Games publisher EA believes things will turn around for the company next year. This year has been pretty unpleasant for the company after its trusted DRM sunk its flagship SimCity release.
But Electronic Arts seems to think that is all behind it and has forecast fiscal 2014 earnings above Wall Street’s expectations. EA has been cutting staff and reorganizing studios in recent months to embrace new game platforms. It is preparing a new batch of games including the latest installment of its “Battlefield” shooter game franchise.
Digital revenue, from mobile games, online offerings and other newer sales channels, rose 45 percent year-over-year to $618 million, larger than EA’s packaged goods business in the fourth quarter ended on March 31. It thinks that consumers have held back from buying hardware and software as they await new versions of Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox expected later this year.
The video game maker forecast revenue of $4 billion, in line with Wall Street’s expectations. Weakness in the packaged games market dented revenue, but EA recognized $120 million of deferred payments from its “Battlefield Premium” service in the fourth quarter.
For the latest quarter, total revenue declined to $1.2 billion from $1.37 billion a year ago. Adjusted revenue rose 6.4 percent to $1.04 billion over the same period, barely beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.03 billion.
Net income fell to $323 million from $400 million last year.
It’s ancient history now, but once upon a time, if you wanted to play the most recent and most interesting games, you had to get up, leave the house and make your way to an arcade. Games consoles and home computers lived further down the food chain, their owners waiting for often sub-par versions of glorious arcade hits to be released on home systems. The real experience happened in an arcade.
Even to those who experienced that era, it’s a little hard to believe when you look at the sad remnants of their former glory which remain. Even in supposedly arcade-mad Japan, games generally find themselves wedged ignominiously in between gambling machines occupied by middle-aged chain-smokers and UFO Catcher booths promising, but rarely delivering, stuffed toys and sweets for bored teens on dates. In western countries, sad, lonely fighting game machines are just stuffed in where “arcade” owners ran out of fruit machines to install.
The reasons for this change are fundamentally technological. Arcade machines are big, bulky and expensive to move or replace. Once, that meant that they were vastly more powerful than home systems – but the accelerating pace of technological progress turned the size and expense of arcade machines into a liability rather than an advantage. Cheap, rapidly updated computers and consoles (and eventually even phones) first matched and then far outstripped the processing capabilities of big arcade cabinets. Rapid updates in graphics, processing, storage, networking, controls and screen resolutions were comfortably adopted by the home market, the costs buffered by cheap, cheerful hardware and absorbed by the wallets of millions of consumers. Arcade operators, faced with replacing large numbers of huge, expensive systems in order to keep track of such changes, fell behind completely.
Social factors either exacerbated or softened this blow, but these were highly region dependent. In Japan, where small family living spaces have engendered a culture in which many social activities are carried out external to the home, arcades persisted as date spots, as places to hang out with friends and – perhaps most importantly – as a venue for games too large, too noisy or too intrusive to be played in a small family home. In parts of the West, though, social factors intervened to hasten the decline, with a perception of arcades as “seedy” venues (in the grand tradition of pool halls and their ilk) discouraging many potential players, while regions with legalised gambling were quick to drop videogames in favour of more profitable slot machines.
Over the years, there has been talk of an “arcade renaissance” on several occasions, yet each time has ended in disappointment. Even as living spaces in many Western countries (the UK is a particularly notable example) have shrunk dramatically in terms of average size, Western consumers have demonstrated a continued willingness to engage with loud, bulky games. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were hugely successful as home games in the West, where their Japanese equivalents, Konami’s Guitar Freaks or Drum Mania, have acted as sustaining lifeblood for arcade venues. It’s also notable that even as Japanese arcades have innovated and invested, launching extraordinary new games which leverage all sorts of new technologies, from the company’s ultra high-speed broadband networks through to the possibilities of RFID enabled cards, the arcade sector’s health has still declined – a drop-off in footfall, revenue and floor space that’s been slower than in the West, but still isn’t exactly the rude health you might have come to believe from fawning articles about amazing Japanese arcades in the western media.
As such, it’s important to be cautious about any notion of an arcade recovery. Yet if we were to envisage any potential uplift in the fortunes of the out-of-home gaming sector, we can easily say what one key factor would be – just as in the heyday of the arcade, these venues would need to provide games which you simply cannot experience at home. This won’t come about, this time around, through more powerful graphics or processing – the trends in those areas are focused on miniaturisation and cost-efficiency, targeting the ability to put high-end 3D into phones rather than building pricey, bulky, ultra high-end systems. Instead, the focus would have to be on experiences that don’t work at home for reasons of space, budget, intrusiveness – or preferably, a combination of all of the above.
The reason I raise this issue now is because in the past few weeks, most of us will have seen videos or demonstrations of technologies which, although their creators purport to be focused on the home market, clearly fall into these categories. One is Microsoft’s Illumiroom system, which uses Kinect to map a 3D space and then projects imagery matched to that 3D map. It’s a great piece of technology with extraordinary gaming potential. It’s also abjectly unsuited to an ever-increasing number of living rooms around the world. Kinect alone is an impossibility for many players due to the space and room layout it demands; Illumiroom, demanding similar space if not more and intrusively taking over the entire room such that nobody else will be able to use it concurrently with the game being played, is simply not going to work for most people and most homes. Outside the home, though, in a dedicated venue? The potential of the technology is extraordinary, the experiences it could create serving to create a destination for gamers to experience something that just won’t work at home.
The same thought process applies, to some extent, to the Oculus Rift. It’s not that the superb VR headset hardware won’t work at home – of course it will, and it’ll probably only be a few hardware generations before the compromises presently being made in the name of cost are ironed out by technological progress. However, the “full” VR experience – with a custom controller (a gun, perhaps, or full-body motion sensing suite), a multi- directional treadmill, and so on, is simply going to be too expensive for most users – and even if prices collapsed, it’s too big and unwieldy to live in most people’s apartments. Yet the entertainment potential of such a fully-functional setup, running in parallel with a dozen other such suites so that a group of friends can explore a virtual world together, is enormous – and from a commercial perspective, not even all that space-consuming.
Of course, technology is just one factor. Technologies such as these (and I’m sure that others exist which also fall into the trap of “amazing, but it won’t work in my house”) can give a compelling reason for people to engage with out-of-home gaming – but the social factors also have to be right if an arcade renaissance is to be possible. Social factors are trickier, in many ways, than getting the hardware and the software right. Losing the seedy, unwelcoming image of the arcade in some regions will be tough; in others, where arcades have died entirely, the marketing of an entirely new social pursuit would present a major challenge. Getting people to try out something like this might be easy; getting them to see a trip to the VR centre with friends as an entertainment option on par with a trip to the cinema is likely to be much harder.
All the same, the entertainment possibilities opened up by technologies of this kind, which are now reaching a mature, usable stage in their development, ought to create an optimism around arcades and out-of-home gaming that hasn’t been seen for some time. Social or commercial aspects could still pull the rug out from any hope of recovery or renaissance – but the potential certainly exists for new kinds of gaming and interactive entertainment to take their place as key social out-of-home experiences in the coming years.
Ubisoft has confirmed that Watch Dogs will arrive on November 19th in North America and November 22nd in Europe. The game is been confirmed for the Xbox 360, Xbox Next, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC, and Wii U. The release date for the PlayStation 4 version is expected to coincide with the release date of the PlayStation 4 console, so depending on its release date, the release of the PS4 version could be adjusted. (This apparently applies to the Xbox Next, as well.)
We are also being told that the PS3 version of the game will include an additional 60 minutes of exclusive game play. We are not sure if this game play will also be available for those that purchase the PS4 version, but we suspect that it will.
Four special edition versions of the game will be offered. It is not yet clear whether or not they will offer each of these special editions for each of the platforms. More details are expected to follow in the days ahead, but these look like some very nice special editions of the game, with some very nice extras being thrown in.
Last month the Opensuse project announced the release of Opensuse 12.3, which brought ARM support to the same level as x86 and AMD64. While the project is working on bringing ARMv7 and more importantly ARMv8 support to its Linux distribution, Jos Poortvliet, community manager at Opensuse, said that the project’s ARM development has been limited by the lack of build resources.
Opensuse announced a collaboration with Samsung to create the OBS, which it was hoped would speed up the development life-cycle. However Poortvliet said, “ARM development is limited by available build resources required for compiling each iteration of new software and while the OBS helps by bringing a lot of build power in one place, the use of QEMU meant that build resources were shared with native x86_64 builds, which turned out to be a performance limitation.
“With fast and dedicated ARM hardware we can reserve build power for ARM builds and make use of the more efficient KVM virtualization.”
However in better news, Poortvliet said that the project had managed to deploy KVM – the Linux kernel based virtual machine – on ARM hardware. He added that parent firm Suse has assigned more resources to building ARM software on OBS and forecast that all packages would be built in two weeks.
While Canonical and Red Hat have been vocal about their ARM developments, Suse and its Opensuse project have been quietly going about their business, though given Poortvliet’s comments regarding a lack of resources, perhaps they have been going about it too quietly.
Although ARM vendors are not expected to converge on the server market until next year, even ARM thinks that most servers using its chips will run open source software.
Unless Suse manages to get its act together, it might find that Canonical and Red Hat have already carved out a significant chunk of the market.
As anyone who has accidentally walked into a room full of children can tell you, they’re good at asking the kinds of questions that just keep drilling down. “Why is the sky blue? So why does blue light get scattered more? Then why is the sky red at sunset? Where are you going?”
And although I don’t recommend it, if you were to sit one of these little buggers down with a quarterly earnings reports from EA or Activision, they might soon start asking “Why are violent video games so much more popular than other games?” It’s a tricky question to answer without falling down the why hole. Because shooting stuff is fun. Why is it fun? Because people like military themes where they can be the hero. Okay, but why is that? Because players like feeling ridiculously powerful and enormous guns let them do that. But why is that appealing? Why, why, why?
Well, some psychologists are trying to tease apart the reasons why violence sells without throwing their hands up and shouting “Just because! And I’m not even your real dad!” Researchers Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan describe how they think that the design of violent games – especially shooters – naturally does a pretty good job of satisfying some very basic psychological needs. But not in the way you may be thinking.
In their book, Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound, Rigby and Ryan describe “self-determination theory,” a fairly well established framework that aims to describe why people pursue certain voluntary activities. In part, self-determination theory says that people are motivated to engage in activities to the extent that they satisfy three psychological needs:
- 1. Competence – progressing in skill and power.
- 2. Autonomy – being able to choose from multiple, meaningful options.
- 3. Relatedness – feeling important to others.
What does this have to do with violent shooters? Rigby, Ryan, and their colleagues argue that many of the design principles of good shooters also happen to follow well worn paths to satisfying these three psychological needs. Let’s take a closer look.
Competence is communicated by immediate and unambiguous positive feedback in response to your actions – you see opponents stagger, see blood fly off them, and ultimately see them collapse. The beloved headshot is particularly effective in this regard. Scott Rigby notes, “I’ll often put up a slide with a great screenshot of a headshot, and it always elicits smiles. The smiles here aren’t because everyone is sadistic – they are because this is a moment of mastery satisfaction that all gamers can relate to. The blood may not be the value component, but really is just a traditional way dense informational feedback on mastery is provided.” Information about competence in shooters is also thrown at you in the form of scoreboards, rankings, weapon unlocks, and eventually the outcome of every (relatively short) match.
Autonomy, the second motivator in self-determination theory, is also well served by the design of most popular shooters. Having the option to choose many different paths through a level satisfies autonomy, as does choosing between different classes, different loadouts, or different tactics. In a lot of games you can even choose between different modes, modifiers, or maps, allowing you to satisfy the need to play a game how you please. And if that’s not enough, custom character or weapon skins or models also fit in here.
Finally, relatedness is most obviously important in multiplayer games where you can feel like part of a successful (or, perhaps more likely of pickup games, incompetent) team bound together by opposition to a common foe. To the extent that shooters communicate your contributions in the forms of scores, points, server-wide notifications, or MVP awards, relatedness will be satisfied – to say nothing of what you can get out of text and voice chat. But even most modern shooters have single player campaigns that somewhat mimic this and put you in the role of someone important to those around you.
Of course, none of these motivators is unique to shooters. They show up in good game design across all genres and themes. But violent shooters usually hit on all three, and Rigby and Ryan believe that’s there’s a big overlap between what makes an effective shooter and what satisfies multiple facets of all three of these psychological needs. So while RPGs might nail autonomy, platformers may demand competence, and MMOs may allow the most relatedness, violent shooters fire on all three cylinders.
“[Violent games] are fun not because of the blood and gore,” write Rigby and Ryan, “but because games of war and combat offer so many opportunities to feel autonomy, competence, and the relatedness of camaraderie rolled up into an epic heroic experience.” But, that all said, do shooters satisfy all these motivators so well because they’re violent?
It’s an important question, and Ryan, Rigby, and their colleague Andrew Przybylski published a 2009 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that addresses it. Part of their research involved a clever experiment where they modified Half-Life 2 to create a high-violence version of the game’s multiplayer and a low-violence version. The high violence version is pretty much what you’d expect. The low violence one, though, was created by changing the bullet-spewing guns into “tag” tools that players would use to zap opponents. Once tagged, foes would freeze and float up into the air for a second before being harmlessly teleported to a “penalty box” where they would wait to respawn into the game. So the main difference – arguably the only difference – between the two groups was how much violence there was in the game. Everything else was the same: the level layouts, the controls, and all the other stuff that satisfied competence and autonomy (unfortunately they didn’t examine relatedness). Only the violence was teased out of the equation
What did they find? Well, a lot of things. But one interesting finding was that the games in either condition were found enjoyable and both games satisfied the basic psychological needs of competence and autonomy. Even whether or not a person was naturally aggressive and normally enjoyed violent games didn’t matter once you accounted for competence and autonomy.
To me, this is vastly interesting and argues for alternatives to the go-to trope of violence and gore if you’re looking to draw people to games. It’s not the bloodshed as much as it is feeling like you’re able to make what you want happen on-screen. It’s not fetishising guns and explosions as much as it is the ability to use tactics and choose among meaningful options on the road to victory. It’s not the military themes as much as it is feeling like you’re an important part of a team.
Sure, war and military heroism are themes and experiences worthy of exploration, but there are other options that can be just as effective. Gamers may be happy to just keep buying the same game over and over again without understanding a thing about self determination theory, and publishers may only want to greenlight games that look like smash hits from the past without caring about mechanisms for satisfying psychological needs, but developers who think about these things and play around with them can definitely do something both great and different.
When Crytek opened its new Crytek USA studio, it picked up a number of the staff from Vigil when THQ hit bottom. Now, it looks like those former Vigil studio members might be lucky enough to see Crytek acquire the Darksiders franchise that these folks poured their hearts and souls into.
Crytek is apparently looking to buy the rights to the Darksiders franchise. This is not to make a new Darksiders game, but is in the spirit that the people who created the game might as well own the IP if someone if going to get it.
Former Vigil boss, David Adams, now the head of Crytek USA, went to Twitter to announce the news that Crytek would be bidding to acquire the franchise because the IP belongs at home with is creators, according to the Twitter posting.
While it is far from assured that Crytek will acquire it, the courts and the legal wrangling will determine how it shakes out. Still, it is nice thing to see that some of the former Vigil crew could end up with the IP being under the roof where they work again. It does not get anywhere close to a new Darksiders game, but it would be nice for the Vigil folks to have something good come their way.
The recent launch of SimCity was a troubled one for Electronic Arts, as the company struggled to get its servers fully functional. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be good for any game’s launch, but when a title is designed to be always online, and countless players therefore can’t even play the game they just purchased, the situation quickly escalates. EA moved as fast as it could to rectify the situation, but some players felt EA’s real intent was to force DRM on its customers. Maxis head Lucy Bradshaw’s blog post seemed to only stir the pot, but EA Labels president Frank Gibeau now insists that DRM had absolutely nothing to do with the game’s design whatsoever.
Speaking at GDC this week, Gibeau commented, “That’s not the reality; I was involved in all the meetings. DRM was never even brought up once. You don’t build an MMO because you’re thinking of DRM – you’re building a massively multiplayer experience, that’s what you’re building.”
Not only was DRM not a topic of internal discussion at EA, Gibeau said, but the executive also made it very clear that DRM is simply not an option for publishers anymore.
“At no point in time did anybody say ‘you must make this online’. It was the creative people on the team that thought it was best to create a multiplayer collaborative experience”
“DRM is a failed dead-end strategy; it’s not a viable strategy for the gaming business. So what we tried to do creatively is build an online service in the SimCity universe and that’s what we sought to achieve. For the folks who have conspiracy theories about evil suits at EA forcing DRM down the throats of Maxis, that’s not the case at all,” he said with a laugh.
For EA and Maxis, Gibeau said it really was a case of building a completely connected world with an MMO-like infrastructure.
“It started with the team at Maxis that had a creative vision for a multiplayer, connected, collaborative SimCity experience where your city and my city and others’ were [working together]; for better or for worse, and for right or for wrong, the lead designers and the producers and the programmers felt like they wanted to tell us a multiplayer, cooperative city story around SimCity. We had built a bunch of these and you could’ve gone deeper and deeper into your plumbing and managing toilets and electrical posts, but we felt there was a bigger story to tell and a bigger opportunity to chase with an always-on connected experience built around that concept. That’s what we set out to design and that’s what Maxis created and brought forward into the marketplace,” Gibeau explained.
“At no point in time did anybody say ‘you must make this online’. It was the creative people on the team that thought it was best to create a multiplayer collaborative experience and when you’re building entertainment… you don’t always know what the customer is going to want. You have to innovate and try new things and surprise people and in this particular case that’s what we sought to achieve. If you play an MMO, you don’t demand an offline mode, you just don’t. And in fact, SimCity started out and felt like an MMO more than anything else and it plays like an MMO,” he continued.
Gibeau acknowledged that EA probably should have done a better job in its messaging with the community, making sure that they understand the MMO nature of the title and the need to be always connected.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t do a better job communicating that upfront. I’m disappointed that we had a rough first couple of days in terms of underestimating how people were going to play the game and how the server infrastructure was going to hold up, but we responded the best we could, we got people to fix it as fast as we could,” he said. “We had a majority of people come through who had a good experience and a bunch of people that didn’t and that’s not acceptable, but at the same time we tried to do make-goods with free games, we’ve been fixing and constantly tinkering with the experience and it’s an experience that we want to continue to evolve over time. It has to be an online experience like an MMO where you bring out new events, new kits, new places to go, and that’s more the vision for where SimCity is going.”
Even with its problems, however, the game did quite well, selling over 1.1 million copies in its first two weeks, which Gibeau noted makes it “the fastest-selling and biggest SimCity we’ve ever built.” Gibeau believes that part of the problem is the entire situation snowballed when the media started covering it.
“Some customers have had problems, and you’re in the media; you know how some things can snowball, and unfortunately that’s what happened here. We did the best we could in order to respond to that and made adjustments to the service but the game is continuing to sell through at a much higher expectation than we thought. The servers are now at 100 percent and there’s plenty of capacity… and we’re not the first or the last company [to have a problem like this] – Activision Blizzard, Steam, Ubisoft…everybody’s had this problem and it was our turn I guess,” he said.
Sony has inked a deal with game engine development company Unity to bring a cross-platform engine to its upcoming games console, the Playstation 4 (PS4).
Unity’s game engine is designed to run on a multiplicity of devices and is capable of scaling up to high end systems with powerful graphics cards, while being able to run on tablets, smartphones and games consoles.
However, Sony’s partnership with the firm now extends Unity’s engine to the PS4 and is set to bring a host of tools designed to make it easier for developers to write games for the console.
Unity announced the strategic partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment, which was inked on 15 March, on Thursday. For Unity, the partnership signifies a growing interest in its cross-platform game engine, while for Sony it allows developers to port their existing titles more quickly to the Playstation 4 games console.
Though Unity said that work is “still in early stages”, it is looking to roll out these tools this autumn.
“[I]t’s good to keep in mind that the different tools will have different schedules,” Unity’s CEO David Helgason said in a blog post.
Helgason said Sony is focused on bringing the most creative studios “with an emphasis on independent developers” to its console.
Meanwhile, Sony is revving up for its PS4 launch. Last month, at an event in America it ‘launched’ the PS4, but only showed off its controller. The PS4 games console itself is now all we are waiting to see.
The Japanese firm teased its fanbase with a picture of something that resembled an egg on Thursday, but no one knows whether this contains the PS4 or a smartphone.
Placing our bet, were are going to say that Sony will open the egg at Easter and show us its PS4 games console. Or perhaps we are just being optimistic.
Mac owners will get to play the upcoming release of BioShock Infinite, thanks to Aspyr Media. Aspyr will be handling the Mac conversion, as well as the marketing of the Mac version of the game.
While the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions of BioShock Infinite will arrive on March 26th, the Mac conversion does not have a specific release date beyond its planned arrival at some point this summer.
The news really isn’t that surprising, as BioShock Infinite looks to be one of the biggest titles to be released this year; and, of course, Aspyr should do well with a Mac conversion of the game.
Video game research firm EEDAR, which already has a proprietary database of over 100 million internally researched data points from more than 90,000 physical, digital, mobile, and social game products, is gearing up for the launch of a new service to assist mobile and social developers. EEDAR said that its new suite of mobile. Tablet and social products will aim “to improve sales potential and game quality for titles utilizing in-app monetization.”
EEDAR said that one of the most important things a developer can do is to optimize a game before launch. “EEDAR is able to provide an assessment at any point during the development cycle and accurately project key performance measurements of the final product, in addition to a qualitative assessment that provides feedback from the perspective of a professional game critic and consumers,” the company said about its new product suite.
Jesse Divnich, VP of Insights at EEDAR, to get an overview of the key takeaways from the firm’s research on the mobile and social markets. Divnich stressed that developers must be prepared with their in-game monetization strategy for retention and boosting conversion rates before a title is released into an app store.
“When the mobile game market was emerging, developers could optimize key monetization features after a game’s launch. The onboarding acquisition process had a long tail. Today, due to competition and larger consumer awareness, the time to peak engagement is rapidly shortening,” he noted.
“Facebook/Social games are a perfect example. Games like Farmville took nearly a year before they reached their peak users. It gave Zynga ample enough time to adjust game features to increase engagement monetization rates. Now, Social games are peaking within weeks and this idea of always being in ‘beta’ quickly shows its weaknesses when you are onboarding the majority of your lifetime users in only a few weeks,” he continued. “The mobile market is beginning to reach that point. Mobile games are making more headlines, consumers are becoming aware of hit titles faster. Simply put, consumers are engaging mobile games closer to a game’s release date and sleeper hits are becoming less prevalent.”
Even getting highlighted by Apple doesn’t mean what it used to. Developers can squander a great opportunity if they don’t make an effort to optimize. “Being featured by Apple no longer means weeks or months on the top charts. At most you have seven days and if your title is not fully optimized, you will leave money on the table,” Divnich added. “Going forward, developers must ensure they’re launching with maximum optimization, both from an artistic and scientific perspective. This means dedicating more resources to pre-launch analytics and qualitative testing.”
So what are some other notable mistakes developers are making? Well, mimicry certainly isn’t helping. Just because something works in one game doesn’t mean it can be successfully “borrowed” for a different game.
“There are still a large chunk of developers that are still too short-sighted. Clash of Clans has been a top seller for a few months and nearly 50 percent of the concepts and vertical slices that come across my desk in some way or another have an 80 percent overlap of Clash of Clans’ engagement loop. After we perform our assessments, some developers are disappointed to learn their retention, conversion, and monetization rates potential are a fraction of the results Clash of Clans has produced,” observed Divnich.
Even if your game is successful at the start, retention is a real problem, as it’s hard to create a game that has legs. “Competition within the mobile markets is at its fiercest, and every week there are at least seven high-quality releases trying to fight for our attention. The increase in competition, media coverage, and consumer awareness has driven down retention rates, for some genres, to dangerously low levels,” Divnich explained.
The key, he said, is to drive connectivity with a very attractive multiplayer component. “Right now, the tried and true method for improving retention has been multiplayer and social features. The correlation between retention rates and the inclusion of multiplayer and social features is ridiculously high,” Divnich noted. “We do issue caution, however. Just because games with strong multiplayer and social support sell well doesn’t mean slapping on a multiplayer component will automatically make your game a success.”
“We’ve seen this trend occur in the traditional HD gaming space. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare created a multiplayer frenzy and everyone thought by cuffing on a multiplayer component their game, too, would be a success. While it helped for some, those that tacked it on were met with lukewarm or disappointing reception. We still encourage our developers to implement new ways of approaching multiplayer and social features, but how they are implemented is key to improving retention rates,” he continued.
While the mobile/tablet space is getting all the attention these days, and social gaming on Facebook has seen sharp declines, that doesn’t mean developers should automatically ignore the social space. There can be opportunities there as well, especially if developers optimize their titles.
“The social platform is still viable and profitable for many developers,” Divnich remarked. “Two years ago developers were fanatic about releasing on the social platform, but they oversaturated the market. There was too much choice in a market, there were no switching barriers for consumers, and there existed too many rip-offs of the standard Farmville or Bejeweled engagement loop. Additionally, Facebook couldn’t keep up with the demand for innovation. Being a platform where consumers violently resist change (e.g. Timeline), it’s difficult to support new tools and back-end features for developers without changing the whole experience altogether.”
“Developers can still be profitable on social platforms, but we certainly approach that space more cautiously,” he concluded.
EA games has been caught out making bogus claims about its SimCity claiming it needs a server to function. The outfit has been responding to requests from users that it abandon its DRM and allow for a version of the game that does not need to log onto a server. EA insists that it needs the servers to work and that it would take the company ages to reprogram the game so that it can work independently.
Maxis’ studio head, Lucy Bradshaw went on record saying that the software offloads a significant amount of the calculations to EA servers, and that it would take “a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game” for single player. But that is complete rubbish according to a SimCity developer who has got in touch with RPS to tell us that at least the first of these statements is not true. He claimed that the server is not handling calculations for non-social aspects of running the game, and that engineering a single-player mode would be a doddle.
He told Rocketpapershotgun.com that the servers were not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities and doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, but doing nothing for the game itself.
Kotaku said that the game was happy for 20 minutes before it realized it wasn’t syncing to the servers and the DRM kicked in. Game play can’t be using the servers at all. For some reason EA is determined to keep its DRM up and running even if it means killing the game completely.
A federal jury found that video game company Nintendo infringed an inventor’s 3-D display technology patent with its handheld 3DS video game system. The jury awarded the inventor, Seijiro Tomita, $30.2 million in compensatory damages.
The technology involved provided 3-D images without the need for 3-D glasses. Last month Tomita’s attorney, Joe Diamante, told the jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that Nintendo used technology that Tomita developed for its 3DS. Tomita worked for Sony.
Nintendo said that 3DS doesn’t use key aspects of Tomita’s patent and added that a 2003 meeting with Nintendo officials that Tomita cited in his argument was merely one of several the company held with vendors selling 3-D display technology. Lindvall declined to comment following the verdict. Nintendo officials were not immediately available for comment.
Several Sony stores in the US have discounted the 3G PlayStation Vita by $100, with some branches asserting that it’s because the 3G machine is due to be discontinued.
A news story at Joystiq discovered the price cut, which extends to many but not all of the Sony stores in the US. Wi-Fi only models have not been discounted.
Sony employees from Denver, Las Vegas and New Jersey told Joystiq that the model is being taken off the market, but others were uncertain. Nobody was able to say whether the model would be replaced by a 4G machine or if we’d only see Wi-Fi only Vitas in the future.
The 3G package, which includes an 8GB memory card and a PSN voucher now costs $199.97 and comes with a data plan contract – which would seem to run contrary to any discontinuation rumours. However, if a 4G Vita is in the works, continuing data plan deals with networks would make more sense.
Sony has been contacted for clarification on the story and whether any price cut will become global.
Sony announced its Playstation 4 console last month, with most of the firm’s event devoted to the AMD accelerated processing unit (APU) that will drive the console. Now Nvidia has said that despite its chips not powering Sony’s next generation games console, games developers programming for the console can use its Physx technology.
Nvidia’s Physx technology is a physics library that works on PCs and current generation consoles. It’s no longer limited to the firm’s own GPUs, meaning that AMD’s APU can execute Physx code properly, though perhaps Nvidia would argue slower than its own chips.
Aside from Nvidia’s Physx software, the firm’s Apex SDK also boasts support for the Playstation 4. Nvidia’s Apex is a set of tools that allows games designers to rapidly develop models and interactive game content. Mike Skolones, product manager for Physx at Nvidia said, “Great physics technology is essential for delivering a better gaming experience and multiplatform support is critical for developers. With Physx and Apex support for Playstation 4, customers can look forward to better games.”
Nvidia still wants games developers to use its tools despite not being in at least two of the three next generation games consoles, because it gives the firm a chance for its desktop graphics cards to win benchmarks when games are ported to the PC.
I haven’t played any of the Dead Space games, so I can’t comment on the criticisms that Dead Space 3 sold poorly because of game content or the way in which it dumbed down the gameplay experience to appeal to a broader audience. I can talk about how I see the microtransaction and other changes that vocal fans derided fit in with Electronic Arts’ broader strategy.
The games market is polarizing. The big are getting bigger (see Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty beating first week sales records year after year) while the niche is becoming more viable (see every indie game on Steam) while the middle is getting squeezed (see THQ, Eurocom and dozens of other midsize developers). The emergence of digital distribution has brought along a bigger change than many people realized, driven by two different properties:
- It is cheaper than ever before to distribute content
- It is possible to have unique, personal, one-to-one relationships with every customer
The strategies that EA are putting in place reflect this reality.
The variable demand curve
The past 30 years were about putting games in boxes, shoving them in shops and trying to sell as many as possible. The price was basically fixed at around £30-40, so the only way you could make more money was to do more volume, i.e. sell more copies. You could also try to maintain the price for as long as possible by restricting price reductions and limiting trade-ins. What you couldn’t do was to connect with your fans in any meaningful way.
We no longer live in that world, except perhaps for the very biggest blockbusters. We live in the world where there is a bewildering choice and variety of games available to us. At the same time, development costs for AAA games are enormous and rising, while the market is not getting bigger. In fact, that subset of the market is shrinking as players are distracted by the many different ways, times and devices they can play games on.
There is only one solution. It is to find a way to use the initial launch of AAA game as a starting point in your relationship with fans. It is to start the long process of turning games from one-off purchases to long-term relationships. It is about using games to engage with and retain players, to convert some of those players into fans and to convert some of those fans into superfans. In the process, niche AAA games that are not viable using the blockbuster, fixed-price-massive-volume model can become successful long-term businesses.
Viewed through that lens, everything that EA is doing makes sense. It is trying to use its games as the starting point of the relationship. Sometimes those games are free (as in most of its mobile, tablet and online strategy). Sometimes they are paid (as in its console strategy). What they are trying to achieve is a revenue model which means that those people who love their games, who keep playing, who are vocal and demanding, are given an opportunity to spend lots of money on the products that they love. It is the only way for niche AAA games to survive.
I don’t know why Dead Space 3 didn’t do well. I don’t know if it was about poor design decisions, a change of focus or gamers voting with their wallets and not supporting a game with microtransactions on principle (EA will have data on how many users engaged with microtransactions. Answering the other questions will be harder).
But I don’t think gamers should view any rumored cancellations of blockbuster projects as a victory against microtransactions. Finding a way for the biggest fans to pay lots of money to get things they truly value is the only way to support niche AAA games (and by niche, I mean anything outside the top 4 or 5 games released every year). EA may not have got the exact model right yet, but they are experimenting. The failure of the experiment does not mean that EA will abandon microtransactions: it means that it will abandon anything other than blockbuster games and tablet games.
Is that what you really want?
Nicholas Lovell is director at GAMESbrief, a blog about the business of games. He provides business advice on free-to-play and paymium design. He will be giving a masterclass on how to make money from free-to-play games in San Francisco on Sunday March 24, just before GDC. You can also book one-to-one surgeries.