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MediaTek Goes Up

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

MediaTek saw its gross margin rise to 36.4 percent in the third quarter from 35 percent in the second, while net profits soared 129 percent sequentially to $167.8 million.

The company said that its gross margin was an improvement compared with 35.2 percent during the same period in 2016. This was possible thank to a favourable product mix led to the gross margin growth, the outfit said.

MediaTek’s third quarter revenues were up 9.6percent on quarter but down 18.8 percent from a year ago. This was due to a seasonal pick-up in demand for certain consumer electronics products. It added the on-year decrease mainly to lower chip shipments for smartphones.

Operating profits were up 110.3 percent sequentially but down 34.9 percent on year. Operating margin for the quarter was 7.8 percent, up from 4.1percent in the prior quarter but down from 9.7 percent in the year-ago quarter.

Net profits for the third quarter of 2017 were a 35.4 percent on-year decline.

MediaTek predicted it will post revenues of between $ 1.96 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017, with gross margin ranging from 34.5 percent to 37.5 percent.

Sales of MediaTek’s smartphone and tablet chips accounted for 35-40 percent of the company’s total revenues in the third quarter.

MediaTek co-CEO Rick Tsai said that shipments of MediaTek’s Helio P23 series that comes with new LTE Cat 7 modem already kicked off in small volume in the third quarter, said Tsai, adding that the shipments will expand in the fourth quarter.

MediaTek has started shipping its entry-level MT6739 chips in the fourth quarter, Tsai indicated. Shipments of MediaTek’s mobile chips will reach a combined 110-120 million units in the fourth quarter.

The outfit is preparing to launch of new Helio P-series mobile chips that will support AI, facial recognition, AR and VR capabilities in the first quarter of 2018, Tsai noted. The new products will help the company continue to improve its gross margin and regain market share, Tsai said.

Non-mobile SoC chips sales including solutions for IoT applications, power management ICs and ASIC chips will see impressive growth in the fourth quarter, Tsai claimed. The segment is expected grow by a third in 2017, Tsai said.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The Olympic Committee Beginning To Take eSports Seriously

October 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Ryzen Paying Off For AMD

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD has announced its Q3 2017 financial results and the company managed to grow 26 percent year over year.  2017 is the year of Zen, both Ryzen and Epyc, as well as some decent advancement in the GPU space.

The revenues for AMD in Q3 of $1.64 billion shows a 26 percent increased year-over-year and up 34 percent quarter-over-quarter.  Lisa Su, the mighty AMD CEO said that Ryzen family combined to significant graphics growth, resulting in a 74 percent increase in the Computing and Graphics segment revenue year-over-year.

The general investment is paying off, but it is hardly surprising that AMD hit such high growth numbers as the CPU business for skyrocketed with the introduction of Ryzen. Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors reached 40 percent to 50 percent of desktop market share at strategic e-tailers worldwide, which definitely sounds to us like the best-case scenario, cherry picking.

Back to some more numbers. AMD’s gross margin was 35 percent, up 30 percentage points year to year and up two percent quarter to quarter. Operating income was $126 million, compared to an operating loss of $293 million a year ago and operating income of $25 million in the prior quarter.

Net income was $71 million, compared to net losses of $406 million a year ago and $16 million in the prior quarter. Earnings per share were $0.07, compared to losses per share of $0.50 a year ago and $0.02 in the prior quarter.

AMD launched Ryzen 3 and Ryzen PRO in this quarter and PRO has been adopted by Dell, Lenovo and HP among others.

Ryzen PRO-based offerings, which have been adopted by all major commercial PC providers, including Dell, Lenovo, and HP, expanded its presence in the commercial space.

AMD is preparing to ship Ryzen Mobile in Q4 with Acer, HP and Lenovo announcing some systems in the same quarter. OEM adoption is accelerating as customers ramp shipments in advance of the holiday sales cycle.

AMD achieved record GPU revenues in the quarter based on significantly improved ASPs and higher unit shipments than a year ago. This was driven by a strong demand from Polaris and Vega based GPUs in both the gaming and cryptocurrency markets. For some reason, AMD’s CEO refers to this market as a blockchain market, probably as it sounds better to investors. Vega RX is significantly outpacing the previous premium Radeon GPUs at enthusiast level.

AMD confirmed that its Radeon Instinct MI25, GPU compute solution is shipping in volume to mega-cloud data centers that want to experiment with something that is not Nvidia nor Intel based. Radeon Pro WX 9100 profession graphics cards started shipping late in Q3 2017.

Amazon Web Services announced its adoption of AMD Radeon Pro technology to power Amazon AppStream 2.0. There is also an announced cooperation with Baidu with the goal to build more flexible and powerful AI computing platforms based on Radeon Instinct.

Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom segment revenue was approximately flat year-over-year and increased 46 percent sequentially. AMD enjoyed seasonal demand for Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro and Microsoft’s Xbox One X holiday season sales combined with Epyc datacenter revenues.

EPYC datacenter shipped to key cloud and OEM datacenter customers. Epyc is deployed by three of the super seven mega datacenter providers including Baidu, Microsoft Azure and Tencent. HP Enterprise and Dell are bringing their EPYC-based platforms to market in Q4.

In Q4 2017 AMD expects non-GAAP gross margin to be approximately 35 percent, non-GAAP operating expenses to be approximately $410 million, non-GAAP interest expense, taxes, and other to be approximately $30 million, and inventory to be down sequentially.

The 2017 annual revenue is expected to increase more than 20 percent compared 2016.

All in all, the 2017 plan is working quite well, but despite the good scores, Wall Street was not that impressed. In the aftermarket, AMD’s share price dropped 9.61 percent from $14.25 USD to $12.69 as the investors expected more in Q4 2017.

It is very easy to forget that a year to date AMD (market cap $13.492 Billion) was trading at $7.50 so roughly a half of what it was yesterday with dips as low as $6.30 (November 10 2016). And yet these same semiconductor expert investors strongly believe that $198.68 for Nvidia stock and $119.208 billion is justified.

It is all in the eye of the beholder, or how well you are pitching your story.

Courtesy-Fud

Will 7nm SoCs Finally Come To Market In 2018

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It looks like that you will see first 7nm SoCs in the second half of 2018 and currently all the major players are working on designs.

This is the next big step for the mobile industry that will significantly increase the number of transistors per square millimeter while reducing the overall SoC power. The current trend is to use more AI centric circuits in the designs as this helps the SoC and the overall device to understand the given data much better.

AI, of course, stands for Artificial intelligence and there is another term that the industry uses called Machine Learning. ARM promises its Cortex A75/A55 in the course of 2018 and there will be quite a lot of these in late 2018.

Samsung 7nm

There will be multiple players offering 7nm. Samsung calls its 7nm EUV, short for extreme ultraviolet lithography. Samsung should be ready for full production in 2018.

Samsung has 8nm manufacturing on its roadmap and that, to us, sounds like a glorified and heavily optimized 10nm.

TSMC 7nm

TSMC, the other 7nm player, has announced that it plans to have risk production this year. TSMC’s 7nm Fin Field-Effect Transistor was already used for 256Mb SRAM with double digit yields in June 2016. Risk production started in April 2017. Of course, it’s one thing is to make a SRAM chip and another other is to get a multibillion transistors SoC in full production.

TSMC claims that compared to its 10nm FinFET process, TSMC’s 7nm FinFET features 1.6X logic density, ~20 percent speed improvement, and ~40 percent power reduction.

GlobalFoundries 7nm

GlobalFoundries promises more than 40 percent performance with its 7nm design compared to 14nm designs and that the total power from 14nm to 7nm will fall by more than 60 percent. GlobalFoundries didn’t compare its designs to 10nm as it never managed to move to this rather tough manufacturing process.

GloFo expects customers to place over 17 million gates per square millimeter and that the first risk production will start in 1H 2018. The 7nm LP process from GlobalFoundries is based on optical lithography with EUV compatibility and it supports up to 17 levels of metal layers.

Snapdragon 835 in 10nm features three billion chips and the 7nm variant can pack significantly more in the same space. There is absolutely no doubt that Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei and MediaTek are working on 7nm designs as we speak.

7nm Gains

One of the key advantages that the mobile industry has that it moves faster to a new manufacturing node than the PC and GPU industries. Qualcomm was the first company to ship 10nm three billion transistor chips and Intel still cannot ship its 10nm design that is now almost two years late. Originally Cannon Lake 10nm chips were expected in 2016 and they have been pushed back to 2018.

AMD is using 14nm for both CPU and GPUs while Nvidia has 12nm which is really a derived and optimized 16nm FinFET process from TSMC.

Bear in mind that when it comes to the PC chips, Intel has some of the best engineers in the world and it has been stuck with 14nm for three generations now. The tick tock clock got broken as the transition to a new node becomes harder than ever.

Courtesy-Fud

Are Loot Boxes Good For Video Games

October 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

TSMC Going Down Hill

October 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

TSMC claimed that supply-chain inventory constraints hurt its net profit in the third quarter, although not as badly as many analysts had predicted.

The outfit forecast revenue growth of about 10 percent in the fourth quarter when sales begin for Apple’s iPhone X, which is widely expected to carry TSMC-made chips.

Profit fell 7.1 percent to $2.98 billion in July-September which was slightly higher than analysts predicted. Revenue rose 1.5 percent slightly above a forecast issued in July.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Liu said: “Even though demand was slightly dampened by supply chain inventory reduction, our customers’ third quarter growth was largely healthy.”

Some of the problems for TSMC stem from the fact that Apple fanboys are spurning the iPhone 8 like a rabid dog. Both Apple and TSMC are hoping that fanboys will be stupid enough to splash out huge amounts of cash for the iPhone X which is supposed to start shipping soon.

TSMC raised this year’s capital spending forecast by eight percent to mainly to accelerate capacity of 7nm chip manufacturing technology.

It expects 2017 revenue growth close to the high end of its five to 10 percent target. Operating margin was 38.9 percent in the third quarter and will likely be 37 to 39 percent in the fourth, TSMC said.

TSMC acknowledged increasing competition from mainland China but said it was confident of meeting targets.

Co-Chief Executive C.C. Wei said: “In terms of a lot of fabs (fabrication plants) in mainland China, we don’t like it but we are very competitive. We’ll continue to compete of course and maintain our market share.”

Chipmakers are riding a boom in demand for chips that power smartphones and computer servers, driving sharp gains in shares. The chipmaker also said it expects global semiconductor growth of 16 percent in 2017.

Courtesy-Fud

Are Rising Game Development Cost Hurting Some Studios

October 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Making games is expensive. Let me rephrase that: making games is really, really expensive.

Obviously, that’s no secret, but the numbers involved are even surprising to those of us who follow the industry every day. Last month, Kotaku reported many studios budget around $10,000 per person per month to cover salaries plus overhead. Considering that many of the more polished games on the market can take years to create, budgets can spiral out of control very easily and this has a impact on the entire ecosystem.

Moreover, that $10,000 figure is actually lower than many studios spend, industry veterans Brian Fargo (inXile Entertainment) and Jeff Pobst (Hidden Path Entertainment) tell me.

“I used $10,000 per man-month [for budgets] when I was a producer for Sierra online in 2000,” Pobst notes.

Fargo concurs: “I would say [$10,000 is] on the low side. I think Tim Schafer pointed out a couple of years ago that this is why these things cost so much to make. There’s a big difference between small developers cutting their teeth that have no overhead versus a team of people who’ve been in the business for two decades. They have families and expect medical insurance, and so it’s not going to be something that costs less than $10,000 on average for my people.

“That’s on the low end by maybe 20% or 30%. I don’t think we’re seeing double that, but certainly it’s the trajectory we’re all going towards. I think that’s a fair number. It’s always been a funny disparity. We talk about making a game with a budget of, say, $10 million and the smaller developers tend to look at it and go, ‘How do they waste so much money?’ And then the triple-A guys say, ‘How do they do it for so cheap?’

“That seems to be the perpetual argument on these budgets when you want to do something that is ambitious, and that’s ultimately what we get rewarded for. Any title that comes out that is ambitious in some way is more likely to be rewarded than one that isn’t.”

Ambition is a wonderful thing, and most developers have ambitious visions for their games, but then they meet the reality of what ambition costs. The double-A space is now having to invest more than is reasonable for small or mid-sized studios.

“The industry continues to get more binary between the haves and have nots,” Fargo continues. “When I see something like salaries going to as high as $20,000 per man-month in San Francisco, that really only affects the smaller to mid-size companies. The big companies – take Blizzard, for example – they can drop $70 million on a project, kill it and then start all over again. Rockstar can spend five years on a game.

“The extra salaries really don’t affect them, in my opinion, as much as it does the smaller to the mid-size companies. So yeah, it definitely puts pressure on us.

“Also, what I’m seeing recently is that there was the single-A and double-A indie space that was sort of ripe for opportunity for a while – us included, and we’ve been doing well – but that’s getting more competitive. And the budgets of the double-A products are starting to approach triple-A budgets of 10 years ago.”

Citing Ninja Theory’s Hellblade and Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin 2 as recent examples, Fargo laments that expectations for games coming out of the double-A space are rising too rapidly.

“All of a sudden double-A developers are spending in excess of $10 million,” he says. “And it’s only a matter of time before this rises to $20 million. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some at those values already. So now what you’ve got is the triple-A people who are unaffected by the salaries and they’re going to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars between production and marketing, and then you’ve got the double-A companies now starting to spend significant money. What that’s going to do is to create an expectation from a user’s perspective of what the visuals should look like.

“It creates a harder dynamic for even the smaller companies, because some product is at $39 or $44.95 that doesn’t have a multi-million dollar marketing budget. It’s still going to have production values that are incredible, and so what will people expect out of a smaller developer? That’s the cascading effect of all these different things, and of course you layer on top of that the discoverability issue we’ve all got with an un-curated platform and it makes it very tricky.”

While the major publishers like Activision or EA still manage to reap massive profits, other studios are certainly not getting wealthy by making games. California, where so much of the industry is based, makes the cost equation even more difficult.

“Consumers don’t fully understand how truly expensive it is to put out a AAA game now,” says Turtle Rock GM Steve Goldstein. “If you start looking at what it costs for someone to be employed in southern California, working in the knowledge industry, it’s a lot. And the most frustrating thing actually, and it’s something I complain about at the studio all the time, is that we got people here that are working their butts off, who do well, but still can’t afford to buy a house in southern California. It’s ridiculous. The cost of doing business in tech is so high, especially in California, [that] unless you are the biggest of the biggest, there’s a real risk of being able to continue in this medium.

“For us to make a new IP that’s AAA and that’s a boxed product just doesn’t make sense. Because the publisher’s going to have to spend $50 to $100 million, which, as your math just points out, isn’t making anybody rich over in development. They’re going to make that investment… They’ll release [that IP] during the holiday season so they can get that additional sales push, but it’s going to be coming out amidst a ton of other titles and established franchises, so you have to try to get above the noise level just to get the IP known – it just doesn’t pencil out.”

When you combine the continued escalation of costs with the challenge of getting above the noise upon release, it can feel like a Sisyphean task for a small or mid-sized games studio.

Fargo offers, “It feels like the budgets for the double-A products have doubled to tripled just in the last five years. Back in 2012 when Broken Age and Pillars [of Eternity] came out, I know what our budgets were then [for Wasteland 2] and I know what the budgets are going to now. I have a sense of what Larian and Obsidian are spending, and I know these numbers have gone up significantly.

“Curation has always been a hot topic. One might argue there’s a greater risk of a game being lost in a sea of products, than that of a great game not making it through the quality bar to be in the store. The stats of more and more and more games hitting Steam have not been favorable for any of us… You’ve got kind of a one, two, three-punch against the smaller publishers/developers.”

The shift to digital storefronts and the rise in the sheer number of titles flooding those digital shelves is not ideal, Pobst agrees, and it’s making life hard for the really small indies out there.

“For a period of time… we could sell games that were not $60 top price games, and we could make good money… and we could get the opportunity to make more games,” he says. “That opportunity is being challenged because there is such a large number of games at low prices in the marketplace. That takes the market, which gives lots of people choice and is really good for gamers in the one sense, and it splits the amount of money against a large number of people.

“I know a large number of individual indies who are closing up shop because they aren’t now even making enough money to pay for their own well-being. And that used to be a pretty sure thing. If you had a three-person shop or a four-person shop, you could sell enough to actually make a living. Now that’s becoming challenging with so many games available for purchase.”

One way to alleviate the sting of rising costs has been to use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, and while that has been a boon for the mid-size studios like Double Fine or inXile, in some ways the crowdfunding phenomenon has been a double-edged sword when it comes to setting expectations on budgets, says Pobst.

“If there’s a financial pressure, it’s really hard for people to get together and actually make great entertainment. So this is hard; this is really hard. And the only reason I think that there is a surprise is in part because of the Kickstarter phenomenon, where people were looking to raise the last $500,000 of a $2 million game, and people thought the game was made for $500,000… Games are really expensive to make, especially the kind that the consumer really desires.

“What we saw with the crowdfunding experience, that we went through ourselves as well as many others, is that the average experience where you get a certain amount of money or you just make your minimum, becomes an expectation of what it takes to actually create product, and that’s pretty much not true. You’re typically investing some of your own money or another investor’s money into the product and, often, people are using crowdfunding to complement that so that they can have enough to make the whole thing.”

The $10,000 man-month figure, while scary, is not necessarily universally applicable. Location of your studio and cost of living certainly is a factor in how much employees get paid, and smaller indies aren’t going to have the same overhead as double-A teams filled with veterans. Beyond that, there are different approaches to what kind of team to build.

Pobst explains: “If you visit a development studio there are going to be several different models. The model we [use] at Hidden Path, and I’ve heard places like Crystal Dynamics, is to try and favor a smaller staff with more highly compensated people… The philosophy is that, if you have people who know each other really well and work together really well, their output is going to exceed what the other model [yields].

“The other model is a few highly experienced people that you compensate very highly because they’re your leadership, and then [you hire] a larger number of younger and more inexpensive people. You tend to have more of those people to do the same amount of work, and there’s a lot more management overhead. That can work, and there are many companies that use that model. In fact, if you start looking at successful titles, you’re going to find examples of both. There is no one right model.”

While the cost per head may not compare perfectly on a project-to-project or company-to-company basis, the budgets for games continue to go up no matter what. What can the mid-size studios do to compensate for this worrying fact?

“It depends on the genre you’re in, but the scope and scale of the thing is what you really need to keep an eye on,” Fargo advises. “The visual and audio expectations are rising as the budgets for the double-A games has risen… I would tell developers to keep a really close eye on the scope of the product; better to have something that’s very small and tight and polished than something that’s overly large… and hits a lot of different things but don’t quite visually hold up to the others.”

The other issue to contend with is how games are transforming to games-as-a-service, which could be a positive in terms of generating more revenue or a negative because of the need to support staff year-round.

“As I look out towards the future, we are most definitely looking to incorporate aspects of that business model,” Fargo notes. “The plus sides of it, of course, is that there’s no piracy, and you’re able to do better business in some territories where piracy is extremely high. But also it allows you to build a community and have a live-ops team and do [fewer] products, but keep people on it everyday and make it better – doing tournaments and all of those things… It’s a very compelling thing to have [but] it does put pressure on a single-player experience game.”

Turtle Rock’s Goldstein sees the games-as-a-service model going one step further, effectively becoming Netflix-like subscriptions to access content; something big publishers like Ubisoft and EA have predicted is on the horizon. Subscription revenue could be a way to help mitigate rising costs.

“I can absolutely see something like that happening down the line,” he says. “Netflix is now playing with budgets that are approaching blockbuster films, so I could see those numbers working for each of the publishers, where they have their users paying a subscription and they release a certain number of really high-end titles as well as a bunch of indie titles… I could see that in five years.”

Rising costs have been putting the squeeze on mid-sized studios, but that’s not to say triple-A developers and publishers are immune. As Pobst points out, “There used to be a lot more publishers than there are now.” As the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and smaller companies have a chance to succeed by being more nimble.

“Adapting is part of the game industry,” Pobst continues. “You try and find the areas to adapt to that match your skill set. If you’re a great narrative designer and your team makes great narrative games, you probably don’t go into mobile and focus on free-to-play monetization. It’s not really playing to your strengths.”

Being nimble allows a studio to try new things. VR is the perfect example of that. Both Hidden Path and Turtle Rock are taking a chance on the emerging medium in the hope that it does become a growth market, and their respective experience should set them up well for the future if VR truly goes mainstream.

And if a studio manages to create a hit, suddenly you have a built-in audience that’s more likely to purchase your next title, based on studio reputation alone.

“You’ve got to give Bungie credit for creating Halo after several other games before that, and then creating Destiny after Halo – that’s a big challenge to do,” Pobst says. “And then the folks as Blizzard, they’ve created multiple different hits, which is fairly rare in our industry. If you can build trust with an audience and they can really buy into the anticipation of whatever you’re going to do, your ability to spend more to get it right is there.

“Once you do cross over that threshold, Bungie or Blizzard, their budgets are going to be much, much larger than anything you or I have talked about. Their per head rate or the amount of money they’ll put into a game is much, much higher for two reasons: one, they know that if they deliver something quality, people will buy it because of the reputation they have. And two, by spending more money, they are putting a greater distance between them and the next competitor. And that greater distance will pay off in the long run.”

If a studio does manage to cross that threshold, a huge advantage is unlocked. Suddenly, you’re not worried as much about the money to achieve your creative vision, Pobst says.

“If I’m really focused on the dollars…then I’m not actually focused on the best entertainment I can possibly create. If you know that the audience is going to come in a disproportionate way to what you spend, spending stops becoming the problem. A lot of these [bigger] studios are really focused on: ‘How do I execute the best? How do I have my team work well? How do I know exactly which features to invest in and which features not to invest in?’ You get to a whole set of problems that are far beyond the money problems.”

Some have made comparisons to Hollywood and the drastic divide between indie film labels and behemoth studios like Universal, but for all the talk of haves and have nots, Fargo concedes that game creators have a chance at success for lower investments – for now, at least.

“You look at PUBG, that would be considered a smaller Hollywood film and it sells 15 million copies, but that’s more profitable than most of the Hollywood blockbusters,” he says. “I don’t know that there’s a parallel in the film business where people on a semi-regular basis are spending under $10 million on a movie yet it’s producing blockbuster Hollywood profits. The games business does continue to do that – Rocket League, for example.

“There’s enough cases where these smaller titles have just nailed it, but the effect of that is their next ones are going to see a huge difference in budget.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is The Ryzen 5 Falling

October 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

The price of AMD’s top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen 5 microprocessor has fallen to below $265.00 and is cheaper than the cut-price Ryzen 5 1600.

Apparently, it is all due to the fact that the cheaper 3.2GHz Ryzen 5 1600, which can be overclocked to similar speeds to the 1600X, and has a Wraith Spire CPU cooler is super popular. Those who get a 3.6GHz 1600X will need to splash out on a cooler.

The Ryzen 5 1600X was first cut to less than £200 over the weekend by Aria PC, as a  “super special price” of $197.94, plus £6.95 for postage and packing. A day later, eBuyer slashed the price  to $225.98, the lowest that the Ryzen 5 1600X has been since it was launched just six months ago.

There are some other cool bargains – the price of the Ryzen 7 1800X is down by more than £90 to$388.98 at eBuyer, $11 cheaper at Aria PC and at $400.00 on Amazon – almost $150 less than its original list price.

All this happens as Itel unveiled its Coffee Lake codenamed CPUs in Intel’s first real response to AMD’s Ryzen launches and AMD promises Pinnacle for those who can wait until next year.

AMD is soon to launch Ryzen APUs, with Ryzen CPUs integrated with Vega-based GPUs for use in laptops and other mobile devices.

Courtesy-Fud

Is TSMC Going 3nm

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

As predicted, TSMC will build the ‘world’s first’ semiconductor plant to support the creation of 3nm node silicon chips in Taiwan.

This will be news to the US which thought the plant would be built in the US.  According to DigiTimes, 3nm TSMC will be staying in Taiwan at the Tainan Science Park to “fully leverage the company’s existing cluster advantage” and see the benefit of a “comprehensive supply chain”.

The company has a 5nm fab in the same location even if it has not started producing 5nm chips yet. These are “scheduled to start risk production in the second quarter of 2019″.

However, last year TSMC said that there was not enough space at the park for the new fab and it was lobbying the government.

TSMC needed 50 to 80 hectares of land and was pushing the Taiwan government to have land and supplies of electricity ready in time for the new project. TSMC has complained   of shortages of water and power in Taiwan, where the company still does most of its production. 

TSMC said it was thinking of setting up its 3nm wafer fab in the US due mainly to the availability of stable power supply there. For any 12-inch wafer plant, more advanced process requires higher power consumption, with electricity consumed by 3nm process likely to double that by 5nm process. Accordingly, after a massive power outage occurred on August 15, 2017 around Taiwan, doubts had deepened over whether Taiwan’s power supply could secure normal operation of a 3nm wafer fab in the country.

It is unclear now what TSMC will build in the US. In January, TSMC Chairman Morris Chang had said the company did not rule out the idea of building a US foundry, joining a slew of global firms from automakers to luggage makers that are considering manufacturing in the United States amid President Donald Trump’s push to create more jobs.

“We won’t decide until next year”, TSMC spokesperson Michael Kramer said. The company currently gets about 65 percent of its total revenue from the United States.  However, it might be that the US talk was simply to get the Tawain authorities to pull finger and approve the land, water and sort out the power issues.

Courtesy-Fud

Did AMD Optimize The RX Vega For Forza

October 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

AMD has apparently done a hell of a job optimizing its drivers for Forza Motorsport 7 game as its Radeon RX Vega 64 and Vega 56 graphics cards managed to beat Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti and GTX 1080.

According to benchmarks done by Computerbase.de, using Intel’s Core i7-6850K CPU, 16GB of DDR4-3000 memory and latest Radeon and Geforce drivers, AMD’s Radeon RX Vega 64 managed to beat Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti by quite a margin.

The RX Vega lineup managed to beat the Nvidia counterparts at both 1080p and 1440p resolutions while the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti managed to regain its lead on the higher 2160p resolution, but only in average FPS, whereas both RX Vega 64 and RX Vega 56 were high up in the table in 99th Percentile.

To make things even more interesting, AMD’s Radeon RX 580 and the R9 Fury X both exceeded the GTX 1080 Ti in those 99th Percentile results at lower 1080p resolution.

Computerbase.de also gave a heads up to Nvidia, which said that this is the correct performance of its graphics cards on DirectX 12 and Forza Motorsport 7, which means that AMD is certainly doing something right when it comes to driver optimizations, as those RX Vega graphics cards were nowhere near Nvidia’s GTX 1080/1080 Ti in earlier benchmarks.

Hopefully, AMD will be able to push more developers and optimize its RX Vega lineup for future and the rest of the current games.

Courtesy-Fud

AMD To Launch 12nm Lower Power Ryzen Processor In Early 2018

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD has told its partners that it plans to launch in February 2018 an upgraded version of its Ryzen series processors built using a 12nm low-power (12LP) process at Globalfoundries.

According to Digitimes,which has been talking to its deep throats among the motherboard makers, AMD will initially release the CPUs codenamed Pinnacle 7, followed by mid-range Pinnacle 5 and entry-level Pinnacle 3 processors in March 2018.

AMD will launch the low power version of Pinnacle processors in April 2018 and the enterprise version Pinnacle Pro in May 2018.

Their corresponding chipsets, the 400 series, will also become available in March 2018 with X470- or B450-based motherboards to be the first to hit the store shelves. The chipsets are still designed by ASMedia and its orders for the chipsets are expected to grow dramatically starting January 2018.

Thanks to stable chip orders for Microsoft’s and Sony’s game consoles, increased demand for graphics cards, growing sales for its Ryzen 7/5 processors, new Ryzen Pro product line for the enterprise sector and the top-end Ryzen Treadripper processors, AMD managed to achieve 19 percent sequential growth in second-quarter 2017 revenues and expects the amount to grow further by 23 percent in the third quarter.

AMD is also expected to see its share of the desktop CPU market return to 30 percent in the first half of 2018.

Courtesy-Fud

Will Atari’s New AtariBox Console Succeed

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-TheInq

AMD Appears To Be Moving To Global Founderies Process

September 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD’s CTO Mark Papermaster announced that the company will be moving “graphics and client products” from the Global Foundries14nm LP FinFET process to the new 12nm LP process in 2018.

Talking to the assembled throngs at the Global Foundries Technology Conference, Papermaster said the company will transition both Vega GPUs and the Ryzen line of processors to the 12nm LP process.

What was unclear from the announcement is if the 12nm LP will be a shrink of Ryzen in 2018 or if Zen+/Zen 2 will also be using the 12LP process. So far AMD has hinted that Zen 2 will use the 7nm process, but this has been confusing because the outfit has used both “Zen+” and “Zen 2” to refer to its next-generation die.

At least one thing is clear from the announcement. The transition to 12nm LP shows that AMD is still very much in bed with Global Foundries. There has been mutterings that AMD might seek other partners for its forthcoming product generations, despite signing a five-year wafer supply agreement recently.

Tom’s Hardware pointed out that Nvidia’s Volta architecture is already shipping on TSMC’s 12nm FFN process this year, so on the GPU side Nvidia seems to be ahead on adopting new process technology right now. Of course, on the CPU side we also have Intel, which promised “real” 10nm chips for next year that should also be significantly ahead in performance and power efficiency compared to the 12LP process.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The Ryzen 5 APU On The Horizon

September 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Details of a new Ryzen 5 APU, with onboard Radeon Vega Graphics, has been spotted on Geekbench, giving both a hint of its performance, and specifications.

It is not really a big deal as we have been pretty much been predicting this spec for ages.  The Ryzen 5 2500U APU boasts four cores and eight threads, and 4MB of L3 cache, and runs at 2GHz. On Geekbench, the APU scored 3561 in single-core performance, and 9421 running on all cores.

The 2000 series of APUs will be launched around the time of CES.

Courtesy-Fud

Is MediaTek Falling Behind

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

According to Digitimes, the outfit is not going be able to release anything using these technologies in 2018, as it has moved to focus on the mid-range smartphone market segment.

MediaTek has shifted its R&D resources to the Helio P series mobile chips designed for mid-range devices, and put the development of its high-end Helio X series on hold.  Alll this could be a warning that Taiwan’s IC design industry growth could be limited.

MediaTek has been a leading Taiwan-based IC designer and usually partners with TSMC to develop advanced-node mobile chips. MediaTek’s development of 7/10nm chips is slowing down, as the fabless chipmaker has decided to go back to basics to overcome its structural challenges, Digitimes claimed.

MediaTek has suffered declines in smartphone chip shipments and market share since 2016. The company’s gross margin for 2016 reached a record low of 35.6 percent, despite record revenues.

MediaTek co-CEO Rick Tsai was quoted in previous reports saying the company will be striving to improve its gross margin by 1-2pp every quarter over the next 2-3 quarters, and expects its gross margin to return to the 37-39 percent level as early as the second half of 2018.

Tsai also noted the Helio P-series smartphone SoCs will be a major product focus of the company, and 12nm will be the main process technology MediaTek’s mobile chips will be made using during the first half of 2018. Nevertheless, Tsai disclosed MediaTek will complete tape-out of 7nm products in the second half of 2018.

Courtesy-Fud

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