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Did The Latest Final Fantasy Save Franchise

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle The Final Fantasy Game Engine

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Digital Gaming Facing Global Growth

August 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Analyst at Research and Markets’ have just released a report claiming that digital gaming will see double digit growth in the next few years.

According to the “Global Digital Gaming Market 2017” report the global gaming market sales are forecasted to grow by a significant one-digit percentage point in 2017. However, digital games, referring to online, mobile, digital console and computer games, are expected to maintain double-digit growth in the same time frame, championed by mobile gaming. Due to this continuing trend, digital could account for over three-quarters of global gaming revenues by 2021.

Within in the field of mobile in 2017, smartphone gaming significantly trumps gaming via tablet. Gamers from China, the USA, Brazil, the UAE and more all favor smartphone over other gaming devices. In 2016, the popularity of augmented reality games furthered mobile gaming and app sales. In addition, virtual reality (VR) games are also gaining traction after the introduction of VR headsets within the mass market. For instance, one-third of frequent gamers from the USA relayed the intent to purchase these gaming accessories this year.

The market of console and computers games has shown a shift to digital game purchasing as well as microtransactions. Last year, almost one-quarter of computer and console gaming purchases in Germany were digital. Only a single-digit share of total game sales stemmed from boxed games in China, the largest gaming market in the world.

Physical game purchases are not dead yet. This year, over half of console gamers in Brazil stated in a survey that they purchase video games from retail stores as opposed to digitally.

Courtesy-Fud

Was The PS3 An Easy Tool For Developers

August 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The games industry moves pretty fast, and there’s a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what’s next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field’s history, GamesIndustry.biz runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.

Was PS3 hard to develop for?

The biggest news from 10 years ago this month happened right up front with the delay of Grand Theft Auto IV from its October release window (that had just been announced at E3 the prior month) and would now arrive sometime in the February-to-April stretch of 2008. That was huge at the time, but delays happen, and it’s not the sort of thing we usually lead this column off with. In fact, the reason we’re going over it here is the possible reason for the delay.

The day after GTA IV’s delay was announced, long-time industry analyst Michael Pachter put the blame on the PlayStation 3, saying, “We think it is likely that the Rockstar team had difficulty in building an exceptionally complicated game for the PS3, and failed to recognise how far away from completion the game truly was until recently.” Combined with a contractual obligation to not launch the game early on one platform or the other, that meant pushing back all versions until the next year.

Granted, the deductions of an analyst aren’t confirmation, and Pachter doesn’t have a flawless track record when it comes to bold speculation. (Here’s one from later that same month that he might like back.)

That said, this was far from the only suggestion that developers were having difficulty with the PS3. Sony had already been chastising third-parties for not taking full advantage of the hardware, and it didn’t help having massive publishing partners like Electronic Arts publicly explaining why the PS3 version of Madden NFL was noticeably inferior. It’s particularly damning considering the company didn’t even attempt to refute the game’s inferiority in any way.

“In the case of the next-generation consoles, many publishers have been developing titles for the Xbox 360 for over three and a half years while everyone who publishes now for the PlayStation 3 with the exception of Sony has been developing for the PlayStation 3 for only a little over one full year,” the company said.

At least Ubisoft was a little more diplomatic, with Yann Le Tensorer, co-founder of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfare studio Tiwak calling the idea nonsense, and then basically repeating what EA had said.

“It’s not harder to develop on the PS3 than it is on the 360; it’s just a different console. Developers might say it’s harder because it just takes time to understand the technology. We’re still early in the lifecycle.”

By the time October rolled around and Midway delayed PS3 releases for BlackSite: Area 51, Stranglehold, and Unreal Tournament 3, the PS3’s reputation was essentially set in stone. And while Sony was able to overcome the PS3’s rough start and turn it into a very successful system over the long haul, the “hard to develop for” tag persisted for years.

Courtesy-GI.biz

With The Success Of The Switch Has Nintendo Changed It’s Gaming Strategy

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Two years ago, Nintendo looked like a company faced with a common dilemma; change, or die. Its strategy of sticking firmly to the traditional platform holder business model while trying to skirt around the Teraflop arms-race between Sony and Microsoft had gone magnificently in the Wii era, but as Sony fixed a generation’s mistakes and reclaimed its crown with the launch of PS4, Nintendo faltered.

The Wii U had perhaps the most disappointing commercial performance of any console from a major player in the industry’s history; meanwhile, assessments of the 3DS could not ignore the fact that, while selling very well in its own right, the handheld significantly underperformed its forebear, the DS.

This happened against a background of Nintendo’s actual creative output firing on all cylinders. Critics and (diminished) audiences loved the company’s games; indeed, it was clear from the output on the Wii U and the 3DS that the firm’s long-term future as a creative powerhouse was secure, with big, bold titles from new young creators taking centre stage and wiping away any fears raised by Shigeru Miyamoto’s musings about retirement plans. The problem wasn’t software quality; the problem was that the platforms on which that software was appearing seemed to be in terminal decline.

It’s a little early to announce the halting of that decline just yet – if the Switch really does end up beating the Wii U’s lifetime sales in its first year on the market, then we can talk about that – but the narrative has certainly changed since Switch stormed onto the market. Between the success of the new console and the voracious demand (matched to anaemic supply) for the NES Classic and its just-announced SNES successor, the story of Nintendo now isn’t about decline at all. Rather, some of the more excitable commentators are already wondering aloud about the return of the Wii boom years, and even the more moderate voices are being swept along in the enthusiasm.

The call for Nintendo to “change or die” has largely disappeared, since the company seems to be on track to prove that it can survive without changing very much at all, thank you very much. Without the “or die” clause, it’s an exhortation that loses much of its power, and with the loss of that power goes all of the attention that was formerly being paid to Nintendo’s most tangible effort to change: its commitment to smartphone games, through a long-term deal with Japanese mobile game firm DeNA.

Last year, that was all anyone wanted to talk about in relation to Nintendo. Pokemon Go, although not a Nintendo title, was the phenomenon of last summer and seen as proof of the incredible prospects for Nintendo IP on smartphones. The arrival of the firm’s own games on mobile was so hotly anticipated that notorious videogame curmudgeons Apple even changed the way the iOS App Store worked especially to allow “pre-orders” of Super Mario Run. A success in downloads but a poor performer in revenue terms, Mario Run was soon followed by a well-received successor, Fire Emblem Heroes, which performed much better commercially, though still without troubling any of the big beasts of mobile gaming in their roosts atop the revenue charts.

Then Switch launched, and it felt like the whole world lost interest in Nintendo on smartphones. The company has at least two smartphone games in the pipeline this year, and on paper they should be generating a lot of buzz; Animal Crossing is arguably the company’s best-loved casual franchise and its ‘play a little every day’ structure is a perfect fit for mobile, and it’s reportedly to be followed by a Zelda mobile title later this year. Yet you could hear a pin drop in coverage of these upcoming games, while the appearance of even a logo for a resurrected franchise in the company’s E3 broadcast has generated acres of coverage and discussion.

This is not, in itself, surprising. The games media has struggled for a decade with the fact that the huge audience that plays mobile games simply isn’t interested in reading about or discussing games in the same way as the console and PC audience. What’s a little more concerning, though, is that Nintendo itself hasn’t had much to say about mobile games of late. Audiences are fascinated by the Switch and the Classic consoles right now; the billion-dollar question (quite literally) is whether Nintendo itself has also lost some of its interest in smartphones as its more traditional business has returned to health.

To be clear, I’m not implying that Nintendo is about to abandon its deal with DeNA or stop working on mobile titles. The toothpaste is out of the tube and can’t be squeezed back in; Nintendo is a smartphone developer now, and it will remain such in future. This is, rather, a question of focus and priorities – and corollary to that, a question of how much flexibility and latitude Nintendo’s mobile teams will have to play with its IP.

It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the success of Switch had rekindled opposition to mobile within Nintendo to some degree. The business approach of Super Mario Run, which was more like a classic Shareware game than a modern F2P title, spoke not just to a desire to experiment in the space, but also to a deep-rooted suspicion and dislike of the F2P mechanics which dominate mobile games. That Fire Emblem Heroes ended up using F2P systems was partially down to being a game more suited to those systems, but it also suggested that Nintendo was learning from its mistakes in this new arena.

It seems probable, however, that many of Nintendo’s designers (who are unusually powerful within the company, compared to most other firms in the industry) were not terribly enamoured of the lessons they were having to learn. When it was a matter of ‘do this or the company is finished’, they might have begrudgingly worked within the confines of the F2P model that has proven so successful elsewhere; with Switch selling faster than the firm can produce consoles, the argument that this is not necessary will have welled up again.

This is more than just the old “but I don’t like F2P” argument, which is tired and dull and has done the rounds so very many times. In Nintendo’s situation, there’s a genuine case to be made regarding how much they’re willing to risk the future to secure the present. The resistance to F2P within the company comes in part from discomfort with the sharper practices that are clear in the business models of some other mobile gaming firms, but also from a genuine desire to protect the value of its IP.

Nintendo, after all, is essentially a vault of extremely valuable IP which both provides the secure foundation for the firm’s existing business, and relies on that business to maintain its value and relevance. Safeguarding that IP – perhaps the second most valuable library in the world, after the Walt Disney Company’s vast holdings – is absolutely crucial to Nintendo’s long-term future. The responsibility to pass the IP library on to the next set of hands in better condition than it was received is something that senior staff at the company take extremely seriously.

If Nintendo really has improved its fortunes in the console market, and the mobile space is now seen as an interesting new venture rather than a lifeline from drowning, the calculation changes entirely. Mobile may not lose focus (not much, anyway; a little is perhaps inevitable), but the push to accept F2P systems with which its designers aren’t entirely comfortable has lost its inexorable nature. How Nintendo engages with mobile in general and F2P in particular is now going to be on its own terms.

One consequence of that is likely to be that Nintendo’s games, while successful and profitable, never really challenge the top of the mobile revenue charts – which tend to be occupied by games that take an approach to F2P that, in Nintendo’s eyes at least, is likely to damage the IP by association. (It’s notable that for all the revenue flowing through mobile gaming, the only IP created in the space that seems to have any broad value beyond fuelling direct sequels is Angry Birds, a game that wasn’t F2P in its original incarnation.)

Nintendo’s experiment with mobile isn’t over by any means, and in the long term it remains a hugely important. It still wants to succeed, but the parameters of the experiment have changed. For the resurgent Nintendo, mobile must now match the company’s needs, and not the other way around.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is China The Hot Spot For Mobile Gaming

June 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

To Western mobile developers, the Chinese market may seem as daunting as it is distant.

Every aspect of the landscape is different to anything seen in regions closer to home: the publishers, the distribution channels, player tastes, player behaviours, spending habits and, of course, the language. Even simple things like use of colour will be unfamiliar; red, traditionally used to depict danger or damage in games, is actually associated with good fortune and joy in China.

However, a report this week from investment firm Atomico notes the market value for games in China is $24.4bn, accounting for 25% of the global market. It also observers there are 600m gamers in China – twice the population of the US – and with the well-documented dominance of smartphones in the region, it appears to be a prime opportunity for mobile developers.

A mere ‘opportunity’?  No, says Joost van Dreunen, co-founder and CEO of SuperData Research – it’s much more than that.

“The Chinese mobile games market is the largest market in the world,” he tells GamesIndustry.biz. “Releasing your game in China is not just an advantage, it is an absolute necessity.”

Of course, it’s no easy task. The market is incredibly challenging for outside companies to enter – in no small part to new regulations introduced last summer designed to root out certain kinds of content, not just in games but in any kind of foreign media. Story-based games are under particular scrutiny as they are more likely to contain political and military topics, or other material the Chinese government disapproves of.

Even the world-conquering Pokémon Go was denied a Chinese launch, when the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television deemed to investigate the game and whether it endangered people’s lives and property, or even national security. Fortunately, Superdata reported back in December that this approval process sped up significantly towards the end of the year.

A new law also came into effect last month that demands developers reveal the percentage rates for items yielded by any random system. Given how many free-to-play titles – a business model that dominates the Chinese market – rely on such mechanics to monetise their players, this requires careful consideration when moving for a release in the region.

Another challenge is the number of different platforms available. Fortunately, Android and iOS both have a healthy presence in China, although back in December 2016, Superdata revealed Android players in China were worth eight times more (in terms of revenue generated) than those on iOS. That said, this week’s Atomico report notes that $5.5bn was still spent on iOS games in 2016, showing significant growth over the past four years.

“There are certainly several obvious challenges to releasing your game in China,” van Dreunen observes. “Getting approval, the relatively high risk of being cloned, and the fact that this is now a deep red ocean.

“But the biggest challenge in releasing your game in China is being unable to meet demand. I’ve seen medium-sized developers struggle to keep up and churn out enough content at regular intervals to keep players engaged. You have to understand that Chinese gamers are ravenous and demand a lot of content to satisfy their appetite. So while it may initially seem like a great decision to release in China, studios run the risk of getting crushed under the necessary workload. Many developers are not set up to release content at that scale.”

To that end, he urges developers to find a publisher in the region. There are plenty available, and in recent weeks we’ve seen several Western studios choose exactly this strategy to tap into China’s lucrative market. Zynga partnered with Chinese publisher NetEase to bring its real-time strategy title Dawn of War to the region, as did Peter Molyneux and the 22cans team for their survival adventure The Trail.

Even the mighty Ubisoft secured a deal with Tencent, who will publish a new Might & Magic Heroes game for mobile, developed by local studio Playcrab. With so many partnerships already established with Western games firms, any studios looking East would be ill-advised to attempt to enter the market themselves.

“From a practical standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to go it alone,” he warns. “Partnering helps to lower the barriers to entry significantly and in some cases is mandatory. It’s a bit of an upside-down universe where you have one of the top publishers like Activision forced to work with a direct competitor like Tencent.”

The revenues available and the larger audience, as van Dreunen says, makes it a “necessity” for developers to be investigating routes into China – although the SuperData CEO is quick to remind that efforts should be spread across other territories as well.

“Don’t get stuck on only China,” he warns. “If you’re a mobile game company you should also consider the Nordics, for example, which has a more affluent consumer base.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does The Nintendo Switch Represent The Future Of Consoles?

May 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

It’s a fact often stated, but no less true for the repetition, that videogames as a whole owe a great deal to Nintendo.

Time and again over the past 30-odd years, Nintendo has defined and redefined core parts of what a game, or a games console, is meant to be. It hasn’t always been the first to invent an idea, but so often it has been the first company to take a rough idea and turn it into something so accessible, so useful and so necessary that, in hindsight, it ends up feeling obvious.

The D-pad, the analogue stick, the handheld console, the 3D platformer, the often copied but never equalled Mario Kart formula… Even when Nintendo’s innovations haven’t been immediately well-received, as was the case with the Wii’s motion controls, they’ve still had the power to shift the course of the industry. Thus, when Nintendo launches something that appears to have inertia behind it, it’s best to pay attention.

It’s fairly certain that some of the touches that made Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so magical will start showing up in other open-world games over the coming years, for example. Of course, we shouldn’t ignore the debt that BOTW itself owes to many other open world titles; Nintendo is a very productive part of an ongoing discourse within games, both receiving and creating ideas, not some wizened sage on a hilltop passing down gems of insight to the unwashed masses. Often its greatest innovations have been built upon foundations laid down by others; it’s just that Nintendo turns out to be a pretty damned fine architect, given such foundations upon which to work.

Few would deny that Breath of the Wild has been a landmark software release; quite a number of you, though, will likely consider it a bit too early to consider Switch to have earned a place in Nintendo’s grand hall of hugely influential products. The console is off to a roaring start, with its second month sales (and ongoing stock shortages) demonstrating very high demand. While next month’s big title, ARMS, is an unknown quantity – it could be an amazing driver of console sales or a damp squib – July’s Splatoon 2, a sequel to the company’s biggest new IP in years, is absolutely certain to drive demand for Switch further into the stratosphere.

That’s all well and good; but yes, it is still early days. The console is yet to complete its first quarter, let alone its first Christmas; projections are good and anticipation is high, but talking about the influence of Switch at this point feels a bit like counting chickens and planning an extensive chicken dinner menu based on eggs still far from hatching. There is, however, one further factor to take into account – the word of mouth around Switch, which is almost uniformly positive and which has a characteristic I’m not sure I’ve ever seen with a console launch before.

The unique thing about the way in which people discuss Switch is this; people who have played games on the console are frequently and vocally adamant that this is now their preferred way to play games. There’s a bizarre level of clamour for games from other systems to be ported to Switch, because the console offers a preferable way to play for so many people. Nobody is actively dumping on PS4 or Xbox One in these comments; rather they tend to be wistful “oh, how I wish Persona 5 (or whatever) was on Switch, I’d much rather play it on that.”

There is, no doubt, some degree – however small – of simple excitement with a new shiny thing reflected in these comments. However, combined with the strong market demand for the console, it does make one wonder: is Nintendo on to something quite revolutionary here?

It’s clearly struck a chord with a pretty wide audience, and the appeal of the Switch form factor is playing a major role in its early success. It’s absolutely true that, as a general rule, games sell consoles, with the hardware itself being of (distant) secondary importance, but with Switch representing such a major overhaul of the whole console paradigm, there’s certainly some extent to which the hardware is selling itself.

A couple of months before Switch launched, I argued that one of the reasons for the console’s design – and for the much less successful attempt at executing a similar concept with the Wii U – is that the number of young people who have a large TV in their home is declining, most notably in Japan, as people turn to smart devices and laptops for a large portion of their media consumption. This limits the market for consoles, especially for those which are concerned largely with ultra high fidelity graphics on very large, up-to-date TV screens. This trend is less advanced in other territories, but it does exist, and may catch up with Japan.

That may explain part of the appeal of Switch, but I don’t think that market is the one getting excited about the console right now; early adopters are largely going to be people who own a high-end console (or consoles) and a high-end TV, with those who don’t own a TV being a market Nintendo may tap later as its success grows. What I think we’re seeing instead is a slightly different, albeit related trend; people are used to their media being mobile, and that makes the existing console paradigm a little frustrating.

Many of us rolled our eyes slightly at Nintendo’s painfully lifestyle-marketing-agency videos of people turning up to parties with Switch consoles, but in truth we have all become accustomed to bringing our media experiences with us, sharing them easily (often by simply handing over a phone or tablet to someone) and never feeling tethered by them. That applies within the home as much as outside; watching an episode of something on Netflix on your TV until you feel a bit tired and decide to finish out the episode on your smartphone, curled up in bed, is pretty much how a whole generation finishes its weeknights right now.

In tapping into that, Nintendo may have created something that’s going to change our expectations about how we interact with games. That capacity to treat games as being just as untethered and portable as other media is a bigger change than many give it credit for, as is the capacity to link the undocked consoles together easily for local multiplayer – an absolutely enormous part of the appeal and success of the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable consoles in Japan, where school and college kids getting together to play Pokemon or Monster Hunter in public social spaces was a pretty huge thing for many years.

The question is, if Nintendo is really on to something massive here – and if it is, then those slightly eyebrow-raising projections showing the Switch selling in volumes comparable to the Wii might not actually be so crazy after all – what is the impact on the wider market going to be? How do Microsoft and Sony react to this?

If Switch is as big a success as many people seem to expect, it’s quite likely that it’ll precipitate a major internal change of direction in its competitors’ plans for the future – just as previous successful innovations by Nintendo have done. There are various models a future Xbox or PlayStation could pursue in order to give a comparable experience to Switch without sacrificing their cutting edge performance; a tablet-style console with a dock housing a much more powerful GPU is perhaps the most obvious example.

The crucial thing is to deliver a console that has a portable experience on a par with its tethered-to-the-TV experience; a lower pixel count and perhaps some toned down graphic effects, but essentially the same game, just as playable and fully featured, available to pick up and play anywhere you want, whenever you want to be away from the TV.

It’s a model that’s likely to make sense to more and more consumers as behaviours shift away from the monolithic television-centric media experiences of previous decades, and if Switch is a breakout hit (and perhaps even if it’s only a moderate success), it’s a model to which both Sony and Microsoft will need to think very carefully about their response.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Nintendo’s Zelda Going Mobile?

May 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Zelda will be the next Nintendo IP to get the mobile treatment, according to sources speaking to The Wall Street Journal, with the new title expected to follow the Animal Crossing later this year.

The WSJ’s sources indicated that Animal Crossing is expected to launch in the second half of calendar 2017, with The Legend of Zelda to follow. However, the sources said that the order of the releases could still change, with Zelda arriving first.

With games based on Fire Emblem and Super Mario Bros. already released and Animal Crossing on the way, a version of Zelda was arguably inevitable. However, the success of Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch has bolstered public interest in the IP; in its recent financial results, Nintendo said that Breath of the Wild had sold 2.76 million units on Switch by March 31, despite the console only selling 2.74 million units.

One crucial detail that remains unclear is how the Zelda mobile game will be sold. Nintendo has talked openly about its reluctance to implement a traditional free-to-play model with its iconic franchises, opting for a free-to-try approach with Super Mario Run that ultimately carried a $10 in-app purchase to unlock the full game.

However, in March this year Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said the company was disappointed with the revenue earned from Super Mario Run. Fire Emblem Heroes uses a more typical version of the free-to-play model, but a Nintendo representative described it as “an outlier.”

“We honestly prefer the Super Mario Run model,” the company said. Whether that holds true for Zelda on mobile remains to be seen.

Nintendo and DeNA, which is involved with the game’s development, both resisted the WSJ’s request for comment.

Courtesy-Fud

Will Digital Video Game Sales Grow This Year

May 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The growth of full game downloads in the console space has surprised EA, the firm says.

The company told investors during its Q&A – as transcribed by Seeking Alpha – that full game downloads accounted for 33% of unit sales. That’s considerably ahead of the firm’s previous estimate of 29%, and 9% higher than the figure it posted last year.

The firm says the chief driver was “the continuing evolution of consumer behavior. but some of the out-performance was driven by the shift from Star Wars Battlefront to Battlefield 1, as well as the digital performance of our catalog.”

It expects full game downloads will account for 38% of its console unit sales during 2017.

However, EA’s CFO Blake Jorgensen anticipates that for the whole industry the figure will be even higher – around 40%. This is because EA’s big titles, such as FIFA, often perform strongly in markets with slower digital uptake.

“In terms of full-game downloads, the number surprised us because we had thought that it’d be around the 5% year-over-year growth,” he said. “Some of that may simply be the consumer is shifting faster than we know or we expected. The trends can sometimes jump in dramatic ways and maybe we’re starting to see that overall shift. And some of it could be product-related. We do think the industry will end calendar year 2017 probably above 40%. We will most likely lag that as we have historically because FIFA is such a large product and it is so global that we are operating in markets where either the ability to purchase digitally, or the ability to download based on bandwidth speeds, are compromised and thus we tend to skew a little lower on FIFA than we do on the rest of our portfolio. So we’ve always lagged the industry slightly, but we are excited about the potential that you’re seeing the consumer possibly shift quicker to digital than we’d originally anticipated.”

EA remains optimistic about the console space. It says that at the end of last year the install base for both PS4 and Xbox One was 79m, and that it would grow to 105m by the end of 2017. This figure does not include Nintendo Switch, although EA is bullish about Nintendo, too.

“We have a tremendous relationship with Nintendo and have done for many, many years and are excited by the fact that they have come out very strong and are bringing in a whole new player base into the ecosystem,” said EA CEO Andrew Wilson. “We continue to be bullish on it and are looking at other titles that we might bring to the Switch. Our console number that we quoted does not include the Switch at this point, so anything that Nintendo does is additive to that number.”

There were a few additional takeaway points from EA’s financials. The publisher said that the traditional DLC mode is becoming “less important” as it moves further into live services. We’ve already seen EA evolve its DLC model with Titanfall 2, which is giving away all of its DLC for free.

EA also revealed that its new EA Motive studio in Montreal has 100 staff, and the publisher expects that number will grow to 150.

Courtesy-GI-biz

Can The PS4 Pro Stop The Falling Sells Of The PS4?

May 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Sony Interactive Entertainment sold 20 million units of its PlayStation 4 console in the last fiscal year, boosting revenue by 6% and operating income by more than 50%.

In the 12-month period ended March 31 2017, SIE’s Game & Network Services division earned $14.7 billion in revenue, a 6% increase over the year before. Operating income for the division was $1.2 billion, a more significant 53% increase over the prior year, largely due to cost reductions on PS4 hardware and rising software sales.

Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn will have been a major contributor to software revenue, becoming the fastest-selling new IP of the PS4 era after moving 2.6 million units in the two weeks following its late-February release. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End also launched in the accounting period; Naughty Dog’s widely acclaimed title sold 8.6 million copies by the end of calendar 2016.

Across the entire year, 20 million units of the PS4 were shipped, 13% more than the 17.7 million units in the previous fiscal year. Given that the PS4 had 40 million confirmed sales in May 2016, that puts the total PS4 installed base somewhere around 60 million – possibly just below, but certainly not very far away.

Sony offered no details on the specific performance of the PS4 Pro, and no further information on PSVR sales beyond the 915,000 unit figure revealed in February. Both devices launched at the end of calendar 2016.

Looking ahead, Sony expects PS4 shipments to decline to 18 million next year. However, it expects the GNS division to improve in general, with a 14.6% increase in revenue and a 34% increase in operating income.

Overall, Sony Corp. earned $67.9 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year, down 6%, and a $654 million net profit, a more dramatic 50% decline.

Courtesy-GI.biz

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

April 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

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

April 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Courtesy-Biz

Can Nintendo Sell 20 Million Switches In 2017?

April 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-Fud

Can Microsoft Make Game Pass Profitable?

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Sega Acquires Crytek Black Sea Developers

March 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

In an effort to bolster Total War developer Creative Assembly, Sega Europe today has announced that it’s acquired Crytek Black Sea and added the 60-person team from Bulgaria to the prominent UK developer. Crytek Black Sea has been renamed Creative Assembly Sofia and will be working on a number of unannounced projects.

Tim Heaton, Studio Director at Creative Assembly, commented: “Now in our 30th year of games development, with an army of multi-million selling titles to our name and a history of world-renowned partnerships, Creative Assembly is proof of the UK games industry’s potential for global success. Due to this success, we are further expanding our UK base and developing additional projects overseas, whilst pursuing top talent from across the globe to join us, all in support of our commitment to creating high quality, authentic gaming experiences. Our continued growth allows us to be dynamic with our future projects, constantly seeking new opportunities and reaching a wider audience with our games.”

Jurgen Post, President and COO of Sega Europe, added: “The acquisition of Crytek Black Sea further enhances Sega Europe’s development capabilities and strengthens our ability to output diverse and engaging content for our IP. Creative Assembly Sofia will be working exclusively on content for Creative Assembly and will prove an invaluable asset given the multitude of unannounced titles currently in the works. This acquisition represents another step in the right direction for the growth of our global business, underlining our commitment to add value to our existing studios and our continued support for the UK games industry.”

Fresh off the Halo Wars 2 project, Creative Assembly has been in a growth mode over the last year, as the studio’s headcount has risen by 37% and is now over 500-people strong. The addition of Creative Assembly Sofia comes after the opening of the studio’s third UK site at the end of 2016, which resulted in an 88% increase in development space to its creative footprint (with over 70,000 square feet of in-house development facilities including a 45-camera motion-capture studio and dedicated audio suites).

Creative Assembly is looking to stay ahead in the UK games market, which generated £2.96bn in 2016, 1.3 times the size of the video market (£2.25bn) and 2.6 times the size of music (£1.1bn).

In an email interview prior to the news, Heaton informed GamesIndustry.biz that Creative Assembly has been looking to expand for a while. “[We] have actually been eyeing potential studios specifically to expand CA’s output for some time. Parties have been discussing this deal over the last few months, since the opportunity arose to purchase Crytek Black Sea, and integrate them into CA’s operation,” he explained.

“While Sega are always looking out for acquisitions that fit with the rest of the business, this addition has been motivated by the growing CA output, and the need to support that growth with talented and experienced teams,” Heaton continued. “CA has never had the aim solely to grow big, but our games have given us the opportunity to work on more projects. As we have taken those opportunities, we have needed to seek out more talent who reflect the calibre of our games.”

While Crytek has run into financial troubles and has unfortunately missed payroll at times, Heaton assured us that the new CA studio would not have to worry about its status any longer.

“We’ve been working closely with the CA Sofia team over the last few months to ensure they are setup for success, and have a comfortable and healthy work environment,” he said. “This has included upgrading their IT infrastructure, setting up clear HR support processes and integrating them with our UK teams; in fact, some of the CA Sofia team are with us in the UK at the moment, as part of their ongoing training and development.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

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