According to the provided details, the new HDMI v2.1 specification will be backward compatible with earlier versions and in addition to higher video resolution and refresh rates, including 8K@60Hz and 4K@120Hz, it will also bring support for Dynamic HDR, Game Mode variable refresh rate (VRR), eARC support for advanced audio formats and the new 48G cable that will provide 48Gbps of bandwidth which is a key for 8K HDR support.
The full list of resolutions and refresh rates start with 4K at 50/60Hz and 100/120Hz and climbs all the way up to 10K resolution at both 50/60Hz and 100/120Hz.
The big surprise is the new Game Mode VRR, which is similar with AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync, and meant to provide stutter-, tearing- and lag-free gaming, on both consoles and the PC.
Another big novelty is the all new 48G cable, which will provide enough bandwidth for higher resolutions with HDR. The old cables will be compatible with some of the new features, but for 8K/10K with HDR, you will need the new HDMI v2.1 cable.
According to HDMI Forum, the new HDMI v2.1 specification will be available to all HDMI 2.0 Adopters which will be notified when it is released in early Q2 2017.
Games generated $91 billion worldwide in 2016, according to a report from beancounters at SuperData Research who have been adding up some numbers on Christmas Party napkins.
Most of the cash was made in the mobile game segment some $41 billion (up 18 percent), followed by $26 billion for retail games and $19 billion for free-to-play online games.
Beancountrs at SuperData said that the new categories such as virtual reality, esports, and gaming video content were small in size, but they are growing fast and holding promise for next year. Hardware firms like Sony and HTC to take the lead in 2017. Still,
VR grew to $2.7 billion in 2016. Gaming video reached $4.4 billion, up 34 percent.
Mobile gaming was driven by Pokémon Go and Clash Royale. The mobile games market has started to mature and now more closely resembles traditional games publishing, requiring ever higher production values and marketing spend. Monster Strike was the top mobile game, with $1.3 billion in revenue.
The esports market generated $892 million (up 19 percent) in revenue. A string of investments in pursuit of connecting to a new generation of media consumers has built the segment’s momentum, as major publishers like Activision, Riot Games, and EA are exploring new revenue streams for selling media rights, according to the report.
Consumers increasingly download games directly to their consoles, spending $6.6 billion on digital downloads in 2016 which has helped improve margins.
PC gaming continues to do well, earning $34 billion (up 6.7 percent) and driven largely by free-to-play online titles and downloadable games. League of Legends together with newcomers like Overwatch are driving the growth in PC games.
PC gamers also saw a big improvement with the release of a new generation of graphics cards.
With the exception of the last generation of consoles, which saw a roughly eight-year run on the market, the traditional console cycle has averaged around five to six years. This time around, however, perhaps influenced by the wave of high-end graphics cards necessitated by VR, both Microsoft and Sony are testing the market with so-called mid-cycle upgrades. The PS4 Pro and next year’s Scorpio offer gamers the chance to play in 4K – a resolution that until recently was only possible in the realm of PC gaming. Perhaps more importantly, the inclusion of HDR gaming offers a new level of visual fidelity that brings a much wider color gamut to players.
Factoring in the recent release of the Xbox One S, and the PS4 Slim model as well, we’ve never seen this many new consoles launched to the market so near to the start of a new console cycle – both PS4 and Xbox One released only three years ago – which begs the question: is the traditional console cycle now dead?
2016 and 2017 with Scorpio will certainly prove to be an interesting test for the market. It’s far too early to judge the reception to PS4 Pro, but Xbox One S has been selling moderately well, even allowing Xbox One to outsell PS4 for a few months.
NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, who joined the data firm with years of publishing experience at Activision and WBIE, commented, “I think I’d call it more ‘evolved’ than ‘died’… Nintendo seems to have already been there for years, at least in the portable space. We have to wait and see what they will do with the Switch. But the iterative model certainly will be tested over the next 12-18 months.”
“Nintendo’s past approach in the portable space has proven that the iterative model can be successful,” he continued. “However, the PS4 Pro and Scorpio (we assume) will bring much more significant performance upgrades at higher upfront costs to the consumer.
“Adding iterative hardware into a cycle also creates the need for a much more demanding set of go to market strategies while making successful execution of those strategies more critical than ever before. Balancing game development resources, the hardware R&D challenges surrounding an iterative launch, the detailed planning that will be necessary to properly align the supply chain from production to retail to ensure the proper mix and stock volumes in channel, ensuring the pricing and price promotion programs are right, all while communicating marketing messages that speak to the different customer sets effectively… this will certainly be an ongoing challenge.”
While some have speculated that we’ll now see new consoles literally every year, mimicking the lightspeed pace at which smartphones get upgraded, the market dynamics for consoles and the impact of new hardware on developers makes that a much more difficult proposition.
Consequently, Piscatella doesn’t think we’ll see more than one new console iteration per cycle. “I don’t see a more rapid deployment as feasible due primarily to development challenges. Making video games is hard, and ensuring a game is optimized for two versions of a console is challenging enough. Getting to 3 or 4 versions of the game for the same console base seems to me as though it would bring diminishing returns,” he explained.
SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen believes that the typical console cycle will remain intact, but unlike Piscatella, he sees the platform holders iterating continuously.
The constant technical upgrades that we see in mobile have effectively changed consumer expectations and the broader market for interactive entertainment, he noted. “So as Sony and Microsoft are pursuing their respective long-term VR/AR agendas, they now also have to keep in touch with what’s happening outside of their secret labs. This means we’re probably looking at the release of a new hardware architecture every 5-7 years, and allowing for annual iterations of key components throughout the lifecycle,” he said.
“This blend of internally developing proprietary hardware and adopting externally emerging trends that are popular with consumers is a powerful mix, and has allowed console gaming to thrive when many wrote it off. And given the current success of both platforms, and the imminent arrival of Nintendo’s bid, I don’t expect the console gaming market to soften any time soon.”
While the longstanding five-plus year console cycle was a boon for developers to work with and optimize for a set specification, the iterative approach that we’re likely to see in hardware moving forward brings advantages as well. As Piscatella explained, introducing console iterations can help to reduce cycle stagnation and boost consoles’ cycle tail, while also “encouraging pubs/devs to invest in scalable development environments, to hopefully avoid the dramatic steps up in development costs seen previously with new hardware deployment.”
Furthermore, by offering multiple configurations that still adhere to the same architecture (Xbox One, One S, Scorpio), there’s an opportunity for “price/benefit ratios appealing to both enthusiast and mass market audiences. Marketing approaches no longer have to take a one-size-fits-all approach,” Piscatella said.
The iterative release schedule would appear to make sense for the console manufacturers, enabling them to maximize returns and keep average pricing elevated, and so long as the ecosystem and gaming experiences are kept consistent across the numerous variations of the consoles, Sony and Microsoft don’t really care which version of their hardware a player owns – so long as that player remains invested in Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, that’s a win for Microsoft or Sony. The platform is less important than the digital ecosystem nowadays, especially with digital sales rising rapidly.
“The console market is at its heart a consumer electronics market,” van Dreunen remarked. “But increasingly it is incorporating tactics from the fashion industry, where we see an accelerated adoption of trends that emerged outside of the ateliers and studios of salaried designers. Console manufacturers have been actively pursuing digital distribution and free-to-play, both of which first gained traction on PC and mobile. Full game downloads now represent about 27% of holiday sales, up from just 5% in 2012, adding just under $7 billion a year to the console market. Titles like FIFA, GTA Online, and Call of Duty, do really well in terms of digital sales, and have managed to improve margins and player base longevity. Further facilitating this trend will be as important as making the hardware better.”
With the digital ecosystem taking precedence, it’s no surprise that Sony has made PlayStation Now streaming titles work for Windows PCs, and with the remote play feature, customers can enjoy PS4 titles on a PC or Mac as well. Microsoft, of course, which has a deep investment in the PC space with Windows 10 has extended the Xbox ecosystem across devices with Xbox Play Anywhere, enabling certain titles to be played with progress intact on a PC or Xbox console.
Whether you’re playing on Windows 10 or Xbox One doesn’t matter to Xbox boss Phil Spencer. In fact, he’s not even concerned about whether you upgrade to Scorpio next year.
“For us in the console [industry], the business is not selling the console,” Spencer told me back at E3. “The business is more of an attached business to the console install base. So if you’re an Xbox One customer and you bought that console 3 years ago, I think you’re a great customer. You’re still using the device. That’s why we focus on monthly active users. That’s actually the health of our ecosystem because it’s really you want this large install base of people that are active in your network buying games, playing games… So our model’s not really built around selling you a new console every one or two years. The model is almost the exact opposite. If I can keep you with the console you have, keep you engaged in buying and playing games, that’s a good business.”
If frequent hardware iteration is indeed the new reality for the console market, publishers couldn’t be happier. “I actually see it…as an incredibly positive evolution of the business strategy for players and for our industry and definitely for EA. The idea that we would potentially not have an end of cycle and a beginning of cycle I think is a positive place for our industry to be and for all of the commercial partners as well as players,” EA global publishing chief Laura Miele said during the company’s EA Play conference.
Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick agreed, “It would be a very good thing for us,” not to have to worry about hardware and who owns which console. He likened it to TV. “When you make a television show you don’t ask yourself ‘what monitor is this going to play on?’ It could play on a 1964 color television or it could play on a brand-new 4K television, but you’re still going to make a good television show.”
“We will get to the point where the hardware becomes a backdrop,” he said. That may very well be true. At the point when high fidelity games are playable literally anywhere and on any device, will we even have consoles? Much like Netflix, the networks and content providers/curators will live on, but hardware may not matter.
And as happy as publishers appear to be about the new world of console iteration, NPD’s Piscatella did point to a possible cause for concern. “Here’s the real question. If consumers are purchasing multiple iterations of the same console over the course of a generation, does this potentially increase or decrease the amount of money that consumer will spend on software and associated content?” he asked.
“And I think this is an open question… will they spend more because they’ve reinvested in the ecosystems? Or will they spend less because they’ve just output more money on to the iterative hardware? We’ll see how the market answers that question over the next 12-18 months.”
Dean Hall, CEO of RocketWerkz and previously lead designer of DayZ, has spoken openly on Reddit about the harsh financial realities of VR development, explaining that without the subsidies provided by platform exclusives and other mechanisms, the medium would currently be largely unviable.
In an extended post which has garnered over 200 comments, Hall proclaimed that there was simply “no money” in VR game development, explaining that even though his VR title Out of Ammo had sold better than expected, it remained unprofitable.
Hall believes that many consumer expectations from the mature and well-supported PC market have carried over to VR, with customers not fully comprehending the challenges involved with producing content for such a small install base.
“From our standpoint, Out of Ammo has exceeded our sales predictions and achieved our internal objectives,” Hall explained. “However, it has been very unprofitable. It is extremely unlikely that it will ever be profitable. We are comfortable with this, and approached it as such. We expected to lose money and we had the funding internally to handle this. Consider then that Out of Ammo has sold unusually well compared to many other VR games.”
Pointing out that making cross-platform VR to ameliorate that small install base is not as simple as cross platform console development, Hall went on to talk about the realities of funding VR games, and what that meant for the studios involved.
“Where do you get money to develop your games? How do you keep paying people? The only people who might be profitable will be microteams of one or two people with very popular games. The traditional approach has been to partner with platform developers for several reasons:
“The most common examples of this are the consoles. At launch, they actually have very few customers and the initial games release for them, if not bundled and/or with (timed or otherwise) exclusivity deals – the console would not have the games it does. Developers have relied on this funding in order to make games.
“How are the people who are against timed exclusives proposing that development studios pay for the development of the games?
“There is no money in it. I don’t mean ‘money to go buy a Ferrari’. I mean ‘money to make payroll’. People talk about developers who have taken Oculus/Facebook/Intel money like they’ve sold out and gone off to buy an island somewhere. The reality is these developers made these deals because it is the only way their games could come out.
“Here is an example. We considered doing some timed exclusivity for Out of Ammo, because it was uneconomical to continue development. We decided not to because the money available would just help cover costs. The amount of money was not going to make anyone wealthy. Frankly, I applaud Oculus for fronting up and giving real money out with really very little expectations in return other than some timed-exclusivity. Without this subsidization there is no way a studio can break even, let alone make a profit.
“Some will point to GabeN’s email about fronting costs for developers, however I’ve yet to know anyone who’s got that, has been told about it, or knows how to apply for this. It also means you need to get to a point you can access this. Additionally, HTC’s “accelerator” requires you to set up your studio in specific places – and these specific places are incredibly expensive areas to live and run a studio. I think Valve/HTC’s no subsidy/exclusive approach is good for the consumer in the short term – but terrible for studios.
“As I result I think we will see more and more microprojects, and then more and more criticism that there are not more games with more content.”
In addition to the financial burdens, Hall says that there are other pressures too. For example, in his experience VR development burns people out very quickly indeed, with the enthusiasm of most, including himself, waning after a single project.
“I laugh now when people say or tweet me things like ‘I can’t wait to see what your next VR game will be!’ Honestly, I don’t think I want to make any more VR games. Our staff who work on VR games all want to rotate off after their work is done. Privately, developers have been talking about this but nobody seems to feel comfortable talking about it publicly – which I think will ultimately be bad.”
“For us it became clear that the rise of VR would be gradual rather than explosive when in 2015, it was revealed that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive would be released in 2016 and that the gold rush would be on hold”
Sam Watts, Make Real
It’s not a universal opinion among VR developers, however: there was opposition to Hall’s points both within and beyond the thread. Sam Watts, Operations Lead at Make Real had the following to say.
“I think the reality of that thread is a direct result of a perceived gold rush by developers of all sizes to a degree, since analyst predictions around sales volumes of units were far higher than the reality towards the end of the year. There have been waves of gold rush perceptions with VR over the past few years, mostly around each release of new hardware expecting the next boom to take the technology into the mainstream, which has mostly failed to materialise.
“For us it became clear that the rise of VR would be gradual rather than explosive when in 2015, it was revealed that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive would be released in 2016 and that the gold rush would be on hold.”
Watts also sees a healthier VR ecosystem on the way, one where big publishers might be more willing to invest in the sort of budgets which console games are used to.
“Whilst typical AAA budgets aren’t yet being spent on VR (to our knowledge) it doesn’t mean AAA isn’t dipping their toe in the water. The main leader being Ubisoft who created a small VR R&D team that eventually became the Eagle Flight devs. They have avoided what many early VR developers were worried about AAA approach to VR by prototyping, iterating on design, making mistakes, learning from them and working out what does and doesn’t work in VR, even creating a now widely popular comfort option of the reduced peripheral vision black tunnel effect. They didn’t just storm in late to the party, throwing AAA megabucks around at the problem, assuming money would make great games.
“I know Oculus, Steam, Sony and Razer are still funding games titles for development in 2017, I would hope to see this continue beyond to ensure the continued steady adoption and rise of VR as a new gaming platform moving forwards. This will help continue to improve the quality of content offering on the platforms to ensure full gaming experiences that gamers want to buy and return to, rather than just a series of short tech demos, are available, helping establish the medium and widen the net.”
Nintendo is offering cash rewards for hackers that can expose security weaknesses in its 3DS family of consoles.
Upwards of $20,000 will be made available to successful hackers who can help address the weaknesses in Nintendo’s portable machine. The offer does not extend to Wii U.
It’s part of a program the firm is working on with HackerOne.
The offer is Nintendo’s renewed efforts to reduce piracy (including game application dumping and game copying execution), cheating (which includes game modification and save data modification) and the spreading of inappropriate content to children.
It suggests that Nintendo is true to its statement that it wants to maintain its 3DS business, even after the launch of its Switch console in March. Switch, which doubles as both a home and portable console, is seen as the natural successor to the 3DS, although Nintendo has stated it will continue to release games for the hardware. Over 60m 3DS consoles have been sold worldwide since the machine launched in 2011.
The ‘reward’ for finding vulnerabilities in the 3DS hardware will range from $100 to $20,000, and the amount will be at Nintendo’s discretion. Vulnerabilities that are already known will not be counted. The level of the reward will depend on the importance of information, quality of report and the severity of the vulnerability. Nintendo is looking for reports that include a proof of concept or functional exploit of code.
The number of games on Steam continues to rise at a daunting rate. According to new data from Steam Spy, the number of full games released on the store this year rose 40% over 2015.
Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin published a chart on Twitter that indicated a total of 4207 games launched on Steam in 2016, up from 2964 last year. If accurate, that means 38% of all games on Steam were released within the last 12 months – a sobering thought for any developer trading on Valve’s market leading platform.
Of course, the notion that Steam is crowded with product is hardly new, but Steam Spy’s chart – republished above – clearly illustrates the pace at which the trend is playing out.
The only small consolation is that the 40% rise over last year is actually lower than the 67% increase in new games between 2014 and 2015. Galyonkin noted that the chart doesn’t include movies and non-game software, but it also filters out relevant content like DLC packs and “games without owner data.”
Valve is certainly cognisant of the issues that Steam’s teeming inventory has created for both developers and consumers. It has responded with two “Discovery Updates” that gave more control over the experience to both groups, the first in 2014 and the second little more than a month ago.
Following the second Discovery Update, GamesIndustry.biz talked to developers about the “huge impact” of the changes.
As the numbers from Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend continue to trickle in, many analysts are examining how the holiday sales picture is coming together this year. While The NPD Group is not ready to give its full assessment just yet, the firm did note to GamesIndustry.biz that digital promotions on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live were much more aggressive this year and may have impacted the retail channel. Digital aside, the sector that seemed to struggle the most is virtual reality, according to SuperData, which said VR has been the “biggest loser.”
Thanks to “notably fewer units sold than expected due to a relatively fragmented title line-up and modest marketing effort,” VR headsets are now expected to sell even fewer than previously thought. SuperData’s revised forecast for 2016 calls for under 750k PlayStation VR units sold (their previous estimate was 2.6 million) with Google’s Daydream selling just 261k (down from 450k). Previous estimates for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Gear VR remain unchanged at 450k, 355k and 2.3 million, respectively.
As you can see, expectations for PSVR have seen the most dramatic shift. Stephanie Llamas, director of research and insights at SuperData, explained to us, “PSVR had the best opportunity to benefit from the holidays but their supply inconsistencies and lack of marketing have put them behind their potential. They did not offer any first-party deals this weekend, restock bundles or market the device, pushing instead for the PS 4 Pro. They have also pointed out that VR looks even better on a Pro than a standard or slim PS 4, so the message to most gamers is: Get the Pro now, then the PSVR later. As a result, we won’t see them break 1M shipments until well into the new year.”
Llamas added that Sony may be deliberately limiting PSVR supply until it can do a better job with supporting the platform. “Had Sony pushed the PSVR the way they’ve been pushing their other new hardware, the demand would have certainly fulfilled a supply of over 2 million. However, given its quiet release it’s clear they’re being cautious before fully investing in the tech. Without the ‘killer app’ and the slow, steady release of AAA content, they will release less than 1 million devices until they have content they feel confident will bring in the praise they want. They can afford to take it slow since they have no competition for now, so their supply and sales will rise steadily into 2017 as opposed to riding the seasonal wave,” she said.
As for Oculus, Llamas believes they’ve taken a risk by possibly splitting their own user base. “The Rift’s Touch controllers are an opportunity for Oculus to penetrate, but not many headsets have moved, especially with their round-about deal where purchasers earned $100 Oculus credit rather than just getting $100 off. Oculus’s hardware release strategy has also slowed them down and split their user base, so developers are having to make some choices around whether they should develop for both Touch and non-Touch users. This means development has slowed and is becoming another barrier to growth,” she remarked.
Looking at the non-VR games market, Nintendo may actually prove to be the biggest winner, thanks to updates both to Pokémon GO and selling out of its NES mini. “On mobile we recorded a spike in earnings as players made the most of the Thanksgiving special for Pokémon GO. The game’s ability to stay in the forefront of people’s minds as we approach the release date for Super Mario Run may prove beneficial for Nintendo, which has yet to make a convincing claim on the $38 billion mobile games market,” said Joost van Dreunen.
Overall digital game sales this holiday are down 2% from 2015 so far, but the impact of digital has grown tremendously in just a few years. “In 2012 full game downloads accounted for only 6% of total unit sales around the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. For 2016E that number was four times higher at 24%,” van Dreunen said.
The other big contributor to the slow holiday start has been big discounting, according to Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter. “We saw greater discounting of high-profile new video games this Black Friday compared to last year. Last year’s top sellers, Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III , Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 4, and EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, saw sticky pricing on Black Friday, with the $60 price point remaining largely intact. While discounting of sports games happens each year, many other titles that maintain pricing on Black Friday were listed at discounts of 40% or more this weekend,” he observed.
“For example, Walmart had EA’s Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 at $27, and Microsoft’s Gears of War 4 and Take-Two’s Mafia III at $35. Walmart also had Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition, which includes Modern Warfare Remastered , for $57, a $23 discount. Discounting of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare began earlier in the week, with widespread discounts of roughly $20 for the different versions of the game. Hardware discounting for the PS4 and Xbox One was largely consistent with 2015, as $50 discounts were commonplace.”
Pachter also agreed that the “pace of the mix shift to digital full game downloads continues to be brisk,” but we probably won’t know whether digital sales fully made up for retail declines until we get the complete NPD report for 2016 sometime in January.
Last week, over three and a half years after its initial release, Digital Extremes’ free-to-play shooter Warframe broke its concurrent player record with expansion The War Within, hitting Steam’s top three on the weekend of release, recording a maximum of 68,530 players online at once and logging an incredible 1.2 million hours of playtime in a single day. Across PC and the more recent Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game, over 1 million of the 26 million players who have registered since the game’s 2013 launch had played by November’s halfway point, beating all previous monthly unique records with a fortnight to go.
Those are impressive numbers, especially for a game at a point in its lifecycle where it could certainly be forgiven for slowing down – and it’s no anomalous bump. Instead, a quick glance at SteamSpy’s graphs for the game show a steadily increasing number of players for the game, as well as a very healthy schedule of updates, patches and big content drops. Rather than leeching users to other games as it ages, Warframe is going from strength to strength.
Meridith Braun, VP Publishing at Digital Extremes, says that it’s been a tight compromise of strategies – resulting in a success which far exceeds the expectations of a game which was initially seen as something of a make or break exercise. Key to that, she says, has been a careful acquisition process, but not one which has come at the cost of long term curation and engagement of existing players.
“It’s definitely a balancing act between catering development to new players and veterans of the game,” Braun explains, “but after 3.5 years, the core of the game has grown so much that for new players there are literally hundreds of hours of missions, quests, customising and exploring game systems before they catch up to where veteran players are.
“Whilst many of our updates focus on adding new content and improving game systems that our veterans are most interested in, earlier this year we took a fresh look at the new player experience and released an update that refined some of the tutorials, updated the UI, tied quests together to help the lore flow better, and revamped the market for easier functionality. It was not our most played update, like The Second Dream or The War Within, but it served a long-tail purpose of making Warframe more inviting and easier to understand for new players. It helps them navigate to the really intricate depths of the game with the intent to retain them long-term.”
“We spend very little compared to other free-to-play games that focus a large amount of their budgets on acquisition”
Polishing the tip of the spear is a tried and tested acquisition technique, but it’s not usually a way of sidestepping the vast costs which many companies associate with gathering new players. Warframe’s marketing, though, was forged in a crucible of necessity, at a time when budgets were almost non-existent. As a result, the studio has learned to maximise the gain from channels which deliver users without draining revenue, although the financial success of the game has also enabled them to operate in areas previously well beyond their price range.
“We spend very little compared to other free-to-play games that focus a large amount of their budgets on acquisition,” says Braun. “Warframe was a passion project – the studio’s ‘Hail Mary’ pass, if you will. There was barely budget to buy an account server for the game, let alone to spend on marketing at the time. We turned to viral everything to get the word out: live streaming, social media, Reddit, forums, PR, knocking on partner’s doors for promotional opportunities. Once we launched in open beta and more players got a taste of the game, it was clear we had something unique on our hands. Since then our acquisition strategy has focused primarily on our update schedule and community involvement.
“We discovered early on that frequent significant updates – updates that added dramatic gameplay changes, enhancements and content, and transparency with our community, brought in droves of new players. Now that we have more wiggle room in our coffers, we work the usual acquisition channels – online CPA-focused advertising, social media, streaming, etc. – but nothing beats age old word-of-mouth between players telling their friends to join in on a game that only gets better and better over time.”
What’s perhaps even more unusual about the current high that Warframe finds itself riding upon is that it comes at a time when the AAA shooter market is crowded with a wide spread of very high quality competitors – many of which are under-performing at retail. The game’s peak numbers come at a point when there are brand new Battlefield and Call of Duty games at market, as well as extremely well reviewed releases like the Titanfall and Dishonored sequels.
“Warframe was a passion project – the studio’s ‘Hail Mary’ pass, if you will. There was barely budget to buy an account server for the game, let alone to spend on marketing at the time”
Braun very much sees free-to-play as playing a significant part in the difficulties which Warframe’s boxed rivals are experiencing.
“I think we’re seeing the F2P model disrupting the standard retail model for larger budget games,” she says. “The continued rise of AAA-quality, free-to-play games coming to market – and their ability to fill the long gaps between large IP releases – is taking a bite out of the big game market. Just this year it was great to see F2P titles like Paragon and Paladins launch to great fanfare and numbers, I’m sure they both had some effect on the big budget FPS games alongside Warframe.
“It’s hard to compete with free. Sure, we want people to eventually pay for the entertainment they’re receiving – but when you have the ability to try out a game for free for as long as you want, a game with equally great production value, and then decide if it’s a game that deserves your money, that’s pretty stiff competition. The larger games also aren’t built to be as agile and reactive to the market after they ship. Free games at their core are made to continually update and improve, offering incredible value and entertainment over a longer period of time.”
Blizzard probably has a few things to say about the notion that free-to-play games offer the best long-term player engagement and responsive improvement, and Braun freely admits that games like Overwatch share that strategy of player curation. Warframe, she says, also offers something else, though. Because it wasn’t a Blizzard game, born almost fully-fledged and slickly functional, early adopters have had the joy of watching it smooth out its rougher edges.
“When Warframe first launched it was a shell of the size of game it has become, and our players have stayed with our growth throughout its life-span. They enjoy taking the ride with us, being a part of the evolution, experiencing game development from the front seat. If you’re not thinking about long-term engagement and game service at the heart of your game design as a good part of the future of gaming, you may have yet to come to grips with the dwindling projections of one-and-done games.”
Whether it is the return of X-Files and Twin Peaks, or Shenmue and Pokémon, bringing back classic IP has become a safe way to secure headlines and generate copious amounts of hype.
Yet it’s not just brands that are tapping into our love for the familiar. Take this summer’s smash Netflix show Stranger Things, which plays homage to both ’80s Spielberg and classic horror. Or indeed the millions of dollars that the likes of Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained have raised on Kickstarter – the former riffing on 1990s platformers like Banjo-Kazooie (and made by many of the same team members), with the latter acting as the spiritual successor to Castlevania (from former producer Koji Igarashi).
Ron Gilbert is another person looking to recreate those ’90s feelings. The adventure game maker behind the likes of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island is creating a new one called Thimbleweed Park, a point-and-click adventure with retro 8-bit visuals that raised $626,250 via Kickstarter.
“I think a lot of the nostalgia that is around right now comes from a desire to go back to a simpler time,” suggest Gilbert, speaking to Gamesindustry.biz shortly after appearing at Melbourne International Games Week in Australia.
“Back then games were a little bit simpler and seeping with charm. A lot of people that love the 8-bit games today might not have even been alive back then, but they still identify with that era because it was so interesting and charming.
“It is really one of the reasons we did Thimbleweed Park. We were looking at and asking why was Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion so appealing? What is it about modern adventure games, although they’re interesting and have great stories, that means they lack the charm those games from that era had? Can we recreate that old feeling today?”
Point-and-click adventure games are enjoying a small renaissance, thanks in part to the rise of indie developers – as indeed are platformers, Metroidvania games and a whole host of other genres long thought dead.
“I don’t know exactly why adventure games faded away,” Gilbert continues.
“I do feel that somewhere around the mid-90s, point-and-click adventures sort of ran off the rails. A lot of really – for want of a better word – stupid puzzles were being made. I think what happened was that people looked at this, and went: ‘Wait a minute, you’re asking me to do completely ridiculous and random things to get through these games.’ Some players just checked out at that point.
“You also had games like Doom that came along and were first person and were more action orientated, and those games attracted a very different audience into games. So I don’t know if adventure games necessarily fell, but they certainly didn’t grow with the rest of the industry. But now we are seeing this place where we are attracting a much broader audience, and a little bit of that is due to mobile games being so ubiquitous. There are just so many more people playing games these days, and with adventure games being very story and character focused, they are able to attract that broader audience.”
He continues: “You have games that have always been niche markets. Now, because of digital distribution and the way the democratization of development tools is working, niche markets can be viable markets.”
Gilbert is enjoying the current state of indie development and the ability to make decent games with relatively small teams. It speaks to his days making titles in the ’80s and ’90s. Maniac Mansion was made with three people, Monkey Island had five full time members of staff, which increased to seven for its sequel.
Thimbleweed Park is also being made by just a handful of creators, with input from the game’s plentiful Kickstarter supporters. But this desire to go back to those early days is not just about how the visuals looked or how small the teams were, Gilbert also wants to head back to a period when developers didn’t take themselves quite so seriously.
“When we were making games back then, it was all kind of new,” Gilbert remembers. “We didn’t have anything to go from, so it was a more innocent time. Games today, although I love modern adventure games like Firewatch or Kentucky Route Zero, they are very deep and thoughtful. They require a lot from me as a player, or the viewer, because there are very interesting, deep messages that I am gleaming from this stuff. And that’s largely just the advancement of the art form. The games of the ’80s and early ’90s, they were just more innocent, and simple and therefore more charming.
“Adventure games have certainly improved. Visually, games like Firewatch are much more advanced. But I think they’ve advanced in some ways and they’ve actually de-evolved in others. I think they’re more advanced because they are trying to tell more meaningful stories, stories that are truly about something interesting or important.
“But in other ways, they haven’t moved forward. Games like Kentucky Route Zero… although I enjoyed that game quite a bit, I sort of jokingly call it the ‘press A to continue game’, because I didn’t feel like I was making a lot of choices. I was just kind of pressing the A button to get to the next piece of dialogue, and it was greatly written dialogue and it was a captivating world, which made it ok. In Firewatch, you are spending a lot of time walking around and exploring this world, and it is a very fascinating world and a very beautiful place, so I was utterly enthralled with it, but there’s not actually a lot to do. The old school adventure games really required you to work. It was a case of: ‘here is a load of puzzles and here is a bunch of story, and you have to solve all these puzzles, which should lead to uncovering the next part of the mystery’. The classic adventure games were more sophisticated in that sense.”
Like Yooka-Laylee with Banjo-Kazooie and Bloodstained with Castlevania, Thimbleweed Park is a game that could easily have had the words ‘Maniac Mansion’ or ‘Monkey Island’ plastered on the artwork. Gilbert does hope his new IP can be successful enough to become a series, but he also, quite publicly, wants to revisit those classic franchises that made his name. Both Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island were created at LucasArts, so the rights to them currently reside in the vaults somewhere at Disney’s HQ.
Disney has largely moved on from video games, and Gilbert has asked the media giant on Twitter to let him buy back the rights to his old franchises. To no avail, so far.
We ended our conversation by asking Gilbert if he had considered returning to Kickstarter to raise the funds he might need to acquire those 1990s brands.
“Buying the rights back for those games… it’s not a matter of money, it is a matter of Disney being willing to sell them,” Gilbert concludes. “If Disney came to me and said: ‘Hey, we’ll sell you Monkey Island’. I will go get the money. No amount of crowd-funding is going to make this happen, it’s just a case of Disney agreeing to sell them.
“I’ve not managed to talk to anyone at Disney who is high enough up the ladder to make that decision. I fear that the people who would make that decision have no idea what Monkey Island is.”
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was the No.1 boxed game in the UK this week, but Week One sales were down 48.4 percent compared with the same period for last year’s Black Ops III.
It’s the fiercest drop the franchise has suffered since it became one of the world’s most popular entertainment properties following the success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007.
There was no PS3 or Xbox 360 version this year, however even just comparing the PS4 and Xbox One figures shows a sales drop of 43.6 percent.
Activision has changed its strategy a little with the series, and has put an increased emphasis on generating more revenue from its fans via DLC, special editions and microtransactions, as opposed to growing user numbers. Nevertheless, such a steep fall will come as a big disappointment to the firm and to UK retailers.
This was still the second biggest UK game launch of the year after FIFA 17. However, Call of Duty now finds itself playing catch-up with its biggest rival, Battlefield 1, which has already passed over half a million sales in the UK – the game has been on sale for two weeks longer.
It is important to note that all of these statistics do not factors in sales made via Steam, PSN, Xbox Live or EA Origin.
Call of Duty’s performance follows the disappointing launch of Titanfall 2. That EA game suffered a relatively mild 41 per cent week-on-week drop in its second week, but it is still selling well below what would have been expected for the IP.
It once again calls into question the logic of launching three huge first person shooter games within such close proximity.
There was one other new entry in the physical retail charts this week, Football Manager 2016 at No.6. The PC game almost certainly would have performed far better than this once you consider digital sales.
It wasn’t all bad news for Activision, Skylanders Imaginators has returned to the Top Ten following recent TV advertising, with sales rising 131 percent week-on-week.
All figures are courtesy of UK physical games tracker GfK and UKIE.
The announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2 has gamers and Take-Two investors alike eagerly anticipating the game’s release next fall, but the company’s been giving both camps reasons to pay attention in the meantime. Take-Two today announced its results for the quarter ended September 30, meeting (and in the case of bookings, exceeding) guidance and touting some record-breaking recent releases.
September’s NBA 2K17 and Mafia III (which launched in the current quarter) set new records, with the former selling in more units at release than any previous title in the franchise, and the latter selling in more units than any previous game on the 2K label (which includes BioShock and Borderlands, but not Rockstar series like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption). The company also noted that NBA 2K17 posted the highest Metacritic scores that series has seen to date, as well as the best scores of any annualized sports game this console generation. (As of this writing, NBA 2K17 has a Metacritic average of 90, which the series has previously surpassed, but not since Take-Two acquired it from Sega in 2005.)
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Take-Two chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick acknowledged Mafia III’s reviews were not quite as record-setting as its sales. At the moment, they range from 62 to 69, depending on the platform. However, he characterized its overall reception as “phenomenal.”
“I think the scores have been a bit disappointing because there were some scores much lower than we expected,” Zelnick said. “But the reviews, especially from those who matter, have been phenomenal. And consumers absolutely love it; it’s selling really well.”
While it has been years since the NBA 2K series has been pushed by a strong competitor (Sony stopped making its own basketball series and EA has been struggling to return NBA Live to its former standing for years), Zelnick said the developers don’t take their success for granted.
“This was record first-week sell-in and we’re excited about that; virtual currency sales are up 160% year-over-year,” Zelnick said. “But if you sat with our creative team, they could give you a long list of things they feel we should be doing better, and we’re focused on all of them. Every year we aim to delight consumers, every year we make progress, and every year we fall short a bit from our own point of view. So I think we have plenty of motivation to delight the consumer, internally.”
But as games continue posting bigger and better numbers, so too do the expectations around them rise in lockstep. Zelnick said the return on investment for what constitutes a successful AAA game has only risen over time.
“For our successful titles, the ROI is very strong and getting stronger,” Zelnick said. “And I think that’s attributable to the fact that a few years ago, we’d make a title, market it, sell units, then sell catalog. And today, we offer opportunities for the consumer to engage after that release. And in many instances, we offer an opportunity to spend money after that release.”
He added that has “unquestionably” made the industry more hit-driven.
“I said in 2008 or 2009 that good is the new bad. Standards are going up, and that’s why our strategy always has been to be the most creative, innovative, and efficient company in the business,” Zelnick said. “And more often than not, we are. Sometimes we fall short.”
Take-Two met its expectations for the second quarter, posting net revenues up 21% to $420.2 million with net income of $36.4 million, down from $54.7 million in the year-ago quarter. The company also reported bookings up 28% to $452.8 million (well above the $400 million top-end range of its guidance) and non-GAAP net income of $50.7 million, down from $56.2 million the year before.
The second fiscal quarter is historically the quietest stretch for Electronic Arts, but the three months ended September 30 gave the publisher reason for optimism heading into the crucial holiday season. The company today released its second quarter results, beating its net income guidance and showing strong growth in its EA Sports Ultimate Team efforts.
“Q2 was an excellent quarter for Electronic Arts, led by breakthrough new EA Sports titles engaging players across console and mobile,” CEO Andrew Wilson said. “We are in an outstanding position for the quarter ahead, with two of the highest-rated games of this console generation in Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, global competitive gaming tournaments underway, and our first virtual reality experiences coming soon. Across all platforms, this holiday season will be a fantastic time to play.”
While Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 launched after the second quarter, EA used the report to tout the games’ early achievements. For Battlefield 1, the company said the total player base during the first week of release nearly doubled that of 2013’s Battlefield 4. As for Titanfall 2, which just launched last Friday, the company said dozens of press outlets had given review scores the equivalent of a 90 out of 100 or above.
As for the releases actually covered by EA’s second quarter results, they would include EA Sports mainstays Madden 17 and FIFA 17. The company said “20% more players were engaged” in FIFA 17 during its first week than in the first week of FIFA 16, but made no mention of specific performance for Madden. However, the EA Sports Ultimate Team game modes appear to be healthy, as EA said Ultimate Team’s net sales between the FIFA, Madden, and NHL series are up 15% year-over-year on a trailing 12-month basis.
For the second quarter, EA reported net revenues of $898 million, up 10% from last year, but short of the $915 million it had given as guidance. However, the company’s net loss for the quarter of $38 million was a significant improvement on the previous second quarter’s net loss of $140 million, and better than the projected $51 million net loss.
EA gave the early performance of FIFA 17 and the holiday slate of releases as reason enough to adjust its full-year expectations, with the company now expecting net revenue for the year ending March 31, 2017 to be $4.775 billion, up from $4.75 billion. Net income for the year is also projected to reach $848 million, compared to the previous guidance of $809 million.
Update: On the earnings call, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen addressed the early feedback on Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, noting that it’s too early to update any sales projections but that there’s “incredible excitement” around both and the company is “very optimistic” not just for this holiday season but for the longer term. Citing the fact that “quite a few players” were still playing Battlefield 4 years after it released, Jorgensen said he expects similar long-term interest in both titles. More generally, looking at EA’s business, Jorgensen is also encouraged by the opportunity that this generation’s consoles and the mid-cycle upgrades affords a big publisher like EA since the console installed base is already up 33% in the West compared to the previous generation, he said.
Interestingly, when asked about one of EA’s big upcoming titles, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Jorgensen effectively said that EA is not afraid to push the title back yet again (it was originally scheduled for 2016 but is now loosely slated for Q4, which ends next March). While that shouldn’t be read as a sign of trouble – Jorgensen said Mass Effect is “tracking extremely well” – it appears EA wants to be 100% sure that the game does not need any additional time before it commits more fully to a release date.
At a Microsoft event to showcase its Windows 10 Creators Update coming next year, the software giant made it absolutely clear that it has big plans for VR, not just AR and HoloLens. By partnering with HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Asus to offer a range of VR headsets that are priced at $299 and feature inside-out tracking, the company has taken an important step towards democratizing VR for the masses. But what’s the larger play here? How will VR headsets like these impact Project Scorpio next year and the Xbox business moving forward?
Tim Merel, founder of Digi-Capital and CEO of Eyetouch Reality, believes the VR news from Microsoft is a true “game changer” and he speculates that the company will look to make Scorpio an even more enticing proposition for gamers by bundling in VR. “The greatest potential for the Microsoft VR headset could come from bundling it with Xbox One Project Scorpio, which Microsoft has already highlighted as supporting next generation VR. With an Xbox One installed base over 20 million users, this might be Microsoft’s silver bullet for both VR specifically and the console market more generally. So Microsoft could be using its new VR headset to leapfrog competitors in two markets at the same time, leveraging for VR some of the great work already done by Phil Spencer, Alex Kipman and Kudo Tsunoda with Windows 10 and HoloLens in the adjacent AR market,” he says.
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter agrees with Merel, telling GamesIndustry.biz, “Tim is spot on. A standalone headset without a CPU/GPU makes no sense, and if it requires the purchase of a high end PC, it’s not clear that anyone will buy it instead of Oculus/Vive/PSVR. However, if it works with Scorpio, it’s a formidable competitor for PSVR (albeit with a starting installed base of zero). I think that’s probably the plan, and am curious if software for Oculus and Vive will work with the Microsoft headset.”
Other analysts are more skeptical of Microsoft’s chances in VR, however. Stephanie Llamas, Director of Research and Insights at SuperData, still thinks HoloLens and augmented or mixed reality will be more impactful for the company.
“A VR device will not be a silver bullet for any market for a very long time,” she cautions. “First off, Microsoft is banking on consumers they don’t even have yet: Xbox One will not support the line of devices, so they are actually starting from a user base of zero that they hope will buy the Xbox One Project Scorpio. Early VR adopters already bought their PSVR, Vive or Oculus — inside-out tracking alone isn’t going to entice them to spend on another VR device this early in the market’s lifecycle. This product is going to be secondary to a purchaser’s decision to buy Project Scorpio, not the other way around.
“Second, this is just a MS-compatible line of headsets. So Microsoft will have to tout a third-party accessory with a first-party device, which definitely complicates their marketing and potential for bundling. Microsoft should have done this a year ago, or at least given us more promise than including their controller with the Oculus Rift, but they are already too far behind. Where they should continue to focus, and where they have shown a unique value proposition, is with the HoloLens’s potential for augmented and mixed reality.”
EEDAR’s Patrick Walker, on the other hand, is confident that a pivot towards VR is a smart move for Microsoft at this juncture. “While many technology thinkers are significantly more excited about the potential of AR long-term, VR is much closer to reaching a mainstream market,” he remarks. “It is also becoming more and more clear that the line between VR and AR will likely be blurred. Microsoft’s VR initiatives on the Xbox One portfolio also make a lot of sense considering the console’s position in the market. The PS4 has had a much more successful launch than the Xbox One so it is in Microsoft’s interest to push technology initiatives that disrupt the console generation, including the VR headsets and the merger of PC and console gaming.
“The increased VR capability of the Scorpio could provide a compelling reason for PS4 gamers to jump into the Xbox One platform. This creates a nice short term strategy of regaining console share, a mid-term strategy of generating VR revenue across PC and console, and a continued long-term strategy of developing for the future of AR.”
DFC Intelligence’s David Cole falls more in the skeptic’s camp. “The big issue in the VR market is that there needs to be a clear market driver that can package up the experience for the mass consumer. Right now the only one with that solution is PlayStation VR, which has a clear price point and an easy to use solution that is getting out to the masses,” he says. “The problem with the other VR devices is not having that clear distribution or message. Just having a product available doesn’t push it to consumers and that is the big problem Microsoft faces…who is going to communicate that message to consumers? This is still a pitch to the tech elite. There is also going to be a great deal of consumer confusion with multiple devices.
“VR is a new form of entertainment that needs to be introduced as such. The issue is many of these headset manufacturers are not strong at consumer marketing so who is going to get the message out? Right now for 2017 we see PSVR as being far and away the leading high-end VR device. I don’t think these products are launching until later in 2017 so we see a lot of announcements coming in this space.”
Inside-out tracking is important because it means you don’t need sensors all over your room to track your headset and controller motions, but as long as players are tethered to a device the experience will feel somewhat limited. “Losing the wire will be bigger. VR is still in its infancy and we expect even more price reductions and innovation to drive the market,” Cole continues.
“Microsoft has pretty much indicated that they plan for Project Scorpio to work with multiple VR headsets. The real issue will be Project Scorpio is too little, too late. Project Scorpio will actually be starting from a zero install base, not 20 million, so I think Windows VR should move the needle more than Project Scorpio.”
Merel remains more positive, though, and unlike Llamas, does not think that offering third-party VR hardware is a downside. “Microsoft’s new VR headset is the next stage of VR going mass consumer. For consumers, inside-out tracking without the need to buy or set up external sensors in a dedicated VR playroom is huge. The $299 price point is much less expensive than other PC based VR products. Launching with partners HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer gives Microsoft an accelerated hardware platform and also spreads its market risk,” he notes.
Microsoft has been making some headway in the generation eight console battle, with the Xbox One celebrating a third month running as the best-selling console in the US. The combined sales of the original One and the new S model also put it at the head of the pack in the UK in September.
US figures come from the NPD group and UK numbers from GfK, although no actual unit values were given. The full US sales report from NPD is due next week.
It’s likely that some of that recent lead is a result of a dip in PS4 sales thanks to the imminent launch of the PlayStation Pro, but the One has also been building momentum too, with sales up across many territories.
“Xbox One was the only gen eight console to see year-over-year growth in September in the U.S., Australia, the U.K and many other countries worldwide,” said corporate VP of Xbox marketing Mike Nichols. “This success was driven by our fans and their support for Xbox One S, which is the only console available this holiday with built-in UHD 4K Blu-ray, 4K video streaming and HDR for gaming and video.”
For game critics, loving Gears of War has been problematic since the very beginning. The rippling, testosterone drenched surface of Epic’s franchise served as a distraction from its abundant qualities. Looking back, it’s clear that the first game, released in 2006, provided the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era with the kind of moment that arguably still hasn’t arrived for the current generation. It was a new visual benchmark, its sense of weight and physical force was entirely distinct, and – a year before the launch of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – it introduced the most credible new multiplayer experience since Halo. For those who based their professional integrity on distinguishing good games from bad, to notice and appreciate any of this was to miss the square-jaws and lumpen dialogue that comprised its story.
Looking back now, it’s clear that Gears of War was one of the defining series of the last console generation, influencing the creative direction of a large proportion of action games, driving the development community towards the Unreal Engine in droves, and with Horde mode in Gears of War 2, introducing a multiplayer concept that would be adopted by everything from Uncharted to Mass Effect. Even its marketing was influential: Gears of War’s popular “Mad World” trailer might well be the origin of action games using pained, acoustic covers of popular songs to score their artfully spliced carnage.
Despite this estimable legacy, however, the reviews of Gears of War 4 are shot through with an almost apologetic tone; a need to address the (arguably misplaced) perception of Gears as nothing more than a dude-bro power fantasy. Polygon, which awards the game an impressive 9 out of 10, spends a full third of its review on story and characterisation, opening with a declaration that, “Gears of War 4 is about home and family.”
“Gears of War as a series has dealt with accusations of hyper-masculine excess and an emphasis on gore and violence since it was first announced more than ten years ago. And it’s not that those observations are wrong, exactly – the characters have always been larger than life, the men in particular wide and heavy, and the violence of the series has always been extreme and enthusiastic. But beneath or even in parallel to that aspect, there’s always been consistent themes of friendship, of relationships of support and camaraderie that would seem corny in most other games but, somehow, work in Gears of War for a passionate fanbase.”
This protagonist of this reboot – which was developed by Microsoft’s The Coalition – is J. D. Fenix, the son of the original series’ central character, Marcus Fenix. Both father and son play pivotal roles in the game’s story, which Polygon describes as, “more focused, less sprawling story than the last few entries… A lot of time is spent exploring the strained relationship between Marcus and his son, with a lot of perspective on both sides of the equation.” The game’s various other key characters all have their own emotional journeys, largely relating to those themes of family and friendship. Gears of War 4’s story and character time works as well as it does for several reasons,” Polygon says. “The writing is matter-of-fact, avoiding over-stoicism and also overwrought fluff for the most part.”
If this is an area of weakness that The Coalition sought to address, then the abiding sense from the game’s reviews is that it has made a significant improvement. Whether that’s what the vast majority of Gears of War’s players care about is another matter, of course, but The Coalition hasn’t dropped the ball with the series’ core strengths, either. Polygon praises Gears of War 4 as “simply a joy to play,” and that sentiment echoes throughout the critical discourse.
The Daily Telegraph, which awards four stars, applauds the “muscular and endlessly gratifying thrill” of the gunplay, which carries the game through a slow start that serves, “as an elongated (re)introduction to that well-oiled Gears combat, flashing between cover-to-cover, switching between shotgun and rifle and familiarising yourself with the rattle of an emptying clip and the satisfaction of a well-timed, power-boosting active reload.” There are two new enemy races to fight in place of the original series’ Locust, and “weaponry…as exotic as the bestiary” with which to fight them. The need to switch between distinct weapons to fight equally distinct weapon types has always been central to Gears of War’s appeal. Here, again, The Coalition has honoured its heritage.
The same is true of Gears of War 4 as a spectacle. You won’t find a single review that doesn’t proclaim it to be one of the very best looking games on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4, and the same is true is the PC version. Indeed, PCGamesN calls it “a visual and technical tour de force,” maintaining “searing frame-rates on ‘ultra’ settings during some of the most mind-blowing – if cheesy – set-pieces I’ve seen in games, while also inviting me to appreciate the vivid redness of sycamore leaves lazily billowing on a cracked yellow wall in a medieval town square on some parallel-to-Earth planet.”
That last observation is crucial, because the beauty of Gears 4 goes beyond polygons, framerates and animations, and extends to art direction. “This certainly ain’t the grey-brown Gears of old,” PCGamesN says, before adding, “the diversity of what it shows is stunning… This is a far cry from the game that single-handedly started the stereotype of the ‘murky brown war shooter’, taking us instead on a historical tour of the vestiges of a world parallel to ours, yet still different enough to be mysterious; I almost felt guilty as I stomped around a scenic town as a giant mech, casually calling in airstrikes to smash my way through buildings. Almost.”
Words like “jawdropping,” “stunning,” “incredible” and “breathtaking” are scattered throughout this and many other reviews, to the point where the handful of scores that fall below 8 out of 10 demand close attention. For Jimquisition, the website started by ex-Destructoid personality Jim Sterling, “there’s nothing quite like Gears on the market. The sense of weight, the meaty impact of combat, the gruesomely satisfying way heads pop and bodies burst, any given Gears game has a baseline quality even at its worst thanks to its undeniably unique style.” However, Gears of War 4 relies on that “baseline quality” a little too much, The Coalition happy to make the improvements necessary to maintain relative standards but, “doing very little to rock the boat and making minor improvements and evolving where needed.”
“Such a tactic provides a game that’s decent just because it’s Gears of War, relying on the groundwork established across four older games to maintain the baseline. And that’s most certainly what Gears 4 is. A maintenance of the series as opposed to an injection of fresh blood.”
In a sense, then, the game’s most ardent supporters and most vocal critics are in full agreement: Gears of War 4 absolutely meets the standard set by its forebears, which is either something to praise or lament depending on the individual. One suspects, though, that in the absence of new Gears, the public will be more than happy to settle for more Gears.