Acer’s boss Jason Chen says his company will not make its own VR devices and will focus on getting its gaming products to work with the existing VR platforms.
Eyebrows were raised when Acer released its new Predator series products which support virtual reality devices. The thought was that Acer might have a device of its own in the works. However Acer CEO Jason Chen said there were no plans and the goal was to get everythink working with the four current major VR platforms Oculus, HTC’s Vive, OSVR and StarVR.
He said that VR was still at a rather early stage and so far still has not yet had any killer apps or software. Although that never stopped the development of tablet which to this day has not got itself a killer app. But Chen said that its demand for high-performance hardware will be a good opportunity for Acer.
Acer is planning to add support for VR devices into all of its future Predator series products and some of its high-end PC products.
Chen told Digitimes that said Acer was investing in two robot projects, the home-care Jibo and the robot arm Kubi in the US, and the company internally has also been developing robot technologies and should achieve some results within two years. Acer’s robot products will target mainly the enterprise market.
Virtual reality is, without a doubt, the most exciting thing that’s going to happen to videogames in 2016 – but it’s becoming increasingly clear, in the cold light of day, that it’s only going to be providing thrills to a relatively limited number of consumers. Market research firm Superdata has downgraded its forecast for the size of the VR market this year once more, taking it from a dizzying $5.1 billion projection at the start of the year to a more reasonable sounding $2.9 billion; though I’d argue that even this figure is optimistic, assuming as it does supply-constrained purchases of 7.2 million VR headsets by American consumers alone in 2016.
Yes, supply-constrained; Superdata reckons that some 13 million Americans will want a VR headset this year, but only 7.2 million will ship, of which half will be Samsung’s Gear VR – which is an interesting gadget in some regards, but I can’t help but feel that its toy-like nature and the low-powered hardware which drives it isn’t quite what most proponents of VR have in mind for their revolution. Perhaps the limited selection of content consumers can access on Gear VR will whet their appetite for the real thing; pessimistically, though, there’s also every chance that it will queer the pitch entirely, with 3.5 million low-powered VR gadgets being a pretty likely source of negative word of mouth regarding nausea or headaches, for example.
This is a problem VR needs to tackle; for a great many consumers, without proactive moves from the industry, word of mouth is all they’re going to get regarding VR. It’s a transformative technology, when the experience is good – as it generally is on PSVR, Rift and Vive – but it’s not one you can explain easily in a video, or on a billboard, because the whole point is that it’s a new way of seeing 3D worlds that isn’t possible on existing screens. Worse, when you see someone else using a VR headset in a video or in real life, it just looks weird and a bit silly. The technology only starts to shine for most consumers when they either experience it, or speak to a friend evangelising it on the basis of their own experience; either way, it all comes down to experience.
That’s why it was interesting to hear GameStop talk up its role as a place where consumers can come and try out PlayStation VR headsets this year. That’s precisely what the technology needs; where at the moment, there are a handful of places you can go to try out VR, but it’s utterly insufficient. VR’s objective for 2016 isn’t just to get into the hands of a few million consumers – it’s to become desired, deeply desired, by tens of millions more. The only way that will happen is to create that army of evangelists by creating a large number of easily accessible opportunities to experience VR – and GameStop is right to position itself as the industry’s best chance of doing so in the USA. Pop-up VR booths in trendy spots might excite bloggers, but what this new sector needs in the latter half of 2016 is much more down to earth – it needs as many of America’s malls as possible to be places where shoppers can drop in and try out VR for themselves.
In a sense, what’s happening here is deeply ironic; after years of digital distribution and online shopping making retail all but irrelevant, to the point where it’s practically disappeared in some countries, the industry suddenly needs retail stores again – not to sell games, because those are, in truth, better sold online, but to sell hardware, to sell an experience. How exactly you structure a long-term business model around that – the games retailer as showroom – is something I’m honestly not sure about, but it’s something GameStop and its industry partners need to figure out, because what VR makes clear is that games do sometimes need a way to reach consumers physically, in the real world, and right now only games retail chains are positioned to do that.
This isn’t a one-time thing, either – we know that, because this has happened before, in the not-so-distant past. Nintendo’s Wii enjoyed an extraordinary sales trajectory from its first Christmas post-launch into its first full year on the market, not least because the company did a good job of putting demo units (mostly running Wii Sports, of course) into not only every games store in the world, but also into countless other popular shopping areas. It was nigh-on impossible, in the early months of the Wii, to go out shopping without encountering the brand, seeing people playing the games and having the opportunity to do so yourself – an enormously important thing for a device which, like VR, really needed to be experienced in person for its worth to become apparent. VR, if anything, magnifies that problem; at least with Wii Sports, observers could see people having fun with it. Observing someone using VR, as mentioned above, just looks daft and a bit uncomfortable.
GameStop has weathered the storm rather better than some of its peers in other countries. The United Kingdom has seen its games retail devastated; it’s all but impossible to actually walk into a specialist store and buy a game in many UK city centres, including London. Would a modern-day version of the Wii be able to thrive in an environment lacking these ready-made showrooms for its capabilities on every high street and in every shopping mall? Perhaps, but it would take enormous effort and investment; something that VR firms, especially Sony, are going to have to take very seriously as they plan how to get the broader public interested in their device, and how to break out beyond the early adopter market.
Much of the VR industry’s performance in 2016 is going to be measured in raw sales figures, which is a bit of a shame; Vive and Rift are enormously supply constrained and having fulfillment difficulties, and the numbers we’ve seen floating around for Sony’s intentions suggest that PSVR will also be supply constrained through Christmas. The VR industry – ignoring the slightly worrying, premature offshoot that is mobile VR – is going to sell every headset it can manufacture in 2016. If it doesn’t, then there’s a very serious problem, but every indication says that this year’s key limiter will be supply, not demand.
The real measurement of how VR has performed in 2016, then, should be something else – the purchasing intent and interest level of the rest of the population. If by the time the world is mumbling through the second line of Auld Lang Syne and welcoming in 2017, consumer awareness of VR is low and purchasing intent isn’t skyrocketing – or worse, if the media’s dominant narratives about the technology are all about vomiting and migraines – then the industry will have done itself a grievous disservice. This is the year of VR, but not for the vast majority of consumers – which means that the real task of VR firms in 2016 is to convince the world that a VR headset is something it simply must own in 2017.
Troubled camera brand GoPro is going for broke and getting into the emerging VR market.
The outfit has GoPro has announced a new channel dedicated to 360-degree or VR content, which it calls GoPro VR. It has also unveiled a new version of its HeroCast wireless streaming tool, LiveVR, that’s dedicated to VR content. It seems to think that this effort will bail it out of its financial woes.
Meanwhile it has been talking up its VR camera rig. This is a six-camera Omni VR which will cost $5,000 for a complete bundle which can create extreme 360-degree content. It is even offering a $1,500 discount for those who already have a stack of GoPro cameras.
Pre-orders for the Omni VR camera will be opening up today, which is when the GoPro VR platform will also be launching. Today will also see the launch of GoPro VR apps for iOS and Android. Much of GloPro’s VR work is based around Kolor Eyes which was a 360-degree software specialist GoPro acquired around this time last year.
We expect to see the rest of the VR product line-up at the NAB show that starts in Las Vegas later today.
Software giant Microsoft has moved to deny a daft internet rumor that it was responsible for the ongoing Oculus Rift supply issues.
Oculus Rift customers were kept in the dark about the delays following the 28 March release date. Oculus confirmed that a component shortage was to blame for the long delays in supplying its VR headset to those who had pre-ordered. Then a rumour started that the mysterious “missing component” was actually the Xbox One control pad.
The rumour got a fair bit of traffic among the IT press which did not check the facts and liked making Microsoft the villian for all its woes. A moment engaging brain would have knocked the rumor stone dead. The source of the rumor came from a Reddit post from a bloke who claimed to have an inside source who told him. In journalism this is called a “man you met down the pub” source. You get around it by naming the source or using the information to stand the story up.
Someone finally did the right thing and asked Redmond, they were promptly told that the rumor was totally false and if anyone had any question about Rift delays they should ask Oculus VR.
This morning Reddit marked the post as a “confirmed fake.” An Oculus customer support worker, whose identity was verified, also dismissed the claim.
“Totally fake, but super-entertaining,” he said. “Thanks for this! Keep the fanatic coming!”
Clearly who ever fabricated the leak did not know what a supply issue really is. It is when there is not enough bits ordered to make up the final machine. Sometimes it is caused by a batch of faulty components, but normally it is because someone did not order enough.
Oculus has assured customers that it is working to overcome its supply issues. “We’ve taken steps to address the component shortage, and we’ll continue shipping in higher volumes each week,” reads its statement.
“We’ve also increased our manufacturing capacity to allow us to deliver in higher quantities, faster. Many Rifts will ship less than four weeks from original estimates, and we hope to beat the new estimates we’ve provided.”
When was the last time you played as a black character in a game who wasn’t either a) the sidekick to a strapping white dude or b) a stereotypical gang member? We Are Chicago, from Indie studio Culture Shock, offers something different: a realistic representation of the life of a person of color in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods.
“It was interesting to think about how you make a game about something that’s actually happened, a true story, and still give the player agency,” explains studio founder Michael Block.
“So we were talking about those ideas. We’re from Chicago and at the time we had started doing some volunteer stuff and talking to some people on the South Side, a very racially-segregated section of the city, very poor and has a lot of issues with gangs and violence. We realized it’s a really interesting story and nobody is talking about this stuff.”
This was the moment that led to the game I played a few weeks ago at GDC, which Block calls a documentary game, a game which gives players an insight into the world of high school student Aaron. During the very first scene, Aaron’s family sits down to dinner, only to hear the sound of gunshots. It’s shocking not because I’ve never heard a gunshot in a game before, but because the family carries on with dinner, discussing their situation but accepting the violence as part of the background to their lives.
“We brought on a writer from one of the neighborhoods to write the actual dialogue”
Scenes like this aren’t just based on Culture Shock’s preconceived ideas about the South Side, but on the sort of research that would make any journalist proud.
The growth of narrative games
“Part of it comes to down to places like Telltale, I think what they were able to do which has been super helpful, and they’ve been paving the way for everyone else to do all this stuff, is because they had this tie-in to an IP that people really liked and then they were able to tell a really compelling story with that IP. I think that got people into that genre.
“That has benefited us in unimaginable ways because it allows people to come into it with an open mind and know what they’re getting.”
“At the beginning we did interviews. We actually got really lucky: there was a non-profit group that we were volunteering with that basically blanketed the city with volunteers and they had a survey that could have been written for our game. Things like, what are you seeing in your neighbourhood that could be problematic? What are the things that you’re seeing are really good? Are you seeing any solutions that are working well? What do you wish was there?”
“From that we were doing interviews with people at bus stops on the South Side and we just asked a bunch of people all these questions and then gave that all back to the non-profit. Then we met a whole bunch of people who we were volunteering and people that they knew and put us in touch with and we did more in-depth interviews.”
As well as researching their subject matter, We Are Chicago took their commitment to representing the stories into the studio via recruitment.
“We brought on a writer from one of the neighborhoods to write the actual dialogue. So we had the outline in place, we had the ideas that we wanted to talk about and we went to him and said ‘let’s figure out how to make this into a narrative arc’. Then we brought on environment artists as well from the neighborhoods that we were looking at to work on the content of the game and they’ve also looked over the script and made sure everything makes sense to them as well.”
Block and his team also plan to continue working with the non-profits of Chicago, taking a build of the game to a couple of schools in Chicago to do play-testing with young kids and to make sure that the game is true to their experiences. He also reveals that he plans to do a revenue share with some of the non-profits, as a way of giving back.
That’s Block’s motivation here, and it’s a noble one. We Are Chicago is a difficult game to make and difficult game to sell, but its importance to its creators goes beyond simple profit and loss.
“I’m working on this project because for all of my career – I’ve worked on Organ Trail and I’ve worked at mid-sized studios before and released other games – I didn’t really feel like they were having the impact I wanted to have. I wanted to do something that was positive for our society and our community and so this feels very important to me personally because it feels like I’m able to achieve that,” says Block.
“We’ve had some really great responses from people. Seeing some people express more racist sentiments and ideas and then after playing the game actually not express those things is really validating and really satisfying, to think that we might actually be able to have that impact. It’s a very strong connection for me because I’m hoping that we can prove that this is possible with games and that we’re doing it.”
We Are Chicago will be released this year on PC, Mac and Linux.
The dark satanic rumor mill has manufactured a hell on earth yarn which claims that the outfit which nearly killed off VR gaming with its “Virtual Boy” wants to get back into the industry.
More than 20 years ago Nintendo came up with its $179.95 Virtual Boy it was marketed as the first “portable” video game console capable of displaying “true 3D graphics.” It failed because it was too pricey, was not really portable and made users sick. It was pulled within a year and was cited as proof as to why VR was not ready yet.
Not surprisingly Nintendo didn’t want to go back to that AI place. Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime even claimed it “just isn’t fun” enough. Now that appears to have changed and Nintendo saying it was “looking at VR” but wouldn’t be in a position to give more details any time soon.
Carnegie Mellon University professor and game designer Jesse Schell outlined his 40 predictions for VR and and Augmented Reality on the list was Schell’s belief that the Japanese company is already working on a headset, and that it could be the one which takes the industry in a new direction.
Schell feels that by 2022, most of the cash spent on VR will be related to portable, self-contained systems that are not dependant on other mobile tech (like Samsung’s Gear VR, which needs a Samsung smartphone to function) or require a PC or console, and are free from cables and wires which restriction movement and immersion.
Sony’s entry into the virtual reality market may be just a few short months away, thanks to an interview segment with GameStop CEO Paul Raines with Fox Business on Monday.
According to the interview segment, Raines told the network that GameStop is being centrally positioned for the launch of several major virtual reality (VR) projects, which he claims will be a “lucrative business.”
“We are right now preparing for the launches of the major VR products,” Raines told Fox Business. “So we’re now in discussions with Oculus, with HTC Vive, and with Sony. The market size is really hard to measure right now, but there are a lot of different measurements — all of them start with a [billion]. In fact, I saw a Goldman Sachs report the other day that said that the virtual reality segment will be worth about $80 billion by 2025. So it’s a big launch. We’re getting ready for it. We will launch the Sony product this fall, and we are in discussions with the other two players.”
Although the GameStop CEO did not refer to the headset by name, there is not much doubt that he was referring to Sony’s PlayStation VR, previously known by the codename “Project Morpheus.”
The first time the public learned about Sony’s Project Morpheus was during the 2015 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco last spring, where a prototype was revealed using a 5.7-inch 1920x1080p OLED display (960x1080p per eye) with an RGB sub-pixel matrix running at 120 frames per second. The headset uses custom curved lenses to magnify and stretch the display across a wearer’s field of vision.
The stereoscopic 3D headset features a 100-degree field of view (FOV), six degrees of freedom (up, down, back, forward, right, left, yaw), and unwrapped (flat) output to a TV for use with a separate display or for viewing by others. Sony claims this is to prevent the unit from becoming a solitary experience, as it sees VR as a multi-user technology. The unit is controlled with a standard DualShock 4 game controller for most games, a PlayStation Camera to track physical movements, and can also be used with PlayStation Move wand controllers to simulate hand interactions in virtual game environments.
There are currently 82 games listed for the PlayStation VR, only sixteen of which have been announced so far with a 2016 release date. Some notable titles include Ace Combat 7 (Namco Bandai), Battlezone (Rebellion Developments), Eagle Flight (Ubisoft), Earthlight (Opaque Media), EVE: Valkyrie (CCP Games), Job Simulator (Owlchemy Labs), The London Heist (Sony Computer Entertainment), Robinson: The Journey (Crytek), Tekken 7 (Namco Bandai) and Vector 36 (Red River Studio), among others.
Software giant Microsoft is planning to get its Xbox business back in gear by making it follow the same sort of business model which worked for it on Microsoft office.
CEO Satya Nadella said that Microsoft has shifted its focus away from trying to strong-arm competitors out of the market, and towards a future of providing apps and services on the iPhones, Android phones, and Macs.
For example Microsoft Office is already on a subscription-based service available via the Internet. With the Office 365 service, customers pay their $10/month (or more if they’re a business) and get access to all the Office apps they can eat.
Redmond recently announced that it had 48 million monthly active users of its Xbox Live gaming service, across both the last-generation (but still popular) Xbox 360 console and the newer Xbox One.
Redmond sells this in two subscription tiers: Silver, which is free, and Gold, which is $60 per year. Silver subscribers can buy games, movies, and TV shows from the Xbox’s digital store they are also expected to swim while wearing pajamas. But subscribing at the Gold level gets you some crucial perks, including the ability to play multiplayer games online and a handful of “free” games every month. Gold subscription will also mean that people start calling you ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ and take their hats off when they talk to you.
What is different is that the new Windows 10 operating system can push Microsoft’s subscription services on you including the Xbox live. It has all been dubbed as “Xbox as a service.”
The latest game from Microsoft “Quantum Break,” was supposed to be an Xbox exclusive. It was announced that there also be a PC version, which buyers of “Quantum Break” for the Xbox One get for free. Most important, you also can sync your saved games across the two via the cloud.
Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that this would be a “platform feature” for the Xbox and Windows 10. Basically it means you buy the game once, get two copies that you can play anywhere.
Sony is behind in this because it does not have Windows 10 as its trump card. It offers “cross-buy support” for some while on select games, letting you buy a game once and play it on your PlayStation 4 or the handheld PlayStation Vita console.
Google is researching into a more virtual realtiy technology which will probably just end up in the beta stage before the search engine gives up on the whole project.
Google is apparently developing a new virtual-reality headset for smartphones, and adding extra support for the technology to Android in a cunning plan to give Oculus a run for its money. We are not holding our breath, we keep getting announcements like this from Google and they always turn to be vapourware like Google Glass..
Anyway this one is to be a successor to Cardboard, the cheap-and-cheerful mobile VR viewer that Google launched in 2014 and you can sort of buy and sold more than than 5 million units.
This one will feature better sensors, lenses and a more solid plastic casing, according to people familiar with its plans. The smartphone-based device will be similar to the Gear VR, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus that went on sale to consumers late last year.
Google is expected to release its rival headset, alongside new Android VR technology, this year. Like Cardboard and Gear VR, the new headset will use an existing smartphone, slotted into the device, for its display and most of its processing power. But it will still be VR for dummies. Google Cardboard relies solely on sensors already built into modern smartphones to detect the position of a user’s head while real VR kits are a bit better and suffer less from latency issues.
The updated Google headset will be compatible with a much broader range of Android devices than Gear VR, which only works with a handful of recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone models, as the Alphabet unit tries to bring the technology to a wider audience.
The thought is that by improving resolution and latency, the combination of better Android software and the new headset will allow viewers to spend longer in VR and enable developers to create more sophisticated apps.
Nintendo’s finances took a dip in the company’s third quarter report for FY 2015 – sales stayed relatively stable with just 3.9 per cent shrinkage to 427.7 billion Yen ($3.5bn), but profits dropped by 32 per cent year-on-year to 40.5 billion Yen ($336m).
Although the bottom line failed to excite, plenty of familiar faces performed well for the publisher’s software arm, as well as a few new names. Top seller was Child friendly Wii U shooter Splatoon, shifting over four million units. Super Mario maker wasn’t far behind on 3.34 million, whilst Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer reached 2.93 million. Collectively the 3DS family sold 5.88 million units of hardware and 38.87 million games. The Wii U totalled 3.06 million consoles and 22.62 million pieces of software. 20.50 million Amiibo figures were sold, and approximately 21.50 million Amiibo cards.
Those eagerly awaiting news of either the new NX system or the company’s first smartphone game will be disappointed – neither was mentioned in the company’s forward looking statements. Instead, the publisher focused on relatively known quantities.
“For Nintendo 3DS, we will globally release a special edition hardware pre-installed with Pokémon title(s) from the original Pokémon series on February 27 which marks the 20th year since the original Pokémon series release,2 read the accompanying statement.
“Furthermore, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and key titles from third-party publishers are scheduled for release. For Wii U, we will strive to maintain the attention level of Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, which are continuing to show steady sales, while introducing new titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. Meanwhile, for Amiibo, we will continue to expand the product lineup in order to maintain momentum. At the same time, we will aim to further expand sales by offering new gaming experiences with the use of Amiibo. In addition, the first application for smart devices, Miitomo, is scheduled for release.”
The company has maintained its full year target of 35 billion Yen in profit.
Virtual reality (VR) will not be supported on most consumer computers as the technology booms and manufacturers prepare to introduce it on a consumer level this year, Nvidia has warned.
Jason Paul, the firm’s general manager of Shield, gaming and VR, told Venturebeat that graphics processors need to be about seven times more powerful than in a standard PC game to run VR, and that there will be only about 13 million PCs in the market that will be powerful enough to run them by next year when the first major PC-based VR headsets ship, at least on PCs.
However, Nvidia said that this number could be extended to 25 million if the VR game makers use Nvidia’s GameWorks VR software (of course), which is said to make the VR processing more efficient.
GameWorks VR is aimed at games and applications developers, and includes a feature called VR SLI, which provides increased performance for VR applications where multiple GPUs can be assigned to a specific eye to dramatically accelerate stereo rendering.
The software also delivers specific features for VR headset developers, including Context Priority, which provides control over GPU scheduling to support advanced VR features such as asynchronous time warp. This cuts latency and quickly adjusts images as gamers move their heads, without the need to re-render a new frame.
There’s also a feature in the SDK called Direct Mode, which treats VR headsets as head-mounted displays accessible only to VR applications, rather than a typical Windows monitor, providing better plug-and-play support and compatibility for VR headsets.
Nvidia said that GameWorks VR is already being integrated into leading game engines, such as those from Epic Games, which has announced support for GameWorks VR features in an upcoming version of the popular Unreal Engine 4.3. However, considering Paul’s comments, it mustn’t be getting implemented as much as the firm would like.
VR is becoming increasingly prevalent as device manufacturers try to offer enhanced experiences, especially in gaming. Oculus has been showing off what it can do for some time, and it seems its official debut is not too far away. But it was Oculus that seemed to kick-start this upward trend and, since it hit the headlines, we’ve seen a number of big technology companies giving it a go, especially smartphone makers.
The HTC Vive is one, for example. But, like Oculus, the headset is still in the initial rollout phase and not yet on sale commercially, requiring any developers wanting to have a pop at writing code for it to enter a selection process for distribution, which began only this summer.
Sony, another smartphone maker, has also dipped its toe in the world of VR via Project Morpheus, a headset like HTC’s Vive that looks to enhance gaming experiences, but specifically as an accessory for the PlayStation 4, which we assume won’t come with the concerns Nvidia has as it should work with the console right out of the box.
Epic Games said it is investigating issue with Unreal Engine 4 and AMD CPUs.
The problem appears in Squad which is the first big, publicly available game using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4. The game was just stuck up on Steam so complaints about the AMD have been somewhat vocal.
The engine appears to create a poor performance on AMD CPUs due to an audio component of the engine. The issue has been reported before but no one took it that seriously. In fact some of theissues here seem to be a communication problem between Squad and Epic.
Squad developer Offworld Industries told Tweaktown that there was little it could do about this besides wait for Epic to fix it and release the fix in an engine patch.
However Epic’s senior marketing manager Dana Cowley said she didn’t even know about the problem until she was contacted by the media.
She said he was getting on the blower with the Squad team to investigate, and see how it could help.
There is a work around being suggested on the blogs which might help. If you navigate to C:UsersAppDataLocalSquadSavedConfigWindowsNoEditor, back up the Engine.ini file then open it with Notepad, find the [Audio] section, change MaxChannels from 128 to 96, 64, or 32, and save.
Benchmarks for Valve’s Steam machines are out and it does not look like the Linux powered OS is stacking up well against Windows.
According to Ars Technica the SteamOS gaming comes with a significant performance hit on a number of benchmarks.
The OS was put through Geekbench 3 which has a Linux version. The magazine used some mid-to-late-2014 releases that had SteamOS ports suitable for tests including Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux.
Both were intensive 3D games with built-in benchmarking tools and a variety of quality sliders to play with (including six handy presets in Shadow of Mordor’s case).
On SteamOS both games had a sizable frame rate hit. We are talking about 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.
You would think that Valve’s own games wouldn’t have this problem, but Portal, Team Fortress 2, and DOTA 2 all took massive frame rate dips on SteamOS compared to their Windows counterparts.
Left 4 Dead 2 showed comparable performance between the two operating systems but nothing like what Steam thought it would have a couple of years ago.
Activision Blizzard has bought King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion, marking not only one of the largest acquisitions in videogame history but one of the largest deals ever made in the entertainment business. Comparing this to previous entertainment deals highlights just how extraordinary the figures involved are; the purchase price values King at significantly more than Marvel Entertainment (acquired by Disney for $4.2 billion), Star Wars owner Lucasfilm (Disney again, for $4.1 billion) and movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (acquired by Sony for almost $5 billion). The price dwarfs the $1.5 billion paid by Japanese network SoftBank and mobile publisher GungHo for Supercell back in 2013 – though it’s not quite on the same scale as the $7.4 billion price tag Disney paid for Pixar, or in the same ballpark as the $18 billion-odd involved in the merger that originally created Activision Blizzard itself.
How is $5.9 billion justified? Well, it’s a fairly reasonable premium of 20% over the company’s share price – though if you’ve been holding on to King shares since its IPO in 2014, you’ll still be disappointed, as it’s far short of the $22.50 IPO price, or even the $20.50 that the shares traded at on their first day on the open market. The company’s share price has been more or less stable this year, but Activision’s offer still doesn’t make up for the various tumbles shares took through 2014.
A better justification, perhaps, lies in the scale of King’s mobile game business. The company is a little off its peak at the moment. Candy Crush Saga, its biggest title, is on a slow decline from an extraordinary peak of success, and other titles aren’t growing fast enough to make up for that decline, but it still recorded over half a billion monthly active users (MAUs) in its recently reported second quarter figures. In terms of paying users, the company had 7.6 million paying users each month – more than Blizzard’s cash cow, World of Warcraft, and moreover, the average revenue from each of those users was $23.26, far more than a World of Warcraft subscriber pays. King took in $529 million in bookings during the quarter, 81 per cent of it from mobile devices – a seriously appealing set of figures for a company like Activision, which struggles to get even 10 per cent of its revenues from mobile despite its constant lip-service to the platform.
In buying King, Activision instantly makes itself into one of the biggest players in the mobile space, albeit simply by absorbing the company that is presently at the top of the heap. It diversifies its bottom line in a way that investors and analysts have been crying out for it to do, reducing its reliance on console (still damn near half of its revenues) and on the remarkable-but-fading World of Warcraft, and bulking up its anaemic mobile revenues to the point of respectability. On paper, this deal turns Activision into a much more broad-based company that’s far more in line with the present trajectory of the market at large, and should assuage the fears of those who think Activision’s over-reliance on a small number of core franchises leaves it far more vulnerable than rivals like Electronic Arts.
That’s on paper. In practice, though, what has Activision just bought for $5.9 billion? That’s a slightly trickier question. The company is, unquestionably, now the proud owner of one of the most talented and accomplished creators and operators of mobile games in the world. King’s experience of developing, marketing and, crucially, running mobile games at enormous scale, and the team that accomplished all of that, is undoubtedly valuable in its own right. Those are talents that Activision didn’t have yesterday, but will have tomorrow. Are those talents worth $5.9 billion, though? Without wishing for a moment to cast doubt on the skills of those who work at King, no, they’re not. $5.9 billion isn’t “acquihire” money, and when that’s the kind of cash involved we simply can’t think of this as an “acquihire” deal. Activision didn’t pay that kind of money in order to get access to the talent and experience assembled at King. It paid for King itself, for its ongoing businesses and its IP.
Open the shopping bag, and you might struggle to understand how the contents reach $5.9 billion at the till. King has one remarkable, breakthrough, enormously successful IP – Candy Crush Saga, which still accounts (not including heavily marketed spin-off title Candy Crush Soda Saga) for 39 per cent of the company’s gross bookings. No doubt deeply aware of the danger of being over-reliant on revenues from this single title, King has worked incredibly hard to find success for other games in its portfolio. But even its great efforts in this regard have failed to compensate for falling revenues from Candy Crush, and it’s notable that a fair amount of the “non-Candy Crush Saga” revenue that the company boasts actually comes from Candy Crush Soda Saga. Other titles like Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga are no doubt profitable and successful in their own right, and King would be a sustainable business even without Candy Crush. But it would be a much, much smaller business, and certainly not a $5.9 billion business.
Despite being generally bullish about King’s prospects, then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the company has done incredibly well out of this acquisition. The undoubted talent and experience of its teams aside, this is, realistically, a company with one IP worth paying for, and unlike Star Wars or the Avengers, Candy Crush is a very new IP whose longevity is entirely untested and whose potential for merchandising or cross-media ventures is dubious at best. King has done better than most of its rivals in the mobile space at applying some of the lessons of its biggest hit to subsequent games and making them successful, but it shares with every other mobile developer the same fundamental problem: none of them has ever worked out how to bottle the lightning that creates a mega-hit and repeat the success down the line. Absent of another Candy Crush game, the odds are that King’s business would slowly deflate as the air escaped from the Candy Crush bubble, until the company’s sustainable (and undoubtedly profitable) core was what was left. Selling up to Activision at a healthy premium while the company is still “inflated” by the likely unrepeatable success of Candy Crush is a fantastic move for the company’s management and investors, but rather less so for Activision.
Perhaps, though, the whole might be more than the sum of its parts? Couldn’t Activision, holders of some of the world’s favourite console and PC game IP, work with King to leverage that IP and the firm’s reach in traditional games, creating new business at the interaction of their respective specialisations? That’s a big part of what made Pixar so valuable to Disney, for example; the match between their businesses was of vital importance to that deal, and the same can broadly be said for Disney’s other huge acquisitions, Lucasfilm and Marvel. (SoftBank’s purchase of Supercell, by comparison, was rather more of a straightforward market-share land grab.) What could this new hybrid, Activision Blizzard King, hope to achieve in terms of overlap that enhances the value of its various component parts?
Certainly, Activision has some properties that could work on mobile (I’m thinking specifically of Skylanders here, though others may also fit); some Blizzard properties could also probably work on mobile, though I very much doubt that Blizzard (which retains a strong degree of independence within the group) is a good cultural fit for King, and is deeply unlikely to work with it in any manner which gives up the slightest creative control over its properties. King’s properties, meanwhile, don’t look terribly enticing as console or PC games, and conversions done this way would almost certainly defeat the entire purpose of the deal anyway, since the objective is to bolster Activision’s mobile business. The prospect of a mobile game based on Call of Duty or another major console IP may seem superficially interesting, but we’ve been down this road before and it didn’t lead anywhere impressive. Sure, core gamers are on mobile too, but they’ve by and large been nonplussed at best and outraged at worst by the notion of engaging with mobile versions of their console favourites. It’s genuinely hard to piece together the various IPs and franchises owned by King and Activision and see how there’s any winning interaction between them on the table.
This is what makes me keep returning to those other mega-deals – to Star Wars, to Marvel, to Pixar – and finding the contrast between them and Activision / King so extraordinary. Each of those multi-billion dollar deals was carried out by Disney with a very specific, long-term plan in mind that would leverage the abilities of both acquirer and acquired to create something far more than the sum of its parts. Each of those deals had a very clear raison d’être beyond simply “it’ll make us bigger.” Each of those companies fitted with the new parent like a piece of a puzzle. King’s only role in Activision’s “puzzle” is that they do mobile, and Activision sucks at mobile; there’s no sense of any grand plan that will play out.
In all likelihood, Activision has just paid a huge premium for a company which is past the peak of its greatest hit title and into a period of managed decline, not to mention a company with which its core businesses simply don’t fit in any meaningful way. King’s a great company in many respects, but its acquisition isn’t going to go down as a great deal for Activision – and we can expect to see plenty of that $5.9 billion being frittered away in goodwill write-downs over the coming few years.
As the end of 2015 rapidly approaches (seriously, how on earth is it October already?), the picture of what we can expect from VR in 2016 is starting to look a little less fuzzy around the edges. There’s no question that next year is the Year of VR, at least in terms of mindshare. Right now it looks like no fewer than three consumer VR systems will be on the market during calendar 2016 – Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and Valve / HTC Vive. They join Samsung’s already released Gear VR headset, although that device has hardly set the world on fire; it’s underwhelming at best and in truth, VR enthusiasts are all really waiting for one of the big three that will arrive next year.
Those fuzzy edges, though; they’re a concern, and as they come into sharper focus we’re starting to finally understand what the first year of VR is going to look like. In the past week or so, we’ve learned more about pricing for the devices – and for Microsoft’s approach, the similar but intriguingly different Hololens – and the aspect that’s brought into focus is simple; VR is going to be expensive. It’s going to be expensive enough to be very strictly limited to early adopters with a ton of disposable income. It’s quite likely going to be expensive enough that the market for software is going to struggle for the first couple of years at least, and that’s a worry.
Oculus Rift, we’ve learned, will cost “at least” $350. That’s just for the headset; you’ll also need a spectacularly powerful PC to play games in VR. No laptop will suffice, and you’re certainly out of luck with a Mac; even for many enthusiasts, the prospect of adding a major PC purchase or upgrade to a $350 headset is a hefty outlay for an early glimpse of the future. It’s likely (though as yet entirely unconfirmed) that Valve’s Vive headset will have a similar price tag and a similarly demanding minimum PC specification. The cheap end of the bunch is likely to be PlayStation VR – not because the headset will be cheap (Sony has confirmed that it is pricing it as a “platform” rather than a peripheral, suggesting a $300 or so price tag) but because the system you attach it to is a $350 PS4 rather than a much more expensive PC.
It is unreasonable, of course, to suggest that this means that people will be expected to pay upwards of $600 for Sony’s solution, or $1500 for the PC based solution. A great many people already own PS4s; quite a few own PCs capable of playing VR titles. For these people, the headset alone (and perhaps some software) is the cost of entry. That is still a pretty steep cost – enough to dissuade people with casual interest, certainly – but it’s tolerable for early adopters. The large installed base of PS4s, in particular, makes Sony’s offering interesting and could result in a market for PlayStation VR ramping up significantly faster than pessimistic forecasts suggest. On the PC side, things are a little more worrying – there’s the prospect of a standards war between Valve and Oculus, which won’t be good for consumers, and a question mark over how many enthusiasts actually own a PC powerful enough to run a VR headset reliably, though of course, the cost of PCs that can run VR will fall between now and the 2016 launch.
All the same, the crux of the matter remains that VR is going to be expensive enough – even the headsets alone – to make it into an early-adopter only market during its first year or so. It’s not just the cost, of course; the very nature of VR is going to make it into a slightly tough sell for anyone who isn’t a devoted enthusiast, and more than almost any other type of device, I think VR is going to need a pretty big public campaign to convince people to try it out and accept the concept. It’s one thing to wax lyrical about holodecks and sci-fi dreams; it’s quite another to actually get people to buy into the notion of donning a bulky headset that blocks you off from the world around you in the most anti-social way imaginable. If you’re reading a site like GamesIndustry.biz, you almost certainly get that concept innately; you may also be underestimating just how unattractive and even creepy it will seem to a large swathe of the population, and even to some of the gamer and enthusiast market VR hopes (needs!) to capture.
The multi, multi million dollar question remains, as it has been for some time – what about software? Again, Sony has something of an advantage in this area as it possesses very well regarded internal studios, superb developer relations and deep pockets; combined with its price and market penetration advantages, these ought to more than compensate for the difference in power between the PS4 and the PCs being used to power Rift and Vive, assuming (and it’s a big assumption) that the PS4′s solution actually works reliably and consistently with real games despite its lack of horsepower. The PC firms, on the other hand, need to rely on the excitement, goodwill and belief of developers and publishers to provide great games for VR in its early days. A handful of teams have devoted themselves to VR already and will no doubt do great things, but it’s a matter of some concern that a lot of industry people you talk to about PC VR today are still talking in terms of converting their existing titles to simply work in 3D VR; that will look cool, no doubt, but a conversion lacking the attention to controls, movement and interaction that’s required to make a VR world work will cause issues like motion sickness and straight-up disappointment to rear their ugly heads.
If VR is going to be priced as a system, not just a toy or a peripheral, then it needs to have software that people really, really want. Thus far, what we’ve seen are demos or half-hearted updates of old games. Even as we get close enough to consumer launches for real talk about pricing to begin, VR is still being sold off the back of science fiction dreams and long-held technological longings, not real games, real experiences, real-life usability. That desperately needs to change in the coming months.
At least Hololens, which this week revealed an eye-watering $3000 developer kit to ship early next year, has something of a roadmap in this regard; the device will no doubt be backed up by Microsoft’s own studios (an advantage it shares, perhaps to a lesser degree, with Sony) but more importantly, it’s a device not aimed solely at games, one which will in theory be able to build up a head of steam from sales to enterprise and research customers prior to making a splash in consumer markets with a more mature, less expensive proposition. I can’t help wondering why VR isn’t going down this road; why the headlong rush to get a consumer device on the market isn’t being tempered at least a little by a drive to use the obvious enterprise potential of VR to get the devices out into the wild, mature, established and affordable before pushing them towards consumers. I totally understand the enthusiasm that drives this; I just don’t entirely buy the business case.
At the very least, one would hope that if 2016 is the year of VR, it’s also the year in which we start to actually see VR in real-life applications beyond the gaming dens of monied enthusiasts. It’s a technology that’s perfectly suited to out-of-home situations; the architect who wants to give clients a walkthrough of a new building design; the museum that wants to show how a city looked in the past; the gaming arcade or entertainment venue that wants to give people an experience that most of them simply can’t have at home on their consoles. VR is something that a great many consumers will want to have access to given the right software, the right price point and crucially, the right experience and understanding of its potential. Getting the equipment into the hands of consumers at Tokyo Games Show or EGX is a start, but only a first step. If VR’s going to be a big part of the industry’s future, then come next year, VR needs to be everywhere; it needs to be unavoidable. It can’t keep running on dreams; virtual reality needs to take a step into reality.