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Nintendo’s Switch Helps Push Profits Higher

February 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

The former maker of playing cards Nintendo reported its biggest third quarter operating profit in eight years, driven by smashing demand for its new Switch games console.

The outfit now expects annual earnings to outstrip its previous estimate. This is thanks to the growing popularity of the hybrid home-portable Switch which nearly doubled Nintendo’s stock price to nine-year highs. Sales have far exceeded initial estimates, beating those of predecessor Wii U, and leaving suppliers scrambling for parts.

Nintendo posted an operating profit of $1.07 billion for the third quarter, up almost fourfold from a year ago. This is the highest ever that the company has earned in the October-December period since 2009.

Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said that Switch sales during the holiday season were stronger than expected in Japan, the United States, and Europe.

Nintendo sold 7.2 million Switch consoles in the three months through December and raised its annual sales forecast to 15 million units from 14 million units.

That already exceeds lifetime sales of 13.56 million consoles for the Wii U which was on the market for about five years.

The company expects Switch console sales to further rise to 20 million units or more next year, starting April.

As yet another attempt to diversify, Nintendo said this month it would launch in April “Labo” a set of LEGO-style accessories for the Switch console that kids can build themselves on cardboard sheets.

Courtesy-Fud

U.S. Video Games Industry Jumped To 36 Billion Last Year

January 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

US games revenue spiked to a record total of $36.4 billion in 2017, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

The report, jointly released by market research firm The NPD Group, shows an 18% growth in revenue generated by the games industry in 2017 over the year prior.

The figure combines hardware revenue, including peripherals, and software revenue from physical and digital sales, including in-game purchases and subscriptions.

Hardware revenue was up by 19% from $5.8 billion to $6.9 billion, while software revenue rose 18% from $24.6 billion to $29.1 billion.

US mobile spend data, which includes paid downloads and in-game purchases for mobile through the App Store and Google Play, was collected from App Annie.

“The spectacular growth of our industry in 2017 proves video game developers, artists, and storytellers are the brightest lights in the US economy, finding more ways to delight the world’s 2.6 billion gamers each year,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA.

“Congratulations to our industry’s brilliant creators on delivering another record year of remarkable entertainment that inspired the passion of gamers everywhere.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Hackers On The Verge Of Jailbreaking Nintendo’s Switch

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

The dark satanic rumor mill has manufactured a hell on earth yarn claiming that hackers are on the verge of opening the Nintendo Switch thanks to Nvidia being rather too forthcoming about the GPU.

Throughout 2017 hackers had been recording partial vulnerabilities on the firmware but had no joy at completely knocking it over.

Now according to Ars Technica hackers have discovered a Webkit flaw that allows for basic “user level” access to some portions of the underlying system and a service-level initialization flaw that gives hackers slightly more control over the Switch OS. Last month at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress (34C3) in Leipzig Germany, hackers Plutoo, Derrek, and Naehrwert outlined an intricate method for gaining kernel-level access and nearly full control of the Switch hardware.”

They worked out a few basic exploits discussed above as a wedge to dig deep into how the Switch works at the most basic level. They also managed to sniff data coming through the Switch’s memory bus to figure out the timing for an important security check. They also solder an FPGA onto the Switch’s ARM chip and bit-bang their way to decoding the secret key that unlocks all of the Switch’s encrypted system binaries.

Oddly though the hackers efforts received an unexpected hand from chipmaker Nvidia. The “custom chip” inside the Switch is apparently so similar to an off-the-shelf Nvidia Tegra X1 that a $700 Jetson TX1 development kit let the hackers get significant insight into the Switch’s innards.

More than that, amid the thousands of pages of Nvidia’s public documentation for the X1 is a section on how to “bypass the SMMU” (the System Memory Management Unit), which gave the hackers a viable method to copy and write a modified kernel to the Switch’s system RAM. As Plutoo put it in the talk, “Nvidia backdoored themselves.”

Courtesy-Fud

Do Retro Games Resonate With Gamers

January 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

Almost half of all gamers in Europe like to go back and play games from their youth.

The latest data comes from ISFE and Ipsos Connect’s GameTrack consumer survey, and is based on a question posed by GamesIndustry.biz.

The results also show that 41% of consumers are eager to go back and experience games that they missed first time around.

The figures confirm the motivation behind the success of retro gaming products such as the NES and SNES Mini consoles, plus the popularity of remakes such as last year’s Crash Bandicoot.

However, the majority of gamers disagree that classic games are better than modern titles (only 22% agreed with the statement), while 45% are of the belief that realistic graphics are an important part of a great game.

The survey also specifically spoke to users of recent retro products, including the NES and SNES Mini, Crash Bandicoot, the Sega Forever project and more. It’s unsurprising that these consumers are more enthusiastic about going back and experiencing classic games (66% like to revisit games from their youth, while 67% like to play older games that they missed). 49% of these consumers also admit that nostalgia is one of the key reasons behind why it buys the games and consoles that they do.

41% of retro gamers are also of the belief that older games are better than current ones, with just 23% disagreeing with that statement (the rest neither agree or disagree). However, a number do find themselves disappointed with their trips down memory lane, with 38% stating that classic games are never as good as they remember.

The question (which combines online sampling with over-the-phone and face-to-face surveys) was posed to gamers from the UK, Spain, France and Germany. In terms of individual territories, French gamers are narrowly the more nostalgic consumer, although the results are relatively consistent across each market.

You can find out more information about the GameTrack survey here.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Hacker Exploit The Nintendo Switch

January 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

A homebrew kit could be the key to getting more games onto the Nintendo Switch, as hackers have figured out how to crack the console through its Nvidia chipset.

Nintendo consoles are notoriously locked-down in order to keep software and game development limited to Nintendo’s in-house or approved third-party developers; homebrew games have not been welcome even though Nintendo has been more supportive of indy titles.

But at the 34C3 hacking conference in Germany, hackers Derrek, Naehrwert and Plutoo demonstrated how they had managed to crack into the kernel of the Switch thanks to the use of a Nvidia Tegra X1 chip, which is well documented and has easily accessible debugging and diagnostic tools.

Through some hard work, as reported by wololo.net, the hackers got past the Switch’s security layers on the Tegra X1’s System Memory Management Unit (SMMU).

This essentially allowed the hackers to have higher privileges on the Switch than Nintendo allows, which would provide the means to run non-Nintendo approved software on the hybrid console.

While the hackers are keeping their kernel exploits under wraps, likely to prevent others from stealing it or for the effective backdoor to be slammed shut by Nvidia or Nintendo, they are planning to release a homebrew kit to allow for extra software to be run on the Switch.

This is good news for people bored of gaming gems like Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But it’s worth noting the exploit and subsequent homebrew will only work on Switch consoles running firmware version 3.0.0.

The use of ‘off-the-shelf’ components like the Tegra X1 is one way to fuel the rise of such hobby hacking, as there’s often a lot of information on how such hardware works; this is in direct contrast to some of the custom chipsets the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X have, though we doubt that prevents curious hackers from poking them with a metaphorical stick.

Courtesy-TheInq

Are Video Games Contributing To Inflation In Great Britan

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The price of video games has been highlighted as a key factor in the latest rise in UK inflation, a report claims.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the Consumer Prices Index has risen by 3.1% in the twelve months ending November 2017. This is an increase on the 3.0% recorded in October and the highest since March 2012.

While the largest contribution to this increase was identified as air fares, the ONS notes that: “Rising prices for a range of recreational and cultural goods and services, most notably computer games, also had an upward effect.”

The increase in prices for video games, toys and other hobbies between October and November was much sharper than in 2016, with the ONS adding: “This effect came from computer games whose prices are heavily dependent on the composition of bestseller charts, often resulting in large overall price changes from month to month.”

This is no doubt partially down to the sheer number of new releases over the past couple of months, traditionally the busiest time for the games industry’s release slate.

It’s also worth noting that while the biggest new releases have often been heavily discounted within a few weeks of launch in the past, there seems to have been less significant price cuts in 2017. Certainly, Black Friday appeared to have less of an impact when it comes to titles less than a month old dropping from £50 to around the £20 to £30 mark.

That said, the ONS’ declaration that computer game prices have risen to the point where they can be singled out as a contributing factor to UK inflation is somewhat frustrating.

By and large, video game prices have remained relatively static over the past decade, with new releases almost always around the £50 price point – despite the rising cost of development. This is something developers commented on when discussing the increasing need for monetisation mechanics like loot boxes, controversial though they may be.

Similarly, publishers have previously seen a backlash when trying to adjust prices to account for economic shifts. Most notably, Paradox Interactive attempted to raise the cost of its games earlier this year and was immediately met with consumer complaints – to the extent where the publisher was compelled to retain its previous price points and offer refunds to those affected.

Time will tell whether the impact on UK inflation further deters publishers and retailers from increasing the cost of games.

Courtesy-GI.bz

Is The Nintendo Switch A Runaway Success

December 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

How well you think you will do and how you end up doing dictates our reaction. That’s why Resident Evil 7 can sell 4 million copies and be described as ‘disappointing’, whereas a strategy game can shift 250,000 units and be called an unmitigated success.

In that regard, Nintendo Switch is an unquestionable triumph.

Nintendo had set itself a target of 2 million consoles sold by the end of its first month and ended up selling 2.74 million, having to fly in stock to try and meet demand (at great additional cost). The firm raised its full year projections to 10 million and then, three months later, raised projections again to 14 million for its financial year. By the end of March, Nintendo expects to have shipped 16.74 million Switch consoles worldwide.

So it has utterly smashed its own expectations but, just as significantly, it outshone everyone else’s estimations, too. IHS expected Switch to sell 4.4 million units by the end of 2017 (it did that by the end of July), SuperData was slightly more optimistic with a 5 million prediction (it passed that shortly afterwards). Both analysts felt they had been optimistic, as both numbers were higher than what the Wii U managed.

Daniel Ahmad at Niko Partners took to Twitter to suggest that it isn’t impossible for Switch to ship 10 million units in its first year. Even that optimistic analysis is likely to be beaten.

Nintendo’s strategy and pitch just worked. The initial weak software line-up and high priced accessories and games didn’t have the negative impact many had predicted, partially due to the quality of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The decision to spread out releases throughout the year turned out to be a brilliant one, with the console continually in the news with critically acclaimed software such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, Splatoon 2, Mario + Rabbids and Super Mario Odyssey.

There’s no denying it, Switch (along with PUBG) is this year’s success story.

Nintendo has stated that the Switch is a home console, and you can see why; the games feel like home console titles, and according to Nintendo’s own data, most gamers are playing the device on the TV at least occasionally. In fact, the data did show that 30 per cent of the audience primarily play in handheld mode, but it’s not clear exactly where they are playing (because if they are anything like me, they’re probably playing from the comfort of their sofa).

This means the market and media has been comparing Switch to Wii U, and seeing as that console was a big flop, the comparisons look favourable. Switch has already more than doubled Wii U’s first year and will likely have passed its lifetime sales number before the end of 2017.

However, the market expectation is that the Switch will be Nintendo’s only console hardware release for some time, effectively replacing Wii U and its 3DS sister machine (although the 3DS continues to have a retail presence at this moment). Comparisons to 3DS are less favourable. 3DS had a lower price point, yet it suffered a troubled first few months, and still shipped almost 17m units by the end of its first year. That’s pretty much identical to what Nintendo Switch is expected to do.

Indeed, over the course of the Wii U/3DS generation, Nintendo will have sold around 85 million consoles – and this is a generation widely seen as a disappointment for the company (as a comparison, Xbox 360 and PS3 both sold around 84 million consoles each).

Comparing Wii U and 3DS to Nintendo Switch is not completely fair, of course. The product is very different to both devices, there will have been a significant cross-over between the Wii U and 3DS audiences, and 3DS’ price point was (and is) significantly lower. In addition, Nintendo’s investment in smartphone games may effectively replace its legacy handheld business over time.

Nevertheless, if Nintendo wants to have a bigger generation this time around, then it needs to beat 85 million. The 100 million Switch sales figure that Nintendo has casually suggested in its financial calls now looks more like a genuine sales target. It’s been a decent first year, but we are a long way away from reaching those figures.

In addition, with a reliance on one console, Nintendo will be hoping for a higher spend per user on Switch than what it has achieved previously. This is going to require a stronger slate of software and digital add-ons that extends beyond its first few years; not just from Nintendo, but third-parties, too.

There are a few positive signs here. Nintendo’s first party slate has been good thus far, and independent developers are achieving strong results from the eShop. Yet there are also multiple warning signs.

IHS estimates that around 20 per cent of Switch software sales are digital, which is far below PS4 and Xbox One. With physical retail under threat, that creates a real challenge for Nintendo moving forward in terms of reaching its consumers. The Switch’s small internal storage space has not been friendly for gamers that like to download, either.

What’s more, the costs of the cartridges are high. This has prevented some developers from creating physical product (because it forces the price of the game upwards), and has also made things challenging for bigger third-party publishers. Indeed, we’ve seen numerous third-party ports to Switch that have been priced significantly higher than their counterparts on other machines. This is an issue when you consider that Switch has been attracting a sizeable core gamer audience – the sort of consumer that may already own a PS4, PC or Xbox One – which will impact sales of games such as Doom or Skyrim.

The lack of flexibility on pricing is one issue that will hinder Nintendo’s efforts in trying to pull in more third-party support.

There’s no doubt that 2017 has been a good year for Nintendo. Switch has sold in large quantities, and products like the SNES Mini are selling faster than they can be made. It’s a positive position for the company to be in.

However, 2018 will be just as crucial. It is the year Nintendo needs to keep the pressure on in terms of big Switch launches (the current release slate is lacking, although there’s almost certainly a new Nintendo Direct on the horizon), it’ll need to ramp up its digital business significantly, and it will want to find some consistency in the smartphone market.

Only then can we feel confident that the troubles of Nintendo’s recent past have been put firmly to bed.

Wii sales came to a crawl after five years, they were 90 million at that time. That makes an average of 18 million sales per year. Sony just announced 70 million sales after four years, which puts them at an average of 17.5 per year with a product priced between 300€ to 400€ over its lifetime.

The Switch certainly started strong enough to play in that league, but whether sales can be sustained for another four years is a tough question. It depends on whether you see Nintendo on the same level as Sony or not.

The continued success of the Switch is entirely down to Nintendo’s slate of titles, how regularly they arrive and how much penetration they can make into the family / casual market. Third parties aren’t going to support the Switch, the compromise from PS4/Xbox One to Switch is an expensive one, nobody wrote an engine ground up to run on all three. In addition to that the PS4/XBox One market is largely 18-35, while those people will quite possibly own a Switch as a second console any mainstream title they’ll buy for their main console at home. Publisher’s know that which is why they’re either on the sidelines, dipping their toes or being funded to port older titles.

Comparisons to the Wii are way off in my belief, that platform was a total anomaly in terms of time and place and demographic. The other factor that’s interesting is that local retail still has Switches in stock, albeit aided by Nintendo nearly shutting off supply through the middle of the year to stock pile that’s a big difference.. It’s clearly selling well but you couldn’t buy a Wii for TWO Christmas’s at retail without lining up, this is the Switches first Christmas and there isn’t anything like the frenzy associated with it. Now you can argue their Switch supply is definitely outstripping their Wii supply and they stage managed the Wii better but there is a very demonstrable difference here in the US at least.

If I were Nintendo I’d be looking at 25m and then 50m ; talk of 85m of 100m is fantasy land.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can EA Learn From Rainbow Six Siege With 25 Million Players

December 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Ubisoft has announced that two years after launch, Rainbow Six Siege has over 25 million registered players.

Now entering its third year, Ubisoft has lined-up more content to prolong the life of the game for another season, proving that games-as-a-service can be done properly in the AAA space.

When Siege launched at the tail end of 2015, critics took the game to task over its threadbare offerings, which featured a single PvP mode, no campaign, and only a handful of maps, not to mention a litany of bugs.

Since then, however, many of the criticisms have been dealt with and Siege has held a regular spot in the UK top 20.

What’s especially interesting about the success of Siege is how quiet it’s been. With each competitor that shambles onto the market, whether that be Star Wars Battlefront II or the latest addition to the monolithic Call of Duty franchise, Siege has rarely attracted the same level of controversy, despite employing the most common games-as-as-service monetization techniques.

With games-as-a-service reportedly having tripled the value of the industry, and EA looking to replace annual sports games with live services, has Ubisoft laid out the framework for how to do it right?

“Player investment has been core to the success of the game with longevity being always very important to us. As the game progressed, we continued to develop it with the community in mind,” said Alexandre Remy, Rainbow Six Siege brand director in a statement.

A community-centric approach is the obvious answer to increasing the longevity of any game. Over recent months, we’ve seen a great deal of discussion around finding the “sweet spot” for monetization techniques, and we’ve also seen the fallout of what happens when communities feel disrespected. Loot boxes and season pass DLC can work, Siege has demonstrated that, but striking that delicate balance is something publishers have long struggled with, and continue to do so.

That said, it’s important to consider the particular niche that Siege operates in. Yes, it’s a competitive online shooter, but unlike many of its contemporaries, it’s a much more strategic and team-focused affair. While there is definitely a crossover between Call of Duty players and Siege players, the latter has a niche appeal the former cannot possibly hope to replicate without disenfranchising its mainstream audience.

The likes of Activision and EA can certainly learn from Ubisoft’s approach to games-as-a-service. With no immediate Siege sequel on the horizon, a further cash investment into the game is a relatively easy thing for consumers to justify.

However, when players know that the life of a game will be artificially shortened by an annual release, rather than extended by DLC, it becomes difficult to rationalize spending anything above the $60 entry price, especially when the monetization techniques are perceived to be so aggressive.

Ubisoft is not the only publisher to have successfully implemented these techniques with minimal backlash. Blizzard, for example, kept its hands relatively clean with Overwatch and only recently got caught-up in the Belgian Gambling Commission’s investigation which mainly cast its attention towards Star Wars Battlefront II.

But with Siege, Ubisoft has employed the delicate and reasoned approach that’s been missing from the industry’s clumsy, heavy-handed adoption of the games-as-a-service model. As a result, the two-year-old game boasts a large, dedicated community that numbers in the millions and is willing to spend.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle Virtual Reality

November 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The response to Nintendo’s portable/console hybrid has been incredible thus far, with sales almost on track to match that of the original Wii. While the VR market has yet to see mainstream appeal on a level anything close to the Switch, Cloudhead Games CEO Denny Unger does believe that it could benefit from a device that offers similar mobile functionality but when at home can “dock” or tether to a PC to utilize its full power. Moreover, he thinks such a device could help to solve one of the more frustrating issues that VR developers have faced in the early days: market fragmentation.

“I think there’s some frustration in the industry internally with the fragmentation of the market,” he says. “We’ve got this weird separation between high-end VR and lower tier VR, mobile VR, and consumers have a real tough time going into this understanding the differences, what kind of impact those different technologies have on the experience, which makes it a big challenge for developers to target one or the other or all. To target all platforms is a huge financial investment because you can’t build a high-end VR experience and then cleanly port it to Gear VR or some lower-end VR platform. It just doesn’t work that way.

“So what you tend to get is developers making something for Cardboard or Gear VR and then trying to up-sell it to Oculus or the Vive, but it’s not as good of an experience because it started on the lowest common denominator. If you’re working from the opposite end of the spectrum, you can’t really backport it. It doesn’t even work. There’s no motion control. There’s no 6DOF tracking. There’s no positional tracking.”

To that end, Unger says he’s amazed that none of the headset makers have worked towards a hybrid device that can scale based on how it’s being used – something you can throw in your bag and use on-the-go with lower performance capabilities or tether to your PC when at home for a high fidelity experience. It would be a natural solution to the fragmentation problem, and developers would likely embrace it rapidly.

“I want a headset that connects to my PC, utilizes all the power of that platform, uses room-scale, uses motion controllers, but then I can unplug the thing and take it with me and suddenly it becomes a mobile computing platform,” he explains. “It’s got a lower tier, a lower bar of entry, and I can only play certain experiences on it, but I can take the same exact headset with me and it does that job on its own. Then I can bring it back to my PC, plug it in, and I have all that power again. That’s what I want to see as a developer. They must’ve considered it.”

Unger doesn’t have anything against Oculus and others beginning to introduce mid-tier standalone VR headsets like Go or Santa Cruz, but he’d prefer to see more unification around standards and devices.

“This is just kind of a general frustration that I hear from other developers as well. We should be trying to harmonize and come to some kind of platform parity instead of spreading it out so far,” he adds.

The odds are, Unger notes, that some company has already thought about this idea behind closed doors, possibly even prototyped it. But costs could get in the way.

“[Companies are] trying to get price points down… I think that to smash all of these bits of technology into a single headset that is a hybrid and does both things is cost prohibitive,” he says. “But I also believe that a smart company could take that and make the system modular and let people add on things to that headset to make it more capable or less capable. So they could start with a lower baseline product, but if they want to bump up its capabilities, they can add a couple things for tethering to the PC and whatever. There’s a bunch of ways to do it.”

Unger remarks that the frustration around market fragmentation ultimately is borne out of the fact that small studios like Cloudhead have been doing the heavy lifting in VR, and he’d love to see the manufacturers do a bit more.

“Smaller studios are taking the biggest risks in VR right now to really drive adoption for these hardware companies. I guess we want some kind of meaningful voice within that development of stuff. We can’t dump money into every platform. It’s just not possible,” he says.

Another area that he’d love to see more of a unified voice around is in educating the masses on VR and what good VR should feel like in general. This is especially true when developers have to deal with players’ expectations around game length and a title’s pricing. Cloudhead’s communications lead actually took to the Steam forums to address this very issue and the “mistrust” that many gamers unfortunately have of VR developers right now.

“The big problem, and you probably heard this from other developers, is the numbers just aren’t there in terms of adoption, in terms of the headsets,” Unger says. “So consumers come into it and, rightfully so, they expect pricing models that are standard PC gaming pricing models. Because in that market you’re dealing with millions of PCs and because there’s such a density of platform attachment there, you can artificially reduce your price point. You can say, ‘Well, even though it cost us X amount to produce this product, we can drive that price point down to $5 or $10 a unit because we know we’re going to roughly hit a 30% attach rate or a 20% attach rate or a 10% attach rate even, and we’ll still make our money back.’ But VR fundamentally just doesn’t work that way because the numbers aren’t there.

“So, especially when it comes to a product that’s got high production values, like Call of the Starseed or Heart of the Emberstone, our pricing model reflects the actual production costs… And a lot of consumers come into it thinking, ‘Oh, this is just like Telltale Games and you’re just doing episodes and why is it so expensive?’ Again, the reality is it’s a lot more like when Valve did Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. They were episodes, but each time they launched a new product, they were dealing with new advancements in the tech. Because of that, there was a deeper production emphasis on research and development and creating new systems or new designs to make this thing better. VR is very, very much like that. It’s heavily front-loaded with R&D.”

Consumers who come into the VR ecosystem expecting some sort of parity with traditional PC gaming are unfortunately going to have a problem accepting how developers price their games currently.

“The big problem for people in VR across the landscape is educating consumers about the slow growth curve of the market and what developers actually have to work with in terms of numbers,” Unger says. “So prices directly reflect that, unless you’re being supported by a third-party entity or you’ve got investors or you’ve got Valve or you’ve got HTC or Oculus supporting you somehow on the back end.

“As a developer, I really wish we had more help from the industry, from the hardware makers, from people who have really strong voices in the industry, to help describe why it’s different, why pricing models are the way they are, why it’s hard, where the effort and energy must go to create good experiences in VR. I would love to see an education campaign to help people out.

He continues, “I think the reason they don’t do that is because it would show some kind of weakness, some kind of systemic, ‘Oh, well then VR’s not doing very well, if we have to educate people on the why.’ So, as developers, we kind of get stuck with that bill and have to try to educate ourselves. But you have to be careful doing that, because then you look like an asshole, right? If you’re saying, ‘Well, it’s because of this, this, and this,’ people don’t care. They don’t want to hear that.”

Getting nasty emails or reading harsh feedback on forums from the audience is all too common for developers nowadays. So as much as Cloudhead may not have enjoyed seeing people complain online, dealing with player toxicity online comes with the territory in 2017.

“What really helps me personally, and it helps most of us in the studio, is to recognize that this isn’t just a VR problem,” Unger notes. “This is a games industry problem in general. And, even in traditional PC gaming, you have people complaining about price versus content and time. And a lot of times they’ll [not think about], well where’s the quality in that equation? Was it a quality experience? Did you have a good experience? Sure, it was two or six hours long, but was it good? That seems to be missing from the conversation. But it’s endemic in the entire video game industry.

“I don’t take it personally. As with any other video game in the industry, yeah, we’re pouring 16-hour days into production. Especially in VR, we’re taking substantial risks and there’s a lot of innovation and invention that happens alongside standard video game production. So it increases the workload for your small team substantially. So it’s hard not to take it personally when somebody attacks the game for being too short, or whatever the thing is. It does help to re-frame it in your head as, this is just the industry that we’ve somehow created together over the last 20 years. It’s what people of privilege tend to do.”

Cloudhead has been one of the leaders in VR since the beginning. It’s narrative adventure, The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, was a hit and the Vancouver-based studio has committed to making at least three episodes in the franchise. Episode 2, Heart of the Emberstone, recently released to rave reviews.

“The Gallery: Call of the Starseed was one of the top five selling games in VR of all time. Because it was so successful initially, even though it was a small market, all of the funding from that went directly into Episode 2. And we went from a 12-ish team to an 18-person team and dumped all of the money into upping production value across the board,” Unger says.

Interestingly, although Episode 2 offers several more hours of gameplay and has more to explore, it actually cost Cloudhead a bit less to make. “We actually started Episode 1 in early 2013. We were using prototype Oculus Rift hardware at the time,” Unger explains. “That was before motion controls and stuff too, so even though we were doing R&D… that was like a three-year span of development. So we actually put more money into Episode 1 than Episode 2, because Episode 2 was a year and a half of production. That was kind of the beauty of Episode 2 – we got into just refining systems, because we’d already done all that hard work. We knew what we were going to do. We could just kind of blow out the length and complexity of what we were doing.”

Cloudhead had a clear vision and plan in place, but that doesn’t make the VR space suddenly less risky for the team. Unger advises any developers interested in joining the VR industry to tread very carefully at this stage.

“It’s incredibly risky to get into VR and you have to do it from kind of a place of purity, honestly,” he comments. “You have to really believe that you’re bringing something new to the table and you’re pushing the conversation a bit further in terms of what the medium is and what it means. If you don’t care about that stuff, you’re probably getting into it for the wrong reasons. It is very costly. There is a lot of R&D involved. And you’re doing things that have never been done before. Because of the very nature of that, things fall apart or don’t work and you have to redo them. So if you’re not in a studio that’s highly experimental, or isn’t willing to put in the extra time and funding to do those things properly, then [it’s] probably not the industry for you right now.”

While the risk in VR remains high at the moment – just ask CCP Games – Unger believes the big turning point is about a year away for the industry. Christmas 2018, in fact, is when the stars may align for the world of VR.

“We constantly have our heads in numbers that are public and not public about where this market is going. We see an uptick in adoption happening sometime after Christmas 2018. So our internal goal is actually to get there. And we’ve been told this by many industry insiders as well – they want Cloudhead to be there – and if we get there, we’re going to be sitting in a really, really good position,” Unger says.

Investors and others staying out of VR simply because AR is on the horizon could be making a mistake, too, he says. Even with Apple getting involved, the AR market will take a long time to become established, while VR meanwhile continues to gain a better footing.

“AR is still a good five years out. I say that because we’ve seen some stuff being worked on and they have a lot of hard challenges,” Unger explains. “Everyone’s touting how amazing AR is going to be, and it will be, but it’s not going to be there for a long time. You’ll start seeing stuff coming out that is developer or enthusiast friendly, but it’s not the kind of thing that consumers are going to want to put on their face. It’s going to have the same trough and dips and ups and downs as VR will. It’s going to take longer. The thing about VR is we’ve already established this design language for what constitutes kind of a stable, good experience in VR. Developers, at this point, can jump in and do some pretty astounding stuff. On the same token, I see a lot of wave shooters and just garbage flooding the market, because that same group of people isn’t willing to take the risk or the investment risk into doing brave and different new things and figuring out what it does best.”

An industry that could give VR a leg up is Hollywood. There’s already been interest from famous directors like James Cameron and Jon Favreau, and the truth is that Hollywood very much needs video game talent in order to make VR work. Some cross-pollination of talent is inevitable, and that’s something Unger embraces. He recently attended an event called VR On The Lot, where he spoke to numerous people in film about why 360 video isn’t the best use for VR.

“I gave the example of, what I really want to do is be in an environment with my family. I want to see them in some way,” he says. “I want to be on the wall with Legolas and he’s shooting orcs with arrows on the top of the wall. I want to watch that narrative kind of play out. And it’s not going to stop no matter what I do with my wife. But if my kids get bored, they can get up and grab some bows and start nailing orcs as well, right?

“There’s a way to build a story that’s very movie-like that has a progression that you can be a part of but you’ve got a limited interactive influence over it. And you can choose to be as much a part of it as you want to be. So driving towards that I think is really important. And, personally, I want to see ports of beloved movies brought to VR. I want to make Indiana Jones in VR. I want to make a completely pitch perfect version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I want users to experience that. I want them to be Indiana Jones. That’s the kind of stuff I want to build towards.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does Nintendo Still Plan To Focus On Mobile Gaming

November 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo’s long-awaited push into the mobile space hasn’t been quite as disruptive as many might have hoped, but the firm is determined to press on with its plans.

During a Q&A for investors following Nintendo’s most recent financial results, president Tatsumi Kimishima discussed the platform holder’s thoughts on the future of its mobile business and whether he expected Nintendo to develop its own smart devices.

“Nintendo is a newcomer for the smart-device business, and there is still much we have to learn,” he said. “Nintendo has a large stock of valuable IP characters and has developed many games. We cannot, however, simply port our existing games and IP to smart-device applications. A lot of thought is going into what kind of games for smart devices will further our business and how we can continue to foster good relationships with our existing dedicated video game platform business.

“Among the various ideas, a primary concern is enabling our consumers to play on not only smart devices, but also our dedicated video game systems. We want to build up the smart-device business as a core pillar of Nintendoʼs various businesses, but we have not yet reached that level.

“Nintendo is not at a stage where we can consider becoming a smart-device platform developer.”

Kimishima’s comments follow Nintendo’s acknowledgement that Super Mario Run, the ‘pay-to-start’ mobile platformer analysts believed would kickstart the firm’s aggressive growth in mobile, has “not yet reached an acceptable profit level”. This is despite worldwide downloads of 200 million, a not insignificant figure.

Nintendo’s next release for smart devices will be Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which will utilise the typical free-to-play mechanics that drive many of the mobile sector’s biggest hits rather than the one-time payment found in Super Mario Run. It also continues to enjoy decent revenues from Fire Emblem Heroes, which launched earlier this year.

Elsewhere in the Q&A, Kimishima reiterated how pleased Nintendo is with the performance of its new Switch console. Providing the device sells as well as expected this Christmas, the president is confident the firm “can maintain the same level of momentum we saw with Wii”, Nintendo’s most successful console to date.

Switch is on course to surpass the lifetime sales of its predecessor, the Wii U, within its first year. The previous console struggled so badly, Kimishima confirms Nintendo’s “cash reserves declined by hundreds of billion yen.”

He added: “The peaks and troughs in this business are this extreme, and we need sufficient cash reserves to make it to the next wave peak.

“I wouldn’t consider our current cash reserves to be very high, but if reserves increase going forward, we would need to consider different approaches. We are looking at possibilities for share buyback in terms of the timing and what kind of effect that would have, but I cannot say anything specific at this juncture other than that share buyback is something we always have on the table, and we will make an announcement when we are able to do so.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Tencent Takes Stake In Snapchat Company

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Snapchat got a vote of confidence from a new investor.

Chinese tech behemoth, Tencent, has taken a 12 percent stake in Snap, the company that gave us disappearing messages first, reported the Financial Times. Tencent sits among China’s three biggest tech companies along with Baidu and Alibaba, collectively known as BAT.

The news, revealed in Snap’s quarterly filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, comes after the company posted disappointing results of its growth this quarter.

It’s not Tencent’s first investment in a US company, having bought a five percent stake in Tesla in March. Tencent, the creator of popular Chinese mobile game, Honour of Kings, also owns Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends.

It’s no secret that Tencent has been making efforts to expand to the US. Also the owner of Chinese messaging platform, WeChat, Tencent brought its digital payment service, WeChat Pay, to the country earlier this year.

In the filing, Snap said it has “long been inspired by the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Tencent.”

Tencent president Martin Lau said the company “looks forward to sharing ideas and experiences.” This could come in the form of a collaboration between both companies on mobile games and news feed, according to a statement obtained by Reuters.

Is The Olympic Committee Beginning To Take eSports Seriously

October 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Esports’ battle for mainstream acceptability has yet another endorsement, this time from the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement following a summit of the IOC, it was announced that esports “could be considered a sporting activity.”

According to the IOC, “the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.”

While acceptance comes with certain caveats – esports must not “infringe on the Olympic values” and there must be “an organization guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement” – the announcement is a huge coup for the rapidly expanding industry.

The decision by the IOC is the latest in what is slowly becoming the prevailing consensus. The first major development came in July 2013 when the US State Department recognized professional League of Legends players as athletes, with a number of other nations following their lead including Finland and the Philippines.

Additionally, the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China will recognise esports as a medal event, and the Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics is considering a program of esports.

From here the IOC will work alongside the Global Association of International Sports Federations “in a dialogue with the gaming industry and players to explore this area further and to come back to the Olympic Movement stakeholders in due course.”

While the IOC has conceded that there is room for esports in the Olympics, there is a notable apathy toward the idea from esports fans.

According to a recent report from Nielsen, only 53% of fans from the four largest markets (UK, France, Germany, and US) consider esports to be an actual sport, and only 28% felt that esports should be included in the Olympics.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are Loot Boxes Good For Video Games

October 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The loot box debate rages on, but very few members of the industry have joined in the discussion.

As games sites become awash with reports and opinion pieces on each blockbuster’s new monetization system, picking apart the model with which publishers are attempting to retain and monetize players through this Q4’s biggest releases, the consensus seems to be that loot boxes are another attempt to nickel and dime the unassuming consumer.

Attempts to sell in-game items through full-price titles such as Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Forza Motorsport 7 and Destiny 2 have triggered discussions as to whether AAA gaming has become akin to gambling, and driven thousands of people to sign government petitions as they demand that action be taken.

While ratings boards have agreed the use of loot boxes does not technically class as gambling, it’s easy to understand the upset that surrounds them. Having already paid $60/£60 for a AAA title, consumers are indignant at the idea of having to spend more money in order to fully enjoy their purchase. Implementation varies between each game, with some examples – such as the Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta’s implication that multiplayer progression will be locked behind loot boxes – prompting more ire than others.

Getting an official response as to why these systems are becoming more prevalent is nigh on impossible – GamesIndustry.biz received a polite ‘no comment’ from Activision, Warner Bros, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and several other publishers we asked to weigh in on the subject – but those who do point the finger of blame squarely in one direction: the rising costs of both development and marketing.

This is something we already discussed at length last week, and it seems to ring true for developers across the industry. In the case of Battlefront, this has dramatically increased since EA decided to forego the usual Season Pass model and provide maps and extra content for free, but it still needs to fund development.

But according to one studio director – who wished to remain anonymous – it’s not just that costs are increasing, but that the disparity between how much publishers are charging and what consumers are spending is also growing.

“Development costs of AAA titles are five to ten times the price they were in the ’90s,” the person told us. “As technology moves forward, costs go up and teams get larger. Salaries also go up in that time both for starters and people employed for those periods of time.

“But sales and prices have remained pretty static – especially given the ‘sale culture’ nowadays.”

Ben Cousins, CEO of The Outsiders and a former EA and DICE exec, agrees: “The number of full-priced games console gamers are buying a year is dropping and the cost of developing games is increasing, while the actual audience for console games remains static. They need to find ways for full-priced games to continue to be profitable. Big publishers have been working on plans like this for over a decade.”

In recent weeks, UK sales of Shadow of War, Destiny 2, FIFA 18, Forza 7 and The Evil Within 2 are all trending below their predecessors, and this is likely to be the case in other markets. Digital downloads may be making up for some of that shortfall, but not all of it – and there’s certainly no sign of significant growth in terms of audience’.

Meanwhile the ‘sale culture’ is also likely to be impacting revenues. Last year’s Black Friday promotions saw sales of recent releases soar once available for £30 or less, many of which had been at full price just a few weeks before – and no doubt this will be repeated with this year’s Q4 hits next month.

Jason Kingsley, co-founder and CEO of Rebellion, emphasises that loot boxes don’t even need to convert every player into a payer in order to help offset those costs.

“Some big games are just not selling enough copies to make the development and marketing costs viable,” he says. “Loot boxes mean more revenue from those who are interested.

“For the biggest games that are made by thousands of staff, then yes the simple boxed copy sales may not be enough to make the economics work.”

Larger teams and more advanced technology aren’t the only things driving this increase. Hidden Path’s Jeff Pobst, who previously discussed this subject with us, says the audience has contributed to escalating costs.

“What players may not realize is their expectation that each game in a series gets bigger and better and has more content and looks more modern than before… means it is likely going to cost more to make. The creators are going to want to find a way to cover those new costs as well.”

Then there are the sales expectations of the publishers bringing each game to market. Just yesterday, in the wake of Visceral Games’ closure, former Dead Space level designer Zach Wilson tweeted that the second game in the series cost $60 million to make, and another $60 million to market. The title sold a seemingly respectable 4 million copies, but Wilson reports that “wasn’t enough.”

Again, this emphasizes the damage the aforementioned ‘sales culture’ can have; if all 4 million copies had sold at the full price of $60, EA would have received $240 million. While this may seem to be double the combined marketing and development cost, once you take into account the retailer’s share, distribution and manufacturing costs, plus tax, the publisher’s share actually diminishes (In the comments below, analyst Nicholas Lovell estimates closer to $150m than $240m). The lower the sales price, thanks to promotional discounts and so forth, the lower the publisher’s take.

Still, the dominant element of the loot box debate seems to be the consumer outrage and the notion that greedy publishers are simply trying to extract every last penny from customers already paying for their products. Naturally the most extreme reactions are amplified by social media, but are they in fact the minority? Does the very presence of microtransactions in full-price games really affect that many people, especially when so many publishers stress that they are optional?

“I don’t know the numbers, but my experience tells me this is probably the case,” says Cousins.

He continues: “Until we have hard data that the presence of loot boxes in a given title is negatively affecting sales and profitability, rather than just being a thing people talk about on the internet, we should not worry about messaging issues.”

Kingsley adds: “That’s hard to quantify but it’s clearly an issue as it’s getting coverage. Whether it’s an issue for most or even the majority is not as relevant as it being a big issue for some I suppose.

“The reactions to them seem to be based largely on how they are handled and whether the contents are game changing or just cosmetic.”

Pobst suggests that the source of the anger is not, in fact, the transactions themselves. Instead, it stems from the changing perception of the game: initially purchased as a piece of entertainment, but starkly highlighted as a commercial product by the immersion-breaking call to spend real-world money.

“Personally, I’m not sure that individual game mechanics or features such as loot boxes are themselves the driving issue for players when you see outcry or concern about the fairness of a game, its feature set, or its monetisation,” Pobst explains. “Typically if you go looking, one can find examples of where those same features or mechanics are used in other games and the players there are happy and enjoying themselves. 

“I think the underlying issue is really about the relationship between the product and the players, and how the expectations are set by the people making and marketing the product: the “promise” to the player by the product, as Gearbox President Randy Pitchford likes to say.”

The problem most often comes, Pobst posits, when firms add monetisation mechanics to a title or series where they were previously absent. Certainly this was the case with Bungie’s Destiny 2 – the earliest example in the recent wave of microtransaction controversies – where shaders that were previously reusable became one-time consumables, with the game offering to sell more to players in exchange for real money.

“Sometimes publishers and developers don’t recognize that changing the monetization can be a more significant impact in changing the promise of the game to the player than they may expect,” Pobst continues. “The gameplay and content promises are still there, but the monetization part of the promise has changed in that case. And depending on the game and the monetization changes, players may or may not feel like the promise they are excited about is being maintained.”

Equally, some consumers seem to have an entirely different view on how the relationship between themselves and the publisher or developer works. Fundamentally they seem to forget that while games are indeed provided as both art and entertainment, they are also commercial products and subject to inherent pressures.

“Regardless of development costs, developers and publishers are going to attempt to make money – it’s a business,” says Niles Sankey, developer of first-person psychological thriller Asemblance. Sankey previously spent ten years working at Bungie on both Halo and Destiny, although he stresses that he was not involved in monetization.

“Developers have retirement to save for and families to feed… If people don’t like loot crates and microtransactions, they shouldn’t support the game by purchasing them. And I’d suggest not buying games made by companies that have previously demonstrated insincere business practices.

“I stopped developing investment heavy games and I no longer play them. In my opinion, there are better ways to spend your time and life. There are so many great non-addictive/investment games to play.. and there’s so much more to life than video games.”

This is also a message that sometimes gets lost in the outrage: in most cases, microtransactions in full-price games are entirely optional. Following the initial outburst, Shadow of War design director Bob Roberts told our sister site Eurogamer that the team had developed the entire game without the loot boxes activated in order to ensure balance.

Our anonymous developer has no qualms declaring that he has spent money on such items, adding: “It’s normally to accelerate my progress. I don’t have as much time to play now as I did 20 years ago.”

Emphasising that loot boxes are optional seem to do little to assuage consumer concerns. Common arguments range from accusations that developers have slowed normal in-game progress in order to sell boosters, or that the very presence of microtransactions psychologically draws players into what Cousins refers to as the “compulsion loop”.

There is also an inconsistency to player reactions, albeit driven by the different implementations of monetization. For all the flack Electronic Arts has received over the proposed monetization system shown in the Battlefront 2 beta, it still generates $800 million per year with FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode – a prime example of successfully monetizing a full-price game in the long term.

Similarly, while Shadow of War and Forza 7 have been virtually crucified on Twitter, titles such as Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch escape unscathed, despite the presence of loot boxes – although Cousins says, “Blizzard get a free pass on pretty much everything, as do Valve. Never try to get learnings from them, as they are outliers.”

The consumer reaction (particularly in the run-up to launch) has the potential to be highly damaging, further preventing publishers from recouping costs and exploring new methods of monetisation. Our anonymous developer pointed to one particular practice that has hindered the debate around loot boxes.

“Review bombing exaggerates issues and causes damage to everyone,” they say. “Which is why most won’t talk about it as they don’t want to be targeted unfairly next.”

And, ultimately, such tactics are a fruitless endeavour. Despite the controversy around recent titles and their microtransactions, publishers will inevitably continue to experiment with new business models. Especially as a recent report proves that games-as-a-service systems have tripled the industry’s value.

Just today, Activision was granted a patent for a matchmaking system designed to encourage more consumer spending; a system the publisher stressed has not been implemented in any game, but is something it may well consider in future. And experimentation is fine – it’s essential the evolution of any industry – but as our own Rob Fahey warns, publishers need to be careful to cross the line, no matter how poorly defined that line may be.

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Atari’s New AtariBox Console Succeed

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-TheInq

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle The Final Fantasy Game Engine

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

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