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Do Video Games Help Critical Thinking

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

At the Develop conference in Brighton this week, the team behind a new charitable foundation called The Near Future Society asked developers to embrace games as a tool for critical thinking; an antidote to a cultural landscape in which “fake news, bias and extremism” are increasingly powerful forces.

The Near Future Society was initially conceived by Oliver Lewis, a former diplomat and the current VP of corporate development at Improbable. Lewis was joined onstage by Nick Button-Brown, the COO of Sensible Object and one of Improbable advisers, who became intrigued by The Near Future Society’s belief in the positive influence games could have on society.

“We wondered whether games can develop critical thinking, and help us understand how to think about moral reasoning,” Lewis said. “We started having this conversation, and we decided that it’s much more complicated than ‘can they?’, and that perhaps they already do.”

“People are becoming more extreme. The center ground is disappearing. It has now become okay to ignore opposing viewpoints, it has now become okay to shout them down”

The Near Future Society’s first meeting took place before GDC this year, on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles. “The idea was to get together government, technology, education and entertainment people to talk about how to address the problems of the world,” Button-Brown said. “When we met the government people, the thing they were most worried about was fake news, and the impact fake news has on people’s opinions.

“People are not questioning. We see it, and we see it in our own lives as well. People are becoming more extreme. The centre ground is disappearing. It has now become okay to ignore opposing viewpoints, it has now become okay to shout them down.”

One of the distinctive qualities of games as a medium is the ability to empower players to make choices, and to show the consequences of those choices. Lewis and Button-Brown cited some well known examples of this technique: the admittedly “simplistic” moral split in a game like Knights of the Old Republic, the “Would you kindly?” reveal in Bioshock, and the creeping realization of The Brotherhood of Steel’s true nature in Fallout 4.

“Having spent a lot of time with the UK and the US military, I have an affinity for this group,” Lewis said, referring to his experiences embedded with the military in Afghanistan. “[The Brotherhood of Steel] have some really cool kit. But the more you interact with this group it starts to get a little uneasy, then you start to realize that they’re a little bit fascist.”

Games afford players the freedom to arrive at such realisations, encouraging a degree of critical thinking absent in linear media. This power, Lewis argued, gives developers a responsibility to carefully consider how they present difficult subject matter to the world. Call of Duty, for example, depicts “a type of warfare that’s unrecognizable to the modern Western soldier,” one where the Geneva Convention and “the reality of the law of armed conflict” are not strictly observed.

“If you go into a mission and your objective is to kill the enemy, you are murdering wounded and potentially surrendering soldiers. That is illegal,” he said. “You are potentially using a flamethrower as a weapon. That is illegal. You are told to destroy civilian property and religious buildings. That is illegal. To some extent you’re also committing war crimes.

“A lot of game depictions of war are not accurate emotionally, are not accurate operationally, even if they’re accurate visually. And as we get towards ever more immersive experiences we have a responsibility to represent that moral reasoning.”

“A lot of game depictions of war are not accurate emotionally, are not accurate operationally, even if they’re accurate visually”

However, while there are examples of games that don’t take that responsibility seriously, The Near Future Society was mainly inspired by the games that already do.

“There are just so many games where, fundamentally, we teach players to think analytically,” Button-Brown said. “We teach them to question their environment, and to expect that the people that are talking to them are not necessarily telling the truth all the time. That’s what we do in our stories. We’re already doing it, and we’re actually quite good at it.”

“In the earlier part [of the talk], we deliberately held up some of the areas where we could do better,” Lewis added. “But only as foreground to say that the games industry writ large is already doing so much good in terms of encouraging critical thinking, and encouraging moral reasoning.”

Button-Brown discussed State of Decay and EVE Online as examples of games that use persistence to encourage players to think about the consequences of their decisions. In the case of the former, when one of your companions dies there is no option to restart or bring them back. “I then had to start making decisions about which of my companions I could sacrifice,” he said. “That’s uncomfortable, even in a virtual world.”

Lucas Pope’s Papers Please, which puts the player in the role of a border guard in a fictional country, was also singled out for praise. “It teaches people that there’s a grey area,” Button-Brown said. “Good decisions in Papers Please can end up with bad outcomes. You’re teaching moral action, and also connecting that to the consequences.”

Lewis discussed 11 bit Studios’ This War of Mine as a kind of counterpoint to games like Call of Duty, in the way that it depicts the experience of the people who suffer the most as a result of conflict. “It induces empathy with the displaced person, the people left behind after war,” he said. “Ordinary, normal people who have to try and eke out an existence; to survive and protect the people that we fought for.”

“There’s a decent chance we’re going to have much more influence as an industry over people’s morals”

Lewis and Button-Brown aren’t the only people to have noticed the potential for games to explore difficult subject matter. Last year, 11 bit Studios launched a publishing division with a stated aim of drawing attention to “meaningful games” like This War of Mine and Papers Please. “There are a lot of players who want those experiences,” publishing director Pawel Feldman told GamesIndustry.biz. “We know how to talk about these games. All we need are talented developers.”

The Near Future Society has a similar goal, albeit as a charitable organisation rather than a commercial one. Lewis expressed his belief that “social and political taboos” are ideally suited to games as a medium because, through play, “people are much more likely to engage with them.” An open brainstorming session at the end of the talk proved that developers are eager to explore this new territory; the Near Future Society will attempt to serve as a conduit between interested studios and bodies that might fund and support their work.

“One of the partners that we’re going for is the Roddenberry Foundation,” Lewis said, referring to the organization established by the son of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. “We want many of the early projects that we do support to be deliberately utopian. If you want a living wage and [universal basic income], then let’s use popular culture to explore that, rather than just having a declaration from Mark Zuckerberg.”

Both Lewis and Button-Brown acknowledged that the games industry has a “left-wing bias”, and they were very clear that the goal of the Near Future Society is not to tell people how to think. “In the forum in Los Angeles, one of the greatest concerns of the US and UK government that came along…was that this would be propaganda,” Lewis said. “What we had to make very clear is that any projects that we do, we’ll be very open on who the collaborators are, and indeed what any overt political message is going to be.

“You could say that, within this broad idea of making games more political, you have to state what the politics are rather than hide it with subterfuge.”

Button-Brown added that simply reflecting the bias of any given side of an issue would could be “dangerous”, and it would also ignore the unique strength that games have to allow the player to explore ideas from multiple angles, and make their own choices. “That’s why we ended up at teaching critical thinking,” he said, “rather than ‘Get Trump out’.”

“Games are already the most accessible, arguably the most effective, and the largest provider of moral reasoning and critical thinking education in the world,” Lewis said. “Almost without realizing it, that’s one of the things that you’re providing to the global community.”

Understanding and embracing that idea will only become more important over time, Button-Brown said. “There’s a decent chance we’re going to have much more influence as an industry over people’s morals. We’re going to have much more influence over the way that they think. As people become more immersed in these worlds, it’s going to matter more.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Video Game Development Going Truly Global?

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The international video games industry owes a considerable amount to the efforts of immigrants from countries like Syria.

Companies like AdMob – founded by Syrian Entrepreneur Omar Hamoui, and later acquired by Google for $750 million – have helped reshape the conventions of game publishing as we know it. Steve Jobs’ own biological father was a Syrian emigrant to the states. On taking that journey, Abdulfattah ‘John’ Jandali unknowingly set events in motion that would lead to Apple’s reinvention of how we play, make and distribute games.

Beyond games there are numerous other examples of Syrian people who have helped better the world through technology, empowered to do so through freedom of travel. People like Sirin Hamsho, a Hama-born engineer who today resides in the United States, and has helped revolutionise renewable energy through her work with wind turbines.

Technology is, of course, progressed by collaboration, and cooperation happens most readily when people can get together. It’s the reason travelling to other countries – be it for a single meeting or a new life – is so often the catalyst for technological change. That’s why most in the games industry go to conferences all over the world; it’s a chance to understand distinct approaches, secure contacts, form alliances and spark collaboration.

When Trump’s long-promised travel ban became a rather chaotic reality, numerous games makers suddenly found their potential severely jeopardised. Suddenly, every US games conference was off the radar of hundreds of developers. No GDC, no E3, no nothing. Studios needing to take a couple of days to attend a meeting with a US publisher had the rug pulled from beneath their feet. Chances to meet new staff and find new partners were thrown into disarray.

That inspired Unity Technologies to conceive the ‘Unity Without Borders’ initiative, which sought to bring 50 developers to the Unite Europe conference in Amsterdam last month. After a selection process, Unity would handle and cover travel, accommodation, visas and anything else needed to afford games makers limited by Trump’s ban to engage with the free exchange of ideas that is the founding spirit of almost any game convention.

Meeting the developers brought to Unite as part of Without Borders, it is clear they greatly appreciate the opportunity. That, perhaps, should be obvious, but there is a sense on the show floor that the effort is about more than one middleware-specific company conference.

Ziad MollaMahmud is a man with many skills. By day he is a .NET developer for web applications, while also doing 3D modelling work in the architectural space. A Syrian based in Turkey, he has in recent years embraced game development, acquiring a taste for AR, which he has explored through modest projects of his own conception.

“This is a very, very good opportunity for me,” MollaMahmud says of his success in visiting Unite Europe as part of Without Borders. “It’s a breaking point in my life, where I can move to a better position and change my way of thinking about the future. I believe coming here will have a very good effect over me and my future.”

That’s not to say MollaMahmud is new to being overseas for his career. He estimates that he has visited some 13 countries during his 20-year career, but with the outbreak of Syria’s civil war – and long before the impact of Trump’s presidency – the ambitious developer started to realise global politics would limit his professional potential.

“It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard”

“After the Syrian war started a lot of Middle Eastern countries placed travel bans on Syrians, just because of their nationality,” he says. “I was travelling before – without any visa – but after the war they all started to do these travel bans, and I couldn’t travel to the Middle East. It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard.”

Those restrictions – whatever their source or motivation – continue today, and in many other ways that also prevent developers from collaborating. Many Iranian and Syrian studios keen to apply for Without Borders were faced with limitations on web access that impeded their submissions for the initiative. There’s a logic to the internet making face-to-face meetings less relevant today, but when the web you can access is restricted presence at real-world events is all the more important. And that was, Unity says, what inspired the Without Borders initiative.

“In some of their communities – especially in countries like Iran and Syria, where they can’t move around as much – they don’t have a lot of access to a lot of game developers or creators,” says Elizabeth Brown, Chief People Officer at Unity, who has been pivotal in implementing Without Borders. “Coming to a conference not only fuels inspiration, but establishes skill sets, sparks ideas and builds networks. They don’t always have access to a local game development community, so they rely on international conferences to feed them and develop their creations and businesses. When they are limited from going to those conferences, they are super limited. That’s as creators, but also as business owners. Some of them are making their living by making games.”

For Brown, this isn’t just a matter of providing those with a passion for games an exciting opportunity; it is about helping developers put food on their tables. Often, that is incredibly limited for a developer restricted to just their home country, market and development community.

“We don’t have anything like this in Iran,” explains Amin Shahidi, as he glances around the main expo hall of Unite Europe, smiling. Shahidi is team lead, animator and game designer at the Tehran-based studio Black Cube Games, and he’s at Unite thanks to Without Borders. “We don’t have these kind of networks,” he continues. “So in Iran, all the movement of developers is very limited, or even blind. So this kind of event – and the moment of being here – is very, very cool and very, very helpful.”

“It shows us that people actually care about us,” adds Ali Boroumand, a game developer at Dutch studio Ferox Games, and a former colleague of Shahidi’s. “We’re all humans, and we’re all pretty much the same people. So it’s very heart warming to think that, even in hard times, people see game developers as game developers. We’re all game developers, and it doesn’t really matter where we come from. We’re all trying to make good games.

“But before this, we had to rule out contributing to any conferences or studios inside the United States. We couldn’t contribute to anything there, and that’s probably a loss on both sides. And beyond the travel ban, there are quite a few other United States restrictions, mostly on money. Selling games outside of Iran is hard for us.”

Boroumand makes a very important point with regard to what Iranian developers have to offer the rest of the global games development community. Restricting developers’ opportunity to travel doesn’t only harm the game industry in their home countries; it equally detracts from the nations they would otherwise be visiting. Collaborating is at least a two-way process, and the learning, inspiration and innovation it engenders rarely passes only in a single direction.

“Syria, like anywhere, has talented people who can bring a lot of things to games development and all technology,” suggests MollaMahmud. “But we need a chance to open the window and say ‘we are here, you can do things for us, and we can do things for you’. We just need a chance to elevate ourselves and do something not just for ourselves, but for all those that make games. We can help your games when we can travel to you freely.”

Equally, there’s an obvious creative opportunity for any studio looking to bring distinct aesthetics and approaches to the global market.

“Iran has quite a long history,” says Boroumand, who is presently based in Sheffield. “The Persian empires have been around for a few thousand years, so Iranian art and Iranian culture is pretty rich in that respect. Games of Iranian art and Iranian influence can bring something to the rest of the world, definitely; something that isn’t often seen.”

There’s an irony to all this, of course. Trump’s travel ban has afforded the Unity Without Borders teams an opportunity to visit a conference they may never have seen had the US President not targeted the various nations blacklisted. For MollaMahmud, however, the irony of opportunity born from limitations runs a little deeper. Buoyed by his experience of attending Unite, he can be remarkably optimistic about a situation that had s dramatic impact on his life.

He believes the horrific Syrian war, which broke out just a couple of years after he returned to live in the country, offers an ultimate example of the potential opportunity hardship can bring game developers.

“After the war is finished – and I hope that is soon – I believe there will be a very good opportunity in Syria for all kinds of business, including game development and software in general,” he considers. “The war will leave a country that will have to start from scratch. Now there are millions of Syrian refugees outside of Syria. It’s really bad to be a refugee, and I believe a lot of refugees are ready to seize the opportunity – having learned many new things – of heading back to Syria.”

Forced displacement is no better than placing mandatory travel restrictions, of course, but in a strange, counter-intuitive way, migration from conflict could represent what freedom to travel can bring in terms of advantages.

“The war, I hope, will finish soon,” MollaMahmud repeats firmly. “Then a lot of people will come back to Syria, and help build our country from scratch. I always say that Germany after the second world war, for example, started from scratch, and they have built a very good, very beautiful, respected country. Then more of us can make successful games.”

MollaMahmud isn’t suggesting that the development of a healthy national games industry justifies a war; not at all. For one, there are more important things than the games industry to consider when a country emerges from conflict. But if Syrians can pool the experience gained through their peoples’ diaspora and establish a game industry to rival Germany’s, it would contribute a great deal to that renewal and rebuilding.

Movement of people can push technology like little else, for the benefit of everyone involved, regardless of their home or country of origin; Apple and AdMob are proof of that. War will likely exist forever, but its horror doesn’t preclude it from being used to inspire positive movements large and small.

Nobody is calling for the forced displacement of people for the benefit of the game industry, of course. But based on the enthusiasm and appetite for learning of every Without Borders developer at Unite Europe, it’s apparent that supporting thoughtful freedom to travel benefits us all.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Spotify Inks Licensing Deal With Sony Music

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Spotify has pulled together a licensing deal with a second major label, Sony Music Entertainment, according to media reports, setting the stage for a U.S. stock market listing by the music streaming leader.

Recently valued at $13 billion, Sweden’s Spotify is planning a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange later this year or in early 2018, sources told Reuters in May.

Sony agreed to reduce royalties that Spotify must pay in return for the streaming service restricting new albums to paying subscribers for two weeks before offering access to free users, the Financial Times reported, citing a single source.

Sony’s top artists include Adele, Beyonce and Shakira.

Spotify is also in talks with Warner Music Group , Billboard reported.

Favorable royalty terms are crucial for Spotify to attain profitability and to make it a viable long-term holding for investors.

The company reported a 349 million euro ($400 million) operating loss, a 47 percent increase on a year earlier, even as revenue grew 50 percent to 2.93 billion euros.

In April, it signed a multi-year licensing deal with Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, with a similar two-week release window for new albums and a break on the royalties Spotify pays Universal.

It also signed up digital agency Merlin, on behalf of more than 20,000 independent labels.

Last year, Universal held a 28.9 percent share of global music label revenue, Sony Music generated 22.4 percent and Warner 17.4 percent. Independent labels made up the remaining 31.3 percent, MIDiA Research data showed.

Spotify has fended off competition from rival Apple Music, with nearly double the number of paying subscribers.

In March, Spotify said it had more than 50 million paying subscribers and 140 million active users, including free listeners. Apple reported 27 million music subscribers last month, up from 20 million in December.

The company has faced boycotts from some top music artists who have complained its free services undercut the value of their work but the major label licensing deals have gone some way toward easing these tensions, according to analysts.

Spotify declined to comment. Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group did not respond to requests for immediate comment.

Is The Gaming Industry Going Through A Nostalgic Summer

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

I had been repeating that this summer for games offers little outside of some decent Nintendo titles.

“You keep forgetting Crash Bandicoot,” said my retail friend.

I laughed. “Sure, it’s a nice piece of nostalgia,” I reasoned. “But it’s hardly going to set the market alight.”

“Pre-orders are brilliant,” came the reply. “We’ve upped our order twice. I think it’s going to be the biggest game of the summer.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve written extensively about the marketplace’s current love of nostalgia, and that trend only seems to be accelerating. In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen the news that original Xbox games are coming to Xbox One, the reveal of the Sega Forever range of classics for smartphones, and now the best-selling SNES Mini.

The trend isn’t new. Classic re-releases have been standard for over a decade. However, the recent surge in nostalgia can be traced back to the onset of Kickstarter and the indie movement, which brought with it a deluge of fan-pleasing sequels, remakes and spiritual successors.

The trend reached the mainstream around the 20th anniversary of PlayStation, with Sony tapping into that latent love for all things PS1. And today, nostalgia is a significant trend in video games. Look at this year’s line-up: Sonic Mania, Yooka-Laylee, Super Bomberman, Wipeout, Crash Bandicoot, Thimbleweed Park, Micro Machines, Metroid II… even Tekken, Mario Kart and Resident Evil have found their way to the top of the charts (even if they never really went away).

It’s not just software, either. Accessories firms, hardware manufacturers and merchandise makers are all getting in on the act. I even picked up a magazine last week (on the shelves of my local newsagent) dedicated to the N64. This is the industry we live in.

Nostalgia has manifested itself in several different ways. We’ve seen re-releases (Xbox Originals, Sega Forever, NES Mini, Rare Replay), we’ve seen full remakes and updates (Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil 2), plus sequels and continuations (Elite Dangerous, Shenmue 3). We’ve seen a plethora of spiritual successors (Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained, Thimbleweed Park) and we have also witnessed old-fashioned game elements re-introduced into modern titles (split-screen multiplayer, for instance).

It’s not just games. We’ve recently seen nostalgia-tinged TV such as Twin Peaks, Stranger Things and X-Files, plus the cinematic return of Ghostbusters, Baywatch, and Jurassic Park. Yet this trend isn’t so new for film and TV (or music, either). And that’s because they’re older mediums. The demand for nostalgia tends to come from those aged 30 or above, and with video games being such a young industry, we’re only starting to see the manifestation of this now.

It’s perhaps also more significant in games because of just how different the experiences of the 1990s are to what we have today. In terms of tech, visuals, genre and connectivity, video games have moved so quickly. We simply don’t get many games like Crash Bandicoot or Wipeout anymore, which makes the demand for them even more acute.

Can it last forever? Or is this destined to be another gaming gold mine that gets picked to death? It’s difficult to say. Nostalgia isn’t like MMOs or futuristic shooters. This isn’t a genre, but an emotion ‘sentimental longing for a period in the past’. In theory, the clamour for old games and genres should get broader. In ten years’ time, those brought up on a diet of DS and Wii will be approaching 30. They’ll be reminiscing of the times they spent on Wii Sports and Viva Pinata. And the nostalgia wheel turns again.

Nevertheless, what we’re starting to see now is changing expectations of consumers. No longer are they pandering to every Kickstarter that promises to resurrect a long lost concept (sorry Project Rap Rabbit), and they will not tolerate a nostalgic releases that fails to deliver (sorry Mighty No.9). Lazy ports or half-hearted efforts will not win you any fans. If you want good examples of how to do it, look at Nintendo with the inclusion of Star Fox 2 in the SNES Mini, or the documentaries hidden in Rare Replay, or the special PS1-style case that Sony created for the new Wipeout. This is the games industry and the same rules apply. You cannot get away with rubbish.

Of course, big companies can’t live off nostalgia alone. Nintendo can’t build a business from just re-selling us Super Mario World (even if it seems to try sometimes). These moments of retro glory can often be fleeting. Will a new lick of paint on Crash Bandicoot revitalise the brand and deliver it back to the mainstream? It’s not impossible, but unlikely. More often than not you see a brief surge in gamers reminiscing over a time gone by, and then the IP drifts back to the era from which it was plucked. Musical comebacks are often short-lived and movie remakes are, typically, poorly received.

Yet there are exceptions every now and then. Major UK 1990s pop group Take That made its big comeback in 2006, but it did so with a modernised sound that has seen the band return to the top of the charts and stay there for over 10 years. In 2005, the BBC’s Doctor Who returned after 16 years. It was faster paced and far more current, and it remains a permanent fixture on Saturday night TV.

And last year’s Pokémon Go, which stayed true to the IP whilst delivering it in a new way and through new technology, has elevated that brand to the heights not seen since the late 1990s.

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar, that insists things were far better than they seemed. To be successful with it in the commercial world, you need to keep that illusion alive”

They say nostalgia is a seductive liar, that insists things were far better than they seemed. To be truly successful with it in the commercial world, you need to keep that illusion alive. You must create something that looks and sounds like it comes from a different era, but actually plays well in the modern age. And that’s true whether it’s Austin Powers or Shovel Knight.

Indeed, nostalgia isn’t always about the past, it can help take us into the future. One unique example comes in what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The company altered the traditional Zelda formula with that 3DS game, and made it more palatable to fans by dressing it in the same world as 1991’s A Link To The Past. It worked, and set the company up to take an even larger risk with its seminal Breath of the Wild.

If the SNES Mini taught us anything, the clamour for all things 1990s remains strong. For developers and publishers who were smart enough to keep hold of their code from that era, they may well reap the benefits.

However, there’s a broader market opportunity here than just cashing in on past success. There’s a chance to resurrect IP, bring back lost genres, and even rejuvenate long-standing brands in need of innovation.

It’s a chance for the games industry to take stock and look to its past before embarking on its future.

Courtesy-GI.biz

GTA V Still Riding High In England

July 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

GTA V unit sales dropped 10% this week (in terms of boxed sales), and yet the game still returned to the top of the UKIE/GfK All-Formats Charts.

It was a very poor week for games retail in general, with just 171,389 boxed games sold across the whole market. The lack of new releases is the main reason for the drop, and that’s a situation that won’t be getting any better during the course of the summer.

The only new games in the Top 40 are 505 Games’ Dead by Daylight at No.16, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood at No.23 and Ever Oasis at No.28.

Although the data shows a difficult week, there were a few positives. Dirt 4, after a disappointing first week, is showing some resilience. The Codemasters game is now at No.2, although sales did drop 49% week-on-week.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is back at No.5 with a 45% jump in sales, driven by an increase in available Switch stock, while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had a 68% sales jump (but still sits outside of the Top Ten at No.12).

And Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands returns to the Top Ten after a 31% sales boost, driven by price activity at games retail.

Elsewhere, Horizon: Zero Dawn, which was No.1 last week, has dropped down to No.8. The game had been on sale for several weeks, but now it has returned to a premium price point. Tekken 7 has dropped to No.10, while Wipeout Omega Collection, which was No.1 just three weeks ago, has now fallen to No.14.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is e3 Leaving Los Angeles

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The organizers behind the Electronic Entertainment Expo are considering taking the show away from its traditional home at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

During a roundtable interview, ESA CEO Mike Gallagher said his organisation might explore other possible locations if the center fails to upgrade and modernise its facilities, GameSpot reports.

The exec specifically hopes to see increased floor space and a smoother route between the West and South halls, currently separated by a length corridor. If these expectations are not met, E3 may be hosted in another venue – and, by extension, away from Los Angeles.

E3 2018 is already booked in for June 12th to 14th next year, once again at the convention center. The venue will also host E3 2019, but no decision has been made for 2020.

The ESA has previously attempted to hold E3 at an alternative location. In 2007, the show became the E3 Media and Business Summit and was around Santa Monica. This was part of an attempt to make it more industry focused, capping the attendance to shut out bloggers and non-industry professionals, as well as bringing the costs down for exhibitors.

However, the experiment proved to be unpopular and E3 has been held in the LA Convention Center ever since 2008.

In stark contrast to its 2007 decision, E3 officially opened its doors to the public for the first time this year, selling 15,000 tickets to consumers who wanted to attend the show.

GameSpot reports the ESA has now revealed attendance for this year’s event came in at 68,400 – boosted in part by those public tickets. The 30% increase over last year’s 50,300 brings attendance figures close to the 70,000 peak seen in 1998 and 2005, according to IGN.

The ESA has yet to confirm whether it will sell public tickets for E3 2018. Gallagher said his team is gathering feedback from attendees – both industry and consumer – before confirming how the show will be structured next year.

Courtesy-GI.bz

Will The US Video Game Industry Grow To A 28 Billion Dollar Market

June 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

According to the 18th PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2017-2021, which covers a number of major industries (not just games), the total video games revenue in the US is expected to grow at a 6.3% CAGR rate to reach more than $28.5 billion by 2021. The research firm notes that the PC games sector looks a bit rosier than consoles in the next few years in terms of growth. While total PC games revenue in the US is set to grow from $3.7bn in 2016 to $5.0bn in 2021, at a 6.6% CAGR, consoles will only grow at a 2.8% CAGR, hitting $9.4bn in 2021.

Consoles’ slowed growth “can be attributed to the increase in digital full game downloads which is mostly offset by a decline of physical console game sell-through revenue, which is set to drop by a 4.3% CAGR during the forecast period,” PwC noted. At the same time, the PC sector is seeing “healthy growth” in the online/microtransactions department – online PC revenue is expected to climb at a 7.0% CAGR to $4.2bn by 2021. PwC said that much of this can be attributed to the ongoing success of F2P, more subscription services and the rise of eSports. Digital sales on consoles are getting stronger and stronger as well, expected to grow at a 9.8% CAGR to hit $3.7bn by 2021 – but as noted above, the decline in physical is still offsetting much of this growth.

Virtual reality continues to draw lots of attention across the industry, and according to PwC, the segment should grow at an impressive 64% CAGR to reach $5bn by 2021, or roughly 17% of the entire US games business revenue total. The firm estimates that dedicated high-end VR (Rift, Vive, PSVR) should climb to an installed base of 13 million by 2021, while the overall VR headset installed base will reach 68 million. Additionally, “Portable dedicated headsets – a new category of self-contained headset that will emerge from 2017 designed exclusively to render VR experiences – will have an installed base of 5.3mn by 2021 (CAGR of 87.5%) because of their superior capabilities compared to smartphone-based devices, and ease of use,” the firm said.

While games as a technology have been the driver of VR, PwC expects VR content revenues to be driven by non-gaming experiences like VR video, which will “grow at a CAGR of 87.8% to represent 58.3% of overall content spending in 2021. It will surpass interactive experiences and games revenue…in 2019.” PwC remarked that established media like Netflix, HBO and ESPN, would play a big part in driving VR content along with major game publishers; that said, “expect smaller developers like Jaunt to get an increasing share of this content revenue as they act as the technical partners for both the big studios and non-specialist start-ups.”

The other smaller, but quickly growing segment that should boost total industry revenues in the US is, of course, eSports. PwC expects the sector to grow at a 22% CAGR to reach almost $300 million in 2021. Streaming advertising is the lion’s share of that total at $149 million, but sponsorships, voluntary consumer contributions and ticket sales all add to the pie as well.

“The US is the largest market in revenue terms, having overtaken South Korea in 2015, although the latter will stay far ahead in terms of per-capita revenue,” PwC explained. “The development of eSports has grown at a breakneck pace in the US over recent years, receiving perhaps its biggest boost into the mainstream when ESPN began covering major events on both its streaming and regular channels – most notably the August 2015 final of The International, a tournament for Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2). In September 2015 the company even advertised for an eSports general editor, in recognition of the specialist knowledge required to cover the discipline comprehensively.”

Streaming sites are still the dominant medium for eSports viewing, however. Amazon-owned Twitch is said to rank behind Netflix, Google (YouTube) and Apple in terms of peak internet traffic, PwC noted. There’s no doubt that eSports is capturing the attention of major corporations and advertisers. “Companies are moving in swiftly to sponsor both teams and events, with fast-moving consumer goods companies like Coca-Cola, Doritos and Snickers all forging a niche…

“Notably, in September 2016 the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers bought the long-time franchise Dignitas and Apex, which offers a guaranteed spot in the League of Legends circuit. For the 76ers, the purchase offers an opportunity to diversify into a market that is particularly popular with the protean 18-24-year-old market and get a named presence at eSsports tournaments, while their newly signed-up players can also live-stream and create content under their parent owner’s banner. If the space continues to grow exponentially, sports teams such as the 76ers that become early movers will have the upper hand – as well as a usefully sized stadium for hosting tournaments. Certainly signs are positive here, with the NBA in February 2017 announcing plans to create a new league based around the game NBA 2K.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

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

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

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