It appears that the Ouya is going to be a bit delayed.
This is good news though, as it is being delayed because the console developers have more cash to spend on it, $15m more to be precise.
Ouya already raised around $7m on Kickstarter, and now, when it should be taking its last steps towards completion, it has had almost twice as much more injected into it by lovely venture capitalists.
We were expecting the console in early June, but that has slid back to 25 June. The time and money will in part be used to solve an issue with sticky buttons, something that usually only happens once consumers have taken some hardware home with them.
The money comes from venture capital firms and other companies including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Nvidia, Shasta Ventures, and Occam Partners. KPCB’s general partner Bing Gordon will join the Ouya board of directors as a result.
“We want Ouya to be here for a long time to come,” said Julie Uhrman, Ouya founder and CEO.
“The message is clear: people want Ouya. We first heard this from Kickstarter backers who provided more than $8 million to help us build Ouya, then from over 12,000 developers who have registered to make an Ouya game, next from retailers who are carrying Ouya online and soon on store shelves, and now from top pioneering investors.”
Gordon is in charge of digital investments at KPCB and is a veteran of the games industry, having started at Electronic Arts in 1982.
“Ouya’s open source platform creates a new world of opportunity for established and emerging independent game creators and gamers alike,” he said.
“There are some types of games that can only be experienced on a TV, and Ouya is squarely focused on bringing back the living room gaming experience. Ouya will allow game developers to unleash their most creative ideas and satisfy gamers craving a new kind of experience.”
Ouya consoles should start arriving in living rooms on 25 June. If you want one, you are going to have to come up with around $100 dollars, plus another $50 dollars if you want two controllers.
Some well-known industry analysts are suggesting that Microsoft could be behind as much as six months on software development for the Xbox Next. According to these sources, a combination of events have put Microsoft in this position, but it seems that some titles that were being developed internally have been canned. The situation led to Microsoft seeking to secure exclusives from 3rd party sources to fill in the gaps.
We first suggested a link between EA and Microsoft on some sort of an exclusive deal back when they were not a part of the Sony press conference earlier this year. Now, we find that they have a deal of some sort for the new Respawn title, which will apparently be exclusive to the Xbox 360 and Xbox Next. That’s not all, as it is expected that Microsoft has more exclusives to announce. What the question is really about is whether these are true exclusives or are just timed exclusives that we will see on the PS3/PS4 at some point in the future.
Even if Microsoft’s internal exclusives lack for the Xbox Next at launch, we expect them to catch up; we don’t see a big gap developing, but we know that Microsoft has solid properties to use on the Xbox Next and they will get those titles developed and out. No worries: it is going to be similar to all console launches where the software lacks when the system is released.
Ouya, the open Android-based console designed by Yves Behar, is being shipped to its Kickstarter backers today, and the company officially announced this week at GDC that it will hit retailers in the US, UK and Canada on June 4. Ouya is promising “hundreds” of titles for the June 4 release and the $99 console will be available at Amazon, Best Buy, GAME, GameStop, Target, and the store on OUYA.tv. Additional controllers will be sold for $49.99. And for digital purchases, consumers will be able to get pre-paid cards with redeemable codes at retail if they wish.
The company said that over 8,000 game developers worldwide are currently developing games, including both up-and-comers and more well known game makers like Square Enix, Double Fine Productions, Tripwire Interactive, Vlambeer, Phil Fish’s Polytron Corporation, and Kim Swift’s Airtight Games. “The majority of devs so far are experienced devs who’ve never built an Android game before. About 1 out of 5 have never even built a game before,” Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said that at the GDC unveiling. She boasted that Ouya “already has more titles a couple months before launch than any console has ever launched with.”
The Ouya hardware itself is even smaller than we had previously thought (think Rubik’s Cube or smaller), and its sleek design and brushed aluminum is pleasing to the eye. Uhrman, however, stressed the controller more than anything else. “What we spent the most amount of time on is the controller. We really want this to be our love letter to gamers,” she said, adding that Ouya focused on the ergonomics, the weight, the feel, and wanted it to be a precise, accurate controller. “This is one of the pieces of Ouya that evolved a lot based on early supporter feedback,” she continued.
Apparently, the feedback led to numerous changes on the controller in terms of button placement, and the style of d-pad. The team found out that many preferred a cross-style d-pad than a disc because it’s superior for fighting games. Also, the engineers retooled the tension of the analogs and the design of shoulder buttons. And Ouya even made the responsiveness and speed of the center touch pad customizable. In this journalist’s hands, it felt comfortable and familiar while playing a few titles.
After showing off the hardware, Uhrman dived into the user interface of Ouya. The whole UI is incredibly streamlined, with four categories and an apps-like layout. The four categories are Play, Discover, Make, and Manage (which is for settings). Play is simply where anything you’ve downloaded – games or music or video apps – will be placed. Discover is the store, and it’s been designed to encourage people to “find the best games.” For example, sub-selections in Discover include featured channels like Go Retro, Hear Me, Genres, and Sandbox. The plan is to offer more descriptive names for games within genres.
“The way games get exposed in the genre list is based on what we call the O-rank, which is our fun algorithm. It’s how we rank great games. A lot of app platforms today use downloads as a metric or they use revenue as a metric and we don’t think that’s a good way to say if it’s a good game,” Uhrman said. “You could download a game and never play it again. And with the free-to-try model, revenue isn’t necessarily the best model either. What is [a good metric] is what proves that the game is fun, and that’s engagement. So things like how long you have played a game, how many times you’ve played that game over a certain period of time. How quickly from the time you boot up Ouya, which is an always-on device, do you play that game… It’s those types of engagement metrics that we think prove it’s a fun game.”
Another interesting area within Discover is Sandbox, which offers developers an opportunity to put builds up and ask people to thumb it up. The idea is for great games to get out of the Sandbox and be searchable and merchandized. It encourages developers to market their games and promote them to fans. Once you get out of Sandbox you know the people next to you have great quality games, Uhrman explained.
The Make channel is an area that appears to still be in flux. Uhrman said the goal is to serve two audiences, gamers and developers, equally. While Make is a place where a developer can upload early builds, over time it’ll be a place for devs to communicate with fans. “We also can grow it to be, what if you want to make a game, here’s how to market a game, etc. We’ll look to devs and gamers for feedback on how to evolve the section,” Uhrman said.
A console that’s as open as Ouya should have a fairly simple submission process for developers right? Uhrman confirmed that it’s not overly complicated and should be something most can complete within an hour. “It’s something we thought a lot about given that we’re an open platform… but we wanted to make sure that there are good quality games, at least to the extent that it was optimized to the television and for the controller. So the guidelines isn’t necessarily a quality review, but it checks if there’s malware, does it break or freeze often, does it use our controller schema in the right way, we need to make sure there’s no IP infringement, no pornography, does it elicit real-world violence, you are who you say you are kind of thing – that’s the review. We try to keep it under an hour. Developers can choose to go live immediately or they can choose a certain time,” she detailed.
Curiously, there’s been no partnership reached with the ESRB to rate the games in North America. Right now, the games will be self-rated by devs and community reviewed. Given that Ouya is being sold in mainstream retail, however, we do have to wonder if this will pose potential problems for the company in an atmosphere where some people are still pointing fingers at violent video games. “We’ll take it as it comes; right now we want to expose great content from any type of developer and we do have the thumbs-up/like feature or the report if this is abuse on the system,” responded Uhrman, adding that “We basically say that we can change the rules at any time and we can reject the game for any reason that doesn’t fit our content guidelines – we want everybody on Ouya to have a great experience.”
Ratings aside, one of the big questions surrounding Ouya is whether or not it can truly carve out a market for itself in the console space as industry veterans Sony and Microsoft prepare to launch their respective next-generation systems. The games we saw on Ouya are not graphically intense and are very indie in nature. Can Ouya handle high fidelity triple-A releases? Or does it even need to in order to get noticed?
Ouya does has a partnership with OnLive, so that’s one way to get triple-A games. “That’s one solution. We also support 1080p, hi-def… and we have a USB port so someone can add an external hard drive, so for games that are heavy you could absolutely use that. We have a max download size of 1.2GB for the first download, but as a developer if you want to add and send additional content from your servers you can,” Uhrman said.
“Traditional games take longer to develop, and we have some of those in development that we’re really excited about. Ouya is not about the number of polygons on the screen,” Uhrman acknowledged. “That’s not where we went. We wanted to have innovative and creative exclusive content, and we’re already starting to see that.”
Exclusive content plus a very appealing $99 price point is what could make the system an easy impulse buy for many gamers Uhrman believes. Moreover, Uhrman noted that most core gamers tend to purchase more than one console, so Ouya is likely to be something they’ll want to buy even if they are getting a PS4.
“Ouya offers something different; every gamer has a different expectation depending upon the platform and we believe we’re going to have innovative, creative games and exclusive games to Ouya… And the barrier to entry at just $99 where every game is free-to-try, I think opens up the opportunity for a number of gamers, even core gamers. Core gamers on average own more than one console. We don’t really think it’s an either/or situation. We’re offering something different – I think they’re going to want Ouya too,” she said.
A number of traditional consoles in the past have launched selling at a loss. Since Ouya is built with off the shelf components, it may be easier to contain costs, but Uhrman wouldn’t confirm that each unit is sold at a profit. “We’re really comfortable with our business model,” is all she would say.
That said, if things go the way Uhrman would like, this is only the beginning. Ouya will continue to evolve its software and hardware, and the hardware is likely to get refreshed quickly.
“We’re like any other software platform that iterates and grows over time, and we’ll have a hardware refresh rate more similar to a mobile refresh rate than a console refresh rate because we want to take advantage of the best chips out there and falling commodity prices. We will certainly make sure that there’s enough content that’s optimized for that chip and we don’t push on higher prices to the consumer,” she said.
Does that mean some Ouyas in future will not be compatible with certain games? Uhrman is looking to avoid that scenario. “We have a plan where all content will be compatible with future Ouya systems; we don’t want to fragment our own market for developers, and we always want gamers to have a great experience,” she commented.
Ouya will be interesting to watch. It’s a bold move for the industry and everything we’ve seen so far is completely unconventional. Whether or not that will pay dividends in the long-run is hard to judge at this point in time. “The market is calling us the ‘un-console’ and we like doing things the ‘un-way’,” Uhrman remarked.
Sony has inked a deal with game engine development company Unity to bring a cross-platform engine to its upcoming games console, the Playstation 4 (PS4).
Unity’s game engine is designed to run on a multiplicity of devices and is capable of scaling up to high end systems with powerful graphics cards, while being able to run on tablets, smartphones and games consoles.
However, Sony’s partnership with the firm now extends Unity’s engine to the PS4 and is set to bring a host of tools designed to make it easier for developers to write games for the console.
Unity announced the strategic partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment, which was inked on 15 March, on Thursday. For Unity, the partnership signifies a growing interest in its cross-platform game engine, while for Sony it allows developers to port their existing titles more quickly to the Playstation 4 games console.
Though Unity said that work is “still in early stages”, it is looking to roll out these tools this autumn.
“[I]t’s good to keep in mind that the different tools will have different schedules,” Unity’s CEO David Helgason said in a blog post.
Helgason said Sony is focused on bringing the most creative studios “with an emphasis on independent developers” to its console.
Meanwhile, Sony is revving up for its PS4 launch. Last month, at an event in America it ‘launched’ the PS4, but only showed off its controller. The PS4 games console itself is now all we are waiting to see.
The Japanese firm teased its fanbase with a picture of something that resembled an egg on Thursday, but no one knows whether this contains the PS4 or a smartphone.
Placing our bet, were are going to say that Sony will open the egg at Easter and show us its PS4 games console. Or perhaps we are just being optimistic.
With the PlayStation 4 unveiled and rumors swirling that Microsoft is preparing to announce a new Xbox in April, next-gen is all the buzz right now. These are massive investments from the respective platform holders, and under the old “razor and blades” model the hope is to make back much of the money on software. And since some of that software is going to cost a good deal more to develop (although not as much as some think, says Hermen Hulst) should consumers be worried that $69.99 will become the new standard AAA game price?
The consensus seems to be that $59.99 should be able to hold, but some big budget titles like Call of Duty and others could get away with higher.
Sony Computer Entertainment America boss Jack Tretton told AllThingsD that PS4 will support a variety of prices from $0.99 to the $60 range (of course, “range” could imply $69.99). But the bottom line is that in this digital era, a variety of content will lead to all kinds of pricing. And as EEDAR’s Jesse Divnich pointed out to us, publishers can maintain the $59.99 price but bring in much more revenue with additional DLC.
“The $59.99 price point in the United States for next-generation games are unlikely to change. As we’ve seen through the years, however, revenue per game has increased gradually as publishers have been able to capitalize on additional in-game and digital content,” he said. “With publishers focusing on fewer, yet bigger and longer lasting titles, I’d expect publishers to keep the $59.99 price point intact, but expand on their digital offerings with more in-game content and expansion packs.”
He added, “And I don’t think this is a scenario where publishers ship a ‘base’ product and gauge on digital offerings. We believe these digital offerings, like they are today, will expand upon the player experience and offer even more value than they do today.”
David Cole of DFC Intelligence agrees. While he thinks the “super AAA” games may test out the $70 price, most content will come in much lower than that. “I think we will see an incredibly wide range of prices. Premium games command premium prices. Think Skylanders, Collector’s editions, Guitar Hero and Wii Fit in their day. What gets squeezed is the stuff in the middle that must compete with high-end development on one hand and low cost/low price games on the other,” he pointed out. “So you have fewer big budget titles but those will have even bigger budgets and that will be cost passed on to the consumer. Of course, very few games will be able to do this.”
Even if there is a slight bump on AAA game pricing, the average selling price (ASP) will beging coming down as the cycle advances, according to IDC Research manager Lewis Ward.
“While there will always be collector’s and limited edition console game discs that cost $80 or more, I’m not projecting that the PS4 or next-gen Xbox will raise the typical ‘AAA’ game disc to $70. 7th gen disc ASPs have trended down a couple dollars per year since 2006-2007. 8th generation discs will come in closer to $60 – which we’re already seeing with Wii U – and then start trending down a few dollars per year. So there will probably be a ~$10 gap in pricing between 7th and 8th gen discs, but due to ASP slippage over time, the overall console discs ASP through 2016 should remain in the low to mid-$40s range,” Ward explained.
An ASP in the mid-$40s is palatable for many hardcore gamers, but the console business is still going to have to face the fact that mobile, tablets, and free-to-play are changing the gaming landscape and the business of games. With PS4 supposedly being more open than any console before it, hopefully developers will being able to offer more free-to-play games and titles at more attractive prices.
The fact that Sony didn’t show the actual PlayStation 4 hardware at the press conference yesterday has met with more than a little wonder. The company did show off the new DualShock 4 controller, but didn’t show even a mock-up of the final PS4 console, and this has made many question Sony’s decision to announce the PS4 at all.
Sony will apparently debut the actual PS4 hardware in June at E3, according to a number of sites on the Internet. This seems to be logical, because if Sony doesn’t have it finished by then they have little hope in producing enough to make the launch for this holiday season.
The delay of the actual hardware showing as well as lack of pricing details has presented an interesting dilemma for retailers that are anxious to start taking pre-orders. GameStop, for example, has announced that PowerUp Rewards members can join what they are calling the “PS4 First to Know List,” which will give members the latest information on the PS4 and PS4 related titles as well as the all-important pre-order details when they become available. While getting on the list does not guarantee you a PS4, it does at least make sure that you should be in the loop when the retailer expects to start taking pre-orders for the PS4.
Sony will be ending the free online lunch with the launch of the PlayStation 4. As we have been suspecting for a long time, Sony will be moving to a subscription model just like Microsoft with Xbox Live Gold.
According to our sources, just like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, PlayStation 4 users will be locked out of the majority of the good stuff without a subscription. The subscription service is expected to be called PlayStation World, according to our sources. Like Xbox Live, it is suspected that updates to both the console and PS4 games will be free.
What is not clear about Sony’s new strategy is if similar to Microsoft, it will restrict access to third party services like Netflix behind this subscription model; or whether Sony will stick to just the online features that are directly related to the console, such as online play and perhaps the compatibility streaming that has been talked about.
All eyes will be on Sony next week, as the company intends to show the world the future of the PlayStation business during a New York press event. While we get a glimpse of the upcoming PS4 hardware, it’ll be interesting to see what Sony does to keep consumers invested in its current PS3. It’s likely that a price drop will be announced either at the February 20th event or shortly thereafter.
In fact, analyst Michael Pachter believes we should expect a PS3 price cut in the near future, he tersely responded, “February 21st.” In a second email, he told us that it should come down to $199 and that Microsoft will probably match that price on Xbox 360 by this year’s E3.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that PS3 will see a price cut next week, but it’s certainly a safe bet that Sony will cut the MSRP before the PS4 hits the market. Sony’s strategy thus far has been to bundle in more games and bigger hard drives, and the company briefly sold PS3 bundles for the low price of $199 during last year’s Black Friday period. Most bundles now are selling for $299 (there’s a $269 Uncharted 3 bundle) but it wouldn’t surprise us to see a $50 cut and new bundles soon, especially with God of War: Ascension coming in March and The Last of Us in June.
World of Tanks creator Wargaming.net has swooped for troubled PC developer Gas Powered Games.
The studio had been on its last legs, struggling through a failed attempt at funding through Kickstarter, shedding staff to keep the business afloat.
Now Belarusian business Wargaming.net, led by Victor Kislyi, has come forward to pick up the developer of games including Supreme Commander, Demigod and Dungeon Siege – all of which will bolster Wargaming’s portfolio in the online gaming space.
“Gas Powered Games’ heritage and development pedigree shows us just how valuable an addition Chris and his company will make to the Wargaming family,” said Kislyi. “Gas Powered Games has a long track record of providing incredibly engaging AAA gaming experiences and we can’t wait to start working with them.”
Wargaming has been on a spending spree of late, picking up console game developer Day One Studios for $20 million and last year engine-maker Big World for $45 million. It did not disclose the price of Gas Powered Games.
Chris Taylor, CEO of Gas Powered Games, will remain with the business.
“Wargaming’s growth in recent years has been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to joining one of the fastest growing gaming companies in the world,” added Taylor.
It was a better than expected quarter that capped off a record year for Activision. The fourth quarter brought in $2.6 billion in revenue, compared to analyst estimates of $2.44 billion. The company came within spitting distance of $5 billion in revenue for the year ($4.987 billion, to be precise), which is amazing for a company that’s not manufacturing console hardware. The downside of this performance: Activision is already telling us it won’t happen again in 2013, with the company projecting results substantially lower for this year (at $4.175 billion). Will the company see growth again, or was 2012 the highest point it will ever reach?
CEO Bobby Kotick praised the company’s performance: “We achieved record fourth quarter and annual results. And in 2012, on a non-GAAP basis, we generated approximately $5 billion in revenues, a 34 per cent operating margin and EPS growth of 27 per cent over the prior year. We increased our operating cash flow by 41 percent.” It’s extremely impressive; Activision continues to manage its properties well in a horrible retail environment.
Kotick also provided some other info to show Activision’s dominance. “In the US and Europe, we were the #1 video game publisher at retail, we’re the #1 title overall, the #1 console title and the #1 PC title.” Kotick also threw in the following: “We’re also the #1 independent Western Digital game publisher and had the #1 subscription-based MMORPG.”
Notice the exceptionally careful phrasing here, to conveniently exclude Chinese, Korean and Japanese publishers, as well as Russia’s Wargaming.net. And being the #1 subscription-based MMORPG isn’t saying much, given that almost every other MMORPG these days is free-to-play. The lily is already pretty damn impressive; there’s really no need to add gilding.
The rapid growth of Skylanders was given some special attention. “Skylanders, our newest franchise, which is both toys and video games, has life-to-date sold in excess of $100 million toys and generated revenues of approximately $1 billion. This week, Activision Publishing revealed the third game in the Skylanders franchise for holiday 2013. And while there are new entrants in the category and challenges from slower than expected adoption of the Wii U, we remain enthusiastic about Skylanders’ future prospects.”
First we had EA’s CEO saying the Wii U wasn’t a next-generation console, and now Activision’s CEO is calling out the Wii U for slow sales. Nintendo doesn’t appear to be getting much love from third-party publishers in the West.
Kotick then sounded a cautionary note: “We recognized that 2013 is a transition year, as we enter the ninth year of the current generation of console video game systems. We encounter new threats from unproven business models, and we compete against new category entrants. We aren’t immune to unfavorable market dynamics, but we have navigated through the transitions many times before, and we are well prepared to do so again.”
If a business model is unproven, how is it a threat exactly? Isn’t it a threat if it’s doing really well, which in some sense proves that it (or at least that instantiation) works, doesn’t it? Perhaps what Kotick is saying is that there are business models (like free-to-play) which are working damnably well, but unfortunately Activision hasn’t used those models, so they (to Activision’s experience) are unproven. Let’s simplify this: If it’s working well enough to be a threat, shouldn’t Activision at least be experimenting with it?
CFO Dennis Durkin looked ahead to this year’s prospects: “Our product lineup is expected to be anchored by 4 of our top franchises: Call of Duty, Skylanders, World of Warcraft and StarCraft. It will also be a year of significant continued investment in several new properties with long-term potential that are not factored into our 2013 financial outlook, including Activision Publishing’s new Bungie universe, Call of Duty Online for China and the new Blizzard MMO.” That could mean none of those new titles will ship this year. Or perhaps one or more might ship, but Activision isn’t sure, and doesn’t want to count revenue that may not materialize.
Durkin went on to say: “For the full year 2012, Diablo III contributed more than $0.20 of EPS on a standalone basis. This year, our outlook for Blizzard includes the release of the StarCraft II expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, in March and one additional title. For Call of Duty, consistent with our past practices, we are planning for the mainline release in Q4 to be down versus 2012.”
Activision reached peak sales of Call of Duty two years ago, and expects this year to be lower once again than last year. When you’re coming out with a new version of the game every year, it’s hard to keep posting record numbers. New consoles might help, but they will probably be too late in the year to matter much even if Activision does have a version of Call of Duty ready for them.
Why won’t new consoles matter much for 2013? Let’s look at the numbers. Assuming a new console ships in November, it’s unlikely to sell more than a couple of million units by the end of the year; let’s say it’s an amazing success and sells 5 million. Selling a game to half of those buyers would be incredible; that would be 2.5 million units. When a Call of Duty title can sell nearly ten times that amount, you can see why it’s not reasonable to expect new consoles to help Activision’s numbers significantly. Sure, they might, if absolutely everything goes well. But companies like to be a little conservative on their projections to give themselves a good chance to beat the numbers. Investors like it when companies beat their numbers.
Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime then gave some color on his products: “World of Warcraft added more than 9.6 million players, down slightly from the previous quarter. The majority of the decline came from China, while subscribership in the West was relatively more stable.” Later, Morhaime added: “With respect to China, in spite of the decline in subscribership, it is important to note that the engagement levels of the core items did increase with the launch of the expansions and I think that, that suggests increased engagement by our core players.”
So WoW subscriber numbers are shrinking, but the remaining players are more engaged. To some extent, this is acceptable if overall revenue can remain constant or even rise if virtual goods sales are high enough among the remaining players, and they stay subscribed longer. At some point, though, if subscriber numbers keep falling overall revenue will drop. The key information here is that World of Warcraft has apparently already burned through the boost it got from Mists of Pandaria, and is back to losing subscribers (at least in China), but the rate of erosion isn’t too alarming. Yet.
One of the analysts asked whether development costs will rise for titles destined for next-gen consoles. Kotick was straightforward: “This is my 22nd year doing this, and in every single console transition, we’ve seen an increase in development costs.” Margin improvement for next-gen titles is going to depend on selling more DLC, not on reducing development costs. Until next-gen consoles are in tens of millions of households, revenue from next-gen titles will be lower than current-gen titles – and development costs will be higher. That’s not a good combination.
Activision’s stock has mostly hovered between $10.50 and $12.50 for the past several years, though after yesterday’s report it’s shot up to $13.41, a gain of over 11 per cent. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter has a long-term target of $19 for Activision stock, which is above the stock’s high point five years ago. It’s difficult to see how the stock gets there unless gaming stocks in general become more well-received by investors. Perhaps if new consoles launch strongly, and Bungie’s new game is a smash hit, and everything goes well…
Meanwhile the general message of this earnings report is that Activision is being careful with major strategy moves. Activision is still merely dabbling in mobile games, and doesn’t expect them to be a significant contribution to the company in the coming year. So far, the company is resisting moving World of Warcraft over to a free-to-play model; that may be wise given that such a changeover doesn’t always work well. Where’s the chance for major growth? Bungie’s new title, the new Blizzard MMO, and Call of Duty in China, that’s where. There are questions about all of them, of course. Will Bungie’s title pull in a significantly different audience than Call of Duty, or will it cannibalize that game’s players? Will Blizzard’s MMO merely move players over from World of Warcraft, or will it attract a significant new audience? Will Chinese players really turn out in big numbers for Call of Duty Online?
Looming over all of these questions is the long-term viability of the console market, and whether the new consoles coming from Sony and Microsoft will revive the console game business to the heights of 2008. Activision is in great shape right now, with billions of dollars in cash and four great brands that generate amazing sales. Of those four brands, three are getting pretty long in the tooth; can they perform at their current levels, or will they continue to decline slowly? The success of new consoles may be critical to Activision’s future. The company may choose to diversify with acquisitions, or it may keep the cash tucked away for a rainy day or a larger strategic acqusition.
Activision’s had a great 2012, and 2013 looks pretty good. The company’s longer-term picture depends mostly on how the console market continues, and how the MMOG market evolves along with Activision’s products in that area. Mobile doesn’t appear to have big potential for Activision yet. The other potential big mover for Activision is a major acquisition, like, say, Take-Two. Activision has enough cash to make such a purchase, or some other large strategic move. We’ll have to keep watching to see how that strategy game might play out.
For now, at least, Activision expects to have sales lower than last year’s level. Growth is only going to happen in 2014 and beyond if Activision’s new projects can do well, and new consoles do well, and existing brands don’t fade too quickly. When you’re at the top of the mountain, climbing higher is difficult. Perhaps the Skylands offer a path higher…
Sources are reporting that Sony is planning to announce Killzone 4 as part of its reveal of the PlayStation 4 console. Developers at Guerrilla Games have been lucky enough to see the latest in its shooter series to be announced alongside of the latest Sony hardware reveal.
According to those who can’t seem to keep quiet… Killzone 4 is said to be the first title for the PlayStation 4 to show off an excellent example of what the new console is able to do. The game itself is said to be stunning and looks much better than what we have seen in previous generations of the game.
As for a release, apparently Killzone 4 will be announced and it will arrive for the PlayStation 4 yet in 2013; but it will be late this year before you will be able to own it.
Posing as an anonymous insider, the hoaxer distributed an email claiming to know details of the next Microsoft console as well as a dedicated Surface-based gaming tablet which was dubbed the X-Surface.
The mail was sent out to a number of gaming publications early yesterday morning. Eight hours later it was being circulated as a valid news piece, although qualified as a rumor by most who published it. Before long, it had spread to many major gaming specific and technology sites, a ripple-effect which the hoaxer aptly describes as “Chinese whispers.”
In the flurry of leaks and rumors surrounding the forthcoming next generation of home consoles, nearly every site has covered at least one set of leaked specifications or another, including GamesIndustry International. By taking advantage of the whirl of information, pulling various stats from different reports to form a nebulous but semi-convincing whole, the hoaxer exposed one of online reporting’s major flaws: the rush to be quickest to publish.
“It’s all about being first,” the hoaxer wrote on a Tumblr page exposing the fake emails. “To get such news out (whether you believe it or not) before any other publication does, will guarantee you page impressions, and that all-important advertising revenue. Gaming ‘journalism’ is completely broken.
“By tagging a post with ‘rumor’, most writers/editors believe they can get away with spreading false information for their own benefits. They are the only ones to gain from such practices, whilst the gaming fans end up with speculation and, sometimes, outright lies.”
Microsoft declined to comment on the situation.
Gas Powered Games’ survival is on the brink after several games were being cancelled. As a result, the studio’s existence hangs in the balance, with its immediate future hanging on the Kickstarter project we told you about that the studio has called Wildman.
As things stand at the moment, the future of the company is hanging in the balance; and if Wildman does not end up being funded through this Kickstarter it could be the end of Gas Powered Games. While NDAs have prevented us from hearing the entire story, the previous project that the studio was developing for another publisher was apparently only a month away from beta when the publisher pulled the funding and cancelled the project. Rumors suggest that the individual who gave the “green light” for the title that Gas Powered Games was working had departed the company and that led to the cancellation after a management change.
Gas Powered Games founder, Chris Taylor, isn’t happy about the situation the studio finds itself in; but the Kickstarter project with Wildman does present an interesting chance for the developer to turn things around and keep the work flowing while the studio pitches its original game concepts in hopes of finding new funding for the next project beyond Wildman.
The studio had suffered another recent setback, as Microsoft ended its development contract for Age of Empires Online. The studio had wanted to do a Kickstarter for its much talked about project called Kings and Castles, but the costs associated with the project were in the $5 to $6 million dollar range, which put it out of the range of Kickstarter.
Some have questioned Taylor’s motives and he has answered the critics in his Reddit Ask me Anything that he hosted last night. As someone that has basically grown up playing Chris Taylor’s games, it is difficult to believe that this is anything other than what Taylor has always tried to do; that is to deliver a good game, but admittedly the stakes are much higher this time around.
According to a series of tweets from a representative for Distressed Debt Investing, present during court hearings, Sam Greene of bankers Centerview has said that there are five buyers in active due diligence, with interests in individual THQ games.
However, Clearlake Capital, which has offered $60 million in a stalking horse bid to buy the company and have the deal completed by January 10, has said it will not allow the business and its intellectual property to be split up.
But trustees and creditors of THQ are taking issue with the quick sale, arguing the 30 day window for other bidders is too short to allow parties to fully participate in proceedings.
They also want the option of buying individual assets from the company, rather than being forced to buy the business as a whole. A banker for THQ bondholders is arguing that the proposed sale to Clearlake doesn’t give enough information to value individual titles in the publisher’s portfolio.
The judge overseeing the case does not approve of the current bidding procedures and has told all parties to talk to one another over the weekend and try to work out issues. The court will reconvene on Monday.
Warner Bros was one of the companies that swooped for individual titles when Midway went bust, picking up Spy Hunter and Mortal Kombat franchises.
French publisher Ubisoft has also expressed an interest in THQ, with CEO Yves Guillemot telling GamesIndustry International that he was interested in the company’s brands.
Valve’s Michael Abrash has poured cold water on the idea of an imminent future containing believable virtual and augmented reality systems, writing that current limitations on latency are the bottleneck to future development.
Writing on the Valve Blog, Abrash discussed the problems caused by the delay between user input and display response, which causes particular problems in virtual and augmented reality systems because of the nature of the interface.
“Assuming accurate, consistent tracking (and that’s a big if, as I’ll explain one of these days), the enemy of virtual registration is latency. If too much time elapses between the time your head starts to turn and the time the image is redrawn to account for the new pose, the virtual image will drift far enough so that it has clearly wobbled (in VR), or so that is obviously no longer aligned with the same real-world features (in AR).
“How much latency is too much? Less than you might think. For reference, games generally have latency from mouse movement to screen update of 50 ms or higher (sometimes much higher), although I’ve seen numbers as low as about 30 ms for graphically simple games running with tearing (that is, with vsync off). In contrast, I can tell you from personal experience that more than 20 ms is too much for VR and especially AR, but research indicates that 15 ms might be the threshold, or even 7 ms.”
Abrash continues to examine the problem in more detail, before coming to the conclusion that current minimum latency is around 36ms: “a long way from 20 ms, and light-years away from 7 ms.”
“Short of racing the beam, there is no way to get low enough display latency out of existing hardware that also has high enough resolution, low enough cost, appropriate image size, compact enough form factor and low enough weight, and suitable pixel quality for consumer-scale AR/VR.
“Someone has to step up and change the hardware rules to bring display latency down. It’s eminently doable, and it will happen – the question is when, and by whom. It’s my hope that if the VR market takes off in the wake of the Rift’s launch, the day when display latency comes down will be near at hand.”
The Occulus Rift, which completed a highly successful Kickstarter campaign last year, hopes to reinvigorate virtual reality when it launches in early 2013.