As the market for games has grown and diversified, it’s become increasingly important to take any headline figures you might read with a grain of salt. Every time an analyst or a research firm announces that the games business has reached such and such a size, or that monthly revenues compare thusly with previous figures, or that a certain product or company has over- or under-performed projections, their august pronouncement isn’t so much an answer as a source of more questions. What exactly are you defining as the “games business”? Which sectors have you included? How did you measure digital revenues? What about IAP? Are your figures global, regional, merely covering the increasingly unrepresentative US market or “global” for a narrow definition of “global” which means “markets we could find data for with a quick Google search, and to hell with the rest of them”? And as for projections, whose projections, arrived at through which logic and with which agenda?
In short: with a very, very few notable exceptions, most of the sector analysis and research conducted on this industry is awful. It’s under-informed, narrow and rarely exposes its methodology well enough to understand and account for its flaws. It’s also the best thing we’ve got, unfortunately, which is why sites (including this one) continue to publish this research as it becomes available, although all of it should probably carry a large flashing warning to remind readers that an infant let loose with coloured crayons and some graph paper would probably have a similar margin of error to their data.
Yet this is only when we’re talking about data about what’s going on right now. Start to project forward, into crystal-ball-gazing questions like “where will the market be in five years”, and you’re into the realms where the real nonsense starts. Models and figures are pulled out of analyst’s backsides with wild abandon. Rationales and factual grounds are nowhere to be found, but incredibly slick charts and graphs abound; it’s a little like astrology, except that rather than blathering about Saturn being in Capricorn and whatnot, analysts seek to bamboozle everyone with charts and then deeply, fervently hope that when the time period they’re predicting actually arrives nobody will remember how wrong they were.
Even so, when all of the world’s analysts start to point in the same direction – the good, the bad and the bluffing – it’s worth taking note. That’s the context in which the headline figures from research firm Newzoo’s latest report are interesting; headline figures which, in a nutshell, suggest that 2015 will be the tipping point at which revenues from mobile game software surpass revenues from console game software.
“What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens”
Newzoo, like most research firms focusing on this industry, doesn’t provide sufficient detail to back up or verify its sweeping and grandiose claims, because apparently a really pretty graph with a swish background ought to suffice. They would argue, no doubt, that all the juicy detail which would explain their peculiarly high figures is what they charge clients lots of money for, an argument which is entirely true and still leaves them in the position of peddling figures while failing to show their workings. Nevertheless, Newzoo is not alone in its prediction. It’s not even a particularly novel prediction, actually; research firms have been pointing at this tipping point for several years, although when exactly the graph lines would intersect has been a subject of some debate. With mobile growth still strong and the next-gen consoles performing excellently but remaining largely constrained within the core market (rather than seeing another Wii-style breakout success story), the lines are converging a little more evenly and the soothsayers are in accord; next year is the year.
So what happens then? Do burning stones rain from an angry sky to smash all our PlayStation 4s? Will a horde of rampant mobile gamers, driven to murderous insanity by Candy Crush Saga, rip the 3DS’ from our hands and beat us to death with them? Shall E3 be swallowed by a lake of fire, and every presentation at GDC be replaced by an ominous looping video of Zynga founder Mark Pincus laughing savagely at the audience?
Perhaps rather than stockpiling tinned foods, filling the bath with potable water and tearfully locking away your beloved RPGs and FPS games in a lead-lined safe, it might be instructive to take a look at a market where this transition has already happened. There is, you see, a place where revenues from mobile games overtook revenues from console games several years ago – as early as 2011, according to some figures, although the safe money is on 2012/13 being the tipping point. Now, in this market, mobile games are the unquestioned market leader in revenue.
The market in question is Japan, where a well-developed market for mobile gaming on existing “feature phone” devices was supercharged by the arrival of the smartphone. Now mobile game revenues have soared well clear of console games. Unlike in the 1990s, Japan’s mobile phones aren’t vastly advanced compared to those overseas – they queue up here for iPhones just like everywhere else, with Apple’s devices being by far the dominant player in the smartphone market, so it’s not that games they’re playing are technologically advanced compared to those in the west. Rather, it’s that the market itself was further down the path than the west, with a wider swathe of consumers familiar and comfortable with mobile gaming, F2P models and in-game transactions.
What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens. The softness of PS4′s sales in Japan since the stellar launch last spring has been well noted, but it’s not a meaningful indicator of an overall problem with the console market; anecdotally, I get the impression that PS4 is extremely desired but still lacks the killer apps which will actually drive Japanese gamers to go out and buy one. Indeed, the line-up of software that appeals to the local market is still weak; a few big titles will shift the needle significantly, just as Mario Kart 8 did for the Wii U (which is now back in a slump awaiting the arrival of Smash Bros; software sells hardware, as ever).
Handhelds, meanwhile, are what you’d expect to suffer most from the triumph of mobile, yet the 3DS is going gangbusters in Japan and the PS Vita is stronger in this market than anywhere else in the world. The rise of mobile to take the crown of most lucrative and expansive market hasn’t even impacted the ability of Japanese publishers to launch genuinely massive new franchises on handheld consoles; Yokai Watch may not have made it to the west yet, but if it’s half as pervasive over there once it launches, it’ll be the biggest new gaming franchise in years.
So the consoles are still pretty healthy, especially the handheld devices. They play to their strengths, for the most part; it’s notable that the biggest handheld games around at the moment, games like Smash Bros and Monster Hunter, really wouldn’t work on a mobile phone as they rely on accurate, pinpoint controls that couldn’t be replicated on a touchscreen to any degree of satisfaction. Other games that work well are those designed for long sessions of play; mobile devices still suffer badly from rapidly draining batteries when playing games, and while a dead battery in your 3DS is a little annoying, a dead battery in your mobile phone is a disaster, meaning few people are willing to put in significant play sessions in GPU-intensive mobile titles.
“If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone”
What’s actually more interesting than what’s happened to console, though, is what’s happened to mobile itself. The mobile game market in Japan is nothing short of fascinating. Ever since its meteoric growth, it’s become a hugely expansive market that caters to an enormous range of tastes and demographics, as you’d expect – but the core demographic, the heart of the market for which every company seems to be competing… Well, that’s oddly familiar, as it happens.
Every time you see a commuter train festooned with ads for a new mobile title, or a lengthy TV commercial promoting the latest smartphone release, or even the huge screens at Shibuya’s scramble crossing taken over with a video of a mobile game, they always have something in common. Their visual language, their core mechanisms and their basic appeal is absolutely in tune with core gamers. Mobile’s new position on top of the heap has opened the door to games with higher production values and more depth, aimed at the market that has always played the most and paid the most; the core.
The results aren’t always appealing; mobile games launch fast and fail fast, and that’s fine. When things do work out, though, they create some pretty amazing hits. Puzzle & Dragons, as you probably know by now, was the biggest-grossing game on any platform in 2013 (probably; analyst figures, you know?), and it’s also incredibly deep, compelling and fun. Publisher GungHo advertises the game on trains and TV over here with videos showing advanced techniques for building chain combos in the game; just consider that for a moment, a game so successful that your advertising isn’t even “here’s why this game is great”, it’s “we know you already play, here’s a tip so you can play better”, displayed on evening TV across the nation. Puzzle & Dragons is far from being Japan’s only “mobile core” hit, though. RPGs have been rapidly rising in prominence on mobile platforms, and now appear to be even more popular than the collect ‘em up titles (mostly card battlers) which dominated up until this point; the latest big title is Mistwalker-developed RPG Terra Battle, a game which I’m resigned to installing on my phone this week because literally everyone around me doesn’t talk about anything else any more.
In short, the Japanese market may be peculiar by comparison with the rest of the world, but sometimes that’s simply because it’s still a couple of years ahead of the western market in a few regards. Not in every regard; Japan is a very retrograde nation in terms of certain tech advances (it’s worth noting that streaming video services like Netflix are an absolute disaster here, and let’s not even talk about online banking), but in gaming, the market if not the technology is a little in advance of most western countries. Japan crossed the line between console-as-number-one and mobile-as-number-one a couple of years ago, and the world did not end. Console and handheld are doing fine; mobile is doing better than fine, and most excitingly of all, the new titles coming to mobile are better than ever, driven by a strong desire to get the most lucrative market in gaming, the core gamers themselves, playing. If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone – core, casual, and everyone in between.
Earlier today Unity Technologies caused quite a stir in the games industry with the announcement that former Electronic Arts chief exec John Riccitiello would be taking over the CEO job for David Helgason. While EA struggled to make shareholders happy, Unity has been seeing tremendous growth, becoming a favorite toolset for large and small publishers and especially indies. In fact, the company serves over 600,000 monthly developers. But what does Unity really have up its sleeve? Is the hiring of a notable leader like Riccitiello a sign that the company is indeed being groomed for a buyout or public offering?
“John Riccitiello’s corporate moves will rightfully inspire speculation about major changes in the companies involved and as Unity is the dominant independent development platform, what happens next could affect most developers and publishers outside of the top ten,” remarked independent analyst Billy Pidgeon. “An acquisition is very possible although Unity CTO Joachim Ante has denied this. Unity needs to be independent and available to all to retain and grow its value, so a sale to a major publisher or developer would sharply decrease the company’s revenue flow. But a buyer outside the industry could allow Unity to remain somewhat independent, although clients might be wary of doing business with Unity’s new owner.”
EEDAR’s Patrick Walker, head of insights and analytics, largely agreed with Pidgeon, commenting, “While the stature of Riccitiello as a hire and his interest in helming the Unity ship suggest that there are big plans in the works for the company, it is unlikely that these plans are focused on the short term, such as preparation for a near-term buyout. A buyout has been rumored for a while, and the Unity executive team, including founder David Helgason and CTO Joachim Ante, has been consistent in their messaging statement focusing on the company mission rather than pursuit of a buyout. More likely, Riccitiello is being brought on board to spur growth for a longer-term play, such as an eventual IPO or larger-scale buyout.”
Regardless of whether a longer-term buyout is in the cards, Riccitiello has the experience to help accelerate Unity’s growth in the next few years, most believe.
“Unity is a well-positioned company with several paths to increase growth. While game publishing is one route to spur growth, there is also an opportunity for the company to leverage the strengths, such as cross-platform flexibility, that have given it such broad penetration in the indie market to increase penetration in other development verticals,” Walker continued. “Riccitiello has an ideal background, having led major companies both inside and outside the games industry and having served on the Unity board for the past year, to drive partnerships that will help grow Unity as a major development platform across the full spectrum of publishers and developers.”
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter added, “He is certainly capable of leading them, and also well equipped to sell the company. [But] I don’t know the reason for the change.”
Perhaps one major reason for the change is to offload some of the business responsibility from Helgason who may wish to focus more on product development.
“Unity has been growing quickly for several years. The company now has over 300 employees and its technology is being used by hundreds of thousands of developers on practically every platform out there. I suspect that Dave recognized some time ago that the company had to get an experienced business manager at the helm or risk flying off the rails at some point, and that’s exactly what JR is,” observed Lewis Ward, IDC’s gaming research director.
“Some people just aren’t cut out to be CEOs of big businesses – just look at Notch. I suspect that Dave is going to be happier staying focused on the core product strategy and building relationships with studios and indie developers. From JR’s perspective, it’s a great opportunity to ride the beast that has been Unity growth over the past 3+ years. It’s a remarkable story, and I think John is probably going to enjoy the role and stepping back into an important spotlight in the industry.”
November Xbox One update, explaining that it will throw a bucketful of new features into the console.
The firm polishes the console experience on a monthly basis and this month sees it swathe the device in tweaks and social networking positives.
Whether you use the console to browse the internet, talk to people, do social networking, watch television, or even play games, you will see some sort of improvement, according to spokeschap Major Nelson.
“We’re bringing you new and exciting ways to watch TV and interact with the Xbox Live gaming community in this month’s Xbox One system update preview. Today, we will begin rolling out a ton of new features to members of the Xbox One preview programme,” said Nelson in a blog that also introduces an excited video walkthrough.
Cosmetic features include the ability to change the background on your Xbox One, and even use achievements from games in your wallpaper.
Braggish players will be able to add their best clips to their profile page and generally swagger around the place, while people who like to crow on a range of platforms will be able to tweet clips from games.
Users can also share their location in their biography pages, and through the Smartglass app can see when anyone has checked out their profile.
Smartglass users can also check out their friends’ activities on the Xbox One, and can line up downloads of content, for example the free titles provided to Gold level subscribers.
The Xbox One store has been improved and Microsoft said that this would make it “easier to find and download apps for your Xbox One”.
The November update is out will be out, unsurprisingly, next month.
Juniper Research now estimates smartwatch shipments will hit 100 million by 2019. The firm expects several high-profile products to launch over the next year or so, helping boost mainstream awareness.
However, the figures are anything but encouraging.
The report, titled ‘Smart Watches: Market Dynamics, Vendor Strategies & Scenario Forecasts 2014-2019′, expects growth will decelerate from 2016 onwards. The first batch will ride the hype, but moving forward it won’t do much for mainstream adoption.
However, the forecast also examines the possibility of sustaining 2014-2015 growth in the long term.
If consumers discover a ‘key use case’ or cases for smartwatches, backed by more product releases on the back of higher demand, higher growth could be sustained. In plain English, if people actually find a use for smartwatches, they will see more growth.
Unfortunately the case is hard to make at this point. Smartwatches face a number of hardware limitations and software support is still limited, which means they are not very useful at the moment. Juniper expects more vendors to integrate GPS, NFC and other technologies, but the downside is that smartwatches are not expected to become very cheap. The firm estimates premium branding and high functionality to keep prices at $200+ until the end of the decade.
Europeans not too keen
One possible application that could generate more demand comes in the form of mobile payments. Apple Pay is coming to the Apple Watch, but the service will be limited to the US for quite a while and Apple won’t have an easy time launching it in other markets, where it enjoys a much lower market share.
The problem with mobile digital wallets is that they have not taken off yet. What’s more, new research indicates that Europeans are not sold on the idea of smartwatch wallets.
The survey, carried out by German market research firm GfK, found that just 20 percent of Germans and 27 percent of Britons are interested in contactless payments built into a watch. However, Chinese and American consumers are more open to the idea, with 40 and 54 percent saying they are interested.
Most consumers said they are interested in health applications and many said they would store identification data on their smartwatches.
The smartphone is a variant of the Xperia Z3, which was announced at the IFA trade show in Berlin last month. The smartphone will be sold for US$199 through Verizon with a two-year mobile contract, the companies said.
The Z3V smartphone has a 5.2-inch screen and looks and feels just like the Z3, but there are subtle differences. The Z3V has wireless charging and offers a longer battery life of two hours. The Z3 has one-and-a-half hours of battery life.
The Z3V also lets users play PlayStation 4 games remotely on their phones with the Remote Play feature.
The Z3V has the same 20.7-megapixel rear camera as the Z3, but advanced software to shoot and edit pictures.
Other features include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution screen and a 2.2-megapixel front camera. It runs on the Android 4.4 OS, code-named KitKat. The smartphone is also waterproof.
The Xperia Z3V is the effective successor to the Z2, which shipped just six months ago, and has received good reviews. But PC Advisor says that the hardware in the Z3 is similar to that of its predecessor, so there’s no major reason to upgrade.
Sony’s U.S. mobile business has struggled. But the company is committed to that market, said Kunimasa Suzuki, president and CEO of Sony Mobile Communications, at the event. The Z3V is central to the company’s plans for the market, which also include bringing all of gaming, movie, music and device assets together.
The Z3V was one of many product availability announcements made at the press conference. Verizon will sell Sony’s Smartwatch 3 starting later this month, though no price was announced.
The Smartwatch 3 was also announced at IFA. It will run on Google’s Android Wear OS and offer two days of battery life, said Jeff Dietel, vice president of marketing at Verizon Wireless.
AMD announced that it would demonstrate the first implementation of Apache Hadoop on an ARM Cortex-A57 part at the JavaOne conference.
The chip in question is of course an A-series Opteron. AMD recently announced the Opteron A1100 and it is the company’s first ARM-based server part.
The presentation was delivered by AMD corporate fellow Leendert van Doorn and Henrik Stahl, VP of Java product management and IoT at Oracle.
“This demonstration showcases AMD’s leadership in the development of a robust, standards-based ecosystem for ARM servers,” said van Doorn. “Servers powered by AMD Opteron A-Series processors are well-suited for Hadoop, offering an efficient scale-out compute platform that can also double as an economical persistent storage platform.”
The demo showed an A1100 dev platform running Apache Hadoop on the Oracle JDK. AMD said it would continue its collaboration with ARM, Oracle, Red Hat, Linaro and SUSE in order to boost ARM development in the server space.
When Titan first came to light in 2007, most people assumed it would be Blizzard’s next big thing, ultimately taking the place of World of Warcraft which was likely to see further declines in the years ahead. Fast forward seven years, WoW clearly has been fading (down to 6.8 million subs as of June 30) but Blizzard has no MMO lined up to replace it, and that fact was really hammered home today with the surprise cancellation of Titan. In fact, the developer stressed that it didn’t want to be known as an MMO company and one may not be in its future. Cancelling the project this late in the game may have cost Blizzard several tens of millions of dollars, analysts told GamesIndustry.biz.
“Development costs for Titan may have amounted to tens of millions, perhaps $50 million or more. This is not an unusual event, however. Blizzard has cancelled several games in various stages of development in the past. Costs for unreleased games can be significant, but launching substandard games can harm the reputation of a successful publisher such as Blizzard. Expenses for development can be considered R&D, and benefits can include invaluable training, IP and technology that can be applied to other games,” explained independent analyst Billy Pidgeon.
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter estimated an even higher amount lost: “My guess is 100 – 200 people at $100,000 per year, so $70 – 140 million sunk cost. It’s pretty sad that it took so long to figure out how bad the game was. I expect them to go back to the drawing board.”
Indeed, the market has changed considerably in the last seven years, and while MMOs like EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic struggle to find a large audience, free-to-play games and tablet games like Blizzard’s own Hearthstone are finding success. Blizzard has no doubt been keenly aware of the market realities too.
“As far back as 2013, they had already stated Titan was not likely to be a subscription-based MMORPG. This is consistent with a market that is increasingly dominated by multiplayer games that are either free to play or are an expected feature included with triple-A games such as Call of Duty. Titanfall and Destiny sold as standalone games supplemented by paid downloadable add-ons. Blizzard maintains very high standards of quality, so expectations will be steep for new franchises as well as for sequels,” Pidgeon continued.
DFC Intelligence’s David Cole agreed, noting that after seven years of development in an industry where trends and technologies change at a rapid pace, Blizzard simply had to pull the plug on Titan.
“They realized that unless a big MMO is out-of-this-world unbelievable it won’t work in today’s market where it competes against a bunch of low cost options. If they felt that it just wasn’t getting to that point it makes sense to cut your losses,” he noted. “Also, you see games like League of Legends and their own Hearthstone which are doing very well on a much lower budget.”
“For Blizzard, I am expecting to see them continue to focus on high quality products but also focus on products with shorter development cycles and less cost. The market is just not in a place where you can have games with 7+ year development. It is changing too fast.”
For most developers, junking a seven-year long project would instantly spell turmoil, but thankfully for Blizzard, it’s part of the Activision Blizzard behemoth, which has a market cap of over $15 billion and, as of June 30, cash and cash equivalents of over $4 billion on hand. It’s a nice luxury to have.
The price for a standalone PlayStation TV (PS TV) is $99.99, the company wrote in a blog. For $139.99, customers can get a wireless controller, an 8 GB memory card and “The Lego Movie” videogame along with the PS TV.
Around 700 games will be available to PS TV users, including “Metal Gear Solid” and the franchise “Killzone: Mercenary”.
PS TV was released in Japan and other Asian countries under the name “PlayStation Vita TV” last fall. Sony is trying to expand its entertainment network services to compete against players like Amazon.com Inc.
Sony did not say when it will launch its online TV service.
The company signed a deal earlier this month to carry 22 Viacom Inc channels, including Comedy Central and MTV, on its planned online TV.
PlayStation boss Shaun Layden told tech blog Re/code in June the company was “on track” to unveil its product some time this year.
Sony’s web TV service will join the ranks of an already crowded market with devices from Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Roku.
The glasses can connect to Android smartphones via Bluetooth and project green monochrome text or basic graphics across a field within the lenses.
Sony said it will begin sales of the eyewear to developers by March 31, the end of its fiscal year. They will be sold in Japan, the U.S. and some European countries.
The Developer Preview SDK includes an emulator, tutorials, sample code and design guidelines to make the most of the device’s hardware and sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope and brightness sensor.
The glasses, which weigh 77 grams, are more than 85 percent transparent and include a camera that can shoot 3-megapixel images and VGA video.
Sony has emphasized that the glasses project images to a user’s natural line of sight, which differs from the Google Glass display set in a corner.
“Sony’s competitive edge lies in our achievement of a thin lens with high transparency thanks to our unique holographic light guide plate technology, which enables us to provide a bright field of vision,” a Sony spokeswoman wrote in an email.
“Furthermore, the screen size is large, and images and text are displayed from the front for both eyes (not only one eye) to facilitate easier viewing and prevent eye fatigue.”
The price for the glasses as well as availability of a consumer version are still to be decided, she added.
Bulky prototype versions of the glasses were shown at the IFA and CES electronics shows earlier this year.
Potential applications include displaying cooking instructions for chefs, running time for joggers and messages from friends.
Augmented reality-style functions are also possible, such as displaying information when a user looks at a certain bottle of wine, facial recognition or navigation information in an unfamiliar city.
EA is considering developing games for wearables. The company already has two teams on the job, looking for ways to make wearable games. Their efforts are focused on the Apple Watch for now.
EA told CNET that the company has quite a relationship with Apple and Frank Gibeau, head of EA’s mobile gaming arm, said he is impressed with the new Apple A8 SoC. Gibeau added that Apple’s decision to include 128GB storage in flagship models is more good news for gamers, as it raises the bar for developers and gives them more room to play around with.
Gibeau said EA’s mobile division is “intrigued” by the prospect of gaming on wearables. He said wearables are eventually going to offer more performance and capability, thus enabling new gaming experiences. However, he cautioned that “it’s very early days” for wearable gaming.
“In fact, we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone. Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home,” he told CNET.
Finally, Ubisoft has a release date for the Wii U version of Watch Dogs. While we don’t know if that many people are waiting for the Wii U version, when it does release it could very well end up being one of the last M rated titles for the Wii U console.
The release date for the Wii U version of Watch Dogs appears to be November 18th in North America and November 21st in Europe. This ends the original release delay that Ubisoft announced for the Wii U version as resources were moved to prepare the other versions of the game for release.
Ubisoft has been one of the strongest supports of software for the Wii U, but recently it announced that it was done producing titles like Assassins Creed and Watch Dogs for the Wii U because the sales of these M rated titles are just not there on the Wii U platform. It did indicate that it would focus on some of its other Wii U titles that continue to be popular on the console.
The news is good that they are getting Watch Dogs, but it looks like we will not see many more games like this on the Wii U.
Intel has released its Edison chip for wearables at its Intel developer conference (IDF) in California today. The tiny computer is a dual-core Quark system on chip (SoC) Pentium-class x86 processor made using the 22nm process.
The Edison device runs Linux and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth modules. The chip can also connect to its own app store, and has 40 I/Os via a 70-pin connector that lets users do many things without going through a custom board. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich Intel said that the module, which has the footprint of an SD card, was to encourage developers to build the next generation of wearable and connected devices now that it is shipping.
All IDF attendees went home with a free Edison developer kit and it will be on sale for $50 retail cost. Like the Galileo board it will be open source so developers can develop it.
“I really hope to see an explosion of innovation around this part, it has everything a person needs and an extension capability to build just about anything you can think of,” he said.
Edison has been developed by Intel to be a simple low-power development platform for people to develop software easily, thus to usher in the next generation of Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices.
You can’t accuse eSports League CEO Ralf Reichert of always telling people what they want to hear. At last month’s FanExpo Canada in Toronto, Ontario, just a few blocks away from the Hockey Hall of Fame, Reichert told GamesIndustry.biz that he saw competitive gaming overtaking the local pastime.
“Our honest belief is it’s going to be a top 5 sport in the world,” Reichert said. “If you compare it to the NHL, to ice hockey, that’s not a first row sport, but a very good second-row sport. [eSports] should be ahead of that… It’s already huge, it’s already comparable to these traditional sports. Not the Super Bowl, but the NHL [Stanley Cup Finals].”
Each game of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals averaged 5 million viewers on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. The finals of the ESL Intel Extreme Masters’ eighth season, held in March in Katowice, Poland, drew 1 million peak concurrent viewers, and 10 million unique viewers over the course of the weekend. That’s comparing the US audience for hockey to a global audience for the IEM series, but Reichert said the events are getting larger all the time.
As for how eSports have grown in recent years, the executive characterized it as a mostly organic process, and one that sometimes happens in spite of the major players. One mistake he’s seen eSports promoters make time and again is trying to be too far ahead of the curve.
“There have been numerous attempts to do celebrity leagues as a way to grow eSports, to make it more accessible,” Reichert said. “And rather than focusing on the core of eSports, the Starcrafts and League of Legends of the world, people tried to use easy games, put celebrities on it, and make a classic TV format out of it.”
One such effort, DirecTV’s Championship Gaming Series, held an “inaugural draft” at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills and featured traditional eSports staples like Counter-Strike: Source alongside arguably more accessible fare like Dead or Alive 4, FIFA 07, and Project Gotham Racing 3.
“They put in tens of millions of dollars in trying to build up a simplified eSports league, and it was just doomed because they tried to simplify it rather than embrace the beauty of the apparent complexity.”
Complexity is what gives established sports their longevity, Reichert said. And while he dismisses the idea that eSports are any more complex than American football or baseball, he also acknowledged there is a learning curve involved, and it’s steep enough that ESL isn’t worrying about bringing new people on board.
“It’s tough for generations who didn’t grow up with gaming to get what Starcraft is,” Reichert said. “They need to spend 2-10 hours with it, in terms of watching it, getting it explained, and getting educated around it, or else they still might have that opinion. Our focus is more to have the generations who grew up with it as true fans, rather than trying to educate people who are outside of this conglomerate… There have been numerous attempts to make European soccer easier to approach, or American football, or baseball, but they all kill the soul of the actual sport. Every attempt to do that is just doomed.”
Authenticity is what keeps the core of the audience engaged, Reichert said. And even though there will always be purists who fuss over every change–Reichert said changing competitive maps in Starcraft could spark a debate like instant replay in baseball–being true to the core of the original sport has been key for snowboarding, mixed martial arts, and every other successful upstart sport of the last 15 years.
“Like with every new sport, the biggest obstacle has been people not believing in it,” Reichert said. “And it goes across media, sponsorships, game developers, press, everyone. The acceptance of eSports was a hard fought battle over a long, long time, and there’s a tipping point where it goes beyond people looking at it like ‘what the hell is this?’ And to reach that point was the big battle for eSports… The thing is, once we started to fill these stadiums, everyone looking at the space instantly gets it. Games, stadiums, this is a sport. It’s such a simple messaging that no one denies it anymore who knows about the facts.”
That’s not to say everybody is convinced. ESPN president John Skipper recently dismissed eSports as “not a sport,” even though his network streamed coverage of Valve’s signature Dota 2 tournament earlier this year. Reichert admitted that mainstream institutions seem to be lagging behind when it comes to acceptance, particularly with sponsors. While companies within the game industry are sold on eSports, non-endemic advertisers are only beginning to get it.
“The very, let’s say progressive ones, like Red Bull, are already involved,” Reichert said. “But to get it into the T-Mobiles and other companies as a strategy piece, that will still take some time. The market in terms of the size and quality of events is still ahead of the sponsorship, but that’s very typical.”
Toronto was the second stop for ESL’s IEM Season 9 after launching in Shenzhen July 16. The league is placing an international emphasis on this year’s competition, with additional stops planned in the US, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
In July, Gamasutra’s annual developer salary survey reported that the best compensated job for hands-on game creators wasn’t programmer or producer, but audio professional. That didn’t sound right to the organizers of audio conference GameSoundCon, so they conducted their own survey aimed squarely at audio specialists in the gaming industry, the results of which they released today.
Gamasutra acknowledged its own numbers on audio professionals were likely skewed by a few factors. They only had 33 respondents, they only counted full-time professionals even though audio work is frequently done on a freelance basis, and their survey base of Game Developer Conference attendees was likely skewed to more senior people, as developers might not invest in sending fresh recruits to the show. GameSoundCon’s survey drew 514 responses, and as might be expected, painted a less lucrative picture of the field.
“Most game audio jobs, whether they are composers or sound designers, are freelance,” said GameSoundCon executive director Brian Schmidt. “Game audio is increasingly an outsourced industry.”
According to the survey, the average salaried audio professional position in the game industry pays $70,532. However, only 37 percent of those who took the survey were salaried employees. About 12 percent of respondents said they were paid by the hour, day, or week.
For freelance work, the average project fee was $28,091. However, that number was skewed significantly by big-budget games, where per-project fees could come in greater than $250,000. For indie or casual games, the average project fee dropped to just $9,830. For projects where the audio contractor retained rights to their work, the average fee dipped still lower, to $4,481, with as many projects paying $1,500 or less as there were paying more.
“There does seem to be a good ‘career path’ in game audio,” Schmidt added. “You can start out as a composer for indie games, and end up with a 6-figure salary as an audio director. Being able to get technical definitely gives you a leg up; more than 60 percent of responders say they provided audio content as well as technical services for implementation of the audio.”
The survey also underscored some rarities in the field. Gender diversity is lacking among audio professionals, as 96 percent of respondents were male. Royalties are also rare, with only 2 percent of composers per-unit payments for big-budget titles. Royalties were somewhat more common among indie and casual projects, with 17 percent reporting per-unit payments.
Soundtrack sales also didn’t do much to pad composers’ pockets, as 5 percent of large-budget games included a clause paying out for soundtrack sales. However, that number increased to 18 percent for indie or casual titles.
Crytek will be self-publishing the PC version of Ryse: Son of Rome that will be released on Steam starting on October 10th. Crytek promises a benchmark for PC gaming graphics with support for 4K resolution.
The PC version promises a number of graphics enhancements over the Xbox One release and Crytek claims that they have given the developers the chance to really show what the Crytek engine can do without compromising quality thanks to the hardware available today.
To run the PC version of Ryse, Crytek is requiring a dual core processor 2.8Ghz Intel/3.2GHz AMD, 4GB of RAM, 64bit Windows 7/8, DirectX 11 compatible graphics card with at least 1GB of video ram and 26GB of hard drive space. For the best experience Crytek recommends Quad Core Intel processor/Octo-Core AMD processor, 8GB of RAM, 64bit Windows 7/8, DirectX 11 graphics card with 4GB of video RAM, and 26GB hard disk space.
The PC release of Ryse is said to include all of the DLC content. While it sure was a graphics show piece for the Xbox One, reviews of the game were kind of mixed. Still the PC release could be just what the doctor ordered for Ryse to gain some new players. In addition to the Steam release, we still are hearing that a boxed release is coming as well, but we don’t have any specifics on that just yet.