At Sony’s 2015 Investor Relations Day today, Sony Computer Entertainment president and global CEO Andrew House detailed the company’s strategy for the coming year, including how it will address some shortcomings.
House began his presentation on a positive note, talking up PlayStation 4 as “the fastest selling hardware platform in our history,” showing better-than expected growth and pushing PlayStation Plus subscriptions to twice what they were in fiscal year 2013. He said the company has a competitive advantage for the moment, and laid out three ways it hopes to maintain that. In addition to next year’s launch of the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset and continued cost reduction efforts, House said the company needs quality software.
“We are working very hard to continue very strong support from third-party pubs and devs,” House said. “Our first-party lineup is a little sparse this year, so I think this places even greater emphasis on getting good third-party support.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean exclusive third-party support. To date, House said Sony has been primarily trying to get multiplatform developers to simply take advantage of features the PS4 has over the competition, like SharePlay, or maybe include extra content in the PS4 version or give players early access to add-on content. Third-party exclusives are still an option, just not a frequently used one.
“I will admit that these are, in the current publishing landscape, few and far between, but we were able to announce a full exclusive around a franchise like Street Fighter so that Street Fighter 5 is a complete exclusive for PlayStation 4,” House said, adding, “Although given publishing dynamics and development costs, those are increasingly difficult to secure.”
House also talked about the decline in Sony’s other platforms. As much as the PS4′s growth has exceeded expectations, so too has the PlayStation 3′s decline. House said the system’s price simply isn’t as competitive in the market as the PlayStation 2 and PSone were after their successors launched, and added that the shift toward more connected console experiences has also made less capable offerings less attractive.
House also cast a dim view of the company’s handheld business. While he noted that the Vita platform remains “strong and vibrant” in Asia and Japan, his outlook for the current fiscal year included declines in the US and Europe. Additionally, he referred to the PlayStation Vita and its microconsole counterpart the PlayStation TV as “legacy platforms” when discussing a write-off of hardware components for the two.
“I would characterize 2015 as the beginning of a harvest period for the PlayStation 4 platform,” House said. “The beginning of a harvest period. That being said, we are also undertaking to invest in the future, and 2015 will also be a year of investment.”
That investment will be focused on a few areas. There’s the Morpheus, of course, as well as continued spend on original PlayStation entertainment content like the TV show Powers (which was recently greenlit for a second season). On top of that, House said Sony would be investing in the expansion of its PlayStation Vue television streaming platform and a continued re-architecture of its PlayStation Network with an eye toward increasing stability and reducing maintenance downtime.
The OS will be in the spotlight at Google’s massive I/O conference in San Francisco later this week. As well as pushing into home appliances, it could also be extended to play a deeper role in virtual reality, allowing Android developers to build apps for smartphones or VR headsets.
Google hasn’t confirmed any of those plans yet, but as usual, the rumor mill has been in motion. Extending Android to even more devices could help Google draw more people to its online services, and by putting the software in home appliances, Google could gather further valuable insights into people’s behavior.
Google already has its Works with Nest program, which lets appliances talk to its thermostat and smoke alarm for certain energy-related tasks. But according to a report last week in The Information, Google is developing new technology called Brillo that will run on low-powered devices independent of Nest with as little as 64MB or 32MB of memory.
That means just about any appliance around the home — the lights, the air conditioner, a Crock-Pot — could be running Brillo and hooked up to the Web, so you could control them remotely from a smartphone or a PC. It’s a well-worn path that Microsoft and many other vendors also are treading, as they try to provide software and connectivity for tomorrow’s Internet of Things.
At I/O, Google may also push Android deeper into virtual reality. In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was developing a VR version of Android.
There will likely be a version of Android that runs virtual reality applications. Such a system could make it easier for developers to use the sensors and other capabilities in smartphones to create VR apps, or else support multiple displays for an immersive experience. The Google I/O schedule lists some sessions focused on designing and developing VR apps.
Hackers from Brazil have managed to discover a new exploit for the PS4 which enables them to bypass the DRM on any software and games.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of electronic stores in Brazil had been advertising the means to copy and run a series of ripped retail games on the console.
At the time little was known about the hack back then, but information gradually began to trickle out from customers and make its way around the web. Please see below for commentary from Lancope.
Gavin Reid, VP of threat intelligence, Lancope said that Sony was playing an arms race against groups that benefit from the abilities to copy and share games.
The hack originates from a Russian website and has been pushed into the public by Brasilian retailers. The hack isn’t necessarily a jailbreak for the PS4, nor is it really a homebrew technique.
What they did was use a retail PS4, with several games installed on it, with it’s entire game database and operating system (including NAN/BIOS). This was then dumped onto a hacked PS4 via Raspberry Pi.
The entire process costs about $100 to $150 to install 10 games and $15 per additional game.
“Open source groups like Homebrew with more altruistic motivations of extending the functionality of the console alongside groups selling modified consoles specifically to play copied games and of course the resell of the games themselves at fraction of the actuals costs. This has happened historically with all of the major consoles. It would be highly unlikely not to continue with the PS4,” he said.
The disclosure is a further indication that Google Glass, which is still being sold to business, will be revived at some point as a product for consumers.
Luxottica is working with Google on a second version of Glass, and the online giant is also rethinking how a future model might look, Massimo Vian, one of Luxottica’s two CEOs, told shareholders in Milan.
“In Google, there are some second thoughts on how to interpret version 3 [of the eyewear]. What you saw was version 1. We’re now working on version 2, which is in preparation,” Vian said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
He didn’t give details about the product or say when it might be introduced.
Launched in 2013, Glass became popular among technology enthusiasts, but its $1,500 price tag held back wider adoption. Many also felt awkward about wearing a computer on their face in public, and the device’s ability to record video surreptitiously sparked privacy questions.
Google, though, believes the headset has potential for consumers but that it needs to be reworked. In the meantime, it’s still selling the device to businesses, which have found uses for it in the workplace.
In 2014, Google enlisted Luxottica to help make Glass more stylish.
Vian traveled to California recently to meet with the new Glass team, the Journal said. The group working on Glass was revamped after Google ended consumer sales of the device in January. The personnel changes included giving Tony Fadell, head of Google’s Nest connected home division, oversight of Glass’ development. His role would be to get Glass “ready for users,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said in March.
Luxottica, which is one of the world’s largest eyewear manufacturers, is also working with Intel on a device that will come out next February or March, the Journal said.
Neither company would confirm the new product, said to be announced this week, according to the Wall Street Journal. The report said AmEx payments won’t be possible with the coming Jawbone UP3, but will appear on a future product.
Apple Watch, which last Friday went on pre-order, will also support NFC payments. Apple recently said it has more than 700,000 U.S. stores supporting its technology. In addition to American Express, Apple Watch supports MasterCard and Visa.
The use of NFC in wrist-wearable devices for use with in-store payments is expected to grow. In January, a Fitbit representative at the International CES trade show said the company plans to remain open to including mobile payment capabilities in its fitness bands.
However, adding NFC could drive up costs for wearable devices while creating a sense of application bloat. One smartwatch maker, Guess Watch, a subsidiary of Timex, has not included NFC in its Guess Connect smartwatch, which is coming in the fall for about $350. “We don’t think [payment capability] is what a fashion-focused consumer wants,” said Rob Pomponio, senior vice president for creative services at Guess Watches in an interview at CES in January.
What will matter to consumers about mobile payments on a smartwatch or fitness band will be whether the device can be widely used in stores. While Apple Watch can presumably work in payment terminals at 700,000 stores, that is just a fraction of the 12 million payment terminals in the U.S.
Activist investor Jana Partners is urging Qualcomm Inc to consider spinning off its chip unit from its patent-licensing business to boost the chipmaker’s sagging stock price, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a quarterly letter that will be sent to Jana investors on Monday.
Jana, one of Qualcomm’s largest shareholders, is also calling on the company to cut costs, accelerate stock buybacks and make changes to its executive pay structure, financial reporting and board of directors, the newspaper said.
Qualcomm said last month it would buy back up to $15 billion of shares and raise its quarterly dividend. The company also said it would continue to return at least 75 percent of its free cash flow to shareholders annually.
In the letter, Jana said the buyback is a positive step but Qualcomm needs to do more to capitalize on its strong position in the chip market. It said Qualcomm’s chip business is essentially worthless at the company’s present market value, the Journal reported.
While the majority of Qualcomm’s revenue comes from selling so-called baseband chips that enable phones to communicate with carrier networks, most of its profit comes from licensing patents for its widespread CDMA cellphone technology.
Earlier this year, Qualcomm’s longtime customer Samsung Electronics Co opted to use an internally developed processor for its new Galaxy S6 smartphone rather than Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon mobile chip.
Jana executives and Qualcomm’s management have held private discussions since late last year, the Journal said, citing a person familiar with the conversations. In the letter, Jana described the talks as constructive.
Europe’s competition regulator is setting the stage to bring charges against Google Inc in the antitrust investigation over the next few weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter.
The European Commission is asking companies that filed complaints against Google for permission to publish some of the information they submitted confidentially, the Journal said, citing several people familiar with the requests.
Antitrust experts said the requests were a strong indication that formal antitrust charges were being prepared in the case, the Journal said.
Google was not immediately available to comment.
The U.S. search giant has been engaged in a five-year-old antitrust investigation with the European Union that has stalled multiple times and caused a political uproar.
While European Union lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a motion in November urging anti-trust regulators to break up Google, the U.S. Mission to the European Union had suggested that politicians should not influence the inquiry.
A panel of experts appointed by Google to advise it on how to implement EU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling, had suggested in February that the links be removed only from websites in Europe.
European privacy regulators, however, want Internet search engines such as Google and Microsoft’s Bing to scrub results globally, not just in Europe.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S wireless provider, has been exploring options to pay down its debt and raise funds for investments in recent months. The company declined to comment.
The three sources requested anonymity because the matter is not public.
AT&T and its rival Verizon have been selling non-core assets in recent months. Verizon is close to announcing divestitures of wireless towers and wireline markets worth $10 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
AT&T hired a financial adviser to assist in the sale.
Following spectrum investments and pending acquisitions, AT&T’s debt ratio may rise in the near term, the company said last week after spending close to half of the total bids in the record-setting $44.9 billion spectrum sale that concluded last week.
AT&T emerged the top bidder in the AWS-3 spectrum auction by bagging 251 licenses worth $18.2 billion.
The company has also been investing to expand its footprint in Mexico to grow its business, as the U.S. wireless market reaches saturation. It said last month it would buy bankrupt NII Holdings Inc’s wireless business in Mexico for $1.875 billion.
AT&T also sold its wireline operations in Connecticut to regional telephone operator Frontier Communications for $2 billion in late 2013 to raise cash for network upgrades.
Amazon has considered using the RadioShack stores as showcases for the Seattle-based company’s hardware as well as potential pickup and drop-off centers for online customers, Bloomberg said.
Sprint and RadioShack have had talks about co-branding some of the stores, Bloomberg reported, citing two anonymous sources. The rest of the stores would close down, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), meanwhile, said its regulatory arm was acting to delist RadioShack shares, and would suspend their trading immediately.
Another bidder could yet emerge to buy RadioShack and continue operating the 94-year-old chain, Bloomberg said.
RadioShack declined to comment on the Bloomberg report and said it had not confirmed any of the information. Sprint declined to comment. Amazon could not immediately be reached for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Standard General, a hedge fund and the largest investor in RadioShack, was in talks to serve as the lead bidder at a bankruptcy auction.
On Monday, the NYSE said it started the delisting process as RadioShack did not intend to submit a business plan to address its non-compliance with the exchange’s listing standards.
RadioShack had received a warning from the NYSE last month — the second time in a year — that it had 45 days to come up with a business plan.
The exchange sends such a notification when companies listed on it fail to maintain an average market capitalization of $50 million over 30 consecutive days.
RadioShack warned last September that it faced bankruptcy if talks with lenders and stakeholders about a sale or a restructuring failed.
The electronics retailer was once the operator of go-to shops for innovators and engineers for products ranging from vacuum tube speakers to the first mass-produced PC.
But the company has failed to transform itself into a destination for mobile phone buyers, losing out to rivals such Amazon.com Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
RadioShack said in October that it would seek to convert a loan of $120 million, given by investors including Standard General and Litespeed Management LLC, into equity “in the coming months”.
The sprawling search company would sell the service directly to consumers, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources. Tech news site The Information reported on the deals earlier this week.
Google is heavily involved in mobile through its Android operating system, the world’s most widely used mobile OS, as well as through selling mobile advertising, and is pushing to make more radio spectrum available for wireless services. But the partnerships with Sprint and T-Mobile would bring the company into the cellular business itself, offering Google phone plans directly to consumers.
The deals would make Google an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), a carrier that doesn’t build or operate its own network but sells services that run on the partners’ infrastructure. Sprint is the third-largest U.S. mobile carrier and T-Mobile is the fourth largest.
As a powerful and well-heeled newcomer, Google might disrupt the cellular industry, just as it has the wired broadband business with its Google Fiberservice. The U.S. mobile industry has been wracked by new business models and falling prices in recent years.
It’s not clear whether the company will launch a full-scale national effort or a more limited rollout. There are terms in Google’s contract with Sprint that would allow for renegotiation if Google draws a huge number of subscribers, the Journal said.
Over the last few years, the industry has seen budget polarization on an enormous scale. The cost of AAA development has ballooned, and continues to do so, pricing out all but the biggest warchests, while the indie and mobile explosions are rapidly approaching the point of inevitable over-saturation and consequential contraction. Stories about the plight of mid-tier studios are ten-a-penny, with the gravestones of some notable players lining the way.
For a company like Ninja Theory, in many ways the archetypal mid-tier developer, survival has been a paramount concern. Pumping out great games (Ninja Theory has a collective Metacritic average of 75) isn’t always enough. Revitalizing a popular IP like DMC isn’t always enough. Working on lucrative and successful external IP like Disney Infinity isn’t always enough. When the fence between indie and blockbuster gets thinner and thinner, it becomes ever harder to balance upon.
Last year, Ninja Theory took one more shot at the upper echelons. For months the studio had worked on a big budget concept which would sit comfortably alongside the top-level, cross-platform releases of the age: a massive, multiplayer sci-fi title that would take thousands of combined, collaborative hours to exhaust. Procedurally generated missions and an extensive DLC structure would ensure longevity and engagement. Concept art and pre-vis trailers in place, the team went looking for funding. Razor was on its way.
Except the game never quite made it. Funding failed to materialize, and no publisher would take the project on. It didn’t help that the search for a publishing deal arrived almost simultaneously with the public announcement of Destiny. Facing an impossible task, the team abandoned the project and moved on with other ideas. Razor joined a surprisingly large pile of games that never make it past the concept stage.
Sadly, it’s not a new story. In fact, at the time, it wasn’t even a news story. But this time Ninja Theory’s reaction was different. This was a learning experience, and learning experiences should be shared. Team lead and co-founder Tameem Antoniades turned the disappointment not just into a lesson, but a new company ethos: involve your audience at an early stage, retain control, fund yourself, aim high, and don’t compromise. The concept of the Independent AAA Proposition, enshrined in a GDC presentation give by Antoniades, was born.
Now the team has a new flagship prospect, cemented in this fresh foundation. In keeping with the theme of open development and transparency, Hellblade is being created with the doors to its development held wide open, with community and industry alike invited to bear witness to the minutiae of the process. Hellblade will be a cross-platform game with all of the ambition for which Ninja Theory is known, and yet it is coming from an entirely independent standpoint. Self-published and self-governed, Hellblade is the blueprint for Ninja Theory’s future.
“We found ourselves as being one of those studios that’s in the ‘squeezed middle’,” project lead Dominic Matthews says. “We’re about 100 people, so we kind of fall into that space where we could try to really diversify and work on loads of smaller projects, but indie studios really have an advantage over us, because they can do things with far lower overheads. We have been faced with this choice of, do we go really, really big with our games and become the studio that is 300 people or even higher than that, and try to tick all of these boxes that the blockbuster AAA games need now.
“We don’t really want to do that. We tried to do that. When we pitched Razor, which we pitched to big studios, that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. That was going to be a huge game; a huge game with a service that would go on for years and would be a huge, multiplayer experience. Although I’m sure it would have been really cool to make that, it kind of showed to us that we’re not right to try to make those kinds of games. Games like Enslaved – trying to get a game like that signed now would be impossible. The way that it was signed, there would be too much pressure for it to be…to have the whole feature set that justifies a $60 price-tag.
“That $60 price-tag means games have to add multiplayer, and 40 hours of gameplay minimum, and a set of characters that appeal to as many people as they possibly can. There’s nothing wrong with games that do that. There’s some fantastic games that do, AAA games. Though we do think that there’s another space that sits in-between. I think a lot of indie games are super, super creative, but they can be heavily stylised. They work within the context of the resources that people have.
“We want to create a game that’s like Enslaved, or like DMC, or like Heavenly Sword. That kind of third-person, really high quality action game, but make it work in an independent model.”
Cutting out the middle-man is a key part of the strategy. But if dealing with the multinational machinery of ‘big pubs’ is what drove Ninja Theory to make such widespread changes, there must surly have been some particularly heinous deals that pushed it over the edge?
“I think it’s just a reality of the way that those publisher/developer deals work,” Matthews says. “In order for a publisher to take a gamble on your game and on your idea, you have to give up a lot. That includes the IP rights. It’s just the realities of how things work in that space. For us, I think any developer would say the same thing, being able to retain your IP is a really important thing. So far, we haven’t been out to do that.
“With Hellblade, it’s really nice that we can be comfortable in the fact that we’re not trying to appeal to everyone. We’re not trying to hit unrealistic forecasts. Ultimately, I think a lot of games have unrealistic forecasts. Everyone knows that they’re unrealistic, but they have to have these unrealistic forecasts to justify the investment that’s going into development.
“Ultimately, a lot of games, on paper, fail because they don’t hit those forecasts. Then the studios and the people that made those games, they don’t get the chance to make any more. It’s an incredibly tough market. Yes, we’ve enjoyed working with our publishers, but that’s not to say that the agreements that developed are all ideal, because they’re not. The catalyst to us now being able to do this is really difficult distribution. We can break away from that retail $60 model, where every single game has to be priced that way, regardless of what it is.
Driven into funding only games that will comfortably shift five or six million units, Matthews believes that publishers have no choice but to stick to the safe bets, a path that eventually winnows down diversity to the point of stagnation, where only a few successful genres ever end up getting made: FPS, sports, RPG, maybe racing. Those genres become less and less distinct, while simultaneously shoe-horning in mechanics that prove popular elsewhere and shunning true innovation.
While perhaps briefly sustainable, Matthews sees that as a creative cul-de-sac. Customers, he feels, are too smart to put up with it.
“Consumers are going to get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them”
“I think consumers are going to get a bit wary. Get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them. I think gamers are going to start saying, ‘For what?’
“The pressures are for games to appeal to more and more people. It used to be if you sold a million units, then that was OK. Then it was three million units. Now it’s five million units. Five million units is crazy. We’ve never sold five million units.”
It’s not just consumers who are getting wise, though. Matthews acknowledges that the publishers also see the dead-end approaching.
“I think something has to be said for the platform holders now. Along with digital distribution, the fact that the platform holders are really opening their doors and encouraging self-publishing and helping independent developers to take on some of those publishing responsibilities, has changed things for us. I think it will change things for a lot of other developers. “Hellblade was announced at the GamesCom Playstation 4 press conference. My perception of that press conference was that the real big hitters in that were all independent titles. It’s great that the platform holders have recognised that. There’s a real appetite from their players for innovative, creative games.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to try to do things differently. Like on Hellblade, we’re questioning everything that we do. Not just on development, but also how we do things from a business perspective as well. Normally you would say, ‘Well, you involve these types of agencies, get these people involved in this, and a website will take this long to create.’ The next thing that we’re doing is, we’re saying, ‘Well, is that true? Can we try and do these things a different way,’ because you can.
“There’s definitely pressure for us to fill all those gaps left by a publisher, but it’s a great challenge for us to step up to. Ultimately, we have to transition into a publisher. That’s going to happen at some point, if we want to publish our own games.”
While the Sony PlayStation 4 has been selling very well, it seems that Christmas was not really its season.
Sony said that the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 18.5 million units since the new generation of consoles launched. While that is good and makes the PS4 the fastest selling PlayStation to date, there was no peaking at Christmas.
You would think that the PS4 would sell well at Christmas as parents were forced to do grevious bodily harm to their credit cards to shut their spoilt spawn up during the school holidays. But apparently not.
Apparently, the weapon of choice against precious snowflakes being bored was an Xbox One which saw a Christmas spike in sales.
Sony said that its new numbers are pretty much on target, it sold the expected 2 million sales per month rate.
Redmond will be happy with that result even if it still has a long way to go before it matches the PlayStation 4 on sales.
A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Computerworld that company executives don’t want Google, known for its search service, the Android platform and Maps, to get into the car-making business.
While it has been working on the software to run a self-driving car, Google is still seeking a partner to put that vision into cars that can be put on the market.
That news comes the same day that Google unveiled the first build of its self-driving vehicle prototype.
In a Google+ post, the company noted that it will be trying out the prototypes on a test track over the next few weeks. The goal is to have autonomous prototypes driving around northern California in 2015.
“We’ve been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car — for example, the typical “car” parts like steering and braking, as well as the “self-driving” parts like the computer and sensors,” Google explained in the post. “We’ve now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle — our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving.”
The post added that Google’s cars will have manual controls for drivers “for a while longer.” The question of whether drivers will be able to override the vehicles’ controls long-term remains open, however.
The spokeswoman would not say if Google is talking only with U.S. auto makers or if it is looking worldwide. She also would not say if the company is still negotiating with auto makers or if it has any signed deals in place.
“We don’t particularly want to become a car maker,” Chris Urmson, director of Google’s autonomous car project, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “We are talking [with] and looking for partners.”
For independent developers, the last decade has been an endless procession of migratory possibilities. The physical world was defined by compromise, dependence and strategically closed doors, but the rise of digital afforded freedom and flexibility in every direction. New platforms, new business models, new methods of distribution and communication; so many fresh options appeared in such a brief window of time that knowing where and when to place your bet was almost as important as having the best product. For a few years, right around 2008, there was promise almost everywhere you looked.
That has changed. No matter how pregnant with potential they once seemed, virtually every marketplace has proved unable to support the spiralling number of new releases. If the digital world is one with infinite shelf-space for games, it has offered no easy solutions on how to make them visible. Facebook, Android, iOS, Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network; all have proved to be less democratic than they first appeared, their inevitable flaws exposed as the weight of choice became heavier and heavier. As Spil Games’ Eric Goossens explained to me at the very start of 2014: “It just doesn’t pay the bills any more.”
Of course, Goossens was talking specifically about indie development of casual games. And at that point, with 2013 only just receding from view, I would probably have named one exception to the trend, one place where the balance between volume and visibility gave indies the chance to do unique and personal work and still make a decent living. That place would have been Steam, and if I was correct in my assessment for even one second, it wasn’t too long before the harsher reality became clear.
After less than five months of 2014 had passed, Valve’s platform had already added more new games than in the whole of the previous year. Initiatives like Greenlight and Early Access were designed to make Steam a more open and accessible platform, but they were so effective that some of what made it such a positive force for indies was lost in the process. Steam’s culture of deep-discounting has become more pervasive and intense in the face of this chronic overcrowding, stirring up impassioned debate over what some believe will be profound long-term effects for the perceived value of PC games. Every discussion needs balance, but in this case the back-and-forth seemed purely academic: for a lot of developers steep discounts are simply a matter of survival, and precious few could even entertain the notion of focusing on the greater good instead.
And the indie pinch was felt beyond Steam’s deliberately weakened walls. Kickstarter may be a relatively new phenomenon – even for the hyper-evolving landscape of the games industry – but it faced similar problems in 2014, blighted by the twin spectres of too much content and not enough money to go around. Anecdotally, the notion that something had changed was lurking in the back ground at the very start of the year, with several notable figures struggling to find enough backers within the crowd. The latter months of 2014 threw up a few more examples, but they also brought something close to hard evidence that ‘peak Kickstarter’ may already be behind us – fewer successful projects, lower funding targets, and less money flowing through the system in general. None of which was helped by a handful of disappointing failures, each one a blow for the public’s already flagging interest in crowdfunding. Yet another promising road for indies had become more treacherous and uncertain.
So are indies heading towards a “mass extinction event”? Overcrowding is certainly a key aspect of the overall picture, but the act of making and releasing a game is only getting easier, and the allure of development as a career choice seems to grow with each passing month. It stands to reason that there will continue to be a huge number of games jostling for position on every single platform – more than even a growing market can sustain – but there’s only so much to be gained from griping about the few remaining gatekeepers. If the days when simply being on Steam or Kickstarter made a commercial difference are gone, and if existing discovery tools still lack the nuance to deal with all of that choice, then it just shifts the focus back to where it really belongs: talent, originality, and a product worth an investment of time and money.
At GDC Europe this summer, I was involved in a private meeting with a group of Dutch independent game developers, all sharing knowledge and perspective on how to find success. We finished that hour agreeing on much the same thing. There are few guarantees in this or any other business, but the conditions have also never been more appropriate for personality and individuality to be the smartest commercial strategy. The world has a preponderance of puzzle-platformers, but there’s only one Monument Valley. We’re drowning in games about combat, but This War of Mine took a small step to the left and was greeted with every kind of success. Hell, Lucas Pope made an entire game about working as a border control officer and walked away with not just a hit, but a mantelpiece teeming with the highest honours.
No matter how crowded the market has become, strong ideas executed with care are still able to rise above the clamour, no huge marketing spend required. As long as that’s still possible, indies have all of the control they need.
Amazon.com Inc will move more of its drone testing outside U.S. borders unless it gets quick permission from U.S. regulators to proceed with outdoor trials, the company said in a recent letter to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The U.S. online retailer has already started conducting outdoor tests “in other countries with regulatory environments more supportive of small (unmanned aircraft systems) innovation,” according to the letter written by Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener.
Amazon says outdoor testing is crucial to developing its “Prime Air” program, which aims to use drones – small unmanned aircraft – to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less. It said it preferred to keep that testing within the United States.
In July, Amazon sought permission from the FAA to test drones in outdoor areas near Seattle, where one of its research and development labs is working on the technology, but the FAA has been slow to give its approval.
“Without approval of our testing in the United States, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad,” Misener wrote in the letter, first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Drones are among several initiatives underway at Amazon to help control rising shipping costs and compete with brick-and-mortar stores by delivering items quickly. Amazon said there were dozens of U.S. job openings for its Prime Air division for hardware engineers and research scientists.