2017/03/17

What end of March means

End of March is near. Why am I even talking about this? As long as I am in the industry (and that's close to 30 years) end of March marks a month where usually high-end titles are released with questionable quality.

The Mass Effect debacle happening right now is a typical example - only now users know beforehand. Before the internet happened usually it happened after release.

Ghost Recon Wildlands has mixed reviews and user opinions too. And why Ubisoft launched 2 strong new IP's in the same quarter is unknown to me.

Why does this happen? Fiscal year end. Usually companies had financial years from Jan to Dec but the christmas sales and the revenue plus potential product delays into the next fiscal year made companies shift their financial year from April to March. So before March closes and thus their financial year they release Software - often unfinished - to book the revenue into the current year.

Thats why I don't like publishers being public. At some point they start to serve shareholders more than their customers - the players.

So why does a CEO decide to release a product in not optimal shape even though its bad for the company in the long run? Shareholder happyness? Or maybe because his bonus is tied to revenue of a fiscal year? There you have it. Would you as a CEO release a product if a personal bonus of 10 million is tied to it even though its bad for the company in the long run?

I rarely have seen CEO's having the balls to shif the release date of one of their major IP's. Yves Guillemot from Ubisoft is one and his bonus isn't tied to the revenue. He owns part of the company, no need. This time though he might have been under pressure as Ubisoft is under pressure of a hostile takeover Again - being public has its disadvantages.

This means be careful with titles released end of March. A lesson I learned since decades.

2017/03/11

So Zelda happened

The new Zelda has been released on Switch and is one of the top 3 best-rated games ever. Sidenote: it is as good on the WiiU, so unless you like the portability of the Switch or use it as a couch device the WiiU version is fine too.

Zelda on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System in case you have missed that console) was a masterpiece in game design. It did so many things right and for the first time and I still use it as a reference in my design classes. It is a milestone in RPG and difficulty progression (another Masterpiece was Mario 64 on the N64 which for the first time showed 3d controls in a world perfectly and games today still use its' controls).

Zelda was polished, updated and released for each new Nintendo system but the foundation remained the same.

This time though they redid everything from scratch. As a Zelda fan, you still find the principles of the original design but so many things are done right.

Zelda is a sandbox world where you can do what you want. It is a perfect combination of open world and RPG. Some site wrote "Zelda is the game which says yes" meaning if you wonder "Can I do this?" the answer is usually yes. Other games restrict your actions, Zelda does not.

Another site rightfully said the feeling you get when playing the new Zelda can be compared when you played WoW for the first time. And I agree.

I rarely write about specific games. The last time was about "The Division", but this time I write about Zelda as you need to play it as it will have an influence on many games like the original or Mario 64 did.

So buy and play and have fun. It is truly amazing and deserves the ratings and the hype.

And I simply leave this video here to show off some funny things you can do in an open world like Zelda:


2016/12/28

What 2017 will bring to the game industry

2016 was harsh. Many studios closed. Some hit games didn't sell. But overall the industry grew as always. Superdata claims we nearly reached $100b in 2016.

Meanwhile China became the largest gaming market of the world thanks to mobile. Talking mobile: it is now the largest segment of our industry. As forecasted by so many.

From my experience and point of view 2017 will be a hard year. In fact it will be more difficult than this year. For various reasons.

First some AAA IP's won't sell as good as they were, as already shown in 2016. The primary reasons are that gamers spend more time in less games and the competition in terms of price. f2p taking over even more market share does further impact the $60 AAA game market.

And of course mobile. Mobile will continue to grow. We will see new games entering the top 10 which do more and more revenue each year. The PC won't suffer, the consoles neither, but their growth will slow down. Nothing major but it will have an impact on studios relying on the old publisher model - meaning more studios will cease to exist.

We also will see a more dramatic impact on the crowded market space. Too many titles, not enough time to play them all. Remember? We will spend more time in less games. So the only way combating this is to bind your fanbase to your game - this means you must update your game and service it beyond its lifecycle. Games as a service. Invented by MMO RPG's now a must have for all games.

Update: read this:
http://steamed.kotaku.com/none-of-2016s-most-played-steam-games-came-out-in-2016-1791048654

We will see an invasion of non gaming IP's to the mobile space as the desperate publishers try to fight high acquisition costs with using foreign IP's. This won't work for most of them as we have so often experienced in the past: the 80's, 90's, 2000's all had those waves and most publishers failed with them unless they can afford the mega IP's - which they can't. If they afford it they won't have enough money left for the game - meaning they ship shitty games on large IP's - failing. We have seen that as well in the past.

VR will continue to be a toy - not a market (yet). So investors will shy away, studios will close. VR will be in a crisis waiting to be revived.

The Switch will ship and sell ok. Nintendo's IPs will be strong, and depending on Nintendos policy to sign up other developers the console will not rival the PS4 or XBox, it will rival Nintendo's old 3DS system, cutting their own market share.

Consoles will drop in price for Christmas 2017 and for the first time go under $199 - embracing new markets. But those new customers won't buy $60+ software, they will buy already discounted or used software - as we have seen in the past when that happens. Still the market will grow and reach its peak - and drop after that staring 2018.

We will see a new creative push from the III side. What is III? Triple Indie, from pro's who left AAA companies and going independent we will see a wave of really good titles created for lower budgets and selling enough to keep those new studios alive.

This means we see a remix of studios. Old ones go, new ones come - and in large numbers. We need to learn all those new studio names otherwise we lose track - so many will be there. All over the world.



2016/12/25

My Game of the Year 2016

Before I spoil my pick let me explain my situation so you understand why I picked this game.

First I love slow paced games. Second I love games with progression, so I can build up characters, items or what else. That surely points in the direction of RPG's, but i am kind of overfed with them. Both MMO RPG and Single Player. The reason is lack of innovation, most games all now look or act like games I played before - so I got bored of most RPG's; and note that great graphics and story don't do it for me either as I skip story (yeah I know ...) and good graphics are normal for games now.

Second I am in the industry since 30 years meaning I have played thousands of games. So even little things in UI or game play disturb me and I quit - and play the next.

Third I can extrapolate how most games unfold game mechanic wise if I played it for 30 minutes. This makes it challenging to keep me interested, to surprise me or to overcome my threshold.

Fourth, I am "old" - this mean reflexes are less and too twitchy games don't do it for me - unless the game designer put in classes which can be played by older players. Just like World of Tanks did - or recently Overwatch.

So which game did all this to me to get my GOTY pick?

The Division by Ubisoft.

Yes, it had a rocky start regarding update policy, but the recent patches corrected most of it. I love the game as I can pick my pace. The game doesn't force me into anything, which is exactly what I need. Sometimes I can just go for a stroll into the city and still have fun. Or go on a raid or adventure. OR find new gear. Or craft. OR join friends and do silly things.

Close contenders? The Last Guardian - as it is art. Dishonored 2 - as I can pick my pace.

2016/12/21

"In the next few years all games will be online" (Teut 2006)

When I said in 2006 "In the future all games will be online" I got criticized by a lot of senior devs still working on pure retail games. Today of course it seems obvious this is the case. Even triple AAA games designed to be "single player" have online modes, online accounts, post launch add ons via online, online trophies and more to ensure a higher engagement and online copy protection.

The primary reason why online works so well is you can update the game frequently and further retain your players and fans. This can be done in a way that your game virtually never dies. Many MMO's from the 90's are still alive and despite their ancient technology they are still being played.

So this isn't bad news here:

https://www.asheronscall.com/en/forums/showthread.php?73423-Asheron-s-Call

This is good news as it proves how long these games can live. Nearly two decades. Think about it. For a developer having such a title in your portfolio means you have a revenue stream which can take you through years which shake us up badly - like 2016 where many devs were being closed.

Games like Destiny will live until the console cycle ends. And that is a fps. RPG's of course were the first movers but most genres will or have already moved into the persistent universe.

The problem? If too many players are bound to their online games they won't buy as many games as before. So the industry need to rely on growth instead of reselling titles to existing player bases. But this only lasts so long - until they are overfed like it happens this year.

The lesson? You need to design your game to last. The rules you need to apply are hard to learn and to grasp but have been laid out decades ago by people like Raph Koster or Rich Vogel. Google them, read all their talks. They are well worth it.

And if you need help - ask me. I am consulting in this space since 10 years.


2016/12/17

People hate Mario on iOS - do they?

Mario mobile is upon us, at least the iOS world. And check this out:

https://sensortower.com/ios/us/nintendo-co-ltd/app/super-mario-run/1145275343/#review-history?breakdown

The number of 1 star reviews is staggering. Of course most people are angry about the $9.99 paywall after the first world. So there are two reasons why:

1) The way they build in the paywall is not nice to consumers. f2p managed to find ways way better than this.

2) Users are trained now games are free. 95% of all revenue and sales are f2p games. And as I am telling in many of my talks: most mobile gamers are new to games, so the heck they know they need to pay $10 after three levels. f2p would at least allow you to have fun for free and enhance it by paying what you want, not what Nintendo wants.

Some interesting observations about Mario.

There are many f2p mechanics inside the game, like multiple currency, the way they unlock things etc. Paid apps usually do not have this.
So I think the game was planned at f2p and Nintendo pulled the plug late and removed f2p and implemented the paywall.

Huge mistake in terms of revenue, but hey, its Nintendo and their IP, they might have other plans.

The UI is really bad at places. Their friends list? Linking your game with accounts? Thats not how mobile games look like. In fact many of the bad UI habits are pure Nintendo Wii/WiiU/3DS adaptions. We even have the dreaded friend codes :/

There are better runners in the app store than Mario. But hey its Mario. Revenue wise it was a bad decision to remove f2p. The best selling runner Subway surfer does more revenue each year than Mario will do in a life time.

(Link with regards to @ZhugeEX)


2016/12/09

The Problem of 2016 ... (update 2)

... is that major blockbusters which usually sold millions aren't. The latest iteration of Call of Duty seems to be 70% under previous sales (unconfirmed number), Titanfall 2, the best rated game of the recent shooters was sandwiched between the CoD and BF1 release - has trouble to sell. Watchdogs 2 - much better than the first and some even claim their sandbox is better than GTA V - doesn't sell well. And one of my favorites Dishonored 2 isn't selling well despite excellent marketing presence & reviews in all countries.

Even though the consoles are selling better than the last generation and the PC market is stronger than ever.

Why?

As usual there isn't a single reason.

Genre Overlap
If three major shooters target the same audience some of them will suffer. Thats a logical reason. That EA launched Titanfall 2 between BF1 and CoD is bad - even though they claim differently. Experience from the past tells us that Titanfall 2 is dead and it is EA's fault. March would have been a much better month for it. Some might argue CoD and BF1 target different audiences, but no, both target male 13-26's - the difference is style & taste and preference.

Games last longer
Something which we all saw coming and has started with the last console generation and really took off 2016: games are now launched as a service and try to stay alive as long as possible. For this they adapt a lot of MMO techniques and even some f2p mechanics. Check out Destiny or The Division, those are as close to f2p online games as they can be but are premium titles.
Even BF1 has mechanics inside like progression, unlocks etc. to keep players busy for months. And players love it - and play for weeks and months. No one will buy CoD if they are deep into BF1 - or any other game which operates as a service.
This trend will get even worse next year. So the future isn't releasing your key IP every year, but to keep your key IP alive for years with one launch. Just like MMO's do.

Bored
Some players are bored as the sequels are "more of the same". So they skip a generation and play something else. Some are even bored with the systems and play someplace else. Like on mobile. Or they play other games which are unique. The sales of some of those titles being special show that effect.

The jump between last and current generation of these sequels isn't as large as it was in the past.

Not enough time to play
There are just 24 hours per day. Years ago you spend a lot of these hours in games. Now? You spend hours checking social media, your mobile phone, your day to day tasks in your favorite mobile game, on Netflix binging a series. Here is the problem. People do not have the time anymore to sink into a single game. There is enough competition of entertainment in your hands which distract you from hourlong gaming. And its getting worse as the choices are increasing and everyone fights for the users time.
This is the primary reason why sales aren't the key indicator anymore - it is engaged users. Something Activision is even now telling their shareholders in their calls.

Fucking Expensive
Sorry for my words, but really. Games are expensive to develop and if you try to do a AAA product we talk millions, often hundreds of millions. The games industries blockbusters are more expensive to create than most Hollywood movies now. And mobile games aren't easy either. Meanwhile we talk budgets of millions too. This leads to the conservative sequel effect we now encounter even in mid console cycle where we usually see creative sparks. Not this time.

And games are expensive. $69. WTF. Add a season pass. WTF #2. Locked user, he won't be able to spend more for another games. Years ago he could buy two or three for that money he now spends on one of his favorite games.

Oh, and now upgrading consoles. The new thing. So go Pro on PS4 for some new games. The core will do, the rest will follow. Another $399, maybe less when you sell your old (which lessens sales of new consoles).

Too much choice
The app store showed it. Steam is following. Too many games. Too much choice. The entry barrier for world wide publishing is gone - the flood gates are open and thousands of titles are being released.

Yes, a lot of crap is among them but here and there we find gems which never would have seen the light of the day in the past. It is amazing, and in my opinion the only light in the darkness of 2016.

This means
The market is cleaning itself. You either are among the top 10% of the low key indie type titles. The middle will die, quickly.

This means if you run a studio you either go big or you go small, lean agile. There is no other choice anymore.

You see studios dying. Or being closed. 2016 was already bad, 2017 will be worse. Consolidation is happening the the big ones eat up the talent left and form further mega studios to create their huge titles. Some will form smaller studios and lean produce creative gems. And many will fail. And the cycle repeats.

And beware when the current console generation is shrinking. It is not as far away as we hope. The last generation lasted 8 years. This one? Maybe 8 years, maybe 9. They hope to prolong it by updating their hardware. So we are in year 3, 5 more to go. Good luck boys and girls. Make great games and do not follow the main stream.

Update
Some feedback noted that NPD isn't tracking digital sales and most customers moved to digital now. This might make the numbers a bit better but not really so. Todays games with their 60GB downloads aren't for everyone (see previous post).

Another note regarding FPS: Overwatch seems to have taken a lot of these customers and locked them into their grind feast, so they won't have time for others as well. A title I overlooked in the above post.

Pro Tip for AAA pubs: there are more games out there then FPS. Do not forget the genres other people play or mid sized publishers will take them away from you.

Update 2
Most of the hit games I mentioned including CoD, Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2 are on sale for half the price. An indices that they don't sell as well as expected and wrongfully training customers its better to wait than to buy on release. Bad habit.