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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

Google Buys Virtual Reality Firm Owlchemy Labs

May 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Known for its award-winning Job Simulator title, Austin, Texas-based Owlchemy Labs is one of the top VR studios in the business, and now it belongs to Google. In separate blog posts, both Google and Owlchemy Labs announced the deal without disclosing purchase price or other specifics of the acquisition.

Owlchemy Labs said, “We set out on a journey over six years ago to build the kinds of games we wanted to see exist. Over those years, we learned that Owlchemy, at its core, cares deeply about a few key things: building quality multi-platform games, solving tough problems with a small but absurdly talented team, sharing our learnings with the community, and Austin’s famous tacos. Now, as we look to the future with Google by our side, we couldn’t be happier. Our plan to build awesome things will continue forward stronger than ever.

“This means Owlchemy will continue building high quality VR content for platforms like the HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, and PlayStation VR. This means continuing to focus on hand interactions and high quality user experiences, like with Job Simulator. This means continuing our mission to build VR for everyone, and doing all of this as the same silly Owlchemy Labs you know and love. We are continuing to do all of this with even more support and focus on building awesome stuff. It’s incredibly exciting that Google and Owlchemy are so well aligned on our goals and vision for the future of VR…

“We’re insanely excited to join the Google family and we cannot freaking wait to show you what we’re concocting next at Owlchemy Labs. The future of VR is extremely bright, so we’re donning our lab goggles just in case.”

For its part, Google commented, “Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Owlchemy Labs to Google. They’ve created award-winning games like Job Simulator and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality which have really thoughtful interactive experiences that are responsive, intuitive, and feel natural. They’ve helped set a high bar for what engagement can be like in virtual worlds, and do it all with a great sense of humor!

“Together, we’ll be working to create engaging, immersive games and developing new interaction models across many different platforms to continue bringing the best VR experiences to life. There is so much more to build and learn, so stay tuned!”

Google’s big push in VR thus far is with the Daydream mobile platform. There’s no doubt the company can benefit from the expertise of folks like Owlchemy Labs. Let’s hope that Owlchemy’s creative freedom isn’t dampened at all by being absorbed by a behemoth like Google. GamesIndustry.biz recently chatted with Owlchemy boss Alex Schwartz all about the VR/AR space and where it’s headed.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Digital Video Game Sales Grow This Year

May 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI-biz

Are Virtual Reality Exclusives Good For The Industry?

May 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

If you’ve donned a VR headset in recent months, odds are you’ve at least tried Job Simulator from the folks at Owlchemy Labs. The quirky title is a perfect showcase for anyone new to the medium of virtual reality and it’s earned numerous accolades, including Best VR/AR title at the GDC Awards in March.

More recently, Owlchemy partnered with Adult Swim Games to make Rick & Morty: Virtual Rick-ality. GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Owlchemy CEO Alex Schwartz in advance of the game’s launch to talk about learning the “language of VR,” among other aspects of the nascent field.

“When we started on Job Simulator every single concept of a part of a game or an experience had to be redesigned and thought through,” Schwartz says. “We didn’t really understand how much rework and design from the ground-up was necessary to build an end-to-end experience.”

Even something as simple as exiting a game environment in VR could represent a new challenge: “We thought, ‘How do we get back to the hub world or menu or centralized place in VR?’ … Well we don’t want to do 2D menus, like other people were trying to do… and that’s when we went through the iteration process of like, ‘OK what verbs exist in this world that we could reappropriate for exiting a level?’ And that’s when we came up with the exit burrito, which is kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke that you could use physical interactions like eating that we already had in the game and apply it to a choice-based selection, like a restaurant’s menu. So it’s like ‘Let’s make the menu a selection of food that you could eat to pick various options.’

VR development truly does require fresh thinking and design approaches, and that’s something that Schwartz feels has been lacking from some developers. “It strikes me that in these early days of VR, there was so little to draw from and I think the people who said ‘Oh video games used to be…’ and threw in content… Let’s say they were building a game for PlayStation or Xbox and then said ‘Oh cool, this new VR thing we’ll just adapt it to that’ – that’s where you end up with bad VR.

“Good VR takes the platform and looks at its strengths and the types of verbs and player actions that are possible and takes advantage of what you could do with your hands and 6DOF (degrees of freedom) of hand position and a trigger and builds up from the ground from there.”

Schwartz sees these early days of VR as analogous to where developers were in the beginning with touchscreen controls (many threw virtual buttons onto the screen), but eventually new control paradigms and gestures evolved, like the drag and release in Angry Birds or pinch zooming in a strategy title map.

“You asked about the language of VR – we’re starting to see those types of design patterns emerge,” Schwartz notes. “The ‘reach over your shoulder to grab a backpack for inventory’ [mechanic], I think Cloudhead with The Gallery kind of pioneered that. These are natural interaction paradigms that equate to a real life type of maneuver and making it so that you don’t have to memorize an abstraction. I think that’s the key. Even on touchscreens, it’s an abstraction. There’s no existing map on a piece of paper you can zoom in on by taking two fingers and stretching them out wider. A stretchy map, that doesn’t exist in life, but it’s still a natural thing and even babies will reach out to an iPad and start moving their finger around and panning and tapping and maybe pinch zooming.

“What we’re doing in VR with 6DOF controllers is applying real-world paradigms without abstraction to an interface, which I think is really, really cool. And it just means that we’re opening the door to way more people with different backgrounds and different experience levels in computing to this new type of platform. I can give Job Simulator to my grandma and with zero video game experience. If I handed her an Xbox controller it would be game over right there, but if you hand her two plastic wands that melt in your mind into kind of like an extension of your own hands and say go, she’s cracking eggs on the counter and making soup in Job Simulator, so it’s pretty magical to see.”

Apart from focusing on the unique language of VR design, another aspect that’s been key to Owlchemy’s success has been a truly agnostic platform approach, or as Schwartz calls it: “absurdly multi-platform.” And that philosophy started way before the studio’s jump into VR, when it was still working on mobile titles like Snuggle Truck and Jack Lumber.

“Our desire to be multi-platform simply started with the fact that we would have gone out of business with only one revenue stream,” Schwartz states matter of factly. “So the thing that saved us and allowed us to make Jack Lumber, our next game, and then build Aaaaaa, and then Dyscourse, and then finally get to the point where we built Job Simulator, was the fact that we launched our first game on, I think there were 12 different platforms.

“What that ended up doing for us was it balanced out the risk of having all your eggs in one basket. If we did a sale here and we did a Humble Bundle here and then we did a discount on Blackberry platforms, our revenue graph ended up being much, much smoother because we combined all the peaks and valleys.”

Naturally, Owlchemy has taken that same approach to the VR marketplace, calling itself the “Switzerland of VR.” From a risk perspective for the average studio, it simply makes sense to make your game as widely available as possible, especially when installed bases are still somewhat small.

“Every time you open up a VR – like, when you go to the store to test a system – Owlchemy’s content should be there, right?” Schwartz says. “So if VR is an early market and people have to decide between getting headset A, B, or C, today but in the future it’ll be A, B, C, D, E, F, and then in two years it’ll be A-Z, why would you only want to be available on one if your goal is to be associated with the best quality VR?”

“So you want to get all sides of the market which means being multi-platform, which means if you’re exclusive then you can’t be everywhere, so it comes down to a half financial strategy and half marketing approach of Owlchemy. If Owlchemy wants to be associated with good VR, I can’t be only on one third of the market. That’s pretty much how we see it. But I’ve never had malice towards someone who took an exclusive deal.”

As we’ve seen from conversations with Oculus and HTC Vive, the two PC VR makers take very different stances towards platform exclusivity, but for developers, Schwartz sees it as a last resort option.

“[VR’s] a tough place to be… We’re in a smaller market. If you have two choices, either going out of business or taking a platform exclusive deal, I see why people do it. If you’re in a position, though, to not have to do it, and you can somehow make it work by not doing it, it seems like it’s only advantageous to the future of VR and to the future of your company to be platform agnostic like we are,” he says.

“I haven’t seen anything right now as far as strategies of various VR companies that I would label, like, they’re intentionally trying to destroy this industry or fuck it up somehow. I wouldn’t say that that is the case at all. I would say that Sony is funding things, HTC is funding things, Oculus is funding things, and I think that’s great for the market in general, and then it comes down to developers and how they want to kind of navigate the seas of what’s available and how they can make it through these early days as the headset numbers kind of grow over time.”

Owlchemy’s newest release, Rick & Morty, is a low-risk investment for the studio thanks to publishing being handled by Adult Swim. It’s also unique in being one of just a few licensed titles in the VR market to date. Don’t expect this to be a pattern for Owlchemy, however. The studio remains steadfastly committed to original IP creation.

“Rick & Morty was an interesting experiment in our favorite show combining with a hilarious freak opportunity to meet the creators and then kind of jamming together and thinking, ‘All right, we should do this because it is almost the perfect overlap between what Owlchemy does with the cartoon style and the humor style where everyone at the studio loves Rick & Morty,” Schwartz says. “And then, because we were between original IPs, we could build Rick & Morty while we’re starting to prototype other new things. So it was like a match made in heaven that we couldn’t pass up… I would say it’s the first fully-featured game of length that will be licensed, but there’s been a lot of things in the much maligned demo/marketing content, where someone makes something like John Wick.”

When Owlchemy isn’t busy working on unique VR content, it’s thinking up ways of how to best portray this nascent medium to people who haven’t yet jumped in. As the studio says on its website, “We believe that sharing the magic of VR to those not currently playing is one of the greatest challenges we face today,” which is why it’s been building up MR (mixed reality) technology.

“[It became a] necessity with Job Simulator because we wanted to show people what it felt like to be in a virtual, spatial world, like you’re actually standing in a cubicle,” Schwartz explains. “We’ve never had anything like this in the history of games and technology that’s felt like this with full presence. It’s very hard to communicate and you tell people, ‘No, it’s amazing…you’ve gotta try it,’ but until you put it on their head, everything’s lost until they finally see it. But mixed reality, we’ve found is the closest thing to the actual experience of putting it on your head… If you’re showing someone who’s never had access to a VR headset the composited footage of a human being standing inside of a virtual world and them reaching out and picking something up one-to-one, it all kind of clicks in your head.”

“It all helps Job Simulator grow, which is great for us. But it opens the door for every developer to show any piece of arbitrary content with a human being in it. And we think, actually, that it’s so important to get it out there to the world that it’ll actually push VR forward as a medium, because one of the big things is convincing the large populous of people in the world to actually go out and try it,” he continues. “Our thought is, it’s useful to us, and that means it’ll be useful to other people, and we’re working hard…we’re trying to get that out to people with the least amount of friction as humanly possible.”

Owlchemy hasn’t quite figured out the business side yet, whether the MR solution will be sold, licensed, offered as suscription, etc. “We want to make it so that it can go to the widest group of people possible. So charging a million dollars for a license for that would mean that there’s very few people who could access it. So we’re trying to figure out a good way to balance the fact that everyone in the world that’s building and showing content needs this,” he says.

Schwartz also brings up a very important point in this new world of online influencers like PewDiePie. As VR gains more traction, there will be streamers who want to show what certain VR games play like. “They want to show this content and they want a better way to do it than having a webcam set up in the corner of a room and then slapping that footage on top of a game footage,” Schwartz notes. “We’ll look back and laugh at how bad it was to show people Let’s Plays of VR content. We’re hoping that from a streamer ecosystem play, [our MR tech] will help make it much, much simpler.

“[So] from a developer standpoint, I’m just making a cool game, I don’t want to build some crazy mixed reality tech just to show it. It should somehow be available to them. And from a consumer standpoint, I think the end result is, ‘Ok, cool, I get to see more representative VR that really shows why it’s great rather than being some kind of confusing mess of visuals.'”

With Owlchemy dabbling in MR tech, and given that MR or AR headsets are on the horizon for Windows 10 and Project Scorpio, you might assume that Schwartz is eager to dive into the AR world next. Not so, he says. In fact, while Schwartz sees a nearly endless array of possibilities for the medium of VR, AR faces both a creative and technological challenge that won’t be solved in the near future, he believes.

“First off, I think quality AR that anyone will really want to use in a normal setting is much farther away in years than people are predicting. I think, basically, VR is giving us a ton of lessons learned about how people interact, about how people move within a world, and it’s so much easier because you can blank out the background,” Schwartz says.

“AR is with the black part of VR background removed and now you have to track every part of the real world around you in real-time with a fully self-contained headset that has to get spatial learning. We’re just not there yet [considering] the frame rate with all the heat and power problems trying to do AR. I don’t think we’re even close. So, at Owlchemy, we think that reasonable AR is over five years away.”

Schwartz also notes that Microsoft and others are confusing the lexicon. “Microsoft’s using ‘mixed reality’ as just a term that means upgraded AR because AR kind of had a bad run in the early days where people think using AR is using a cellphone and pointing it at a QR code to make some advertisement of an Audi car appear on your living room table,” he says.

Creatively, Schwartz doesn’t think people have many visions for AR aside from maps navigation or LinkedIn-style profiles appearing over people’s heads.

“When I show people good VR, there’s like 10, 20, 50 ideas of amazing things that could be built or industries that could be changed… AR just seems to be more of a blue ocean of possibility where people don’t really even know what will be the form factor, the types of apps you would need or want,” he continues. “It just is a lot more of, like, promises without great execution yet. We get pitched on a lot of hardware and we try a lot of controllers and input and headsets and new stuff. So we try to remain healthily skeptical until we’ve tried a great demo of something that really proves to us that, like, ‘Wow, this is really going to change something.’ HoloLens is the closest thing and the tracking was pretty good but it’s not something that would immerse you. It’s more of an informational overlay in a small FOV. And there’s a lot of challenges with tripling that FOV.”

On the VR side, what gets Schwartz excited is thinking about where headsets go next. Almost everyone would agree that untethered is the next major step, and while some would argue that mobile could evolve to provide proper VR with positional tracking, Schwartz sees self-contained standalone units as the future.

“We don’t think that the slot-in phone in your pocket, even though it’s an $800 phone probably, with a high-end GPU and a high-end CPU and a camera and an accelerometer and all that… We don’t think that’s going to be the path. There’s a whole bunch of people who are going into a third form factor: standalone,” he says.

“The problem is that if you’re going to do inside-out tracking with a camera on your phone, the camera was built to take photos of your family and your cat. It’s not tuned or built for the type of absurdly low latency direct-to-hardware type of tracking that’s needed. With the Gear, you saw that over time they’re using less and less of the hardware in the phone and putting more and more of the sensors into the headset, so if you imagine that continuing onwards, there’s no phone, all the components are built specifically for VR, and it’s a thing you go out and buy in one shot that has a battery and a processor it in and you just put it on your head and you go and you play or experience whatever it is you’re going to do.”

And it’s at that point, Schwartz believes, that we’ll finally see a true explosion in the VR market. “I think that’s when we’re going to start seeing numbers that are 10x or 100x the adoption as where we are today. That’s our prediction of how the form factor war will play out over the next couple of years.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

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

May 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

nVidia Shows Off GameWorks Technology

May 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nvidia has revealed a few more details about its GameWorks Flow technology, which should provide fluid effects for realistic combustible fluid, fire and smoke simulation.

Following in the footsteps of Nvidia Turbulence and FlameWorks technologies, the new GameWorks Flow library provides both DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 implementations and can run on any recent DirectX 11- and DirectX 12-capable GPUs.

The GameWorks Flow uses an adaptive sparse voxel grid which should provide both maximum flexibility as well as the least memory impact. It is also optimized for use of Volume Tiled Resources, which allows volume textures to be used as three-dimensional tiled resources.

Nvidia has released a neat simulation video of the GameWorks Flow implementation in DirectX 12, which shows the fire and the combustion process with an adaptive sparse voxel grid used in both the fire and to compute self-shadowing on the smoke, increasing both the realism and visual effects.

Hopefully, game developers will manage to implement Nvidia’s GameWorks Flow without a significant impact on the performance.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The AAA Game Model Sustainable?

April 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The AAA model in increasingly developing into a market in which only the biggest companies can survive – and even then the design of these titles will become more stagnant.

That’s according to Boss Key Productions founder and Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski. Speaking to attendees at Reboot Develop today, the veteran games developer discussed the “really, really weird spot” blockbuster games have found themselves in, and pondered potential solutions.

“AAA is starting to feel like the American restaurant scene,” he said, referring to how increasing globalisation means every major city usually has the exact same chains and franchises when you’re looking for a place to eat. “They’re not bad, they’re not great, they’re just there.”

It’s the same with AAA, which he says has become a “category of eight games that are getting repeated over and over again”. He brought up a slide depicting best-sellers such as Uncharted 4 and the Call of Duty games, stressing that these are “great games” but cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and market.

He added that it doesn’t help most consumers view many blockbuster franchises as “the name you know” and are “too scared to take the risk on new IP”.

“$60 is still a lot of money to ask people for,” he said. “And to ask them to make that bet multiple times per year? Gamers are picky, they’re smart.

“This is a nearly unsustainable model, unless you’re an Activision, 2K or a Sony.”

His advice to developers still looking to make their mark is to aim for what he referred to as “Double A”, which he considers to be “games that look and play great but pick their battles in terms of budget and marketing”. Examples he offered included Warframe, Rocket League and Rust, with Bleszinski noting that most successful ‘Double A’ games are digital and/or free-to-play.

In terms of finding funding for such games, he pointed out that “there’s a lot of money in Asia” – his own studio, Boss Key Productions, has partnered with Nexon for its debut game, LawBreakers. This title is also designed to be ‘Double A’, and won’t have a full $60 price tag.

Bleszinski also warned that developers only have one shot to make a new IP, referring to the team at Raven Software: “They made a great game in Singularity, but it ultimately didn’t do well because of the marketing, even though the ratings were great. And now they’re one of the multi-headed hydras behind the Call of Duty series.”

He recognised that the collaborative model used to create titles like Call of Duty and many Ubisoft games, combining the efforts of teams from around the world, is effective but not one he’d ever want to be a part of.

His talk later branched into virtual reality, which he likened to lucid dreaming – something he has apparently spent years trying to master. In fact, VR has helped him hone this elusive skill: “I’m a better lucid dreamer when I wear a sleep mask because I think I’m wearing a headset.”

He stressed that high-quality graphics are the key to immersion in VR, adding that “the best VR looking experiences I’ve had are built in Unreal Engine 4”.

“I’ve not paid to say that by my former employers,” he laughed. “Unity is a good engine but when it comes down to it, you can’t beat Unreal for visual fidelity.”

The issue, as he puts it, is great graphics cost money. Bleszinski is currently pitching a VR project but struggling to get the investment required to make the finished product look as good as it needs to. He observed that shareholders are “only giving out a little money”, which is why the industry is seeing a lot of tech demos coming from the VR space.

He also likened the current trend of wave-based shooting games – such as Raw Data and Robo Recall – as the equivalent of ’80s arcade games such as Galaga and Robotron, adding that he’s confident VR will expand beyond this just as the arcades did.

Bleszinski acknowledged that there are plenty of barriers to overcome before virtual reality is adopted by the masses. Complicated setups, especially for room-scale VR, are particularly off-putting. He referred to his parents that didn’t even set the clock on their VCR – they just wired it into the TV and plugged it in – adding: “Why would they set up VR?”

He continued: “If I were Oculus, Facebook or Vive, I would have kiosks at every major retail location, and a tech team that comes round to set it all up properly”.

“But like all technologies, it’s get better, it’ll get faster. But give it a little bit of time.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Blizzard Entertainment Wins Cheating Lawsuit

April 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

The Witcher Franchise Goes 25 Million Units

April 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt continues to pay off for CD Projekt. The Polish publisher today reported its financial results for calendar year 2016, and the hit 2015 role-playing game loomed large over another successful campaign for the company.

CD Projekt said its revenues “continued to be dominated by ongoing strong sales” of The Witcher 3 and its two expansions. While the base game and its first expansion debuted in 2015, the second and final expansion pack, Blood and Wine, arrived last May and helped drive revenues of 583.9 million PLN ($148.37 million). That was down almost 27 percent year-over-year, but still well beyond the company’s sales figures prior to 2015. Net profits were likewise down almost 27%, with the company posting a bottom line gain of 250.5 million PLN ($63.65 million).

The company also announced a new milestone for the Witcher franchise, saying the three games have now cumulatively topped 25 millions copies sold, a number that doesn’t include The Witcher 3 expansions packs. That suggests 2016 saw roughly 5 million copies sold over the 20 million reported in CD Projekt’s 2015 year-end financials.

Even if this year saw overall sales take a dip for CD Projekt, its GOG.com online retail storefront still managed to post its best year ever. The company reported GOG.com revenues of 133.5 million PLN ($33.92 million), up 15% year-over-year.

CD Projekt is currently testing its Gwent free-to-play card game in closed beta, and intends to open it up to the public this spring. It is also working on its next AAA game, Cyberpunk 2077, thought it has no release date as yet.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can Violence In A Game Promote Safety?

March 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

When the original Doom was released in 1993, its unprecedentedly realistic graphic violence fueled a moral panic among parents and educators. Over time, the game’s sprite-based gore has lost a bit of its impact, and that previous sentence likely sounds absurd.

Given what games have depicted in the nearly quarter century since Doom, that level of violence no longer shocking so much as it is quaint, perhaps even endearing. So when it came time for id Software to reboot the series with last year’s critically acclaimed remake of Doom, one of the things the studio had to consider was exactly how violent it should be, and to what end.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at the Game Developers Conference last month, the Doom reboot’s executive producer and game director Marty Stratton and creative director Hugo Martin acknowledged that the context of the first Doom’s violence had changed greatly over the years. And while the original’s violence may have been seen as horrific and shocking, they wanted the reboot to skew closer to cartoonishly entertaining or, as they put it, less Saw and more Evil Dead 2.

“We were going for smiles, not shrieks,” Martin said, adding, “What we found with violence is that more actually makes it safer, I guess, or just more acceptable. It pushes it more into the fun zone. Because if it’s a slow trickle of blood out of a slit wrist, that’s Saw. That’s a little bit unsettling, and sort of a different type of horror. If it’s a comical fountain of Hawaiian Punch-looking blood out of someone’s head that you just shot off, that’s comic book. That’s cartoonish, and that’s what we wanted.”

“They’re demons,” Stratton said. “We don’t kill a single human in all of Doom. No cursing, no nudity. No killing of humans. We’re actually a pretty tame game when you think about it. I’ve played a lot of games where you just slaughter massive amounts of human beings. I think if we had to make some of the decisions we make about violence and the animations we do and if we were doing them to humans, we would have completely different attitudes when we go into those discussions. It’s fun to sit down in a meeting and think about all the ways it would be cool to rip apart a pinky demon or an imp. But if we had the same discussions about, ‘How am I going to rip this person in half?’ or rip his arm off and beat him over the head with it, it takes on a different connotation that I don’t know would be as fun.”

That balancing act between horror and comedy paid off for the reboot, but it was by no means the only line last year’s Doom had to straddle. There was also the question of what a modern Doom game would look like. The first two Doom games were fast-paced shooters, while the third was a much slower horror-tinged game where players had to choose between holding a gun or a flashlight at the ready. Neither really fit into the recent mold of AAA shooters, and the developers knew different people would have very different expectations for a Doom game in 2016.

As Stratton explained, “At that point, we went to, ‘What do we want? What do we think a Doom game should be moving forward?’As much as we always consider how the audience is going to react to the game–what they’re thinking, and what we think they want–back in the very beginning, it was, ‘What do we think Doom should be, and what elements of the game do we want to build the future of Doom on?’ And that’s really where we came back to Doom 1, Doom II, the action, the tone, the attitude, the personality, the character, the irreverence of it… those were all key words that we threw up on the board in those early days. And then mechanically, it was about the speed. It was about unbelievable guns, crazy demons, really being very honest about the fact that it was Doom. It was unapologetic early on, and we built from there.”

It helped that they had a recent example of how not to bring Doom into the current generation. Prior to the Doom reboot, id Software had been working on Doom 4, which Stratton said was a good game, but just didn’t feel like Doom. For one, it cast players as a member of a resistance army rather than a one-marine wrecking crew. It was also slower from a gameplay perspective, utilizing a cover-based system shared by numerous modern shooters designed to make the player feel vulnerable.

“None of us thought that the word ‘vulnerable’ belonged in a proper Doom game,” Martin said. “You should be the scariest thing in the level.”

Doom 4 wasn’t a complete write-off, however. The reboot’s glory kill system of over-the-top executions actually grew out of a Doom 4 feature, although Stratton said they made it “faster and snappier.”

Of course, not everything worked as well. At one point the team tried giving players a voice in their ears to help guide them through the game, a pretty standard first-person shooter device along the lines of Halo’s Cortana. Stratton said while the device works well for other franchises, it just didn’t feel right for Doom, so it was quickly scrapped.

“We didn’t force anything,” Stratton said. “If something didn’t feel like Doom, we got rid of it and tried something that would feel like Doom.”

That approach paid off well for the game’s single-player mode, but Stratton and Martin suggested they weren’t quite as thrilled with multiplayer. Both are proud of the multiplayer (which continues to be worked on) and confident they delivered a high quality experience with it, but they each had their misgivings about it. Stratton said if he could change one thing, it would have been to re-do the multiplayer progression system and give more enticing or better placed “hooks” to keep players coming back for game after game. Martin wished the team had messaged what the multiplayer would be a little more clearly, saying too many expected a pure arena shooter along the lines of Quake 3 Arena, when that was never the development team’s intent.

Those issues aside, it’s clear the pair feel the new wrinkles and changes they made to the classic Doom formula paid off more often than not.

“Lots worked,” Stratton said. “That’s probably the biggest point of pride for us. The game really connected with people. We always said we wanted to make something that was familiar to long-time fans, felt like Doom from a gameplay perspective and from a style and tone and attitude perspective. And I think we really accomplished that at a high level. And I think we made some new fans, which is always what you’re trying to do when you have a game that’s only had a few releases over the course of 25 years… You’re looking to bring new people into the genre, or into the brand, and I think we did that.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can Microsoft Make Game Pass Profitable?

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Can Washington D.C. Become The Center Of eSports?

March 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Washington D.C. intends to become the home of eSports in the United States, with a strategy that includes sponsorship of the NRG Esports team and the construction of a $65 million stadium.

The city’s plans, which were revealed to Mashable, will be executed by Events D.C., the District of Columbia’s convention and sports authority. The deal with NRG Esports is among the first instances of a city sponsoring a pro gaming organisation, and Washington D.C. will now have its logo and branding on NRG teams’ uniforms, livestreams and websites.

NRG, which has teams competing in Overwatch, Counter-Strike: GO, Hearthstone and Rocket League, has roots in the world of traditional sports. It was founded by Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, the co-owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and counts the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and the baseball stars Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins among its investors.

“This is just another prong in our strategic approach to continue to make D.C. a great place to live and work and play,” Events D.C. chairman Max Brown told Mashable, highlighting the number of students attending the city’s many universities.

“There are lots of younger kids who are here and are coming here every year through our universities, so we think it makes a lot of sense for us as a city to plant a flag [for eSports], and ultimately be the capital of eSports like we’re the capital of the United States.”

There are other “prongs” to the city’s strategy, the most notable being the construction of a new stadium. The arena will be used by the WNBA team the Washington Mystics, as well as other events, but it is being built “with eSports in mind.”

“A $65 million 4,200-seat, state-of-the-art arena,” Brown added. “[It will] come online in late-2018, early-2019. Fully tailored and wired for esports.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Sega Acquires Crytek Black Sea Developers

March 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-GI.biz

Mass Effect: Andromeda PC Specs Revealed

March 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

EA and Bioware have released official PC system requirements for its upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda game that has gone gold and will be launching on March 21st.

According to details provided over at EA’s Origin site, those looking to play the new Mass Effect game will need at least an Intel Core i5-3570 or AMD FX-6350 CPU, 8GB of RAM and Nvidia Geforce GTX 660 2GB or AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB graphics card.

The recommended system requirements rise up to an Intel Core i7-4790 or AMD FX-8350 CPU, 16GB of RAM and either an Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB or AMD RX 480 4GB graphics card.

Both minimum and recommended system requirements include at least 55GB of storage space as well as a 64-bit version of Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 OS.

The official release for the game is set for March 21st in the US and March 23rd in Europe and it will be coming to PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Those with EA Access and Origin Access should get the game five days earlier.

Courtesy-Fud

Oculus Slashes Price Of Virtual Reality Rift Hardware

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc’s virtual reality unit Oculus slashed $200 from the total price of its flagship hardware set, looking to expand the system’s base of video game players.

The virtual reality headset Rift and the motion controllers Touch will together retail for $598, Jason Rubin, Oculus’ vice president of content, said in a statement.

Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus in 2014, believing it to be the next major computing platform. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that Oculus would spend $500 million to fund virtual reality content development.

Oculus and other virtual reality makers are struggling to make their products competitive with other gaming systems that sell for much less.

Oculus believes the lower entry price will attract consumers to virtual reality for personal computers at a faster pace, Rubin said. “This price drop was as inevitable as it is beneficial. This is how the technology business works,” he said.

A larger user base would lead to easier player matching, better communities and the ability to invest more in gaming titles, he said, calling those results “a virtuous cycle.”

Rift used to retail for $599 on its own, while Touch sold for $199.

Rival virtual reality company Vive, a unit of HTC Corp, said it would not match Oculus on price and would not change its “strategy of delivering the best and most comprehensive VR product.” Its system is listed at $799 on its website.

“We don’t feel the need to cut the price of Vive, as we’ve had incredible success, and continue to see great momentum in market,” Vive spokesman Patrick Seybold said in a statement.

Sony Corp joined the race for virtual reality dominance in October with a $399 headset, the PlayStation VR, which was the company’s first major product launch since it emerged from years of restructuring.

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