Behind The Game Podcast – Ys VIII, Xbox Scarlett and more!

Our fifth podcast is now live! This edition includes the rumoured Xbox Scarlett!

Thoughts on comments from Nihon Falcom and reports on Xbox Scarlett being a streaming service! Mega Man X and Sonic Mania Plus! How many Nindies per week?!

Plus, hear what we have been playing this week. Then our thoughts on Octopath Traveler Sales and Ys VIII and more Nintendo Labo?!

Check it out below, and Happy Gaming! Remember to check up with us on Twitter and Discord!

E3 2018 – Our Expectations and Plans!

E3 2018 is just around the corner on June 9th, but what can we expect from each show, and will it be good?

E3 kicks off on June 9th with the live presentations!

E3 2018 begins June 9th!

Firstly however, we need to cover our E3 2018 plans! In our Discord community we have a channel with the full schedule and discussion of E3. Secondly, we will be posting pre and post E3 thoughts in our bi-weekly podcast both before and after E3. We may even live-react to a few of the events, but more on that at a later date!

So what can we expect from E3? Well it’s hard to say. Overall it feels like a potentially solid show with few standouts, so let’s see why.

 

EA – June 9th – 11am PT // 2pm ET // 7pm BST // 4am AEST (10th)

 

EA Conferences typically put people to sleep.

Can you say boring? It’s EA at a press conference!

EA is first to bat at the show this year, and that’s probably a good thing. Where EA typically stumbles is in engagement. A very corporate show mixed with online personalities and a lack of really exciting and unexpected news leaves a lot to be desired.

When talking about games, outside of a boring presence, we know Battlefield V is confirmed to appear. Anthem is also a very likely shoe in given its recent delay to 2019. No doubt Star Wars will be teased in some capacity as well after Battlefront II…launched last year.

Oh and of course, FIFA 19, Madden 19 and so on. Maybe some more Need for Speed, it’s hard to say. Of course the jury is still out on if the Nintendo Switch will make an appearance for any of these games after previous comments.

Verdict – A shallow but serviceable event. Just bring coffee.

Microsoft – June 10th – 1pm PT // 4pm ET // 9pm BST // 6am AEST (11th)

Does Microsoft finally have something to show for the Xbox One?

Will Microsoft repeat the mistakes of E3’s past?

Microsoft is in the worst position heading into this E3. After launching Game Pass and seeing its latest first party titles falter, there is only one known first party release in the pipeline. Crackdown 3 was meant to release last year but got delayed to 2018, and this E3 would mark 5 years since it was revealed. Hopefully it gets a date and sticks it this time.

Of course, Microsoft needs more than that. In what is billed as their biggest show ever, and what is now confirmed to be 2 hours in length, they need to come out swinging. Any less, and the Xbox One misses its final chance at meaningful exclusive software. Phil Spencer has been talking a big game for years, but yet to show anything.

Forza Horizon 4 is a lock in for this year, but beyond that maybe a fix to the Halo Collection at long last, 4 years after it launched? Gears of War? Maybe get a RARE IP back in action? There will at least be waves of indies. Microsoft really needs to swing and as this years wildcard, they may just do that. But any less than amazing and it will be time to write the system off.

Verdict – It better be good, but we simply can’t say. Prepare for disappointment.

 

Bethesda – June 10th – 6:30pm PT // 9:30pm ET // 2:30pm BST (11th) // 11:30am AEST (11th)

What big games will Bethesda bring?

Could we see the Elder Scrolls at E3?

Bethesda is planning a short but sweet conference again this year. No doubt they will feature a final push for Wolfenstein 2 on Switch as they did last year with Skyrim. Hey, maybe they can announce a Fallout thing or something?

Of course, RAGE 2 is showing up, a now confirmed and very different game to the original. DOOM 2 is also rumoured (And welcomed!) but it may be a year too soon. Of course The Elder Scrolls is on everyone’s minds now, but that’s not likely this year.

Starfield is very likely however. This mystery IP is due a reveal any time now, as we know nothing except it exists. If it proves a strong title, it could be a show stealer. The short but sweet nature of this show leads me to feel they don’t have much to announce however.

Verdict – It could be good, but there won’t be much quantity.

 

Square Enix – June 11th – 10am PT // 1pm EDT // 6pm BST // 3am AEST (12th)

 

Can Final Fantasy VII show up?

Is it time?

Square Enix is returning to E3! That could be amazing or absolutely horrifying.

No doubt we will get details on Final Fantasy XV’s announced 2019 DLC (Why?) and Kingdom Hearts 3 will get its release date at long last. Final Fantasy VII may show up in some form but don’t expect it.

The confirmed Avengers title will likely show for the first time. What this game can be is anyone’s guess but a new reveal would be excellent. Naturally Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest XI will feature.

Also expect Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest Builders 2 to appear. One as a final push and the other to finally show the damn thing. Of course this is Square Enix, you can expect a random game or two for fun.

Verdict – Probably going to be the high point. Lots of games we know are coming and plenty surprises are possible.

 

Ubisoft – June 11th – 1pm PT // 4pm ET // 9pm BST // 6am AEST (12th)

Remember this horror?

Ubisoft had a good show last year. Can we see it again?

Ubisoft is in a unique position. Of course we will get updates on announced titles like Starlink and The Crew 2. No doubt they will also flaunt Beyond Good and Evil 2 as well, after a big reveal last year.

Watch Dogs 3 is expected, forming a new bi-yearly cycle with Assassins Creed, but no doubt DLC will appear for that. Their VR projects also took a bit of focus last year, so updates would be welcome.

What Ubisoft could show that is unexpected is a mystery. They likely won’t have another collaboration with Nintendo already, nor a new South Park title. This will most likely be an update on the known games and quantities moving forward.

Verdict – Solid but nothing stellar.

 

PlayStation – June 11th — 6pm PT // 9pm ET // 2am BST (12th) // 11am AEST (12th)

PS4 is still riding high.

How can PS4 wow and continue it’s dominance?

Learning from their mistakes of showing stuff years in advance and disappointing us at E3 2017 by repeating E3 2016, they announced their plans in advance.

Sony will be focusing on 4 main games, in what I suppose is a 4 act structure: Spider-Man, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us: Part 2. With the exception of Spider-Man, making its third appearance, these will all be gameplay reveals and maybe even release dates.

The question is why such a large push for Spider-Man when other games could do with the spotlight such as Dreams? Third party announcements like exclusive DLC, VR news and a few indies will break up the pacing between each big game, but the pace threatens to drag with already known quantities if they hold on them for too long.

PS4 is very much on autopilot now.

Verdict – Solid, but a bit repetitive and unremarkable.

 

Nintendo – June 12th – 9am PT // 12pm ET //5pm BST // 2am AEST (13th)

Can Nintendo wow again?

This could potentially be disastrous.

Nintendo has already stated one thing. Only 2018 titles will show here. That and their main event is only on Switch. 3DS announcements will come in Treehouse Live if any.

With that in mind….eh. This really does seem like it could be lacklustre. Only focusing on the upcoming 6 months of content feels risky, but with Fire Emblem and Yoshi due out this year, one of which we haven’t even seen yet, and a confirmed focus on Super Smash Bros. it can at least be solid. Add in Pokemon and hey it could be great.

But we all knew about those games anyway, some for well over a year at this time. Plus on the third-party front I don’t expect much. This will be the Smash and Fire Emblem show. If neither of those interest you, don’t expect much else. This could just be pessimism, but it feels like an unfortunately low-key second show for their new system.

Verdict – Potential great, if third parties show, and if the game selection is greater than anticipated. Most likely just average otherwise.

 

 

And that’s it. We will see how right we are on the money and if we can be pleasantly surprised after E3! What do you think we will see? As always Happy Gaming, and stay tuned to the NL Inklings community for our takes on the events!

Our first full podcast is live now where we discuss all things gaming from recent events.

This podcast includes the Dark Souls delay on Nintendo Switch, our initial impressions of Nintendo Labo, and God of War being patched!

Plus, hear our predictions on E3 2018. Does the 3DS refuse to die? What does Microsoft have for us at E3 2018?

Check it out below, and Happy Gaming!

 

Behind The Game Podcast – Nintendo Online, E3 2018 Predictions, Labo and More!

Battlefront 2 Didn’t “Meet Expectations”, and Nintendo Made Bank!

I’m surprised about both of these stories for different reasons.

 

Update – 2/2/2018

So we all failed to note one thing about the entire lootbox backlash to Star Wars Battlefront 2: EA wins either way.

Here’s the thing: If gamers didn’t give backlash to EA in such force that sales were impacted, then the game would have sold as expected, and EA would be justified in continuing their current practices.

As a result of the backlash, EA has noted lower sales of Battlefront 2, and we figured it would send a message. It hasn’t. In fact it’s response to investors was that in-app purchases will return as previously noted, but now with the added note that those purchases can be used to make up for the lost sales, justifying their inclusion.

Personally I can’t fault that logic. That is actually sound business practices there, so well done to them on that. The downside is we end up in the potential situation we began fighting back against in the first place-

If EA knows micro-transactions will cut into sales, but make up the lost revenue, why wouldn’t they keep them in, when the alternative is losing that revenue AND sales?

In response their stock has hit all time highs.

As I said, sound business sense to cover for potential losses but…I guess we can hope the big stink that was raised about lootboxes leads to some legislation huh?

Original Story

Let’s start with Nintendo, namely 3DS. It’s sales are down year on year, yes, but it’s also nearly 7 years old. Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon sold 7.17 million units. So good stuff for the budget entry into the ecosystem.

The real story is the premium system: Nintendo Switch. Within just shy of 10 months, as of December 31st 2017, Switch has outsold the first 12 months of the PS4, at 14.86 million units. That is firstly maddening to see, but also shows the 3 month holiday period accounted for half of the lifetime sales so far.

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So in doing so, it has also surpassed the Wii U, so comparisons can finally stop on that front. The system has shown itself to be a viable platform for many developers, and I can only hope this continues. Next stop is the 21 million of the Gamecube!

On to software however, we see a few interesting pick ups. Firstly that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has sold 1.06 million in just a month, placing it firmly in the heights of its franchise, an excellent result for a release many people thought flopped due to low sales charts rankings.

Next is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a re-release of a Wii U game that many seemingly didn’t want, having already owned it, logically, but one I and many others assumed would do well due to now hitting a much larger market, many of whom simply won’t have played Wii U games. Evidently the latter is true as the release has hit 7.33 million units and is well on its way to surpassing the original Mario Kart 8. As an evergreen title, it will surpass that, and shows that yes, if a port goes to a new, bigger audience, it probably isn’t a bad idea, you know?

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Finally of note is Super Mario Odyssey, selling 9.07 million units in just two months, and becoming the top-selling software on the system, and the 2nd best-selling Mario title ever in the main series, only behind New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Could it beat out that game? Possibly, we need to see if it remains as evergreen, as 3D Mario typically falls below 2D Mario.

Full financials are available here: Source

But what really gets me is how Mario Odyssey performed compared to another game of note…

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It’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite game ever: Star Wars Battlefront 2. EA seems disappointed by its performance, namely how if we include digital sales to physical shipped copies to retailers…it’s around 7 million units. It’s going to fall well below what they told investors it would hit by March, as well as falling below the prior Star Wars title.

So for reference, Battlefront 2 fell below a game like Super Mario Odyssey, that was only released on a single platform. That’s insane.

But the proof is in the pudding. Legislation is being looked at for lootboxes, because of course they are, and EA is blaming consumer backlash. Not only that, Bioware developers are feeling stressed over the inevitable forced monetization EA will make them include in Anthem, a game that seemingly could spell the end for the studio, understandably given EA’s record.

Micro-transactions are to be reintroduced to the game in the coming months “When the time is right”, but EA is already feeling the burn. Gamers weren’t happy, investors won’t be happy.

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Sadly I do feel EA will learn nothing from this, but if nothing else it acts as a sign.

With the previous comments of people not wanting single player games, games costing too much to make thus mandating additional, aggressive monetization and the like, to see Super Mario Odyssey, on a system EA dismissed no less, outsell the game and probably due to less extravagant spending by Nintendo, make more money than Battlefront 2 has in all likelihood, is a huge slap in the face to EA.

Words cannot accurately describe how EA must be feeling right now, but it proves that gamers just want good games, especially from Star Wars, and even stuff like cosmetics can be done for free, and games don’t need to cost as much as EA pumps into them.

It’s  a sign that the AAA business model is inherently flawed and self-destructive. Where one company prospers by tightly controlling expenditure and not pursuing aggressive monetization in full price games, another gets knocked back for saying that model wont work, and then seeing the alternative is more damaging, at least in the short-term.

It’s that short-term that needs to be taken away from this, as that is the primary interest of a majority of investors: Short term profits. In the long-term EA is likely to be fine, but in the short term the fall of Battlefront 2 to something like Mario Odyssey, a business model EA has repeatedly dismissed, just shows what the market wants.

 

Make good games, and they shall come. Don’t be stupid with your games and licenses, and they shall come. Then everybody wins.

Matchmaking Is Coming Under Fire in Gaming…

This was something I have mentioned in passing but recent papers from EA (Surprise…) have revealed that money is likely to determine our online gaming…

activision

A few months ago Activision revealed a patent to influence matchmaking based on win/loss ratios and gear that would interest you from lootboxes.

Basically all this patent does is match you with people with gear you would desire, someone usually more capable with better gear than you, so that you lose. Then you would be presented the gear in lootboxes via micro transactions.

Loot based matchmaking, patented by Activision, but not wanting to be outdone in that insidious manner, EA steps up.

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So first we should discuss dynamic difficulty. This is common in older games and the immediate thoughts for me are Spyro 3, and the Crash Bandicoot games.

Dynamic difficulty is an excellent idea in single player. The idea is that if you fail repeatedly in a spot, you get an extra hit point, checkpoints, or in the case of Spyro 3, requirements for challenges and even AI gets toned down to accommodate people having trouble. This is done in real-time, as you play the game.

Personally? I love dynamic difficulty. It prevents player frustration and being stuck in what would feel like an endless loop. But applied to multiplayer…let’s think about that.

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So EA wrote two papers, neither are terribly exciting or enjoyable to consider.

One advises that the concept of “fair matchmaking” doesn’t hold up, i.e. paired with players of similar rank, based on the assumption it’s fair. They argue this isn’t optimal for engagement…and in some loose respects I could maybe see it?

But the point is you don’t want to pair a pro player with a new guy with lesser gear. That’s simply unfair. They argue though…that they “prove” as they say:

We prove that equal-skill based matchmaking is a special case of EOMM (Engagement Optimised Matchmaking) on a highly simplified assumption that rarely holds in reality”

Source

So the key word is the engagement. Engagement equals constant play, and as sneakily referenced in papers by EA available at the source: Spending.

Yep. Money plays a part again. So what is their logic here?

Free-Overwatch-Loot-Boxes

Simple. Good feeling chemicals in your brain. Get matched for a few bad rounds with players you can’t possibly beat? The game then pairs you with players you will trounce. You will feel good about the comeback and eventual streak, before being knocked back down again. When the matchmaking lets you win, you are acting as the “Bowling Ball” to the “Pins” of less skilled players. Then those “Pins” get restacked as the “Bowling Ball” and the cycle continues.

A continuous cycle of loss a few, then be allowed a win-streak. Manipulating the outcome of your games by weighting heavily in or against your favour, with the hope the chemicals in your brain form an almost gambling like addiction to the bursts of success. Just like losing at a slot machine and suddenly winning. A burst of that good feeling, and it will maintain a player base.

The logic there is somewhat solid. But of course the word spending comes up. So where does that fit in? Give you a little nudge towards lootboxes of course.

Picture the scenario: You lose a few matches, get some lootboxes for free, start winning, and your brain would associate the two. Just a little nudge.

This adds to dynamic difficulty in that yes, if you lose a lot, you’ll get a leg up. Win a lot, the game just got harder. Not good in multiplayer when the matchmaking decides what role you get.

battlefront-2-star-cards

 

There isn’t much you can really add to this. As opposed to Activision proposing a system based on your gear and using the “Pin and Ball” effect as I am now calling it, to basically get you enticed into certain lootboxes and chances of getting equal gear, EA is opting to psychologically make you feel good and bad routinely in a form of dynamic difficulty, by matching you with players you will beat with ease, or be beaten by with ease, to keep you playing and spending more.

That’s horrible to think about.

Worse still, we wouldn’t even know it’s happening. We can’t see the backend determining who we are matched with. We would just assume we won some and lost some.

If 2017 was the year of the lootbox, 2018 will be the year of the messed-up matchmaking. Apparently the past 15 years of online play wasn’t good enough to EA.

 

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a like, comment and do all the usual on social media, and until next time: Happy Gaming!

New Years Resolutions for Gaming Companies!

2018 is here, and I’m tired of the problems that companies present. A lot of them can just be sorted easily, so here are some resolutions for them all.

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STEAM

I’m opening with Steam for the simple reason that as a platform it has the most work to do to change.

Firstly they need to kill off Steam Direct and start using actual staff for curation and in turn solve the highlighted problem of visibility for games, and the use of asset flips. Any platform should not be receiving 6000 games in 10 months, let alone in a few years.

Secondly, in addition to curation of games, actual customer service will be a must. They have some customer like refunds, though it has been proven that is a bit lax, and even with that they still lag behind in terms of actual customer service communication, with some queries being fast, and some taking days or weeks. This is an area any platform needs to get right and with the rise of third-party related issues, this has to be addressed.

For Steam in general, it mostly comes down to manpower and recapturing that desire to evolve the PC gaming space, however as the dominant platform in that sector, it’s unlikely at this stage unless something overtakes them.

 

activision

 

 

THIRD PARTIES

So this is a big one. Perhaps the most shocking thing in 2017 outside of how good the games were in general, was how far third parties fell almost simultaneously.

Micro-transactions and lootboxes do indeed have a place in the games industry, however, it most certainly is not in full priced games, and absolutely not for progression or gameplay advantages. A pay to win structure doesn’t work in full price games. If the game was free then sure, there is your monetisation, but with already heavy season passes, full price games and additional DLC, it has become a bit ludicrous.

Secondly, PR! Perhaps Bungie has been the biggest culprit of this but that’s not the exception in recent months. Destiny 2 became an apology loop with each update and fixes for basic things, or things that should have been improved from the original game, were purely reactionary to backlash. Further to that point, EA has truly put their foot in it, with the contempt aimed at gamers being duly noted.

Finally, third parties in this coming year need to stick by what they say, and stop treating gamers like fools. Bandai-Namco and their “Show your support and maybe” approach to getting people to advertise their games for the promise of a Switch port is one thing, when done numerous times, but then the obvious tomfoolery from other companies beggars belief. 2017 was very much the year when the community bit back. Let’s hope they reflect on it.

 

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PLAYSTATION

PlayStation is in a tricky spot. On one hand they have almost monopolised the industry, with sales left and right. One thing they need to do is keep the games coming and keep dropping fan favourites but also not lean on remasters too hard. Additionally, they need to avoid a repeat of 2016 and front loading all their first party titles.

Next, VR. 2 million sales is nice but the asking price combined with the price of a PS4 demands killer apps. Those killer apps need to come sooner rather than later, otherwise the market will stagnate. VR has a bright future, once revised and refined, but it needs to sell on concept first, and the concept needs big hitters. The catch is Sony isn’t known for supporting two platforms equally.

Next is doing what fans want. We want cross-platform play. Every other system has it. We want backwards compatibility of higher quality and frequency than we have had for the past few years. These are areas that Sony is being left behind in, and as much as they want it to be all service based in future, I don’t think other industries and infrastructures are ready yet.

Finally, don’t announce games so early anymore. The “Holy Trinity” of E3 2015 has only had one release so far and the other two are vaporware. God of War STILL doesn’t have a release date, and Spider-Man is likely to show up for the third E3 in a row. Further to this, don’t go to so many conferences, at least not within 6 months of each other. Spread them out, otherwise we end up with PSX 2017 being a repeat of Paris Games Week which was a repeat of E3, which was a repeat of the last E3.

Oh, and put a better damn battery in that controller. It’s laughable.

 

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XBOX

This is tricky. On one hand, hardware wise, Xbox is fine for now. The One X is the enthusiast machine and the One S can live as a UHD Blu-Ray and streaming box. One thing it lacks is games.

It gets a bevy of third-party releases, but first party is terribly lacking. Most releases were pushed to 2018, but even then you can count them on one hand. I fully hope HALO 6 is a 2018 announcement at the very least. This is an area they need to heavily work on.

Second is Japanese games. Sure the brand isn’t big….at all…in Japan, but it will help reach a greater audience that the PS4 and Switch hit. As it stands Xbox is very much a Western device, and that’s its weakness.

Backwards compatibility needs to continue as is, as does pushing cross-play across platforms alongside developers and Nintendo. The PC support via Windows Store is nice and it is clear the future of Xbox is a service over a dedicated box on its own, but the focus cannot shift too far from selling consoles.

Stop shutting studios and show off that fabled (HA) AR/VR gadget you’ve got going on.

 

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NINTENDO

So what can Nintendo do after an incredible 2017? A few things.

Firstly, mobile. Keep going as is, with not at all invasive monetisation (Seriously, Fire Emblem Heroes is VERY generous!) and two or three games a year. The view that the revenue is funnelled into game development and the games exist as an entry point to the main games is genius and seems to be working well.

Secondly, Directs. Keep the current format for Nintendo Directs and their frequency. These are amazing ways to communicate with consumers and get news out fast and in great volume. Sprinkle some Nindie Showcases and game specific presentations in the year, and the communication front is set.

On to Nindies: Don’t stop. Maybe rework the eShop for visibility purposes but keep those indies coming. The sales don’t lie and nor does the consumer response: Switch is an indie dream machine and in the wake of PlayStation apathy and Steam being a mess, this can be readily positioned as the new home for indie developers.

Regarding services, outline the Online Service at some point during the year, it’s feature set, and other aspects like the free games and discounts and such. I won’t expect Xbox Live levels of incredible, but enough to justify £20 a year. If you are feeling generous, maybe a Virtual Console service? Though that has in past damaged eShop sales for indies, so maybe stick with the Classic Mini systems instead, with an N64 one this year?

Get more third parties on board and if need to, keep paying them for games. The shining hopes are there with DOOM, Skyrim and soon Wolfenstein, as well as L.A Noire proving a hit. Now is the time to pick up steam. Ports of older games get a new lease of life and modern games can run with some effort. So bolster that library.

First party releases need to maintain speed, and the big game a month approach also should maintain. One or two months without works fine, those typically end up being third-party dominated months like November, so work around that.

Finally, slowly phase out 3DS. As I have mentioned before it is a budget option now, and with smaller titles, localizations and third-party efforts coming in 2018, it’s time to let it simmer and slowly phase out.

Maybe a Switch price cut too, towards the end of the year? That’d be cool!

 

 

And those are some gaming resolutions and a to-do list for companies this year. May we hope they all come true. Some will, as some are safe bets, others are merely hopes and wishes. If you liked this article, give it a share on the social medias, and I will see you next time! Happy Gaming!

 

2017 In Gaming: A Look Back Over 12 Months

2017 has been a bit of wild ride, from new systems, new franchises, a lot of old franchises, incredible highs and some very deep lows.

 

If you were to really take away one from this year in gaming, it’s that new hardware came and really impressed the world.

Where the PS4 Pro was a relatively safe (And some would argue lacklustre) refresh of the PS4, the Xbox One X stormed ahead and probably could just be considered a new generation of hardware of its own. This machine has proven itself to be a real powerhouse, and a lot of people were doubting it, both in part to the Xbox One having lower sales than the PS4, but by no means bad, we should stress, and its high price leading to a question: Who is it for? For the enthusiast it has taken the crowd by surprise.

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Also of note is the Nintendo Switch, a machine so many were down prior to launch, and coming off the back of the Wii U and 2016 had many wondering if Nintendo had a place in the market anymore, including its own software partners. While it had a quieter start, demand was high from the off, and only grew. The real story is how over 10 months the perspective changed from doom and gloom, to “Oh it’s only early success, itll fall off”, to “Itll be dead by Xmas”, to a quieter rumbling of things still left to improve. If that isn’t a turn around, who knows what is.

The 3DS also had a hot year with many in-demand games and its end of life revision in the New 2DS XL being released. The little handheld has some time left in the sun, but no more than a year or two.

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The PS4 had a quieter year, if only because business as usual isn’t noteworthy. 70 million units out in the world now, 4 years in, that’s pretty good. PSVR also hit 2 million despite a lack of compelling software because…price cuts I suppose, but the VR competition is lagging behind, and the market shows a chance of stalling without further innovation and software.

Overall then, hardware wise, it has been a fantastic year with every company really on top of their hardware game.

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On to software then, the success stories really come from Sony and Nintendo, with Sony opting to front load its year with first party releases and major third-party titles before dropping off and letting the maligned GT Sport and third party deals flood the latter half of the year. Additionally, press events like Paris Games Week and E3 left a lot to be desired. People can only see the same game so many times without a release date.

Nintendo maintained a steady stream of games for both systems throughout the year. Critical and commercial darlings flooded their hardware and third parties developer some strong showings for once, despite a lack of desire to do so early on. Furthermore, gamers proved receptive to the software, with titles like Splatoon 2, Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey setting records for their respective franchises.

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Microsoft once again limped along on third-party offerings, but majority of sales were on PS4. Furthermore the cancellation of exclusives like Scalebound and closure of notable studios left the future in question, as well as delaying what few exclusives were planned to next year. Maybe it will pick up then.

The indie scene proved to be on fire with once again the Nintendo Switch dominating the stories there with very high indie sales. Steam fell behind in this regard and Sony seemingly lost interest, but the quality on display this year has been unmistakable.

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Third parties as well proved a force to be reckoned with. If we ignore EA, as Mass Effect was a mess and their later games proved less than welcome with bad business decisions. Games like Nier, Nioh, Sonic Mania, Wolfenstein 2, Assassins Creed Origins, Mario + Rabbids, all proved surprise hits. Sure there were duds like Sonic Forces, but third parties not only showed renewed passion in their work, but renewed creativity.

Interestingly 2017 saw huge backlash against micro-transactions and lootboxes in gaming, as companies attempt to push them harder and harder into the core structure of games. This perhaps will be evidenced next year if more games opt to do this, and maybe this indicates a boom in the indie scene. Certainly “AA” games like Hellblade have shown they have a place, and companies like Square Enix have renewed interest in mid-range titles.

 

2017 will likely go down as a highlight year for the renewal of an industry that seemed to be struggling with staying fresh. Many companies came back from the brink and brought their A Game, and while there were some very loud duds from some, and some fresh controversy, it doesn’t drown out that regardless of what platform you choose, you had a fine year.

Except maybe Steam. I can’t see wading through that as fine. Seriously, sort that out Valve.

 

You’ll need to forgive me about this being a shorter piece. There isn’t much to say for this year beyond “It was really good”. Barring the issues around lootboxes later in the year and EA being EA…it’s been a fine year all around! So until next time, Happy Gaming!

EA Has To Be Feeling The Burn Right Now

Star Wars Battlefront II sales figures are in for physical copies at retail from around the world. Oh boy.

 

 

So after the micro transactions mess and now lame excuses from EA, they have now revealed that maybe, just maybe, lootboxes won’t return to Star Wars Battlefront II at all.

EA has previously stated that the game will meet targets of around 14 million by March 2018, and at least match the 2015 predecessor, but now, it looks like that won’t happen.

 

Analysts in the US expected the game, at retail (So physical only) to chart below the original, due to the more prominent digital scene for game distribution now. Estimates coming out before the news breaks tomorrow, is it sold less than 1 million physics units in November.

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That is actually shocking, more so when that is believable, with Black Friday images showing the game going untouched in many stores. Evidently the backlash hit such mainstream presence, it damaged the reputation.

At the same time, it was also Black Friday, better deals and all that. Plus, EA did announce before the game launched that it would be discounted alongside the new Star Wars movie, so both could have had an impact. Either way, those remaining sales won’t have been made up digitally, that is for certain.

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More over in Japan the game debuted…at a solid 30,000 or so, and then fell from the charts. In the UK it’s hung around the top 3, ahead of single platform release Super Mario Odyssey (Which given the circumstances some would say is a sin) but for a game on multiple platforms, not hot, especially as both Call of Duty and FIFA are outselling it still. Granted, those games aren’t innocent either.

So what does this mean? Well, we can only hope EA is re-evaluating its stance, and so is Disney most likely, now more government bodies are looking into the lootbox issue. EA has to be sweating about whatever happens next, and the rest of the industry is now being scrutinised heavily, with Destiny 2 under fire for gating off content you could access in the game behind DLC, even though you had access to it prior the DLC release date.

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Battlefront II won’t hit it’s projected sales targets, and investors won’t be happy. EA had $3bn wiped from their value over the course of this controversy, and while that is small change for them, it shows investors were absolutely not pleased, at least briefly.

EA also said micro transactions weren’t necessary to the game making a profit (Despite many publishers saying they are in fact necessary to do so), but under the current circumstances, they humorously may well have been!

Either way, EA’s monumental screw up has had a huge knock on effect. No one company is safe from scrutiny now, and all it took was one last push, and EA was the one to do it. They pushed too hard too fast, though honestly, I would have expected this event to happen eventually anyway.

Whether they alter their course or not remains to be seen, but we are now in the stage where publishers are attempting tactics and having to apologise afterwards with their tails between their legs.

 

Plus, we get to see every other developer fire shots. That’s something amazing to witness.

 

If you enjoyed this piece as always share and leave some feedback on social media, and I will see you next time. Until then, Happy Gaming!

EA, Listen, Gamers Aren’t Thick!

The gift that keeps on giving aren’t they?

 

Update: As Noted by Andrew Reiner on Twitter, there’s some hallmarks of mobile free to start games here too:

https://twitter.com/Andrew_Reiner/status/930209923505557504

Update 2: EA removed in-app purchases temporarily after backlash from Disney, said they would return later, and most recently had the same criticisms levelled at Need for Speed: Payback and a new UFC title. To compound this, after saying “They didn’t want to offer cosmetics because it violates Star Wars canon” for Battlefront 2, they were reminded not only did they do that for the first game in 2015, but Battlefront 2 has cosmetics in the game data!

Plus, violates canon? We have a game, this very game in fact, where Yoda can battle Kylo Ren on a planet that has been blown up.

So brace yourselves, Reddit has a new record for most down-voted post ever. It’s EA’s Official PR guys too, on the Battlefront sub-Reddit. Oh boy!

The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.
As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.
We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Reddit, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.
Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.

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EA said that!

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So for those not in the know, Star Wars Battlefront 2 (The second one with that name, yes it’s confusing) has loot boxes and in–app purchases which in a $60 game as we have already discussed is a bit much. Now, people did some number crunching, showing that for a character like Darth Vader, you need to play for 40 hours, or cough up.

Now, EA has revised this down by 75% so the total number of “Points” is far less. This is good. Granted…it’s not for us. It’s for the shareholders.

You know, without a shred of doubt, a shareholder sat and saw that backlash, and felt his vault empty. Sure, it’s 490,000 people (It’s insane and climbing) but to an investor, that’s 490k $60 sales that just said “I might not buy it”. And then add in the lost revenue from in=-app purchases? Yeah.

Now there is no guarantee this will happen, because after all, who can say how many people just hopped on the train. But to a shareholder, there is no greater fear than the potential of lost revenue.

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What’s more, that potential lost revenue is likely too great for them to sit back and worry. It’s now more valuable for them to cut the amount of micro transactions they’d have to sell, to instead maintain those $60 purchases. Just on the chance they lose sales.

Truthfully speaking, I expect the developers don’t even want this. They just want a game that’s good. But the money talks, and in this instance you can put some Monopoly bucks down on some tight-fisted gents breaking their fine china as their hands tense.

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What bothers me about EA’s statement though, ignoring the background economics of the matter, is that “A sense of accomplishment” isn’t going to be earned from 40 hours of grinding, while people pay up around you and beat you down online.

Frankly, this model, or at least these extremes, are parting the player base like Moses parted the Red Sea: A huge gulf with no bridge unless you build it yourself , or pay the piper. On one side, people who pay, and the other those who don’t.

This ultimately was “Dictated by the Open Beta” but if EA paid attention, the feedback to that was of trepidation and concern around potential pay 2 win shenanigans. With the track record of a company like EA, well deserved, and now, proven.

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What concerns me most is the phrase “Constant adjustments”. I don’t now what that implies…but it would seem like as they say, an effort to keep things attainable with engaging challenges. Now that to me, sounds like discounts of purchases, or rather, how many point you need.

Honestly, discounting the points needed for some time seems like a way to push purchases just a little more. Sell a lesser purchase to more people, making it attractive. This doesn’t sit well with me. That feels legitimately predatory, not to mention the upcoming (Announced before launch) discount to coincide with the upcoming Star Wars Episode 8.

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Ultimately, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, great, EA listened. On the other, I know it is only self-serving in the end, and their statement has the potential to open a whole other bag of worms. Honestly, this entire game is surrounded with negativity and questionable motives.

But at the end of the day, it’s got Star Wars on the box, and when discounted in the hype of a movie, what will the average Joe go and buy? This game.

The tactic is going to work in the end, this is just a move to soften a blow to shareholders and keep gamers on board. The money from the average consumer will be huge regardless, but nothing sells certainty to money-makers than a show of faith, especially when the cash has legs and vows to run away.

 

 

I had a little too much fun writing this one up. If you have some thoughts why not share or comment on social media with your friends, and I’ll see you next time! Happy Gaming!

The Problem of AAA Development: Money and Vultures

The news of EA buying Respawn Entertainment (May they rest in peace) has spurred a thought: Is AAA game development actually sustainable?

 

So EA closed Visceral in late 2017, suddenly but to the surprise of no one. As it happens this was just yet another in their hit list: Be it studios swallowed whole or internal studios biting the dust.

Now EA, not long after disbanding Visceral and their single player Star Wars project, has bought Respawn and the IP for Titanfall.

Titanfall 2 was actually surprisingly awesome, and it even made a little marketing push on having no DLC, no micro transactions, and just being a solid game you got the entirety of with one purchase.

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And EA, the publisher, put it right in between Call of Duty, and it’s OWN Battlefield 1, effectively cannibalizing its sales. We now also know with this acquisition that Titanfall 3 is a thing in the works. Taking bets as to how that will turn? Well let’s look back at Dead Space.

 

EA wanted Dead Space to be a multimedia thing. It didn’t happen, but the first two games sold really well. Dead Space 3 however, needed 5 million sales for a future, and had micro transactions and modes added that frankly had no place in a game like that: Sales tanked, Visceral got moved to Battlefield Hardline, that didn’t do too well, and now they are gone.

You can probably tell what Titanfall 3 will be like can’t you? Oh, and the developers get bonuses based on how well the games review. Money talks apparently.

 

Respawn is just yet another studio with talented staff, good IP and a drive to make good games snatched up by proverbial vultures. When, and it isn’t a case of “If”, Respawn is closed by EA, it will be for not meeting expectations. But what are those expectations?

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Let’s look at Activision’s Q4 2016 sales figures:

 

Activision Blizzard confirmed during their Q4 2016 Earnings Call that the entire company, across Activision and Blizzard titles, made over $3.6 billion just from in-game content sales. In-game content sales includes Call of Duty Points, Overwatch Loot Boxes, and more.

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Now let’s look at Take Two:

“We’ve said that we aim to have recurrent consumer spending opportunities for every title that we put out at this company. It may not always be an online model, it probably won’t always be a virtual currency model, but there will be some ability to engage in an ongoing basis with our titles after release across the board,” Zelnick said.

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EA themselves have quoted games as a service model as a key driver.

 

Let’s be honest though, is this shocking? No. Businesses exist to make money, but the more staff they have to hire, the more the consumer demands better graphics, the more capable the hardware for games becomes, and the longer games take to make, means bigger budgets, more wages, and ultimately, a need to sell more copies. Far, far more.

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Part of this is the “$60” price tag of games. One time purchase, that’s it. No more money for the publishers and developers. So what do they do? Find a way to increase monetization: A constant stream of revenue. Lootboxes, In-app purchases, DLC, it all goes straight to them. But it doesn’t stop at covering costs, it continues to making as much money as humanly possible, often with minimal effort and some very dodgy practices.

Take Call of Duty: WWII for instance. The game has lootboxes, with a twist. Others can see what you get, with the aim of seemingly spurring jealously.

According to redditor cuzseile, who uploaded the video, the supply drop exists in the game world but other players can’t steal it, which you’d expect. But cuzseile reports other players can see what you get from a supply drop

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The psychology of reward and feeling good is at full use here, akin to gambling, and of course, Activision also has that patent, where matchmaking can be based on pushing you via losses and other players into purchasing lootboxes.

Publishers have leapt to the furthest end of the spectrum in seeking additional monetization. Honestly, as many have noted, if the game was free it could easily sustain itself on in-app purchases just on player base. Any game could in theory. In practice though, its not just a case of making ends meet as they claim: Now it’s predatory, and now it is about milking as much as possible.

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Even smaller studios, to loop back to the start of the article, are in need of money. It is why studios are bought up: They need publishers, and a source of income. Why wouldn’t you take that opportunity if presented? But the publishers typically twist and gut the studio into their vision of maximised profits.

 

Personally, I would be fine with a $10 price increase on games. That could go a surprisingly long way to meeting costs and break even points. Sadly though, the big publishers have already tasted the blood in the water, and won’t settle for the more market friendly lesser revenue.

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AAA gaming is a vulture. Or maybe a parasite is more apt? Either way, it swallows creativity whole, and turns studios most people knew and loved of all sizes into factories, producing not games but products.

As an aside, during my time studying Games Design at university, this is the model we were taught: Not to produce games, but products. Plan ahead from the mere conception of a game to form ways of further monetizing, be it DLC, removing content to sell later, or in app purchases. This is something I heartedly disagree with. Yes, in-app purchases have a place, mostly in free games, but not in a title already paid for.

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The games industry is a ravenous beast, hungry for the taste of as much revenue as possible, and all the talent it can absorb to get that revenue. As consumers want more from games, studios need to fund that. They turn to publishers who want as much money as possible, then in a few years see more hardware come out, games look better, cost more to make, and the cycle continues.

 

The industry isn’t unsustainable, at least not yet. It needs change. Perhaps the biggest problem is that it is noticeably cannibalising itself, breaking down what talent it has and the bright futures and ideas of many, in the sake of the now, the money, the gain, and it isn’t looking to the future, where games are solely predatory and more expensive than ever, without any reason to be that way.

I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it forever: Minimal Effort, Maximum Profit.

 

As always if you enjoyed this article leave a comment with your thoguhts, share with your friends, and happy gaming!