WoW dies! Really! Help!

Ok. I lied. WoW is not dead. Recent reports from Activision financial states subs are down to 9 million, that was the number WoW reached in 2007.

Read again.


That was 5 years ago.

So why should WoW suddenly die. They got more subs than any other subscription competitors combined. They lost more subscribers than most competitors ever had lifetimes. And its normal. Pre expansion WoW always declines a bit. Wait until Pandas invade WoW and you see them all back "checking out the Kung Fu Pandas".

WoW is now old but still rocking. I don't see WoW vanishing for the next 5 years minimum. Reason is simple: most successful MMO's are still around. Even Ultima Online is still there and rocking on its scale. So don#t worry, WoW is a stable environment where you can invest your time.

Even if Guildwars2 had to stop digital sales as their servers became too full. Threatening WoW takes much more than a good game these days.



So some industry experts will answer oen questions every couple of weeks to be posted on gamesbrief.com.

Read the first one here:


Cheers Teut

Console Market Installed base

Posting this for my reference (dynamic data)

Busy playing Guildwars 2

I am busy playing this wonderful Guildwars 2. Its great, it is one of the most beautiful worlds I have the honor to explore. For experienced online MMO players I recomend reading this:


as it explains the differences between your usual copy&paste WoW clone and GW2. I might post more screens soon, but I usually spam my facebook friends with them.

So be patient with me until I update my blog - when I have time between Guildwars and Work.


2013 - enjoy 2012 as long as it lasts

You might have noticed that the frequency of layoffs in the game industry is increasing. Popcap, EA, THQ, Funcom, Sony and many more are firing people on all fronts.

Why? As noted in the last post the current sales of the consoles are declining. There are several reasons for it:

The technology becomes old
Remember the 360 has only 512MB memory while your PC already has 4GB upwards. Most current graphic cards have more memory than the current console generation. Hell, your iPhone has more memory and CPU power than the current console generation.

The market becomes saturated
That's harder to prove but older generations showed that new market segments can be penetrated by lowering the price. Now here is a problem: while older generations could be lowered as low as $99 the current one is too expensive to build due to the hard drive inside. Mechanical devices do not scale down in price as digital chips do. Of course they could put Flash memory inside - time will tell.

The $99 segment doesn't buy software
That's a fact which was learned by the PS2. As some of you know the PS2 lived longer than any other console system. It was still on sale while the PS3 already reached its peak. EA was still releasing new software on PS2 last year! The problem of course is the user base: if you save money to buy an old $99 system the reason usually is spendable income. So spending half of the console price on games is out of question. So that user base usually trades games, buy used or rent them.
No fun for software sales :(

PS1 sales by price reductions

Initial Development
So when the old generation behaves like this there is a new one, right? Well yes, but what it takes to develop software on them is rich: you need to redo your tool chain, rewrite a lot of code, optimize your engines to a new hardware setup.
Worse: as the hardware of the development kits isn't final the console is constantly changing underneath your game engines forcing you to rewrite a lot of code on constant basis.
Speaking of dev kits: these are very expensive at start, we speak of $10.000 upwards for one. If you need a team of 100 for a big game franchise you just spend 1-2 million  US$ without even having coded a single line yet.
So here we are, having spend millions on dev kits and have roughly a burn rate of 500.000 US$ per month for the ramped up team. But the consoles launch really late, maybe even get pushed late, costing us even more money.

These are all reasons why investing in new consoles is risky. But why do pubs do it then? Because the rewards are high. At start there are only a few games so you are all alone on the shelf in your genre if you are lucky. And your game will sell for 5 years - generating profit long time after the usual lifetime. And the start of a console generation is a perfect place to start new IP's which you can reiterate every year. One of these huge IP's can carry one publisher for years.

Whats why the publisher invest in the risky start of a next generation console. That is why they play safe on all the rest, reducing risky projects, firing people to save burn rate and betting safe by releasing sequels only.

But don't worry. Thats normal. And healthy. This pattern repeats everytime the console generation changes. I survived through 5 of these cycles so can you.


"The game industry is changing!"

I can't stand it anymore. I see people (who should know it better) hanging their faces into the press saying how our industry is changing this year and that everything will be different from now on.

First: this has been true since I am in the industry, thats 25 years (I joined 1987). Welcome to the ride. Thats most likely why we think the games industry is coolest (it never gets boring).

Second: we are in transition years. This means that the old console sales are declining and the new one isn't here yet. This causes a double negative effect on publishers: their revenue is lower and their investment into the next generation is very high. Of course they play conservative and fire people where they can to safe costs.

If you're interested into some of this industry cycle attributes read my very old (but most downloaded & copied) talk "The five year cycle of the games industry"

Does online change the industry? Of course, but online is here since 1997, so don't act surprised please.

Does iOS change the industry? Sure, new device, awesome reach, new revenue paths. But did iOS hurt the consoles? No, but yes for handhelds. iOS expands our market, it doesn't cannibalize much.


Sequelitis - bad or worse

Strange that Assassins Creed got criticized by having too many sequels. I have to agree 100% with Alex when he says that yearly sequels are ok, hell, I would even buy Assassins Creeds if they come every 6 months.

But what does make a sequel good for publishers? First it is a return of investment. If you got a blockbuster its easier and cheaper to develop the sequel as usually the tools and technology only needs upgrades - not a rewrite.

Also the risk is less as the sequel should sell nearly as well as the original right? Well from blockbuster data I have seen sequels actually outperform the originals - that happened to Call of Duty - Modern Warfare.

Speaking of CoD: they are milking the franchise even more by having alternativing teams on the IP. Not too bad either if they can deliver the experience and quality. I bought Black Ops and it was worse than the earlier ones. Did it hurt sales? Nope. So it seems that one title in a series with slightly less quality doesn't hurt your sequel plans - delivering multiple bad sequels does.

My question is wether a brand can be over saturated and destroyed. On this Gamescom Ubisoft anounced three Might & Magic titles at once. Customers might get confused but on the other hand each title adresses a different audience. While Might & Magic Heroes Online adresses the fans from the original the Champions card game is more casual (good for iPads?) and the dungeon runner adresses a slightly younger action RPG crowd. I am curious how those titles work out.

So: if you love a game series how much sequels would you manage to buy each year? One? Two? Or even more?

*Disclaimer: The above is Teut's personal opinion - none of this is official Ubisoft policy or statement


Pledge this

Sometimes I might post news about Kickstarter projects I find cool. this time its:


Its a cool RTS made by some folks who did TA. If you don't know what TA is or was, pledge anyway.


OnLive is "gone"

So its official: OnLive is brankrupt, or whatever it is called in California (Chapter 11? ABC?) but it is claimed that all rights, patents and assets have been sold to one individual - but all staff layed off.

So why did OnLive not work? Well first most developers I know never believed in it, even after they saw it. The business model sucked bad. OnLive did not solve a problem for our key markets as most of us have pretty decent machines and the core market buys digital. The markets which needs OnLive do not have strong machines and have a weak internet, thus OnLive doesn't work.

The markets with weak machines actually are mostly f2p online MMO markets - not careing about the games OnLive offered and the company weren't online in those markets anyways.

The lag issue was always discussed away but it really existed. Games which needed fast response were unplayable on it. Games which don't need it were playable fine. So why should someone pay monthly fees to rent games on that service?

Essentially OnLive was a digitzer service to convert 3d games to flash video.

Some reasons why OnLive didn't work:

1) infrastructure too expensive, dependend on high internet backbones only available in industry states
2) low income from users
3) scaling up the userbase is expensive as their hardware was complex

Note that online games solve #1 as they work in most internet quality networks (they are build for them) and also solve #3 as developing cheap server backends is part of the challenge. Therefore online games can afford #2.

Wait, did I just say online games have a low income. Yes I did. Considering most players play 4-6 hours per day for 30 days per month (=120-180h per month or full 5 days) for merely $10-$20 then yes, its damned cheap. Most people spend more money on their internet line than on the game itself. Hell most people spend more on beer than on WoW.

Anyway, my personal opinion: OnLive was already dead when they startet and I said that often enough. I am happy its gone as I no longer need to listen to the bullshit that streaming is the future. It's not.

So why did GaiKai sell for $380 million to Sony? Because Dave Perry is a brilliant man and Sony won't have any use for it. Believe me, if the PS4 will have streaming its either for backwards compatibility or will cost premium.


GC day two

I actually didn't go to GC on day two simply because the public area can be walked in two hours (which I did wednesday see previous post).

The business center  is as usual the most interesting part for industry progessionals but I preferred working on my mails and reports instead.

But I attended the wargaming.net party - which was a blast. I was home at 3:30am :)

Highlight: life performance by LMFAO. That act must have cost a fortune but the party was IMBA. As usual the best party in town, thanx Tom for the invitation!

The Anno and HMMO anouncements rippled through the internet and fueled a lot of discussions. Fans think that only because UBI does an Anno f2p game they stop developing retail versions. The fans might be wong right there.

Silly along those lines are statements from Electronic Arts where they claim that they will never give up retail and on the other hand claiming they will be 100% digital sometime soon.
This clearly shows that while some territories are moving to a digital markt fast (while others are already there like Asia), some territories want to stick to retail as long as possible.On the other hand maybe they release those statements only to calm down panicking retail chains.

My opinion: a flood can't be stopped by hoping the tide will change. 100% digital is strong (see iPhone app store) and has advantages for publishers and customers. Retail will be small in a few years.


GC Day one

GDC last day wednesday is problematic as Gamescom opens its doors as well. So some talks do not attract enough developers but the organizers made sure some highlights were scheduled on that day to fill the rooms.

So I walked GC as this was the only day I had time and I was shocked. A lot of room was left empty, some halls had wide highways free - so large was the distance between the booths. So what happened? Besides Nintendo & Microsoft not attending or having booths I guess the transition years shows its toll. The publishers have less revenue from the old console generation and the new one isn't here yet.
GC mirrors this. The show was clearly either online games or games with heavy community relations like League of Legends, World of Warcraft or Diablo.

On wednesday Ubisoft also had its press conference and finally anounced the projects I had the honor to work on with some of the best teams in Ubisoft Blue Byte in the free to play business. So here they are:

Anno Online - register for closed beta
Heroes of Might & Magic Online - register here for closed beta

So with these:
Silent Hunter Online
The Settlers Online

we will have 4 f2p browser games online
4 projects in 2 years. Growth  from 50 to 200 people. What can I say? Online games change the world.

GDC Day two

Day two had less exciting talks for me personally but the feedback from people I talked to showed that some really good speakers were around.

My goal was to network on that day and I met mostly old friends of the industry and some new ones. Rarely* did I encounter someone who was not working on a f2p title, be it browser, mobile or client. If developers jump ship from the "old retail" when will the world stop buying them?
*Regional differences apply.

The evening was plastered with parties and I followed the latest trend of GDC this year: party skipping. So I went home, played a bit Eve Online (50 kills, yes baby!) and watched Fringe with my wife.


GDC Europe - day one

So I walked into sessions which I thought are interesting. You never know: many sessions end up in rants how cool the speaker or his company are.

So I was surprised to end up in a talk - the first one by Jared Psigoda (Reality Squared Games) - which was very good. I learned a lot about the Chinese MMO market and also gained insights how westerners are looking at it and vice versa - as the presenter was American working in China since a decade. Details later. Best talk so far!

The next talks were exactly what I feared. DICE ceo had a talk how cool they are. Nothing learned - no knowledge transfer. But he was level designer in 1998 and now is CEO of Dice. See? You can have careers!

World of Tanks CEO was funny. For a Russian he did pretty awesome jokes on the industry but after 50% he lost it and of course said how cool World of Tanks is blah blah. Nevertheless he gets my sympathy bonus.

Then I ended up in a f2p companies talk which was 20% on topic and 80% "This is how f2p works". Not learned much here but it gave me enough reflection in my work that I had 2-3 ideas I emailed myself to put onto ToDo (I email myself ToDo's)

At least I ended up following a new trend on GDC's: skipping the parties. So I drove home and have a nice evening instead talking to the same people every year. I will see you all tomorrow guys!

GDC Europe and Gamescom

So it is this week again. Networking, meeting all friends in the industry, exchanging gossip and latest news (Business cards) and see where the industry is heading.

I try to post a summary as soon as the parties are done ;)



Retail in trouble?

Gamesales are down - again - by 20%. Is retail in trouble? Or does NPD Data simply negate online sales or have not sufficient data? Does NPD count in App store sales on iOS?

Some facts about 2012:

1) We are in a transition year. This means the old consoles are dying, the sales volume is lower and so are games on consoles. Reason: most games are sold to users of new consoles, not existing ones. New consoles are either not anounced yet or coming later - sales volume doesn't exist. No wonder publishers are in trouble.

2) Games price structue is under pressure. While free to play promotes "free" the high quality games on iOS are either $1 or less or free to play as well. I regulary read reviews from iOS games where they say "its ok to pay $2 for that game". What would that guy say to spend $60?

So why should someone spend $60 for a console game when there is choice "out there" for free?

Some Reasons:
1) IP, i.e. prior experience with that game IP like Assassins Creed, Call of Duty and the like
2) Game production value. Games on consoles are high value and expensive productions
3) Location of gaming: consoles are living room, PC is office room, mobile is - well - mobile
4) missing alternative. Madden football or Fifa Soccer can't be found as f2p or on iOS

The good: market is expanding, everyone plays, we know that now.
The bad: the next generation consoles better embrace online and new business models like f2p or they have severe troubles.

Fun fact: NPD is the worst name for a company as from German point of view they represent the Nazis (NPD=Nazi party)


OUYA will fail

So OUYA grabbed 8.5m for their console. No one asked the question why Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft spend billions to develop consoles but they can get away doing one for 8m. And pay production.

No one asked if they violate patents of existing console owners - see their controller.

No one asked if their business model is questionable. How do they expect to earn money? If someone sells software on their console how much do THEY earn?

No one asked if piracy is a problem. Its rampant on Android already - and they even invite root kits and hackers to their console essentially destroying the business they are in. Who is going to develop on their console if you don't sell?

So the question is: why should I buy an Android phone with no screen and touch, only working on my TV? Which advantage does this console has over my PS3 or XBox?

If only one of the above points is true the OUYA is dead. As an investor I would run away - too risky. As a developer I would run away due to piracy. As a gamer I prefer to have those games in my pocket - not on my TV.


Facebook ready for hard core?

Facebook games are played by millions of people. But "our" industry doesn't like these games. Some of these games we do not even consider to be games.

An article on techcrunch takes a view on things and is a pretty good read. Go there. Get back here when you're done.

So, there you go. Basically most games on Facebook use identical mechanics. Most games reuse whatever the big thee come up with and reiterate the same games all over again. Rarely do we see a new idea. If something new and successful appears its either cloned immediately or bought off by the cash heavy competitors.

So - what are the next steps on Facebook games in your opinion? Is Facebook ready for hard core gaming?

I might have a panel to moderate on GDC Europe about this topic so be creative - I might ask your question or state your opinion!


Facebook - Wild Zone

We are all aware that cloning games, monetization ideas or even whole game mechanics is daily business on Facebook. Now EA didn't like that Zynga did clone their beloved "The Sims Social". It seems Zynga this time stole one of the favourite toys of a publisher and they are not amused.

What is amusing though is the level of detail at which Zynga cloned Sims Social. They even copied textures down to the exact RPG color value.

This doc reads: http://www.scribd.com/doc/101954002/EA-v-Zynga-Complaint-Final

The question is what comes out of this trial. Can they force Zynga to remove the game? And the key question is: does this change how EA's own Playfish "clones" games?

Update: History of Zynga cloning lab