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Is EA Screwing Up The Planned Move To Games As A Service

December 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Every now and then, a major publisher goes through a bit of a rough patch in PR terms; the hits just seem to keep on coming, with company execs and representatives seemingly incapable of opening their mouths without shoving their feet right inside, and every decision being either poorly communicated or simply wrongheaded to begin with. At present it’s EA that can’t seem to put a foot right, from Battlefront 2’s microtransactions to lingering bad feeling over the closure of Visceral; every major company in the industry, though, has had its fair share of turns in the barrel.

These cycles come around for a couple of reasons. Part of it is just down to narrative; once something goes wrong for a company, they are scrutinised more closely for a while, and statements that might have slipped under the radar usually are blown up by the attention. Another part of it, though, is genuinely down to phases that companies go through; common enough periods in which the balance between the two audiences a major company must serve, its consumers and its investors, is not being managed and maintained expertly enough.

Most companies encounter this difficulty from time to time, because the demands and desires of shareholders are often damned near diametrically opposed to those of customers. The biggest problems arise, however, when a firm ends up having to take a Janus-faced approach, presenting a different picture in financial calls and investor conferences to the one it tries to convey in its customer-facing PR and marketing efforts.

That’s broadly speaking the situation EA has found itself in once again; forced to be conciliatory and diplomatic in talking to customers about everything from loot boxes to its commitment (or lack of same) to single-player experiences, while simultaneously being bullish with investors who want to see clear signs of progress in the shift towards a set of business paradigms core consumers volubly dislike.

CFO Blake Jorgensen’s comments at Credit Suisse’s conference earlier this week are archetypal of this genre of corporate communication; from a blunt denial that the company’s microtransaction strategy on Battlefront 2 is changing overall to a throwaway comment about Visceral’s closure being related to declining popularity (by which, being a CFO, he meant revenue) of linear game experiences, Jorgensen spoke to investors in a way that was quite markedly different from how the rest of the company has addressed its actual customers on these issues.

You can argue quite reasonably that this approach is dishonest in spirit if not in substance; even if the words of each statement are chosen carefully so the investor messages don’t technically contradict the consumer messages, the intent is so clearly tangential that consumers have every right to feel rather miffed. I think it’s worthwhile, however, to look beyond that to the motivation and strategy behind this – not just in terms of EA’s month of bad PR, but looking beyond that to the industry as a whole, because pretty much every major publisher is undertaking a similar strategic shift in a direction they know perfectly well is going to annoy many of their core customers, and they’re all going to have their own turn in the barrel as a consequence.

At the heart of this issue lies the fact that for many investors and executives, the business model that has sustained the games industry for decades has started to look frustratingly quaint and backwards. “Games as a Product”, whereby a game is made and sold, perhaps followed up by a handful of add-ons that are also made and sold (essentially smaller add-on products in their own right), is a model beloved of core consumers – but business people point out, not entirely unfairly, that it has many glaring flaws.

Some of those flaws are very real – the product model creates a high barrier to entry (you can’t attract new customers without convincing them through expensive marketing to spend $50 to $60 on trying out your game), hence limiting audience growth, and has not scaled effectively with the rising costs of AAA development. More controversially, they dislike the fact that the product model creates a relatively low cap on spending – after buying a game, there’s only so much money a consumer can spend on DLC packs (each of which has its own associated development costs) before they hit a hard limit on their purchases.

Hence the pressure to move to a “Games as a Service” model, which neatly – if not uncontroversially – solves each of these issues. The service model can be priced as low as zero to create a minimal barrier to entry, though for major titles with a big brand attached publishers still show a preference for having their cake and eating it, charging full AAA pricing for entry to an essentially freemium-style experience. An individual player’s spending may be theoretically limitless, as purchases of cosmetic or consumable items could run to many thousands of dollars in some cases – hence also allowing the game’s revenue to scale up to match the huge AAA development and marketing budgets that went into its creation.

You can “blame” mobile games for this if you wish, but in a sense they were merely the canary in the coalmine; the speed with which the mobile gaming market converged on the F2P model and the aggression with which it was pursued was a clear sign that the rest of the industry would eventually try to move in a similar direction. The reality is that mobile games shone a light on something a few industry types had been saying for years; that there was a massive, largely untapped audience for games out there, who would never climb over the barriers to entry to the traditional market but who could potentially be immensely valuable customers of games with lower barriers to entry.

The correct height for those barriers turned out to be “free games for devices you already own”, and yet this market did turn out to be enormously valuable; and now much of the industry is eyeing up the model that works on smartphones, looking at their own rising costs and shrinking slice of the pie, and wondering how to get from over here to over there.

The problem is that making that crossing – from being a successful creator or publisher of core games to being a successful company in a smartphone-style paradigm – is damned tricky to do when the business model you (and your investors!) want to have is anathema to many of the customers you actually have right now. Not all of them, by any means – plenty of core gamers are actually pretty relaxed about these models, for the most part – but enough of them to make a lot of noise and to potentially put a major dent in the bottom line of a company that genuinely manages to drive them away.

Hence, much of the approach we’ve seen in 2017 (and prior) has really been akin to the parable about putting a frog in cold water and gradually raising the heat; companies have slowly, softly been adding service-style features and approaches to their games, hoping that the slowly warming water won’t startle its occupants too much.

When things spill over as they have done for EA in the past month, it tends to indicate that someone got impatient; that investors were too demanding or executives pushed too hard, and the water started to heat up too rapidly. The course will be corrected, but the destination remains the same. Short of a really major pushback and some serious revenue damage across the board from these approaches – which bluntly seems unlikely to materialise – the move towards games as a service is inexorable, and 2018 will bring far, far more of the same. Whether you view that as the industry’s salvation or its ruin is really a matter of personal perspective, but it’s a new reality for AAA titles that we’re all going to have to make some kind of peace with.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Xbox One X Beats PS4 PRO In The UK

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The first week sales of Xbox One X is over 80,000 in the UK, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal.

Retailers have shared data that reveal that Microsoft’s new super-powered console has sold as many units in its first week as Nintendo Switch did in March (hardware figures are up-weighted 20%. Xbox One X raw data is at 67,000).

It’s first week sales are also well ahead of PS4 Pro, which did a little over 50,000 back in November 2016. Indeed, it took PS4 Pro four weeks to reach the same number.

Of course, stock shortages of both PS4 Pro and Switch will have impacted the performance of those machines.

The majority of sales were for the special Project Scorpio version of the machine.

It’s a pleasing performance for Microsoft, which has had a quiet year in terms of new Xbox products so far.

The best-selling Xbox One game of the week was Call of Duty: WWII, followed by Assassin’s Creed Origins (which was promoted with the system), FIFA 18 and the Forza duo: Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Xbox One X Sales Higher Than Anticipated

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

At $499, the new Xbox One X isn’t going to attract people in droves, but it’s going to fare better than some might expect. Feedback on pre-orders has been encouraging and analysts are upgrading their forecasts. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter recently told us that he’s upping his Xbox One X sales forecast from 1 million to 1.5 million for 2017, and now IHSMarkit has raised its numbers as well.

“Feedback on pre-order volume for both the limited-edition Project Scorpio Xbox One X and for the standard version of the X console has led us to increase our 2017 sell-through forecast for Xbox One X,” said IHSMarkit’s Piers Harding-Rolls. “The Project Scorpio limited edition pre-order strategy has been particularly effective in driving what is expected to be a robust launch week in key sales territories. IHS Markit has therefore increased its 2017 forecast from 500,000 to 900,000 units. At this level, Xbox One share of total Q4 2017 Xbox One console family sales will be close to 20 percent, similar to the performance of PS4 Pro at launch. If Microsoft outperforms and delivers sales in excess of this forecast it will be considered a major launch success.”

Harding-Rolls even thinks some PlayStation fans could switch to Xbox One X: “A small share of PS4 Pro gamers that are keen to have the most powerful hardware for playing third-party published games are likely to shift their usage across to the new console, which may moderately shift the sales share of games between the two competing platforms.”

The extra sales for Xbox One X aren’t about to tip any scales in Microsoft’s favor, however: “Xbox One X is poised to give the company a boost in its ambition to compete more effectively with PS4 Pro in strategically important markets of the USA and UK. Other select markets, such as Germany in Europe with its PC gaming heritage, are also forecast to deliver solid launch traction. Overall, however, IHS Markit does not expect Xbox One X to have a dramatic impact on market share between Sony and Microsoft in continental Europe as the market’s current momentum is well entrenched. IHS Markit currently forecasts the Western Europe installed base of PS4 family of consoles to reach 26 million by the end of 2017 compared to 8 million for the Xbox One family of consoles.”

Importantly, while Microsoft is not selling Xbox One X hardware at a profit, the platform should help the company’s bottom line. Harding-Rolls adds, “Sales of the more expensive Xbox One X console will also help mitigate the fall in Xbox One S hardware average sales price which in recent fiscal quarters has undermined the positive impact felt by Microsoft of increased revenues from software and services. As such, Microsoft’s games business-related revenue is expected to increase year-on-year in Q4 2017.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Did The Latest Final Fantasy Save Franchise

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Square Enix’ Final Fantasy franchise is arguably in the rudest health it’s ever been right now. The main series latest title, FFXV, launched to critical and commercial success and is being supported by a string of fine content updates; the MMO, FFXIV, is closing in on the peak players record set by World of Warcraft; and across mobile and other platforms, the franchise is enjoying success both with entirely new titles (such as Final Fantasy Brave Exvius on mobile) and with those tapping into nostalgia for the series’ past (mobile and console re-releases of classic games, or remixes like the mobile title Final Fantasy Record Keeper). The public’s appetite for the venerable franchise seems limitless, and Square Enix’ capacity to meet that demand is firing on all cylinders.

It wasn’t always like this. In fact, the state of Final Fantasy right now represents one of the most dramatic turnarounds by a major franchise in the history of the industry. Turn the clock back five years and the whole brand looked like it was bound for disaster. Final Fantasy XV was deep in development hell with no end in sight, and few held much hope for whatever game would eventually crawl out of the car crash. Final Fantasy XIV had endured almost two years of critical lashings and subscriber discontent, and was on the verge of shutting down. The franchise’s mobile efforts, too, were underwhelming, largely made up of ports of old games and re-developed titles from Japan’s long-in-the-tooth, pre-smartphone iMode service.

Had anyone at that point stood up to predict that Final Fantasy XIV and XV would both be not only immensely successful in their own right, but tentpole titles for one of the most commercially successful console generations ever, the most likely reaction would have been laughter. The sheer depth and breadth of Final Fantasy’s legacy meant that few would have been confident in writing off the series’ capacity for reinvention or resurrection; but for the franchise’s current iterations to be turned around so utterly would have been dismissed as impossible.

Such a feat bears closer scrutiny; not just because Final Fantasy is a beloved franchise whose resuscitation is interesting in its own right, but because it holds important lessons for other franchises that hit rocky patches. It’s worth noting also that the decline hadn’t started with the issues with instalments XIV and XV; rather, it dates back right to the outset of the PlayStation 3 era, when an ambitious plan to expand the franchise ended up delivering, instead, the poorly received FFXIII games and the eternally locked in development hell FFXV, originally planned as a companion piece to, rather than a distant successor for, the thirteenth game.

This is a franchise, then, whose development and critical reception really hadn’t been on solid ground since the PlayStation 2 era, and arguably one in much more trouble (though with a far deeper wellspring of goodwill and nostalgia at its disposal) than recently indisposed franchises like Mass Effect.

How Square Enix approached turning the entire franchise around is a lesson in bold steps and confidence. It took the unprecedented step of shutting down FFXIV and launching an entirely revamped version with a new creative boss at the helm; A Realm Reborn, the relaunched game, carries on from the story of the original (there was actually a creatively fascinating in-game narrative event wherein the shutdown of the old servers was accompanied by the actual destruction of the world, with the new game’s story commencing five years after those events) but is in almost every other respect a new game.

Consider the extraordinary effort Blizzard undertook to rework and modernise all of its original World of Warcraft content when it released the Cataclysm expansion at the peak of the game’s popularity; now consider that Square Enix took the decision to do precisely that with a game which was loathed critically and drooping commercially. That such a wild gambit has succeeded is a testament to the talent and vision of Yoshida Naoki and his team; that it was taken at all speaks to a confidence and willingness to take risks that is to the credit of Square Enix’ executive team.

What happened to FFXIV happened in public, of necessity; the original game had already launched when it became clear that it needed to be reworked from the ground up. Yet it is apparent that no less dramatic a transformation happened to FFXV as it finally hit the home stretch in its development (a home stretch, incidentally, longer than the entire development process of many other major titles).

The FFXV that eventually launched is a game that’s easy to like, but also a curious beast, one that clearly bears the marks and scars of dramatic surgery during its development. It’s a game whose sprawling scope belies a remarkably tight and stripped down core. There are moments where strange scars across the game’s design speaks to the excising of huge, ambitious ideas, or where the game’s systems curiously seem to try to flex phantom limbs; ideas and mechanisms amputated years ago in favour of a mostly streamlined story of four boys on a road-trip at the end of the world.

That the process of killing FFXV’s darlings happened behind closed doors does not make it any less dramatic than what happened to FFXIV in public; and while the creative teams responsible for the decisions were different, the solutions they hit upon are quite similar. Both teams found ways to use what had gone before, balancing a willingness to discard even very expensively developed content that just wasn’t working with a deft hand at ensuring the baby stayed firmly in place while disposing of the bathwater.

Often in the games industry, there’s a kind of masochistic satisfaction taken in talking firmly about how good a company is at throwing out ideas that aren’t working, or how quick they are to can games that don’t look like they’re up to scratch. That’s absolutely an important skill, but while vital in fast-moving and still (relatively) cheap fields like mobile, it’s one that’s increasingly irrelevant to AAA development. There, it’s been superceded by the more economically sensible task of actually figuring out how expensively developed assets, code and systems can be recycled into things that actually work.

That’s obviously a much tougher and more skilled job than simply canning something and tossing a casual reference to “sunk cost fallacy” over your shoulder as you walk away from the ensuing explosion. As development costs soar, however, the kind of highly skilled salvage work Square Enix has demonstrated on both FFXV and FFXIV is already becoming economically essential. There comes a point where so much money has gone bad that figuring out how to strategically, intelligently throw good money after it to claw back some value becomes a vital survival skill for a studio or publisher.

That Square Enix has become so proficient at this task is very much to its credit. It had little choice, in ways; allowing Final Fantasy games to fail in succession would have been an indelible stain on the company’s most valuable IP, after all. Still, it has achieved what few other companies have managed – bringing games back from the brink of disaster to become enormous hit titles, and charting a future course for a major franchise in the process.

The stature of Final Fantasy may be unique, but the challenges Square Enix faced in bringing about its resurgence were not. What those studios did, and what they do next, should be watched closely by anyone in the industry with an interest in how to sustain a major franchise or turn around a troubled game.

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

PlayUnknown’s Battleground Headed The Top

September 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

It was a big weekend for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, as Bluehole’s breakout hit saw the conclusion of the ESL Gamescom PUBG Invitational tournament and reached a new milestone to boot.

On Saturday morning, the game’s creative director Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene tweeted that the game had surpassed 800,000 concurrent players on Valve’s Steam storefront, sandwiched between a pair of Valve-developed evergreen hits on the service, Dota 2 (839,000 players at the time) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (538,000 players). By Sunday morning, Greene’s game had climbed ahead of Dota 2, 878,000 concurrent players to 843,000 concurrent players.

Battlegrounds has been in uncharted territory for non-Valve games on Steam for some time already. Last month, Greene tweeted a game-by-game list of highest record player counts on Steam. Battlegrounds’ record at the time of 481,000 players was already the third-best ever, and the highest for a non-Valve game with Fallout 4 the next best at 472,000. This weekend may have moved Battlegrounds into second place all-time ahead of Counter-Strike, which as of last month had a record of 850,000 peak concurrent users.

Battlegrounds still has a ways to go before it can claim the all-time record (held by Dota 2, which drew 1.29 million players in March of 2016), but if it somehow kept growing as it has during the summer, it would surpass that mark next month.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Codemasters Loves The Xbox One X

September 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Adding virtual reality to Formula One would require “fairly significant” changes, so Codemasters is in no hurry to support the technology with its racing series.

F1 2017 releases for Xbox One, PS4 and PC today, but the publisher has no concrete plans for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Playstation VR. Given that, like most racing games, F1 lends itself to a seated VR experience it seems like a natural extension for the franchise, but it’s not a simple case of porting the game.

“We’ve certainly given a lot of consideration to VR,” creative director Lee Mather tells GamesIndustry.biz. “As you know, Codemasters did VR for Dirt Rally and we’re certainly interested in doing it for Formula One.

“It’s a little trickier for us because we’re pushing the boundaries when it comes to our physics. We have a lot of elements on screen with the OSD, so that’s a lot of information the player would have to process in VR. The changes to move the game onto VR would be fairly significant, and we wouldn’t want to do it if it meant compromising any area of the game. That’s why we’re holding back on that at the moment, but it’s something we’re considering.”

Mather is much more excited in the potential higher-end consoles lend to his games. F1 2017 will support PS4 Pro and has also been built with the upcoming Xbox One X in mind too. In fact, Codemasters was able to show an early build of the Xbox One X version at E3 earlier this year.

More importantly, improvements for the premium consoles will benefit the standard versions for earlier models.

“Obviously we’ve done a lot of work [this year] on the render tech for those two consoles, but that sort of filters down for the whole range,” Mather explains. “This year, we’ve upped the resolution on Xbox One – last year, it wasn’t quite 1080p and now it’s full 1080p, 60 frames per second. PS4, PS4 Pro and Xbox One S will have HDR support as well.

He continues: “Any work we do to make gains on the new platforms filters down to the older ones as well,” he says. “So, as I said, Xbox One gained a higher resolution because the checkerboard rendering is more efficient in that respect.

“Any work we do to make gains on the new platforms filter down to the older ones as well”

“In terms of the assets we create, it’s actually not a case that we have to do better assets; instead, now we don’t have to knock them down as much, because they’re already authored at a very high quality and then you bring them down to suit the platform you’re running on. In a lot of ways, it’s giving us more opportunities to showcase the quality of the stuff we’re already producing at an even higher level.”

Xbox One X isn’t the only new hardware launch to grab attention in 2017. Nintendo Switch continues to perform well and is currently gearing up for its all-important first Christmas. Codemasters saw moderate success from the Wii versions of its earlier Formula One titles, so could the series make a return to Nintendo platforms?

“Obviously we’ve been watching how the Switch is performing and it’s selling really well,” says Mather. “It probably wouldn’t be suitable to have exactly the same game we have running on Xbox One and PS4, but there’s certainly the possibility we’ll look at doing something on Switch. We’ll see what happens in future. It’s certainly getting the market share to make it a valid place to be.”

F1 2017 is the first in a long line of racing games due for release before the end of the year, pitting it against Forza Motorsport 7, Gran Turismo Sport, Project Cars 2 and the return of Need for Speed. Mather is quick to stress that, while Codemasters aims to be “the No.1 racing studio in the world”, it makes no illusions about directly competing this year given that Formula One is something of a niche.

“We’re a niche within a niche to a degree,” he says. “Racing games are a niche in themselves, and we are unique within that and that’s our big selling point. We aren’t just a racing game; we’re a representation of a full sport. So whereas other racing games may appeal to racing game players, we appeal to Formula One fans as well. We’re pulling in people who love the sport as much as we’re pulling in people who love games and racing. That’s where our place is and that’s why we’ve got such a dedicated fanbase every year.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Microsoft’s Xbox One X Enhanced Games List Keep Growing

August 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft spent its Gamescom livestream detailing some of the games that will be enhanced for Xbox One X.

The company announced over 115 games that have been souped up for Microsoft’s new console, including including Halo 5, Dishonored 2, Halo Wars 2, Killer Instinct, Resident Evil 7, Gears of War 4, Rime, Star WarsL Battlefront II, Project CARS 2, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Smite, Rocket League, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ark Survival Evolve and a whole lot more. The full list is through here.

The firm also showed some new titles that will utilize the hardware, including Frontier Development’s Jurassic World Evolution, which is a theme-park-style game that’s due next summer (the title is coming to PS4 and PC, too). Microsoft also confirmed the existence of a special edition of last year’s ReCore, which was a big bet from Microsoft that unfortunately failed to deliver at the time.

Elsewhere, the platform holder pledged to support family and casual gamers, and announced that titles such as Disneyland Adventures and Zoo Tycoon will be updated for Xbox One X.

In terms of pre-orders, Microsoft detailed a special ‘Project Scorpio’ edition of Xbox One X. Similar to the ‘Day One Edition’ it created for the original Xbox One launch, this version of the console will feature a custom design and an exclusive vertical stand. It’s available only to those that pre-order.

It wasn’t just Xbox One X, however. Xbox One S bundles were also revealed, including a partnership with Warner Bros on Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The Shadow of War bundles will be priced at $279 for the 500GB S model (not available in the US) and $349 for the 1TB S edition (which is the same price as the current RRP). It will be bundled on October 10th alongside the launch of the game.

Finally, Microsoft showed off a limited-edition Minecraft version of Xbox One S. The newly designed machine will come with a special ‘Creeper’ Minecraft controller, with a second ‘pig’ controller sold separately. It will also include the Minecraft game, and is coming to retail on October 3rd.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Crackdown 3 Hurt The Xbox One X

August 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft has announced a fresh delay for the long-awaited Crackdown 3, which slips into next year.

The open-world action shooter was originally due for release on November 7th, notably as a launch title for the upcoming Xbox One X – Microsoft’s souped-up 4K-ready version of its current console.

However, Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager announced via Twitter that the game has been held back “so we can make sure we deliver all the awesome that Crackdown fans want.”

Now delayed until spring 2018, this means the only new first-party release that will take advantage of the device will be Forza Motorsport 7.

Microsoft will instead be relying on titles likely already in Xbox One owners’ collections to shift the powerful new console. At E3 2017, the platform holder confirmed Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3 and Halo Wars 2 will receive free updates that take advantage of the Xbox One X hardware.

Third parties will also play a vital role in the new machine’s launch. Previously released titles including Final Fantasy XV, Resident Evil VII, Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Rocket League are all due free 4K updates, and forthcoming heavy hitters like Assassin’s Creed Origins and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War will also be compatible with the new console.

With Xbox One’s major rival PlayStation 4 storming ahead at over 60m sales worldwide, Microsoft will no doubt be hoping the X will help close the gap. The platform holder has avoided sharing concrete Xbox One sales figures for some time now, but it’s believed to be significantly behind PS4.

Crackdown seems to have had a troubled development, originally unveiled as far back as E3 2014 with an initial 2016 release date. This is likely due to the game’s ambitious plans to use cloud computing to power fully destructible environments, although this is reported to be exclusive to the game’s multiplayer mode.

GamesIndustry.biz will be speaking to the game’s developer Sumo Digital at Gamescom next week to get an update on the project’s progress.

Courtesy-GI.biz

The Xbox One X To Get Unity Inside

August 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Unity has added Xbox One X support to its list of supported platforms.

The update gives users of the engine access to the new Xbox model’s 4K and HDR output. Ultimately, Unity users with an Xbox One development kit can now deploy to the Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X simultaneously.

“Taking advantage of the increased power and 4K HDR output of the Xbox One X is as easy as changing some quality settings,” asserts a brief blog post on the update from Unity.

The engine maker is now appealing to developers to provide feedback on their experience deploying to Xbox One X, with a view to refining and updating the support.

The Xbox One X offers a more powerful version of the console, but for a price of £449, or $499, leading analysts have collectively suggested it may struggle to sell. The machine, previously known as Project Scorpio, will sell at a loss at its RRP, though some predict Microsoft will shift in excess of 20 million units by 2022.

It is worth noting that the original Xbox One debuted with a $499 RRP.

How appealing the Xbox One X’s increased resolution output will be to Unity’s legion of indie and microstudio users is yet to be seen, but support from such a prolifically employed tool may be seen as a considerable boon.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Battlefield 1 Still Going Strong

August 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Electronic Arts has released a few new snippets about its best-selling first-person shooter Battlefield 1.

The game has now engaged more than 21 players, hitting this milestone at the end of June. The updated figure comes from the publisher’s most recent quarterly financial report, spotted by GameSpot, and means Battlefield 1 has gained 2m new players over the past three months.

EA hopes to transform Battlefield 1 into a “content-rich live service”, giving it a longer tail than previous AAA shooters. Its efforts to achieve this have so far entailed two hefty expansion packs, the second of which – In The Name of the Tsar – is due for release in September.

Additional content is also teased in the financials, expected to be revealed at Gamescom later this month.

CEO Andrew Wilson described the new offering as “the richest Battlefield 1 experience yet”, adding that it will include “the all-out warfare, epic multiplayer battles and War Stories campaign that have defined the game, plus new maps, deeper progression, and additional fan-favorite game modes, all in a single package.”

It’s a safe bet this is either a third expansion, a Game of the Year edition or perhaps both, but means there could be a fresh retail release on the horizon to further grow Battlefield 1’s player base.

Electronic Arts has another first-person shooter heading to shelves before Christmas in the form of Star Wars Battlefront 2. Drawing on feedback from the previous game, and further pushing towards a service model, the publisher has decided to drop the Season Pass and make all additional content free.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is GTA-V A Gaming Phenomena

August 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

A lot of exciting things have happened in the games industry since 2013. That time has seen the mobile game space rise to maturity; it’s seen Sony return to console dominance with PS4, and Nintendo bounce from its greatest heights to its lowest ebb.

And yet one thing has stayed consistent throughout that entire four-year period. Through it all, Grand Theft Auto V has steadily, unstoppably continued to sell huge numbers every single week. In 2017 so far, it’s the best-selling game in the UK; in the United States it charts in fourth place.

Previous entries in the Grand Theft Auto series were, of course, landmark titles in their own right – both culturally and commercially. Their content sparked controversy and, from the point when the series shifted into an extraordinary open world with Grand Theft Auto 3, their enormous sales pushed them into a mainstream consciousness that had generally glossed over videogames up to that point. Grand Theft Auto came to be the series that defined perceptions of games in the 2000s, perhaps even more so than Mario or Sonic had done in the 1990s.

Grand Theft Auto V, however, has quietly gone beyond that and become something even more. I say quietly, because it’s not necessarily something that you see if you’re an ordinary game consumer. For most of us, Grand Theft Auto V was a game – a really great, beautifully made, fantastic game – that we played for a pretty long time a few years ago. We’ve moved on, though sometimes it comes up in conversation, or you see a really crazy stunt video on YouTube; it’s part of gamer consciousness, but arguably no more than a number of other superb games of the same era.

Yet unlike all those other games, GTAV keeps on selling. People keep walking into shops and buying it; 340,000 copies in the UK alone this year. The only way to explain those sales is to assume that they are representative of GTAV being purchased along with, or soon after, the upgrades being made by many consumers to next-gen consoles or higher spec PCs. Far more than its predecessors, the game has become a cultural touchstone – something that you simply buy by default along with a new game system.

Of course, individual game consoles have had must-own games before; how many people bought Halo with the original Xbox, or Mario 64 with the Nintendo 64? Never before, however, has there been a game like GTAV, which has served as a touchstone for an entire era of gaming. The closest point of comparison I can think of is something like The Matrix, which was the go-to DVD for people buying new DVD players in the late 1990s, or Blade Runner’s Directors’ Cut, which served a similar role for Blu-Ray. Nothing before now in the realm of videogames comes close.

Something we don’t know, however, is what people are actually doing with those new copies of GTAV; the huge question is whether they’re buying them for the game’s excellent single-player experience, or whether they’re diving into GTA Online. The online game has been a runaway success for publisher Take Two, and has definitely helped to prolong the longevity of GTAV, but it’s hard to quantify just how much it has to do with the continued strong sales of the game itself.

That question is important, because if people are primarily buying GTAV as an online game, it makes it a little easier to categorize that success. In that case, it would belong alongside titles like League of Legends, World of Warcraft or Destiny; enormous, sprawling games that suck up years upon years of players’ attention.

From a commercial standpoint, the industry is still a little unsure what these games are or what to do about them; they are behemoths on the landscape that everyone else needs to navigate around, but while many people share an intuition that they collapse revenues for other games in the same genre, it’s not entirely clear as yet what influence they really have on everything else on the market. If GTAV fits in with those titles, albeit on a level of its own to some degree, then it makes sense; it fits a pattern.

My sense, however, is that GTAV is something entirely different. It’s not quite, as Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick rather bombastically claimed at E3, that there are no “other titles… clustered around GTA from a quality point of view.” GTAV is a brilliant game, but it’s hard to support the claim that there’s nothing else out there of similar quality.

Rather, it’s that GTAV has struck a series of notes perfectly, stitching together a combination of elements each of which is executed flawlessly and which combined to make a game that is memorable, replayable, funny, challenging, and – vitally in this era – a never-ending source of entertaining video clips for YouTube or Twitch. Almost every aspect of GTAV is good, but there’s no single part you can point to and say, “this is why this is the game that defines an era.” The magic lies in the sum, not the individual parts.

And perhaps it’s something more than even that; perhaps GTAV isn’t just the right game, it’s also a game that’s appeared at the right time.

Think of the average age of a game consumer, which is well into the thirties at this point. Think of how games have come to be a part of our cultural conversation; no longer in a dismissive way, but as a field of genuine interest, a source of inspiration for other media, a topic of watercooler conversation. Think too of how videogames have begun to inform the aesthetics of the world, from the gloss of Marvel’s movies to the more obvious homages of Wreck-It Ralph or (god help us) Pixels. Somehow they’ve even managed to rope Spielberg into adapting inexplicably popular execrable teenage gamer fanfiction novel Ready Player One. Games are embedded as part of the world’s culture and, more importantly, part of how we talk about that culture.

GTAV arrived, in stunning, endlessly discussable, endlessly uploadable form right at the moment when that transition was being completed. There’s no way to quantify this, but I’ll wager GTAV holds a special record that’ll never go in Guinness’ book. I’ll wager it’s the most talked-about game of all time. Not because of controversy or scandal; it’s a game that’s just been talked about in conversation after conversation, four years of discussing stunts and jokes and achievements and easter eggs, until the game became embedded in our collective consciousness until it was The Game You Buy When You Finally Get A PS4.

There’s never been a game that occupied a place in the public consciousness quite like GTAV; but now that such a place exists for games in our collective cultural consciousness, perhaps it won’t be very long before more fantastic games roll up to take on similar roles.

Courtesy-GI.biz  

Is The Gaming Industry Going Through A Nostalgic Summer

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

I had been repeating that this summer for games offers little outside of some decent Nintendo titles.

“You keep forgetting Crash Bandicoot,” said my retail friend.

I laughed. “Sure, it’s a nice piece of nostalgia,” I reasoned. “But it’s hardly going to set the market alight.”

“Pre-orders are brilliant,” came the reply. “We’ve upped our order twice. I think it’s going to be the biggest game of the summer.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve written extensively about the marketplace’s current love of nostalgia, and that trend only seems to be accelerating. In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen the news that original Xbox games are coming to Xbox One, the reveal of the Sega Forever range of classics for smartphones, and now the best-selling SNES Mini.

The trend isn’t new. Classic re-releases have been standard for over a decade. However, the recent surge in nostalgia can be traced back to the onset of Kickstarter and the indie movement, which brought with it a deluge of fan-pleasing sequels, remakes and spiritual successors.

The trend reached the mainstream around the 20th anniversary of PlayStation, with Sony tapping into that latent love for all things PS1. And today, nostalgia is a significant trend in video games. Look at this year’s line-up: Sonic Mania, Yooka-Laylee, Super Bomberman, Wipeout, Crash Bandicoot, Thimbleweed Park, Micro Machines, Metroid II… even Tekken, Mario Kart and Resident Evil have found their way to the top of the charts (even if they never really went away).

It’s not just software, either. Accessories firms, hardware manufacturers and merchandise makers are all getting in on the act. I even picked up a magazine last week (on the shelves of my local newsagent) dedicated to the N64. This is the industry we live in.

Nostalgia has manifested itself in several different ways. We’ve seen re-releases (Xbox Originals, Sega Forever, NES Mini, Rare Replay), we’ve seen full remakes and updates (Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil 2), plus sequels and continuations (Elite Dangerous, Shenmue 3). We’ve seen a plethora of spiritual successors (Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained, Thimbleweed Park) and we have also witnessed old-fashioned game elements re-introduced into modern titles (split-screen multiplayer, for instance).

It’s not just games. We’ve recently seen nostalgia-tinged TV such as Twin Peaks, Stranger Things and X-Files, plus the cinematic return of Ghostbusters, Baywatch, and Jurassic Park. Yet this trend isn’t so new for film and TV (or music, either). And that’s because they’re older mediums. The demand for nostalgia tends to come from those aged 30 or above, and with video games being such a young industry, we’re only starting to see the manifestation of this now.

It’s perhaps also more significant in games because of just how different the experiences of the 1990s are to what we have today. In terms of tech, visuals, genre and connectivity, video games have moved so quickly. We simply don’t get many games like Crash Bandicoot or Wipeout anymore, which makes the demand for them even more acute.

Can it last forever? Or is this destined to be another gaming gold mine that gets picked to death? It’s difficult to say. Nostalgia isn’t like MMOs or futuristic shooters. This isn’t a genre, but an emotion ‘sentimental longing for a period in the past’. In theory, the clamour for old games and genres should get broader. In ten years’ time, those brought up on a diet of DS and Wii will be approaching 30. They’ll be reminiscing of the times they spent on Wii Sports and Viva Pinata. And the nostalgia wheel turns again.

Nevertheless, what we’re starting to see now is changing expectations of consumers. No longer are they pandering to every Kickstarter that promises to resurrect a long lost concept (sorry Project Rap Rabbit), and they will not tolerate a nostalgic releases that fails to deliver (sorry Mighty No.9). Lazy ports or half-hearted efforts will not win you any fans. If you want good examples of how to do it, look at Nintendo with the inclusion of Star Fox 2 in the SNES Mini, or the documentaries hidden in Rare Replay, or the special PS1-style case that Sony created for the new Wipeout. This is the games industry and the same rules apply. You cannot get away with rubbish.

Of course, big companies can’t live off nostalgia alone. Nintendo can’t build a business from just re-selling us Super Mario World (even if it seems to try sometimes). These moments of retro glory can often be fleeting. Will a new lick of paint on Crash Bandicoot revitalise the brand and deliver it back to the mainstream? It’s not impossible, but unlikely. More often than not you see a brief surge in gamers reminiscing over a time gone by, and then the IP drifts back to the era from which it was plucked. Musical comebacks are often short-lived and movie remakes are, typically, poorly received.

Yet there are exceptions every now and then. Major UK 1990s pop group Take That made its big comeback in 2006, but it did so with a modernised sound that has seen the band return to the top of the charts and stay there for over 10 years. In 2005, the BBC’s Doctor Who returned after 16 years. It was faster paced and far more current, and it remains a permanent fixture on Saturday night TV.

And last year’s Pokémon Go, which stayed true to the IP whilst delivering it in a new way and through new technology, has elevated that brand to the heights not seen since the late 1990s.

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar, that insists things were far better than they seemed. To be successful with it in the commercial world, you need to keep that illusion alive”

They say nostalgia is a seductive liar, that insists things were far better than they seemed. To be truly successful with it in the commercial world, you need to keep that illusion alive. You must create something that looks and sounds like it comes from a different era, but actually plays well in the modern age. And that’s true whether it’s Austin Powers or Shovel Knight.

Indeed, nostalgia isn’t always about the past, it can help take us into the future. One unique example comes in what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The company altered the traditional Zelda formula with that 3DS game, and made it more palatable to fans by dressing it in the same world as 1991’s A Link To The Past. It worked, and set the company up to take an even larger risk with its seminal Breath of the Wild.

If the SNES Mini taught us anything, the clamour for all things 1990s remains strong. For developers and publishers who were smart enough to keep hold of their code from that era, they may well reap the benefits.

However, there’s a broader market opportunity here than just cashing in on past success. There’s a chance to resurrect IP, bring back lost genres, and even rejuvenate long-standing brands in need of innovation.

It’s a chance for the games industry to take stock and look to its past before embarking on its future.

Courtesy-GI.biz

GTA V Still Riding High In England

July 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

GTA V unit sales dropped 10% this week (in terms of boxed sales), and yet the game still returned to the top of the UKIE/GfK All-Formats Charts.

It was a very poor week for games retail in general, with just 171,389 boxed games sold across the whole market. The lack of new releases is the main reason for the drop, and that’s a situation that won’t be getting any better during the course of the summer.

The only new games in the Top 40 are 505 Games’ Dead by Daylight at No.16, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood at No.23 and Ever Oasis at No.28.

Although the data shows a difficult week, there were a few positives. Dirt 4, after a disappointing first week, is showing some resilience. The Codemasters game is now at No.2, although sales did drop 49% week-on-week.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is back at No.5 with a 45% jump in sales, driven by an increase in available Switch stock, while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had a 68% sales jump (but still sits outside of the Top Ten at No.12).

And Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands returns to the Top Ten after a 31% sales boost, driven by price activity at games retail.

Elsewhere, Horizon: Zero Dawn, which was No.1 last week, has dropped down to No.8. The game had been on sale for several weeks, but now it has returned to a premium price point. Tekken 7 has dropped to No.10, while Wipeout Omega Collection, which was No.1 just three weeks ago, has now fallen to No.14.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is e3 Leaving Los Angeles

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The organizers behind the Electronic Entertainment Expo are considering taking the show away from its traditional home at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

During a roundtable interview, ESA CEO Mike Gallagher said his organisation might explore other possible locations if the center fails to upgrade and modernise its facilities, GameSpot reports.

The exec specifically hopes to see increased floor space and a smoother route between the West and South halls, currently separated by a length corridor. If these expectations are not met, E3 may be hosted in another venue – and, by extension, away from Los Angeles.

E3 2018 is already booked in for June 12th to 14th next year, once again at the convention center. The venue will also host E3 2019, but no decision has been made for 2020.

The ESA has previously attempted to hold E3 at an alternative location. In 2007, the show became the E3 Media and Business Summit and was around Santa Monica. This was part of an attempt to make it more industry focused, capping the attendance to shut out bloggers and non-industry professionals, as well as bringing the costs down for exhibitors.

However, the experiment proved to be unpopular and E3 has been held in the LA Convention Center ever since 2008.

In stark contrast to its 2007 decision, E3 officially opened its doors to the public for the first time this year, selling 15,000 tickets to consumers who wanted to attend the show.

GameSpot reports the ESA has now revealed attendance for this year’s event came in at 68,400 – boosted in part by those public tickets. The 30% increase over last year’s 50,300 brings attendance figures close to the 70,000 peak seen in 1998 and 2005, according to IGN.

The ESA has yet to confirm whether it will sell public tickets for E3 2018. Gallagher said his team is gathering feedback from attendees – both industry and consumer – before confirming how the show will be structured next year.

Courtesy-GI.bz

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