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Nintendo Betting Record Profit On Switch Console

April 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo Co Ltd is predicting its new Switch console will more than double annual operating profit and end the eight-year sales decline that plagued its previous offering just as players were turning to smartphone gaming.

The Japanese firm entered the mobile gaming market last year to the relief of shareholders fretting about diving console sales. Now the early success of the Switch has fueled hope of a long-term earnings recovery and sent the firm’s share price about 20 percent higher since the console’s March debut.

“We are hoping to change the tide of our business with the Switch,” Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Nintendo estimated profit to grow 2.2-fold to 65 billion yen ($584 million) in the year through March 2018, with sales jumping 53.3 percent. That was still far below the 104 billion yen average of 23 analyst estimates surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Asked if the outlook was too low, Kimishima said the firm was stepping up marketing costs for the Switch.

Nintendo aims to sell 10 million of the hybrid home console and handheld device this financial year, on top of a higher-than-expected 2.7 million sold in its debut month.

“If the 10 million target is achieved … that means the sales momentum would be close to the Wii,” Nintendo’s most successful console, Kimishima said.

The Wii, launched in November 2006, sold about 20 million units in its first year and exceeded 100 million over its life. The last time Nintendo’s sales grew was in the year ended March 2009, when Wii demand drove profit to a record 555 billion yen.

Profit from a new console typically peaks a couple of years after launch when there is a wide choice of game titles.

Kimishima also said Nintendo’s first own-brand smartphone game, Super Mario Run, has neared 150 million free downloads, but the number of users paying the one-off fee to unlock most of its content is below the target 10 percent.

One reason behind the Switch’s strong start is that unlike its predecessor Wii U, the console has a long list of game titles from independent studios because Nintendo made the Switch compatible with publicly available game development platforms from the start, said Hirokazu Hamamura, a director at Kadokawa Dwango Corp, which publishes games magazines.

Is The AAA Game Model Sustainable?

April 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The AAA model in increasingly developing into a market in which only the biggest companies can survive – and even then the design of these titles will become more stagnant.

That’s according to Boss Key Productions founder and Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski. Speaking to attendees at Reboot Develop today, the veteran games developer discussed the “really, really weird spot” blockbuster games have found themselves in, and pondered potential solutions.

“AAA is starting to feel like the American restaurant scene,” he said, referring to how increasing globalisation means every major city usually has the exact same chains and franchises when you’re looking for a place to eat. “They’re not bad, they’re not great, they’re just there.”

It’s the same with AAA, which he says has become a “category of eight games that are getting repeated over and over again”. He brought up a slide depicting best-sellers such as Uncharted 4 and the Call of Duty games, stressing that these are “great games” but cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and market.

He added that it doesn’t help most consumers view many blockbuster franchises as “the name you know” and are “too scared to take the risk on new IP”.

“$60 is still a lot of money to ask people for,” he said. “And to ask them to make that bet multiple times per year? Gamers are picky, they’re smart.

“This is a nearly unsustainable model, unless you’re an Activision, 2K or a Sony.”

His advice to developers still looking to make their mark is to aim for what he referred to as “Double A”, which he considers to be “games that look and play great but pick their battles in terms of budget and marketing”. Examples he offered included Warframe, Rocket League and Rust, with Bleszinski noting that most successful ‘Double A’ games are digital and/or free-to-play.

In terms of finding funding for such games, he pointed out that “there’s a lot of money in Asia” – his own studio, Boss Key Productions, has partnered with Nexon for its debut game, LawBreakers. This title is also designed to be ‘Double A’, and won’t have a full $60 price tag.

Bleszinski also warned that developers only have one shot to make a new IP, referring to the team at Raven Software: “They made a great game in Singularity, but it ultimately didn’t do well because of the marketing, even though the ratings were great. And now they’re one of the multi-headed hydras behind the Call of Duty series.”

He recognised that the collaborative model used to create titles like Call of Duty and many Ubisoft games, combining the efforts of teams from around the world, is effective but not one he’d ever want to be a part of.

His talk later branched into virtual reality, which he likened to lucid dreaming – something he has apparently spent years trying to master. In fact, VR has helped him hone this elusive skill: “I’m a better lucid dreamer when I wear a sleep mask because I think I’m wearing a headset.”

He stressed that high-quality graphics are the key to immersion in VR, adding that “the best VR looking experiences I’ve had are built in Unreal Engine 4”.

“I’ve not paid to say that by my former employers,” he laughed. “Unity is a good engine but when it comes down to it, you can’t beat Unreal for visual fidelity.”

The issue, as he puts it, is great graphics cost money. Bleszinski is currently pitching a VR project but struggling to get the investment required to make the finished product look as good as it needs to. He observed that shareholders are “only giving out a little money”, which is why the industry is seeing a lot of tech demos coming from the VR space.

He also likened the current trend of wave-based shooting games – such as Raw Data and Robo Recall – as the equivalent of ’80s arcade games such as Galaga and Robotron, adding that he’s confident VR will expand beyond this just as the arcades did.

Bleszinski acknowledged that there are plenty of barriers to overcome before virtual reality is adopted by the masses. Complicated setups, especially for room-scale VR, are particularly off-putting. He referred to his parents that didn’t even set the clock on their VCR – they just wired it into the TV and plugged it in – adding: “Why would they set up VR?”

He continued: “If I were Oculus, Facebook or Vive, I would have kiosks at every major retail location, and a tech team that comes round to set it all up properly”.

“But like all technologies, it’s get better, it’ll get faster. But give it a little bit of time.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is A Smaller Version Of The Nintendo Switch On The Horizon?

April 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The Nintendo Switch straddles a line between the Mario maker’s portable and home console businesses, but it remains to be seen if Nintendo intends to follow the upgrade cadence of the former or the latter. According to a Bloomberg report, analysts from Citigroup Inc. are expecting Switch hardware refreshes more in line with the DS and 3DS than the Wii and Wii U.

Among the first big changes expected by Citigroup is a smaller version of the Switch to arrive in stores during Nintendo’s next fiscal year, which runs April 2018 through March 2019. While the current Switch is portable, it is decidedly bulkier than Nintendo’s previous handheld systems.

“Although the Nintendo Switch can be used as a handheld device, we think smaller children could struggle to use it comfortably in that format due to its size and weight,” Citigroup analysts said last week. “Accordingly, we think Nintendo will launch a lighter, dedicated handheld version of the Switch, possibly to be called the Switch Mini.”

Losing accessories like the dock for hooking the Switch to a TV could facilitate a cheaper dedicated handheld version of the hardware, but Citigroup did not speculate on a price for any sort of Switch Mini. However, the analysts did say it could sell 6.7 million units by the end of its launch fiscal year. They added that the standard Switch is expected to have an installed base of 25.7 million within the same timeframe.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Facebook Is A Hub For Augmented Reality, Says Mark Zuckerberg

April 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc is wants to capitalize off of the technology known as augmented reality, a mix of the real and digital worlds best known from the hit smartphone game Pokemon Go, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

Speaking at F8, the company’s annual conference for software developers, Zuckerberg said Facebook was an obvious hub for businesses to reach people and experiment with augmented reality, although he did not suggest the company was planning to make similar games itself.

Pokemon Go, jointly developed by Nintendo Co and Niantic Inc, has generated masses of followers around the world as players use their phones to capture animated characters that appear in real locations.

Other uses of augmented reality have included the ability to hang out with a hologram of “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm or assemble a virtual human brain, all on mobile devices.

A recent push by Facebook to add camera features to its suite of smartphone apps will help the company popularize similar features, Zuckerberg said.

“Even if we were a little slow to add cameras to all our apps, I’m confident that now we’re going to push this augmented reality platform forward,” he said.

For a company that began as a way for college students to see pictures of each other, Facebook’s move toward augmented reality represents another step in its long evolution. It also raises the stakes for its competition with rival Snap Inc, the maker of Snapchat that describes itself as a camera company.

Zuckerberg said people could use the technology to leave a virtual note for a friend at a bar, or to find virtual street art on a wall that in real life is blank.

“This isn’t just about finding a Pokemon in a one-block radius,” he said.

Eventually, he said, people would use augmented reality on eyewear, although he did not give any details about possible Facebook hardware.

In 2014, Facebook acquired its Oculus virtual reality goggles unit for $2 billion, although that division is a long way from making a mass-market product or contributing significantly to the company’s earnings.

As part of his conference address, Zuckerberg addressed shortcomings on another major project, Facebook’s push into video. He said the service needed to do more to prevent the spread of violent videos, such as one on Sunday of a fatal shooting in Cleveland that was visible on the site for two hours.

 

Blizzard Entertainment Wins Cheating Lawsuit

April 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Blizzard Entertainment has asked for $8.5 million in damages from Bossland, a German company that makes and sells cheats and hacks for its most popular games.

This is the latest and probably final step in a legal complaint Blizzard filed in July 2016, which accused Bossland of copyright infringement and millions of dollars in lost sales, among other charges. Cheat software like Bossland’s Honorbuddy and Demonbuddy, Blizzard argued, ruins the experience of its products for other players.

According to Torrent Freak, Bossland’s attempt to have the case dismissed due to a lack of jurisdiction failed, after which it became unresponsive. It also failed to respond to a 24-hour ultimatum to respond from the court, and so Blizzard has filed a motion for default judgement.

The $8.5 million payment was calculated based on Blizzard’s sales projections for the infringing products. Bossland had previously admitted to selling 118,939 products to people in the United States since July 2013, of which Blizzard believes a minimum of 36% related to its games.

“In this case, Blizzard is only seeking the minimum statutory damages of $200 per infringement, for a total of $8,563,600.00,” the motion document stated. “While Blizzard would surely be entitled to seek a larger amount, Blizzard seeks only minimum statutory damages.

“Notably, $200 approximates the cost of a one-year license for the Bossland Hacks. So, it is very likely that Bossland actually received far more than $8 million in connection with its sale of the Bossland Hacks.”

Update: The court has granted Blizzard’s motion for default judgement, ordering Bossland to pay $8.56 million in damages.

That number was calculated based on 42,818 sales of Bossland’s products in the US. The court ruled that the German company should not be allowed to sell Honornuddy, Demonbuddy, Stormbuddy, Hearthbuddy and Watchover Tyrant in the country from now on, as well as any future products that exploit Blizzard’s games. Bossland will also have to pay $174,872 in attorneys’ fees.

Courtesy-GI.biz

The Witcher Franchise Goes 25 Million Units

April 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt continues to pay off for CD Projekt. The Polish publisher today reported its financial results for calendar year 2016, and the hit 2015 role-playing game loomed large over another successful campaign for the company.

CD Projekt said its revenues “continued to be dominated by ongoing strong sales” of The Witcher 3 and its two expansions. While the base game and its first expansion debuted in 2015, the second and final expansion pack, Blood and Wine, arrived last May and helped drive revenues of 583.9 million PLN ($148.37 million). That was down almost 27 percent year-over-year, but still well beyond the company’s sales figures prior to 2015. Net profits were likewise down almost 27%, with the company posting a bottom line gain of 250.5 million PLN ($63.65 million).

The company also announced a new milestone for the Witcher franchise, saying the three games have now cumulatively topped 25 millions copies sold, a number that doesn’t include The Witcher 3 expansions packs. That suggests 2016 saw roughly 5 million copies sold over the 20 million reported in CD Projekt’s 2015 year-end financials.

Even if this year saw overall sales take a dip for CD Projekt, its GOG.com online retail storefront still managed to post its best year ever. The company reported GOG.com revenues of 133.5 million PLN ($33.92 million), up 15% year-over-year.

CD Projekt is currently testing its Gwent free-to-play card game in closed beta, and intends to open it up to the public this spring. It is also working on its next AAA game, Cyberpunk 2077, thought it has no release date as yet.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Facebook’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Unit Named In Patent Lawsuit

April 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc’s virtual reality unit Oculus VR has been hit with a lawsuit alleging it incorporated without authorization a smaller competitor’s patented technology into its Rift headset.

Techno View IP Inc, a Newport Beach, California-based technology licensing firm, filed suit against Facebook and Oculus for infringing a 3D imaging patent owned by the VR headset maker ImmersiON-VRelia.

According to the complaint filed in federal court in Delaware, ImmersiON-VRelia, which has offices in Spain and California, agreed to let Techno View litigate the patent on its behalf.

The lawsuit comes as Facebook weighs its options following a $500 million verdict in an unrelated lawsuit brought over its VR technology by video game developer ZeniMax Media Inc. A Dallas federal jury in February found Oculus used copyrighted computer code developed by video game designer John Carmack while employed at ZeniMax.

Lawyers for Oculus and Facebook have said they will seek to have the verdict set aside.

ImmersiON-VRelia makes VR headsets similar to the Oculus Rift, as well as a VR device for use with smartphones. Techno View said in its lawsuit ImmersiON-VRelia’s chief executive, Manuel Gutierrez Novelo, attained several patents between 2003 and 2006 on various aspects of VR technology.

Techno View said Oculus and Facebook specifically infringed a patent held by ImmersiON-VRelia on a method of generating left and right perspectives in a 3D video game. Techno View said it may add claims relating to other patents owned ImmersiON-VRelia at a later date.

Facebook acquired Oculus for an estimated $3 billion in 2014. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has predicted that virtual reality “will be part of people’s daily lives,” revolutionizing industries like media, education and medicine.

Facebook and Oculus did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Techno View’s lawsuit.

The case is Techno View IP Inc v. Oculus VR LLC and Facebook Inc, 17cv00386, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

Amazon To Refund Parents Over Kid’s In-app Purchases

April 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Parents with children who racked up bills, sometimes huge, through in-app purchases will receive some or all of that money back. Amazon could have to refund more than $70 million to affected consumers, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC and Amazon have agreed to end their legal battle over whether the U.S. company unlawfully charged its customers for the purchases.

A year ago, a court found that Amazon had.

The company’s app store can be downloaded to Android devices and it runs on certain Kindle tablets. However, parents had complained that Amazon’s system had made it all too easy for their children to buy virtual items in the apps, without their consent.

Both the FTC and Amazon had filed appeals related to the case, but on Tuesday, they dropped them. That opens the way for the refund process to begin shortly, according to the FTC.

More than $70 million in in-app charges made from 2011 to 2016 may be eligible for refunds, the U.S. regulator said.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, so it’s unclear how the company will reimburse its customers. Amazon had taken a 30 percent cut from the in-app purchases, according to the FTC.

In 2014, Apple and Google settled similar cases over in-app purchases with the FTC, which resulted in a combined $51 million in refunds to customers.

In Apple’s case, the company emailed and sent postcards to every customer who might have been affected. Apple eventually received 37,000 claims, and made refunds to them all.

Is Nintendo’s Switch Going To Be A True Success Story?

April 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

After a few years of writing articles cautioning people not to write Nintendo off just yet, it feels most peculiar to type these words, but here we go: could we all just calm down a little bit about Nintendo? Yes, the Switch is off to a very solid start; and yes, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a damned near perfect video game – but the swing of the pendulum away from the doom and gloom of the Wii U’s final months is now threatening to bring us into breathless, giddy over-optimism that the company and its new platform may find it very hard to live up to.

There are plenty of examples out there – perhaps the most egregious is the pronouncement by GameStop’s senior director of merchandising, Eric Bright, that the launch numbers for Switch suggest that its sales could “eclipse the Wii”, but he’s far from alone in this general sentiment. Nintendo itself has lifted its 2017 shipments estimates markedly, which gives something of an official seal of approval to this change in tone, but it’s other commentators who are really talking up Switch to an extent that throws caution to the wind.

A little less than a month ago, before the launch, articles on this site by both myself and Christopher Dring concluded, fairly uncontroversially, that the real test for Switch would not come until the end of the year and that any solid assessment of the console’s performance could not be made until we reach that point. That view would have held true had Switch underperformed at launch; it ought to hold equally true in the wake of the great launch the console has actually enjoyed. Nintendo has come around the first corner in style, but this is a very, very long race.

When you come down to brass tacks, the reality is that we haven’t learned a lot from the launch of Switch. The console sold strongly around the world, but was supply-constrained, so all we can actually take away from its launch sales is that it’s appealed well to the core market of Nintendo fans. Zelda: Breath of the Wild has received rave reviews and has one of the strongest attach rates ever seen for a non-bundled title. What we learn from this is that core Nintendo fans are hugely enthused about new Zelda games (hold the front page) and that Nintendo’s game development talent is firing on all cylinders at the moment. This latter fact is important, but shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the company in recent years; Nintendo’s software has arguably been going through a golden age that was tragically underserved by the Wii U’s hardware and marketing.

In actual data terms, then, there’s not a lot we can take away from the launch of Switch. It didn’t underperform, which is good news of course, but supply constraints mean we don’t know exactly how much demand existed and what proportion of it was satisfied. It’s important to note that one thing we didn’t see is a repeat of the Wii’s launch pattern; Switch has sold extremely well to core game fans who bought it to play Zelda, and as yet there’s nothing to suggest that it’s succeeded in enticing the kind of casual audiences who drove the Wii’s sales.

Ultimately, all of that information – data on demand, on demographics and so on – is data we won’t see until several months down the line; launches like Mario Kart 8.5 and Splatoon 2 will be big tests for the system, but it’s Christmas and the arrival of Mario Odyssey that’ll allow us to finally start to talk with real confidence about the performance and future prospects for Switch. The setting up of elevated expectations for the console at this early stage only creates potential disappointment down the line; while Nintendo would no doubt love to recreate the success of its most successful home console to date, the reality is that Switch could be a significant commercial success without troubling the track record of the Wii, and establishing a narrative which invites constant comparisons from this early stage is not in anyone’s best interest.

None of this, it should be added, detracts from the achievement the Switch launch represents. While the data the launch has provided us with is simply insufficient to underpin any serious or worthwhile forecasts for the system, the intangible aspects of the launch are unquestionably positive. Word of mouth for Switch is almost universally great, some minor hardware-related teething problems aside; the universal acclaim for Zelda, meanwhile, feels almost unprecedented. Consumer sentiment is hard to quantify, and it’s harder yet to guess at which groups or demographics have been touched by this positivity, but it’s fair to say that Nintendo has already placed itself on the path to recovery from the hugely disappointing and ultimately doomed Wii U.

If you’re keen to keep an eye on the data points that will really be meaningful for Switch in the coming months, though, here’s what to watch out for. Firstly, Nintendo’s ability to stick to its launch schedule and keep a consistent flow of software coming for the new system is vital; if major titles start to slip (Splatoon and Mario Odyssey being the really big ones) then it’s a big concern. Alongside that, the movements of major publishers with regard to Switch support are also worth watching. One interesting sentiment that I’ve seen from a lot of new Switch owners is that they love the form factor of the machine, and conversations over which other games they’d like to play on it have been commonplace; if that idea is making its way into conversations at third-party publishers, then combined with the confidence resulting from a solid launch, it should cause an uptick in third-party support for the system in the coming months.

The other thing to watch, of course, is demand for hardware shipments. Nintendo’s intention in launching the Switch so early in the year was undoubtedly twofold; firstly, to allow it to build a solid software library ahead of its first Christmas (and, again assuming no delays, the system should have its biggest brands – Zelda, Mario, Splatoon and Mario Kart – all on the shelves by that point), and secondly, to allow it to spread out launch demand over a six to nine month period, so supply will be able to keep pace over Christmas. There’s an oft-repeated fallacy that Nintendo deliberately manipulates supply figures to create artificial demand and buzz around its hardware; there’s simply no evidence of that, with the rather less moustache-twirling truth being that the company has often simply not been very good at predicting demand or at being flexible with its manufacturing volumes. With Switch, it’s trying to avoid both the excess demand for the Wii and the excess supply of the Wii U by launching earlier in the year.

That means we’ve got nine months of shipments to watch and evaluate – to see what audiences Nintendo is appealing to, whether demand remains high, and whether the launch of titles like Mario Kart and Splatoon 2 can really drive the console forward. Though there’ll no doubt be crazy speculation around each set of numbers, it’s the overall picture that’s important, and it’s only months of data that’ll really give us a sense of where this console is going. Switch is off to a good start – perhaps even a great start – and like many people, I truly believe that the games industry is better off with a healthy, successful Nintendo competing strongly at its heart. Getting engaged in wildly optimistic speculation off the back of such meagre data, though, is no better than being a Nintendo doom-merchant; it’s merely an error at the other end of the spectrum.

 

Courtesy-Biz

Can Nintendo Sell 20 Million Switches In 2017?

April 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Despite complaints that the Switch had a few problems, Nintendo thinks it will sell between 10-20 million of them in the first year.

Nintendo released the Switch in March 2017 and flogged a million units in the first week.

Nintendo president Kimishima Tatsumi said that by the time Nintendo wants to start selling something else, the Switch’s overall sales will have reached 110 million units.

Much depends on how well Microsoft’s new Xbox game console codenamed Project Scorpio will do when it is released at the E3 2017 event, targeting the year-end holiday season. Sony is expected to release a thinner version of its PlayStation 4 which could also cause people to question the value of the Switch.

Microsoft’s new game console will have Ultra HD and mixed reality (MR) support and PC vendors’ MR head-mounted display (HMD) devices are expected to be able to connect with the Project Scorpio.

Still it does mean that Nintendo seems to think that there are considerable legs to its Switch and there is a level of optimism we have not seen since the early days of the Wii.

Courtesy-Fud

Is Facebook Really Trying To Compete Against Nintendo’s Switch?

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

In a move that positions the social giant against video platforms like Twitch and YouTube, Facebook today has announced that people can now live broadcast from a PC or laptop – something that was only possible via mobile devices since last year. More importantly to the game industry and the world of online influencers, this expansion of Facebook Live also extends to live streaming of PC software.

“If you’re a gamer, this new feature makes it easier than ever to stream your PC gameplay to friends and followers and engage with them while you play,” the company stated. “If you’re giving your friends or followers a tutorial or how-to guide, you can incorporate on-screen graphics, titles, and overlays. Or if you’re an artist, you can go live and switch seamlessly between cameras as you narrate the process.”

It’ll be interesting to see how much of the market Facebook will be able to wrangle away from rivals Google (YouTube) and Amazon (Twitch) as the rise of streaming and influencers continues. It’ll also be important for developers to keep a close eye on how Facebook Live streaming fares, as it could be another valuable marketing tool – for both AAAs and indies, as Innervate consultant Becky Taylor observed during the Game Developers Conference.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Windows 10 Next Major Update To Arrive On April 11th

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

After months of waiting, beta tests, and tiny morsels of information about new features, the next major update for Windows 10 will arrive on April 11. Microsoft has announced that the Creators Update, as it’s known, will start rolling out to users of the company’s latest operating system in roughly two weeks.

The update includes a slew of new features, including changes to the Microsoft Edge browser, improvements to gaming on Windows 10 and more features for devices with touch screens. As the name implies, the Creators Update includes new tools for people who make and consume media on their PCs, including a new Paint3D app that updates Microsoft’s classic drawing tool to create three-dimensional models.

When it’s released, the Creators Update will be Microsoft’s second major update for Windows 10, which was released in July 2015.

It’s important to note that April 11 is just the start of the Creators Update rollout. Microsoft makes the update available to different users at different times, and will withhold the update from people if the company is unsure that it will work with their hardware.

Unlike past major feature updates, Windows 10 users will also have greater control over when the update is applied. Users will be able to schedule a specific time for the update to be applied, and “snooze” the update for as many as three days when they need to use their computers without going through a massive patching process.

Microsoft has also expanded a device’s possible “active hours,” so the updates don’t try to install themselves when users are still working.

The internet is littered with user reports of updates that arrived at inopportune times, shutting users’ computers down while they were still in use. These changes are supposed to help alleviate some of those complaints.

 

 

Can Violence In A Game Promote Safety?

March 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

When the original Doom was released in 1993, its unprecedentedly realistic graphic violence fueled a moral panic among parents and educators. Over time, the game’s sprite-based gore has lost a bit of its impact, and that previous sentence likely sounds absurd.

Given what games have depicted in the nearly quarter century since Doom, that level of violence no longer shocking so much as it is quaint, perhaps even endearing. So when it came time for id Software to reboot the series with last year’s critically acclaimed remake of Doom, one of the things the studio had to consider was exactly how violent it should be, and to what end.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at the Game Developers Conference last month, the Doom reboot’s executive producer and game director Marty Stratton and creative director Hugo Martin acknowledged that the context of the first Doom’s violence had changed greatly over the years. And while the original’s violence may have been seen as horrific and shocking, they wanted the reboot to skew closer to cartoonishly entertaining or, as they put it, less Saw and more Evil Dead 2.

“We were going for smiles, not shrieks,” Martin said, adding, “What we found with violence is that more actually makes it safer, I guess, or just more acceptable. It pushes it more into the fun zone. Because if it’s a slow trickle of blood out of a slit wrist, that’s Saw. That’s a little bit unsettling, and sort of a different type of horror. If it’s a comical fountain of Hawaiian Punch-looking blood out of someone’s head that you just shot off, that’s comic book. That’s cartoonish, and that’s what we wanted.”

“They’re demons,” Stratton said. “We don’t kill a single human in all of Doom. No cursing, no nudity. No killing of humans. We’re actually a pretty tame game when you think about it. I’ve played a lot of games where you just slaughter massive amounts of human beings. I think if we had to make some of the decisions we make about violence and the animations we do and if we were doing them to humans, we would have completely different attitudes when we go into those discussions. It’s fun to sit down in a meeting and think about all the ways it would be cool to rip apart a pinky demon or an imp. But if we had the same discussions about, ‘How am I going to rip this person in half?’ or rip his arm off and beat him over the head with it, it takes on a different connotation that I don’t know would be as fun.”

That balancing act between horror and comedy paid off for the reboot, but it was by no means the only line last year’s Doom had to straddle. There was also the question of what a modern Doom game would look like. The first two Doom games were fast-paced shooters, while the third was a much slower horror-tinged game where players had to choose between holding a gun or a flashlight at the ready. Neither really fit into the recent mold of AAA shooters, and the developers knew different people would have very different expectations for a Doom game in 2016.

As Stratton explained, “At that point, we went to, ‘What do we want? What do we think a Doom game should be moving forward?’As much as we always consider how the audience is going to react to the game–what they’re thinking, and what we think they want–back in the very beginning, it was, ‘What do we think Doom should be, and what elements of the game do we want to build the future of Doom on?’ And that’s really where we came back to Doom 1, Doom II, the action, the tone, the attitude, the personality, the character, the irreverence of it… those were all key words that we threw up on the board in those early days. And then mechanically, it was about the speed. It was about unbelievable guns, crazy demons, really being very honest about the fact that it was Doom. It was unapologetic early on, and we built from there.”

It helped that they had a recent example of how not to bring Doom into the current generation. Prior to the Doom reboot, id Software had been working on Doom 4, which Stratton said was a good game, but just didn’t feel like Doom. For one, it cast players as a member of a resistance army rather than a one-marine wrecking crew. It was also slower from a gameplay perspective, utilizing a cover-based system shared by numerous modern shooters designed to make the player feel vulnerable.

“None of us thought that the word ‘vulnerable’ belonged in a proper Doom game,” Martin said. “You should be the scariest thing in the level.”

Doom 4 wasn’t a complete write-off, however. The reboot’s glory kill system of over-the-top executions actually grew out of a Doom 4 feature, although Stratton said they made it “faster and snappier.”

Of course, not everything worked as well. At one point the team tried giving players a voice in their ears to help guide them through the game, a pretty standard first-person shooter device along the lines of Halo’s Cortana. Stratton said while the device works well for other franchises, it just didn’t feel right for Doom, so it was quickly scrapped.

“We didn’t force anything,” Stratton said. “If something didn’t feel like Doom, we got rid of it and tried something that would feel like Doom.”

That approach paid off well for the game’s single-player mode, but Stratton and Martin suggested they weren’t quite as thrilled with multiplayer. Both are proud of the multiplayer (which continues to be worked on) and confident they delivered a high quality experience with it, but they each had their misgivings about it. Stratton said if he could change one thing, it would have been to re-do the multiplayer progression system and give more enticing or better placed “hooks” to keep players coming back for game after game. Martin wished the team had messaged what the multiplayer would be a little more clearly, saying too many expected a pure arena shooter along the lines of Quake 3 Arena, when that was never the development team’s intent.

Those issues aside, it’s clear the pair feel the new wrinkles and changes they made to the classic Doom formula paid off more often than not.

“Lots worked,” Stratton said. “That’s probably the biggest point of pride for us. The game really connected with people. We always said we wanted to make something that was familiar to long-time fans, felt like Doom from a gameplay perspective and from a style and tone and attitude perspective. And I think we really accomplished that at a high level. And I think we made some new fans, which is always what you’re trying to do when you have a game that’s only had a few releases over the course of 25 years… You’re looking to bring new people into the genre, or into the brand, and I think we did that.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can Microsoft Make Game Pass Profitable?

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Of all the various innovations we’ve seen in this console generation, it may be the business model changes that have the most lasting impact on the games industry. Though originally introduced in the back half of the previous generation, the notion of giving consumers “free” games on a monthly basis for continuing their subscription to console online services has become a standard part of the model in this hardware generation.

The degree to which this is expected, and to which the perceived quality of each month’s offerings is hotly debated, is a clear signal of how the value relationship between consumers and game software is changing. Now, within the next few months, both Microsoft and Sony will evolve that relationship even further, with services which aim to give consumers access to current-gen game software through a very different transaction model.

Microsoft was first out of the blocks with its announcement, revealing at the end of last month that a large library of software for the Xbox One will be made available for a $9.99 recurring monthly subscription. Sony’s version of the concept is similar in business terms, if dramatically different technologically; it’s going to start adding PS4 titles to PS Now, a game-streaming service which currently offers a huge library of PS3 games for a $20 recurring subscription (or $45 for three months, which gets it a little closer to Microsoft’s pricing).

The goal being pursued by both firms is fairly obvious; paying monthly rather than buying titles outright is the model which has become dominant for both music and video, so it stands to reason that games will follow down the same path, at least to some extent. There’s certainly some appeal to the idea of a “Netflix / Spotify For Games”. From a business perspective, getting $120 (or $180) from consumers in flat monthly fees for games is probably actually a revenue boost if the service is primarily picked up by the kind of consumers who don’t buy a lot of new games – either predominantly buying pre-owned, waiting for titles to hit bargain basement prices, or borrowing games from friends, for example.

On the other hand, there’s an abundance of consumers out there who buy far, far more than the two new games a year that you’d get for that $120 fee – so any of those who stop buying new games in favour of a subscription service will represent a major revenue loss to the industry. Many people will be worried about that possibility, no doubt, but the reality is that there’s plenty of precedent to suggest that a subscription service won’t harm sales of new games.

New titles won’t go directly onto a subscription service; there’ll undoubtedly be a lengthy exclusivity period for people who pay for a physical or digital copy of the game, with titles only appearing for subscribers once their revenue potential in direct sales is already all-but exhausted. Subscription revenue therefore becomes a second bite at the cherry – a way of boosting the industry’s often rather ratty-looking “long tail”.

From a consumer perspective, that’s actually not all that different from the way things are now. If you’re not bothered about playing a game in its first few months on the market, then you’re probably going to end up buying a second-hand copy – or getting it from the bargain bin, or borrowing it from a friend, or perhaps even just waiting for it to pop up on PlayStation Plus at some point.

Game software generally loses value dramatically after the first few months on the market; lots of options exist for picking it up cheap, but decades of experience shows that this doesn’t dissuade fans from buying new games they really care about. Games are a “zeitgeisty” medium; people want to be playing the game everyone else is playing right now (as anyone who’s had to put up with their social media feeds being filled to the brim with Zelda chat while every electronics store in the city remains out of stock of Switch can tell you – not that I’m bitter, of course).

For the industry, however, most of these options aren’t very appealing. Second-hand software sales enrich GameStop, and just about nobody else; there’s an argument that second-hand sales boost new software sales by providing trade-in value, but it’s hard to balance the effects of that against the simple revenue loss game creators suffer from the repeated recycling of second-hand stock through stores that often deliberately push consumers towards used games instead of new ones. Borrowing the game from a friend is arguably preferable to the industry; no money is changing hands at all, so at least potential revenue hasn’t been sucked out by a third party.

Given, then, that we’re already talking about consumers who have a range of options for accessing software which provide no revenue to game creators, something like a Netflix-esque subscription service starts to make a lot of sense. How the revenue works in the back-end will, no doubt, be subject to endless negotiation and dispute, but the point is that at least the revenue exists; games on the service will continue to generate cash for their creators as long as they’re being played, and every cent they receive is a cent they’d never have seen in the currently dominant second-hand models. Moreover, the existence of subscription services could be a net boost for the games industry as a whole; the ability to access a large library of software for an affordable monthly subscription fee is something that will appeal to a lot of consumers, potentially bringing them into the console ecosystem.

If the business case for these services is very clear, however, the question of which technical approach will succeed is rather less so. For now, I think that Microsoft’s model – allowing consumers to download and play locally the software on its subscription service – is comfortably superior to the PS Now streaming system.

Game streaming over the Internet remains a technology that’s arguably ahead of its time; there are question marks over the business case (since the provider needs to pay for racks and racks of hardware which every consumer using the service already possesses in their own home, a duplication of functionality that makes little sense, especially since PS Now recently dropped support for “thin client” platforms like Bravia TVs), but more importantly, a huge number of consumers simply won’t be able to make use of the service because their broadband connections are not up to the standard required for high-quality, real-time gameplay. The demands of real-time game streaming are very different from the demands of watching live streams of video, because you can’t buffer a real-time game stream; when it works, it’s impressive, but the reality is that for a great many consumers it either doesn’t work at all or only works at time when the network isn’t congested.

Given the limitations of PS Now (and I think the dropping of support on Bravia TVs, mobile phones and so on is an ominous sign for the future of the service), Microsoft’s native software approach seems far more likely to be a hit with its consumers – indeed, the company may be hoping to recapture some of the magic of the Xbox 360 era, when its enormous advantage over Sony in online services helped it to maintain a lead over the PS3 for several years.

For Sony’s part, the desire to try to boost PS Now may be its undoing, at least in the short term; but an enhanced version of PS Plus (PS Plus… Plus?) with a library subscription built-in seems like a no-brainer in the medium term. It’s a win-win situation for platform holders and game creators alike. The only really big loser in all of this will be heavily pre-owned reliant retailers like GameStop; if game subscription services truly take off this year, they’ll have to scramble to find a new model before it’s too late.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Samsung Reveals More Details About Personal Digital Assistant ‘Bixby’

March 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has revealed that Bixby, an intelligent voice assistant, will run on the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone scheduled to be announced March 29 in New York.

Bixby will be activated using a special physical button on the side of the phone, differentiating it from some other assistants that rely on a trigger word, like “Alexa” or “Siri.” Samsung also said Bixby will eventually work on millions of Samsung-made devices, potentially including TVs and washing machines.

The S8 will come with a subset of preinstalled apps that are Bixby-enabled, according to Injong Rhee, executive vice president of software and services for Samsung Electronics. Over time, this set of apps will expand; Samsung will release a software toolkit to allow third-party developers to Bixby enable their apps and services.

“Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone,” Rhee said.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said Bixby is a late-comer to the digital assistant game, arriving two years after Amazon’s Alexa and behind Google Assistant, which already have rich databases of voice inquiries and searches to add context to queries.

Alexa is well known for working with Echo room units. However, just last week, Amazon announced that Alexa works in its Amazon app on iOS devices.

Bixby is going to be playing catch up,” Goertz said. “Samsung faces a complete greenfield with its knowledge base.”

Even Alexa is in its “very early stages” in terms of how well a user can get an answer to a complicated question. “Everybody has a good time trying to trick these digital assistants, but if you bring in Bixby it’s going to be even easier to trip up Bixby.”

The functions of converting speech to text with digital assistants “works relatively well unless you trip it up with accents and background noise,” he said. The more critical issue is the knowledge base needed to find accurate information.

Still, Samsung argued that Bixby will offer a “deeper experience.” The company said that the feature in a Bixby-enabled app will support almost every task the app is capable of performing, including touch commands. By comparison, most agents currently only support a few selected tasks, which can confuse users about what works by voice command in an app.

Samsung also said Bixby will know the current context and state of an app to allow users to carry out work in progress. Users will be able to weave touch with voice interactions, depending on what they like.

And Bixby will also be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information to the best of its knowledge, then ask for more information. “This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use,” Rhee added.

Even though Samsung is getting a late start with Bixby, Goertz said it stands to gain traction quickly, partly because Samsung is so large.

 

 

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