.

Fargo concurs: “I would say [$10,000 is] on the low side. I think Tim Schafer pointed out a couple of years ago that this is why these things cost so much to make. There’s a big difference between small developers cutting their teeth that have no overhead versus a team of people who’ve been in the business for two decades. They have families and expect medical insurance, and so it’s not going to be something that costs less than $10,000 on average for my people.

“That’s on the low end by maybe 20% or 30%. I don’t think we’re seeing double that, but certainly it’s the trajectory we’re all going towards. I think that’s a fair number. It’s always been a funny disparity. We talk about making a game with a budget of, say, $10 million and the smaller developers tend to look at it and go, ‘How do they waste so much money?’ And then the triple-A guys say, ‘How do they do it for so cheap?’

“That seems to be the perpetual argument on these budgets when you want to do something that is ambitious, and that’s ultimately what we get rewarded for. Any title that comes out that is ambitious in some way is more likely to be rewarded than one that isn’t.”

Ambition is a wonderful thing, and most developers have ambitious visions for their games, but then they meet the reality of what ambition costs. The double-A space is now having to invest more than is reasonable for small or mid-sized studios.

“The industry continues to get more binary between the haves and have nots,” Fargo continues. “When I see something like salaries going to as high as $20,000 per man-month in San Francisco, that really only affects the smaller to mid-size companies. The big companies – take Blizzard, for example – they can drop $70 million on a project, kill it and then start all over again. Rockstar can spend five years on a game.

“The extra salaries really don’t affect them, in my opinion, as much as it does the smaller to the mid-size companies. So yeah, it definitely puts pressure on us.

“Also, what I’m seeing recently is that there was the single-A and double-A indie space that was sort of ripe for opportunity for a while – us included, and we’ve been doing well – but that’s getting more competitive. And the budgets of the double-A products are starting to approach triple-A budgets of 10 years ago.”

Citing Ninja Theory’s Hellblade and Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin 2 as recent examples, Fargo laments that expectations for games coming out of the double-A space are rising too rapidly.

“All of a sudden double-A developers are spending in excess of $10 million,” he says. “And it’s only a matter of time before this rises to $20 million. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some at those values already. So now what you’ve got is the triple-A people who are unaffected by the salaries and they’re going to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars between production and marketing, and then you’ve got the double-A companies now starting to spend significant money. What that’s going to do is to create an expectation from a user’s perspective of what the visuals should look like.

“It creates a harder dynamic for even the smaller companies, because some product is at $39 or $44.95 that doesn’t have a multi-million dollar marketing budget. It’s still going to have production values that are incredible, and so what will people expect out of a smaller developer? That’s the cascading effect of all these different things, and of course you layer on top of that the discoverability issue we’ve all got with an un-curated platform and it makes it very tricky.”

While the major publishers like Activision or EA still manage to reap massive profits, other studios are certainly not getting wealthy by making games. California, where so much of the industry is based, makes the cost equation even more difficult.

“Consumers don’t fully understand how truly expensive it is to put out a AAA game now,” says Turtle Rock GM Steve Goldstein. “If you start looking at what it costs for someone to be employed in southern California, working in the knowledge industry, it’s a lot. And the most frustrating thing actually, and it’s something I complain about at the studio all the time, is that we got people here that are working their butts off, who do well, but still can’t afford to buy a house in southern California. It’s ridiculous. The cost of doing business in tech is so high, especially in California, [that] unless you are the biggest of the biggest, there’s a real risk of being able to continue in this medium.

“For us to make a new IP that’s AAA and that’s a boxed product just doesn’t make sense. Because the publisher’s going to have to spend $50 to $100 million, which, as your math just points out, isn’t making anybody rich over in development. They’re going to make that investment… They’ll release [that IP] during the holiday season so they can get that additional sales push, but it’s going to be coming out amidst a ton of other titles and established franchises, so you have to try to get above the noise level just to get the IP known – it just doesn’t pencil out.”

When you combine the continued escalation of costs with the challenge of getting above the noise upon release, it can feel like a Sisyphean task for a small or mid-sized games studio.

Fargo offers, “It feels like the budgets for the double-A products have doubled to tripled just in the last five years. Back in 2012 when Broken Age and Pillars [of Eternity] came out, I know what our budgets were then [for Wasteland 2] and I know what the budgets are going to now. I have a sense of what Larian and Obsidian are spending, and I know these numbers have gone up significantly.

“Curation has always been a hot topic. One might argue there’s a greater risk of a game being lost in a sea of products, than that of a great game not making it through the quality bar to be in the store. The stats of more and more and more games hitting Steam have not been favorable for any of us… You’ve got kind of a one, two, three-punch against the smaller publishers/developers.”

The shift to digital storefronts and the rise in the sheer number of titles flooding those digital shelves is not ideal, Pobst agrees, and it’s making life hard for the really small indies out there.

“For a period of time… we could sell games that were not $60 top price games, and we could make good money… and we could get the opportunity to make more games,” he says. “That opportunity is being challenged because there is such a large number of games at low prices in the marketplace. That takes the market, which gives lots of people choice and is really good for gamers in the one sense, and it splits the amount of money against a large number of people.

“I know a large number of individual indies who are closing up shop because they aren’t now even making enough money to pay for their own well-being. And that used to be a pretty sure thing. If you had a three-person shop or a four-person shop, you could sell enough to actually make a living. Now that’s becoming challenging with so many games available for purchase.”

One way to alleviate the sting of rising costs has been to use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, and while that has been a boon for the mid-size studios like Double Fine or inXile, in some ways the crowdfunding phenomenon has been a double-edged sword when it comes to setting expectations on budgets, says Pobst.

“If there’s a financial pressure, it’s really hard for people to get together and actually make great entertainment. So this is hard; this is really hard. And the only reason I think that there is a surprise is in part because of the Kickstarter phenomenon, where people were looking to raise the last $500,000 of a $2 million game, and people thought the game was made for $500,000… Games are really expensive to make, especially the kind that the consumer really desires.

“What we saw with the crowdfunding experience, that we went through ourselves as well as many others, is that the average experience where you get a certain amount of money or you just make your minimum, becomes an expectation of what it takes to actually create product, and that’s pretty much not true. You’re typically investing some of your own money or another investor’s money into the product and, often, people are using crowdfunding to complement that so that they can have enough to make the whole thing.”

The $10,000 man-month figure, while scary, is not necessarily universally applicable. Location of your studio and cost of living certainly is a factor in how much employees get paid, and smaller indies aren’t going to have the same overhead as double-A teams filled with veterans. Beyond that, there are different approaches to what kind of team to build.

Pobst explains: “If you visit a development studio there are going to be several different models. The model we [use] at Hidden Path, and I’ve heard places like Crystal Dynamics, is to try and favor a smaller staff with more highly compensated people… The philosophy is that, if you have people who know each other really well and work together really well, their output is going to exceed what the other model [yields].

“The other model is a few highly experienced people that you compensate very highly because they’re your leadership, and then [you hire] a larger number of younger and more inexpensive people. You tend to have more of those people to do the same amount of work, and there’s a lot more management overhead. That can work, and there are many companies that use that model. In fact, if you start looking at successful titles, you’re going to find examples of both. There is no one right model.”

While the cost per head may not compare perfectly on a project-to-project or company-to-company basis, the budgets for games continue to go up no matter what. What can the mid-size studios do to compensate for this worrying fact?

“It depends on the genre you’re in, but the scope and scale of the thing is what you really need to keep an eye on,” Fargo advises. “The visual and audio expectations are rising as the budgets for the double-A games has risen… I would tell developers to keep a really close eye on the scope of the product; better to have something that’s very small and tight and polished than something that’s overly large… and hits a lot of different things but don’t quite visually hold up to the others.”

The other issue to contend with is how games are transforming to games-as-a-service, which could be a positive in terms of generating more revenue or a negative because of the need to support staff year-round.

“As I look out towards the future, we are most definitely looking to incorporate aspects of that business model,” Fargo notes. “The plus sides of it, of course, is that there’s no piracy, and you’re able to do better business in some territories where piracy is extremely high. But also it allows you to build a community and have a live-ops team and do [fewer] products, but keep people on it everyday and make it better – doing tournaments and all of those things… It’s a very compelling thing to have [but] it does put pressure on a single-player experience game.”

Turtle Rock’s Goldstein sees the games-as-a-service model going one step further, effectively becoming Netflix-like subscriptions to access content; something big publishers like Ubisoft and EA have predicted is on the horizon. Subscription revenue could be a way to help mitigate rising costs.

“I can absolutely see something like that happening down the line,” he says. “Netflix is now playing with budgets that are approaching blockbuster films, so I could see those numbers working for each of the publishers, where they have their users paying a subscription and they release a certain number of really high-end titles as well as a bunch of indie titles… I could see that in five years.”

Rising costs have been putting the squeeze on mid-sized studios, but that’s not to say triple-A developers and publishers are immune. As Pobst points out, “There used to be a lot more publishers than there are now.” As the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and smaller companies have a chance to succeed by being more nimble.

“Adapting is part of the game industry,” Pobst continues. “You try and find the areas to adapt to that match your skill set. If you’re a great narrative designer and your team makes great narrative games, you probably don’t go into mobile and focus on free-to-play monetization. It’s not really playing to your strengths.”

Being nimble allows a studio to try new things. VR is the perfect example of that. Both Hidden Path and Turtle Rock are taking a chance on the emerging medium in the hope that it does become a growth market, and their respective experience should set them up well for the future if VR truly goes mainstream.

And if a studio manages to create a hit, suddenly you have a built-in audience that’s more likely to purchase your next title, based on studio reputation alone.

“You’ve got to give Bungie credit for creating Halo after several other games before that, and then creating Destiny after Halo – that’s a big challenge to do,” Pobst says. “And then the folks as Blizzard, they’ve created multiple different hits, which is fairly rare in our industry. If you can build trust with an audience and they can really buy into the anticipation of whatever you’re going to do, your ability to spend more to get it right is there.

“Once you do cross over that threshold, Bungie or Blizzard, their budgets are going to be much, much larger than anything you or I have talked about. Their per head rate or the amount of money they’ll put into a game is much, much higher for two reasons: one, they know that if they deliver something quality, people will buy it because of the reputation they have. And two, by spending more money, they are putting a greater distance between them and the next competitor. And that greater distance will pay off in the long run.”

If a studio does manage to cross that threshold, a huge advantage is unlocked. Suddenly, you’re not worried as much about the money to achieve your creative vision, Pobst says.

“If I’m really focused on the dollars…then I’m not actually focused on the best entertainment I can possibly create. If you know that the audience is going to come in a disproportionate way to what you spend, spending stops becoming the problem. A lot of these [bigger] studios are really focused on: ‘How do I execute the best? How do I have my team work well? How do I know exactly which features to invest in and which features not to invest in?’ You get to a whole set of problems that are far beyond the money problems.”

Some have made comparisons to Hollywood and the drastic divide between indie film labels and behemoth studios like Universal, but for all the talk of haves and have nots, Fargo concedes that game creators have a chance at success for lower investments – for now, at least.

“You look at PUBG, that would be considered a smaller Hollywood film and it sells 15 million copies, but that’s more profitable than most of the Hollywood blockbusters,” he says. “I don’t know that there’s a parallel in the film business where people on a semi-regular basis are spending under $10 million on a movie yet it’s producing blockbuster Hollywood profits. The games business does continue to do that – Rocket League, for example.

“There’s enough cases where these smaller titles have just nailed it, but the effect of that is their next ones are going to see a huge difference in budget.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Facebook’s Oculus Turns Focus Towards Enterprise VR

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Oculus is looking to entice corporate users into getting on board the VR train with the launch of a business-focused product bundle.

The Facebook-owned company sees a variety of uses for its headsets, from enterprise collaboration to employee training, in a range of industries. Putting VR technology in the hands of more businesses is a crucial step to growing the market, and Oculus wants to make the process easier with Oculus for Business.

The $900 package contains an Oculus Rift headset, Touch controllers, remote, three sensors and three Rift Fits headset foam pads. Business customers will also receive dedicated customer support and extended licenses and warranties.

“Businesses of all types can use Rift to boost productivity, accelerate training, and present the otherwise impossible to their employees and customers ­– across industries like tourism, education, medical, construction, manufacturing, automotive, and retail,” the company said in a blog post.

Oculus’ launch follows a similar move from rival VR hardware vendor HTC Vive last year.  HTC’s Vive Business Edition contains a range of Vive products, along with dedicated support and 12 month warranty. That package costs $1,200.

Oculus’ own announcement shows how the firm has lagged behind HTC in the commercial market, as well as with consumers, said Moor Insights and Strategy analyst Anshel Sag.

“This move seems like the beginning of Oculus’ recognition that they need to formally address the business market, otherwise the enterprise doesn’t believe they’ll get the support they need,” he said.

The backing of Oculus and Facebook will help further the case for VR at work in terms of growing the market, said Sag. However, support for business users is still emerging.

“I do believe that if Oculus wants to serve this market appropriately, they are going to have to also offer services that address enterprise needs and not just sell them a ‘business kit,’” he said.

Oculus for Business is aimed at a variety of use cases. Audi is using Oculus to create virtual showrooms for its cars that let prospective customers try out thousands of custom configurations before making an order. There is also potential around employee training, with DHL showing staff safety procedures when lifting heavy objects.

Workplace collaboration is another emerging use.

Oculus has partnered with Cisco for trials of a VR version of Spark, its collaboration platform that  supports messaging, voice calls and video conversations. Spark in VR allows remote workers to meet and communicate in virtual environments using avatars, allowing them to brainstorm on virtual whiteboards and interact with files. There are also integrations with Cisco’s  digital whiteboard, Spark Board.

This is likely just the beginning for VR as a collaboration tool.

 

Nintendo Stock Hits A High Road

October 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo shares have hit a ten-year high following the announcement that Switch production is being increased to two million units per month.

As reported by Digitimes, the Switch is upping production from a previous undisclosed number, estimated to be between 800,000 and one million.

Nintendo shares are now trading at their highest value since March 2008 after rising 2.66% in Tokyo on Friday, gaining a total 77% since the beginning of 2017.

The Switch, which was already Nintendo’s fastest selling console, is expected to sell 20 million units by the end of the year, a source told Digitimes, far exceeding the 13 million predicted earlier this year.

The news comes amid speculation that the Switch could soon be released in China following the announcement that the smash-hit mobile game Honour of Kings was coming to western markets via the Switch.

Honour of Kings reportedly accounts for around 50% of publisher Tencent’s mobile revenue and has over 200 million users in the region. By managing to strike a deal with Tencent, Nintendo could be well positioned to release in China, and the portable format of the Switch plays into the handheld dominated market where the Xbox One and Playstation 4 enjoy little success initially.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does Virtual Reality Devices Have A Future

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Analyst at IDC have been shuffling their tarot decks and reached the conclusion that AR and VR are going to continue to grow like crazy – despite the fact that other analysts are not so sure.

IDC is forecasting the combined augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headset market to reach 13.7 million units in 2017, growing to 81.2 million units by 2021 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56.1 percent. VR headsets will account for more than 90 percent of the market until 2019 while AR will account for the rest. In the final two years of forecast, IDC expects AR headsets to experience exponential growth as they capture a quarter of the market by the end of the forecast.

Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers said that AR headset shipments today are a fraction of where IDC expects them to be in the next five years, both in terms of volume and functionality. “AR headsets are also on track to account for over US$30 billion in revenues by 2021, almost double that of VR, as most of the AR headsets will carry much higher average selling prices with earlier adopters being the commercial segment. Meanwhile, most consumers will experience AR on mobile devices, although it’s only a matter of time before Apple’s ARKit- and Google’s ARCore-enabled apps make their way into the market.

“AR headsets are also on track to account for over US$30 billion in revenues by 2021, almost double that of VR, as most of the AR headsets will carry much higher average selling prices with earlier adopters being the commercial segment. Meanwhile, most consumers will experience AR on mobile devices, although it’s only a matter of time before Apple’s ARKit- and Google’s ARCore-enabled apps make their way into consumer grade headsets.”

While AR headsets are poised for long-term growth along with a profound impact on the way businesses and consumers compute, VR headsets will drive a near-term shift in computing. Recent price reductions across all the major platforms, plus new entrants appearing in the next month, should drive growth in the second half of 2017 and will help to offset a slow start to the year. Screenless viewers such as the Gear VR will continue to maintain a majority share throughout the forecast, although the category’s share will continue to decline as lower-priced tethered head-mounted displays (HMDs) gain share over the course of the next two years. Meanwhile, IDC is predicting that standalone HMDs will gain share in the outer years of the forecast.

Tom Mainelli, vice president, Devices and AR/VR at IDC said: “Virtual reality has suffered from some unrealistic growth expectations in 2017, but overall the market is still growing at a reasonable rate and new products from Microsoft and its partners should help drive additional interest in the final quarter of this year. As we head into 2018 we’ll see additional new products appearing, including standalone headsets from major players, and we expect to see a growing number of companies embracing the technology to enable new business processes and training opportunities.”

Courtesy-Fud

Will Atari’s New AtariBox Console Succeed

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-TheInq

Angry Birds Maker Rovio Looks At Acquiring Rivals

October 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Rovio, the owner of hit mobile game “Angry Birds,” will look to acquire other players in the gaming industry following its listing on Friday, its main owner Kaj Hed said.

The Finnish company’s shares got off to a flying start on their stock market debut, trading up as much as 7 percent from their initial public offering price (IPO) of 11.50 euros.

Hed, who cut his stake from 69 percent to 37 percent in the IPO, said Rovio now had more muscle to do deals in a gaming sector he believes is ripe for consolidation.

“We have a clear will to be a consolidator, and we are in a very good position to do that,” he told Reuters at Rovio’s headquarters by the Baltic Sea.

“Many good (gaming industry) players face the question of whether they should go public, or whether they should consolidate. Going public is expensive and requires hard work, so finding a partner could be easier.”

Analysts have long urged Rovio to do more to reduce its reliance on the “Angry Birds” franchise.

Hed, the uncle of Rovio’s co-founder Niklas Hed, said he remained strongly committed to the company.

“The reason that I sold shares was to give the company the liquidity, because that is very important. My intention is to remain as a long-term investor in the company.”

Rovio saw rapid growth after the 2009 launch of the original “Angry Birds” game, but it plunged to an operating loss and cut a third of its staff in 2015 due to a pick up in competition and a shift among consumers to freely available games.

But the 2016 release of 3D Hollywood movie “Angry Birds”, together with new games, have revived the brand and helped sales recover.

In the first half of this year, Rovio’s sales almost doubled from a year earlier to 153 million euros, while core profit increased to 42 million euros from 11 million.

Rovio’s market valuation of around 950 million euros ($1.12 billion), looks high based on Rovio’s historical profit, said Atte Riikola, an analyst at research firm Inderes.

Amazon’s Streaming Of NFL Game Logged Nearly 2M Viewers

October 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Nearly 2 million people logged onto Amazon.com  for the online retailer’s first livestream of Thursday Night Football, the U.S. National Football League said on Friday.

Some 1.9 million people tuned in to Amazon’s kickoff show and game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, according to the NFL. That compares to 2.3 million for the first digitally streamed game last year on Twitter Inc,  which had the online rights at the time.

But viewers watched the broadcast for longer on average on Amazon. Its average worldwide audience for at least 30 seconds was 372,000 people, compared with 243,000 on Twitter for the first game last year, the NFL said.

Streaming live sports is a new, integral part of Amazon’s strategy to encourage more people to sign up to its Prime shopping club and spend more on retail goods.

Is Valve’s Steam Dominance Killing PC Gaming

September 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Earlier this week I wrote about a recurring problem in games, and what I was going to do as a member of the media to try and fix it. Today I’m going to talk about something I’m doing to fix it as a customer and gamer.

I hadn’t intended to write a follow-up piece, but I hit a bit of a breaking point this week with the one-two punch of PewDiePie dropping the n-word on stream and Bungie removing a white supremacist symbol from its Destiny 2.

Both events are part of a wretched pattern that has been recurring in games for several years now, a pattern where we see some deep-seated prejudices in gaming culture come to the fore in alarming clarity for a moment, everyone points and decries the awfulness, then everyone else gets angry at the people who didn’t like the awful thing. If we’re very lucky, the people who screwed up in the first place publicly apologize, reflect on their mistakes and try to do better the next time. It’s much, much rarer to see anyone indirectly responsible for this pattern take an honest look at their role in it, and we absolutely need them to if this is ever going to get better.

“People talk about racism, sexism, transphobia and the like as if they are diseases, but maybe we should think of these things less like contagions and more like environmental pollutants”

People talk about racism, sexism, transphobia and the like as if they are diseases, like it’s something binary you either have or you don’t. “This is racist. That is not racist.” But maybe we should think of these things less like contagions and more like environmental pollutants. They surround us at all times, but in varying concentrations. They’re like arsenic in your drinking water, or rat feces in your popcorn; we should aspire to have none at all, but that’s a difficult enough task that we “accept” both in small quantities. (Seriously.) When they are present in very small amounts, the damage they do is manageable. But when the concentration is high enough, they can be fatal.

This is a cultural problem, which means all of us play a small role in making it better or worse. Like riding a bike instead of driving a car or using LEDs instead of incandescent lights, our actions don’t move the needle on their own, but can add up to something significant when combined with the actions of enough others. This week’s events left me wanting to do something to make things better, and that’s when I saw a NSFW tweet with some screen caps of the Firewatch Steam forum.

After PewDiePie dropped his racist interjection, Firewatch developer Campo Santo had the popular streamer’s video of the game pulled from YouTube using the service’s copyright claims process. Angry gamers then began review bombing the title on Steam, and poured into the game-specific forums to flood them with abuse. Because that’s how it’s done now. Because we are gamers and every avenue of feedback available to us must be weaponized so that we can have things our way. Because we’re so upset about a developer using a questionable invocation of the DMCA that we would crusade arm-in-arm with overt racists and human garbage rather than let our rage go unvented for even a moment. (See also: People actually concerned with ethics in games journalism who provided willing cover for virulent misogynists and harassers during GamerGate.)

Most of those threads in the Firewatch forum have since been consolidated, with the most exceptionally racist ones being deleted. But it wasn’t Valve who handled the clean up, because Valve offloads moderation of game-specific forums to the developers. Just like translation of its store pages or curation of its catalog, Valve seems to like nothing more to offload the work on others. That approach might be fine for some functions, but the company cannot abdicate responsibility for the community and culture that has come from its own neglect.

“Valve’s dogmatic commitment to removing human judgment from every aspect of the operation is in effect a judgment call of its own”

That’s why I’m terminating my Steam account.

For as much as Valve’s actions have revitalized the PC gaming scene in the last dozen years, its inaction has been steadily deteriorating gaming culture. Our own Rob Fahey has covered Steam’s community woes before, but the company’s dogmatic commitment to removing human judgment from every aspect of the operation is in effect a judgment call of its own, one that presumes everything is acceptable and there are no limits other than legal ones. And on the rare occasion Valve actually deviates from that approach and enforces some standards, it does so reluctantly.

Right now you can find Hatred, Playing History 2 – Slave Trade, and House Party on the storefront, showing that Valve has no problem with the glorification of mass shootings, the trivialization of atrocities, or the gamification of rape. We can give them some points for consistency though, as the availability of Paranautical Activity suggests Valve is unwilling to take a stand even against death threats to its own founder.

This same approach of course applies to the Steam community, which technically has guidelines, but little interest in enforcing them. Hey, there’s a guideline forbidding racism and discrimination, weird. I guess “Nazi Recruitment Group Order#1” (NSFW) with the swastika logo and 76 members has just fallen through the cracks for the last two years. And that user, “F*** Blacks,” with a graphic avatar of a man fellating himself? I’m sure he just changed it and I just happened to visit the site in the split-second that was online before he was banned.

Nope, still there.

Oh, and this one, “Whites Only,” (NSFW) a group “for any fellow White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and anyone who just hates colored people!” (If you must click through, be warned it only gets more racist from there.) Maybe nobody’s noticed them. Oh wait, no, here’s a post in the Steam help forums asking people to help ban the group for being racist. Well maybe Valve hasn’t seen it. Oh, wait. There’s a post from a Valve community mod locking the thread and linking to the support page on how to report abusive behavior.

That’s one of 29 community mods volunteering their time “to help keep discussions clean and on topic, and remove reported user generated content around the Steam Community.” If you talk about actual Valve employees, people who might theoretically be trained and compensated to do the job, there are apparently only 12 that mod the community. Even they aren’t necessarily focused on the task; they include programmers, software engineers, and UI designers that the company simply says “spend some time” helping out on the forums.

“Whatever its motives, Valve is clearly just fine operating an online toilet that harbors the worst dregs of society”

By the way, Steam had 12.9 million users online at the same time today. Steam is a massive chunk of the gaming community and Valve has offloaded moderation responsibilities to the developers and the users to a staggering degree. The company is so dedicated to having other people fix its problems that when I filed my request to terminate the account because I was sick of the toxicity, the first response I got from Steam Support said, “Please make sure you’re using the ‘Report Violation’ feature to report inappropriate behavior or users on Steam.”

Whatever its motives, Valve is clearly just fine operating an online toilet that harbors the worst dregs of society. But if it isn’t willing to staff up a reasonable amount of dedicated community management people, enforce even the minimal guidelines it claims to have, and excise these bad faith actors from its community, then I have no choice but to believe Valve wants them there. And if Valve wants them there, it’s fair to hold the company responsible for all the vileness they spew from the platform it owns and completely controls. Whatever benefit Steam once offered me has been more than offset by the harm it causes to its marginalized users, gaming culture, and society as a whole. I won’t be a part of that community any longer.

So my Steam account is gone, or presumably will be once Steam Support gets around to fulfilling my request. While I would encourage everyone reading this to consider whether Steam is a community they want to associate themselves with, I have to acknowledge this is not a huge sacrifice for me. I’m losing access to dozens of games and a backlog of purchased-but-unplayed titles, but I’m not primarily a PC gamer.

Having acknowledged that, it would seem unreasonable that my “call to action” be for everyone to delete their Steam accounts, or for developers to pull their games from a store that provides an overwhelming majority of their business. Instead, I would simply ask that everyone do what they can to foster viable alternatives. As consumers, we can stop buying new games from Steam if they are available on GOG.com, itch.io, or an alternative storefront. Developers, make it a priority to get your games on as many storefronts as possible, even if they only incrementally boost the bottom line. Because right now the PC gaming industry is entirely too dependent on a company with entirely too little interest in basic human decency, and it’s hurting us all.

Courtesy-GI.biz

YouTube Introduces Fan Sponsorship Service

September 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

YouTube Gaming fans will now be able to directly donate money to their favorite eligible creators with sponsorships, the company announced.  A monthly $4.99 payment gives fans perks such as custom emoji and access to exclusive live chats. Fans can also purchase digital goods directly from the channels.

In order to be eligible, creators must be over 18 years old and have a Gaming channel which is monetized and enabled for live streaming. The channel must also have over 1,000 subscribers.

Early tests of YouTube Gaming sponsorships proved successful. According to the company, GameAttack, for example, makes most of its channel revenue through sponsorships and Super Chat (in which live stream participants can pay to pin their comments). And Rocket Beans got 1,500 sponsors on the first day.

YouTube on Tuesday also began testing out sponsorships with non-gaming creators on YouTube’s main app.

With the launch of sponsorships and the growth of other revenue-generating features such as YouTube Red and Super Chat, YouTube is ending paid channels, which offered monthly subscriptions for some channels but didn’t see much success. Less than 1 percent of creators use it today, according to the company.

Is Virtual Reality Poised To Take Off

September 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Virtual reality may be growing at a slower pace than many would like, but its enthusiastic supporters remain staunch in their belief that VR is still going to take off. Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and a Carnegie Mellon professor, is one such person. His studio’s VR puzzle title I Expect You To Die (IEYTD), which launched last December, just recently passed the $1 million revenue mark. GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Schell following the news to learn more about his VR development experiences and to gain some perspective on where he sees the VR/AR business headed.

“We’ve learned so much. The experience has confirmed our theories that making games specifically designed for the strengths of the medium is absolutely the right thing to do,” he says.

“IEYTD works because we focused on protecting player immersion as much as possible: making sure in-game and out of game player body poses are proprioceptively aligned, ensuring there is a depth of interactive sound effects, and playtesting much more than for a normal game, so that you can respond to everything that players try to do in the game. The best part is that our experience confirmed for us that VR is amazing, and that people want great experiences in it.”

IEYTD is one of a handful of VR success stories, but even “success” at this stage in VR’s infancy when installed bases are so low, doesn’t mean profitability is guaranteed. Schell is not deterred, however.

“We don’t generally share specifics of internal budgets, but it was more than a million — so, not quite profitable yet on a pure cash basis, but when it comes to lessons learned, and some of the other projects this has brought our way, this has been a very profitable project indeed,” he explains.

During GDC 2016, Schell gave a talk outlining his 40 predictions for VR/AR, and one of those was that by 2017 we’d see 8 million high-end VR headsets sold, with Oculus Rift at 3 million, PSVR at 4 million and Vive at 1 million. Clearly, the actual numbers are going to fall way short of these predictions, and a big part of that is a result of price. Even with the price cuts we’ve seen this year so far on the respective headsets, the devices are too expensive for many. It’s only a matter of time before that changes, though, and then Schell sees the market really picking up. He likens it to the early computer era.

“The numbers are slower than I anticipated, and this is partly because prices are higher than I anticipated. But the growth is absolutely happening,” he says. “What will create a tipping point will be a combination of price drops with a hit title, probably a social multiplayer title.

“We are in a time like when home computers first arrived in 1978. At that time, we had the Atari 800 and the Apple II, and they each cost over $1,000, and people said, ‘Yeah, pretty cool, but too expensive — these home computers will never take off.’ A few years later, and we had the Commodore 64 at $299, and it sold ten times the number of units as the Apple II. Price will really be the driving factor. There are already hundreds of great studios making interesting content. When the prices get low enough, we’ll see the growth curve take off.” While a number of Schell’s other predictions will undoubtedly not hold up, there are some that the designer is not afraid to double down on. The social ramifications of VR is one of those.

“My confidence in the power of social VR continues to grow,” he notes. “Games like Rec Room are proving that out, and social VR is now the prime focus for our next wave of VR titles. The sense of physical proximity to a real person while you hear their voice and see their body language is powerful in a way that no other medium can touch.”

Schell is also still a believer in Nintendo doing something in the space. Thus far, publicly at least, the house of Mario has avoided committing to VR/AR, but Schell thinks that Nintendo is working on a standalone device behind closed doors. And if a company with Nintendo’s weight gets behind VR, that can only help make the technology more mainstream and more accessible. That said, it’s not vital for Nintendo to get in the game for VR to succeed.

“With Nintendo’s passion for invention, they must be working on a VR device with a unique Nintendo spin,” Schell muses. “Certainly they can help make VR more mainstream, but they don’t need to. There are already dozens of headset manufacturers, and more on the way, and exciting tech and price breakthroughs are being announced every few weeks.”

While many people have predicted a far larger and more impactful market for augmented reality, especially as companies like Apple and Google get involved, the differences between the related technologies are beginning to blur. Additionally, when it comes to pure gaming use cases, Schell stresses that VR will remain the better tech for hardcore gamers.

“One prediction I am definitely rethinking is my prediction that VR and AR headsets would remain very separate entities. I am coming to believe that as VR headsets start to sport stereo cameras, that having video pass-thru AR experiences on VR headsets will actually become the dominant form of AR, because it will be cheaper and have a wider field of view,” he says.

“When it comes to games, I more and more think that VR is to AR as console is to mobile… That is to say, VR will be more for the hardcore gamers who want deep, immersive experiences, and AR will be more for casual gamers who want lighter, less immersive experiences. AR may have more users in the long run (provided it can find some killer apps), but VR will be where the best gaming experiences are.”

The unfortunate state of actual reality, when you consider global politics, terrorism, climate change and more, could also be a factor in virtual reality’s favor. As Schell says, “In troubled times, people are always looking for places to escape to. The Great Depression was the best thing that ever happened to Hollywood. When people are frustrated with how the news cycle makes them feel, their appetite for fantasy experiences vastly increases.”

As VR does become more popular in the mainstream, Schell thinks the media may start drumming up stories to point fingers at the tech in much the way that news outlets blamed video game violence for real-world crimes. “The media likes to scare us about anything that is new, because we always want to know about the dangers of new things, so it is good business to feed our fears. I can’t say I’m worried about it, but it is certainly inevitable. Horror movies about VR gone wrong will be a hot ticket in the summer of 2019,” he says.

One area of the VR industry that is hard to predict is the arcade or location-based segment. Vive has made a big push with its Viveport Arcade, particularly in China, but VR arcades may not necessarily be a more natural fit than VR in the home, as some have said.

“There is room for VR in arcades; I am sure of this because I helped developed the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet VR experience that ran continuously at DisneyQuest in Walt Disney World for nineteen years! However, VR in arcades has many challenges,” Schell says. “The systems are hard to keep clean, and are often too fragile for that environment. These are solvable problems, but not trival ones. Ultimately, people expect a VR arcade experience that is a radical step up from the home experience, and that is expensive to create, especially because there is an expectation of multiplayer gameplay at VR arcades, because people go to arcades to be in social groups. So, developing VR arcade content is very expensive. Arcades are a great intro to the experience while the tech is new, but as the tech matures, it will be much more at home, uh, at home.”

Getting into VR development is not for the faint of heart. Game makers may have to endure some hard times, but the pay off will ultimately be worth it, Schell believes.

“If you are looking for a short-term win, or to just port the same games you’ve been playing for 20 years to VR, go do something else. But if you are ready to invent the most important medium of this century, and you can afford to be a little patient as the rest of the world catches up with your futuristic visions, this is your time,” Schell says.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Rovio To Move Forward With IPO

September 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Finnish mobile games giant Rovio has confirmed plans to publicly offer its shares through the Helsinki arm of NASDAQ.

The Angry Birds firm released a statement detailing its intentions, revealing that it is planning “a share issue of approximately €30m”, which equates to $36m. Shares will also be sold by Trema International Holdings – currently the firm’s largest shareholder – and “certain other shareholders”.

This confirms ongoing reports that Rovio would consider an IPO, something the studio said was a possibility back in June. Last month, the rumours strengthened with suggestions that the IPO could raise $400m, valuing the company at $2bn.

The aim of the IPO is to enable Rovio to continue its growth, give it access to capital markets and “broaden its ownership base”, as well as build on the company’s brand awareness.

Throughout the statement Rovio refers to itself as a games-first entertainment company, although it also draws attention to the success of last year’s film The Angry Birds Movie and its ongoing merchandise business.

Rovio also notes that, as of June 2017, its games have been downloaded more than 3.7bn times, with an average monthly active userbase of 80m during the second quarter of this year.

CEO Kati Levoranta reiterated that the studio’s most recent releases – Angry Birds Evolution, Battle Bay and Angry Birds Match – have also outperformed all previously launched titles in select key performance indicators, giving Rovio cause to be optimistic about the IPO. Last month, Rovio revealed these releases had helped double its quarterly earnings year-on-year.

“Today, Rovio is stronger than ever and is well positioned in the fast growing mobile gaming market with our diversified games portfolio, proven game development talent and operational excellence as well as our large existing user base.  I am confident in our games-first strategy,” said Levoranta.

“The contemplated IPO and listing are an important milestone in developing Rovio into an even stronger games-first entertainment company.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle The Final Fantasy Game Engine

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Mixed-Reality A Big Move For Microsoft

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

2017 is shaping up to be perhaps the most important year ever for Microsoft’s ambitions as a consumer technology company.

The firm, which in recent years has struggled to balance its commitment to business solutions and cloud services against the often conflicting demands of being a consumer tech firm, is set to launch two major product lines this year – an update to the Xbox One console that is, in essence, an entirely new home console device, and a range of “Mixed Reality” headsets, controllers and certified PCs, which are being manufactured to Microsoft’s specs by some of the industry’s leading hardware firms.

Both of these are big launches, and each of them deserving of attention. On the surface, you might expect that Xbox One X – the new console – would be a far more mainstream prospect than a range of VR headsets, especially given how niche VR remains in spite of the buzz that’s been built up around it. Yet all of the signs point to Mixed Reality being Microsoft’s really big launch for 2017, and the one that may have the most impact on the company – and the whole technology industry – down the line, while Xbox One X is being positioned both by commentators and by the company itself as something of a niche device for a specific and limited audience.

In a sense, the direction being taken with these two devices is entirely different. Xbox One X takes an established platform (albeit one running a distant second behind Sony’s dominant PS4) and essentially creates a high-end “premium” version, with price tag to match. It doesn’t so much represent a turning point in Xbox strategy (there’s no surge in first-party software or major service launch to accompany it) as an appeal to the slim but high-value slice of the market for whom constant talk of 4K HDR screens and Dolby Atmos sound systems says “this is the best you can get,” as distinct from “this isn’t for the likes of you.”

On the other hand, Mixed Reality is all about the democratisation of a technology that’s often seemed inaccessible to average consumers. Its hardware specification calls for headsets with inside-out tracking (so no external cameras or sensors) which mount cameras on the front of the headset to track motion controllers – again, removing external sensors from the setup – while its business model aims to create a range of low-cost headsets by leveraging competition between manufacturers like Dell and Asus. The PC specs being certified for use with the headsets also promise relatively low cost of entry to consumers interested in VR.

In essence, Mixed Reality (which is a bit of a misnomer, as these first-generation headsets are not the bridging of VR and AR promised by the “Hololens” concept; they are VR headsets, pure and simple) is an extremely well-designed and technologically impressive mixture of the best parts of many VR approaches we’ve seen so far. It’s about as affordable as Sony’s PSVR and just as easy to set up (in fact, slightly more so, since PSVR still requires a single camera); yet it offers a technological fidelity that’s surprisingly close to that of Oculus and HTC’s pioneering headsets.

Working with firms like Dell ensures ubiquity, while Microsoft’s control of the Windows ecosystem ensures compatibility and ease of use, and the firm’s highly open approach with the standards it’s promoting – including supporting content from Steam from day one – is an enormous bonus. As the only console VR platform out there, and with Sony’s content support behind it, PSVR will continue to have a market, but anyone picking winners in the VR space right now is likely favouring Microsoft’s play in the long run, especially given its potential for non-gaming applications (which may yet turn out to be VR’s “killer app”). It’s notable that Sony’s small PSVR price-drop came this week just as Mixed Reality gear was being lauded at IFA in Berlin, though also notable that the company’s promised restocking of PSVR hardware into retail channels has still not come to pass.

The elephant in the room here needs addressing; why, given two hardware launches that seem so complementary, isn’t Xbox One X supporting Mixed Reality headsets out the gate? The door seemingly remains open to that possibility down the line, but thus far Microsoft’s two big consumer tech efforts of 2017 remain frustratingly separate. On paper, you’d imagine that launching the most powerful console ever with the ability to drive high-quality VR experiences through a range of new headsets would be a far more exciting prospect than simply updating the Xbox One to take advantage of some very, very expensive televisions; even if VR is more niche than console gaming right now, the prospects for growth in VR are huge and the chance for a firm like Microsoft to establish and own the standards that define an entire sector for years to come is surely too important to pass up.

Microsoft’s own position seems to express that sentiment; while Xbox One X is rolling out with very few major software releases to support it (essentially copying the low-key rollout of PS4 Pro), the upcoming slate of software supporting Mixed Reality is being talked up significantly and includes a Halo title from 343 Industries. For an Xbox console to launch without a Halo title in support, or even officially on the slate (though one will inevitably be forthcoming), while a different Microsoft product has a Halo title being talked up, is actually rather eye-opening.

The reason for Xbox One X not supporting Mixed Reality at the outset may be quite prosaic; Microsoft’s strategy for its headsets involves cooperation with hardware manufacturers who want to use Mixed Reality as a way to sell PCs. Those partners might be far cooler on being involved with this initiative if they felt that their PCs were going to have to compete with a partially-subsidised console being sold by Microsoft itself, and the exclusion of Xbox from the Mixed Reality ecosystem may (this is all speculation) have been a condition of the likes of Asus throwing full-throated support behind the new headsets.

If so, it may be a timed exclusion, with headset support coming to Xbox One X down the line; or it may be that this helps to explain why so much of Microsoft’s software approach for Xbox One appears to have shifted to being about well-optimised One and One X versions of Windows 10 software rather than console exclusives. This would potentially allow people with high-end home theatre setups to enjoy the best possible version on Xbox One X, while VR fans can enjoy the same software as optimised for Mixed Reality, and those with Xbox Ones or gaming PCs would enjoy their own tailored version. That fits well with Microsoft’s vision both for a contiguous ecosystem and for how cross-platform development should work, the inability to plug a headset into an Xbox being only a small wrinkle in this cloth.

While in the long run not a big deal, in terms of this year alone, the separation of headsets from console creates an odd tension in Microsoft’s line-up; Xbox One X may even find itself competing for Christmas dollars from the same set of consumers who are considering a Mixed Reality setup. With Switch also riding high in customer’s mindshare and PS4 continuing to steamroller ahead of the competition – not to mention major consumer electronics launches outside the gaming space, like Apple’s iPhone Pro or whatever they’re going to call it – this winter is going to be one of the most competitive ever in consumer technology, and Microsoft is entering the game with a hell of a strong hand.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Gamers Support CoD Going GaaS

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Blizzard Get Tougher on Bad Gamers

September 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

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