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.
Reddit, a website with a retro-’90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As, is trying to attract even more followers, and advertising, by allowing members of its passionate community to post their own news more quickly and easily.
Reddit, majority owned by Conde Nast parent Advanced Publications, last month unveiled a new feature that lets users of the nine-year-old site post live updates, allowing them to report in real time.
The live updates allow selected users, dubbed “reporters” by Reddit, to instantly stream unlimited posts during the course of an event such as the conflict in the Ukraine, an earthquake in Los Angeles, or a game played in real time, without having to refresh the page.
The capability is still in testing mode. So far only users selected on a case-by-case basis can create a live thread. The feature has attracted attention. For example, live threads linked to “Twitch plays Pokemon,” in which users of the Twitch website played an old Nintendo game, garnered 2 million page views in 30 days.
“Reddit members are doing amazing things with very minimal tools and were hitting some barriers,” said Erik Martin, general manager.
Martin, who said the site is not yet profitable and declined to give specific revenue figures, added: “We want to give people a more powerful way to make updates.”
Reddit’s move toward enabling users to fluidly update is the latest move in a battle between social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to use news to engage users, and attract more ad dollars.
Before, Reddit users could not update in real time. The new feature is similar to how people instantly send tweets but keeps the updates together through one thread or “subreddit.”
Reddit, which also gets revenue through e-commerce, has ramped up efforts of late to attract more advertisers. Next week, it plans to unveil city and country targeting capabilities that allow advertisers to address users by geographic market.
One recent ad, specific to Reddit, featured the actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, stars of the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as individual threads.
Some 62 percent of Reddit users get their news through the platform while about half of all Facebook and Twitter users do the same, according to a recent report on the State of the News Media from the Pew Research Center.
“Reddit is all about the community, that is the value they brought to the site as they created it,” said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who has been following Reddit since it was founded.
“News has always been really important to Reddit,” she said.
Reddit has more than 114 million unique visitors worldwide and has doubled its traffic in 12 months, said Martin. Facebook has more than 1 billion users and Twitter has more than 240 million.
“Grey Goo is remarkable not for what it has added to the RTS formula, but what it has stripped away,” PC Gamer wrote in its reveal of Grey Goo, a new real-time strategy game from the veterans at Petroglyph. Perhaps the same could be said of Grey Goo’s recently formed publisher Grey Box, which is seeking to strip away the more negative aspects of game publishing. Suits and creatives typically will bump heads because the two sides are looking at the creation of games from wildly different perspectives. But what if they actually had the same goals?
Ted Morris, executive producer at Petroglyph, felt an immediate kinship with the team at Grey Box. “As a small [studio] – small being 50, 60 people – we are always talking to publishers to see what deals we can put together. But with Grey Box, I think that we meshed better on a personal level with them as a company and as a group of people than we have ever meshed with another group,” he enthused to GamesIndustry International during GDC. “And we’ve worked with Sega and LucasArts – all the big guys – and certainly talked to everybody else, too – the EAs and everybody – and these guys – man, we just gelled with these guys so well.”
Morris said that Grey Box’s approach to publishing was noticeably different from the start. While other, larger publishers may immediately come up with marketing plans and sales targets, Grey Box found itself on the same page with Petroglyph: fun comes first.
“Every meeting that we have is always a sit down and then people open up financial books and they start talking about what the sales figures are going to be like, and when we sit down with [Grey Box], it’s like ‘how can we make a great game?’ We don’t even talk about money, we talk about ‘how good can we make this game?’ and ‘how successful will it be?’ You know, let the game drive the sales, don’t let the marketing drive the sales, don’t let the sales department drive the sales. It’s really about, if you make a great game, they will come,” Morris continued. “They spoke to that so often, so frequently that we thought, ‘man, these guys just want to help us focus on what’s really important.’”
One of the defining traits for publisher Grey Box is that they’re all gamers at heart, noted Josh Maida, executive producer for the publisher.
“I’m not going to pre-judge any of those other publishers – I mean, for all I know they love games as much as we do. And we do. We all love games. We all come from different areas. I lost a whole grade point in college to Street Fighter, and… we want to be fiscally mindful. You need to make money, but with the money we make, we want to make more games,” he remarked.
“So I think at the core of that is we’re not trying to take away from the industry. We want it to feed itself and go bigger. Quality over quantity is something that we’re mindful of. We also just want to make a good working relationship for our partners… everybody’s in here for fulfillment. The talent we work with, they could all be working in private industries for twice the amount they do, but they’re here because they love to make games, and so we want to be mindful of that. And when people die, they want to know they did great things and so we want to create those opportunities for people.”
Tony Medrano, creative director for Grey Box, criticized other publishers for being too quick to just follow another company’s successful formula.
“We’re not chasing a trend, we’re chasing something we believe in, we’re chasing something we like, and we’re not trying to shoehorn a formula or monetization model onto things that just don’t work because they’re popular,” he added. “I think from the get-go, it’s been all about how can we make the best game, and then everything else follows from that. I think a difference structurally [with other publishers] would be that we have a very lean and mean team. We’re not trying to build a skyscraper and have redundant folks. Everybody that’s here really cares, has some bags under their eyes from late nights… I think it is just that we look at all our partners as actual partners. We let them influence and make the product better, whether it’s the IP or the game.”
Speaking of monetization models, Maida commented that there’s no “secret agenda to Zyngafy RTS or anything.” Grey Goo is strictly being made for the PC, but the RTS genre easily lends itself to free-to-play. Upon the mere mention of free-to-play, however, you could almost feel the collective blood pressure in the room rising. It’s clearly not the type of experience that Petroglyph and Grey Box are aiming for.
For Petroglyph’s Morris, in particular, free-to-play hit a nerve. “I’m going to jump in here, sorry. I’m really annoyed!” he began. “There’s been such a gold rush for free-to-play right now that is driving publishers – I mean, there needs to be a good balance. There’s a great place for free-to-play – I play lots of free-to-play games – but it is driving developers like us to focus on money instead of making great game content. I’m not going to name any examples, but I’ve been disappointed with some of the free-to-play offerings because it’s not so much about making a great experience for the player anymore. It’s about ‘how can we squeeze them just a little bit more?’ or annoy them to the point where they just feel like they have to pay.”
Medrano added, “I get frustrated when I play free-to-play games, and if I purchase something, I feel dirty. I feel like ‘oh, I got cheated, I fell for the trap.’ Or even more modern games where they baby you through the whole thing. There’s no more of that, like, ‘this is tough, so that means if I get good at this, there’s reward – there’s something there.’”
Ultimately, while Petroglyph and Grey Box came together thanks to a shared love of the RTS genre, they feel there’s a real opportunity to bring back hardcore, intelligent games.
Andrew Zoboki, lead game designer at Petroglyph, chimed in, “It’s almost as if the industry has forgotten about the intelligent gamer. They feel like that everyone’s going to be shoehorned in there, and I would say even from a design perspective that a lot of design formulas for a lot of things, whether they be free-to-play or what the mainstream is going to, next-gen and such, that all those titles are kind of a little more cookie-cutter than they probably should be. They’ve tried to shoehorn gamers into a formula and say, ‘this is what a gamer is,’ rather than understanding that gamers are a very wide and diverse bunch of individuals, everyone from the sports jock to the highly intellectual, and they all have [different] tastes… there’s different games that will appeal to different demographics… if you make the games that players want to play, they will come.”
And that really is at the heart of it. Morris lamented how business creeps into the games creation equation far too often. “They’re trying to balance the game with Excel spreadsheets instead of sitting down and actually playing it and having focus tests and bringing people in and actually trying to iterate on the fun,” he remarked about other publishers.
For Grey Box at the moment, the focus is on making Grey Goo the best it can be, but the company does have plans for more IP. It’s all under wraps currently, however.
“We do have a roadmap, but it’s not based off of the calendar year. We do have another game in the works right now and we might announce that at E3. And we have a road map for this IP, as well,” Maida said. “Obviously we want to get it in the hands of players and fans to see what they respond to, but we’ve got capital investment in the IP with hopes to not only extend this lineage of RTS’s but possibly grow out that franchise and other genres as well.”
Grey Box plans to release Grey Goo later this year.
Nvidia certainly did one thing right with the Shield gaming console. It has learned that users of such devices really like continuous and regular updates that add features and functionality to their devices.
The effort probably would not be worth it, given the limited number of Shield consoles in the wild, but it demonstrates that Nvidia is committed to the concept. Shield today sells for a rather attractive $199 and offers Gamstream support on your home network as long as you have a 5GHz capable router.
With the latest April Update, Nvidia is offering remote Gamestream support. This is good news but we still have to try this in the field in order to make some conclusion about it. Let’s not forget that Nvidia lets you use the Shield in console mode, playing your games on a big screen TV as long as you have the necessary Bluetooth controller. Grid gaming works for some users depending on the region, with California as the epicentre, but this functionality was enabled before the April update. It is required that your ping stays below 150ms and Nvidia will let you try out a dozen games for free. We tried it and it works nice, as long as you don’t get too far away from the 5G router.
The Shield April update also brings mouse and keyboard support in console mode, and it will make your life easier playing Civilisation V, World of Warcraft and similar games from your couch. Nvidia also updated Game touch mapper making it easier to map your favourite touch based games. You can also download predefined settings from the community profiles. The full support for Android 4.4.2 KitKat is certainly a nice addition. Andrew Conrad, Nvidia tech guy and gaming nerd, the face of Nvidia gaming for the new generation also confirms that Gamestream on the go will work via WiFi, tether, MiFi or Hotspot internet connection.
As we already pointed out, Nvidia is clearly putting a lot of effort into Shield on the software front. This is not always the case with niche products, but Shield is part of a much wider strategy that revolves around streaming, blurring the lines between different platforms. Whether or not upcoming generations of the console can gain a mainstream following remains to be seen.
By 2017, the same year that IDC forecasts digital PC/Mac revenues to reach $24 billion, the entire global games business could be worth more than $100 billion, according to the new Global Games Investment Review from Digi-Capital. The research firm says that mobile and online gaming is becoming such a huge force worldwide that it could grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent, ultimately accounting for about 60 percent of software market share in 2017 while generating $60 billion of the predicted $100 billion for the overall industry.
While North America remains important, Digi-Capital expects Asia and Europe combined to represent about 80 percent of the mobile and online gaming sectors. Asia, in particular, continues to show its muscle when it comes to mobile and online gaming.
“Asia is becoming the biggest growth driver of economic value in mobile/online games, with the best games companies’ revenue growth and profit margins being the envy of foreign competitors,” said Tim Merel, managing director at Digi-Capital. “…9 of the top 10 games M&As of 2013 had Asian buyers, continuing the trend from 8 out of 10 in 2012. Global and pan-regional M&A deals were significant in 2013, and pan-regional relationships and profile remain critical for entrepreneurs selling via trade exits and for major corporate buying games companies. 13 out of 15 games IPOs in 2011-2013 were by Chinese, Japanese or South Korean companies, although there are also attractive IPO prospects in Western markets. Everyone is searching for the next Unicorn.”
The Asian gaming boom helped drive games M&A up 29 percent from 2012 to a record $5.6 billion in 2013, excluding $2.3 billion from the management-led portion of the Activision Blizzard/Vivendi spinout. The good news for companies seeking investments is that business seems to be on the rise, as investment levels rose back to 2010 levels, up 16 percent from 2012 to $1 billion – mobile, tech and gamification dominated investments in 2013.
While much of the industry is focused on mobile and online, consoles are making a recovery from their last few sluggish years. “The 8th generation console cycle is beginning to address the decline of recent years, but questions remain about potential new installed bases, transition from the 7th generation and mobile cannibalization,” Merel noted.
“Where 2013 was a year of transition, we anticipate 2014 to be a year of both growth and disruption for the games market.”
For more details, you can check out the full Digi-Capital report on the firm’s website.
A beta of the title Starbound has appeared on the Steam download website and the Chucklefish developer website. It obviously has impressed gamers as one million units have moved.
The sales were revealed in a Twitter message from Chucklefish last night. It’s a pretty blank statement and we don’t know whether it reflects a combination of sales from both of the websites.
“We’ve just passed a MILLION copies sold. Keeping with the Keanu Reeves theme…,” it said, along with a picture of the actor looking surprised and, well, stupid.
The game looks like a cute affair with endless possibilities. Recently the firm announced a raft of updates that make the most of user mods and add fresh features and developer tools to them.
“In Starbound, you take on the role of a character who’s just fled from their home planet, only to crash-land on another,” goes the game’s promotional blurb. “From there you’ll embark on a quest to survive, discover, explore and fight your way across an infinite universe.”
On the Steam website the information about Starbound says that the game, which is described as “early access” and “indie”, was released on 4 December.
Chucklefish says that the game is a work in progress that will grow with its fans, adding that it is already huge.
“Starbound is already extremely playable and contains a vast amount of content, however we decided to release the game as a beta through early access to ensure the community gets a chance to help us shape the game,” it explains.
“In this first stage of the beta process you may experience some bugs, crashes or compatibility issues. Updates will come thick and fast, though, as we listen to your feedback, push fixes and add new content.”
The Samsung Gamepad is compatible with all Android phones running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and above, though Samsung said that it is specifically optimized for Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and above. It features an eight-way D-Pad, two analogue sticks, four action buttons, two trigger buttons, a Select button and a Play button.
The Play button is a link to the Samsung App Store selling console optimized games at “reasonable prices”. The Gamepad uses Bluetooth 3.0, but can also pair via NFC and even cast gaming onto the big screen using Samsung Allshare. Although there are a number of Chinese imports available, this is the first time a major player has brought an Android game controller to the table.
Samsung said 35 games are available through the Play button at launch with more to come in 2014. Launch titles include Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Asphalt 8, Modern Combat 4, Virtua Tennis Challenge, and Prince of Persia. These are in addition to existing games from Google Play.
Samsung is keen to tout this new device as an alternative to buying a more expensive console such as an Xbox One or Playstation 4 (PS4), and while we’re not really sure if it can match them, we can certainly see the advantages of a device like this over Android game consoles such as the Ouya or Gamestick.
The device is already available for pre-order at Expansys for $125.99. At present there is no date attached to it, and Samsung is only committing to “the coming weeks” as the time-frame for availability.
As it’s a device with a steel casing, Samsung clearly is not aiming this at the budget market, and if its functionality matches its specifications, it could be one to watch in 2014.