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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

Blizzard Get Tougher on Bad Gamers

September 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Blizzard has reassured its community that it will be clamping down on those who are consistently abusing other players or demonstrating bad behaviour in Overwatch.

A user post on the official forums described the community as “toxic” and the reporting system “a failure”. Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan responded to this with more details on what the developer plans to do.

In the short term, the Overwatch team plans to re-evaluate which punishments are assigned to various offences, and as “in the process of converting silences over to suspensions”, according to Kaplan. Suspensions will also be extended as the original user post observed that a one-week ban isn’t particularly threatening to some players.

Blizzard plans to eventually phase out silences and rely solely on suspensions and bans, although users causing violations with their BattleTag name will be forced to change.

Repeated offenders within the Competitive Play mode will face permanent bans. Currently bans are only in force for the rest of the current season, but if Blizzard bans the user for more than a certain number of seasons, they will not be allowed to play this mode ever again.

Kaplan promised Blizzard will be “way more aggressive” during the upcoming sixth season of Competitive Play.

An email system will also be introduced that informs players if someone they reported has been punished, as well as an in-game notification system that delivers similar information. While the emails won’t offer full details, the idea is to encourage more users to report abusive behaviour by showing that it is acted upon.

Kaplan finished by calling on Overwatch players to help identify the most toxic members of the community, and hopes that one day effort spent on dealing with them can be put to better use.

“In the long term, we really want to work on systems that encourage positive behavior and reward good players. It really bums us out to spend so much time punishing people for being bad sports. We like making cool, fun game systems — that’s what we do for a living. But because people seem to lack self-control or because people like to abuse anonymity and free speech we’re put in a position of spending a tremendous amount of our time and resources policing the community. We will do this as it is our responsibility but we’d like to spend more time rewarding good players rather than having to focus on poor sportsmanship and unacceptable bad behavior so much.

“Like it or not, this is an ‘us, the OW community problem’ and not just an ‘OW team problem’. For better or for worse, we’re in this together. We’re working hard to make changes. I hope you all do too.”

A video update about plans for a stronger regulation system has already been filmed and will go live soon, although Kaplan was not sure when.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Has The Playstation Network Suffered Another Breach

August 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The hacker group known as OurMine has reportedly cracked into Sony and made off with a collection of PlayStation Network (PSN) logins.

Legitimately, OurMine offers to protect your online accounts and presence and keep it secure on a monthly paid for basis. It also busts its way into systems, picks them apart and exposes their weaknesses all while wearing a lovely white hat.

We have already seen it at work this month when it took on HBO and Game of Thrones and managed to come out of it with Twitter control and a couple of script treatments. 

The benevolent group is not planning on leaking any of the information that it took from PSN and got quite indignant at the suggestion in one of its own tweets, suggesting that Sony just needed to get in touch and avail itself of the OurMine services and this would all be over.

“No, we aren’t going to share it, we are a security group, if you works at PlayStation then please go to our website ourmine . org,” it said on Twitter.

Reports claim that the hack of Sony’s social media accounts was achieved using its Sprout Social management account, which also gave OurMine access to user registration information such as names and email addresses.

It is tough to imagine that Sony’s PlayStation people would welcome this third-party intervention. The firm has had to deal with hackers before in 2001 when it went after the cracker known as Geohot. Then, the firm was taken offline for almost three weeks and had tens of millions of PSN user details pinched.

Sony’s Facebook account also got taken over for a short while this weekend putting users off the service and sparing other people from cat pictures and happy couples. Unfortunately, though, this only had a brief impact.

Courtesy-TheInq

Can Microsoft’s Live Streaming Service Mixer Compete With Twitch

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has changed the name of its live-streaming platform from Beam to Mixer.

The firm says it has made the changes to push the live-streaming platform in territories where it cannot use the Beam name. Mixer, the firm says, reflects the fact the service brings people together.

Mixer’s big selling point is its faster-than-light low latency, which allows viewers to interact directly with the streamer and the game in real-time. TellTale is incorporating this into some of its games, such as The Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman, where the audience can crowd-decide what choices are made.

As part of the re-brand, Microsoft is also launching a series of new options for Mixer as it attempts to take on Twitch in the lucrative but competitive live-streaming market.

These include extending Mixer to mobile phones (it is currently available on Xbox One and PC), launching a co-streaming option where gamers can now stream next to one another in the same channel, and a dedicated in-house channel called Channel One, which will showcase a variety of content. The firm will also now promote Mixer via the Xbox One dashboard, and will be streaming Microsoft’s E3 press conference.

In addition, the firm has launched a dedicated ‘Mixer Studio’ in New York for streamers and partners to use.

Mixer enters closed Beta on iOS and open beta on Android today. The company is also eyeing other platforms as it tries to catch up with some of its more established competitors.

“We’re not announcing any new platforms today, but there’s no platform that we wouldn’t want to be on,” Chad Gibson, partner group program manager, tells GamesIndustry.biz.

“We don’t want to put any barriers behind people wanting to watch it or use it. We will be rolling out to more platforms over time, for sure.”

“The idea came from just observing what a lot of streamers do,” Gibson says. “A lot of streamers that we’ve seen will be playing games together and having their different channels. There are a couple of partners on our platform that will be playing Minecraft and building a world together and they will both have independent channels, and viewers will often switch back and forth between the channels. So the way it just naturally works is that their community is split between those two channels… Co-streaming is just a way to allow that to come together where the community isn’t separate.

“In the case of co-streaming, those two people would join their channels together, the chat gets merged, and their two viewing perspectives will be in the same channel page. So the community that’s watching those two guys or girls now has a single place to watch. That streaming will be referenced on both of their individual channels, so they’re not losing any opportunity for community growth, but we are now allowing within a single channel a chance to tell a bigger story.

“As we went down that path, there was just so many scenarios that this was great for. For example, take the popular game of the moment, Playunknown Battlegrounds, and its four-person squad play. As I have been testing the feature, I am playing with a four-person squad and we all stream together. We join a co-stream and it is the story of our squad in one channel, and that is a really, really powerful thing that we think is going to unlock new types of storytelling and community building.”

Co-streaming could work well at events such as E3, Gibson says, where multiple users can stream things from their phones.

The majority of content on Mixer is game-related, which is unsurprising considering its integration with Xbox. But Gibson observes that this is changing.

“The diversity of non-gaming content actually happened faster than I thought,” Gibson says. “It is not that I personally had a goal of percentage of game to non-game content, but… a good example of one of our partners is Remi. She reads books, tells stories and occasionally she will play League of Legends. There are a bunch of folks who create art, and we actually have a couple of musicians – BrilliantBuffoons is one, Duke is another. Duke plays the piano and BrilliantBuffoons plays drums, and they take song requests from the audience. Stuff like that is great, and I find that so incredibly engaging, and the low-latency applies so well, because you are having a direct conversation.”

“I think the market is large enough for everyone to be successful. But we’ll focus on the things that are unique about our platform”

The big challenge for Mixer is that it currently lags behind its competitors in terms of pure viewer numbers. The relationship with developers and the tab on the Xbox One dashboard (which will be used to show everything from a Gears of War eSports event to a new streamer) will certainly help, but until it gets a strong number of users, it can’t command the same monetisation opportunities for streamers as the likes of Twitch can. Gibson says Mixer is getting there.

“The growth has been more than we had anticipated since the Creator’s Update [the Windows 10 update that introduced Beam to PC],” Gibson insists. “It has provided us with a whole bunch of new challenges to overcome, but it’s been really great. We have surpassed all of our initial goals for that launch.”

He continues: “We will do everything we can to share this with the world. This is one of the reasons we’re doing this, to take it to a larger level. We think the whole market for game video and streaming in general is growing so fast, that I don’t think we need to necessarily look at ourselves relative to others to see our own growth success. I think the market is large enough for everyone to be successful. But we’ll focus on the things that are unique about our platform, which is great because it allows us to tell our own story and showcase what we are really excited about – which is low-latency, interactivity, co-streaming… all of those capabilities.”

The involvement of TellTale is certainly a positive move for Mixer as the service looks to integrate into more video games. Mojang is also looking at utilising it in Minecraft – and there are already community-made Minecraft mods that make use of Mixer.

TellTale is using Mixer with Guardians of the Galaxy where the audience decides

Gibson says that the development community is excited by what Mixer can do, but acknowledges the firm needs to make it easier for them to utilise. And it’s something the team is committed to, he says.

“It has excited and challenged people in terms of how to create a game and make it so the viewing audience can participate,” He says. “For some games that is challenging. For a game that has shipped, it’s a case of trying to see if there’s a content update they can do to add that interactivity, and for some games that is harder. Most of the creative directors we talk to think that the really mind-blowing experiences will only exist when the game is built with this in mind. There are a lot of games where there are very natural ways for us to expand with interactivity. Minecraft is probably my favourite example where there is a bunch of ways, even for modders, to bring interactivity into that game.

“Most of the creative directors we talk to think that the really mind-blowing experiences will only exist when the game is built with this in mind”

“But honestly, in terms of feedback, what we’re hearing is: “We really think this can make our game more engaging, but we need to be able to trial a lot of things.” I am summarising a bunch of feedback, but developers ultimately want us to make it easier for them to try a bunch of things. That made us, with [our last update] Interactivity 2, change our priorities on some things. We prioritised having Unreal and Unity add-ons, because that makes it easier for creative directors and tech directors to prototype.

“The excitement has been pretty universal. It has challenged people to figure out how they can apply this to a game that’s on the market right now, and motivated people who have games coming in the summer, fall or next year. So throughout all of this, the tactical thing for us is to help make it easier and quicker for them to iterate, prototype and explore what they can do.”

In terms of technology and potential, Beam – now Mixer – always seemed interesting. The popularity of ‘Twitch Plays’ showcases a desire for communities to get involved with the things that they’re viewing. But Mixer enters into a market that’s dominated by Twitch, with growing competitors such as Facebook Live and YouTube – plus other independent outlets like DingIt and Smashcast.

So what is Beam’s ultimate aim? Is it to augment Microsoft’s existing services and offer something that’s unique to the Xbox platform, or is it to become a true competitor to Twitch?

“A big thing that we obsess about in Xbox Live is how do we make it easier for friends to invite others to play games,” Gibson concludes. “We want to make it easy to share things. To us, this service allows us to expand that to the act of watching. Now my friends can watch me play with zero latency and it is just like they are in party chat with me.

In the future, when Sea of Thieves, or a new Minecraft or Forza comes out, my viewing audience can actually participate in my game adventure. Be that by giving me challenges, cheering me on, helping me overcome an obstacle… to us it is a great way of extending the game to more people in a conceptually similar way when we moved Xbox Live onto Windows. With that we wanted to expand the Xbox world to more people, and this allows us to expand that even further and offer a whole bunch of great new experiences.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Square Enix Is Giving IO Interactive The Boot

May 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Square Enix is dropping IO Interactive, the Danish studio behind the long-running Hitman franchise.

In a statement released today, the Japanese publisher said the decision was part of a strategy to “focus our resources and energies on key franchises and studios.”

The withdrawal was in effect as of the end of the last financial year, on March 31, 2017, and resulted in a ¥4.9 billion ($43 million) extraordinary loss on the company’s balance sheet.

Square Enix has already started discussion with potential new investors, the company said. “Whilst there can be no guarantees that the negotiations will be concluded successfully, they are being explored since this is in the best interests of our shareholders, the studio and the industry as a whole.”

IO Interactive was acquired by Eidos in 2003, just before it launched Hitman: Contracts, the third game in what was already its signature franchise. Eidos was acquired by Square Enix in 2009, and it has launched four games in the time since: Mini Ninjas, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Hitman: Absolution, and Hitman, last year’s episodic take on its most celebrated IP.

The bold new structure implemented in Hitman saw the game’s missions being separately on digital platforms, with various live events and challenges taking place between the release of each one. Square Enix originally planned to give the entire series a boxed retail release, but that never materialised. It has never disclosed official numbers regarding the sales figures for Hitman, either as a series or for individual episodes.

However, the series’ ámbition was widely appreciated within the games press – it was named 11th best game of 2016 by Eurogamer, for example, and was Giant Bomb’s overall Game of the Year. When we talked to IO studio head Hannes Seifert last year, he described the pride his team felt at the “new feeling” the game created, and made it clear that plans for Hitman extended far beyond a single season of epsiodes.

“When we say an ever expanding world of assassination, it means we don’t have to take everything that’s out there, throw it away and make a new game,” he said. “We can actually build on that. Just imagine after two or three seasons, you enter at that point in time, the amount of content will just blow your mind. That’s where we want to be.”

Seifert stepped down as IO’s studio head in February this year. He was replaced by Hakan Abrak, IO’s former studio production director.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Digital Rights Management On The Way Out?

May 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Two years ago, Cory Doctorow joined the EFF’s campaign to eliminate DRM within eight years and he claims that he is on target to do that thanks to tractors

Talking to the DEF CON hacking conference, Doctorow said that the farmers and the Digital Right To Repair Coalition have done brilliantly and have a message which is extremely resonant with the political right as well as the political left.

The entertainment industry seems to oppose extending the DMCA to tractors and if Big Content, which is very proprietary towards laws that protect DRM, thinks that it is silly then it acknowledges that there are cases were DRM is bad.

“They really feel that they lobbied for and bought these laws to protect the business model they envisioned. For these latecomer upstarts to turn up and stretch and distort these laws out of proportion has really exposed one of the natural cracks in copyright altogether,” he said.

Doctorow one good thing which will come from Brexit, is that the UK will renegotiate and reevaluate its relationship to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other directives.

“The UK enjoys a really interesting market position if it wants to be the only nation in the region that makes, exports, and supports DRM-breaking tools,” he said.

Courtesy-Fud

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

Blizzard Entertainment Wins Cheating Lawsuit

April 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Blizzard Entertainment has asked for $8.5 million in damages from Bossland, a German company that makes and sells cheats and hacks for its most popular games.

This is the latest and probably final step in a legal complaint Blizzard filed in July 2016, which accused Bossland of copyright infringement and millions of dollars in lost sales, among other charges. Cheat software like Bossland’s Honorbuddy and Demonbuddy, Blizzard argued, ruins the experience of its products for other players.

According to Torrent Freak, Bossland’s attempt to have the case dismissed due to a lack of jurisdiction failed, after which it became unresponsive. It also failed to respond to a 24-hour ultimatum to respond from the court, and so Blizzard has filed a motion for default judgement.

The $8.5 million payment was calculated based on Blizzard’s sales projections for the infringing products. Bossland had previously admitted to selling 118,939 products to people in the United States since July 2013, of which Blizzard believes a minimum of 36% related to its games.

“In this case, Blizzard is only seeking the minimum statutory damages of $200 per infringement, for a total of $8,563,600.00,” the motion document stated. “While Blizzard would surely be entitled to seek a larger amount, Blizzard seeks only minimum statutory damages.

“Notably, $200 approximates the cost of a one-year license for the Bossland Hacks. So, it is very likely that Bossland actually received far more than $8 million in connection with its sale of the Bossland Hacks.”

Update: The court has granted Blizzard’s motion for default judgement, ordering Bossland to pay $8.56 million in damages.

That number was calculated based on 42,818 sales of Bossland’s products in the US. The court ruled that the German company should not be allowed to sell Honornuddy, Demonbuddy, Stormbuddy, Hearthbuddy and Watchover Tyrant in the country from now on, as well as any future products that exploit Blizzard’s games. Bossland will also have to pay $174,872 in attorneys’ fees.

Courtesy-GI.biz

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

Is The Xbox Game Pass A Good Move For Microsoft?

March 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft has just made the Xbox One console a bit more interesting by announcing a new subscription service called the Xbox Game Pass, which will give access to over 100 games for US $9.99 a month, when it launches later this spring.

The Microsoft Xbox Game Pass will include over 100 games, like Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16, and SoulCalibur 2. Unlike other similar subscription based services, Xbox Game Pass will allow users to download available games and buy them with a 20 percent discount if they decide to keep the game. This also means that users won’t have to worry about streaming, bandwidth or other connectivity problems.

Add-ons for those games will be available for purchase with the same exclusive discount for Xbox Game Pass members as well.

While it was initially announced as a service that will only be available on Xbox One and Windows 10 devices, the Windows 10 part was later removed from the official Xbox Game Pass site, but it is still possible that it will be coming to the PC later this spring.

Microsoft announced that some big game publishers have already signed on including 2K, 505 Games, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Capcom, Codemasters, Deep Silver, Focus Home Interactive, Sega, SNK Corporation, THQ Nordic GmbH, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Microsoft Studios.

Currently, the Xbox Game Pass is available in an alpha preview stage with a limited number of games so we are certainly looking forward to what it will look like when it launches this spring.

Courtesy-Fud

Is Resident Evil 7 Any Good?

January 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

In the summer of Pokémon Go Mania, it is easy to forget that there was a different obsession gripping fans of another iconic 1990s franchise. The Resident Evil 7 demo (released during E3 last June) was a creepy experience where you had to escape a dilapidated house owned by a murderous family. It went down well with horror fans; so well in fact, that when players stumbled upon a seemingly useless item – a mannequin finger – it turned into an obsession. Twitch streamers would play the demo for hours on end in an effort to uncover its mystery, theories would pop up on forum threads that would go on for hundreds and thousands of pages, and my inbox was full of friends – as if I had some insider knowledge – asking me: ‘What does the finger do? Will it get me out of the house?’

“We were really surprised by all that,” says Resident Evil 7 producer Masachika Kawata “We were planning to update the demo, but also leave a few loose threads, imply bigger things and just have odds and ends for you to discover, and one of those just so happened to be a mannequin finger. But the fact that it became such a focus of people’s attention, that was something that took us quite by surprise.”

Game director Koshi Nakanishi adds: “It certainly put a lot of pressure on us to put out the next update to the demo. We went faster on that than we had originally planned because of the explosive buzz around the finger. We didn’t want people to wait too long. This was the summer of last year, so we were working on a demo update while we were also in the middle of the development of the main game. Doing those things in parallel was certainly difficult for us.”

The Resident Evil 7 demo was a strategy that certainly seemed to work for Capcom. The concept was borrowed almost wholesale from Konami, which announced its horror game Silent Hills via the demo PT. Silent Hills was cancelled soon after and PT was removed from the PlayStation Store, disappointing horror game fans the world over. Capcom capitalised on that, although Nakanishi and Kawata insist its decision to do a demo was more about educating fans than anything else.

“With the launch announcement trailer for Resident Evil 7, we made a promise that we were going back to horror,” Nakanishi explains. “So we wanted to have a horror-focused demo that told gamers that they can trust us when we say: ‘Resident Evil is a horror game once more’. At the same time, it wasn’t the right moment to tell everybody about everything that is in the game in terms of gameplay. We wanted to get them on-board with the horror aspect first, and then the rest of the dominoes could fall. That’s why we decided to have a demo featuring just horror and no combat. Yet as the campaign progressed, and people accepted the new direction, we started to announce more details about characters and combat, and we could update the demo.”

Resident Evil 7’s reviews have just started to emerge, and the reception from critics is that Capcom has managed to rejuvenate its biggest IP after a couple of disappointing releases.

In particular the last game. Resident Evil 6, released in 2012, sold well but received a kicking from the consumer press. The game was bloated and more an action blockbuster than a horror game. However, although critics – and die-hard fans – were disappointed by the direction the series had been heading in, the franchise’s popularity had never been higher. Resident Evil 6 is the second most successful game Capcom has ever released, just behind the equally action-orientated Resident Evil 5.

“From a business perspective, Resident Evil 6 was a success,” acknowledges Kawata “But we had pushed that style of Resident Evil gameplay, with the big storyline and the hero characters, pretty much as far as we could. It was a blockbuster scale of game. That almost left us with no choice but to change the series in order to keep it alive, because where do you go after that size and scale of game?”

He continues: “Certainly if you compare the sales of Resident Evil 1, 2 and 3 as a unit [the more traditional horror games], and compare it to Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6 [which are more action-orientated], the sales were a lot higher on the more recent titles. But that’s not just because of the types of content, we have got better at selling our games. The market has got bigger as well. So just because we are going back to horror, I don’t expect we will see a drop to historical levels. The whole company is behind this title and the horror approach, and I’m confident that we are going to do well with this one.

“We also take a look at lifetime sales, and not just day one. Because some fans might be on the fence a bit, and be unsure about the new direction. So whether or not that has an effect on our initial out-of-the-gate sales, I am not sure yet. But over the lifetime of the product, I’m sure we will be able to hit our targets.”

“Although the situation with horror games is not the same as it was the last time we released a mainline title, we do still feel we can appeal to a lot of people, including hardcore horror fans.

Masachika Kawata, Capcom

The survival horror genre has had an interesting few years. Via the indie scene, it’s enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance via the likes of Slender Man and Outlast. However, the results have been mixed in the triple-A space. In 2014, Sega released Alien: Isolation, while just a few weeks later Bethesda launched The Evil Within (which was from the original creator of Resident Evil). Both titles were well received by critics, but commercially they failed to dissuade the theory that the survival horror genre was past its prime.

“The market for horror games has changed over the years, I suppose,” Kawata adds. “But Resident Evil has always been a series that keeps up, it isn’t afraid to change the style of gameplay. We have evolved a lot over the years in order to meet the needs of the market and our fans. So although the situation with horror games is not the same as it was the last time we released a mainline title, we do still feel we can appeal to a lot of people, including hardcore horror fans.

“And the fact that we have rival titles in the horror space is not a bad thing, because it only increases the market for horror games as a whole. And we will do the same when we release this game. There will be a further hunger for more horror games in general, and that can only be a good thing for us in the long term.”

 

Mr Baker is not someone to be trifled with

Resident Evil 7 brings back many of the classic components of past games in the series, including item management and save rooms. There’s also a huge mansion to explore, which evokes memories of the very first title in the franchise. It still feels distinctly like a Resident Evil game, but the developer has made a number of major changes, particularly in terms of the perspective. Whereas all the mainline Resident Evil games have adopted a third-person view, Resident Evil 7 has gone first-person – and for the first time since the Gun Survivor/Dead Aim light gun series on PlayStation 1 and 2. It follows in the footsteps of Outlast, Slender Man and Alien: Isolation, which also used a first-person view.

“The first-person perspective is one way to make any kind of game, it is an option that you have at any time,” Nakanishi says. “And as Kawata-san says, after Resident Evil 6 we had to reflect upon what the series was and where it was going. Some fans had said that Resident Evil 6 had lacked focus, and I wouldn’t disagree, and it was certainly one of my concerns in terms of how far we were going in that direction. So bearing that in mind, having a more focused, scarier, intimate Resident Evil was needed. We wanted to be able to not only do that, but also bring this more focused and scary experience to players in a very fresh and novel way that hadn’t been seen before in a Resident Evil.

“Some fans had said that Resident Evil 6 had lacked focus, and I wouldn’t disagree.”

Koshi Nakanishi, Capcom

“If you have a mission in mind to make a very immersive, atmospheric survival horror game, first-person is a good way to achieve that. The first-person viewpoint was more an obvious answer in terms of how to achieve our goals for Resident Evil 7, than being particularly inspired by any other external influences in the horror genre.”

That first-person perspective also enabled Capcom to capitalise on another new trend in the games sector – virtual reality.

“Going back about two and a half years, when we decided on the first-person perspective, it was obvious to say: ‘Oh you could do VR because first-person is the typical VR experience’,” he explains. “But it was just a vague idea at that point, and it wasn’t until later in development that we actually implemented VR. It was something that was relatively easy to do since we were at a stage where we had an atmospheric first-person experience in place.”

Nothing was cut from the game to better fit VR, but there were a few tweaks, including measures to reduce camera shaking in order to “make VR more comfortable”. Yet one thing the studio was a little concerned about is how scary the experience can be. The game is obviously meant to be frightening, but as anyone that played the demo at E3 will tell you, being completely immersed in that house can be quite an overwhelming experience. At E3, Capcom reps were recounting stories to me about how several journalists had asked to have the headset removed.

“When people are playing the game in VR for the first time, you do find yourself telling them not to push themselves and respect their own personal limits when it comes to intensity of experience in VR,” Nakanishi says.

Kawata adds: “I would almost recommend that if people are not sure, or think VR is too much for them – even if you have a PSVR at home – there’s no pressure to use it when you play the game for the very first time. Play the game normally first, see how you like it, see how scary it is for you on the TV, and then consider whether you want to jump into the VR mode. As it is so easy to change into VR as well, you can just take it at your own pace.

VR and first-person aside, some of the other changes Capcom made was in terms of development approach. As well as building a new engine (aptly titled the RE Engine) the team also adopted photogrammetry when putting items and even actors in the game. Capcom would fully scan the subject and simply place it in the game, with no need for additional drawing. The firm hopes this had improved the realism of the experience, although it wasn’t without its challenges.

“With photogrammetry, the actors needed to be in costume, they needed to be wearing movie-style make-up so that they look exactly like we want for the final game.”

Koshi Nakanishi, Capcom

Nakanishi concurs: “You get quick results, although the preparation takes a lot more work. Actors were difficult. Whenever you scan an actor, what I would prefer to do – and have done in the past – is take that scan and touch it up, but with this it tends to head into unrealistic territory. It doesn’t look good if you have a scan and start fiddling with it. So you have to get it really right at the scan stage. So the actors need to be in costume, they need to be wearing movie-style make-up so that they look exactly like we want for the final game. That way, once the scan is done, then you pretty much have the final result. That sort of preparation was a lot more difficult than with other processes.”

There’s also been a significant change when it came to writing. Resident Evil has a reputation for terrible dialogue, and fans would argue that’s part of its B-movie charm (although it’s probably more to do with bad translation). It’s never easy for a Japanese studio to try and build a convincing game set in a Western environment, and so the team hired Texan writer Richard Pearsey (best known for FEAR and Spec Ops: The Line) to help them Westernise its latest effort.

“The reason we hired Richard was for cultralisation, really,” Nakanishi explains. “The series is famous – especially the first titles – for having weird, cheesy english dialogue. Things like: ‘You were almost a Jill Sandwich’… it’s well known by now. It’s been part of the fun of the series in many ways, but you certainly couldn’t say the old lines were especially naturalistic. Coming to the modern day, although we love that classic stuff, if you want to make a serious horror game, you need to have a natural dialogue. It has to feel right and can’t be something that’s been translated badly from Japanese, or whatever.

“So at Capcom, we worked on the flow of the game from start to finish, and put in place the general storyline. And then Richard made the dialogue make sense, polished it up for us and made suggestions on how to make things stick together better. So that when the player plays it, it feels like almost natively Western.”

There’s still a level of uncertainty over whether the game will be successful. There are question marks over the genre, the impact of previous disappointing Resident Evil games and the fact it’s coming out in January – a month not known for high game sales. You could also argue that in today’s uncertain political and economic environment, we could probably do without a horror game.

Even so, this is the most impressive Resident Evil title since the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4 in 2005. And it’s been backed by a major PR and marketing campaign – including some inventive live-action experiences and those expansive demos. Capcom has given it its best shot, now it’s a case of seeing whether the market responds.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does Nintendo’s 3DS Have Security Issues?

December 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo is offering cash rewards for hackers that can expose security weaknesses in its 3DS family of consoles.

Upwards of $20,000 will be made available to successful hackers who can help address the weaknesses in Nintendo’s portable machine. The offer does not extend to Wii U.

It’s part of a program the firm is working on with HackerOne.

The offer is Nintendo’s renewed efforts to reduce piracy (including game application dumping and game copying execution), cheating (which includes game modification and save data modification) and the spreading of inappropriate content to children.

It suggests that Nintendo is true to its statement that it wants to maintain its 3DS business, even after the launch of its Switch console in March. Switch, which doubles as both a home and portable console, is seen as the natural successor to the 3DS, although Nintendo has stated it will continue to release games for the hardware. Over 60m 3DS consoles have been sold worldwide since the machine launched in 2011.

The ‘reward’ for finding vulnerabilities in the 3DS hardware will range from $100 to $20,000, and the amount will be at Nintendo’s discretion. Vulnerabilities that are already known will not be counted. The level of the reward will depend on the importance of information, quality of report and the severity of the vulnerability. Nintendo is looking for reports that include a proof of concept or functional exploit of code.

Courtesy-Fud

DoesThe PS4 Pro Truly Offer 4K Gaming?

September 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-ps4-proA little bit of clarity can go a long way. A few weeks ago at the reveal of the PS4 Pro, in a staff roundtable I questioned whether Sony’s new console would hurt Microsoft’s chances with the more powerful Scorpio. I also gave Sony an edge because of its HDR rollout to all PS4s. As it turns out, the HDR update is practically useless (no games supported yet and no video streaming) and the PS4 Pro itself will see most games upscaled, according to Sony Interactive boss Andrew House.

While PS4 architect Mark Cerny did make it clear during the conference that the Pro does not render games in true 4K resolution, many fans had no doubt assumed it would and likely glossed over his technical explanation of the Pro’s “streamlined rendering techniques” and “temporal and spatial anti-aliasing.” It’s hard to say how much consumers will care when the Pro goes on sale in November, but Microsoft wasted no time in puffing up its chest to declare its superiority with a console that won’t ship for many, many months.

Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today, “Any games we’re making that we’re launching in the Scorpio time frame, we’re making sure they can natively render at 4K.” Moreover, Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, hammered home the point with our sister site Eurogamer, commenting, “I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K. They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that’s why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that’s why we have the teraflops we have, because it’s what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.”

That’s a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate. It may not seem like a big deal right now, as 4K TV sales are still relatively minor, but the prices are falling and interest in 4K and HDR is picking up, not only with consumers, but also with game developers and content providers for streaming services like Netflix. This could be a decent holiday for the 4K TV market, and by the time Scorpio actually does launch there will be that many more 4K TV owners to target with the only console that renders 4K natively. That’s a nice feather in Microsoft’s cap.

This week we also featured an interesting writeup on VR and AR from DICE Europe. While VR proponents like Unity’s Clive Downie said there will be over a billion people using VR in the next 10 years, others such as Niantic’s John Hanke and Apple boss Tim Cook cast doubt on the long-term appeal and commerical success of VR. Of course, this isn’t the first time that people have wondered whether VR will ever move beyond a niche category – and indeed, our Rob Fahey talks about the over-investment in the space in his column today – but the idea that VR is merely an intermediary step before AR comes into its own is the wrong way to think about these technologies in my view.

Just because they both offer altered realities and utilize headsets does not mean they should be lumped together. The use cases and experiences are vastly different for VR and AR, and while I agree that AR likely is the better bet from a commercial standpoint, I don’t underestimate VR for one second. I’ve had way too many fun game sessions using the tech already, and it’s early days. Beyond that, serious movie makers are starting to leverage the great potential of the medium. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book), for example, is working on a VR film called Gnomes and Goblins and he’s even brought on veteran game designer Doug Church (System Shock, Thief) to fine tune the VR interactions.

The fact is VR has enormous storytelling potential and can immerse its users in ways that we’ve never experienced before. “As I work in film, so much has been done,” Favreau commented. “There are technological breakthroughs but there is less and less up in the air.  You’re really writing a song in the same format that has been going on for at least a hundred years. And what’s interesting about VR is that, although I really don’t know where it’s going or if it’s going to catch on in a significant way culturally, I do know that there is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of fun things as a storyteller for me to experiment with. It’s exciting to have so much fresh snow that nobody has walked through yet. There’s been no medium that I’ve felt that way since I’ve come into the business, where it feels like you can really be a pioneer.”

AR will be tremendously exciting in its own right, and I can’t wait for Magic Leap, HoloLens and castAR, but to think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR’s ascendancy is totally off base.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Are 3D TVs Dead Again?

February 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

It is looking like 3D technology is dead in the water with both Samsung and LG phasing it out in new TVs.

This confirms what we noticed at CES where there were few people even showing 3D as a feature and one of them was LG.

Speaking to ET News in Korea, an LG representative stated that only its premium sets this year will be 3D capable, slashing the number of supporting TVs by half.

“Although 40 per cent of all TVs last year had 3D functions, only 20 per cent this year will. There are still consumers who enjoy 3D movies and others, so we are going to apply it mainly on premium products.”

Apparently Samsung is going the same way according to a supplier of 3D glasses who was told not to bother making compatible specs this year.

3D in the home has been in decline for the last two to three years, with first the BBC stopping producing its 3D material and Sky started killing off its dedicated channels last June. Sky still offers some 3D movies and content on demand.

It does not mean that 3D video is a dead format. It is still going strong in cinemas and we will probably see films made in that format for years.  It is just that it never really worked in the home.  Some of that might have been due to content, other reasons is that it tended to be erratic technology whcih was a little too much like hard work to set up.  Quality also suffered in comparison some of the HD and UH pictures which were suddenly more realistic.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Is Activision’s Move To Buy King A Smart One?

November 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Gaming

Activision Blizzard has bought King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion, marking not only one of the largest acquisitions in videogame history but one of the largest deals ever made in the entertainment business. Comparing this to previous entertainment deals highlights just how extraordinary the figures involved are; the purchase price values King at significantly more than Marvel Entertainment (acquired by Disney for $4.2 billion), Star Wars owner Lucasfilm (Disney again, for $4.1 billion) and movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (acquired by Sony for almost $5 billion). The price dwarfs the $1.5 billion paid by Japanese network SoftBank and mobile publisher GungHo for Supercell back in 2013 – though it’s not quite on the same scale as the $7.4 billion price tag Disney paid for Pixar, or in the same ballpark as the $18 billion-odd involved in the merger that originally created Activision Blizzard itself.

How is $5.9 billion justified? Well, it’s a fairly reasonable premium of 20% over the company’s share price – though if you’ve been holding on to King shares since its IPO in 2014, you’ll still be disappointed, as it’s far short of the $22.50 IPO price, or even the $20.50 that the shares traded at on their first day on the open market. The company’s share price has been more or less stable this year, but Activision’s offer still doesn’t make up for the various tumbles shares took through 2014.

A better justification, perhaps, lies in the scale of King’s mobile game business. The company is a little off its peak at the moment. Candy Crush Saga, its biggest title, is on a slow decline from an extraordinary peak of success, and other titles aren’t growing fast enough to make up for that decline, but it still recorded over half a billion monthly active users (MAUs) in its recently reported second quarter figures. In terms of paying users, the company had 7.6 million paying users each month – more than Blizzard’s cash cow, World of Warcraft, and moreover, the average revenue from each of those users was $23.26, far more than a World of Warcraft subscriber pays. King took in $529 million in bookings during the quarter, 81 per cent of it from mobile devices – a seriously appealing set of figures for a company like Activision, which struggles to get even 10 per cent of its revenues from mobile despite its constant lip-service to the platform.

In buying King, Activision instantly makes itself into one of the biggest players in the mobile space, albeit simply by absorbing the company that is presently at the top of the heap. It diversifies its bottom line in a way that investors and analysts have been crying out for it to do, reducing its reliance on console (still damn near half of its revenues) and on the remarkable-but-fading World of Warcraft, and bulking up its anaemic mobile revenues to the point of respectability. On paper, this deal turns Activision into a much more broad-based company that’s far more in line with the present trajectory of the market at large, and should assuage the fears of those who think Activision’s over-reliance on a small number of core franchises leaves it far more vulnerable than rivals like Electronic Arts.

That’s on paper. In practice, though, what has Activision just bought for $5.9 billion? That’s a slightly trickier question. The company is, unquestionably, now the proud owner of one of the most talented and accomplished creators and operators of mobile games in the world. King’s experience of developing, marketing and, crucially, running mobile games at enormous scale, and the team that accomplished all of that, is undoubtedly valuable in its own right. Those are talents that Activision didn’t have yesterday, but will have tomorrow. Are those talents worth $5.9 billion, though? Without wishing for a moment to cast doubt on the skills of those who work at King, no, they’re not. $5.9 billion isn’t “acquihire” money, and when that’s the kind of cash involved we simply can’t think of this as an “acquihire” deal. Activision didn’t pay that kind of money in order to get access to the talent and experience assembled at King. It paid for King itself, for its ongoing businesses and its IP.

Open the shopping bag, and you might struggle to understand how the contents reach $5.9 billion at the till. King has one remarkable, breakthrough, enormously successful IP – Candy Crush Saga, which still accounts (not including heavily marketed spin-off title Candy Crush Soda Saga) for 39 per cent of the company’s gross bookings. No doubt deeply aware of the danger of being over-reliant on revenues from this single title, King has worked incredibly hard to find success for other games in its portfolio. But even its great efforts in this regard have failed to compensate for falling revenues from Candy Crush, and it’s notable that a fair amount of the “non-Candy Crush Saga” revenue that the company boasts actually comes from Candy Crush Soda Saga. Other titles like Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga are no doubt profitable and successful in their own right, and King would be a sustainable business even without Candy Crush. But it would be a much, much smaller business, and certainly not a $5.9 billion business.

Despite being generally bullish about King’s prospects, then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the company has done incredibly well out of this acquisition. The undoubted talent and experience of its teams aside, this is, realistically, a company with one IP worth paying for, and unlike Star Wars or the Avengers, Candy Crush is a very new IP whose longevity is entirely untested and whose potential for merchandising or cross-media ventures is dubious at best. King has done better than most of its rivals in the mobile space at applying some of the lessons of its biggest hit to subsequent games and making them successful, but it shares with every other mobile developer the same fundamental problem: none of them has ever worked out how to bottle the lightning that creates a mega-hit and repeat the success down the line. Absent of another Candy Crush game, the odds are that King’s business would slowly deflate as the air escaped from the Candy Crush bubble, until the company’s sustainable (and undoubtedly profitable) core was what was left. Selling up to Activision at a healthy premium while the company is still “inflated” by the likely unrepeatable success of Candy Crush is a fantastic move for the company’s management and investors, but rather less so for Activision.

Perhaps, though, the whole might be more than the sum of its parts? Couldn’t Activision, holders of some of the world’s favourite console and PC game IP, work with King to leverage that IP and the firm’s reach in traditional games, creating new business at the interaction of their respective specialisations? That’s a big part of what made Pixar so valuable to Disney, for example; the match between their businesses was of vital importance to that deal, and the same can broadly be said for Disney’s other huge acquisitions, Lucasfilm and Marvel. (SoftBank’s purchase of Supercell, by comparison, was rather more of a straightforward market-share land grab.) What could this new hybrid, Activision Blizzard King, hope to achieve in terms of overlap that enhances the value of its various component parts?

Certainly, Activision has some properties that could work on mobile (I’m thinking specifically of Skylanders here, though others may also fit); some Blizzard properties could also probably work on mobile, though I very much doubt that Blizzard (which retains a strong degree of independence within the group) is a good cultural fit for King, and is deeply unlikely to work with it in any manner which gives up the slightest creative control over its properties. King’s properties, meanwhile, don’t look terribly enticing as console or PC games, and conversions done this way would almost certainly defeat the entire purpose of the deal anyway, since the objective is to bolster Activision’s mobile business. The prospect of a mobile game based on Call of Duty or another major console IP may seem superficially interesting, but we’ve been down this road before and it didn’t lead anywhere impressive. Sure, core gamers are on mobile too, but they’ve by and large been nonplussed at best and outraged at worst by the notion of engaging with mobile versions of their console favourites. It’s genuinely hard to piece together the various IPs and franchises owned by King and Activision and see how there’s any winning interaction between them on the table.

This is what makes me keep returning to those other mega-deals – to Star Wars, to Marvel, to Pixar – and finding the contrast between them and Activision / King so extraordinary. Each of those multi-billion dollar deals was carried out by Disney with a very specific, long-term plan in mind that would leverage the abilities of both acquirer and acquired to create something far more than the sum of its parts. Each of those deals had a very clear raison d’être beyond simply “it’ll make us bigger.” Each of those companies fitted with the new parent like a piece of a puzzle. King’s only role in Activision’s “puzzle” is that they do mobile, and Activision sucks at mobile; there’s no sense of any grand plan that will play out.

In all likelihood, Activision has just paid a huge premium for a company which is past the peak of its greatest hit title and into a period of managed decline, not to mention a company with which its core businesses simply don’t fit in any meaningful way. King’s a great company in many respects, but its acquisition isn’t going to go down as a great deal for Activision – and we can expect to see plenty of that $5.9 billion being frittered away in goodwill write-downs over the coming few years.

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

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