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Pokemon Go New Features Aims To Thwart Cheaters

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Niantic, the developer behind the wildly popular Pokemon Go game, has announced new features to help curb cheating in the game.

“Pokemon caught using third-party services that circumvent normal gameplay will appear marked with a slash in the inventory and may not behave as expected,” the company explained on the Silph Road subreddit.

While Niantic was not specific in the post about which third-party services are being targeted, tools such as GPS fakers that artificially place you in “busy” Pokemon areas or bots to catch Pokemon for you have already been identified as “cheats” in the game.

The company also was not clear about how ‘slashed’ Pokemon caught by cheating will behave, although various theories have been put forward by players in the subreddit, including “your moves will permanently become splash/struggle” or “it eats the pokemon around it in your inventory”.

The announcement comes shortly after Niantic’s unveiling of the largest update to the game so far, which brings multiplayer “raid battles” to Pokemon’s Gyms.

Is China The Hot Spot For Mobile Gaming

June 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can Microsoft’s Live Streaming Service Mixer Compete With Twitch

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can NBCUniversal Compete In The Mobile Games Space

May 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

As the mobile market continues to boom and the nascent virtual reality space becomes a larger sector within mobile thanks to devices like Samsung Gear and Google Daydream, NBCUniversal is aiming to leverage its bevy of popular IP such as Fast & Furious, Minions, Despicable Me, Jurassic World and more. According to GamesBeat, the company has hired former Disney mobile games leader Chris Heatherly to oversee a new mobile game and virtual reality publishing group.

The goal is to leverage properties from DreamWorks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, and Universal Pictures by directly getting involved in the creation, development, marketing and distribution of games as opposed to licensing out brands, which has been done previously. For example, Despicable Me had been licensed to Gameloft, and the publisher’s Minion Rush game went on to be downloaded more than 800 million times. While self-publishing is now a focus, the company said it will still complement its business by licensing some brands as well.

“Universal has decided to take a strategic position in games,” Heatherly said. “We are pushing heavily in the digital space. And they see there is no bigger digital space than games. It’s part of a larger plan to build evergreen franchises that support multiple products across multiple businesses.”

Heatherly will serve as executive vice president of games and digital platforms within Universal Brand Development, and he will be joined by James Molinets, senior vice president of production; Timothy FitzRandolph, vice president of creative; and Fabian Schonholz, senior vice president of technology and operations. The former two executives were key members of the Disney mobile team and also oversaw the kids-focused virtual world, Club Penguin.

While NBCUniversal said it’s going to be 80% focused on creating mobile games, interest in VR as an “emerging area” is building as well. “We are leveraging the best talent that is already out there… On the VR front, we are doing quite a few things. One of them we can announce soon,” he teased.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Angry Birds Movie To Get A Sequel, Says Rovio Entertainment

May 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Finnish mobile games and animation studio Rovio Entertainment approved plans to proceed with a sequel to its Angry Birds movie, it said on Monday, aiming for release in September 2019.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 will be produced with Columbia Pictures and distributed by Sony Pictures, Rovio said.

The first Angry Birds movie, released last year, earned about $350 million at the box office and gave a boost to Rovio’s game sales, helping the company to swing to an annual profit after years of falling earnings, job cuts and divestments.

Rovio said the new movie will be directed by Thurop Van Orman, the creator of animated TV series “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack”.

The original Angry Birds game — in which smartphone players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs — became a phenomenon in 2009, but the franchise faltered in the following years amid tough competition.

Alongside the movie plan, Rovio is looking to reduce its dependence on Angry Birds — earlier this month it launched “Battle Bay”, the firm’s first multiplayer game which does not carry the Angry Birds name.

Square Enix Is Giving IO Interactive The Boot

May 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Nintendo Betting Record Profit On Switch Console

April 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo Co Ltd is predicting its new Switch console will more than double annual operating profit and end the eight-year sales decline that plagued its previous offering just as players were turning to smartphone gaming.

The Japanese firm entered the mobile gaming market last year to the relief of shareholders fretting about diving console sales. Now the early success of the Switch has fueled hope of a long-term earnings recovery and sent the firm’s share price about 20 percent higher since the console’s March debut.

“We are hoping to change the tide of our business with the Switch,” Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Nintendo estimated profit to grow 2.2-fold to 65 billion yen ($584 million) in the year through March 2018, with sales jumping 53.3 percent. That was still far below the 104 billion yen average of 23 analyst estimates surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Asked if the outlook was too low, Kimishima said the firm was stepping up marketing costs for the Switch.

Nintendo aims to sell 10 million of the hybrid home console and handheld device this financial year, on top of a higher-than-expected 2.7 million sold in its debut month.

“If the 10 million target is achieved … that means the sales momentum would be close to the Wii,” Nintendo’s most successful console, Kimishima said.

The Wii, launched in November 2006, sold about 20 million units in its first year and exceeded 100 million over its life. The last time Nintendo’s sales grew was in the year ended March 2009, when Wii demand drove profit to a record 555 billion yen.

Profit from a new console typically peaks a couple of years after launch when there is a wide choice of game titles.

Kimishima also said Nintendo’s first own-brand smartphone game, Super Mario Run, has neared 150 million free downloads, but the number of users paying the one-off fee to unlock most of its content is below the target 10 percent.

One reason behind the Switch’s strong start is that unlike its predecessor Wii U, the console has a long list of game titles from independent studios because Nintendo made the Switch compatible with publicly available game development platforms from the start, said Hirokazu Hamamura, a director at Kadokawa Dwango Corp, which publishes games magazines.

Facebook Is A Hub For Augmented Reality, Says Mark Zuckerberg

April 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc is wants to capitalize off of the technology known as augmented reality, a mix of the real and digital worlds best known from the hit smartphone game Pokemon Go, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

Speaking at F8, the company’s annual conference for software developers, Zuckerberg said Facebook was an obvious hub for businesses to reach people and experiment with augmented reality, although he did not suggest the company was planning to make similar games itself.

Pokemon Go, jointly developed by Nintendo Co and Niantic Inc, has generated masses of followers around the world as players use their phones to capture animated characters that appear in real locations.

Other uses of augmented reality have included the ability to hang out with a hologram of “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm or assemble a virtual human brain, all on mobile devices.

A recent push by Facebook to add camera features to its suite of smartphone apps will help the company popularize similar features, Zuckerberg said.

“Even if we were a little slow to add cameras to all our apps, I’m confident that now we’re going to push this augmented reality platform forward,” he said.

For a company that began as a way for college students to see pictures of each other, Facebook’s move toward augmented reality represents another step in its long evolution. It also raises the stakes for its competition with rival Snap Inc, the maker of Snapchat that describes itself as a camera company.

Zuckerberg said people could use the technology to leave a virtual note for a friend at a bar, or to find virtual street art on a wall that in real life is blank.

“This isn’t just about finding a Pokemon in a one-block radius,” he said.

Eventually, he said, people would use augmented reality on eyewear, although he did not give any details about possible Facebook hardware.

In 2014, Facebook acquired its Oculus virtual reality goggles unit for $2 billion, although that division is a long way from making a mass-market product or contributing significantly to the company’s earnings.

As part of his conference address, Zuckerberg addressed shortcomings on another major project, Facebook’s push into video. He said the service needed to do more to prevent the spread of violent videos, such as one on Sunday of a fatal shooting in Cleveland that was visible on the site for two hours.

 

Blizzard Entertainment Wins Cheating Lawsuit

April 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is The Independent Game Developers Future Bleak

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Never more than a stopgap that was hugely inadequate to the gap in question, Steam Greenlight is finally set to disappear entirely later this Spring. The service has been around for almost five years, and while it was largely greeted with enthusiasm, the reality has never justified that optimism. The amassing of community votes for game approval turned out to be no barrier to all manner of grafters who launched unfinished, amateurish games (even using stolen assets in some cases) on the service, but enough of a barrier to be frustrating and annoying for many genuine indie developers. As an attempt to figure out how to prevent a storefront from drowning in the torrent of rubbish that has flooded the likes of the App Store and Google Play, it was a worthy experiment, but not one that ought to have persisted for five years, really.

Moreover, Greenlight isn’t disappearing because Valve has solved this problem to its satisfaction. The replacement, Direct, is in some regards a step backwards; it’ll see developers being able to publish directly on the system simply by confirming their identity (company or personal) through submission of business documents and paying a fee for each game they submit. The fee in question hasn’t been decided yet, but Valve says it’s thinking about everything from $100 to $5000.

The impact of Direct is going to depend heavily on what that fee ends up being. It’s worth noting that developers for iOS, for example, already pay around $100 a year to be part of Apple’s developer programme, and trawling through the oceans of unloved and unwanted apps released on the App Store every day shows just how little that $100 price does to dissuade the worst kind of shovelware. At $5000, meanwhile, quite a lot of indie developers will find themselves priced out of Steam, especially those at the more arthouse end of the scene, or new creators getting started out. Ironically, though, the chances are that many of the cynical types behind borderline-scam games with ripped off assets and design will calculate that $5000 is a small price to pay for a shot at sales on Steam, especially if the high fees are thinning out the number of titles launching.

It’s worth noting that, for the majority of Steam’s consumers, the loss of arthouse indie games and fringe titles from new creators won’t be of huge concern. Steam, like all storefronts, sells huge numbers at the top end and that falls off rapidly as you come down the charts; the number of consumers who are actively engaging with smaller niche titles on the service is pretty small. However, that doesn’t mean that locking out those creators wouldn’t be damaging – both creatively and commercially.

Plenty of creators are actually making a living at the low end of the market; they’re not making fortunes or buying gigantic mansions to hang around being miserable in, but they’re making enough money from their games to sustain themselves and keep up their output. Often, they’re working in niches that have small audiences of devoted fans, and locking them out of Steam with high submission costs would both rob them of their income (there are quite a few creators out there for whom $5000 represents a large proportion of their average revenue from a game) and rob audiences of their output, or at least force them to look elsewhere.

Sometimes, a game from a creator like that becomes a break-out hit, the game the whole world is talking about for months on end – sometimes, but not very often. It’s tempting to argue that Steam should be careful about its “low-end” indies (a term I use in the commercial sense, not as any judgement of quality; there’s great, great stuff lurking around the bottom of the charts) because otherwise it risks missing the Next Big Thing, but that’s not really a good reason. Steam is just about too big to ignore, and the Next Big Thing will almost certainly end up on the platform anyway.

Rather, the question is over what Valve wants Steam to be. If it’s a platform for distributing big games to mainstream consumers, okay; it is what it is. If they’re serious about it being a broad church, though, an all-encompassing platform where you can flick seamlessly between AAA titles with budgets in the tens of millions and arthouse, niche games made as a labour of love by part-timers or indie dreamers, then Direct as described still doesn’t solve the essential conflict in that vision.

In replacing publishers with a storefront through which creators can directly launch products to consumers, Valve and other store operators have asserted the value of pure market forces over curation – the fine but flawed notion of greatness rising to the top while bad quality products sink to the bottom simply through the actions of consumers making buying choices. This, of course, doesn’t work in practice, partially because in the real world free markets are enormously constrained and distorted by factors like the paucity of information (a handful of screenshots and a trailer video doth not a perfectly informed and rational purchasing decision make), and more importantly because free markets can’t actually make effective assessments of something as subjective as the quality of a game.

Thus, even as their stores have become more and more inundated with tides of low quality titles – perhaps even to the extent of snuffing out genuinely good quality games – store operators have tried to apply algorithmic wizardry to shore up marketplaces they’ve created. Users can vote, and rate things; elements of old-fashioned curation have even been attempted, with rather limited success. Tweaks have been applied to the submission process at one end and the discovery process at the other. Nothing, as yet, presents a very satisfying solution.

One interesting possibility is that we’re going to see the pendulum start to swing back a little – from the extreme position of believing that Steam and its ilk would make publishers obsolete, to the as yet untested notion that digital storefronts will ultimately do a better job of democratising publishing than they have done of democratising development. We’ve already seen the rise of a handful of “boutique” publishers who specialise in working with indie developers to get their games onto digital platforms with the appropriate degree of PR and marketing support; if platforms like Steam start to put up barriers to entry, we can expect a lot more companies like that to spring up to act as middlemen.

Like the indie developers themselves, some will cater to specific niches, while others will be more mainstream, but ultimately they will all serve a kind of curation role; their value will lie not just in PR, marketing and finance, but also in the ability to say to platforms and consumers that somewhere along the line, a human being has looked at a game in depth and said “yes, this is a good game and we’re willing to take a risk on it.” There’s a value to that simple function that’s been all too readily dismissed in the excitement over Steam, the App Store and so on, and as issues of discovery and quality continue to plague those storefronts, that value is only becoming greater.

Whatever Valve ultimately decides to do with Direct – whether it sets a low price that essentially opens the floodgates, or a high one that leaves some developers unable to afford the cost of entry – it will not provide a panacea to Steam’s issues. It might, however, lay the ground for a fresh restructuring of the industry, one that returns emphasis to the publishing functions that were trampled underfoot in the initial indie gold-rush and, into the bargain, helps to provide consumers with clearer assurances of quality. A new breed of publisher may be the only answer to the problems created by storefronts we were once told were going to make publishers extinct.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Do Mobile Games Need To Be Free?

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming, Mobile

Ever since Nintendo’s shares rocketed after the launch of Pokémon Go –  and despite the worldwide phenomenon not being a Nintendo product – and the surprise announcement of Super Mario Run, all eyes have been on the platform holder’s mobile strategy need to be free.

Analysts and even the mainstream media have been quick to comment on the potential for traditional games brands in the mobile space, but in all the excitement some people seem to have forgotten several publishers have already made their mark on smart devices with their best-selling IP.

Square Enix, in particular, has a very healthy mobile business thanks to ports of Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest games, new IP such as Heavenstrike Rivals, and the acclaimed Go series that has so far offered new takes on the Hitman, Lara Croft and Deus Ex series. The Go games are developed by the mobile team at Square Enix Montreal, led by head of studio Patrick Naud, who tells GamesIndustry.biz that Nintendo’s determined push into mobile further validates what the Japanese publisher has already been doing for more than half a decade now.

Naud goes on to observe that Nintendo’s efforts also illustrate what Square Enix has long since been exploring with its biggest properties: that these brands can help encourage more core players to investigate the gaming possibilities afforded by smart devices.

“Games like Mario will open the road for other big console IPs and get more core players to give mobile a chance,” he says. “Sadly, mobile doesn’t have the best image for some gamers – and I understand why. I’m one of those guys who plays both console and mobile, but you need to find positives that bring you to mobile and ideally open up your mind to playing more mobile games.

“I hope that Mario did this. It’s sad to see so much negative press around it, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first.”

“It’s sad to see so much negative press around Super Mario Run, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first”

The backlash against Super Mario Run’s £7.99 price point, prompting scores of one-star reviews when the game launched, seemed baffling to many in the industry – myself included. While it’s undeniably more expensive than most premium games on the App Store, Square Enix had charged more than double that for mobile games. A casual glance through the firm’s catalogue shows ports of the early Final Fantasy games to range from £7.99 for FFII to a whopping £20.49 for FFIX. And its mobile business certainly doesn’t seem to have suffered. Why shouldn’t Nintendo charge that amount for its most valuable of IP?

Naud agrees, adding: “And I’d argue they’ve crafted a new epic Nintendo-like experience specifically for mobile. It’s Mario, and yes it’s inspired by the old Mario games, but there are new rules, new ways to play. In terms of level design and the way you play the game, it’s completely different to anything you’ve seen. You’ve got all the brains at Nintendo finding a way to play a Mario game on a phone, and it works, and it’s deep, it has the depth of all the Mario games. So yeah, it’s potentially worth more than what we usually pay.”

Now deep withing the rabbit hole of mobile pricing, the conversation turns to questioning why so many mobile users are less than keen on investing in quality games for their device. As Naud points out, people have been accustomed to paying £40 or more for new console game for decades, and yet they remain reluctant to spend far less on a mobile game? Why?

“When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. They’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free”

“One key thing is mindset,” he suggests. “When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. People who are willing to pay £15 for a game on Steam are struggling to pay a couple of quid for on mobile, sometimes for the same game. But what’s the difference? It’s because they’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free.

“We still need great games to push other great games. Whenever you have really good mobile titles, people go back to playing on their phones and realise there is some quality content on there. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re going to keep making great games, hoping that it encourages other studios to celebrate doing the same. If people start demanding better experiences, or raising their standards of what they expect to play, the market can evolve and we’ll have more premium games.”

That’s no small challenge to overcome. In addition to difficulties convincing players to actually pay for their mobile games, there is then the increasingly common expectation that games will be updated and supported for months, if not years to come – and for free. British indie Ustwo Games faced backlash of its own when it dared to charge £1.49 for the expansion to Monument Valley – a high-quality add-on that essentially doubled the game’s content.

But is kowtowing to this attitude, lowering prices to what mobile users expect rather than what publishers would rather charge actually harmful? The Go games Naud and his team have produced are all critical smash hits, so does selling them for less than a fiver not undervalue the work that goes into them?

“The exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge”

“Yeah,” Naud acknowledges. “We could sell it higher, but if the market’s not ready for it… we need to be clever about it, crafting the proper experience and the proper amount of content for the price.

“There’s room for high-quality mobile games and they don’t need to be free-to-play.”

It’s easy to argue that this is why Square Enix, or indeed any other company, turns to ports of earlier releases or scaled-back takes on gameplay such as the Go series when bringing their big console IPs to mobile. Developing more comprehensive titles in the face of such resistance to invest must seem daunting and highly impractical. Square has, of course, dabbled in this with the release of Deus Ex: The Fall – a four to five-hour title that offers almost an identical experience to Human Revolution – but Naud says it is more to do with discerning between what console players think they want on mobile, and what they would actually enjoy.

“I’d argue that people do want to play console games on the go, but they won’t play the same type of experience,” he says. “People that are playing console games or even PC games are seated in their living room, with their nice couch, 7.1 surround sound, 60-inch TV – they’re going to play in a different way than if they were just going to play a five-minute session. So they might not play exactly the same game. That’s why I love the Switch, because it might be the middle ground that finally solves that.

“I assume most of the console players right now are also playing on mobile, but they’re really not playing the same type of experience because they’re not playing it at the same time. If you were to go from playing a first-person shooter on your TV – with that perfect set-up and your super-reactive controllers – to playing a similar game with a thumbstick on a touch screen… it will never be the same experience. Hence why we’re trying to craft experiences that are very much dedicated for mobile audiences and mobile phones.”

Instead, Naud says the key is to “create an experience specifically crafted for mobile” taking into account how smartphone owners interact with their device, their play habits, their usage and so on. In addition to his earlier example of Super Mario Run – offering the depth of a core Mario platformer with a one-touch control system designed for smart devices – he offers Hitman as further proof of how console IP can be re-appropriated for mobile.

Deus Ex Go is the third example of Square Enix Montreal taking a console franchise and distilling its core elements to a mobile-appropriate experience

So far, Square Enix Montreal has taken two approaches with IO Interactive’s flagship IP. Hitman Go focuses on the slow, strategic aspect of planning your kills and utilising any opportunities that present themselves. Hitman Sniper, meanwhile, takes the sniping element along with the sense of puppeteering, manipulating events from afar to set up better kills.

While the latter was partly borne from the popularity of the Hitman: Sniper Challenge digital title that preceded Absolution, Naud reveals the concept also stemmed from the desire to create a new entry in the series “without the constraints of moving in the world”.

“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store”

“The biggest challenge when playing on your phone is navigation,” he says. “For Hitman, this was by far the smartest way to do it. And we’re still working on Sniper, we’re still updating the game on a regular basis and it’s been a – maybe not as big a critical success as the Go series, but on the financial side it’s been very successful.”

But it’s the Go series that, for Naud, really demonstrates the benefit of bringing blockbuster console IP to mobile devices: introducing the brands to a new audience.

“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store,” he said. “Regardless of whether they were already fans or not, that’s how they discovered them. They got to them because they were recommended by Apple, or their friends. We actually have way more mainstream players for the Go games than Hitman players.

“Any time we do a Go game, it needs to be a different take [on the series], it needs to feel like the original, big console IP but with its own personality. All the critical acclaim made it clear that we’ve succeeded for a third consecutive time.

“The art direction of all three games is completely different and yet the gameplay is somewhat similar. You understand the rules, you don’t need big tutorials, it’s not that complex. For us, the exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge.”

To date, Square Enix Montreal has only been granted access to Western and former Eidos franchises: Hitman, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex. With Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and even Kingdom Hearts already establishing a foothold on mobile, could we see these Eastern IP receive the Go treatment?

“We’ll see,” says Naud. “Even if anything was in development, I couldn’t say anything – you know that. But we’re constantly thinking about what we could do next, what kind of projects we can work on, what we’ve learned from the Go games that can potentially take us in a new direction.”

Courtesy_GI.biz

Facebook Adds Popular Games To Messenger App

December 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

fb-messenger-app-150x150For users who enjoy the popular Facebook Messenger app, it’s game time.

The social network has rolled out a feature that allows users to play hugely popular games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the company’s latest attempt to get users spend more time on its messaging app.

The new feature, initially rolled out in 30 countries with 17 games, will be available on the latest versions of iOS and Android operating systems.

A user, in the midst of a conversation, can tap on a game controller icon to choose a game and start playing. The feature also allows user to challenge their friends for a game.

Facebook made Messenger a standalone app in 2014, a move that initially irked many users. The app, however, gained popularity after the company added a host of features to it.

The social network has also added instant video and payment facilities to the app.

Facebook boasts of having more than one billion users for its messaging app, making it one top three apps in the world.

Its main Facebook app is the most popular, followed by Messenger and WhatsApp, the messaging service it bought in 2014.

Is The Mobile Gaming Space Difficult To Succeed?

November 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

There’s something quite noble about Phil Larsen, Luke Muscat and Hugh Walters, and their reasons for turning their collective backs on Halfbrick.

The trio had been partly responsible for some of the biggest games in the smartphone space, including Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, but they felt they had nothing left to learn working at the developer, so took the gamble to go it alone.

“There weren’t too many more challenges, and the challenge of starting something new and being small and agile seemed like a smart idea,” says Phil Larsen, who is the MD at the studio. “And we are all basically in our early 30s, and we thought that maybe we wouldn’t get another chance. So we decided to go for it.”

The team left Halfbrick at the start of 2015 and attended GDC with “no money, no game, no nothing”. Although Larsen felt the newly formed team, named Prettygreat, had the capacity to pull in some big investors, they instead decided to aim a little lower, and accept funding from the founders of Crossy Road makers Hipster Whale.

“Matt [Hall] and Andy [Sum], being so successful with Crossy Road at the time, wanted to put some investment into other studios, and they were the perfect fit for us,” Larsen explains. “They were other developers who understand what we do, they trust in us as a team because we’ve done it all before, and it just helped us get everything off the ground. It has basically been the best possible decision we could have made.”

Prettygreat has only been going for 18 months, but it’s already created two games, with a third deep in development. The firm initially made the modestly popular smartphone title Landsliders, a casual collect ’em up project that it managed to pull together in just four months.

“Although we’d worked together before, working on our first game is always going to be tricky, you’ll be understanding each other and finding a new approach,” Larsen explains. “The way we did that was to try and create something a little bit unique, a bit weird, with some control innovation… as a game, it was profitable, which is good. It wasn’t the mega hit of the year or anything like that, it wouldn’t have reached any Top Ten charts in terms of downloads, but we made that game in four months, and we supported it for six months after launch, which we wouldn’t have done if there wasn’t profit to be made. The game has about 5m downloads so far, which is not bad. We’ve come from a place where 200m or 300m downloads were the norm, so we’re scaling back, which is fine. But Landsliders is a first game that says: ‘hey, this is what we can do. Make a game fast and make it successful’.”

It may seem like a rapid turnaround, but Prettygreat managed to outpace that with its second game, Slide the Shakes, which was designed and released in just six weeks.

“Basically, we had about three weeks left at the end of last year, because we’d done everything for Land Sliders. So we just decided to make a game. It also made a profit and had 3 or 4m downloads already. That was also a game where we understood its scope and potential, so we invested the appropriate amount of time – which was six weeks, but I think our quality level for that was quite high.

“We are game strategy agnostic, for want of a better way of expressing that. We are not sitting here saying we’re going to make triple-A games on mobile, or make six months projects every time. We are going to pick projects that we like and we are going to develop it to the level that we think it will be successful – and if that means it is six weeks, fine, if it is six months, which is our current project, then we will do that. We just want to make all sorts of crazy ideas. We don’t have any specific business model or genre.”

The Prettygreat team seem to know a thing or two about building sustainable smartphone games, which is difficult in a market where discoverability is difficult and the competition is plentiful. Even some of the world’s biggest mobile developers struggle to enjoy repeat success in this space. It’s a fact that’s not lost on Larsen, but he says if developers are smart, plan carefully and make sure the projects are in tune with the team’s talents, then success is not necessarily that hard to come by.

“A lot of people talk about how competitive it is, which is true. And they talk about how hard it is to make a whole bunch of money, which is true. But a misconception that a lot of people have is that you have to be making Clash Royale money, or you need to be spending loads of money, or you need to take years making the games,” Larsen begins.

“There is a lot of competing factors as to what makes a business successful. For a while it was Angry Birds, and building a brand, and merchandise. Then it was all about free-to-play. We have been through all of that at Halfbrick. Our perspective is, it is competitive but you need to pick the right business model for your team, and you need to pick the right approach for you. With three dudes at the start of a company, we weren’t saying: ‘Let’s do a Candy Crush and make $1m a day.’ No. We will pick something that we know we can get out there in a short amount of time, know generally what monetisation trends that are happening, and what is the easiest way of getting some revenue going for our games.

“Yes it is hard, but it is not impossible. A lot of people say it’s impossible, but no, you just need to be smart about how you approach it for your team specifically. If we had taken AUS$2m in funding when we started, or attacked it in a bigger way, then people would be expecting us to make a Candy Crush. But we didn’t want to do that.

“Our biggest strength as a company is scoping products right, and making them for the right people at the right time. It is very easy for an indie team to say mobile is hard, but that’s possibly because they’ve spent 18 months making the game – that might be hard to recoup as an investment. We would sooner spend four months on a game.

“Having a team that works together really well, and approaching it with a clear focus, then you can make money. We haven’t made millions of dollars yet, but that’s ok, you don’t need millions to pay three people.”

Prettygreat’s next product is currently not announced, although Larsen says it is an online multiplayer project that will be unveiled soon. This title has a much bigger scope and has already been in the works longer than its previous projects. However, Larsen is reluctant to suggest the team will continue to make bigger, more ambitious projects. He tells us that the following game could take six weeks again, or four months.

Yet don’t take this to mean there is a lack of ambition on the part of the former Fruit Ninja makers.

Larsen concludes: “I don’t want to be perceived as just three guys making stuff for the hell of it, and it’s all crazy and whatever happens, happens. That’s true to an extent, and day-to-day things are very fun and casual. But we are very serious about success financially, and our reputation is very high and we want to keep that going. The path we take is sometimes a bit unconventional, and it doesn’t necessarily have a simple six month or 12 month goal, which is what the bigger investors want to see. But we still have our eyes on the prize. We are probably not going to become a 100-person studio anytime soon, but the idea that we can create some of the biggest games in mobile and strategically scale to support them, then that’s fine. If that happens, then we will make that happen.

“We have come from a place where we were working on Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, which were some of the biggest mobile games ever for a few years. We are not strangers to that environment. We haven’t started a studio to figure out how to do mobile, we absolutely already know how to do that. We’ve been through the highs and lows of some of the biggest things out there. We know what to expect and we are definitely aiming for it, but we are not going to compromise quality or our studio culture to get there.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Sony Aims To Extend Content For Its Virtual-Reality Headset

September 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

playstation-vr-headset-150x150Sony Corp plans to extend content for its dedicated virtual-reality (VR) headset into non-gaming areas such as TV and film, and has no plans to join the burgeoning market for smartphone-based headsets, its gaming division chief said.

Andrew House, Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc’s chief executive, said in an interview that he was already in talks with media production companies to explore possibilities for the PlayStation VR headset, due for release on Oct. 13.

“We are talking about years into the future, but these are interesting conversations to start having now,” House said.

House’s gaming division has been one of Sony’s main sources of profit in recent years as sales of TV sets and other once-core electronics goods decline in the face of price competition.

As smartphone gaming now encroaches on the console market, Sony has opted to seek growth through innovations such as VR. However, analysts have said non-gaming content is necessary to broaden the appeal – and profitability – of VR.

Sony’s VR headset works in conjunction with its PlayStation 4 games console and will retail at a price lower than Facebook Inc’s Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s Vive headsets that require more expensive personal computers to run.

But smartphone-powered headsets will be far cheaper and more portable because they use the smartphone screen as the display.

There are well over 100 smartphone-based VR headsets from 65 developers already on the market, according to Lux Research. Alphabet Inc’s Google will add to that number with its Daydream VR platform that works with its Android mobile operating system.

Sony’s House argued that smartphones would not be capable of achieving the highest quality VR experience.

“We are focused on great gaming VR experiences,” he said. “I haven’t seen a cellphone or mobile-based VR experience that really gets our content teams excited.”

House said, beyond gaming, Sony is looking into TV and film and will also concentrate on seeking “ways of bringing much more static experiences to life” in areas such as museums and planetariums.

Sony has said it is working with more than 230 developers globally, and expects over 50 titles by the end of the year, include non-gaming content such as cartoons and music, karaoke and landscape videos.

 

Is nVida Going To Update Shield?

September 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Nvidia might be getting ready to launch a new Shield Android TV console later this year.

According to a filing to the FCC made public, Nvidia has applied for permission to flog a new console with a model number P2897. Obviously the rest of the filing is time secret but really the only thing that can fit the bill is a new Shield.

Listed under the labeling portion, we see that the device is rectangular and that the console features 802.11ac WiFi. A new shield remote and Controller device also went through the FCC last week.

Since all this is happening at once it seems likely that the new Shield Android TV will be in the shops sometime in autumn. However, Nvidia has applied and obtained FCC approval for things before and we never saw any product in the shops. An updated Shield Tablet went through the FCC and we are still waiting for it to appear.

All this guessing means that it is unclear if the new Shield TV is something new or radical or just a few updated bits stuck inside the existing box. It is also unknown whether Nvidia will launch a new hardware design for the Shield TV or simply stick updated components inside its existing package.

Courtesy-Fud

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