If Hideo Kojima really is on the outs at Konami, he’s at least going out with a bang. The embargo for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain coverage hit last night, and the first batch of reviews are glowing.
IGN’s Vince Ingenito gave the game a 10 out of 10, lavishing praise on the way it adapted the series’ stealth-action formula to an open-world environment.
“Right from the moment you’re told to get on your horse and explore the Afghan countryside, Phantom Pain feels intimidating, almost overwhelming in terms of the freedom its open world affords and the number of concepts it expects you to grasp,” Ingenito said. “It’s almost too much, especially given the relative linearity of previous Metal Gears. But what initially appeared to be an overly dense tangle of features to fiddle with instead unraveled into a well-integrated set of meaningful gameplay systems that provided me with a wealth of interesting decisions to make.”
Whether players choose to sneak their way to victory or go in guns blazing, The Phantom Pain affords them a number of avenues to do so. The game’s day/night cycle and changing weather systems can make certain strategies viable (or not) at any given time. At the same time, a private army management meta-game lets players raid battlefields for resources and new recruits, which can then be put to use researching new technologies or using their skills to open up a variety of other strategic alternatives.
However, a perfect score doesn’t mean a perfect game, and Ingenito does identify at least one weak point in the game.
It’s a somewhat surprising criticism of the game, given Metal Gear Solid 4′s penchant for frequent and extended cutscenes larding the action with exposition and plot twists. While The Phantom Pain shows flashes of that approach (Ingenito noted the “spectacular” opening sequence), it ultimately produces a narrative he found “rushed and unsatisfying.”
Obviously, that failing was not enough to tarnish an otherwise fantastic game in Ingenito’s eyes.
“There have certainly been sandbox action games that have given me a bigger world to roam, or more little icons to chase on my minimap, but none have pushed me to plan, adapt, and improvise the way this one does,” he said. “Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain doesn’t just respect my intelligence as a player, it expects it of me, putting it in a league that few others occupy.”
GameSpot’s Peter Brown likewise gave the game a 10 and praised its adaptable approach to missions, but enjoyed the story considerably more than his counterpart at IGN.
“After dozens of hours sneaking in the dirt, choking out enemies in silence, and bantering with madmen who wish to cleanse the world, The Phantom Pain delivers an impactful finale befitting the journey that preceded it,” Brown said. “It punches you in the gut and tears open your heart. The high-caliber cutscenes, filled with breathtaking shots and rousing speeches, tease you along the way. Your fight in the vast, beautiful, and dangerous open world gives you a sense of purpose. The story is dished out in morsels, so you’ll have to work for the full meal, but it’s hard to call it ‘work’ when controlling Big Boss feels so good, with so many possibilities at your fingertips.”
Brown said prior knowledge of the series isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying The Phantom Pain, but added that “Fans of the series will find their diligence rewarded in ways that newcomers can’t begin to imagine.” They’ll also, in his estimation, be enjoying the pinnacle of the franchise.
“There has never been a game in the series with such depth to its gameplay, or so much volume in content,” Brown said. “The best elements from the past games are here, and the new open-world gameplay adds more to love on top. When it comes to storytelling, there has never been a Metal Gear game that’s so consistent in tone, daring in subject matter, and so captivating in presentation. The Phantom Pain may be a contender for one of the best action games ever made, but is undoubtedly the best Metal Gear game there is.”
Eurogamer hasn’t published its full review yet, but Matt Wales weighed in with his impressions to date. Like Brown and Ingenito, Wales underscored the narrative approach as a major departure for the series.
“Beyond an outlandish, action-packed opening sequence… The Phantom Pain is a remarkably economical affair, telling its tale of ’80s cold war subterfuge through snatches of radio dialogue (courtesy of Ocelot), and the occasional return to Mother Base between missions,” Wales said. “It’s fascinating to see such restraint from Kojima, a man well known for his self-indulgence and excess, especially considering that The Phantom Pain is likely his Metal Gear swan song.”
On the gameplay side, Wales said The Phantom Pain “isn’t exactly a radical reinvention of the stealth genre,” but acknowledged the increased freedom players are given to accomplish the familiar assortment of objectives.
“Metal Gear Solid 5′s open world might not be vast, varied or stuffed full of things to do, but it’s a place of constant movement,” Wales said. “Night falls, day breaks, sandstorms sweep in, patrols come and go – and this organic sense of life means that missions are never predictable (no matter how often you play them) with tactical possibilities arising all the time. It’s a game of planning and reacting in a world that refuses to stand still, making every minute matter and every success feel earned.”
“The gameplay, storytelling, and protagonists in Metal Gear may shift with each new installment, but Kojima’s ability to surprise and enthrall gamers remains unchanged.”
He also applauded the way The Phantom Pain managed to adopt an open-world design without the genre’s standard glut of padding.
“[E]verything you do feels meaningful and consequential,” Wales said. “Guard posts and roaming patrols aren’t simply there for colour as you traverse the world: one careless move into hostile territory and every single enemy on the map will know you’re coming, with more search parties and increased security radically altering the way a mission unfolds. And while other games tout choice and consequence as a headline feature, the Phantom Pain just gets on with it. Even the smallest action can have unexpected consequences – some significant and others barely perceptible.”
Game Informer’s Joe Juba gave the game a 9.25, currently one of the lowest scores the game has received on Metacritic (where it has a 95 average based on 15 critic reviews). Like some of the above reviewers, Juba was a bit disappointed at The Phantom Pain’s approach to storytelling, but noted that having the narrative take a step in to the background puts the focus on the game’s strongest point, its open-ended gameplay.
“A series can’t survive this long without evolving, and The Phantom Pain is a testament to the importance of taking risks,” Juba said. “An open world, a customizable base, a variable mission structure – these are not traditional aspects of Metal Gear, but they are what makes The Phantom Pain such an exceptional game. The gameplay, storytelling, and protagonists in Metal Gear may shift with each new installment, but Kojima’s ability to surprise and enthrall gamers remains unchanged.”
Sony is denying that its PlayStation Vita is dead in the water, despite ignoring it during its E3 2015 presentation.
Slim PlayStation Vita went on sale in February and was greeted by a loud sounding yawn by the hand-held game community. Since then we have heard very little about it, and like most of the world, including Sony, did not really care.
PlayStation Europe boss Jim Ryan insisted to Gamespot that the system is still selling well and has “hundreds” of games in development.
“We’re still selling respectable quantities. We have a hundred games in development, and you might say, ‘Well yeah but they’re all indie games’, but many of these games review very highly. Also the PS4′s Remote Play feature is something that is valued a lot.”
Ryan also insists that the handheld market still exists, despite being gutted by tablets and smartphones.
He admitted that it was not as big as it used to be, but hell what these days is.
” A much smaller market than when the DS and PSP were in their glory days. But that market still does exist,” he added.
Despite his enthusiasm we don’t hold out much hope.
Sony has admitted that its recent 2.0 PS4 firmware update is a nightmare.
Users who updated are experiencing frequent network errors and issues including consoles not turning on once in Sleep mode, broken Music player, borked PSN and loss of themes for those in the UK.
The reports started emerging just after the update went live on Tuesday and Sony has said that it is aware of the issues.
It said its engineers are investigating.
The software update was supposed to add new features, including YouTube integration and themes. It also unlocked Share Play, Sony’s new system for allowing users to share their games to other players, over the internet.
Of course this is meaningless if your console is broken.
Video game maker Nintendo Co Ltd will develop a device to monitor a user’s fatigue and map their sleep, Chief Executive Satoru Iwata said on Thursday, the first offering from the company’s newly created healthcare division.
The device will be co-created with U.S. firm ResMed Inc, which currently makes products to treat sleep disorders, and will be available in the financial year ending March 2016.
“By using our know-how in gaming… to analyse sleep and fatigue, we can create something fun,” Iwata said.
Nintendo, better known for its Mario video game franchise and Wii and Wii U consoles, has said it expects its healthcare division to turn a profit in 2015/2016. The company already offers fitness games on its Wii console, played with a motion sensor controller.
According to an image Iwata shared at a media conference, the device will be about the size of a hand and can be placed on a user’s bedside table. It will use microwave transmission sensors to track sleep, with the data collected used to help users cultivate healthy sleeping habits.
Iwata refused to discuss the company’s sales expectations for the new device beyond saying that it may be offered via a subscription service rather than a one-off purchase.
“We only start something new if we think we will be able to create a big market, but as I’m not able to discuss pricing plans and other details today I don’t think there’s much point in giving a figure for our projected scale,” he said.
The device was launched a day after Nintendo reported an unexpected quarterly profit, after hit games gave a boost to sales of its Wii U console.
As the market for games has grown and diversified, it’s become increasingly important to take any headline figures you might read with a grain of salt. Every time an analyst or a research firm announces that the games business has reached such and such a size, or that monthly revenues compare thusly with previous figures, or that a certain product or company has over- or under-performed projections, their august pronouncement isn’t so much an answer as a source of more questions. What exactly are you defining as the “games business”? Which sectors have you included? How did you measure digital revenues? What about IAP? Are your figures global, regional, merely covering the increasingly unrepresentative US market or “global” for a narrow definition of “global” which means “markets we could find data for with a quick Google search, and to hell with the rest of them”? And as for projections, whose projections, arrived at through which logic and with which agenda?
In short: with a very, very few notable exceptions, most of the sector analysis and research conducted on this industry is awful. It’s under-informed, narrow and rarely exposes its methodology well enough to understand and account for its flaws. It’s also the best thing we’ve got, unfortunately, which is why sites (including this one) continue to publish this research as it becomes available, although all of it should probably carry a large flashing warning to remind readers that an infant let loose with coloured crayons and some graph paper would probably have a similar margin of error to their data.
Yet this is only when we’re talking about data about what’s going on right now. Start to project forward, into crystal-ball-gazing questions like “where will the market be in five years”, and you’re into the realms where the real nonsense starts. Models and figures are pulled out of analyst’s backsides with wild abandon. Rationales and factual grounds are nowhere to be found, but incredibly slick charts and graphs abound; it’s a little like astrology, except that rather than blathering about Saturn being in Capricorn and whatnot, analysts seek to bamboozle everyone with charts and then deeply, fervently hope that when the time period they’re predicting actually arrives nobody will remember how wrong they were.
Even so, when all of the world’s analysts start to point in the same direction – the good, the bad and the bluffing – it’s worth taking note. That’s the context in which the headline figures from research firm Newzoo’s latest report are interesting; headline figures which, in a nutshell, suggest that 2015 will be the tipping point at which revenues from mobile game software surpass revenues from console game software.
“What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens”
Newzoo, like most research firms focusing on this industry, doesn’t provide sufficient detail to back up or verify its sweeping and grandiose claims, because apparently a really pretty graph with a swish background ought to suffice. They would argue, no doubt, that all the juicy detail which would explain their peculiarly high figures is what they charge clients lots of money for, an argument which is entirely true and still leaves them in the position of peddling figures while failing to show their workings. Nevertheless, Newzoo is not alone in its prediction. It’s not even a particularly novel prediction, actually; research firms have been pointing at this tipping point for several years, although when exactly the graph lines would intersect has been a subject of some debate. With mobile growth still strong and the next-gen consoles performing excellently but remaining largely constrained within the core market (rather than seeing another Wii-style breakout success story), the lines are converging a little more evenly and the soothsayers are in accord; next year is the year.
So what happens then? Do burning stones rain from an angry sky to smash all our PlayStation 4s? Will a horde of rampant mobile gamers, driven to murderous insanity by Candy Crush Saga, rip the 3DS’ from our hands and beat us to death with them? Shall E3 be swallowed by a lake of fire, and every presentation at GDC be replaced by an ominous looping video of Zynga founder Mark Pincus laughing savagely at the audience?
Perhaps rather than stockpiling tinned foods, filling the bath with potable water and tearfully locking away your beloved RPGs and FPS games in a lead-lined safe, it might be instructive to take a look at a market where this transition has already happened. There is, you see, a place where revenues from mobile games overtook revenues from console games several years ago – as early as 2011, according to some figures, although the safe money is on 2012/13 being the tipping point. Now, in this market, mobile games are the unquestioned market leader in revenue.
The market in question is Japan, where a well-developed market for mobile gaming on existing “feature phone” devices was supercharged by the arrival of the smartphone. Now mobile game revenues have soared well clear of console games. Unlike in the 1990s, Japan’s mobile phones aren’t vastly advanced compared to those overseas – they queue up here for iPhones just like everywhere else, with Apple’s devices being by far the dominant player in the smartphone market, so it’s not that games they’re playing are technologically advanced compared to those in the west. Rather, it’s that the market itself was further down the path than the west, with a wider swathe of consumers familiar and comfortable with mobile gaming, F2P models and in-game transactions.
What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens. The softness of PS4′s sales in Japan since the stellar launch last spring has been well noted, but it’s not a meaningful indicator of an overall problem with the console market; anecdotally, I get the impression that PS4 is extremely desired but still lacks the killer apps which will actually drive Japanese gamers to go out and buy one. Indeed, the line-up of software that appeals to the local market is still weak; a few big titles will shift the needle significantly, just as Mario Kart 8 did for the Wii U (which is now back in a slump awaiting the arrival of Smash Bros; software sells hardware, as ever).
Handhelds, meanwhile, are what you’d expect to suffer most from the triumph of mobile, yet the 3DS is going gangbusters in Japan and the PS Vita is stronger in this market than anywhere else in the world. The rise of mobile to take the crown of most lucrative and expansive market hasn’t even impacted the ability of Japanese publishers to launch genuinely massive new franchises on handheld consoles; Yokai Watch may not have made it to the west yet, but if it’s half as pervasive over there once it launches, it’ll be the biggest new gaming franchise in years.
So the consoles are still pretty healthy, especially the handheld devices. They play to their strengths, for the most part; it’s notable that the biggest handheld games around at the moment, games like Smash Bros and Monster Hunter, really wouldn’t work on a mobile phone as they rely on accurate, pinpoint controls that couldn’t be replicated on a touchscreen to any degree of satisfaction. Other games that work well are those designed for long sessions of play; mobile devices still suffer badly from rapidly draining batteries when playing games, and while a dead battery in your 3DS is a little annoying, a dead battery in your mobile phone is a disaster, meaning few people are willing to put in significant play sessions in GPU-intensive mobile titles.
“If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone”
What’s actually more interesting than what’s happened to console, though, is what’s happened to mobile itself. The mobile game market in Japan is nothing short of fascinating. Ever since its meteoric growth, it’s become a hugely expansive market that caters to an enormous range of tastes and demographics, as you’d expect – but the core demographic, the heart of the market for which every company seems to be competing… Well, that’s oddly familiar, as it happens.
Every time you see a commuter train festooned with ads for a new mobile title, or a lengthy TV commercial promoting the latest smartphone release, or even the huge screens at Shibuya’s scramble crossing taken over with a video of a mobile game, they always have something in common. Their visual language, their core mechanisms and their basic appeal is absolutely in tune with core gamers. Mobile’s new position on top of the heap has opened the door to games with higher production values and more depth, aimed at the market that has always played the most and paid the most; the core.
The results aren’t always appealing; mobile games launch fast and fail fast, and that’s fine. When things do work out, though, they create some pretty amazing hits. Puzzle & Dragons, as you probably know by now, was the biggest-grossing game on any platform in 2013 (probably; analyst figures, you know?), and it’s also incredibly deep, compelling and fun. Publisher GungHo advertises the game on trains and TV over here with videos showing advanced techniques for building chain combos in the game; just consider that for a moment, a game so successful that your advertising isn’t even “here’s why this game is great”, it’s “we know you already play, here’s a tip so you can play better”, displayed on evening TV across the nation. Puzzle & Dragons is far from being Japan’s only “mobile core” hit, though. RPGs have been rapidly rising in prominence on mobile platforms, and now appear to be even more popular than the collect ‘em up titles (mostly card battlers) which dominated up until this point; the latest big title is Mistwalker-developed RPG Terra Battle, a game which I’m resigned to installing on my phone this week because literally everyone around me doesn’t talk about anything else any more.
In short, the Japanese market may be peculiar by comparison with the rest of the world, but sometimes that’s simply because it’s still a couple of years ahead of the western market in a few regards. Not in every regard; Japan is a very retrograde nation in terms of certain tech advances (it’s worth noting that streaming video services like Netflix are an absolute disaster here, and let’s not even talk about online banking), but in gaming, the market if not the technology is a little in advance of most western countries. Japan crossed the line between console-as-number-one and mobile-as-number-one a couple of years ago, and the world did not end. Console and handheld are doing fine; mobile is doing better than fine, and most excitingly of all, the new titles coming to mobile are better than ever, driven by a strong desire to get the most lucrative market in gaming, the core gamers themselves, playing. If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone – core, casual, and everyone in between.
Although has not been publicly confirmed that Google’s latest Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to its Nvidia Shield tablet, Nvidia was pretty quiet about the Shield Portable handheld console, so we asked around. It appears that the update will indeed be coming to Shield Portable as well.
The first devices on the list to receive the Android 5.0 Lolipop update will be Google’s own Nexus devices, starting with the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 2012 and Nexus 10 as the oldest devices, followed by Google Play Edition devices and LTE-enabled products. Most smartphone and tablet manufacturers have also confirmed that the new Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to their recent devices.
One of the companies on the list is also Nvidia, which has announced that it “ultimate tablet for gamers” also known as the Nvidia Shield Tablet will be getting the Android 5.0 Lolipop update soon. The update for Shield Tablet does not come as a surprise considering that it is based on the speedy Tegra K1 32-bit chipset.
While it did not give out any details regarding Android 5.0 Lolipop update for the Shield Portable handheld console, we sent out a quick email to Nvidia and managed to confirm that the update will indeed be coming to the Shield Portable as well. Unfortunately, Nvidia did not give any precise date for this device either.
There’s a popular narrative about Japan’s game development industry: it’s an industry in trouble, lagging behind the West and running out of ideas. If any Japanese developer wants to get themselves splashed into the headlines, all they need do is trot out a soundbite disparaging their own industry; in a world of click bait headlines, the fall of Japanese development is a sure-fire winner. The apparent decline of Japan’s game developers is linked to a secondary narrative as well, namely the decline of Japan’s internal market for videogames. Once the undisputed gaming capital of the world, Japan seems to be falling out of love with the pastime – at least on consoles, and at least according to some rather unusual readings of the data.
There’s a nugget of truth to both of these stories; just enough to make them worth considering, yet certainly not enough to prevent the majority of reporting and discussion on them from being a torrent of absolute nonsense. Japanese game development is somewhat troubled, but it’s troubled by exactly the same factors that are giving sleepless nights to Western game developers – skyrocketing AAA budgets, new business models, a diversification of platforms and the globalisation of the audience. Japanese development studios remain perfectly capable of making superb games that delight their fans; their problem, just as everywhere else, is figuring out how to make money from those games in a new world where profitability escapes everything but the million-selling megahit.
That links back to the second narrative; Japan is falling out of love with games. On the surface, it’s hard to see this alleged decline. The country’s arcades may not be what they once were, but they’re still far more numerous and spacious, not to mention well-attended, than any such establishments in the west. Dedicated videogame stores remain a fixture of shopping districts, while every large electronics store (and there are plenty of those, dominating most city centre areas) has a large videogames section – a stark contrast with, for example, central London, where actually going out and buying a videogame in a shop is an increasingly difficult task. Food courts and fast-food joints still play host to groups of children and teenagers engaged in the likes of Pokemon and Monster Hunter, and a trip outside in an urban area with a 3DS in your pocket will bag a full complement of Street Pass hits in no time flat.
Where’s the decline, then? Well, as figures released earlier this week by Japanese magazine publisher and industry data agency Enterbrain confirm, it’s not actually a decline so much as a stagnation. Enterbrain’s report, widely reported online after being translated in part by Kantan Games’ boss Serkan Toto on the company’s blog, showed that combined hardware and software sales in the first half of 2014 were almost exactly the same as the first half of 2013 – showing growth of just 0.1%. Toto’s entirely reasonable point was that this is much, much lower growth than Japan’s booming smartphone game market, yet this seems to have been picked up by many outlets as further confirmation of a Japanese gaming decline and specifically of a failure to ignite interest in the PS4.
Let’s be clear – the Japanese smartphone game market is in extraordinarily rude health. Revenues from mobile games, by some measures, surpassed packaged game revenue about three years ago and haven’t looked back since. For every person you see playing a 3DS or a Vita (the latter, I note, becoming vastly more commonplace on trains in recent months), you see dozens engrossed in mobile games. Puzzle & Dragons remains the clear favourite, but a trip on a busy Tokyo commuter line will turn up any number of different games gracing the ubiquitous smartphones. The industry’s revenues are clear to see, too; the vast majority of expensive marketing campaigns for games here are for mobile games, not console titles. Only last week I walked onto a train carriage on the phenomenally busy Yamanote loop line in central Tokyo to find that every advertising space in the carriage was full of Clash of Clans marketing; the huge billboard near my apartment, meanwhile, alternates fortnightly between ads for hopeful Puzzle & Dragons clones and ads for new singles by terrible boybands. There’s a huge amount of cash flowing through mobile games in Japan right now, and from a business perspective, that makes it a more interesting (if vastly more challenging) space than the console market.
Yet that doesn’t change the slowdown of Japan’s console market into a “decline” or a “crisis”. We all know that Japan has been ahead of the curve in terms of the adoption of videogames since the 1980s. 30 years down the line, is it surprising that it has hit a plateau? Gaming as a whole – including mobile, browser and online gaming – continues to grow at a massive rate, but in Japan at least, the console space has reached a point where there simply isn’t much new market to conquer. That may change in future as new devices open up new audiences, but console games as they stand don’t seem to have much further to go in Japan. That doesn’t make them a bad business. It means that if you want to make huge bucks and impress shareholders with your growth figures, you probably want to place your investments elsewhere – but if you want to make great games and make money selling them, a mature, stable market is no worse a place to do that than a growing one.
Moreover, when you consider the underlying factors in Japan’s economy, maintaining a steady market size is actually quite impressive. Japan’s population peaked in 2008 and has slowly declined since then; the most rapid decline being the proportion of young people (the most avid consumers of videogames). So this is a market with less “core” consumers of videogames than before; moreover, a series of ill-targeted reforms and a few decades of economic slump have meant that a very large proportion of those young people are trapped in low-paying work with no job security. Furthermore, Japan’s prices have been in slow but steady decline since the early 1990s. Yes, unlike most western economies, Japanese prices aren’t slowly rising due to inflation – rather, they’re falling due to deflation. This has supposedly been reversed in the past 12 months or so, with tiny inflation figures finally showing up, but most of the change so far has been down to a sharp rise in energy costs (a consequence of expensive imported fuels replacing Japan’s still-offline nuclear power plants) and it generally hasn’t been reflected in consumer goods.
One other economic factor has been mentioned by a handful of writers this week. They pointed out that Japan’s consumption tax went up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent in April, in the middle of this reporting period; if that 3 per cent hike were included in Enterbrain’s figures, it would mean industry revenues actually fell. However, to my knowledge Enterbrain’s numbers are based on pre-tax figures, much as US market data is, and thus the consumption tax rise isn’t a factor – except in that it would have been expected to push videogame sales down, thus making the rise slightly more impressive.
In short – Japan has less consumers for games and it’s charging less for things than it used to. Under those circumstances, a market which was performing precisely as well this year as it did last year would be expected to show a modest decline. Just staying still would mean you’d actually grown by a few percent in relative to offset the underlying audience decline and price deflation. Growing by 0.1% in Japan is comparable to growing by a couple of percent in the USA or much of Europe, where population is still generally growing and prices are being inflated, not deflated.
These factors don’t combine to mean that Japan is magically showing strong growth in defiance of the figures, but they are important to understanding what the figures mean. Japan’s “decline” is more like stagnation, and in the past year, even that stagnation has showed a positive trend. The market for consoles and games remains big and pretty healthy even as the market for smartphone games shoots through the roof; both of them clearly have an important place in the future of the country’s games industry.
As for the supposedly “disappointing” impact of the PlayStation 4? There’s no doubt that the performance of the console has slowed down significantly since a very strong launch, but it’s worth noting that sales of hardware were actually up nearly 7% year-on-year, with the PS4 and the resurgent Vita picking up slack from slower sales of the 3DS. PS4′s software line-up in Japan is still largely composed of western titles with limited appeal to the local audience, and the console probably won’t pick up significantly until more local software is available later this year – it’s notable that the PS Vita’s success in the first half of 2014 is largely attributable to the sudden arrival of software titles that match local tastes, and not (as some commentators would have it) to an upsurge of interest in PS4 Remote Play functionality. Overall, PS4 in Japan continues to perform as you’d expect for a new console with limited software – a great launch, followed by slow but steady sales while it awaits new software to spark purchases from new audiences. It’s done well, but it hasn’t “rescued” the Japanese market; but then again, if you take the time to understand the figures, it should be pretty clear that the Japanese market doesn’t actually need rescuing.
By 2017, mobile and online games could push worldwide gaming software revenues to $100 billion. That’s according to Digi-Capital’s latest Global Games Investment Review report, which said the mobile/online game market could make up a whopping 60 percent ($60 billion) of that total thanks to a compound annual growth rate of nearly 24 percent since 2011.
The firm found mobile was the main driver of record mergers and acquisitions activity in the last year, accounting for $4.6 billion of a record $12.5 billion in games M&A. The free-to-play MMO market was the next biggest driver with $4 billion in M&A business, followed by tech interests with $2.8 billion.
That total covers the last year, but most of it has come in 2014, with gaming M&A accounting for a record $6.6 billion in the first six months of the year alone. Even if 2014 didn’t see another penny added to that total, it would be a new full-year record as well, having already eclipsed the $5.6 billion in mergers and acquisitions recorded for the entirety of 2013.
Digi-Capital offered a number of reasons for the increase of M&A activity beyond the simple attraction of massive growth in the field. The firm also said some acquirers were interested in “stopping mobile insurgents from eating their lunch,” indicating the Zynga pick-up of Natural Motion would fall under that category. It also said companies established in one region are looking to buy strength in a different part of the world (as with Softbank’s majority stake acquisition of Supercell), and lukewarm or delayed IPOs for a handful of companies in the market have made recent valuations seem like good bargains.
Support for a union among game developers has grown, according to survey results released today by the International Game Developers Association. The group today announced the result of its Developers Satisfaction Survey from earlier this year, which found that more than half of respondents were in favor of unionization.
Of the more than 2,200 developers surveyed, 56 percent said yes when asked if they would vote to form a national union of game developers in their own countries today. That’s up from the group’s 2009 Quality of Life Survey, where just 35 percent of more than 3,300 developers said they would vote in favor of unionizing at that time.
As for whether the IGDA was considering a move in that direction, the group’s executive director Kate Edwards dismissed the notion.
“For the IGDA, we will always be a professional association,” Edwards told GamesIndustry International. “That’s what we exist for, and what we’ll always be. But if we are seeing that developers feel unionization is what they perceive to be a solution, then that’s something we’re going to pay attention to and see where it goes for them.”
“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us.”
IGDA head Kate Edwards
The survey also yielded new findings on gender diversity. While the group determined that men still “dominate” the industry, it isn’t to the same degree as before. The IGDA found 22 percent of respondents identified as female, up from 11.5 percent in 2009. Additionally, the 2009 survey only included “male” and “female” designations; this year’s poll found 2 percent of respondents identifying as male-to-female transgender, male-to female transgender or “other.”
Edwards also found responses on the lack of job security in the industry notable, if not exactly surprising.
“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us,” Edwards said. “But I do think it basically confirms what a lot of us have sort of known and have been hearing anecdotally for a while now.”
The Developers Satisfaction Survey also polled people on their salary, and found that nearly half of developers earn less than $50,000 annually. That stands in stark contrast to the Gamasutra annual Game Developer Salary Survey, which found that last year the average developer made more than $84,000, with QA being the only discipline with a sub-$50,000 average salary (and even that was a little shy of $49,000). Edwards chalked the difference up to a high percentage of the IGDA survey respondents who identified themselves as independent developers, saying they were likely working in freelance or start-up capacities.
A little less than two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) said they planned to work in games indefinitely. Of those who saw themselves leaving at some point, the most frequently given reason (39 percent) was a desire for a better quality of life.
The IGDA will release a summary report of the survey next month, followed up by reports focusing on specific topics within the survey, like diversity, quality of life, and employment practices. The group has said it will use the findings to help identify what its members care about and prioritize its initiatives and advocacy efforts around those subjects. To keep up with members’ needs as they change, the IGDA is planning the Developer Satisfaction Survey as an annual exercise.
It turns out that Dr Strange might not be the only weird thing associated with SHIELD. Recently we had a tremor in the force about a SHIELD tablet, and it turns out that we were right.
A screen capture of Nvidia Tegrazone has confirmed the existence of a SHIELD tablet which has a Tegra K1 at its nerve centre. It also comes in an 8 inch format.
Smart money is that it will have a 5GHz Wireless LAN as this is one of Nvidia requirements to stream the games over the Gamestream. Since the tablet is called SHIELD we expect that streaming of PC games will be a big selling point for this device, but probably with no Marvell tie-ups – sorry Sky fans.
Tech report readers was the one to spot if, and it is a nice catch. We expect to see SHIELD tablet shipping earliest in July.
New Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney said earlier this year that he’d like for his company to be “more successful in the West with the kinds of games that will resonate with Western tastes.” While acquisitions could be on the table to bolster its development talent, the company today took a step in the right direction, revealing to GamesIndustry International that it’s signed a publishing agreement with Brooklyn, New York-based Turbo, a startup with backing from SoftBank Ventures Korea and comprised of veteran talent that has worked at Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Riot, Rockstar, Zynga and more.
Turbo believes there’s a great opportunity in core titles on mobile and the studio came together in 2013 with a shared “desire to bring AAA ambition to mobile game development.” Nexon will be the exclusive worldwide mobile publisher for Turbo’s first cross-platform title, which is expected in 2015. Turbo founder and CEO Yohei Ishii talked with us about his studio’s goals and ambitions and why Nexon is the right partner.
While Nexon’s portfolio on the PC has something to offer for core gamers, the company’s mobile lineup has been a bit more casual in nature. With Turbo on board, and other deals in place, Ishii noted that Nexon is quickly getting serious about core titles on mobile.
“Every year, the devices get more powerful, developers get smarter, the tools get better, and the quality bar of what a mobile game can achieve is raised. I believe that mobile is the true next generation gaming platform”
“Nexon is dedicated to bringing high quality mobile content to gamers, and you can see how serious they are by their recent partnership announcements with companies like Shiver Entertainment (John Schappert) and SecretNewCo (Brian Reynolds). In terms of Turbo, we aren’t confining our creativity to a specific genre; we are focusing on creating AAA quality games tailored to the pursuits and expectations of the core gamer, a community that we feel hasn’t been properly embraced in mobile. Since we’re gamers ourselves, it’s important for us to not only develop titles that get the community excited, but games that we actually want to play as well. Nexon understands this and is 100 percent in support of what we are trying to accomplish here at Turbo,” Ishii said.
The mobile games market has grown by leaps and bounds in just the past few years, and while PC and consoles are still very much the home of core gaming, Ishii is confident that a greater number of core gamers will be putting more time into playing on mobile. The quality of the titles has been steadily improving, and the price is right for consumers.
“In the past, mobile was never considered a legitimate gaming platform; however that was primarily due to the quality of games that were being offered at the time. Back then, a majority of game offerings were made up of very forgettable, factory processed gameplay experiences. Recently, there’s been a dynamic shift in the mid-to-hardcore gamer demographic within the mobile space, and for the first time, smartphone and tablet gamers now outnumber traditional console gamers,” Ishii noted. “Every year, the devices get more powerful, developers get smarter, the tools get better, and the quality bar of what a mobile game can achieve is raised. I believe that mobile is the true next generation gaming platform, and players’ outlook as it relates to mobile will continue to change as their perceptions and user habits have already started to shift more towards core.”
Needless to say, with Nexon as publisher, you can expect Turbo’s inaugural title to use the free-to-play business model. That, in and of itself, shouldn’t be a deterrent to the core crowd in the long run, Ishii insisted.
“Similar to my previous point about mobile perception and user habits shifting more towards core, this also holds true for the platform’s business models as well. It is important for us to not only create an awesome game that hardcore, articulate gamers will enjoy, but also make it as accessible as possible. The best way to do that is to drop the barrier to entry altogether,” he said. “By making it free-to-play, we understand that we may run the risk of initially alienating the core gamer, whose first reaction might be one of skepticism. But this is one of the reasons I’m so excited about what we are doing at Turbo. Every employee that works here is a gamer. When we’re not making games, we’re playing games, and that sets a stratospherically high bar for ensuring that all our releases provide the fun and depth core gamers come to expect with a AAA quality experience. At Turbo, quality and knowing our community is what matters, not of-the-minute trends.”
Of course, Turbo’s core gaming mission can only be helped by initiatives like Apple’s new Metal API for iOS 8, which should enable console-quality visuals to be rendered much more easily on iPhone and iPad. Ishii is definitely looking forward to leveraging the new technology. “We are super excited about what Apple is doing on the mobile front. Their recent announcements are another great example of how the mobile games platform is always evolving and moving forward. We believe there is a big opportunity for us in this space and are excited to be a part of it,” he said.
Word we are hearing is that Sony is planning to discontinue the PSP (or PlayStation Portable) and will end shipments later this year. If this ends up coming to pass, the handheld console which was a first for Sony, was launched way back in 2003 at E3, but it took some time for Sony’s first portable console to be available worldwide.
The PSP has gone through several revisions including the removal of the Universal Media Disc (UMD) and the release of a revised version known as the PSP Go which was a download only version that was a total failure and quickly killed off in 2011. A very popular revision of the console known as the slim and lite version known as the PSP-2000 sold quite well and it was followed by the PSP-3000 version which was tweaked and available in several special edition versions.
Since PSP games can be played on the PS Vita that came from the PlayStation Store, that also had to factor into the company’s decision as well. Word is that the decision to end the sales of the PSP does not and will not have any effect on the PlayStation Vita which will continue on as Sony’s portable gaming platform. Due to the included streaming gaming support that is included with the PlayStation 4 using the PS Vita, it is unlikely that Sony will be planning to discontinue the PS Vita anytime soon, but a lower cost hardware revision is likely in the cards at some point in the near future, sources tell us.
Total sales of the PSP in all of the console revisions is over 80 million consoles worldwide according to a number of sources.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; while I hesitate to apply Dickens’ immortal words to something as fleetingly temporal as Sony’s financial woes, it’s a quote I couldn’t quite shake as I digested this week’s results statement. Here is a company that has just launched one of its most important products in years, the PlayStation 4, to almost universal fanfare and massive sales; whose reputation has risen remarkably in its core markets and whose overseas sales are, finally, being buoyed once more by a sensibly-priced Yen. The best of times! And yet; here is a company whose computer entertainment division can’t turn a profit, a company posting huge losses against all expectations, a company whose already-interminable restructuring is set to last another year. The worst of times.
Sony lost over $1.2 billion last year. Revenues were up, though; over $75 billion poured through the company during the year, a 14.3% increase on the previous year. That’s important context for the scale of the loss, but it doesn’t make the loss itself any smaller. Market analysts expected a small profit. Instead, they got not only a loss overall, but a loss in the videogames division specifically, whose seemingly stellar performance recently could not plug the $78 million gap in its finances.
To add to the company’s woes, its new CFO – the commendably straight-talking Yoshida Kenichiro – says that next year will be another loss. There’s more restructuring ahead, he told analysts at a briefing this week, and it’s going to hit the company’s balance sheet hard in the next 12 months. Yoshida simultaneously promises light at the end of the tunnel, and a rocky road ahead; a travel-related mixed metaphor that probably doesn’t fill any veteran Sony-watchers with confidence.
It’s worth digging a little deeper into Sony’s results to try and understand what’s actually happening here. For all that it has trimmed its operations over the past decade, Sony remains a pretty enormous sprawl of a company, with interests that extend far beyond the consumer electronics for which western consumers recognise the firm. Sony Music and Sony Pictures, of course, are major parts of the business; Sony Computer Entertainment we all know and love; cameras and TVs we understand; but how about Sony’s life insurance businesses, or its banking efforts? How about its semiconductor operations, or its sidelines in making camera components for other firms’ smartphones? How about its fabrication plants for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, responsible for a huge proportion of the discs on sale around the world today?
The challenge in interpreting Sony results lies in trying to understand the full scale of those business interests and then in trying to figure out where negative results really stem from. We know, for instance, that Sony is taking on major costs in winding down disc fabrication plants in some parts of the world. We know that the television division has been in trouble for years thanks to competition (some of it state-backed) from Asian rivals, and will finally be spun off and left to sink or swim in a major swathe of restructuring this year. That won’t be without its own costs, of course. Other costs or profits may be harder to discern. Clients for component businesses are generally somewhat anonymous; it’s considered an open secret that Sony provides the camera for recent iPhones, but few component contracts are quite so well-known, and thus, their bottom line impact is harder to discern.
What I’m saying is that Sony (and to an even greater extent, its rival Microsoft) is a bloody hard business to read and understand on the basis of financial reports. Companies like Nintendo, Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard really just do videogames, so when their results are poor, it’s easy to discern what’s going on. We know their products, we know their markets and we can usually quite easily discern the weaknesses causing difficulties (although seeing the difficulty and suggesting an effective prescription are two very different talents). Sony, however, is big, complex and obfuscated to no small degree. We get broad outlines; a big loss is a big loss; but the fine detail is hard to get a grasp upon.
None of which is to say we shouldn’t try. Sony is one of the most important companies in the games business; with the success of the PS4 over the past six months, it’s arguably the most important company in the business right now. Hence, yes, it’s a concern that it’s making big losses. It’s doubly concerning that some of those losses are coming out of the seemingly successful computer entertainment division, but we can make some educated guesses at what’s happening here. Firstly, the extremely high sales of the PS4 in its early months are actually a short-term negative to the company’s figures. Sony’s console business is a razor-and-razorblades model, selling hardware at a loss initially but recouping this money through software sales and, ultimately, through more profitable hardware sales down the line when manufacturing costs have fallen. Thus, the more units PS4 sold in its launch period, the more money Sony would lose – but this lost money is really more of an investment, since the firm is betting on getting it back in software sales down the line.
High early sales also contribute to losses in other ways. Sony’s launch plans for PS4 were hugely ambitious in terms of the number of units shipped to each territory; the company did end up somewhat supply-constrained, but it aimed to avoid such constraints where possible with enormous shipments and rapid resupply of inventory. This strategy may have been partially aimed at capitalising on Microsoft’s launch weakness before strategic changes could be made to the Xbox One’s product or pricing, but I’m sure that a wider goal was also in mind. Rapid sales of a new home console would silence some critics expecting tablets and smartphones to destroy this market sector entirely; such rapid sales would require a good supply chain, and those don’t come cheap. The exceptional ramp-up of Sony’s PS4 manufacturing capabilities won’t have been cheap, an expense compounded by the loss the firm will have registered on manufacturing every PS4 shipped to date.
In the short term, that means a loss for SCE; but CFO Yoshida seemed pretty blase about that, and rightly so. In the medium term, it’s a good investment. Sony has a great track record of strong attach rates for its consoles, meaning it will get its money back with interest. Moreover, it has a truly fantastic track record of cost-cutting on console manufacture, even managing to get the tricky Cell-based PS3 into a vastly smaller and cheaper casing in the end. The faster the installed base grows, the faster the bulk discounts to manufacturing costs can be realised; with PS4 selling far faster than PS3 or Xbox 360 did before it, Sony can expect its new console to be in the black well ahead of schedule.
As for the rest of the company; I reiterate my position that Kaz Hirai’s job is not an enviable one. It was said of John Riccitiello’s tenure at EA that he faced the task of trying to explain to shareholders why his company was in the fifth year of a three-year restructuring that was going to take seven years. Hirai’s task is even more tricky, in some regards. He’s only been in the top job for two years, so if his ambitious restructuring can truly be completed by next year (as Yoshida claims, with some authority) then it will actually have been a rather fast turnaround. However, Sony is already restructure-weary; seven years of turmoil under former CEO Howard Stringer left the company and its commentators skeptical of any claims regarding light at the end of the restructuring tunnel. Stringer did many good things and helped to move Sony’s culture to a point where Hirai’s ideas could find fertile soil, but he also permitted (or felt that he could not fight) all manner of poor strategy in core divisions, most notably television, where Sony has stumbled from disastrous strategy to doubly disastrous strategy on a near-annual basis for the past decade.
Hirai, at least, appears to have the confidence and the clout to make his plans work where Stringer’s did not. Separating the almost certainly doomed TV business from the rest of Sony is a good plan, but one that required extraordinary political capital within the firm. Having the respected Yoshida as CFO is also a good move, since it’s given Hirai the cover he needs to bring all of the financial pain of his restructuring plans into the current year and the following year. The temptation would have been to spread things out, but the markets seem to respect Hirai and Yoshida’s honesty in front-loading the costs, anticipating a return to profitability in two years’ time.
That, perhaps, is the big difference between Sony and Nintendo – two companies that have been compared heavily in discussion over their recent financial results. Both have some very profitable divisions (3DS does well for Nintendo, while movies and finance, in particular, are solid performers for Sony), but both have just recorded financial results well below expectations and triggered alarm among market commentators. Nintendo, though, can only suggest vague directions it might take to exit its current situation; it will take a major new product announcement to see whether the company can get back on track, and that’s not likely for a couple of years. Until then, Nintendo’s financial health is largely a matter of faith.
Sony, on the other hand, has a plan. It’s a tough plan, but a solid one; the divestment of loss-making businesses, the refocus on core pillars that actually make money, and more specifically to our industry, the tried-and-tested approach to bringing the PS4 into profitability as rapidly as possible. A CFO like Yoshida can speak plainly about how Sony is going to change, what it’s going to cost and when it’s going to start making money; Nintendo, relying on products still under wraps to give it a relevant future, lacks the ability to be so blunt and straightforward about how it will build future success.
Even the rather tolerant Japanese stock market and its very patient institutional investors have limits, and Sony could yet reach those limits. The company’s restructuring to date would try the patience of even someone playing a very long game; but Yoshida is a credible figure, Hirai seemingly retains the ability to carry out the reforms he plans, and the company’s generally profitable divisions, including games, are still in good shape. Even if another year of pain does loom for Sony, the end might finally be in sight; in 12 months time we can hope to hear of a leaner, tighter and more focused Sony, with black ink finally starting to crop up on its accounts.
We got some fresh information about Nvidia’s Tegra plans. The company is working on a new tablet based on the Tegra K1 processor. This is nothing new and could be easily predicted, but this time we have confirmation that the project is known as Shield tablet.
Alongside the Tegra K1, or TK1 as Nvidia refers to this chip internally, you can bet that there is 5GHz WiFi support in the latest tablet. Last time we heard talk of a Tegra Note 7 successor we were told that there would be an 8-inch version, but we cannot confirm whether or not the Shield tablet is an 8-incher.
Nvidia Mocha tablet getting Shield branding?
We already wrote about the Mocha 8-inch tablet powered by a 2.1GHz TK1 chip, 2GB of memory, 7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution screen and 16GB of storage. We can only hope that this will be the specification of Shield tablet. In case you didn’t notice, the 7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution is what you get from Apple in the iPad mini and it is no coincidence that Nvidia chose this form factor and this resolution. If it works for Apple it should work for Nvidia, too.
Since Nvidia managed to excite quite a few fans with the Shield gaming console, it was just a matter of time before it offered a Shield tablet. We know that Tegra Note 7 was lacking 5GHz WiFi, something that Nvidia requires for Gamestream technology and with the new Shield tablet this problem has been addressed.
A Shield tablet with Gamestream support will give Nvidia what it needs – clear differentiation from hundreds of Android tablets available today. This was not the case with the Tegra Note 7, although it ships with a neat stylus which is not common on affordable Android tablets.
Second screen for gamers
With a Shield tablet Nvidia can target a niche audience that would like the ability to play some PC games via Gamestream on their beloved tablet. People complained about the resolution of the Tegra Note 7 and with the larger version Nvidia will definitely increase the resolution to 1080p or more. However, a 1920×1080 or 2048×1535 tablet won’t cost $199, it will be a bit pricier than the Tegra Note 7. It will be based on a more elaborate SoC, it needs more RAM, more storage and of course a pricier screen.
The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition tablet is currently selling for $349 which can give you an idea of the price. Nvidia’s 8-inch gaming specced tablet will probably cost between $299 and $349. Apple charges $399 for the iPad Mini with Retina. We can only speculate, but this is just something that makes sense to us considering to approximate BOM and Nvidia’s traditional margin in this space.
We expect to see the new Shield tablet in the next few months, probably around Google I/O if not at Google I/O which takes place in the last week of June.
Nvidia has released a few updates for its in-house Android devices. The company definitely understands that the higher end Android market really likes regular updates, so Nvidia tends to deliver them frequently.
As usual the updates bring some new features and fixing bugs and security issues. The Tegra Note 7 got the OTA 2.3 update. It is not a major one, but it will fix localization and translation issues for various regions, it brings improved touch responsiveness, updates the stock apps, fixes miscellaneous bugs and security issues.
This is a 79 MB update that takes a while to install and after a reboot we didn’t notice any major change in the device but it made us happy that there was an update.
Nvidia Shield also got a new Software update (77). This one contains important enhancements and bug fixes. It will fix the bug that prevents moving app files to SD card in certain cases when using the Settings ? Apps ? ‘Move to SD card’ function and ability to use bumpers to adjust volume; enable option from Settings ? Controller ? Volume Control. Furthermore in conjunction with the latest GeForce Experience 2.0.1 update, improves security and audio latency for GameStream. This is a minor update compared to the latest software update 72 from 7th of April 2014 that brought a lot of new features and enhancements.
Nvidia is currently delivering an update once a month, which is definitely faster than most of the competition. It is good to know that the company is listening to the community and that it tries to improve its products with new features. In case you didn’t get the notification about these updates just hit Settings ? About SHIELD ? System updates and they should be there.